Teigan Margetts on writing children’s books to change the world

Today we welcome Teigan Margetts, children’s author and co-founder of Ethicool Books, to discuss their publishing ethos and share the story behind her book ‘Simon and the Sad Salad’.

Plus, Ethicool Books is very generously offering readers worldwide the chance to win a $50AUD Gift Card and thus, the opportunity to choose the book(s) just right for the child in your life from their exclusive catalogue (7 titles and growing…). See entry form below.

Childrens books to change the world - Teigan Margetts - Ethicool Books

Behind the scenes with Simon and the Sad Salad

By Teigan Margetts

As any author will tell you, sometimes that concept behind a story takes many days (or even weeks) of careful consideration, and then mere moments of creating once everything has come together. That was certainly true for me for my latest title, Simon and the Sad Salad.

Simon and the Sad Salad by Teigan Margetts

Full disclosure here: I am both a children’s book author, and the Co-Founder and Head of Marketing for my kids’ book publishing startup, Ethicool Books. So when I write my books, getting ‘published’ is not an issue as our company will take care of that for me. But given that I take care of marketing, many more elements of the creation process become even more important – as I’ll explain below.

First things first – who is Ethicool Books?

Ethicool Books is a children’s book publisher with a big mission. We create magical and heartwarming children’s books about the world’s big issues – and then we inspire kids to make change. Our books, aimed at children aged 0-8, cover everything from climate change to anxiety, and poverty to equality.

Founded last year by my business partner, Stuart French, and myself, the business was initially created to honour my mum, who passed away suddenly and unexpectedly. Mum was a much-loved school teacher who read tirelessly to me when I was young (inspiring me to eventually become a journalist). She also always told me that if I wanted something changed in the world, that I should teach children to change it. When I became a mum myself a few years ago, I realised that there are many ways we can make the world a better place, and who better to do it than the next generation!

As the business has grown, however, we’ve realised that a lot of parents, grandparents and educators out there also want a heartfelt and meaningful way to discuss issues with children. We’re so excited that our books are starting these important conversations.

We’ve also reached an important milestone this year, and that is welcoming new authors and illustrators onboard! We’re actively looking for children’s book authors and we encourage anyone who believes they have written a good Ethicool story to submit it to us for publication.

What is Simon and the Sad Salad about and why is it important?

Simon and the Sad Salad is a fun and evocative story about caring about those less fortunate than ourselves. In the book, the main character Simon, along with his classmates, are celebrating the end of their school year with a class party. Everyone brings something extravagant to share, except for poor Simon. He’s teased as a result.

Simon and the Sad Salad - Child poverty bullying

Asha, one of Simon’s friends, then asks her mum more about why Simon is the way he is. What she learns inspires her to do something really beautiful for Simon. You’ll just have to read the book to find out what happens!

My main motivation behind writing this book was that I wanted to be able to explain poverty and disadvantage to kids, but in a way that they could understand and relate to.

Tell us more about the creative process for Simon and the Sad Salad? What was your inspiration for the story?

Ethicool Books is a special, issues-focused publisher so as with all of our books, my idea for Simon and the Sad Salad started with deciding which issue I’d like to focus on. With inequality growing worldwide, and more than 2 billion people in poverty, I thought that disadvantage was a very relevant issue – and one that a lot of children would grapple with, or see, every day.

From there though, the challenge always is: how do I make this issue kid-friendly? Helping children understand and relate to a concept is not as simple as telling them the facts. You have to create a story and a situation they’re familiar with.

To explain poverty, the obvious choice for kids was the schoolyard. The idea for Simon and the Sad Salad, in particular, was actually also inspired by what my mum used to tell me about kids she taught. She said that often, children would come to school with little or no lunch, but of course, other kids wouldn’t understand why, and they’d simply tease them as a result. That broke my heart!

When I was thinking about the story that Simon and the Sad Salad would become, I was also very conscious of giving characters in the book ‘choices,’ for example, if confronted with a choice to help or do something, what would you do? I think this is important because that’s the whole idea behind Ethicool Books – that we all have a choice either to do nothing or make the world a better place. So the idea of personality responsibility is very important in a lot of our books.

We all have a choice either to do nothing or make the world a better place. So the idea of personality responsibility is very important in our books.

With these ideas in mind, I created Simon and the Sad Salad. As I mentioned above, once you’ve got the ‘concept’ for a story, especially a shorter children’s story, then the story simply creates itself. I think it took me a day to write this book, including a couple of edits.

After this, I drafted an illustration spec and worked through this with our illustrator. This process can be a bit time-consuming, and we bounced ideas back and forth for weeks. The notion of a ‘picture tells a thousands words’ is so true here, sometimes I had a very specific idea in my mind, but our very experienced illustrator had to explain why certain things may not work. My advice to other authors on this front is this: if you’re working with a great illustrator, give them a lot of creative license! We’ve never been disappointed with what our illustrators have come up with.

As the Head of Marketing for Ethicool, do you have any other considerations when selecting books or creating them yourself?

YES! Definitely yes. Any publisher who commissions works without first considering how to market them is taking a big risk. With any books we publish, there is so much we consider from a marketing perspective before we commission them. After all, if you’re not going to be able to find an audience for your books, why publish them?

The first thing we consider with any books we’re commissioning is: from what angles can we market this book? For example, with Simon and the Sad Salad, it is, at its core, a book about poverty, inequality and disadvantage. But at the same time, it covers lots of other themes as well, including sharing and caring, bullying, asking why, and personal responsibility. It’s also, I’ve been told, heartwarming and inspiring. This is really important to us – we want our readers, big and small, to feel good and to want to take action after they read our books.

Having multiple themes/ideas is also very important. For example, not everyone cares about inequality. But if they don’t care about that, they may still care about the issue of bullying, or perhaps they simply want to teach their children to share. Being able to market books in different ways is critical for us to reach different people with different messages.

Another thing we consider is: will this book illustrate well? With children’s books, obviously, the illustrations are what brings them to life and ultimately, what captivates children as they may not be able to read the words just yet. From a marketing perspective, our illustrations are also key to our marketing. We actively share them via our Instagram and they are what draw in a lot of our readers, so a book that illustrates well is also essential.

Thirdly, although this is not essential, we always appreciate when authors have their own great stories behind their creations. For example, perhaps they’ve experienced unequal opportunities themselves, so they’re really passionate about addressing that particular issue. When we’re reviewing manuscripts, beyond beautiful stories, we can really see when someone is passionate about something. It’s really lovely when we can highlight both the author and the story in our marketing.

Why is Simon and the Sad Salad a ‘must read’ for every child?

Children are so perceptive and intelligent, way more than we give them credit for. I think Simon and the Sad Salad is a must-read for every child as it highlights that we’re not all equal – but we all have the power to do something about that.

I think this is a beautiful message for all parents to share. It makes storytime not just fun, but also meaningful.

Simon and the Sad Salad is available exclusively via Ethicool Books ($19.00 AUD at the time of writing).

About the Author, Teigan Margetts

Teigan Margetts was born in Melbourne in 1984 and holds a Masters degree in People and Change from Sweden’s Lund University. Margetts has published three children’s books, alongside an extensive publishing career as a journalist and copywriter.

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One lucky reader will win a $50AUD Ethicool Books Giftcard. Ethicool Books are based in Australia and mail their titles internationally. Please note though, some locations are experiencing shipping delays right now due to the pandemic.

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