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  • Writer's pictureNZ Booklovers

Interview Holly Melville-Bell talks about A Hug So Tight

Holly Melville-Bell is the writer and illustrator of A Hug So Tight and the graphic designer behind Twig. She started Twig with the intention of creating designs with the reader in mind, designs that people could understand and 'Twig' onto. Holly talks to NZ Booklovers.

Tell us a little about A Hug So Tight.

The story follows a naughty, lonely Loris who bullies other animals. The other animals can’t catch him because he's up in the tree, but he meets his match when he bullies a baby monkey, who, of course, has a mother who can catch him. The monkey’s mother shows love and kindness, which is what Lenny craves most, and instead of doing naughty things, he learns that kindness is better. It’s a story of forgiveness and can, therefore, be relevant to any reader, whether they are engaging with the sign language element of the book or not.


What inspired you to write and illustrate this book?

I have a cousin who was born with Down syndrome and other complications, which affected his ability to learn verbal language. My Aunty had said how difficult it was to find fun and engaging resources that teach sign language. This led me to explore a sign language-incorporated children's book. This book is unique in that it’s a story and a resource. 

What research was involved?

Initially, I used the NZSL app to help choose the different signs, and then I worked with Deaf Aotearoa to ensure that I was using them correctly to convey the story.


What was your routine or process when writing this book?

I started with a rough draft that I wrote in an afternoon,  this gave me enough of a story for me to start storyboarding illustrations and creating characters. I then spent the next few months emailing the story back and forth to my dad, tweaking and testing different words and sentence structures. The hardest part was trying to include the word that was being signed in the picture into the written rhyme.


If a soundtrack were made to accompany this book, name a song or two you would include.

I’m a 90’s kid, so I loved the movie ‘Brother Bear’. I would want a soundtrack like that.


What did you enjoy the most about creating A Hug So Tight?

It’s pretty rare in my industry to have complete freedom over a project, so it was super rewarding to be able to create something in my own time with total creative freedom that also has a great purpose.


What do you hope children will take away from the book?

We are all different and showing kindness to others changes the lives of those around us, and learning to sign is a way of showing love and kindness to children who can’t communicate using verbal language.

What did you do to celebrate finishing this book?

It’s a little anticlimactic, but I got Burger Fuel and went to the beach with the dogs.


What is the favourite book you have read so far this year and why?

I haven’t had a lot of time to read lately. After finishing my graphic design work, all my free time has gone into this book—and my dogs! But while I was working on this book, I read heaps of children’s books, and my favourite is still one from my childhood: "It’s a Bear!” by Jez Alborough and anything by Julia Donaldson. Picture books fit in my schedule for now.


What’s next on the agenda for you?

As well as continuing my graphic design work, I have a second children's book that teaches sign language underway, which I am aiming to finish in the next 8 months. I'm also working on a sign language kids game.



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