Interview with Cerrie Burnell

Photo: The Guardian

We caught up with CBeebies presenter, Cerrie Burnell at a recent event held by Scholastic. There, Cerrie introduced us to her second picture book with Laura Ellen Anderson ‘Mermaid’.

Cerrie’s books are heart-warmingly diverse and totally inclusive and we posed a few questions to her about ‘Mermaid’ and other future offerings.

61mQ0US+r-L._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_PBB: We’ve been looking forward to ‘Mermaid’ having seen a glimpse at the Scholastic event. Can you tell us how this story emerged?
CB: I’ve always loved mermaids and in fact, I wanted to be one and hoped that ambition would be realised. I particularly like the folklore and the dark mysterious element of mermaids, but as I’m writing picture books I’ve stayed away from that side. I had the idea in my head for a long time and I knew I wanted a strong female lead, hence Sylvia was created.
61opvAAPRyL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_PBB: Your first book ‘Snowflake’ is another poignant story. Do you set out to tell a story with a message?
CB: Yes. I want my stories to have an emotional resonance with my audience, no matter who they are. I write for everyone, for both the adult and the child. As a Mum who has read many stories to my daughter, I know what I enjoy reading and what I don’t. I guess my stories have a dual meaning but in a simple, subtle way.
PBB: There is a much needed call for more diversity in books (particularly picture books) and both of yours have it in abundance. Is this a conscious decision?
CB: I don’t intentionally set out to write about diverse issues. Clearly I know how it feels to want to see characters like yourself in books, having being born with one hand.
People write about what they know, I write about what I know. My next picture book, ‘Ballerina Dreams’ is about a black girl ‘Little Bird’, who has a natural ability to dance. I wanted the character to have brown skin and it’s an inclusive story that challenges the stereotype of the white, middle class ballet dancer.
Photo: Sarah McIntyre

PBB: Your partnership with Laura Ellen Anderson clearly works, do you have a pre-conceived idea how your characters look and do you brief Laura?

CB: I don’t know what they look like per se, but I did know that Luka was Asian. I also specifically didn’t want Sylvia to have red hair, as there would be too much correlation to Disney’s Ariel. I wanted her to look like the mermaid you imagine when you’re little and as with our first book, Laura created these two new characters to perfection.

PBB: Writing or presenting?
CB: I’m fiercely ambitious and I’m lucky that I get the chance to do two things that I love. I’ll always be a writer in my heart and having struggled with dyslexia I know only too well, the importance of books for children. Writing is flexible and can fit around my presenting work and I don’t underestimate how CBeebies has helped build my profile and speeded up the process of my book writing.
Thank you so much to Cerrie and Scholastic for setting up our interview and watch out for Cerrie’s first chapter book out in October, entitled ‘Harper and the Scarlet Umbrella’.

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