I interview Debi Gregory about her book…
Who are the Elemenpals for?
The Elemenpals is aimed specifically at infants, young children and early readers. It’s written in such a way that children too young to read independently can be read to and so that children who are beginning to read independently can manage with little help but still with adult supervision. I wanted the book to encourage family bonding time through shared reading experiences.
I know you’ve done a lot of studying of child development. How does that relate to your writing?
I’m currently working towards becoming a developmental psychologist and am particularly interested in neuro-developmental psychology and the way that children’s brain development affects, and is affected by, their behaviours, their personalities, their development of their sense of self and autonomy. The books were my way of empowering my own children to form a connection with nature and to explore their own narratives and self expression through finding parallels in nature and the elemental cycle and perception. I also wanted to include some neurominority characters who actually reflected my children’s experiences as most autistic characters in books only reflect the “classically autistic” narrative and none of my children relate with that at all as it’s such a narrow view. So Menme, the Spirit Imp, is non-verbal and, as you can see in the book, speaks with gestures, facial expression, body language and hand movements. This isn’t an obvious thing, it’s not a plot point. Menme just is and fits into the story authentically and organically and it was really important to me to do that well. As an autistic writer, I feel it’s part of my duty to include those narratives ethically.
Is this a Pagan book? the elemental aspect certainly suggests that it is? would it work for non-Pagans, could it get into schools under the radar?
The book is definitely based on Pagan beliefs and folklore but it’s the sort of folklore and belief that society has carried with it, protecting their Pagan heritage whether they knew it or not. The archetypes of Mother Earth, elemental beings and deities of sacred life such as rivers and trees are things that modern and Abrahamic beliefs could never quite quash and they’re the main theme of the book. I’d love for them to get into schools. Every aspect of them has been written with empowering children in their development at the forefront. My biggest dream for them would be to see them in schools. I’ve already written some classes that would work with the UK curriculum that could accompany them but that’s just how my mind works, I’m not sure they’ll ever be used.
Can you talk a bit more about what representation, or the lack of it means for children? How it impacts on them…
One of the most oppressed groups on this planet is children. Most adults believe that children should obey, shouldn’t “talk back” and don’t allow them any voice or autonomy. Our education system is designed to spit out conformists on a conveyer belt and punish any form of individuality from what they wear, to how they speak, even as far as policing their facial expressions which are mostly involuntary. It’s a mental health crisis waiting to happen! Except it is happening already. We are the product of that education system, we adults. The problem is that many of us perpetuate it and take agency away from children from the moment they’re born. Giving children some control over some aspects of their lives is extremely beneficial, teaching and empowering consent, emotion development, conscientiousness and more. How can we teach our young girls that their body is their own and that no one has the right to touch them without their consent on the one hand and then force them to wear what we say on the other? How can we teach our young boys that when a girl says no she means no if we do the same to them? For that matter, how do we teach boys that their own body is theirs and no one can touch them without their permission? Giving children agency and representation on how that agency can work in various settings is the only way to give them this power effectively.
How did you find your illustrator?
I’m not sure how Adam and I connected. Totally by accident, probably. We both have a love of wordplay and respectful debate and discourse so it was likely that we had a mutual friend and ended up chatting that way. But one day he saw that I’d written a children’s book and as he’s a published children’s author himself, we were discussing writing for children, one thing led to another and I had myself an illustrator who really understood my vision of what I wanted to convey in my books. The fun and whimsy of the characters, the fluctuating moods to expose children to as many emotional possibilities as we could, which is extremely beneficial for their emotion development and expression. Adam is incredibly talented, as a writer and performer, as well as an artist, and he understands my mind in a way that I feel is a must for people creating together in this way. The books are as much his hard work as mine but I know he’d argue with that.
Where can people find you?
You can buy my books from all good retailers and from my own website, where there’ll soon be an online course for families on how to encourage good spiritual, emotional and familial development! 🙂