Jim Field's latest project is a delight. He illustrates and writes a wonderful picture book that both gently teaches us basic words from the French language and tells a lovely story. We set out on holiday with Monsieur Roscoe and have a gorgeous glimpse of a delicious French day complete with croissant, coffee and camping.
We had a moment with Jim remotely from Paris and have a brief Q&A with him.
- I see that you have moved with your family to Paris. Are you a dedicated Francophile?
My wife, Sandy (who is French) and I met in London 7 years ago. She needed to return to France for work reasons, so I followed mon amour to Paris. Not knowing any French when I arrived (except the ‘Bonjour’ song I learnt in French Class 30 years ago) I’ve struggled over the years to grasp with the language. I’m not a fully dedicated Francophile but I love how they value family above everything else. And the food and wine aren’t bad either!
- How long has the idea of doing a ‘learn another language’ book been brewing. Learning another language has been a goal for many in lockdown. Your book is a total delight and will undoubtedly be a lovely introduction for lots of children to french, would you be able to give us any tips on how to keep learning a language fun.
Thank you! That’s lovely to hear. The idea came when our daughter was just a baby (4 years ago now)- my wife and I were searching the shelves in a local bookshop for English/French bilingual picture books and I thought it might help me too. To our surprise there weren’t that many! As a children’s book illustrator, we thought maybe we could create a bilingual picture book which introduces children to a foreign language in a fun and engaging way. I think the best way to try and keep the learning fun is try and put it in practice in a conversation.
- Did you read any similar ‘french/English’ books when you were younger that inspired you?
Not when I was younger but as part of my research for Monsieur Roscoe I searched in bookshops and libraries in France and the UK. I stumbled upon a book called ‘Le Grand Livre des Mots’ (The Big Book of Words), a bilingual book in French and English, by one of my favourite author/illustrators, Richard Scarry. It brought back very fond memories as I remember staring at his wonderfully illustrated busy scenes for ages as a child. This book was a real inspiration for Monsieur Roscoe.
- Did you learn French at an early age?
Sadly I didn’t. I really struggled with learning French and German at Secondary School. I feel the UK teaches foreign languages too late unlike many countries in Europe. There are huge benefits to learning a language at a very young age. The younger they learn, the better they are at mimicking new words and sounds. Children are not terrified of making mistakes, unlike adults. Especially me when I go into the Boulangerie…
- What language does your daughter speak? Living in a relatively new country during lockdown must have had its challenges and also a chance to really get to know the neighbourhood. What do you find has been a good part of lockdown for you as a family.
Our daughter has just turned four. She is truly bilingual and she flips from speaking French with my wife to English with me. It’s incredible. She’s already teasing me on my bad French annunciation.
Living in Paris was certainly challenging during the lockdown. We couldn’t go further than 1km from the apartment and only for an hour a day. It was very strict. I felt so far from my family in the UK. I felt (like many I’m sure) like my world had been turned upside down. It was a real juggling act as my wife and I were both working and sharing the childcare. I think looking back in years to come, we’ll cherish those 9 weeks that we had as family day in day out.
- As an artist what would you say has been a good part of lockdown for you
One thing that was great fun to do was making #DrawwithJimField videos. My wife filmed me teaching how to draw characters from the picture books I’ve illustrated, Frog from ‘Oi Frog!’ Quentin the duck from ‘Quick quack Quentin’ (both written by Kes Gray) and the little mouse from ‘The Lion Inside’ (written by Rachel Bright). My wife edited and made the films look really nice and I shared them onlinehttps://www.jimfield.me/draw . It has been really wonderful seeing children’s and parent’s drawings of my characters from around the world.
- Which illustrator / author has had most influence on your work?
Richard Scarry’s books have had a great influence on me, especially when working on Monsieur Roscoe.
- This is your first authored and illustrated book. Congratulations it’s a corker. Do you find an added freedom to being able to illustrate your own words?
Thank you so much. I actually found it twice the pressure! It took a long time to work out the format of this book- 4 years, on and off. Many times I was lost and wondered if it was going in the right direction but the support and encouragement of my wife and the lovely team at Hachette kept it on track.
- Where would you most like to explore on earth after lockdown is lifted?
The lockdown was lifted a few weeks ago here in France and we escaped straight away to the countryside in the Morvan Forest. We rented an old farmhouse with cows as neighbours and loved every minute of being completely surrounded by nature.
- What do you most miss about lockdown?
Not having to worry about stuff like taxes, and administration.
Monsieur Roscoe on Holiday by Jim Field published by Hachette - 9 July. £12.99