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Shhhhh.... Do NOT Disturb...

Don't Disturb the Dragon is a wonderful story which has had us laughing out loud, both at bedtime and anytime we read it. We love the idea of reminding the children it may be only ten minutes until bedtime but that, in that time, we can still read a book, in this case one they can join in with. Your little ones can too, they can all be the hero of the story as they, along with the princess, can help rescue her little brother and make sure not to disturb that big fire-breathing dragon!

Why write stories for bedtime?

Bedtime is such a precious time for parents and children to snuggle up together and enjoy some treasured one-to-one time. To write stories that are going to be shared in such a cosy, close and affectionate way is a real privilege. Bedtime stories also allow me to not only appeal to the child but to help the parent or carer as well – by constructing the story in a certain way, such as slowing the pace and using more hushed, gentle vocabulary towards the end, the story can help calm and soothe your child, encouraging them to wind down for sleep.

Why do you think children need bedtime stories, what is important about them?

Bedtime stories are so important for children of all ages, and it’s never too early or late to start building them into the bedtime routine. Although babies might not understand the stories themselves just yet, the sound of your voice will bring them security and comfort, as well as developing their sense of rhythm and rhyme and aiding visual literacy – the association between word and image. By the time your baby becomes a toddler, bedtime stories will be playing a significant part in expanding their vocabulary. As your child gets older, they will love the imaginative element and escapism of exploring different worlds through stories, and reading together will allow them to switch off from their busy day. Keeping storytime light-hearted and most of all enjoyable will generate an emotional connection with reading that can last a lifetime.

What do you think are the essential ingredients for a bedtime book?

It’s all subjective, but personally I always love to read stories that have a gentle rhythm, making for a pacey, enjoyable read-aloud for the parent as well as being great fun for the child. Kids also respond well to repeated rhyme or structure, especially if there’s a chance to join in with recurring refrains. In terms of plot, I feel it needs to be engaging enough to get the child fully immersed whilst calm enough towards the end to bring them back down to a relaxed level again, and illustration is of course also pivotal in engaging a child’s interest – expressive characters, appealing colour palettes and lots of visual detail to pore over all contribute towards how absorbed a child may or may not be in that particular book.

Would you advise reading books, bedtime books, in a certain way?

It’s great if there’s opportunity for the reader to vary their tone of voice in fun ways throughout the story, and emphasising the rhythm and/or repetition will steer children towards joining in at appropriate times. For bedtime stories, it’s helpful if the story lends itself to a softening in tone and volume towards the end, to avoid your child remaining too alert and excited – the more relaxed they are when they go to bed, the more likely it is they will have a better quality of sleep when they do drift off. Answer any questions your child might ask, and don’t forget to talk about the illustrations, too!

Don’t Disturb the Dragon is full of wonderfully rhyming text ~ is it harder to write like this? Do you think it enhances the story and storytelling experience?

Oh, thank you! I love to write to a rhythm or rhyme scheme, and actually I often start there before the words themselves take shape. I get a certain rhythm going round and round in my head, and I find myself filling it in with rhyming phrases that gradually evolve into a story! I find it a really interesting way of exploring what could come next in the narrative, and in terms of the storytelling experience I do think it helps build atmosphere and momentum, which are both important factors in drawing a child into the book and keeping them immersed.

The story feels like a wonderful mix of fairytale and myth. What do you think it is about these types of stories that appeal to children?

It’s got to come down to escapism, I think. Children love make-believe and using their imaginations to create all sorts of weird and wonderful worlds and fantastical scenarios in their play, so stories that touch on these tropes allow the same sort of escapism. They allow a child to dream that anything is possible – but, crucially, from within the comfort and safety of their own bedroom.

There is also some fun repetition, some counting and of course plenty to engage with for young readers. Do you think these are important elements to consider in picture books?

It’s never too early to start reading picture books to or with your child, so as part of that, if done in a fun, non-heavy-handed way (I think that’s crucial), picture books are a perfect way of reinforcing key learning concepts such as number sequences or introducing unusual vocabulary. It’s important that there’s also plenty for the child to engage with visually as well as text-wise – lots of details to spot around each page, which give added opportunity for interaction. Sian Roberts, the illustrator of Don’t Disturb the Dragon! has done a fantastic job of this – there’s so much to look at on each spread, and I’m still spotting new details even now!

Do you have a favourite bedtime story?

That’s a tricky question! If I had to pick a current favourite for its humour and relatability, Bethan Stevens’ Grumpy Fairies remains very popular in our household! If you haven’t read it, I’d whole-heartedly recommend you do… It’s all about a group of fairies (and they just so happen to be the littlest ones), who unfortunately are not sweet and willing and helpful like the other fairies… Instead, they are GRUMPY. It’s full of gorgeous artwork, memorable text, repeated refrains and wonderfully witty humour.

With thanks to Rhiannon and her publicity team at Penguin Random House for making this book and Blog feature interview happen.

Don't Disturb the Dragon is out now and available from all great booksellers!


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