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NPR Arts & Life

Charlie And Lola Are Back In 'Absolutely One Thing'

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

If you sometimes think there's just not enough good news in this world, recall these words - I have this little sister, Lola. She is small, and very funny. Charlie and Lola are back, the eternally kind older brother and perpetually curious younger sister who simply will not, will never, never, ever eat a tomato. The new "Charlie And Lola" book is called "Absolutely One Thing."

Charlie and Lola are given life, of course, in words and drawings by Lauren Child, the admired writer and illustrator of several signature children's series, including the "Clarice Bean" books and "Ruby Redfort" novels. But this is her first "Charlie And Lola" in a while. Boy, some of us have missed them. Lauren Child joins us now from London. Thanks so much for being with us.

LAUREN CHILD: Thank you.

SIMON: Where have they been, Charlie and Lola?

CHILD: (Laughter) Well, I think two things happened. One was that the television series of "Charlie And Lola," rather got a grip on my time, and I spent so many hours working with the television people, and you know, designing for "Charlie And Lola," the TV series, that I was a bit exhausted with them and I needed to do something else. And now they've been away for quite some time. I've missed them.

SIMON: So you decided to bring them back.

CHILD: (Laughter) Yes, so I decided to bring them back.

SIMON: May we read a bit from your book...

CHILD: Yes, of course.

SIMON: ...If we could, and maybe we should set the story. It's, of course, about counting - sort of - how Charlie and Lola and all kids decide they're going to try and figure that out. I'm going to suggest I be Charlie, you be Lola. I will warn you, I've been told by our British staff members that I have the worst British accent since Dick Van Dyke was in "Mary Poppins."

CHILD: Hurrah.

(LAUGHTER)

SIMON: I apologize in advance, OK? But I simply can't let you be the only one with a British accent in this reading. All right, let me try it. So Charlie - (reading) I'm running as fast as I can and Lola is counting ladybugs on the path. She says...

CHILD: (Reading) There are at least 50 or 2,017. How many shoes would 50 or 2,017 ladybugs need, Charlie?

SIMON: (Reading) I say none. Ladybugs don't wear shoes.

CHILD: (Reading) What about socks, says Lola.

SIMON: (Reading) No, they never wear socks.

CHILD: (Reading) It must be very ouchie (ph), says Lola.

SIMON: How do you get inside the minds of children?

CHILD: I think it's about listening. I love listening to the way children talk and the way they put together their ideas.

SIMON: You have a daughter now, I gather.

CHILD: I do have a daughter. She's just turned 6.

SIMON: And do you shamelessly plunder what she says?

CHILD: (Laughter) I do write it down, but the things that she says - the things that any child say - are far more exaggerated and extraordinary than any of the things that I could write or invent.

SIMON: Lola began as a little girl you saw on a train.

CHILD: That's correct, yes.

SIMON: What happened?

CHILD: I was traveling from Copenhagen to Jutland, so I was over in Denmark with my Danish boyfriend. And we were on this train and there was this extraordinarily little pixie-like child who was traveling with her parents, and she was tiny. I think she was probably about 2 and a half or 3 or something, but she kept burbling on to them, and you could tell that they were very, very keen to be reading their books. And they really didn't want to talk to her.

And so she kept sort of looking at them sideways out of the corners of her eyes 'cause she knew she was going to get told off any minute - affectionately, but, you know, they were - you could see the look on their faces. So anyway I just thought she was the most wonderful little thing, and I drew a picture of her when I got home as I remembered her, and then I found a story that I felt would suit her personality.

SIMON: And Charlie?

CHILD: And Charlie was actually based on more than one person but a little bit based on my older sister Rachel, who was one of those very, very kind and responsible older siblings, and she was always very nice to me. She wasn't as nice as Charlie because nobody is, but she was a very sort of caring, responsible older sibling.

SIMON: Do you hear from some of your readers around the world who tell you that one of their hopes with Charlie and Lola is that siblings will learn to be kind to each other?

CHILD: I get that a lot from parents, actually.

(LAUGHTER)

CHILD: Parents are very keen on the "Charlie And Lola" books. And I think that is because it's that rather nostalgic sort of looking back at those moments that we remember in our own childhoods, perhaps, that were just perfect. And everybody, I think, will have at least one memory where you just felt really good in your childhood, or good about your siblings, or your cousins. And I think, really, "Charlie And Lola" is about that perfect 15 minutes that might come along on any given day where your children are playing beautifully together.

SIMON: You mean as opposed the rest of the 23 hours and 45 minutes?

CHILD: (Laughter) Yes, the rest of the time (laughter) it's a struggle.

SIMON: It's OK when they're sleeping, though, so let me rejigger the math a little bit.

CHILD: (Laughter).

SIMON: Lauren Child, her latest "Charlie And Lola" book is "Absolutely One Thing," thanks so much for being back with us.

CHILD: Pleasure, thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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