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Don't go into the forest! says everyone. That's where the greedy Soddgarŵ lives! I knew my way through the fields, so off I went...
Very recently, I had the privilege of collaborating with Empathy Lab UK, which works with schools, libraries, publishers and authors to use the power of books to develop and share and develop empathy skills with children and young people. For the first time this year, they have released a Welsh collection of special books that do exactly this.
As part of my work on the Welsh judging panel, I came across a quirky little book that was released in 2021. So many books are published annually, I must have missed it when it came out. What is safe to say is, that it fully deserves its place in the new empathy collection. To view the complete collection, follow this link: https://irp.cdn-website.com/b2f3fbc2/files/uploaded/WELSH%20EMPATHYLAB%20GUIDE-%20signed%20off.pdf
Soddgarŵ – what's one of those I wonder?
This is a lovely story about a strange and mysterious creature living in a forest. The villagers, who are very much against the creature, warn a little girl to stay away from it. The creature is blamed for all sorts of problems, but the truth is, they fear it because it's so different and unusual.
The brave little girl however, had no fear at all, and away she went to the forest, eager to meet him. After spending time getting to know the creature, the little girl comes to realize that the creature is not something to be feared – he’s just trying to live!
After being accused of stealing food, the little girl helps the Soddgarŵ find a new source of food – beans. Lots and lot of beans!
By the end of the book, the Soddgarŵ and the girl have formed a friendship and the villagers have even started to accept the creature.
Other than the fact that strange forest-dwelling creatures seem to love baked beans, I think the main message of the book is 'don't be afraid of what you don't understand.' This is a very important message for curious young children, who are going to be coming across all sorts of new and varied situations and individuals. It’s important that we make time to get to know people and give them a chance.
A little bit of trivia...
At first, I didn't notice that the book was the result of a competition from the Urdd and the Books Council – it might have been worth putting something about it in the back of the book! Anyway, Lily Mŷrennyn, a young artist from the Rhondda, was the winner of the special competition to find new talent in the field of children’s book illustration.
The task required young artists aged 18-25 to prepare original artwork to accompany a story written by the incredible Manon Steffan Ros.
To be honest, I don't know much about illustrating children's books, but I can appreciate good artwork when I see it. I agree with every word that the competition’s judge, Derek Bainton, says about Lily's work:
“Here is an artist whose work shows an understanding, confidence and command of narrative illustration. The artworks are exceptionally executed, combining a number of well-tuned skills such as traditional and digital techniques. The colour palette has a personal and warm feel, which binds this submission together beautifully in a delightfully cohesive, professional and original way.”
I’m very pleased to see an exciting, new competition as part of the Urdd Eisteddfod, especially as they provide a platform for talented new artists who are based here in Wales. It’ll be very interesting to see the output of this competition over the next few years...