This week I have great pleasure in introducing you to Robbie Cheadle author and illustrator of the Sir Chocolate Book series.
What most appeals to me about the Sir Chocolate Books is Robbie’s amazing fondant illustrations. I am also impressed that her twelve-year-old son Michael co-authors the books with her, and has been since he was ten. Perhaps your children will also find this aspect interesting.
About the books
Sir Chocolate and Lady Sweet live in Chocolate Land where everything can be eaten. In each story, told in rhyme, Sir Chocolate and Lady Sweet have a new adventure or problem to solve. Robbie also includes recipes from the story in each book.
To date, there are five books in the Sir Chocolate Book series.
Robbie Cheadle was born in London. Her father died when she was three months old, and she and her mother emigrated to South Africa where they lived in Johannesburg, George and Cape Town. While growing up, Robbie attended fourteen different schools. This gave her many opportunities to develop social skills and meet new people as she was often “the new girl”.
Robbie is a qualified Chartered Accountant and writes in that field about equities and investments in South Africa.
While Michael co-authors the books with her, Robbie’s other son Gregory (aged 14) assists Robbie and Michael with filming and editing their YouTube videos and editing their books. The books are very much a family affair.
For other books written by Robbie, see the end of the blog post.
Welcome to readilearn, Robbie.
Thank you for inviting me.
Robbie, the number of books in the Sir Chocolate book series is continually growing with five books now available. What gave you the idea for this series?
My son, Michael, has an auditory processing problem. This meant that he found learning to read and write difficult. We improved his reading skills by reading together every day. I would read a few pages to keep the story moving along at a good pace so that he didn’t get frustrated and then Michael would read a page. Initially, his reading pace was slow, but now he reads at a reasonably good speed. I also encouraged Michael to listen to audio books so that he would gain pleasure from the written word at his comprehension pace and not his own reading pace. That also worked well.
Practising writing was more difficult. Michael hates to write. The process of converting thoughts into words is laborious and frustrating for him. I encouraged Michael to write by making up these Sir Chocolate stories with him. Sir Chocolate and Lady Sweet are both Michael’s idea. The concept of Chocolate Land and a world where you can eat everything also came from his fertile imagination. We took his lovely ideas and wrote them into rhyming verse stories which he handwrote into a book form.
What really appeals to me about your books is the uniqueness of their illustrations. You make all the illustrations from fondant. What gave you the idea of creating illustrations in this way?
My brother-in-law Justin, saw the little books we created. He liked them and suggested we include some child-friendly recipes in the book. Simple items that parents or grandparents could make with their children. Michael and I loved that idea, and it led to the idea of illustrating our books with people, houses and creatures made from biscuits, cakes and fondant.
Baking and fondant modelling had been a hobby of mine for several years at the time, and it was relatively easy for me to make these sorts of illustrations. Initially, Michael also used to make things out of fondant for the books. He is almost 13 now and is no longer interested in fondant, but he still likes to bake with me and helps make our chocolate houses and cakes. I take photographs of our creations and insert them into the stories in the appropriate places.
I was teaching a Sunday School class at that time, and I took the stories, including our illustrations, with me on a Sunday to read to the children. They loved them. One of my fellow teacher’s and a friend suggested I try to publish them. She gave me the contact details of Anne Samson from TSL Publications, and we haven’t looked back. Anne gave me a lot of help in getting the first book ready for publication. It was quite an exercise, and I couldn’t have done it without her.
You credit your son Michael as co-author of these books. What role does Michael play in writing and illustrating the series?
As I said previously, Michael came up with the idea of Sir Chocolate and a land where you can eat everything. He has had input into each of the stories, coming up with the trolls that throw liquorice, a baby cookie monster and a dragon that breathes fire in different colours depending on his mood. Michael was also the inspiration for the fondant five story which will be available early next year. We have a good laugh over that book, as I made an elephant, a lion, a rhino, a buffalo and … a giraffe.
“Mom,” Michael said, “what is the giraffe for?”
“The fondant five, of course,” I replied.
“But Mom,” my clever ten-year-old said, “a giraffe is not part of the big five, you should have a leopard.”
The whole family laughed at me with my own Robbie Big Five. I made a leopard, and we also kept the giraffe and even introduced a monkey to the story.
Robbie, can you please tell us a little about how you create these fondant illustrations. There is a lot of detail in the figures and objects. Is it a time-consuming process?
I have been dabbling in fondant art for years, and I have a lot of bits and bobs to help me make all sorts of things. I have things such as petal and leaf cutters, moulds, fondant art tools and a box of different powder food colours and edible pearls [for eyes and noses].
The level of complexity depends on what I am making. The little people in these books are not that difficult for me to make as their facial features are not that detailed. They are just cute, with round heads, chubby arms and legs and plain bodies. I decorate them with hair, hats and clothes.
The standing figures are much more difficult to make than the ones that sit. I have to let the legs dry for about a week, so they can bear the weight of the figurine when I attach the body, head and arms. I let them dry for another week, leaning against a glass, before I photograph and/or use them.
The more realistic people, like Fiddledee Dee below, are more difficult to make as their faces include a lot of detailed lines and paintwork. These take a couple of hours a day to make.
Flowers take a couple of weeks to make if they are layered petal roses or wired flowers. A detailed step-by-step picture of how to make a rose is set out below:
The cake art also takes a bit of time to make. The cakes all have to be made and then baked. Often, I have to carve the cake/s to get the design I have in mind.
I make icing, often in different colours depending on the design, and ice the cake in parts and layers. The fondant decorations are attached last.
Gingerbread houses take two days to make as I build the walls first and leave the structure overnight to harden before adding the roof.
I find baking and fondant art very relaxing and enjoy spending the time on our creations.
Michael can bake a cake entirely on his own now and is a great help when I need more than one cake for a project.
What time of day do you most enjoy working on your illustrations?
I generally only work on my cake art and fondant projects over weekends as I don’t have time during the week. I like to make fondant art early in the morning when the house is still asleep, and I won’t have any disturbances. I often listen to audio books while I work and create.
What parts of your illustrations do you most enjoying creating?
I enjoy making flowers the most, but they are the most difficult items to model. Each petal must be cut out, frilled and fluted with a ball tool or a cocktail stick to make them curl and thin at the edges. Each petal must then be left to harden for about 30 minutes and then attached to the centre piece. If you leave them too long, the petals will crack, so timing is important. If you attach them too soon, the petals will droop. I do have some disasters, but I am very determined, so I usually get it right in the end.
Do you know what you will make before you start, or do the details evolve as you go?
I always have the idea before I start. I get ideas from all sorts of places, books on fondant art and cake design but mainly through chats with Michael.
When we were in New Zealand in 2016, we came up with the idea for the Rainbow Ice-cream Fairies. New Zealand is a pastoral country, and there are lots of amazing ice-cream shops with all sorts of interesting flavoured ice-cream. Walking back to our apartment after one such visit, we came up with the idea for the book and all the different fairies. When we got home, I started making the fairies, and we used them for our Christmas charity party that year.
Do you have a favourite Sir Chocolate book? Which one and why?
That is a difficult question to answer. I must admit I do love them all. My artwork, photographic skills and creativity have all improved over the past two years, so I do believe the presentation is a bit better in the more recent books.
I do love the trolls in book one, Sir Chocolate and the Strawberry Cream Berries story and cookbook and the message of friendship it contains.
I love the sugar crystal cave featured in book five, Sir Chocolate and the Sugar Crystal Caves story and cookbook. I do think it is my best cake ever.
However, I also like the fairies in book three, Sir Chocolate and the Sugar Dough Bees story and cookbook.
Both book three and book four, Sir Chocolate and the Condensed Milk River story and cookbook highlight the importance of nature conservation.
Book two, Sir Chocolate and the Baby Cookie Monster story and cookbook, is possibly my favourite. I just love this little monster with his jagged nose and ability to create havoc in Chocolateville. I love his rolling biscuit shaped Mum too. This book highlights the concepts of mother love and teamwork.
What were you hoping to achieve with your books?
When my children were growing up, I read them all the books I loved as a child. When I ran out of ideas, I turned to more modern books, and I didn’t like a lot of what I discovered in them. I feel that a lot of modern books almost promote rudeness towards teachers and parents by children who don’t listen to instructions and deliberately defy authority figures. I am not a prude, but I don’t like this kind of literature.
I wrote the Sir Chocolate books because I think they are lovely and fun-filled ideas. I hoped that they would promote parent and child bonding by taking the form of a first cookbook for children. I also hoped they would inspire children to be creative. One little boy I gave the book to, comes from a deprived background. He made the figurines out of clay that he dug out of a ditch. That kind of story warms my heart.
How do you hope readers will feel as they read them?
I hope children who read these books will feel inspired to read and be creative. I would like them to try out the recipes and find ways of enjoying activities that do not involve screens and television.
How would you like teachers to present the books to children?
I think the Sir Chocolate books are best presented together with a baking activity. It doesn’t have to be baking; it can be cupcake decorating or biscuit assembly art. The books are written in rhyming verse to assist young children with learning to read and word recognition.
Do you have any advice for teachers when responding to children’s artwork?
Teachers need to appreciate each child’s creativity. Some of us are more artistic in the formal understanding of art than others, but every child has a creative side that needs to be nurtured.
Creativity is the springboard to progress, as progress requires leaps of faith and “out of the box” thinking. This means that everyone, including scientists and mathematicians, benefits from creative thinking.
Do you have any advice for children when creating artworks?
Good artwork requires patience and effort. If you rush a project and do not give it your best effort, you won’t get the best result. If it doesn’t come out quite as you intended, try tweaking it or working with the part you see as a mistake. You can end up with quite surprising outcomes by being open-minded.
Are there any messages you would like them to discuss?
My books are largely fantasy and aim to provide an enjoyable story for children, to encourage them to read more. The pictures are intended to stimulate their imaginations and promote imaginative artwork.
The books work best when they are read interactively, and children are encouraged to express themselves using fondant, or even play dough, to make sculptures of how they imagine the various characters and creatures look. They can learn how to think of an idea and turn it into a reality. There are messages about environmental awareness, friendship, bullying and other topical issues in the books but they are subtle. I try not to make the books “preachy”.
What is your favourite picture book?
I am not sure if this counts as a picture book for children, but I just love The Butterfly Ball and the Grasshopper’s Feast. It has the most amazing colour plate illustrations and beautiful poetic stories.
Who is your favourite illustrator? What do you like about his or her work?
My favourite illustrator is Lauren Child. She does simple drawings, but the expressions on the faces are just too cute. Somehow, she makes her drawings speak volumes with only a few lines and colours.
Thank you, Robbie Cheadle, for sharing these insights about writing and illustrating and your Sir Chocolate series of picture books. We wish you success.
Thank you, and thanks for having me!
This interview is now available free, in a ready-to-print format, in Literacy Resources Author Spotlight Author-Illustrator Spotlight – Robbie Cheadle. The information may be displayed in your classroom or included in a class book about authors and illustrators.
Find out more about Robbie on her blogs:
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Robbie’s books can be purchased from:
Robbie’s other books include:
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