After moving to a new home, Caro wishes she had a friend, but she’s too shy to meet the neighborhood kids. With a little imagination, however, Caro finds the Snow Lion. Together, they have all kinds of fun racing, climbing, and playing hide-and-seek. But when the boy next door asks Caro to come play, Caro isn’t so sure. Then, the Snow Lion has an idea! Making new friends isn’t always easy, but it is always worth it in the end.
We asked author Jim Helmore about his own experiences and what inspired this gentle and reassuring story of making friends.
Q: What inspired you write The Snow Lion?
A: I was explaining the idea of camouflage to my three-year-old daughter when she suggested that if a polar bear stood against our white kitchen wall, we wouldn’t see it. The initial idea came from this conversation, and unlike other stories I’ve written, it really didn’t change a lot from the very first draft (apart from the polar bear becoming a white lion).
Q: What made you decide to make Caro’s imaginary friend a lion?
A: The original story idea featured a polar bear, but my editor had seen some lion illustrations that she loved by the illustrator Richard Jones. It was her suggestion to change the character to a white lion, which worked perfectly, being that much rarer and strange. The animal had to be large and worldly wise, to contrast with Caro.
Q: The illustrations play a big part in the book, but so do your descriptions of the white walls and their eventual infusion with color. How did you feel when you first saw Richard Jones’s interpretation?
A: Richard’s illustrations are incredibly beautiful and slightly ethereal, which suit the story perfectly. I did have an idea of what the lion might look like, from the original drawing that our editor suggested, but the rest were completely new to me. When I first saw them, they completely blew me away! I love his use of color and texture; it gives the book an almost dreamlike feel.
Q: How did you get into writing?
A: I’ve always loved writing. As a small child I liked to make up stories and create my own books. I’ve still got some of them, rusty staples and all. My favorite was about Santa defeating a bunch of evil elves. I drew my own illustrations back then, but I don’t think Richard has anything to worry about!
Q: What is your writing process like?
A: It differs with each book. The Snow Lion was comparatively easy to write as the idea arrived almost fully formed. Other stories take many, many re-writes and by the end I’m really not sure about them, but sometimes when I look back, months or even years later, these prove to be the stories I’m most happy with. I don’t have a specific writing routine, I just write when I can, when it’s quiet.
Q: What does home mean to you?
A: Safety, warmth, comfort. Somewhere still. When I visit places full of books, it feels like home because I lived in a house full of books as a child. I also grew up by the sea and this reminds me of home too. Living in London, I miss the sea and compensate by filing our house with as many books as possible!
Q: Were you shy as a child? If so, how did the experience inform your story?
A: I was quite shy as a child, especially in new situations or with new people and I think my daughter feels the same. So this story is for her and anyone who might find it harder to make new friendships.
Q: Have you ever found friendship in an unexpected place?
A: Friendships can grow up almost anywhere. As a child you are expected to make friends with other children your own age, but perhaps the most unexpected friendships happen between people of different ages. I’ve learnt and laughed a lot with people twice as old as me. And as an adult, I think that children make amazing friends. They are a constant source of joy and surprise, with their boundless energy and inventiveness. I’d love to be able to live “in the moment” as much as they do.
Q: Did you have an imaginary friend?
A: I didn’t have an imaginary friend, but I did enjoy giving all my animal toys personalities of their own. They were a loyal, happy bunch!
Q: How would you encourage children to break out of their shells and explore beyond what feels safe?
A: Carefully. I don’t believe you should force people to do something they feel uncomfortable with. Perhaps it’s more about making a child feel as confident in themselves as possible, so that they then feel able to explore outside their comfort zones. I hope that by reading The Snow Lion and seeing Caro grow in confidence as she makes new friends, this might help too.
Q: What do you hope readers take away from The Snow Lion?
A: First and foremost, I’d like people to take some hope from this book. We’ve all experienced loneliness and uncertainty at some point in our lives and The Snow Lion is really all about hope and the reassurance that things will get better.