“I get most of my ideas from listening to people talking or seeing something funny happen,” says Lauren Child. “I am mainly interested in peculiar things that happen in everyday life rather than fantasy.”
Lauren Child’s own childhood memories have provided a fair share of inspiration. Just like Clarice Bean—star of the hilarious picture books Clarice Bean, That’s Me; Clarice Bean, Guess Who’s Babysitting?; and Clarice Bean, What Planet Are You From?; as well as three full-length fiction episodes for middle-grade readers, Utterly Me, Clarice Bean; Clarice Bean Spells Trouble; and Clarice Bean, Don’t Look Now—Lauren Child is familiar with the travails of a middle child. “I had an older sister who spent her time telling me to go away, and I had to share a bedroom with my younger sister, who was always getting me into trouble,” she recalls. Other ideas come simply from looking out the window. “When I was writing the first Clarice Bean book I lived next door to a little boy who used to shout over the wall to a little girl,” she says of her inspiration for Clarice’s annoying classmate, Robert Granger. “He would say, ‘I know you can hear me!’ and she would try very hard to ignore him. My roommate and I called him ‘shouting boy.’”
Lauren Child’s stories may spring from ordinary life, but her treatment of them is anything but ordinary. “I very much enjoy writing the Clarice books because there is no strict format to them,” she says. “Anything can be included, as it’s very much Clarice’s take on the world. I decided right at the beginning that I wanted the text to integrate with the pictures, and that I wanted all the characters to have their own typeface—their own voice, in a way. I used a mixture of paint, photos, textiles, and computer artwork to give it a kind of scrapbook look, as well as a chaotic feel, so it looks like something Clarice might make herself.”
Lauren Child uses this signature collage style in another series of picture books, about the feisty Lola and her ever-patient big brother, Charlie. I Will Never Not Ever Eat a Tomato—inspired by Lauren Child’s own fussy eating habits as a child—earned her a Kate Greenaway Medal, Britain’s most prestigious award for children’s book illustration. I Am Not Sleepy and I Will Not Go To Bed and I Am Too Absolutely Small For School bring back the beloved brother-sister pair in two more familiar scenarios. In That Pesky Rat, Lauren Child introduces a new, four-legged character, an endearing alley rat who pines for a place to belong. “I got the idea for That Pesky Rat when for several months, I was without a fixed address,” Lauren Child says. “I house-sat, watered plants, fed cats, and slept on friends’ floors. I found myself longing for a place of my own.”
The daughter of two teachers, Lauren Child went to two art schools, worked as an assistant to the artist Damien Hirst, and designed an offbeat line of lampshades before beginning a career in children’s books. She lives in London, where she is a manic collector of Barbie doll mermaids and Star Wars memorabilia.