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Inspirational Rainbows: An Interview with Karin Åkesson

Karin Åkesson, author-illustrator of the striking picture book, The Rainbow Snail, shares some of the inspiration behind her beautiful story with Armadillo editor, Louise Ellis-Barrett.

The Rainbow Snail is an easy-to-read, interactive picture book that teaches toddlers all about colours using the beauty of a rainbow. As the Rainbow Snail journeys through some colourful surroundings, we experience blues like raindrops, greens like the softest grass and yellows like the warm sun. We learn how rainbows came to be and how it takes both sun and rain to create one. It's an exciting adventure packed full of gentle learning; clever and inventive, it's an absolute delight to read and share.

Can you tell us - as a designer by training - what inspired you to create a picture book?

The Rainbow Snail character started out as a wall print. I was approached by my publisher who found my work at our market stall in Old Spitalfield Market and it felt like a very natural process to turn the Rainbow Snail into a colour book.

Much of the work you do as a designer is inspired by your Swedish heritage. What is it about your heritage that provides the inspiration? Was it the same for this book?

Lots of my work is inspired by nature and animals. I grew up in Sweden and spent a lot of my childhood climbing rocks and playing in the forest which always reminds me of my Scandinavian roots. The Rainbow Snail was inspired by my children’s fascination with snails and rainbows!

Rainbows are a symbol of hope and joy. Is this what prompted your decision to base the story on a rainbow? Do you often use vibrant rainbow colours in your work?

The Rainbow Snail character was born in lockdown when we were surrounded by rainbows, and was inspired by my daughter who loves everything about them! Rainbows are a recurring theme in my work and I love pops of bright colours.

Why did you choose a snail as the character to have an adventure?

My children, who are the inspiration behind all my work, have always been fascinated by the snails in our garden.

When you created the story, did you know that you wanted the book to teach readers as well as

being an enjoyable reading experience?

Yes, for me it’s always important to have a meaning behind my work. I want my work to inspire, educate and empower children!

Each of the colours of the rainbow is introduced using comparisons. How did you choose the comparisons?

I wanted to use the little things around us. Children are often great at appreciating the small things in life, which is something we can all learn from.

The illustrations are beautiful, and stand out because they are sparse - you make good use of white space. Was this intentional for the story to ensure the colours were clearly showcased?

Thank you, I believe less is more. I tend to simplify my work as much as possible and the white space plays an important role allowing the Rainbow Snail to do all the talking.

Once you had the idea for the book, how long did it take for it to become a reality? Does your illustration style require a lot of prep and work, or do you have a simple set of techniques?

The whole process of creating The Rainbow Snail was really enjoyable. Since the character already existed, it was just a matter of figuring out the story, so it didn’t take that long - but then it is the whole process for the publisher to print, promote and distribute the book which takes a lot longer. From the initial email to publication was a year and a half.

Now that you have published your first picture book, do you see yourself creating more and if so, can you share any of the ideas that you might have?

Oh, definitely! The Rainbow Snail is soon coming out as a bath book and a board book. I am currently finishing off my next book, which is a Welcome to the World baby book, and I also have other ideas lined up, so watch this space! The publishing world has opened a whole new chapter for me, something I am really excited about.

Do you have any fond memories or rainbow stories you could share with our readers?

I love the magic and beauty of rainbows and the excitement all children have when we get to see one, but for me the most memorable rainbows were the ones during lockdown. We decorated our children’s windows - my son made one out of Lego - and seeing other people’s rainbows as a symbol of hope, as we walked around the neighbourhood and on TV from all over the world, really inspired us all.

Our thanks to Karin Akesson for answering these questions and for sharing both her work and her thoughts. Thanks also to Madison at EDPR for making it possible. The Rainbow Snail is out now and can be found in all good bookshops.


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