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Cédric Ramadier and Vincent Bourgeau discuss their exciting collaboration for the series “Le livre…” featured in the BCBF online exhibition A Universe of Stories – Starring: The Book
Can you tell us how the “Le Livre…” stories came about?
Vincent: Cédric had the idea. At the time he was exploring the idea of how child and book interact. It was sort of carry on from Au secours Voilà le loups!
Cédric: I don’t know exactly why the idea came to me. I had, in fact, been working on the dynamic of interaction, and I clearly remember the first note I made in my book - the idea of putting a book to sleep – and I remember quite precisely when I talked to Vincent about it. We were at the opening of a cultural event he was part of. I took him aside between a couple of glasses of wine and friendly chitchat. I was very excited; I felt I was clearly on to something. We spoke very briefly - the time to look at my sketches and explain it to him. He too felt it was a good idea. And that’s how it all started!
What is the concept and what are the key ingredients of this series where the main character is a book?
Vincent: The main idea is to get the child into a situation where he is playing with the book, an active participant rather than a passive onlooker.
Cédric: As a rule, a book is just a block of cardboard, a simple support for pictures and words. Here, it comes alive, so to speak. It’s there; it talks, it asks questions. Making the book into the character forces the child to get involved. But you mustn’t forget the mouse! The mouse is very important, and that was Vincent’s idea. The mouse is an essential intermediary. Since then, whenever I write a book in the series, I always include the mouse.
The books in this series deal with children’s everyday lives. How did you decide on the subject of each title?
Vincent: What you should remember is that the first book in the series was never conceived as the first of a series! There was no list of subjects from the outset. Cédric very simply had the idea of this book going to sleep, just like any other subject for our books. I think that it was after the publication and success of the first book that the idea to develop the concept came to us. But we started asking ourselves about what subjects to deal with at around the third book, I think.
Cédric:Le Livre qui dort (Shhh! This Book is Sleeping) was a one-off concept, which is definitely what gives it its character. I don’t think we would have started that way had we wanted to devise a series right from the start. And anyway, that’s not the way we work. We are more intuitive and in the moment. And also the series is often about emotions; what people forget about this first book is that sleep is not an emotion.. That’s proof enough it wasn’t premeditated. The subject is the book coming alive – at least, that’s what comes across.
I even hesitated to do the next book, Le livre en colère. But I had the idea, and wanted to do it, so sketched out a little storyboard. But neither Vincent nor I were convinced about continuing. So I went along to our publisher, Grégoire Solotareff. He had no doubts: of course you must do it! Not only was it a very good book, perhaps even better, but also by that time the first book had already found a broad readership. So now I no longer hesitate. I have a long list of ideas. I even have one fleshed out with cartoons. They won’t all get done, but I can’t help thinking and noting down things. It’s not as easy as it looks to be so concise in 9 double-page spreads, to find the right pace and take the book - the child - where I want to go. It’s a small exciting challenge.
Can you give us a few details about how you work together?
Vincent: We work in very close collaboration. It almost always starts with an idea from Cédric – very rarely do I ask him to think about an idea I’ve had. He tells me about his idea, and I find myself a bit like a child being told a story! And then after that, it depends on my reaction. If I like the idea, I start drawing. At that point, it’s a to-ing and fro-ing between my drawings and Cédric’s ideas and text. We advance together towards the final form of the book. And if it doesn’t work for me, then the idea goes into a dark drawer – from where it might sometimes emerge!!
Cédric: I have a black notebook – now it’s more often an electronic notebook – where I note down all my ideas. They can be very succinct or highly developed and precise. Sometimes there are sketches and even lines of text or dialogue; sometimes it’s just a title, an idea. For Shhh! This Book is Sleeping, I had a pretty clear idea and knew where I wanted to go.
But what’s important is that even if our roles seem classically well defined – I write, he draws – our books are the product of a duo. They are OUR books. They wouldn’t exist if there were only one of us.
You have said that there’s a sixth book on the way. Can we know what the subject is?
Vincent: The next book, which should be in bookstores in France in September, is Le livre va à l‘école. It’s a subject that was waiting to be tackled. What’s great about the concept is that you get to return to extremely familiar themes, dealt with again and again, and possibly give the child a new experience.
Cédric: The idea behind this book is, if you like, to reverse the roles. The book has to persuade the child to take it with him to school because it too is ready to go. To conclude, I would like to say that we are always surprised and flattered by the wide reception this series has had. In all humility, it seems as if it has touched something universal. The books have been distributed in many countries where often the whole series has been published. Shhh! This Book is Sleeping exists in about 15 languages including Polish, Vietnamese and Hebrew!
One day, at a book signing session at a book fair, a whole family – parents and two children - came to see me. They wanted, as a family, to thank us for the series and especially for Le live en colère. The book had become very important for the family. When one of them, child or parent, lost his temper, he would be reminded of a scene in the book when the mouse tells the book it looks like a huge tomato. It had become a way of referring to the book as a whole and of defusing tension… and it worked! The book had become a sort of cement in the family’s everyday life, a bomb diffuser, a powerful tranquillizer! They were all sincerely pleased to meet me and have me sign their books. I was very moved and still am when I even talk about this little incident.
For our part, we make books out of enthusiasm, for the pleasure creating gives us, for the moments of exchange and fun we have. We don’t necessarily think of our readers, which, for us, is a good thing. We let ourselves be carried away. So, that family coming up to us at the venue… there is no better recompense than that!
...we make books out of enthusiasm, for the pleasure creating gives us, for the moments of exchange and fun we have.