Tessa Strickland

Tessa Strickland

Tessa Strickland is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of Barefoot Books. In and around her professional responsibilities, she writes (sometimes as Stella Blackstone), reads and goes travelling. She also loves to dream and draw and drink wine with good friends and dig in her garden. She has two sons and a daughter, all in their twenties. Her home is in rural Somerset, which is also where she most likes to write. So these posts come from her garden bench in summer, and from her fireside in winter.


We were delighted to have Emmy-award winning actress, Debra Messing, at our  Book Expo booth at the packed Javits Center in New York City yesterday.  Debra has narrated two of the books on our Autumn 2013 programme: The Little Red Hen, and The Barefoot Book of Jewish Tales. She spent a busy hour signing posters and meeting fans. Afterwards, we had a few minutes to speak to her about storytelling, motherhood, and Barefoot Books:

I first read the story of Theseus and the Minotaur in an issue of the children’s weekly comic, ‘Look and Learn’. I must have been about eight years old. I was both fascinated and appalled by it – fascinated by the culture of ancient Crete and appalled by the behaviour of Theseus, who abandons Ariadne on the island of Naxos, having promised to take her back to Athens and make her his wife. I was also dismayed by Theseus’s  carelessness: when he sets sail from Athens to Crete, determined to kill the minotaur, his father Aegus asks him to have the ship’s black sails changed for white ones if he succeeds in his quest. Theseus forgets, so when his father, anxiously looking out for him, sees a black-sailed ship returning, he throws himself off the cliffs in despair. In ‘Look and Learn’, this scene was dramatically illustrated, with the figure of Aegeus, who gave his name to the Aegean Sea, tumbling to his death as the ship approaches the harbour.

Have you made the acquaintance of Herb, our friendly and peace-loving vegetarian dragon? If not, you have a treat in store.

If you download our Singalongs from Youtube, you will already know that the most popular one is Driving My Tractor, written and composed by Jan Dobbins. Farms may be far away from the everyday lives of many of us, but they retain a considerable allure for small children. I grew up in rural Yorkshire, with calves and sheep, chickens and piglets among my playmates, so I feel a certain nostalgic delight about this project, as well as a debt of gratitude to author and composer Jan Dobbins for having conjured up another compelling tune. I was dismayed last summer to read in the Daily Mail that most teenagers have no idea where butter comes from. As for bacon – a third don’t know it has anything to do with pigs and 3 percent think it comes from cows. You won’t be surprised to hear that many don’t know where eggs or milk come from either.

Most of the books we publish at Barefoot are developed in house, but every now and then I find one on another publisher’s programme and think ‘This is a Barefoot story!’ I came across The Girl with a Brave Heart last year, at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair. It had been published in Hebrew by Kinneret Zmora-Bitan Publishing and luckily for me, no-one had snapped up the English language rights.

A penniless man passes a street vendor. All he has to eat is a crust of bread he has picked up from the street. From the vendor’s cooking pots wafts a delicious aroma. The man stops to soften his bread in the steam, only to find the vendor’s hand on his shoulder. As far as the vendor is concerned, the poor man should be paying to let the steam add flavour his bread.

It’s over forty years since the summer of 1966, when the Red Guards stormed into the homes and lives of families across China, and Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution gained an unstoppable momentum. For eight-year-old Guo Yue, one of a family of six children growing up in a traditional courtyard in the backstreets of Beijing, this was an unforgettable summer. The story of that summer is hauntingly retold by Yue and his wife, Clare Farrow, in his memoir, Little Leap Forward.

To mark National Storytelling Week (28 January to 3 February), we are teaming up with Giraffe Restaurants to present ‘Tell Us A Story’ – a week devoted to getting children excited about turning those pages.

Do your children enjoy music? Mine thrive on it – and so, it seems, do the children whose parents buy our Singalong Songs, and the families who like to spend time in our Oxford studio. I love to watch little ones sway and groove to the music we play as they explore the studio and its treasures.

It has been said that the world does not lack for wonders; what it can and does suffer from is our lack of ability to wonder. As a little girl, few things awoke my sense of wonder as much as the Christmas tree that stood in our hall each Christmas. I hasten to stress that the tree was far from being an artistic masterpiece; it was more of a ramshackle assemblage of every child’s rather wonkily-made ornaments; clumps of tinsel; bags of chocolate pennies (these disappeared extremely fast); erratically arranged angel hair; rather garish lights; and a papier-maché star that was usually lopsided. Still, to my young eyes it was an object of deep wonder.