MoveHub Publishes Min's Move Book
In March, we decided to make a children's book! We wanted to help emigrating families with young children. Our book shows how a family can plan and prepare a smooth and happy move.
About 40% of people who use MoveHub have children, so it does make sense for us to write a book. When you have kids, relocation can be traumatic. Think of what it must be like for a young child, saying goodbye to all those familiar things, and having no say about having to move to somewhere completely new and foreign!
We wanted to tell the story of a family moving abroad, and make it believable. To do this we consulted four child psychologists who specialise in psychiatry, to make sure our storybook addresses all the relevant issues.
And at the same time, of course it's true that we just wanted to write a story and paint some pictures.
Our book is called Min's Move.
Meet Min and Max - the stars of the book
Stories need characters and a plot. We have kept our story simple so we can concentrate on how the moving process really feels.
This is Minnie, the star of our story:
Min is five years-old; she likes magic and wants to be a vet when she’s older.
Max is Min’s ten year-old brother. He plays the saxophone.
A story about moving to another country
Our book is about Minnie’s family moving to Hong Kong, where her mother has been offered a new job. The story is loosely based on a friend of ours who moved there recently, and the brother character is loosely based on our website manager Max - he plays the saxophone too!
But we should thank the psychologists most of all. We consulted them about common traumas affecting children of families moving abroad and how to calm anxious children, how to make the unknown seem exciting, how to turn the move into an opportunity for learning, and how to bring families closer together.
Meet the psychologists
To make a believable story that felt true to families we decided to get advice from the following child psychologists: Dr. Narasimhan, Dr. Kang, Dr. Talebi and Dr. Woodring.
Above: Dr. Anandhi, Dr. Shimi Kang, Dr. Lori Woodring, and Dr. Hani Talebi
We have compiled the best advice they gave us into these Moving Pages. If you’re moving with children we really recommend you take a look.
How the process works... and how long did it take?
It took about three months to make the storybook. Meanwhile we were still running the MoveHub website, commissioning articles from our expat network, speaking to the moving companies we work with, and a thousand other little tasks. Throughout all this, on another table in the corner was a little workstation covered in storyboards and gouache paints.
Writing the story
The basic story outline only took a week to write and storyboard.
The story is built around what we learned from our consultations with the psychologists. Every scene represents a common issue for families moving abroad.
In the first spread of the book, Min and Max are taken to a Chinese restaurant, where they're told they're moving to Hong Kong.
We chose this for the beginning scene based on advice to tell your child about the move very early, and to tell them in a memorable place that seems exciting. This isn't completely successful in Min's case though!
On this spread we see Min's parents explaining where Hong Kong is, and how faraway China is. They want to make the trip seem exciting, to be travelling 6,000 miles! And by showing Min where they are going, they hope it will seem less frightening.
They introduce the idea of a time difference and reassure her that the move has nothing to do with anything she has done wrong, which is apparently a common anxiety among children.
Two scenes that complement each other are the one where she tells her friends in the playground, which we discovered is important because it includes people from her world in the transition phase, and the scene in the bamboo garden when Min feels alone and trapped into this idea of moving somewhere very foreign to her.
This anxiety is very common. We were advised that taking your child to relevant places - such as a Chinese bamboo garden - and encouraging your child to talk to their friends about the move, are both valuable stages in them coming to terms with the situation. It also helps them become more curious about the new place.
The map scene is all about how Min realises that her move includes temporary and permanent factors. Yes, it's true that she will be leaving London, but it doesn't mean she will no longer get to play in a park, or follow her interests in animals and magic - and in Max's case, music!
This relates to Dr. Talebi's temporary/permanent game.
Writing and receiving letters or emails from your new classmates and neighbours makes the move much less daunting...
... see Min comforting her big brother Max in the background? Another piece of advice we heard was to have several farewell parties. One just isn't enough, apparently!
If you look at our Moving with Kids page you'll see advice about making sure your new home is ready for you to move right into, so that your child doesn't have much of an in-between phase.
We were told that this can be unsettling and disorientating, and that it can take a while to get over this feeling of having been dislocated.
So here are Min and Max imagining their new home, which you will notice has several of their belongings from their place in London... and an armchair that looks like a panda!
The final example is the scene where Min packs her own bag. This is a really good way of encouraging your child to make the transition, to say goodbye to their old home and realise that they are taking most of the important things in their life with them, and that moving is about change, not about loss.
Sketching - the process of making a storybook
We found that it starts with a sketch. Here is an early sketch of the Yellow Lotus
From an early stage you have an idea of how each spread, or scene, will look. Gradually the sketches are built up, and eventually you have a really clear understanding of how each page will look. Then you are ready to show the whole scene as an A3 landscape painting.
More sketches. Look at the two map scenes, where Min and Max compare London and Hong Kong and wonder whether or not their lives will change.
Maps give children a rare zoomed out perspective and the bigger picture is a fascinating thing for young minds just starting to join up the dots. From the outset we were keen to have a map scene, and were delighted when the psychologists we spoke to agreed it was a useful device for children.
This scene is all about getting familiar with a new place, realising what it has to offer, and beginning to say goodbye to the place you maybe felt, previously, was everything you would ever know.
Here are a few more little sketches we made to sort out the characters’ poses and gestures. The most important thing to get right in a storybook is the composition of the illustrations.
You figure out the little details and then arrange them in a way you feel is balanced and believable. You want your reader's eyes to feel at home exploring the image.
Below: On the left are my shoes... and you can see them there on Minnie's feet on the right too...
By now we had an idea of the words as well, so we tested the storyboard by doing a pretend read-through with the team. We used their reactions to make changes to the compositions, the story, and insert or reorder the scenes to give a believable sense of flow.
With the painting, I opted for a combination of gouache and Photoshop. Every illustration in the book is an A3-sized blue monochrome painting that I scanned and then coloured using Photoshop. The advantage of this method was that I could experiment a lot and work with colour at speed. These are the advantages of Photoshop. And because I was painting by hand, I was able to retain the brushmarks and paint textures of something made the old-fashioned way.
Balancing the word:image ratio
At first, we, had very few words in the book. We felt we should expressed more through the pictures. For example, the first draft of the first scene went like this:
“What do you know about China?” asked Mum “Their spaghetti is a bit funny,” was all I said. But Max was suspicious. “Why are you asking us about China?”
After several drafts it became wordier, like this:
“What do you know about China?” asks Mummy, in the restaurant. It is full of new smells and foods that Min doesn’t know how to eat. Min has two facts. “They have pandas... and funny spaghetti called snoogles.” “You mean noodles,” says Daddy. Max knows the names of lots of Chinese instruments. “Why are you asking us about China anyway?” Max wants to know. “Because I have something to tell you,” Mummy says. Min is too busy to listen... Chopsticks are tricky! They don’t even chop!
The second version is not better than the initial one and in fact it's easier to read, but we made the decision to build up the language so that anyone reading to an older child would have more to play with. Words can be illustrative in their own way, and for older readers they add depth. We also changed the tense from past to present to give a sense of the move being imminent.
Right: Min's stethoscope.
Min loves animals and later you see her packing a book on 'how to be a vet' in her bag. But the main reason for the stethoscope is to explore the idea of her sounding out ideas, and to suggest sensitivity.
Another example of visual metaphors is Min’s teddy. It becomes a panda, showing her imagination beginning to explore China and what she might find there.
Min's subconscious is explored further in her dream of the dragonfruit, and in the way her own friends begin to remind her of dragons and pandas.
Max goes through a similar experience. His saxophone case picks up a Chinese sticker, and then he starts to learn a type of Chinese flute called a sheng.
And, at the end of the book, Min and her new friend Lay-Ee plant the Chinese money-tree that has been appearing throughout the book. This is a bit of an obvious metaphor for Min's family putting down roots in Hong Kong.
All these are running themes that we hoped would work to build up a subtle portrait of their transition from one city to another.
Buy Min's Move
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