Josephine Ellis met up with The Observer to discuss her latest children’s book, which is number four in a series of book’s she’s written. The latest edition is Sir Ratford’s Christmas.
The charming books and illustrations are meant to inspire children toward activism, and to get them thinking about critical social issues according to Ellis.
Sir Ratford’s Christmas addresses hunger around the holidays, and imparts the message of the spirit of giving in her adorable and well-thought out illustrative creations.
On the conception of the books, Ellis, acknowledged that Ratford was her mother’s maiden name. Ellis’ mother was from England.
The pictures are all hand drawn by Ellis, who used water colours to give them the quaint and unique look, one that brings continuity to all four in her series.
Ellis proudly shows off the originals of her work, which are inviting to look at, while daring to cultivate the curiosity of the inner child of the onlooker. Bold colours, bring the illustrations to life, beckoning the reader to live through the wondrous pages.
“All of them have something that is positive for children to learn,” she said.
Things like giving and accountability are brought to light and used as themes in the whimsical yet practical books.
Centering around sharing, Ellis, used the fourth book to inspire children with the idea “that if everyone shared their food then everyone could eat.”
Sir Ratford is a very wise Rabbit. The fictional rabbit lives on Limbert Mountain, which is based after the real mountain in Agassiz, on which Ellis used to play.
“It’s a very old mountain and we used to play up in the old cemetery and sleigh ride down it, so I had kind of a feeling for it,” she said.
In the book, two of Ratford’s friends come to see him because it’s been a bad year in The Valley. The nut trees had to be destroyed because of disease and there’s a low count of salmon, creating the need for the community to step up and come together to take care of one another.
“Ratford’s idea is to obey principles of the golden rule and to have a dinner and to invite everybody,” she said of the Rabbit’s generosity and ingenuity. “They have to bring something and share it, and that was my message for Christmas — if we all give to somebody food wise, then everybody will eat.”
Ellis was inspired to get into children’s literature after working at Mountain prison for over 21 years, deciding upon retirement that she wanted to do things that were more positive and lighthearted.
“I’ve always done artwork, but I really like doing this, and I’m not doing it for profit I’m doing it for enjoyment,” she said.
The painter has been working at her craft for over 40 years, after starting in Prince George and before coming to Agassiz.
The prolific artist has been featured in art shows, but she’s admittedly, found her niche in children’s books.
Most people think that using water colours are difficult to work with, for fear that the colours will wash out, but strong colours can be gleaned from the medium according to Ellis.
“I teach children watercolors. Now that I’m retired it’s my fun thing to do. It’s my passion,” she said.
Ellis teaches classes out of the Leisure Centre, as well as classes for seniors in Logan B.C.
She has done a few readings with the books and admits she enjoys to see Mom and Dad reading with the kids.
“It’s family,” she said.
On the reality of a digital world, Ellis, who has taught arts and crafts to children was questioned about their interest in a more tactile or analogous experience — what she found was surprising.
“I would have 30 to 40 kids sitting there and gluing and pasting and shoving decals on stuff,” she said. “They loved it, and they wanted to do it.”
Ellis’ books are very much the same in that they inspire children to open their minds to the world around them and to think outside the box.
The books act as a gateway for children to know they have the power to be different, and to implement change around them in a positive way.