DrawingFictionGeneral ArtIllustrationWriting

The Little Universe, episode 1

So, I'm writing a children's book (hooray!), and I'm going to share it with you, page by page, over the course of a good many weeks, along with some background information you might find interesting. I love children's books, and I think they are important too. They are often the first means a child has of understanding the world around them – a world which they have not begun to fully get to grips with yet. Saying it like that lays a certain amount of burden on the writer and/or illustrator, and too right it should!

This is Bep. You'll be seeing quite a lot of her over the course of this project, so I hope you're not offended by curly redheads in pyjamas who insist on dragging their pets across space and time. So, this is her, and this is why I created her and sought out to tell the story of the Universe…

More after the break.

I have little doubt my future children will grow up with some magic and myth in their lives: there will always be cartoons with talking animals, the other kids at school will chatter about Santa Claus, some misinformed relative will tell them that their pet hamsters went to heaven. Whatever they hear, and whatever they start to believe in or question, I want them to grow up knowing that the most wondrous story is happening right above their heads; that behind the blue sky, there's a place that not even Disney could make up; that when the stars come out at night you can catch a glimpse of it really happening with your own eyes. I want to lift them up to peep through our telescope and see Saturn's rings, gaze at the craters in the moon, see the red tinge of Betelgeuse and the faint glow of Andromeda. I want to tell them that this story is their story. I want to try and describe to them how very minuscule the window of opportunity is that allows them to see and understand it, how very lucky they are.

Are your bags packed? Let's get going!

Stay tuned. I'll be posting every two weeks.


Laurent is a children's editor and illustrator who lives in London with her two cats and a rabbit. If she wasn't an editor she'd be a paleontologist, and if she wasn't a human she'd be a dinosaur. Her favourite dinosaur is Triceratops. Follow her on Twitter: @mrs_laurent

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  1. Thanks, Daniela. I'll be looking to publish it as soon as it's done, and I'll be selling prints of the artworks soon. I'll let everyone know when that's happening. In the mean time, do stick around and follow it on the Lab!

  2. Oh dear… I'm afaid you're not going to like this…
    First the good part… the idea is great and your illustration is wonderful.
    I'm afraid however, that you've fallen prey to a VERY common misconception about Big Bang Theory.  We don't actually know the size of the Universe at the moment of the Big Bang because we don't know the size of the Universe now.  Given recent measurments of the curvature of space, it's looking more and more like the Universe is actually infinite in size.  And if it is infinite now, it had to have been infinite at the moment of the Big Bang.  While it's true that the observable universe was the size of a tiny point at the moment of the Big Bang, we are already sure that the Universe is MUCH bigger than just the section we can observe.
    Nasa has a wonderful site they maintain called Universe 101 (http://map.gsfc.nasa.gov/universe/).  Here's a direct quote:
    Please keep in mind the following important points to avoid misconceptions about the Big Bang and expansion:
    The Big Bang did not occur at a single point in space as an "explosion." It is better thought of as the simultaneous appearance of space everywhere in the universe. That region of space that is within our present horizon was indeed no bigger than a point in the past. Nevertheless, if all of space both inside and outside our horizon is infinite now, it was born infinite.</pre>

  3. @Loree I don't see how Lauren has insinuated any misconceptions at all about the universe or its origin in her illustrations. She has done a lovely job of showing how something very big can at first appear very small.
    There is little argument that the expansion of the universe appeared to (probably) begin from very compressed matter/ energy that then comprised what "space" as we define it actually became. We actually dont know what happened at that moment and to try to say that the big bang was everywhere is no way to explain theoretical physics and spacial expansion to a child, if that is indeed even where Lauren is going with this story. And perhaps in the illustration the magnifying glass is actually the bubble of a multiverse this magical girl with a cat with a beanie has somehow managed to use through a temporary wormhole. Ah, all the theoretical and hypothetical things we really don't understand or have evidence for yet are what make the mysteries of space so fascinating and make storytelling so fun. Let's give Lauren a chance to tell her tale.

  4. Lauren- Your work is so charming and so exquisite! I also have a nephew and he will get this as a gift, but I would buy this for myself. Thanks for sharing this with us

  5. @Loree I'll be the first to admit that explaining the conception of the Universe to a child is no easy task. I've worked in children's publishing for many years, specifically children's educational publishing, including editorial, writing, illustration and the conception of educational resources for an international market. This is heavily dependent on me having a up-to-the-minute knowledge of school curriculum, so trust me, I don't put pen to paper to address a child audience without very careful consideration first. This wasn't a story I hammered out one night after having a lightbulb moment and a glance at the Big Bang Wikipedia entry. I started the process almost two years ago, and in that time the manuscript has been under the consultation of two physicists, one of whom is a professor of cosmology at a London University and a children's author. There's a scructure to young science education that often glosses over extreme accuracy  for the sake of laying the groundwork for the knowldge to grow. If anyone has ever cracked open a children's science book, they'll have seen this very plainly. These types of sacrifices must be made when addressing a young audience, especially a picture book audience, whose readership will start as young at five years old. If you're unclear as to the practices involved when writing science for children, I suggest you read up on it. If you're still in disagreement after that, then you probably won't enjoy The Little Universe that much. I would have thought the biggest problem here was the animals in hats using magnifying glasses, but I guess people are letting that one slide.

  6. I love this, it is absolutely beautiful! And, I would really love to have it translated into swedish so I could buy it for my kids!

  7. Pets I want:
    Fizzgig from the Dark Crystal
    Ein from Cowboy Bebop
    a Pernese fire lizard
    the bunny in an aviator helmet (and the kitty in an earflappy toque if she'll play nice with my qats)
    (my nerd is showing, and I'll have a zoo)

  8. I love this madly.
    Red/curly haired girl through space and time? You've mixed together young Amy and River Song for your protagonist… this may also influence my adoration of the character.

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