Features/Kids/Literature/Visual Art

Picture book to help kids face their fears

17 November 2021

Perth artist Christopher Maxwell has created an illustrated book with a simple message that will bring children joy.

Fear can be crippling. But sometimes it only takes something small, a simple message, to give us the confidence to face our fears.

Perth visual artist Christopher Maxwell’s debut book aims to help children whose worries prevent them doing what brings them joy.

His illustrated book, He Was Tremendously Scary and Extraordinarily Hairy, has been published by Little Steps Publishing. It features richly coloured watercolour illustrations depicting a girl in a wintery forest, full of whimsical detail that invite readers into a world of beauty and imagination.

Maxwell says the illustrations reveal the story on many different levels.

“The message is about gaining confidence to face your fears and striving for what brings you joy. There is also a message about it being ok to ask others for hel.p Don’t take on all your problems by yourself. Truly brave people have guts to ask for help.”

It’s a message close to home for Maxwell, whose battle with anxiety caused him to put his art career aside after completing an Advanced Diploma in Art & Design at TAFE.

“I have always been anxious and shy, always overthinking things. It put a stop to my art… it was silly, I stopped doing what I loved doing based on other peoples’ comments.”

A watercolour illustration from ‘ He Was Tremendously Scary and Extraordinarily Hairy’ by Christopher Maxwell. Photo supplied

The 34-year-old was inspired to create the book after a European holiday in 2017 where he hiked through forests and snow covered mountains, experiencing snowy landscapes for the first time.

“I was taken by the experience I had on my holiday, where I had the excitement of a new experience and felt like a kid again. I could imagine a little kid being in that still quiet forest and what they would imagine, how they might be worried. I hadn’t been practising my art but I decided to go back to it.”

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A series of sketches followed, and Maxwell developed the story about a girl on a journey, who discovers the thing she fears most is what will help her return home. He chose the medium of watercolour, the first medium he used as a child and one he has always loved.

“All the books I remember as a kid had watercolour pictures. It has a certain quality, a sense of movement and feeling which no other medium does. There is an unpredictability.”

The front cover of Christopher Maxwell’s debut illustrated book. Photo supplied

Maxwell aimed for a high level of detail and saturation, unusual for watercolour, to create a level of detail that would absorb readers.

“You can easily build up saturation if you have good paper and do layers. Some of these illustrations have up to eight layers. It is quite technical because you have to plan out your painting and what you will leave blank, and build up the colours from light to dark.”

The European snowscape melds with Asian-influenced lanterns and lights, adding bright spots of colour against the snow. Watch out for the recurring ladybug, designed to delight children each time they spot it.

Maxwell mentions Aaron Becker’s The Journey as an influence with its strong colours and journey narrative. His use of moody light – the story unfolds over a day, reflected in the transition of colour – is also reminiscent of Chinese illustrator Guojing’s wordless picture books Stormy and The Only Child

The book seems timely; there is lots that is tremendously scary for children today, from shadows in a forest to COVID-19 and global warming. Maxwell says he hopes the book will help people with anxiety regardless of where it might stem from. The beauty of a wordless book is the message is simple, leaving the rest to the imagination.

“Watercolour is about subtlety. Sometimes that is all you need, something small you can interpret in a way that will benefit you.”

‘He Was Tremendously Scary and Extraordinarily Hairy’ is available from for $29.95.

Pictured top: visual artist Christopher Maxwell with his debut book ‘He Was Tremendously Scary and Extraordinarily Hairy‘. Photo supplied

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Author —
Rosalind Appleby

Rosalind Appleby is an arts journalist, author and speaker. She is co-editor of Seesaw Magazine, author of Women of Note, and has written for The West Australian, The Guardian, The Australian, Limelight magazine and Opera magazine. She loves the percussion instruments which can be found in the uber cool parks.

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