Journalist and Goldsmiths, University of London BA Journalism lecturer Ellie Levenson writes children’s books as Eleanor Levenson, and is founder of a publishing house, Fisherton Press.
Her latest book, We Love the NHS has been written for kids aged 3-8 to explain what the NHS is, why it was founded, how it is funded, who works for it and who can use it.
We Love the NHS was published on 5 July 2020 - the 72nd anniversary of the establishment of the UK’s NHS and social care system - and is available to buy online from Amazon and from independent book stores.
Copies can also be bought from the Fishteron Press website to donate to schools and hospitals.
In the midst of the book’s early success, we caught up with Ellie to talk about her work.
SC: What are you hoping that We Love the NHS will achieve in helping children and their parents or guardians understand what happens on the frontline and behind the scenes in our healthcare system?
EL: I hope that starting to take an interest in the institutions around us and how society works, even at a young age, will encourage children to feel ownership of these and realise they have a stake in them.
With We Love the NHS in particular I want children – and their adults – to make the connection between what we have been clapping for these past weeks during the pandemic, and the need to cherish and fund the NHS for future generations, and to know that it will only continue to exist if we work to ensure it does so.
Marek, the illustrator, and I worked hard to ensure that the book is diverse in terms of race, disability and sex, so I hope this helps every child realise the variety of career options available to them. We think it is the first book not about disability to include a character with dwarfism in one of the illustrations, completely unremarked upon. This is because my friend’s little boy has achondroplasia, which is a type of dwarfism, so I have become more aware through knowing him of how few people he sees who look like him in books doing professional roles.
The book references the pandemic only in a small way – with some rainbows and people clapping on the front cover, because we need the NHS at all times, not just times of national crisis.
SC: How has the book been received by readers and reviewers so far?
EL: I’ve been blown away by its success given it has only been out for a couple of weeks. Keir Starmer wrote about it on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and my notifications didn’t stop, and other politicians and celebrities then did too, including Goldsmiths’ own Michael Rosen who retweeted about the book when someone asked him to. Of course he has also had his own well documented battled with Covid-19 and has a lot of gratitude towards the NHS. That’s one of the lovely things - people have read the book, enjoyed it, then become advocates for it on social media asking writers and well-known medical people to mention it too such as Dr Xand from Operation Ouch.
This all seems to have translated to lots of sales too which is particularly great as half of all profits go to the Children’s Heart Surgery Fund at the Leeds General Infirmary, to which the illustrator has a personal link.
SC: On each book you work with different illustrators, each with a unique style – how do these partnerships work in bringing your ideas to life?
EL: I really like working independently – it is why I flourish as a freelance journalist working on my own stories and writing my own books, but I love working with illustrators on children’s books because their brains work completely differently to mine so always bring something completely new to what I had envisioned. Marek Jagucki, who illustrated We Love the NHS and also our book explaining voting and democracy, The Election, is a pleasure to work with really bringing ideas to life and thinking up ways to illustrate points that never even cross my mind.
SC: How do you think the skills of a journalist translate well to children’s book writing?
EL: In all of my work, be it writing books for children or teaching feature writing to journalism students at Goldsmiths, I try to ensure the subject is written about in a way that the audience can understand. I don’t think there are many subjects that can’t be written about for children as long as you break it down into bite-sized chunks, explain every previously unknown concept, stick to language that is easy to understand and use appropriate examples. In fact they are my rules for feature writing too – you don’t show how clever you are by using long words, you show how clever you are by making sure you can be understood.
SC: You launched Fisherton Press seven years ago – what were your goals for the publishing house and can you share any plans for the future?
EL: I set up Fisherton Press towards the end of 2013 when my second child was nearly a year old. I had started to get a bit more sleep and my brain was clearly looking for something more to do plus I was reading all of these kids’ books to my kids thinking ‘I could do better than this’ about some of them, so I decided I would indeed try to do better.
Then just as things were taking off and we had published three books and commissioned three more, I became pregnant with my third child. So after publishing the ones that had been commissioned I just kept things ticking over really, until inspiration struck after a few weeks of clapping for our carers on Thursday nights. I thought, wouldn’t it be great to explain to children what it is we are actually clapping for.
My youngest goes to school this coming September (if the schools reopen to all kids – oh please let them reopen to all kids!) so I should have a bit more time. I have grand plans for new books, promoting our ‘Donate a Book’ scheme so that we can get copies into schools, libraries and hospitals, and also creating corporate partnerships with this intention too.