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Children’s Book Review | Listening Ears (+ Author Interview!)

Listening Ears Review

Listening Ears, written by Rachel Walmsley and illustrated by Helen McKnockiter, tells the story of an adventurous little boy who is so busy and distracted enjoying his play that his family questions if he’s wearing his listening ears.

The boy decides the best solution is to go on a quest to find some new listening ears! He considers the ears of dogs, elephants, owls, and more, admiring their strengths and weighing their challenges.

For example, the boy admires his grandma’s hearing aids and imagines everything he might hear with them. But then he wonders about how his poor grandma would hear without them. He decides they will not be his new listening ears.

In the end, he realizes his own listening ears are perfect for him, that he just forgot to switch them on. With a “switch!”, the boy is ready to listen again to what his family has to say.

I appreciated that this book approached the topic of listening ears in a fun and whimsical way. The boy pictured himself interacting with lots of different animals, like riding an elephant and swimming with a dolphin.

Most children have imagined themselves in these scenes and so will love to see those ideas and images come to life in Listening Ears.

Children’s Book Review | Listening Ears (+ Author Interview!)

Not only do the drawings introduce loads of fun animals but the story even teaches a few real facts about each of them. This leaves several ways for children to learn and benefit from the story, whether from the concept of listening ears, animal facts, or both.

The author and illustrator also did a fantastic job of encouraging imaginative play in young children. The main character roleplays as an astronaut, mechanic, and robot controller, imagines himself adopting the ears of different animals, and even draws blueprints for robotic ears.

The boy’s portrayed imagination provides lots of fun and exciting ideas for children to try themselves. It’s sure to encourage young readers to engage in their own imaginative play long after the story is over.

Listening Ears‘ illustrations are simple and colorful. The illustrator uses crayon shading in many areas of her drawings that offer a playful touch and will feel comfortable and inviting to children to create stories of their own.

Children’s Book Review | Listening Ears (+ Author Interview!)

Overall, this is a positive and fun story young children are sure to connect with. You can find it on author Rachel Walmsley’s website and can follow her on FacebookInstagram, and TikTok. You can also follow illustrator Helen McKnockiter on Instagram.

Listening Ears Author Interview

Want to learn more about author Rachel Walmsley? I did too! She was gracious enough to field a few questions and share what’s next for her!

Deb: Listening Ears offers such a sweet and whimsical approach to the concept of turning on your listening ears! What inspired you to write it?

Rachel: As a mother of two boys and a primary school teacher, the concept of turning on your listening ears is relatively well-known and you hear it often, so I was eager to use that in a positive way.

I wanted to provide a platform for discussion about listening generally, as it isn’t just children who need reminding to do good listening. In fact, during my school assemblies, children often tell me that they are going to read the book to their adults to remind them to turn on their listening ears!

In today’s world, where life is so busy and there are so many external influences (particularly technology), it is sometimes worth reminding ourselves to go back to basics and to be in the present with those we love around us. That being said, we didn’t want the book to come across as being self-righteous, which is why we came up with the idea of the boy going on a quest and finding out some cool facts along the way.

We have purposefully kept the theme quite open so that it can be used as a tool to start conversations, for instance – is it actually right for Leo’s creative play to be interrupted? We know that creative play and using our imagination is a great way of learning so maybe he should have been left alone.

Who interrupted him? And why? Was it important?

Is it okay to spend all day playing or are we needed elsewhere? How can we get the balance right?

We feel like there are lots of different ways to interpret the messages in this book taking us as readers on our own journeys of discussion and discovery. 

Deb: My daughter and I enjoyed each of the animals (and people!) whose ears were considered for replacements! Do you have any personal favorites?

Rachel: Well, Helen and I were brought up in Botswana in Africa as children and this has had a huge impact on our lives and interests. So a firm favourite of mine would have to be the elephant – too busy stomping and trumpeting to actually hear. In terms of the illustrations, I think Helen has done an amazing job with the owl particularly.

Helen also purposefully only uses normal drawing and colouring pencils to create her illustrations as she wants to inspire children to pick up their pencils and have a go themselves. In this digital age, there are all sorts of programs for illustrating but we wanted to keep it old-school and show children that you don’t need anything fancy to just give it a go.

Children’s Book Review | Listening Ears (+ Author Interview!)

Deb: This story finds that the boy in question’s listening ears weren’t “turned on” because he was deep in the world of imaginative play. Have you found this to be true for the children in your life? Do you have any suggestions for parents who are trying to encourage their children to pause and listen when others speak?

Rachel: In all honesty, I absolutely love the sound of my children deep in the world of imaginative play – I could listen to them all day. But life isn’t that simple and there has to be an element of give and take as there are things in the day that need to get done.

In our family, we are big believers in doing everything in moderation to try to suit all of our needs. So we freestyle on the things we enjoy and keep that quite fluid but we often timetable our day to accommodate the things that we should moderate (like TV, iPads, and Nintendo) and the things we don’t enjoy quite so much (like tidying up). We even use a timer and quite often discuss and negotiate the timings. 

We have playtime, homework time, reading time, park time, TV time, Nintendo time, and even what we call TNT time (Minecraft inspired, of course) where we blitz an area or toy box that needs a right good tidy.

By doing it together (often to loud music) and only for a short period of time on a regular basis, it no longer feels like a chore as there is a designated start and end time and my boys are very good at using TNT time as collateral in negotiating longer to do the things they want to. It works well for us but everyone has their own way of doing things and it is a journey with twists and turns and changes along the way.

When visiting schools, we often talk about Leo’s 3 Ls of Listening – Listening ears on, Lips closed, and Looking. We discuss the social nuances associated with being a good listener like not interrupting and being still.

The children are also very keen to tell me about their big people and when they aren’t so good at listening – the main examples being when they are working, doing the washing, or on their phone. Again, all of these provide a great basis for discussion. 

Deb: What originally inspired you to become a children’s book author? We’d love to hear your story!

Rachel: My journey to becoming a children’s book author has not been a conventional one – I originally studied law and qualified as a Solicitor but re-trained to become a primary school teacher, which I loved. Unfortunately, due to ill health and a dodgy immune system, I now struggle to work full-time in schools, so I combined my love of educating children and my love of reading and books to have a try myself and here I am.

Although each day is a school day, I am learning and growing all the time. I now get to visit schools in my local area sharing my books and consider myself to be very lucky to help instill a love of reading for pleasure, which is my greatest passion. 

Deb: This is the third picture book collaboration between you and Helen McKnockiter, who is actually your sister! What a lovely pair and concept! What inspired the two of you to begin writing and illustrating picture books together?

Rachel: Helen is a brilliant artist in her own right with many strings to her bow. She is always learning and growing as an artist so when I presented her with the challenge of illustrating singing and dancing vegetables for our first book, she jumped at the opportunity and absolutely smashed it! We never really planned it as such, it was just something that happened quite naturally. 

Deb: Through Baobab Tree Books, the two of you have published three books, raised a total of £2,950 for different charities, and made author visits to schools, scout troops, and more. What’s your vision for the future of Baobab Tree Books? Do you have more books in the works? Or any upcoming projects you’re excited about?

Rachel: Yes, we love sharing our books wherever they will have us really. And we love the feeling of giving something back, so raising money for good causes like my local Hospital Teaching Trust’s Children’s Appeal, Guide Dogs UK, and Cash for Kids. We aim to include a charitable element to all our books going forward.

When we first started out on this journey, our vision was to get an official publisher and take over the World but as we have gone on, we’ve chilled out a bit and just decided to enjoy the here and now.

I love being a local author and doing my storytelling assemblies, promoting reading for pleasure and enriching the reading experiences for the children in my area. Helen has been doing art classes for her local children and we’ve started to realize that this is enough. We have realized that we chose a creative lifestyle as we wanted to, love what we do, and do it in our own time, which gives us the chance to enjoy our family life as much as possible.

We still have drive and ambition and we have so many exciting things planned. I attended North West’s Sustainability Conference to read a poem of mine this week and got so many great book ideas on another area that I love – our world and being environmentally friendly. Helen is actually painting as we speak on a top-secret project, so watch this space!

We are in the process of finishing up a book called The Day I Lost My Manners, where we are trying a new style of writing and illustrating where the book has been written in two parts.

In the first, the little girl has lost her manners, everything is going wrong, and there is a hide-and-seek element in her trying to find them. The second half of the book is a mirror image of the first but she has now found her manners and everything that previously went wrong is now going right.

Helen has used muted tones painting in tea and coffee in the first half then added an abundance of colour in the second because, well…”Why wouldn’t I use my manners? I just didn’t have a clue. Seriously, not even an inkling. Because when I use my manners, others use theirs too!”

I am continuing to hone and develop my writing style and have started writing a book for older children called Beans on Toast Ben and I’m really enjoying this very different style of writing. Helen has been continuing with her love of oil paintings and nature as well as illustrations and working on a neurodivergent project promoting inclusivity for all in the workplace.

The World is buzzing with exciting opportunities and we are grabbing any that come our way!

Thanks so much for joining us today, Rachel! If you’d like to check out all of Rachel’s books, you can find them on her website. Happy reading!

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