The Big Issue: Why did you choose to focus on foodbanks for this book?
Kate Milner: I thought I could use a picture book to give a face to the statistics and also, for me, what I’m trying to do is explain to children what this is, it’s about definitions. Some of them might see bins in the supermarkets where people can put food in, but it is about saying: “What is that for? How does that work? What is poverty? How does it affect people?” I’m trying to give something to teachers so they can talk about this subject.
TBI: What is the message that you want a child to take away from the book?
KM: I’m trying to do a couple of things – for younger children there is a sense of this is what poverty means, it’s having to be very careful and not always having enough stuff. It’s the girl’s narrative. But for older children in primary school, I want them to see beyond that. So it’s getting that darker side of it across as well. I also want children whose families live like that not to see it as being some sort of dirty little secret. There is so much stigma in the more general media. Part of it, for me, is about representation. Going to a foodbank is a really common thing now, it’s about a third of all schoolchildren living in poverty so that should be represented in picture books.
The Big Issue magazine is a social enterprise, a business that reinvests its profits in helping others who are homeless, at risk of homelessness, or whose lives are blighted by poverty.
TBI: Aditya Chakrabortty’s article in The Guardian used the book to demonstrate how normalised foodbank use had become. What’s your take on that?
KM: I’m personally trying to avoid too much of a sense of rage – it’s not that I don’t think that is a good response to this situation because I do. But I also want to look at it from the children’s point of view. I may feel like: “When will we get back to a reasonably funded welfare state like we used to have in the Seventies?” but, of course, for a child that is just what the world is like. They don’t have an in-built moral reaction to it. I thought it was a great article because it expressed something that I feel. The anger. Can we not arrange now to get the children of this country fed? Is that beyond us?
TBI: What do you think about children’s ability to take these messages on and deal with these difficult subjects?
KM: There is a real boom in children’s books at the moment in addressing more complex subjects. And I think that they respond to it – one kid asked me: “Is it real?” And that provoked an interesting discussion because the pictures that I’ve drawn are of a person that isn’t real but the situation is real. What’s happened to them is real – I mean, it’s sugarcoated a little bit – but I think a lot of the time children are hungry for information about the world.
It’s a No-Money Day by Kate Milner is out now (Barrington Stoke, £6.99)