Does My Goldfish Know Who I Am?is a book of questions from children answered by world experts and celebrities. So many of the questions I had in from kids were really quirky and funny: Do spiders speak? Could I survive on just bananas?, Who was scarier the Vikings or the Celts? So the book’s a lot of fun. They’ve been answered by people like Sir David Attenborough, Brian Cox, Kate Humble, Dan Snow, Jojo Moyes, Derren Brown, the lovely Miranda Hart, and even Sir Paul McCartney! It’s being sold in support of the NSPCC.
Why did you decide the children’s questions were worthy of putting together in a book?
Children see the world with fresh eyes. If you listen to them, you can really open your mind. They have no preconceptions, and they question the status quo all the time. They want how and why things got to be the way they are. Things that never occur to adults like Why do we don’t have tails when monkeys do? or Why doesn’t the Mona Lisa have eyebrows?! So the book is a bit like QI for kids - but adults will definitely enjoy it too.
Because so many of the questions children sent me are about our bodies, animals or the physical world and greater universe around us there’s a lot of science in the book. I call it “science by stealth” – physics, biology or chemistry that’s so entertaining to read you don’t even realise you’re learning. I have learnt so much myself compiling it – but I’ll admit I have the science brain of an eight year old!
Tell us about the process of getting the responses from all of the experts.
I was a bit naïve before I started the project. I thought, “How can these experts not want to answer a child’s question about their own subject for charity? Surely most will do it.” But of course I was asking some of the busiest people on the planet. So a fair few did turn me down. There were some tough days when my inbox was full of "Sorry but no" but there was always some really inspiring person saying Yes. Every time answers came in, they were so fascinating, charming or funny. It always geed me up.
Please can you tell us a little bit about your first book Big Questions from Little People.
Big Questions from Little People - now out as Why Can't I Tickle Myself in its paperback edition - answered loads of the really BIG questions. The fundamental questions that leave parents floundering for answers – big philosophical questions, big science questions, ethical questions too. It’s a treasury, an essential handbook for parents and kids covering big topics like: Why can’t we live forever? Why is the sky blue? Why is water wet? What makes me me? Why are some people mean? and How do you fall in love? (I had to get that answered by three people – two writers with different perspectives: David Nicholls (of One Day fame) and Jeanette Winterson – plus a neuroscientist who specialises in love and explained how muddled the brain gets when you fall head over heels.
By contrast, the second book in the series Does My Goldfish Know Who I Am? is the slightly sillier sibling – full of the quirky and hilarious questions I couldn’t resist getting answered by experts, on all sorts of subjects from asteroids to zebras, flaming farts to football and why you can’t keep a penguin in your bath. In Goldfish there’s also a quiz section based on more kids’ questions, that’s perfect for kids’ parties, rainy days, half terms and holidays.
Why did you decide to donate the majority of royalties to the NSPCC of all the charities out there?
Before my son was born I was training to become a volunteer counsellor for the NSPCC’s ChildLine. When I became a mum I had to put those plans on hold, and so cooking up this book project whilst on maternity leave was the next best thing.
I wanted to volunteer for their Childline because I was bullied by a boy in my class in my mid-teens and it crushed my confidence at the time. It’s amazing I got my GCSEs, I skipped those classes so often. If I’d been more aware of Childline then, I’m sure they could have given me some helpful advice. Kids today have so much more to deal with now that internet bullying is so prevalent and online anonymity allows it to escalate unchecked so easily. Childline needs our support more than ever.
Of course, helping bullied children is just a tiny part of NSPCC's work. Since starting the Big Questions project, I've learned much more about the charity. What they do is utterly inspiring - both at grass roots and policy level. They get really solid results protecting children in this country.
How can grown-ups enjoy the book?â¨
The answers are written in such a way that anyone can enjoy it. The language is simple enough for a primary-school-age child to understand but they're stuffed full of facts that will surprise you whatever age you are. I didn’t want anything to be dumbed down otherwise what would be the point in asking all these great world-class experts and leading thinkers to answer? Kids can understand so much more than we give them credit for so why hold back?
It’s fun to read together with a child as well, if you’ve got kids, grandkids, nephews or nieces. I’ve had brilliant feedback from parents who read a few every bedtime or have taken it on a long car journey. It starts so many interesting conversations.
There's also the charm of the kids' questions themselves - they just make you laugh.
Which question is your favourite?
Hard to choose! “Can a robin be friends with a blackbird?” was pretty adorable. Bill Oddie wrote us a great answer. But close runner up would be, “How do I know my life’s not a dream?” from a five-year-old. Deep! Derren Brown got his head round that one. Or maybe, the very cute, “How does the lady in the sat nav know where to go?”
What is so appealing about children’s curiosity of the world?
When I’m with my three year old son I often think of that poem that goes:
“What is this life if, full of care / We have no time to stand and stare.
No time to stand beneath the boughs / And stare as long as sheep or cows.”
Well children do have time to stand and stare - to look around them and wonder about absolutely everything. Us adults are so busy with logistics and the daily grind, we so rarely have space in our lives to reflect and appreciate this amazing world. When I’m out in the park with my son it’s a chance to stay in the moment, to slow down and recapture that natural curiosity we’re all born with. When he points out a tiny snail or the colour of a leaf, it’s a total joy. I can feel myself opening up to experiences I’ve forgotten all about.
What is next for you?
I’m having another baby boy in a few weeks’ time, so that’s me busy for a good while!