Touchy Feely

Any parents with children under three will be (very) familiar with Fiona Watt’s That’s Not My… series. Here she reveals the touchy-feely series’ secrets 

First published in 1999, the That’s Not My… series has found its way into parents’ homes everywhere. For the uninitiated, the short boardbooks feature a single type of animal or character, such as a polar bear, a pirate or, in the first one, a puppy. That’s Not My Hamster… will appear in May.

Each page features a picture of the subject with a different touchy-feely patch and simple descriptive text: “That’s not my monster. Its eyebrows are too hairy.” Author Fiona Watt explains that the creative process behind these much-loved books begins with the baby’s exploration. 
How did you come up with using textures to appeal to very young children? 
Babies love exploring different textures and learn through their senses, especially touch. I had seen books with touch-and-feel patches, but quite often they were just cut into the side of a picture or photo of an animal, with no real purpose or reference to the textural quality. It seemed like a good idea to combine the physical attributes of different animals with a tactile patch, and use adjectives to describe the texture.
How important is repetition of language in engaging children? 
It is extremely important for language development. Very young children will respond to the rhythm and repetition of sounds, and patterns of words, even if they aren’t yet speaking. Many children want the same nursery rhyme sung to them, or the same book read to them 
at bedtime over and over again, as it makes them feel secure. 
How can parents use the same tactics in playing with and teaching their children?
There are so many different ways. For example, pointing to an object and not just describing it as a noun, but adding an adjective too helps to develop vocabulary in a fun way: “noisy truck”, “pretty flower”, “fast car”. This a good way of introducing very young children to colours, too: “Let’s put on your red coat and your blue boots”, “Here’s your green car”. Tactile words can be used as well: “soft hat”, “squashy teddy”. 
Are there any That’s Not My… you wanted to do but couldn’t make work?
Every year at Usborne, we have brainstorming meetings and there are always a long list of suggestions for new titles. That’s Not My Butterfly… is one title that comes up again and again, but butterflies don’t have enough attributes which could be turned successfully into touchy-feely patches (head, body, wings, er… that’s it. You need six for each title!). That’s Not My Dolphin… has also been suggested but dolphins don’t really have enough different textures on their bodies. 
You’re now doing sticker books as well; what is it about stickers that children love?
I think children perceive stickers as ‘fun’. I also think that children love them because they can produce instant pictures without having to draw, cut things out or think for themselves too much. However they also have an educational value, as they help to develop a child’s hand-eye coordination and their concentration without the child necessarily realising it.
To see Fiona's design process with her illustrator for That's Not My Elephant, click back to our homepage to see the gallery.