An interview with… Ebele Bright

Even picture books need researching. A good writer always checks their facts. For the #252 15 Mar 2023 issue of Writers’ Forum, I interviewed Ebele Bright about the research she did for her picture book about eagles, Fly Chico Fly.

Fly Chico Fly is a story about an eaglet, Chico, who is afraid to do what birds are naturally good at, flying. He feels left out as his brothers have already taken to the skies, but his vivid imagination and caution stop him from taking that important leap. The story follows Chico as he learns to face his fear of flying.

Ebele told me the internet is her first stop during research, as so much information is readily available and easily accessible. She finds it an invaluable resource. There is access to research papers, places to visit, library searches, documentaries, other people’s pictures and videos, movies, images and more. She elaborated:

“I knew I wanted an eagle for this story and immediately looked into the different species of eagles, their appearance, anatomy, natural habitats, flight altitude, what they are synonymous with, their flying and landing positions, their interaction with their young, and how they learn to fly.”

Ebele Bright

She used Google images for pictures of eagles and chose the bald eagle, as she felt it would translate easily to illustrations, and capture the attention of children. As she particularly wanted to understand and express Chico’s concern of the differing weather conditions she searched Google images of eagles in their natural habitat. She explained it was important to her to make her research relevant to young children.

As well as the informative websites, she used video footage from places like Netflix and YouTube to further supplement her research. She told me Our Planet on Netflix was particularly useful for observing different environments and the documentary 72 dangerous animals: Asia on Netflix was also helpful. She watched on YouTube, a particularly beautifully slowed down flight of a bald eagle by the Epic slow Mo channel and discovered an Instagram hashtag search with your word of interest, comes up with useful images and videos.

Ebele also searched the bible app for verses containing eagles and read through them. The bible spoke of the swiftness of eagles, their superb vision, powerful wings, natural habitat of dwelling on the cliffs, rocky crags at night and building their nests on high, and the intentional and caring relationship between parent eagles and their eaglets.

As children learn by play, fun and in the most natural way she followed their lead by weaving certain elements into the story; a few characteristics of eagles, like their ability to fly really high and their perfect vision. She also mentioned specific parts of their anatomy to spark questions, providing some education on eagles in simple format.

The information was dropped in bite size by putting an illustration of a wing and talons on one page to encourage discussion, and allow kids to point to parts of the eagle’s anatomy. Ebele observed her own children particularly love talking about the differences between eagles and humans, and naming parts of the eagle. The emotional development for Chico was important to validate his fears, explore his vulnerability, guide his speech and growth, so that children relate to him.

“I found speaking with counsellors and parents about their knowledge on dealing with fear fascinating. I wanted to know their body language, word usage at the beginning of counselling, techniques for helping children walk through obstacles and the visible signs they are opening up. I spoke with other parents and drew on my parenting style raising fearless children, as well as my childhood.”

Ebele Bright

To ensure she portrayed this accurately she spoke with teachers as they have more access to children from different backgrounds. She wanted to discover how they navigate different emotions in the classroom and help guide children needing more support. Ebele explained observation is our close friend as writers. She constantly observes people, things and  environments, because it’s free. She likes to observe the workers at her daughter’s nursery to see how they interact with the children.

“On one occasion, I recall the tearful screams of a child who clung to his father in hopes of not going into nursery. I observed a staff member calm the child, turning his lunging hands into a warm embrace. The staff member validated the child’s feelings with soft spoken words, an attentive gaze and an open body language.”

Ebele Bright

A combination of these experiences helped her to frame Chico’s dialogue and character development, as both dialogue and character are interwoven.

Ebele’s research tip to other writers writing picture books is to read it aloud to people to gain feedback and watch their reaction. Reading to children in groups is a helpful way to observe which parts of your story stick, and makes them laugh. Did they understand the story? Did they enjoy it? Which parts are they repeating afterwards? Children are beautifully expressive and very honest. She revealed she prefers to do this without the illustrations, as it gives a true picture of the strength of the story.

Ebele said she organises the information she finds by the main character, relationships, environment and any additional details. She knows which details are really important and dispensable. She then makes a collage on google docs using screenshots and images, sketch things on paper, and make notes until her research looks more like a painting, and not just individual splashes of colour.

She emphasised it is important to remind yourself research must come to an end to avoid the research vortex which may ultimately keep your story at bay. Allow your imagination the freedom to thrive and simply write.

You can find out more about Ebele Bright on her websites and and follow her on Instagram @weareannounceworld

To read the complete unabridged feature you can purchase a copy of the #252 15 Mar 2023 issue of Writers’ Forum by ordering online from Select Magazines.

To read my future Research Secrets or Writing 4 Children interviews you can invest in a subscription from the Writers’ Forum website, or download Writers’ Forum to your iOS or Android device.

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