Inspiration

THE CREATIVE WORLD OF AUTHOR AND ILLUSTRATOR ZENO SWORDER

02/18/2021,

“There are perhaps no days of our childhood we lived so fully as those we spent with a favorite book“- Marcel Proust.

It is a great pleasure to travel (virtually, of course) today to Melbourne and meet the talented writer and artist Zeno Sworder. His first book for children, “This small blue dot,” has become a favorite in our house, captivating the whole family with its combination of flavors, wild imagination, colors, dreams, and creativity.

It has been inspiring to read “This small blue dot” during the pandemic, as each page reminded us that although we might be isolated at home, we all share this amazing planet, and all kids around the world experience the same love for strawberries, crayons, and silly dances.

Full of wisdom, whimsy, and bright illustrations, “This small blue dot” is the most beautiful welcome letter to our crazy world. It is also a fun and positive ode to childhood, our ancestors, and our planet, with an important message of interconnectedness.

Please, join me in this conversation with Zeno Sworder to speak about books, parenthood, future projects, and his favorite spots in Melbourne. I think you are going to love his extraordinary creative world.

World Kids: This is your first book for children, but you “have always felt most yourself sitting at a table drawing and making up stories.” How long have you been working on “This Blue Dot”

Zeno Sworder: I worked on the book for well over a year, which is much longer than a children’s book normally takes. I started working on the book shortly after my father and grandmother passed away. Because my daughters would never have the chance to know them well, I wanted to act as a bridge and pass on some of the lessons they had taught me. So every night I would spend a few hours with memories of loved ones and work on this book. 

Your book is a “tribute to those who came before us.” Who has inspired you most?

I grew up in a very fertile environment for imagination and inspiration. I come from a mixed race family (Chinese on my mother’s side and English on my father’s side), which is full of musicians and painters and writers. With this book there were a number of writers that I found particularly inspirational. Carl Sagan who charted the universe around us, as well as other writers like Khalil Gibran and Kurt Vonnegut who explored the universe of the heart and mind.

Are there any particular authors or books that influenced you growing up? 

I was one of those unfortunate children who didn’t have a TV at home so I lived inside of books. I loved Roald Dahl because of the weirdness of his stories. It was comforting knowing that someone else out there understood that most adults were sinister and oblivious to how amazing children were. I also loved Tintin and Usagi Yojimbo which is a comic book about a wandering samurai rabbit in feudal Japan.

“This small blue dot”  is also a “letter of love and hope.” In these uncertain times, are you still an optimistic person? 

Absolutely. As a parent your perspective has to be hopeful. I think taking a broader perspective of time and the human story helps. Politically and socially we will always be on a pendulum swinging to the left or the right. Beyond that, I have always believed that the vast majority of people are governed by more than self-interest. That our instinct to cooperate is stronger than our instinct to compete. I have no doubt that our children and grandchildren will make the world a kinder place. 

Absolutely. As a parent your perspective has to be hopeful. I think taking a broader perspective of time and the human story helps. Politically and socially we will always be on a pendulum swinging to the left or the right. Beyond that, I have always believed that the vast majority of people are governed by more than self-interest. That our instinct to cooperate is stronger than our instinct to compete. I have no doubt that our children and grandchildren will make the world a kinder place. 

I am fascinated by your combination of photography and drawings. Which other forms of expression do you enjoy?

Thanks so much. The drawings in the book are all done with pencil and crayon but I have been very flattered to hear that people think the pencil drawings may be photos. 

In terms of other forms of expression or artistic pursuits unfortunately I am not good for much else. My mother was a concert pianist and had some hope that I would embrace music. Unfortunately there is not a musical bone in my body. I can’t dance and I even speak in a monotone.

What has parenthood taught you? 

What a big question. It has definitely taught me my limitations – I am nowhere near as patient as I thought I was. Parenthood requires you to be so many things; a cook, a doctor, a photographer, a toy repair person, a disciplinarian, a comforter.  

I think one of the most illuminating aspects of parenthood is that it asks you to seriously question what a good human life is and how you can help prepare your little people for such a journey. 

Can you tell us a little bit about your next project? 

My next book is a strange story inspired by my experience of growing up with migrant parents. It is about the ways in which parents burden and narrow their lives to ensure a better future for their children. It is also about the cycle of love shared between parents and their children.

What books are you currently reading?

At the moment I am reading the New York Trilogy by Paul Auster and Tales from the Arabian Nights. My daughters are really enjoying Howl by Kat Patrick and Evie Barrow.

What Museums, restaurants, activities… would you recommend to families visiting Melbourne?

My perfect day In Melbourne would revolve mostly around my favourite suburb Fitzroy. It would start with a visit to the Rose Street Makers’ Market which is home to a lot of Melbourne artists and craftspeople (including me!). That would be followed up by some excellent croissants at Lune (also on Rose St) and a street art walking tour through Fitzroy’s streets and laneways. To close out the day I would recommend a trip to the National Gallery of Victoria which host great activities and exhibitions for children. 

Thank you Zeno! It has been a great pleasure to have you on World Kids!

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