There’s a new, super inventive science series on the fiction shelves for six to nine-year-olds with diverse characters – Leonora Bolt. Here author Lucy Brandt talks about her inspirations and hope to highlight the joy of STEM subjects through humour and creativity. Interview by Nicola Baird.
“Leonora is my superhero alter ego,” says author Lucy Brandt, “she’s completely different to me because she’s hands-on and practical, so we don’t share that many similarities,” and then she laughs, admitting that she shares many more characteristics with one of the diverse cast of the Leonora Bolt books, Mildred Dribble, who is the ‘world’s worst cook’.
“One of the aims of writing Leonora Bolt was making STEM exciting,” says Lucy who has had her first two books, Leonora Bolt: Secret Inventor and Leonora Bolt: Deep Sea Calamity published this year (2022) by Puffin. They may be written for six to nine-year-olds but chief character Leonora’s belief that “Nothing is impossible if you use your imagination,” is just as inspiring a message for mini-inventors as it is for the rest of us dealing with cost-of-living crises, eco-doomism or a general sense that all’s not quite right with the world.
Author Lucy, who lives in Brighton, has a fresh way of looking at science thanks to 20 years spent doing communications and PR working in tech industries and for science organisations.
“Working in tech it was obvious that it was a very male heavy industry, though that is changing for the better,” says Lucy explaining that the real inspiration for Leonora was her inventive engineer dad. And the age range made sense as her own children are now 13 and eight.
“When I was a kid, my house was chocker with dismantled household appliances and bizarre engineering fixes. I’d help Dad make little circuit boards. Everything in our house was slightly bodged. For example, instead of a car horn he had to press a light switch when he wanted to beep the horn. And most people would change the channel on their TV set with a remote control or by pressing a switch. We had to jam a wooden polar bear (carved by one of my siblings in woodwork) down the back of the TV to change channel,” she says laughing at the memories.
“I wanted to write a funny book to try and entice kids in,” she says explaining that she trials Leonora Bolt gags in conversation with her mates and eight-year-old daughter, “and if they laugh it’s a keeper”.
“I also wanted to make sure that the Leonora Bolt books have a diverse cast of characters, people from all walks of life, to bust a few stereotypes about who gets to be the inventor. Through Puffin I teamed up with illustrator Gladys Jose, who is based in Florida, so we haven’t met in real life yet, and she’s really brought Leonora to life,” says Lucy. “With this age range you can let your imagination go wild. It was really fun to make this slightly kooky cast of characters. I had loads of fun writing.”
“It’s so vital to get kids reading for fun and pleasure. Funny books are so important, if you can make a kid laugh and engage them with humour you’ve probably got a lifelong reader – that’s what sparks their interest.”
Lucy Brandt, author and library champion
“Librarians are magic people and libraries are precious resources for communities,” she says, clearly passionate about the role of libraries. This both a professional and personal view as Lucy says, “My daughter took her first steps in Hove library – one they have been trying to shut and fortunately haven’t yet. When I was growing up, I spent loads of time having access to books in the library in Buxton, Derbyshire that my family wouldn’t necessarily have been able to afford. They are the centre of the community, so you’ve got to fight to keep them open.”
Recently Lucy ran workshops for children in the library during the Shoreham West Festival. “It’s so vital to get kids reading for fun and pleasure. Funny books are so important, if you can make a kid laugh and engage them with humour you’ve probably got a lifelong reader – that’s what sparks their interest. So, it’s super important that every school should have a library. Reading for pleasure is the thing. Stories are the way in to inspire kids and get interested in all kinds of topics.”
One way Lucy helps catch her young readers’ attention, especially when she meets them, is by holding an Invention Quiz. It’s such a rich subject area,” she explains covering science and history.
Here’s a sample:
Q: How many years after cans appeared was the can opener invented?
A) 1 B) 22 C) 48 ?
The “The answer is c! It makes me think of someone sitting for years with a massive tin of peaches thinking what are we going to do with this?” giggles Lucy.
True or false? Leo Fender who invented the electric guitar couldn’t actually play the guitar.
“The answer is true! He was an engineer not an inventor,” she says.
Lucy is animated and fun to talk with, rather like her lively and well-designed website so it was a real treat to meet this new author who looks set to inspire all sorts of children to get more into the STEM subjects, because, as Leonora Bolt puts it, ‘nothing is impossible if you use your imagination.’