Hopscotch and the Christmas Tree: a fun lesson in life for little ones
Tamsin Lyons’s Ink and Light animation studio is bringing a message of mindfulness
Hopscotch and the Christmas Tree
When producer Tamsin Lyons was growing up, she had an idea that she “would save the world”. She wanted to make documentaries about hard-hitting subjects – climate change, third-world poverty – but, while studying for a masters in film production, she stumbled upon a group of animation students working nearby in a darkened room, and her whole perspective on film – and her future career – changed shape.
“When I saw what you could do with sand or clay, or just pen and paper, I was blown away,” she says. “It was the idea that you could just make the world as you imagine it, with no boundaries, no limitations on your materials or your imagination. It was totally inspirational.”
A career in animation may have seemed like the opposite of her documentary-making ambitions, but slowly, with her company Ink and Light, Lyons began to bring her twin ideals together: to use animation to tell stories that would make the world a better place.
Ink and Light’s biggest venture yet, an animated film called Hopscotch and the Christmas Tree, to be screened on RTÉJr on December 22nd, is a perfect example of how entertainment companies and children’s publishing are tapping into a growing cultural interest in emotional health and wellbeing. The film is based on a book written by Katy Segrove, with illustrations by Katerina Vykhodtseva. It was released earlier this year as the first part of a trans-media project, which would use storytelling to encourage positivity and mindfulness in young children. Aimed at a pre-school readership and audience, the book, film and online video content introduce a group of animal characters who work together to overcome individual obstacles and strengthen their community.
As Lyons explains, “the characters all have their own abilities, stumbling blocks and interests. What makes the stories sing is the interactions between them. As the leader of the gang, Hopscotch [an energetic, problem-solving horse] is able to re-frame things for the other characters when they are struggling with the situation they are dealing with.”
In Hopscotch and the Christmas Tree, for example, Hopscotch and his friends are searching for the perfect Christmas tree, but they all have different ideas of what that might be. Carlo the cheeky cat wants a big one, but grouchy Jules wants a small one. Malcolm the wise old cow wants a bushy one, while sensitive Ingrid the pig can’t bear to see a tree cut down. Hopscotch, however, comes up with a plan that will satisfy everyone: to decorate the winter-stripped tree in Barbara the purple sheep’s garden. Any tree can be a Christmas tree if you decorate it, Hopscotch tells us; what really matters is sharing time together in celebration of the season.
Ink and Light came on board to produce the animated version of the story, which will include an eight-part series exploring a variety of pertinent pre-school challenges – sharing, perseverance, trying new things – in familiar contexts, such as learning to tie your own shoelaces and sharing sweets. For Lyons, creating work for young audiences was an opportunity to integrate her own idealism with entertainment imperatives.
“From the outset the ambitions of Ink and Light was as as a content creator. There are already amazing big studios producing incredible work that pushes the boundaries of animation, in style and technique, but we were more interested in stories, the different type of stories you could tell to have an impact on the world. And where better to start than with kids who are coming to the world fresh, finding their own identity and trying to express it? So we can help to shape them [through our work] by being a little bit political or drawing attention to environmental issues.”
‘Funny and engaging’
For Lyons, however, the most important thing is that the stories are “funny and engaging. Nobody – including kids – wants to be preached to. When they sit down to watch something they want to be entertained. Children these days have more control than before about what they watch, because a lot of the time they are watching content online, on Netflix or player, where they can switch out at any time, so we have to be entertaining, we have to pitch the story at their level and give them characters that they can relate to.”
The visual style, with its pastel hues and watercolour softness, is also appealing, creating a gentle environment against which the heartwarming stories can unfold. The seasonal message, meanwhile, imparts an important life lesson that children can carry beyond Christmas: kindness is everything.
Hopscotch and the Christmas Tree is on RTÉJr on December 22nd. Happygohopscotch.com
Emotional rescue for young readers
If 2017 was the year in which feminism dominated children’s publishing, emotional health has been the key theme for 2018, with fiction and non-fiction titles encouraging young readers of all ages to consider their emotions. From resilience to mindfulness, books offer the potential to allow children to see their own worries from a more objective perspective and to find inspiration and problem-solving tools in the trials of fictional characters. Here are some of the best of these titles published this year.
The Magic Moment by Niall Breslin
Gill Books, €16.99
Bressie’s debut picture-book introduces mindfulness techniques to young children through an engaging fictional frame. Freddie is really excited about going swimming, but the busy, noisy reality of the changing rooms scare him, so his granny teaches him about “the magic moment”: a visualisation and deep breathing technique to help overcome anxiety. Illustrator Sheena Dempsey creates a joyful background, where we see Freddie and his family finding pleasure and magic in daily routines, as well as special occasions. There is also a catchy rhyme that will help young worriers remember how to find their own “magic moment” in times of stress.
What If? and More What If? By Sarah Murphy
These self-published titles from Sarah Murphy offer wisdom for the young, by challenging negative thought processes and exploring potentially dangerous scenarios. What if . . . your football rolled out into the road? What if . . . you were afraid of the dark? What if . . . you make a mistake in a test? “It’s all right, everybody makes a mistake sometime. Potato chips were invented by mistake – yum!” The naif illustrations make the book accessible in visual style too, while the direct challenging of thought patterns works as a gentle introduction to cognitive behaviour techniques.
All the Ways to Be Smart by Davina Bell
This colourful picture-book provides an alternative perspective on the culture of academic achievement by celebrating a diversity of talents. In slick rhyme, Bell tells us: “Smart is not just being best at spelling bees, a tricky test. Or knowing all the answers ever . . . Other things are just as clever.” All the Ways to Be Smart invites children to question and take ownership of their own special strengths. There is value in practical ability, creative imagination, social skill and emotional sensitivity. Alison Colpoys’s illustrations celebrate a diversity of cultures too, offering a parade of beauty that will give children of all backgrounds and interests confidence in their own uniqueness.
Headbomz: Wreckin’ Your Head by Oisin McGann
Commissioned by the ISPCC to coincide with their Talking Makes Us Stronger campaign, Headbomz is pitched at the 9-11 age group, and introduces us to a tight-knit group of friends who are having difficulties in different areas of their lives, from schoolyard bullying to parental conflict, illness and grief. McGann uses his engaging story to encourage young readers to find a trusted friend, child or adult, to share their problems – their “headbomz” – with. The book is available free of charge, and there are a variety of practical tools available for parents and teachers on headbomz.ie