Today I am delighted to welcome Julie Ballard to the blog with her picture book debut, ‘The Dinosaur Who Lost Her Voice,’ illustrated by Francesca Gambatesa. This charming tale tells the story of Milly Jo, a dinosaur with the most beautiful singing voice whose life is turned upside down when an accident causes her to lose her voice. Feeling like her identity has been robbed she feels complete despair until all of her friends rally around to try and cheer her up by singing to her instead. Realising they’re terrible Milly Jo sets out to teach them how to sing and despite numerous hiccups she manages to create a beautiful sound with them. I love the gently lilting rhymes of this tale and how Julie doesn’t take the easy route by giving an expected happy ending. Instead she allows the reader to explore the idea that we can let our talents shine in different ways and don’t need to be defined by the one thing we do brilliantly. Life can deliver new happiness in the most unexpected of ways. Francesca’s illustrations capture the ups and downs of Milly Jo’s journey brilliantly, I particularly love the characterisation of the different dinosaurs she is able to convey so much through their expressions. A heart-warming and uplifting story which is perfect for sharing.
When Life Gives You Lemons…Make Lemonade – Julie Ballard
If you’d have asked me what picture book of mine I could have first envisaged being published, it would not be the one that is being published today!
Having written countless funny rhyming picture books – the type I would make a beeline for in my local bookstore, knowing my two small sons would enjoy – I was somewhat surprised that my offer of a book deal came for a tale with an altogether different feel.
“The Dinosaur Who Lost Her Voice” is a story with a disabled protagonist at its heart. Not only does Brontosaurus Milly Jo become disabled during the book, she never recovers the beautiful singing voice for which she is famed in the forest.
But fear not. Whilst the central character is injured, it is her capacity to pick herself up and forge a brighter future, with the help of her friends, which provides an ultimately uplifting and, I hope, positive message. The central themes are ones of kindness, friendship, resilience, adapting to change and focussing on one’s strengths.
What many people do not know about this story is that my youngest son was the inspiration for it.
At an early age he was diagnosed with a severe neurological speech disorder.
In addition to dietary changes, medical help outside the UK, countless hours of speech therapy and MAKATON training to help him communicate, we started thinking about his long-term future.
Were he never to speak, we began considering career options he could excel in which wouldn’t involve words – such as the visual arts.
His Grandmother gave him a camera and allowed him to snap away. At one point, one of his photos was used on the front cover of a local senior citizens’ magazine. When the Editor phoned seeking to credit the photographer, she was surprised to discover it was a three-year-old boy!
Luckily, over time, my son did learn to speak but it was a long, uphill struggle. He now speaks so clearly no one would guess he’d had difficulties.
With hindsight, those days when I felt sick to the stomach wondering if my beautiful child would ever speak, were painfully dark.
However, I was determined not to let him down and to concentrate on what he could do, in addition to what he was struggling with.
Theoretical physicist and cosmologist Stephen Hawking famously said: “Look up at the stars, not down at your feet…and however difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do and succeed at. It matters that you don’t give up.”
Milly dinosaur is metaphorically thrown lemons in my debut picture book with Egmont. Rather than giving up, she gets on and makes lemonade.
I won’t spoil the ending. That’s for you to discover.
My wish is that this story of triumph in the face of adversity may help one child realise there is a silver lining to every dark cloud. It may not be visible at first, but it is there!
Thank you to Julie for asking me to host this really thoughtful guest post about her inspiration behind her picture book debut. ‘The Dinosaur Who Lost Her Voice,’ is available to buy now online or from any good bookshop. Thank you to Egmont for sending a gifted copy in exchange for an honest review.