North East Connected

Academic lands children’s book deal

Four years after leaving a draft of a children’s book in the bottom draw at home – Fay Cavagin used the first lockdown to revisit the story and ended up with a publishing deal.

“I’ll Get You Home” is the story of a little mole that ventures too far from home at night and encounters different animals along the way who support his journey back to safety before sunrise. The message behind the book is about empowering the person to help themselves with support from others, reversing the role of a hero sweeping in to save the day.

Fay, a lecturer in Childhood Studies at the University of Sunderland, drew on her background working in Special Educational Needs (SEN) to write the book, alongside her sister Lauren Armstrong, who is also a primary school teacher.

The publishing deal has been announced during Children’s Book Week 2021 (May3-9), an annual celebration of reading for pleasure for children of primary school age.

Fay, from Newcastle, says: “We were both looking for books that would complement what we were teaching in the settings we were working in at the time. But struggling to find exactly what we wanted we decided to write our own story. Initially we never intended to publish this, it was just a bit of fun with the kids we were teaching. My background is in SEN, and I was keen to create something that was empowering to the person who asks for help – rather than the person who gives the help.

“A lot of texts made the person who would come in and help the character, like a hero, but we flipped that and maintain the empowerment with the person that is requesting the help.”

Fay says it was during the first lockdown, when she was trying to find ways to be creative with her students remotely that she pulled the book out of the draw and took the plunge, sending the story off to a number of publishers.

Several immediately got back in touch, and the sisters signed up with Blossom Spring Publishing. The book has now been beautifully illustrated by Fiona Couling and will go on sale later in the year. It’s aimed at children aged three to seven.

Lauren said: “We are absolutely thrilled we’ve been able to turn an idea we had four years ago now into a book that hopefully will help and support children of all abilities.

“The idea was always to find something that we could meaningfully use within our classrooms, that children could be encouraged by and support practice in mainstream and SEN education. This idea of empowerment, trying to look through the eyes of the character – it’s about trying to empower that person while helping them.”

The sisters hope to develop a series of books set in different environments and habitats, but with the same ethos of animals describing the world and supporting someone who maintains an element of control.

Mum Fay, who also has a son, aged one, began her own academic journey at the University of Sunderland when she completed a degree in Childhood Studies 10 years ago – the subject she began teaching full-time back on campus.

She says: “I got the bug to write a children’s book when I was studying my degree and we were asked to write a storybook for children as part of a module. After graduating I then began teaching in various settings from a school with autistic children, to further and higher education.

“So, it’s great to finally come full circle and create something that will hopefully help children on their own journey.”

Peter Kay, Head of School of Social Sciences, said: “I am delighted that Fay and her sister have created a story which has, as an underlying theme, empowerment for our children – a key theme in the Childhood Studies subject area.

“I am sure that the book will be very popular, having a real impact on the lives of children.  It will also add to the authenticity of Fay’s teaching here at the University of Sunderland – our students are taught one of our alumni who is a real-life published children’s author.  Well done Fay and Lauren.”

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