My Writing and Reading Life Interview with Dorien Brouwers
The Children’s Book Review
Dorien Brouwers was born and raised in the Netherlands and moved to the UK where she worked as a graphic designer with clients ranging from the Prado Museum (Spain) and Tate Modern (UK) to Pearson FT Publishing.
She started writing and illustrating books as a gift for her son. She draws predominantly with watercolor, pen and ink developing a distinctive style rich in texture and detail. Her picture book debut was ‘The Remarkable Pigeon’ (Salariya Publishing). Her work for ‘Sail’ was shortlisted for the illustrators’ exhibition at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair (Italy). She was also a finalist in the 12th edition of KeyColours Competition by Clavis Publishing (Belgium).
I write because …
Creativity is a way of expressing myself, it’s at the core of who I am.
I read because …
Reading expands your horizons and makes you grow. It’s the quickest way to evolve your mind. A good book can change you and your interaction with the world around you.
My latest published book is …
Sail. A 40-page picture book in rhyme about a child who has to steer his boat through wild seas and learn to navigate the tides and storms of life. It’s all about finding your treasure in the deep, exploring new possibilities, and learning to embrace change in a positive way.
The book is full of dynamic watercolor illustrations and brimming with sea life. All ages, not just children, can enjoy it.
The editors of Amazon US selected it as a ‘Best Book of the Month’.
I wrote this book because …
It came to me like a little gift, and I believed in it from the start. When you feel an idea has got legs, you owe it to yourself to run with it and see how far the two of you can get. I certainly tried my very best to do it justice.
And then the world got hit by a pandemic, and everyone has been going through such a tough time; Sail is the perfect tool to help readers see that we can learn and grow from any situation, especially the challenging, disruptive ones.
Best moment …
When I came across a video of a bookshop manager in Colorado reading ‘Sail’ out loud, she was visibly moved by it, which moved me in return. It showed me the true magic of a book. To see my story out there on its own, thousands of miles from where I live, and make a stranger feel something is truly special. It filled me with pride.
My special place to write is …
Anywhere where I feel at ease. Creativity is all about surrender. I have this theory that the best ideas drop in when you aren’t actively looking for them, when you are able to shift your awareness from a doing/survival state of mind into a being/creative state of mind. Therefore there needs to be a sense of safety so you can open up.
Necessary writing/creativity tool …
The humble pencil. So I can cross out initial words but am still able to go back to them later because sometimes that first word was the right one all along. Writing on the computer doesn’t work for me. That’s fine for the final editing stages, but not for getting out those initial drafts.
The person who has been my greatest writing teacher or inspiration is …
Dutch author and illustrator Mark Janssen is one of the best in the Netherlands and winner of the Premio Andersen Award. I first met him at the Bologna Picture Book Fair in Italy a couple of years ago. It was my final day there, and I was about to leave but decided to nip into one last stand, and we ended up chatting. It turned out he lives only a short bicycle ride away from the village where I grew up. What are the chances?! He is passionate about sharing his knowledge of the industry, even giving masterclasses, and is always there for a word of advice or encouragement.
Currently reading …
A stack of books has slowly accumulated. I am dipping in and out of the following: ‘Wild’ by Jay Griffiths, ‘Consolations’ by David Whyte, ‘On Being Human’ by Jennifer Pastiloff, ‘The obstacle is the way’ by Ryan Holiday.
Favorite bookshop …
I was lucky enough to live in Paris for nearly 2 years, at walking distance from Shakespeare & Company, an English language bookstore on the banks of the Seine, opposite the Notre Dame.
It is a true Left Bank Literary Institution. They say at Shakespeare and Company you don’t find a book, a book finds you. So true. I can spend ages just browsing the shelves. There are books everywhere. One of my favourite Hafiz quotes is painted on the steps of the stairs: “I wish I could show you when you are lonely or in darkness the astonishing light of your own being.”
On the top floor, it smells of old books and there are typewriters where I’ve seen people write stories or poetry. A cat named Aggie sometimes sleeps on one of the daybeds. People leave notes pinned on the walls. When you are there, it feels like the shop is alive!
They invite writers, artists, and intellectuals to sleep among the shop’s shelves, on small beds that double as benches during the day. According to their website, an estimated 30,000 writers and artists have stayed in the bookshop since its opening in 1951, including the likes of Kate Grenville, Ethan Hawke, Darren Aronofsky, and Geoffrey Rush.
They host free literary events to promote up-and-coming talent as well as leading authors such as Jeanette Winterson, Zadie Smith, and Carol Ann Duffy. They have a rare book collection. They support a host of charities and raise money for literacy projects in Asia and Africa.
I could go on.
They are everything a great bookshop should be!
All-time favorite children’s book I didn’t write…
I don’t really have an all-time favourite, so I will go with my 8-year old son’s all-time favourite instead: “The Wild Robot” by Peter Brown. It’s well written, and the illustrations are simply stunning. My son has read it at least 5 or 6 times. He even takes it out on walks so he can recommend it to strangers in the street!
Favorite illustrator …
Again, there is simply too much talent out there to choose, plus I like a variety of styles. Picture book illustrators who blow me away at the moment are: Yasmeen Ismail, Shaun Tan, Sophie Blackall, Manuel Marsol, Jeffrey Alan Love, Daniel Miyares, Michaela Goade, Kenard Pak, Carson Ellis – I will leave it there.
A literary character I would like to vacation with …
At first, I thought the Little Prince, but I think all those questions and observations would probably start to drive me nuts. Or Karen Blixen, we could chat endlessly about coffee, men, being strong, fierce, and determined and share in our mutual love of Africa (I lived there for a while). But ‘Out of Africa’ is a memoir, so I guess that doesn’t count – if it’s just for one vacation only I guess James Bond will do just fine.
When I am not reading or writing I am …
In no particular order: illustrating, exercising on my yoga mat, making music behind my big pedal harp, or going for a run through the English countryside.
To learn more, visit https://www.dorienillustrator.com.
Written and Illustrated by Dorien Brouwers
Ages 4-8 | 40 Pages
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers | ISBN-13: 978-0316495486
Publisher’s Synopsis: This dazzlingly illustrated debut about sailing through the journey of life is perfect for graduation or uplifting reading year-round. Out at sea anything can happen: whether trials or triumphs, there are infinite possibilities to explore once we leave the shore. And what lies under the water’s surface, in the darkest depths, can often lead to the most beautiful discoveries.
With gentle wisdom and dynamic art that will sweep you away, remarkable debut talent Dorien Brouwers beckons us to climb aboard and discover the courage, grit, and resilience that resides within us all. Ideal for all ages and filled with universal themes, the story also features a set of questions at the end that will invite parent-child conversations and encourage readers to explore their own life journeys.
Buy the Book
Discover more books like Sail, written and illustrated by Dorien Brouwers, by checking out our reviews and articles tagged with Graduation Books, Books with Life Lessons, Picture Book, and Sea Life; plus, be sure to follow along with our Writing and Reading Life series.