Illustrated by Alessandra Fusi
For ages 7+
I'm so happy to have been given the opportunity to interview children's author and multi-award winning businesswoman in the children's publishing industry, Tamara Macfarlane about her latest non-fiction book 'Underwater World: Aquatic Myths, Mysteries and the Unexplained'. This follows last year's bestselling 'Dragon World' and was one of my top recommendations in non-fiction in 2021, I have used it in my KS1 book club, and my own children and I enjoy reading it again and again!
Within the pages of this stunningly illustrated book, you are going to discover the most incredible things about what lies beneath the waves of our oceans. I had no idea about the difference between ghost ships and phantom vessels for starters. Reading about the history of some of the world's beautiful cities that have been lost to natural disasters, that are still either undiscoverable, or are currently being excavated today has been quite eye opening. However, there's nothing like reading about myths and legends, joining the dots between how ancient culture made sense of the world before our modern scientific age was able to send oceanographers and other scientists into the depths to explain how islands were created due to tectonic plate movements or research the giant or colossal squid to explain the monstrous Kraken stories. The book also includes short stories (perfect for bedtime or a class story time), creative activities, a glossary and an index. It's the complete package for a kids non-fiction book! You'll find out more about Tamara's inspiration, research process and more from my interview with her below.
Nicci: I’m so happy to say that I’ve been working closely with you for the last couple of years and, not only am I honoured to call you a friend, but you have been a true guiding light and inspiration when it comes to kids books and the children’s publishing industry. You are a multi-award winning business woman, highly respected and dedicated to your equality and diversity mission with over 20 years experience in this industry. Thanks for talking to me about your new book ‘Underwater World: Aquatic Myths, Mysteries and The Unexplained’ (2022, DK), which follows on from the bestselling ‘Dragon World’ (2021, DK). What inspired you to explore the world beneath the seas following the success of your very in-depth look at dragons?
Tamara: Blimey! Thank you so much. I have been insanely fortunate to be able to work with you, you and the rest of the team were the award winners!!
I have always been interested in what is unseen, what lies beyond our skies and beneath our seas, but I think that the move to Ramsgate and to living by the sea really set my imagination off. When I first came down, I used to walk the dogs along the beach in the early mornings and then just sit on the beach with a cup of coffee watching the sea and wondering about all the extraordinary life that lives in there. I think that the idea for this book probably came from a combination of those early morning walks and my exceptional sister-in-law Dr Rebecca Klaus, who is a marine biologist doing extraordinary work in Marine conservation. Every single conversation that I have had with her has created a huge sense of awe and wonder in me about the underwater world and I wanted to share this sense of wonder with all of the children that come into the shop.
Nicci: You have managed to glide seamlessly through sunken cities, mythical sea creatures and floods, legends, ghost ships, phantom vessels, natural underwater phenomena and more - a vast amount of information to convey to young minds in one book. How did you approach the structure and flow of the book?
Tamara: It was great fun to research this book. I was fascinated by every single discovery and there was so much that I learnt that I could easily have filled another 10 books!! In the end, there are some subject areas that amaze you and that you can't stop thinking about, and these become the subjects that fight their way into the book. Once you know what is in there, they sort of naturally group themselves. With both this book and Dragon World, the structure was very much led by the vibrancy of the subject matter rather than imposing a structure on it. I am exceptionally lucky that my brilliant editor James Mitchem, and the rest of the team at DK are so brilliant at trusting, guiding and celebrating creating that sense of wonder in their readers.
Nicci: The Italian children’s illustrator, Alessandra Fusi, collaborated with you for ‘Dragon World’ creating the most incredible dragons from around the world - and I’m so happy she’s back for ‘Underwater World’ creating what feels a more complex and diverse collection of illustrations, which further demonstrates her sheer versatility and creative genius. Tell me a bit about teaming up with Alessandra for this series and how you felt when you saw some of the illustrations for the first time. Which one(s) are your personal show-stopping favourites in the book?
Tamara: The total life-affirming joy of any single one of Alessandra's illustrations arriving in my inbox is beyond any words that the English language has for describing elation, amazement and deep gratitude all wrapped up in one. The sheer beauty of her work makes me want to frame each spread so that I can look at them all at the same time, every day. In fact, I think I am going to do that in my new seaside cabin!!! She is an exceptional artist and it has been a true honour to have been paired with her.
It is nearly impossible to pick a favourite spread from such a richness of treasures, but I think when the Sunken Cities and Lost Lands spreads came in, I was just completely blown away by how she had communicated them visually. The vibrancy of her illustrations makes the almost impossible to imagine, completely real and unforgettable.
Nicci: How long did you spend researching ‘Underwater World’? Which myth, legend or event you researched got you most excited to write about, that you perhaps hadn’t known before?
Tamara: I spent about a year researching and writing Underwater World. A totally joyous year of virtual, underwater exploration! I think, as with my favourite images, that it was the Lost Lands and Sunken Cities discoveries that got me really excited. This was, in a large part because I was genuinely learning about them myself for the first time. Not just the fascinating details, but their very existence. Beyond the myth of Atlantis, I had never heard about actual sunken cities and the sense of history, lost and rediscovered, and the possibility of what other discoveries lie in the 80% of the unexplored ocean floor, opens up your mind in a truly amazing way.
Nicci: You spent holidays in Scotland as a child, I’m intrigued to find out… did you ever see a selkie or a kelpie????
Tamara: I sailed and fished a lot on those wonderful holidays on the West Coast of Scotland, and there was one seal who would often swim into the bay and come and talk to us. I am still convinced that she was a selkie. As for a Kelpie, I looked hard and often out into the stormy seas and I am pretty sure that I spotted one once, riding on the waves out on the loch.
Nicci: I’m so pleased that you have activities at the end of the book, a glossary and index too. I love the ‘design a deep sea map’! Have you created your own deep sea creature yet? If so, how amazing and unusual did it turn out to be? Which of the underwater jobs do you think you’d find most fascinating and fun?
Tamara: I think that one of the things that I learnt from researching the book is that it would be really difficult to create anything more astonishing than nature. And there is still so much more out there. I am really looking forward to doing live author events with young readers and doing these activities with them to see what incredible creations they come up with.
As far as underwater jobs, I think that I have been so inspired by my sister-in law's conservation work that I would love to be a marine biologist. Sadly, and it is one of my biggest regrets, I can't dive due to my ears not coping with the pressure, and so I might have to do shore line work instead.
Nicci: Can your readers look forward to more in this series? If so, can you give us any sneak peaks or inside info?
Tamara: Oh, I really hope so, there are so many other amazing things that we share as humans, across every culture and I would love to explore what brings us all together and to celebrate the many things that we all have in common. At the moment I am working on a very exciting new book with DK that is not in this series, but as soon as that one is finished, I have another 'World' series idea that I am hoping to be able to start researching. I will keep you posted!
Nicci: I honestly have loved reading this book - there is so much to wonder at, learn about and share excitedly with others. I’m appreciating the mer-man and non-gender specific mer-person on the gorgeous cover artwork too! In your opinion, how important is the non-fiction genre for young readers? Do you feel non-fiction has parity with fiction whether it’s in bookshops, libraries or at bookish events?
Tamara: I am slightly obsessed with children's non-fiction. For years, with the exception of DK and Usborne, there was fiction and there were sort of quite uninspiring school books. In the last twenty years, since I opened the first Tales on Moon Lane, there has been an explosion of stunning non-fiction work. So much of the universe around us is utterly fascinating and more extraordinary than much of fiction, that it deserves to take up a lot of space in every library, bookshop and festival. It is also a brilliant way into reading for so many children. You just find their passion, whether it's football or sharks and lead them through that into reading for pleasure.
In terms of being able to visually celebrate the brilliantly diverse communities that we live in, illustrated fiction and non-fiction has a massive role to play. I am really proud that my own books are becoming an extension of the Moon Lane mission in this way. The cover of Underwater World encapsulates so much, all at a glance.
Nicci: You have been a truly successful children’s author for some time now having published the young reader ‘Amazing Esme’ series with Hachette, the ‘Dylan’s Amazing Dinosaurs’ picture book series with Simon & Schuster, the ‘Secret World of…’ series with Puffin and more… You have navigated the industry so successfully to publish with many of the most desirable publishers, and now Dorling Kindersley too. How does the children’s publishing industry compare now to what it was like when you published your first book?
Tamara: Thank you, that is very kind, I have been incredibly lucky to work with the amazing editors and publishers that I have been published by and feel as though I have truly found a home with DK. I think that since the publication of the CLPE's paradigm shifting report into the lack of diversity in children's books, the children's publishing industry as a whole, has had to really self- reflect and confront its role, historically, in promoting a single cultural narrative and reinforcing stereotypes. There is still a hugely long way to go, but there is also a great deal to celebrate in terms of true progress. I think that children's publishing has a lot to thank CLPE for.
Nicci: You have been involved for a number of years as an advisor/consultant to the World Book Day charity. You are also a champion of children’s literary outreach projects within each community linked to your Moon Lane bookshops in London and Kent, for which you have received numerous awards including Moon Lane winning The British Book Awards UK Book Retailer of the Year in 2021, the most significant award in the book publishing industry. Extremely impressive. What’s the secret to your relentless work ethic? Is there a core mission underlying everything you do?
Tamara: Ever since being a primary school teacher and recognising that well over half of my class was not being represented or respected in the books that were in the school, I have been on a mission to raise eqality in children's books; equality of access, represention, and roles in the publishing industry. This involved trying to identify the barriers and then developing practical initiatives to address them. I think once you recognise an injustice it is very hard not to want to work to change it in every way that you can. I couldn't do anything that I do without the hard work and support of the Moon Lane team though. We are all passionate about creating change in the industry in any way that we can. This is often in very small decisions on stocking an individual book for an individual child, and sometimes it is working on a larger projects with bigger organisations, but the driving force remains the same.
Nicci: So, finally - I know from personal experience that your author events are just brilliant and a huge hit with kids. If anyone reading this is interested in booking you, how should they go about it?
Tamara: Thank you! I am insanely lucky to be able to work with the brilliant entertainer Gilbert Giggles for all my events. I am the side-show really, he brings them alive for the children. If anyone would like to have us land in their schools with a load of inflatable dinosaurs, magic tricks and a lot of laughter, they can book us directly with the Moon Lane Education team's online booking form.
Thank you so much! I have really enjoyed answering these questions and I am so grateful for your time reading Dragon World and Underwater World!
Thanks for the super interview, Tamara!
About the creators
Tamara Macfarlane (author)
Tamara Macfarlane is the owner of Tales on Moon Lane Children’s Bookshop, and, co-owner of Moon Lane Education, Moon Lane Ink CIC and the Moon Lane Children's Bookshop in Ramsgate. She has more than 15 years’ experience working with children and schools and combines running the bookshops with writing children’s books. Tamara has series with DK, Hodder, Simon and Schuster, Troika Books, and Puffin. She has judged many high-profile book awards and until recently was Vice Chair of the World Book Day committee.
Alessandra Fusi (illustrator)
Alessandra Fusi was born in Rome in 1984, where she attended the IED institute of Art and Design, graduating in illustration and multimedia animation in 2006. She has since then worked as an illustrator, mainly working on books for children and young adults, but also games and stationery products. As a painter she has exhibited her work in various solo and collective artshows accross Italy, Europe and the United States. Alessandra loves to portray both classic and modern subjects and characters through her work, but the Golden Age of illustration and traditional fairytale mannerism have a very special place in her art, an enduring fascination she expresses also in her style. Currently, she lives and works in Bologna, together with Edoardo and their two cats. She loves magic and fairy tales, coffee, music, dancing, and cats. Of course.
Grab a copy
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Publication date: 18 August 2022
Also in this series by Tamara Macfarlane:
'Dragon World' (DK, 2021)
*Tamara Macfarlane provided me with a review copy of 'Underwater World'.
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