In Conversation: Ugly Duck Books and the Need Outside the Norm

19th May 2016

The conventions of a family with 2.4 children are now considered a part of history, with modern parenting seeing families vary, both in size and gender. Last year saw the legalisation of same sex marriage in the UK, and since changes to adoption laws back in 2002 the number of LGBT adoptive parents has been on the rise. Yet little is in the market when it comes to alternative, adoptive and same-sex families. Designer Jesse Toksvig-Stewart and illustrator Kat Willott, friends and fellow students from York St John University sought influence from their own backgrounds and families to launch My Amazing Family and Me, a children’s record book unlike any currently in the UK market, aimed at all families and children of all ages. We caught up with them to find out how the idea for Ugly Ducks Books formed and the launch of their book.

All Images Ugly Duck Books

All Images Ugly Duck Books

Can you tell us about My Amazing Family and Me?

Jesse: My Amazing Family and Me is fundamentally a record book for alternative families. It is a memory book that does not presume the age of a child nor the people looking after them in their lives.

Kat: Our aim for the book was to be inclusive of every family type. This could be anyone be it a conventional family, a couple adopting or anyone embarking on single parenthood etc. what was important to us that it did not lean toward a particular family dynamic. It is an open record book where everyone can enjoy the fun of documenting a child’s personality, habits, characteristics and life, in whatever family and circumstances they find themselves.

What inspired the book?

Jesse: The idea came from the newest member of our family, my little sister. She was adopted last year and I was searching for a record book like the one I had growing up. The problem was that there were no memory books that fit our family. They were all very specific to the nuclear family set up. I have two mums and looking back at my own record book my parents had to constantly cross out ‘Daddy’ to put ‘Mama’. It occurred to me that there might be a whole new market out there for a well-designed, well thought-through record book for same sex couples and people with more unconventional families like ours. That is when I bought Kat on board to help me make my idea become a reality!

Designer Jesse Toksvig-Stewart saw the need for an alternative child record book when her family adopted her little sister last year.

Designer Jesse Toksvig-Stewart saw the need for an alternative child record book when her family adopted her little sister last year.

What does My Amazing Family and Me offer that’s different to other baby record books?

Jesse: Our book makes unconventional families feel included. Whilst record books on the market today have sections such as “What Mummy felt like while I was in her tummy…” Our book gives the owners freedom to write their own feelings in an unrestrictive way. Instead of headings like “My First Birthday” our book has “My First Birthday at Home” with a little mouse holding up a blank age badge. This is so we include families that may have adopted a child and got them at ages other than birth. It may not be their first birthday, but it will be special to the parents as it would be their first birthday with them. Families should not have to miss out documenting moments like that because their experiences don’t fit in a baby book. Our book brings to people’s attention that there is more than one way to make and have a family.

Kat: Our approach is also unique, rather than using mainstream popular characters, such as Winnie the Pooh, that have already been established we have done all of the artwork ourselves. This has given us the opportunity to create unique illustrations and typography from scratch that relate to the function of the page. We have also carefully thought about the purpose of the book in order to discard irrelevant pages that would be left blank.

Why do you think a book like My Amazing Family and Me hasn’t previously existed?

Jesse: I think that no book has existed like this before in a mainstream market because the type of family we have created this for is not conventional. People’s attitudes are changing as society becomes more accepting. Back in the 1980’s when I was born, my parents were one of the first lesbian couples to have children together. It was not something that was talked about or practiced. They were pioneers in a world where people were telling them they were wrong. I think that is why a book like this has not existed before, because society is only just coming round to the idea that there is more than one way to have children.

All Images Ugly Duck Books

All Images Ugly Duck Books

Your blog explores experiences outside of the conventional nuclear family - IVF, adoption, seperatation, mixed-race families, modern-day parenting - what lead you to write this?

Jesse: So much of what the book represents is what my family is about. We are the unconventional family. Writing about our families and the experiences we share on the blog is just reinforcing the importance of the book. I believe the more that people talk about issues the more people will not be so narrow minded and scared of being different. My family is far from being perfect, but that is what the message behind My Amazing Family and Me represents. Everyone’s family is amazing, however dysfunctional, different or nuclear they are!

Where did you two meet?

Jesse: We met and became friends among the budding young minds of York St John University, actually.

Kat: We both met studying Film and TV Production working on our first year projects together. From there a consistent supply of tea, Tarts and Titbits and trips to Dusk formed a friendship which has lasted long after our graduation.

Kat Wilott's cartoon style has seen the book come to life.

Kat Wilott's cartoon style has seen the book come to life.

What influenced the style and illustration of the book?

Jesse: I have always been good at bubble writing and typography so I guess a lot of my style is neat and uniform with a little bit of character. To tell you the truth mostly it is just my handwriting!

Kat: The market for this book suited me down to the ground as cartoon illustration has always been my preferred style. After years of drawing them for cards and other projects I’ve developed these little cartoon animals that fitted in perfectly with our decided brief. As we came up with topics that we wished to include within the book I designed the characters around the theme to keep each one individual and relevant. My current favourite is a little elephant in a rubber ring and armbands that I drew specifically for the holiday page.

What are your future plans at Ugly Duck Books?

Jesse: A book Oscar (if there is such a thing?) But in all seriousness I am just happy that it is out there and that people are buying it. I would love to see it in a high street store like Waterstones. But really My Amazing Family and Me is a dream come true and anything else that comes out of it now can only be a cherry on top of a great big cake.

Kat: We’ve also talked about expanding into different languages; the more accessible we can make it to our audience the better. I’ve also been working on illustrating cards to go with the gift for Adoption Days and other unique celebrations.

All Images Ugly Duck Books

All Images Ugly Duck Books

Finally, where can people purchase a copy of My Amazing Family and Me?

Jesse: Head to our website at Ugly Duck Books to pick up a copy of our book. Everyone always knows someone having children don’t they?

Kat: You can also find us on Facebook where we will keep you updated on future blog posts and projects.

Ugly Duck Books
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