Author Q&A: Konnie Huq

Cookie and the Most Annoying Boy in the World
(Piccadilly Press)

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This debut children’s author was the longest serving female presenter of Blue Peter before she put pen to paper and created a fiercely bright protagonist for little learners to be inspired by. Now, as children are unable to go to school, Huq has combined all her expertise and created a YouTube channel to help home educate them.  

Tell us about the heroine of your book, Cookie Harque (her name is kind of close to yours) and what she gets up to in this story. 
I always describe Cookie as a cross between Wimpy Kid and Bridget Jones – because chaos sort of follows her about. She’s a bit of an outsider until her best friend Keziah joins her school and they become partners in crime – they both love long words and knowledge. Cookie is also into science. She’s quite practical and knowledgeable but she also has a very creative imagination, so she really likes the arts and the sciences. The story is about what happens when Cookie finds out Keziah is moving away and to add insult to injury a new boy is moving in next door to her and she thinks he is the most annoying boy in the world! Is he or is he not? You’ll have to read the book to find out!

You do all your own illustrations in the book and even though they’re simple line drawings, they’re really effective. Was it important for you to do it all yourself?
The illustrations are so bound up in the story that I have to do them as I go – they take what’s going on in the text to another level and often add an extra punchline to a joke. Originally I wasn’t going to have any illustrations in the book but the way that Cookie’s mind works means that she goes off on tangents and has funny thoughts – she sees the bizarre in everyday life! We decided to make the narrative, the words of the book what’s happening in the actual storyline and then to illustrate Cookie’s funny thoughts alongside in comic strips.

Kids know you as the author of cool books but young parents know you from Blue Peter. How did your first job equip you for your new one?
I was at Blue Peter for over a decade – and during that time we started the Blue Peter Book Awards. I was often on the judging panel for that and I read a lot of books and interviewed lots of authors over the years which stood me in good stead! Plus on Blue Peter we often covered science. Lots of the incidents in the book are things which happened to me in real life and many of them were in my Blue Peter days.

With two careers working with and for children under your belt, you must know what makes kids tick better than a lot of grown-ups. What were your initial feelings about the coronavirus crisis shutting schools down and the impact it will have on them?
This can be a really confusing time for kids. Although kids can be quite adaptable, sturdy and robust, different kids deal with things in different ways, and they’re all at different ages and stages of their development. The concept of death can be really scary for them, especially if they’re worrying about people around them or themselves passing away. I thought it was important that kids understood what was going on. When I asked my own children what they knew about the coronavirus on they said: “You have to wash your hands or people might die” – which seemed like two bizarre non-sequiturs. So I did a coronavirus for kids explainer on my YouTube channel – everything you need to know about coronavirus. Actually lots of grown-ups have told me that it’s helped shine a light on it for them too!

Tell us about the YouTube channel and what you hope to achieve with it.
It can be really difficult for parents to work from home and be schooling their own children at the same time – and kids can be ricocheting off the walls when they’re stuck inside all day. So the idea was basically to take the strain off and provide some activities, food for thought, or something interesting to watch which might spur them on into doing something creative – activities which could help take up a chunk of a child’s day without parents having to think too much about how to fill the time.

Reading books like Cookie is obviously the best thing kids can do to keep their minds active outside school but Cookie also loves science. Do you have any tips for how children can keep exploring that safely from homes?
On my YouTube channel I’ve got some science experiments you can do with water. They’re all things you can do with everyday household items you can find knocking about at home. I’ve also packed lots of science into my book. I do it in a stealth fashion so it’s entertaining rather than just educational! There’s an appendix at the back so you can try out some of Cookie’s experiments as well. I’ve filled the books with science methods of notification – Venn diagrams, graphs, there’s even a dichotomous key – but I’ve used them in a fun way to enthuse kids about STEM.

Will there be any other Cookie books coming or has becoming a home school teacher to your own children got in the way of that for now?
There will be. The next book is coming out in August and it’s all about climate change. Cookie joins a forest club and she and her friends are getting eco-friendly and enthused about saving the environment.

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