Monday, May 2, 2022

Q&A with Jessica Meserve


Photo by Kasia Burke



Jessica Meserve is the author of the new children's picture book Beyond the Burrow. Her other books include What Clara Saw. She lives in Hertfordshire, England.


Q: What inspired you to create Beyond the Burrow?


A: I was a very nervous and shy little girl and often scared of trying new things – especially physical things. If I cried or got upset, my parents were very kind and never made me do something I was scared of.


However, I often came away from these situations feeling regretful and disappointed in myself and these feelings ended up being even worse than the initial fear because they lasted longer and affected my self-esteem. I wanted to write a story that encouraged children to step beyond this initial fear.


As a parent I have found that children need the space to say “no” and be upset but then given the chance to change their minds and have another go. I say “children” but actually it still applies to me as an adult - it might take me many attempts to overcome the fear of something!


I didn’t have enough pages in my picture books to give the rabbit too many attempts to overcome her fear but she still finds it within herself to take a positive step forward and indeed up! 


Entangled up in this story is also the message that we should be accepting of difference. I didn’t want to ram the message home but tell the story with a light humour that transports the reader along with the rabbit on her journey.


The idea of the rabbit falling down the wrong hole came to me first. I think it popped into my mind because it struck me as a funny way of visualising how life can be going along normally one moment and then entirely turn upside down in the next.


A rabbit seemed the right choice for representing an introverted personality. Rabbits are universally understood as shy and vulnerable animals and we all expect them to be fearful. The comedy comes, I hope, from contradicting those expectations throughout the book. 


Q: Did you focus more on the text first, or the illustrations--or did you work on both simultaneously?


A: I very much work on the text and illustrations simultaneously especially in the early stages. The words usually start very simply just to punctuate my drawings. At first, I work very quickly with very tiny drawings called “thumbnails” and this helps me to get all my ideas out of my head.


As the story starts to take shape I might focus more on the text for a time and then more on the drawings. If I get too caught up in the detail of an image too quickly I am sometimes less willing to make necessary changes as I’m too attached to the drawing!


Most picture books are meant to be read aloud so it is very important to hear the words spoken - I read the different drafts of my story out loud to myself over and over again. 


Q: The Kirkus Review of the book calls it “A gentle story about the joyful discoveries and courage that can be found beyond one’s comfort zone.” What do you think of that description, and what do you hope kids take away from the book?


A: I very much agree with that description. If we get labeled as always being shy and scared like my rabbits, sometimes, our parents, relatives, teachers and friends can often stop asking us if we want to try something different.


It’s kind of understandable; however, this can mean the world of an introvert can get smaller and smaller. We try fewer things and feel left out and left behind. What I want children of all personalities to realize is that the world is vast and beautiful and most of us want to experience it even if it takes some of us a little longer to get there.


I am British and American and live in the UK with my husband and two lovely daughters who are 12 and 15 years old. I have two golden retrievers called Maple and Scout - they are mother and daughter.


I love running, hiking, horse riding and swimming in lakes and rivers and oceans. My happiest moments have been outside in nature.


I love drawing and painting landscapes in my sketchbook with my daughters whilst my husband reads to us. I also love making pottery, reading, learning French and making nice food. I’m a very beginner guitar player. I get very nervous trying new things but I am still trying anyway!


You can follow me on instagram at jess.meserve and my website is


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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