“Each of my picture books,” says Martin Waddell, “is about a very big emotion—like loneliness, fear of the dark, or compassion—in a very small person.” He is especially attuned to the feelings of small people because of a traumatic event that gave his own life an unexpected turn. When a bomb explosion in a Belfast church in 1969 left Martin Waddell seriously injured, his wife returned to teaching while he stayed home to care for their young children. “The writing part of me died for a time,” says the author, who had been a successful writer of thrillers for adults. “I became Mr. Mom. What I didn’t know was that I was sitting on the richest vein of ideas.”
From that life-changing experience came Can’t You Sleep, Little Bear? illustrated by Barbara Firth, “the most perfect children’s book ever written or illustrated,” according to London’s Sunday Times. The acclaimed bestseller became the first in a series of Big and Little Bear stories, tender tales that ease a child’s fears—of scary noises or “the dark all around us”—with the ultimate reassurance.
Honored with the 2004 Hans Christian Andersen Medal for his important and lasting contribution to children’s literature, Martin Waddell has now written more than 100 books for children and young adults, many of them linked by what he calls “loving relationships between ‘big’ and ‘small.’” Among them are Owl Babies, a gentle antidote to a child’s fear of abandonment; Farmer Duck, a funny fable about justice in the farmyard; Who Do You Love?, a playful story that encourages children to remember the people dearest to them; and Tiny’s Big Adventure, the tale of a wee mouse that captures all the excitement and trepidation of a first-time experience.
Over the years Martin Waddell has worked closely with many outstanding illustrators, including Helen Oxenbury, Patrick Benson, John Lawrence, and, of course, Barbara Firth. As he notes, “When the artist has done his or her job correctly, a lot of energy is transferred to the pictures and you don’t need superfluous words.” But he believes that an equally important collaborator in the success of his books is the reader. A picture book is “a script for a performance to a very personally involved audience that wants to stop, ask questions, look, and point things out,” he says. “My books are written for that special island of time at the end of the day. They are for parents and children to share.”
Martin Waddell lives with his wife in Northern Ireland.