Today I am delighted to introduce you to a new publishing company Ethicool Books.
When I first heard about Ethicool Books, I was intrigued by the name and the play on words. When I delved a little further into their website, I was delighted to find what they were aiming to do.
The statement on their homepage says,
“Hi! we’re Ethicool. We publish remarkable children’s books about the world’s big issues, encouraging kids to make a positive change.”
I couldn’t find anything to argue with there. Or anywhere, in fact.
About Ethicool Books
Ethicool Books aims to encourage parents to engage children in discussions about issues such as climate change, ocean pollution, poverty and gender equality through stories told in their beautiful picture books.
© Stuart French and Teigan Margetts
As parents themselves, Stuart French and Teigan Margetts, the founders of Ethicool Books, realised the powerful role that parents have in educating their children for a positive future.
“Our little ones have the opportunity to create a different world, right from the ground up. The future is in their hands and if we give them the gift of knowledge and the inspiration to take action, they can create the world of their dreams.”
But Ethicool Books are not only words. They are action also. They have partnered with 1% for the Planet, donating 1% of all book sales to that organisation. They are also eco-conscious and use soy inks in the printing process. You can read a little more about that here.
Today, I have the great pleasure of introducing you to Stuart French, co-founder of Ethicool Books and author of the best-selling picture book Remembering Mother Nature.
Welcome to readilearn, Stuart.
© Stuart French
First of all, could you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you came to establish Ethicool Books with its vision of creating a positive change in the world?
Hi! I was born in Tasmania, where I lived until I was 25, before moving to Melbourne. I grew up in a very book-obsessed family and always loved words. In school, English was the only subject that I ever took a genuine interest in, and I was lucky enough to have a couple of teachers along the way that really fostered this.
I carried my love of words into studying Journalism and English at university, but at the time, I coupled this with a law degree, thinking that I’d “never make money from being a writer”. I lasted less than two years studying law and ended up pulling out to focus on creative writing units as part of my English degree. I never really had a plan of where I’d end up without leveraging the clearer pathway enabled by a legal degree, but I didn’t really care at the time!
Ironically, anyway, I ended up working in marketing and advertising (and interfacing heavily with lawyers!), which I learned very quickly, was the ultimate environment to refine my writing skills, whilst also earning a living. This led into writing a lot of website copy and blogs, and ultimately into a very successful career running large digital businesses across the ASX100.
I can’t say I ever felt remotely fulfilled by my day job, though. Whilst I travelled the world extensively for work and met a lot of incredible people, the ultimate focus of what I was doing never really “gave back” meaningfully to society – neither culturally, nor financially.
It was the desire to fill this emotional void that really accelerated the creation of Ethicool, a business that has managed to find the right “ethical” balance between adding cultural and societal value, whilst also operating sustainably from both a financial and an environmental standpoint.
Ethicool Books is just a young company, established earlier this year in 2020. What is your vision for its future?
We want to be the first name people think of when they’re looking for children’s books. When this happens, it will mean people are seeking books to make the world a better place, rather than books to simply help their child fall asleep.
It’s a bold goal, but we are committed to making it a reality over the next five years.
What criteria do you use when choosing books to include in the Ethicool collection?
We’re really after books that manage to strike a finite balance between educating, entrancing and engaging little readers. Stories that are too overt with their thematic intent are always well-intentioned (they really want to teach children the right behaviours) but they generally struggle to engage small children.
Conversely, books that are more whimsical and don’t really focus on the themes we care about (sustainability, equality, environmentalism, etc.) are too mainstream and don’t sufficiently align with our mission.
The real art, we’ve found, is when our themes of interest are seamlessly interwoven with narratives that are beautiful, adventurous – special – in their own right. Achieving this balance is exceptionally hard, but when it happens, the response from our readers has been overwhelmingly positive.
What do you want parents and teachers to know when they visit the Ethicool website and store?
That we’re not like every other publisher; that they’re often speaking with real authors and with people who primarily care more about the purpose of their business than they do about the publishing industry as a whole.
We want people to feel part of something transformational, something new. We want them to feel empowered to enable positive change and be part of our family.
Now let’s talk about you as a writer. When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
I would say from about eight years old. I have never, ever lost sight of it. Even when my career took off in a completely different direction and I found a lot of success and recognition, I always felt like I’d drop it in an instant if I could make even 10% of the income by writing full-time!
Where do you write? Do you like to be by yourself in the quiet, or do you like to write in a noisy space?
I find writing incredibly difficult unless I am completely alone. I think writing is the domain of the introvert, of which I am definitely one. The only occasional companion I have whilst writing is music, especially the work of contemporary pianists like Alexis Ffrench, Max Arnald and Dexter Britain.
Finding “space” (both literally and metaphorically) becomes even harder once you’re a parent, though. With two young boys now, my writing time is reserved for later in the evenings once they’re asleep. Conversely, when I lived alone for a couple of years some time ago, I spent almost all my free time writing.
What do you use to write – pencil and paper or computer?
I often jot down small ideas or poetic verses on my phone and then revisit them on my computer to expand them out. Every single one of my favourite stories has started as a poem. I think poetry is the ultimate form of expression. It is incredibly underrated and underexplored in the world of contemporary literature.
When do you write?
Almost exclusively later in the evening. I have quite severe insomnia at times, which is something of a paradoxical enabler for good writing!
When do you get your ideas?
Usually while exercising, actually. It’s about the only time I can relax my mind and remove the persistent distractions of work or life in general. I can’t say I’ve ever struggled with writer’s block in the traditional sense; my writer’s block is more caused by the lack of space to write and think without distraction.
Now let’s talk about Remembering Mother Nature. What gave you the idea for the story?
I’ve always adored the concept of Mother Nature and, in searching for the right vehicle to explore environmentalism with children, I decided she would be perfect: mythical and curious, yet still very accessible and with great illustrative potential.
I find children are quite intrigued by the process of ageing and so I randomly had the idea of joining this with the personification of an ageing Mother Nature, thus metaphorically exploring the ageing of the planet through a character that would really garner their attention.
What came first, the story or the illustrations?
The story, absolutely. Although, I was definitely visualising the illustrative outputs in my head whilst writing the story.
Did you think of the story in your head before you wrote it?
I very rarely manage this level of planning! Almost everything I write is shaped iteratively, and usually off just one or two lines of text. One of the main reasons I love writing is because it is completely devoid of boundaries. There is a real sense of catharsis that comes from taking a story in any direction you like, and from developing characters with absolute freedom.
This is probably one of the main reasons I start everything by writing rather than planning the entire course of a narrative.
What do you like best about Remembering Mother Nature?
Perhaps that it is so accessible and non-discriminatory. Very small children can be wholly engaged by the illustrations, and great-grandparents can be equally affected by the messages it projects.
Good writing is that which appeals to everyone (and can do so through multiple angles), and I think this premise applies especially to children’s books. Almost every adult can name a children’s book they still love, even to this day, demonstrating how impactful the stories from our childhood actually are.
Which is your favourite illustration?
The one where Mother Nature is swimming, face-up in the river, with fish all around her. She looks absolutely at peace and there are so many metaphors inside this.
Can you tell us a little about the way you guided the illustrative process of Remembering Mother Nature?
I really feel the illustration process is much harder to complete successfully than the writing, and that’s not necessarily because I am a writer more than an illustrator. Illustrations are literally a visual interpretation of the text, so they run the risk of “containing” a narrative in the wrong areas. Readers need to be given freedom to imagine the scenes of a picture book in their own way, so good illustrations must leave adequate space for this to occur.
I absolutely wanted to ensure this space was available within the book and I think we achieved it.
My illustrator, Alvin Adhi, has completed more than fifty children’s books – he is incredibly talented and experienced. Moreover, though, he is passionate about the themes the book explored, so this really created a level of emotional investment in the outcome, which I think shines through in the quality of the artwork.
How did you feel when you first held a completed copy of Remembering Mother Nature?
I remember feeling like I had produced something quite special… but then suddenly worrying that maybe it wasn’t as wonderful as I thought! Imposter syndrome is definitely a thing for writers, I think. Now that so much beautiful feedback has come through, though, I really do feel a lovely sense of accomplishment.
Reading the book to my own children – and seeing thousands of other parents now do the same – has given me the career satisfaction that I never came close to finding anywhere else.
How do you hope readers will feel?
Empowered and engaged. Uplifted.
How would you like teachers to present Remembering Mother Nature to children?
As a story within which they play a lead role. Mother Nature isn’t a real person, of course, but her purpose manifests itself in almost every part of life. If children are cognisant of this – and their parents role model behaviours that do the same – the next generation can reign in much of the duress humans have placed on the environment.
How would you like them to discuss the messages in your book?
In a way that contextualises the meaning of these themes through real events. There are reasons whales are removed from the seas, reasons too much deforestation is occurring, and also reasons many exotic species are being poached etc. We should be talking to children about the catalysts for these events – naming the politicians and the people and the corporations that enable this harm – so we develop awareness and critical thinking as early as possible.
Do you have any advice for teachers in their role as writing guides?
Words and writing are at the heart of everything. Better writers are better communicators, more effective negotiators, more inquisitive thinkers, and more agile learners. Science and maths are critical, too, but they come to life when people can communicate their purpose effectively.
It all starts with words and our curriculum needs to be reflect this better than it does today.
Do you have any advice for children as writers?
Writing can be your career, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. If you’re passionate about it, you should pursue it. Having worked in software and technology for more than a decade, I am acutely aware that professions like law and accounting will be replaced by AI in the years ahead.
Writing and communications, however, is one of the hardest industries to digitise, for it has creativity at its heart.
What is your favourite picture book?
I love anything Winnie the Pooh. Disarming, accessible, charming.
Who is your favourite author? What do you like about his or her work?
Julian Barnes. An incredibly talented creator of characters. I think writers have an unparalleled way of looking into people and discerning their make-up, and Barnes is my favourite example of this.
Thank you, Stuart, for visiting with us today and telling us a little more about the positive change you wish to make through producing beautiful picture books.
Find out more about Stuart French on the Ethicool Books website
Or connect with him on social media
Purchase Ethicool Books
from the Ethicool Books bookstore
This interview is now available free in a ready-to-print format in the Author Spotlight Literary Resources, Author Spotlight — Stuart French.
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