When I was approached about featuring local children’s publishers Agnes & Aubrey I jumped at the chance. Children’s books are a passion of mine, and this duo based in Brockley are flying the flag for local Entrepreneurs.
This husband and wife team who once tackled four children under the age of five (!) decided to combine their talents to create a series on non-fiction books designed to encourage children to engage with the world around them — specifically art, culture and adventure.
So far so great.
My husband and I have always tried to expose our kids to as much culture as we can, and let’s face it living in London helps! Museums, art exhibitions, plays, books and author events have all featured heavily in our lives and I can see the benefit of doing so shining through their use of language, their schoolwork and love of reading (may it continue). However, they also love TV, You Tube, playing on the tablet and the dreaded Nintendo Switch. We still argue about screen time, and some of the activities, specifically museum visits have been a little overwhelming for us — there is just so much information to absorb and explain!
So I was keen to take a look at Agnes & Aubrey’s first two books take me to museums and take me on holiday.
The first is a brilliant introduction to museums in general. It really does start at the beginning, making children consider what the role of a museum actually is as well as what to expect when you visit one. Might sound like an obvious thing to do but I am not sure we ever did that. I loved the way it constantly asks questions about what you are seeing or experiencing as well as encouraging children to find out more. Unexpectedly, it also made me consider my own approach when I visit Museums, which can only be a good thing.
Take me on holiday has the exact same approach by asking children to think about the very definition of a holiday and the many shapes it comes in. This book really resonated with me, because it’s so easy to go away and focus on doing nothing — after all it’s our chance to recharge too! Be honest, how often do you talk to your children about what the place you are going is like? Where it is on a world map, what you are hoping to see, the food you expect to eat, or what you are packing and why? You get the idea. This type of conversation will get the children thinking about their holiday in a completely different way, as well as reminding them what a treat it is — for the whole family. There is no taking anything for granted here.
Clearly, the books are a huge thumbs up from me, from the beautiful illustrations to the fun facts dotted around it. And with the summer holidays around the corner, these can be a real asset to any family — especially as they have been designed to be used more than once.
There is no doubt of Mary and David’s talents, and I can’t wait for their next book to come out — just keep reading to find what it’s going to be.
Agnes & Aubrey
Tell us a bit about Agnes & Aubrey. What made you decide to start your own publishing house?
Back in 2005 we wrote and recorded a set of songs about artists for Tate, and we had to think of a name for the band. We came up with Agnes & Aubrey — our two middle names. Now, 14 years later, we have four children of our own, and our twins also have Agnes and Aubrey as their middle names. We couldn’t resist the poetry of it.
I’ve been working for 20 years in art publishing, first as an editor at Tate and then as publisher at the Hayward Gallery in the Southbank Centre. When the twins were born, I started writing books for children about art. It was great to see both sides — to have the experience of being a commissioner and a writer.
Why a ‘Take me to’ book series as opposed to a story book?
I’ve always wanted to create this series! I love the idea of books that don’t just sit on the shelf looking lovely — they are useful, and you can take them out into the world. They’re full of facts, and those facts become even more engaging because you’re participating in the story — your opinion is interesting, your experiences are important.
As a parent, the books are also really practical. They provide an opportunity for a weekend of adventuring. What shall we do today? Let’s go out and take the museum book with. They are great for holidays, too. Have you packed your suitcase? Take a look at the packing list in the Holiday book and see if you’ve missed anything!
What’s your favourite children’s book? And your favourite museum?
As a child I was obsessed with Heidi and Pippi Longstocking. Now we’re both crazy about Harry Potter, and so are the children.
I have so many favourite museums! Close to home, the Horniman is incredible. We go to look at the amazing displays of animals and musical instruments. The aquarium and the gardens are magical, too.
As a very young child growing up in Oslo, Norway, I loved the Kon Tiki Museum. It tells the story of Thor Heyerdahl, the Norwegian explorer and archaeologist who built and sailed crafts across oceans to test his theories about early migration. His ships, the Kon Tiki and the Ra are displayed there, and I found them completely mesmerising as a six-year-old. I’d love to go back and take the children.
Cheltenham’s Art Gallery and Museum, now called the Wilson, was the first museum I ever went to again and again, when I was nine or ten. They had a huge statue of a chimney sweep, which terrified me — but I kept going back!
What do you love most about the business so far?
There are so many things to love, but I’d say the biggest satisfactions so far have been opening the first box of books from the printer and going into bookshops and seeing them on display!
What is the biggest lesson you have learned since starting? Would you have done anything differently?
I wouldn’t have planned to have a big print deadline on the last day of term before the Christmas holiday. I was secretly checking emails during a school concert. But you can’t always plan these things!
Biggest High. Biggest Low.
A high: learning that I’d been nominated for a Junior Design Magazine award.
A low: a weekend spent racking my brains about which way to print a cover.
Best advice you were given?
I took advice from so many incredible people, a mixture of colleagues I’ve worked with over the years — publishers, production managers, designers. They all gave me great advice, on quite specific areas. It’s so important to talk to people, seek opinions, collaborate. Everything feeds into your own decision making.
Has being a parent changed you as an entrepreneur?
I don’t think it’s changed me that much. But it has forced me to seek flexible working hours, and only pursue projects that mean a lot to me.
How do you switch off?
I’m not sure I do switch off that much! I’ve always like mixing work and life. One of the highlights of our week is running an orchestra at our primary school — at 8.00am on Friday mornings. It doesn’t sound like switching off, but it’s the most joyful part of the week.
What’s next for Agnes & Aubrey?
We’ve just sent our next book to print, which is coming out in August. It’s called Take Me To School: A School Journal for Young Explorers. We’re also developing a new series that will involve some musical elements. . . watch this space!
Favourite things to do/places to go in South East London?
David grew up in Blackheath, which is such a special place. The walk across Blackheath, through Greenwich Park and down the hill to Greenwich can’t be beaten! We’re based in Brockley, and close to us there are also great green spaces — in Telegraph Hill Park and Hilly Fields you really get a sense of being high up and looking over the city. There are some great shops close to us, too. We’re regulars at Brown’s of Brockley, for coffee, banana bread and sandwiches.