As New Zealand counted down to the birth of Neve Te Aroha Ardern Gayford, book illustrator Scott Pearson was racing to meet a top secret deadline for a hush-hush book.
Pearson, who illustrates school journals, educational publications and storybooks, was hired by publisher Hachette to work on a children's book which goes public on Tuesday. It's the first picture book about New Zealand's first family, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, Clarke Gayford and baby Neve.
Called Shhh! Don't wake the baby! the bright and breezy pictures show Neve asleep with all well and quiet until crowds of sports fans, paparazzi, politicians, farmyard animals and even native birds pay a visit. Pearson says the story, pitched at the under-5s, combines classic Kiwiana — think kiwi, buzzy bees and silver ferns — with images of the kinds of place Neve and her parents may visit.
Though Ardern and Gayford are aware of the book, and made a couple of suggestions about certain illustrations, they cannot endorse or recommend a particular product or service. However, as a supporter of Read to Succeed, a New Zealand Book Council initiative to encourage reading, Ardern is likely to enjoy a book which inspires youngsters to read.
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Hachette managing director Melanie Winder and product and publishing manager Alison Shucksmith say they thought the children's book would be an excellent way to welcome the baby as well as to show youngsters, right from an early age, that careers can be combined with parenting.
"It's about celebrating the amazing historical moment," says Shucksmith. "This month, we celebrate the fact that we were the first country in the world to give women the right to vote. Now, we're leading the way again by having the leader of our country give birth while in office."
Pearson wholeheartedly agrees, saying it's not every day that a sitting Prime Minister gives birth and combines motherhood with running the country. The Hamilton-based illustrator says he's aware that some may think there are political motives in doing the book but he treated it as any other assignment and simply got on with the job.
"I haven't had to draw real-life people for a children's book before, so I initially thought, 'I have to get the look right, so they're be recognisable and it doesn't offend anyone'. I didn't want the characters to become caricatures where they were larger than life with exaggerated features."
As a father of four daughters, Pearson understands full well the importance of "shhh! Don't wake the baby!" can have. He says none of his children were particularly great sleepers, but adds that all new parents need to know late nights — and even earlier mornings — are a phase that passes quickly.
"Keep at it — life with your children just gets better and better."
• Shhh! Don't wake the baby (Hachette, $20) is released on Tuesday.