An artist has told of his delight that a classic children’s book he illustrated more than two decades ago is to be read by the Duchess of Cambridge as a bedtime story on CBeebies.
Paul Howard, the illustrator behind The Owl Who Was Afraid Of The Dark, said the book was a favourite of Kate’s when she was a child and she now reads it to her three children.
CBeebies will broadcast the duchess narrating the book on Sunday at 6.50pm to mark Children’s Mental Health Week.
The book was originally written in 1968 by author Jill Tomlinson and award-winning Belfast illustrator Mr Howard became involved 22 years ago.
He explained: “The book is nearly as old as myself. It came out in 1968. It has kind of grown over the years to become a bit of a classic.
“I got involved when the publishers decided, because the book was so popular, to do a picture book version.
“It really resonated well with very young children because the themes were very appropriate.
“They then got me to do all of Jill Tomlinson’s chapter books. I have illustrated all of her books.
“It was chosen by the Duchess of Cambridge for her to read for Children’s Mental Health Week. It also coincides with the 20th anniversary of CBeebies.
“It was chosen because it covers the themes of growing together. The little owl is afraid of the dark but he goes off to seek help and advice from different people.
“From the collaborative nature of that he gets over his fear of the dark.
“The duchess loved the book as a child herself and reads it to her own three children.”
Mr Howard said the ongoing popularity of the book shows the power of reading together as a family.
He said: “When you are illustrating, it is quite a solitary business. You are in that moment and doing what you have to do.
“None of us can predict how it is going to go.
“The fact that this book has been around for so long and it still continues to grow stronger and chime with people in their everyday lives, and has that lovely cosy nostalgia that people want to pass on that baton to their children. That is the power of books and reading.
“It is a lovely reminder of how what you do matters to children and their families. It gives you a bit of a warm glow inside.
“The classic story has been reassuring children for over 50 years. I’m delighted that it has been personally chosen by the Duchess of Cambridge.
“Over 20 years ago I illustrated Plop the baby barn owl in pastel pencils, in an attempt to make the tactile illustrations feel like a child’s favourite comfort blanket.
“It’s wonderful to see, in the intervening years, how the same little owl’s story continues to help new generations of children find their own wings to fly.”
Mr Howard is the current Children’s Writing Fellow for Northern Ireland, a post created as part of Queen’s University and the Arts Council of Northern Ireland’s joint 10-year Seamus Heaney Legacy project supported by Atlantic Philanthropies.
The duchess is following in the footsteps of Hollywood star Chris Evans best known for playing Captain America; Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl; and British actor Tom Hiddleston in reading for CBeebies Bedtime Stories.
For the broadcast on the BBC’s channel for young children, the duchess wears jeans and a Fair Isle jumper and appears to be sat in the corner of a green space, with a hot chocolate within reach, two soft, toy owls for company and a fire bowl burning away.