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Alex Milway on Big Sky Mountain and his favourite illustrated chapter books

Big Sky Mountain by Alex Milway. Book cover and author photo.
This month our Parakeet subscribers are heading off on a wild adventure (travelling by sea plane and canoe, no less!) to Big Sky Mountain, home to some wonderful animal friends and some exciting surprises too. Big Sky Mountain is a beautifully illustrated, fun and heart-warming adventure story with a stunning setting and an important message, ideal for younger and newly independent readers. Here author and illustrator Alex Milway tells us how his adventures with his own Grandma helped inspire the story and which illustrated chapter books he recommends you read next.

What inspired you to write Big Sky Mountain?

I wanted to write a story about a relationship between a grandparent and their grandchild - much like the one I had with my own gran. My gran would take me up the Malvern Hills every time I visited, no matter what the weather, always loaded up with food and snacks. She was a hardy soul, just like Grandma Nan in the books.

We love the setting! Is it inspired by a particular place you have visited?

Big Sky Mountain is a real mix of many places I've visited that have inspired me, from the River Lugg in Herefordshire, to the Tors of Dartmoor and the Cornish coast – and also my own little piece of woodland not far from Tunbridge Wells in Kent. 

Is there a particular message you would like readers to take away from the book?

I wanted to create a world where I could show how important animals and ecosystems are to our own existence, and how we would be lost without them. That's probably the big message - that we must do all we can to protect environments, and allow animals the chance to manage the land. It is absolutely clear that wild animals manage the landscape better than humans. We tend to destroy things in our actions, whereas animals create environments for other creatures through their actions, albeit often unwittingly.

What research did you do for the book and did you learn anything that surprised you?

I read an awful lot of nature books as research for the Big Sky Mountain series. I learnt some amazing things, especially about creatures that were incredibly important to our landscape, many of which we've hunted to extinction. Some of these are being re-introduced, such as beavers. The most surprising fact I learnt, however, was about how important whale poo is for providing nutrients for many deep sea creatures who live far away from shallower, more fertile waters.

Can you tell us anything about what happens next to Rosa?

Rosa travels into different ecosystems, such as woodlands and the coast - and meets wolves, bison, whales, hermit crabs, and even eagles!

Why did you choose to create books for this age group?

This age range is perfect for illustrated fiction, which I love! 

Do you have a favourite place to write and illustrate?

I have my little office/studio, and I find that as soon as I sit down to work I tend to get going easily. I think I find sticking to the same place really helpful for work!

Which other illustrated chapter books for younger readers would you recommend our subscribers read next?

I really like the Bad Panda books by Swapna Haddow and Sheena Dempsey!

Copies of our Big Sky Mountain pack, including a copy of the book and loads of fun activities to go with it, are now available for individual purchase. Grab a copy while stocks last!

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