When we saw the Black & White Book Project on instagram was from Bristol, we just had to find out more about these locally-produced books for babies and their educational value from designer Ruth...
Ciao Ruth, we recently spotted you on Instagram and immediately loved the look of your black and white books. Before we grill you about the books, please could you tell us a little bit about you and your family?
We are the Bradford Family: myself, my husband Karl, and our 19-month-old little boy called Teddy. We moved to Bristol at the end of 2017 after living in Singapore for the past 6 years. Teddy was actually born out there but we decided we wanted to be closer to family and friends so he could get to know everyone as he grows up. It’s been a crazy 12 months of learning the parenting ropes, packing up our lives on the other side of the world, finding a new home and launching the business! We never seem to do things by halves that’s for sure!
What prompted you to launch The Little Black and White Book Project?
I was pregnant with our son, and probably like all first time parents, I was reading up on how to give him the best start in life. After learning about the benefits of black and white images I had a look for some books suitable from birth but was really underwhelmed by the selection on offer. They weren’t all that exciting and I felt that if I was going to be looking at them too then I wanted something I could also appreciate! After a bit of a scare at 35 weeks, I was told to rest by my doctor which gave me the perfect opportunity to create some of my own illustrations ready for our baby's arrival. Originally they were just for us to share, and after some really positive feedback from friends the idea for the business grew from there.
Why is black and white so important for babies?
When babies are born their retinas are not fully developed and their field of vision is only around 6-8 inches from their face. Although they have been able to distinguish between light and dark in the womb, newborns can still only detect very large contrasts between light and dark after birth. Research has shown that black and white, being the ultimate in high contrast, registers the strongest on a baby’s retina which in turn stimulates the brain. Strong visual signals to the brain means more brain growth and therefore faster visual development. Providing visual stimulation will help your baby’s retina to thrive, creating a strong optic nerve and in turn help the visual part of the brain to develop in leaps and bounds.
The books contain lots of animals we've not seen in books before, like pangolins from Asia. How do you choose which animals to include?
When we were living in Asia, we were lucky enough to travel extensively in the region, and became highly aware of the struggles many of the amazing animals in my books are facing. We visited some in the wild, which was a humbling and unforgettable experience. I wanted to share the excitement and appreciation we have for such animals with children (and adults) around the world. If people have no idea what these creatures are, how can we possibly expect them to care about protecting them? It’s also not something I felt anyone else was doing so it was a great point of differentiation for me to explore. It’s really hard to pick just 12 for each book though, there’s so much amazing wildlife to choose from.
Do you do all the drawings yourself?
Yes they’re all mine! I am a graphic designer by trade rather than an illustrator but over my career have been used to creating drawings and bringing ideas to life. I am keen to keep my animals realistic so hopefully kids can recognise them in real life, but they all have a quirky edge to make them fun and engaging for little people.
Have you got any other products or is it just the books for now?
I have SO many ideas to bring to life! At the moment I have an A3 animal alphabet print available - A to Z of animals from around the world and each animal is also available as an individual postcard. I also have a set of 12 interactive flash cards of animals from Southeast Asia. Each card has a picture on the front and a fact on the back as well as an interactive element for older children. These are designed for parents to learn and interact with their children by reading aloud. Plus they’re a great tool to take travelling or to throw in a bag when you’re out and about.
What does the future hold for the project?
My mission is to inspire the next generation of animal lovers and conservationists from as early an age as possible. We believe we need our children to cherish our world and the animals within it. I donate 25% of my personal profits to wildlife charities which I hope will prove that people and planet can both profit and I hope one day to have a fund to which charities can apply for help. I want to prove that there is a different way to do business that is ethical and sustainable. Short term, I am hoping to launch my British wildlife book plus one other special edition before the end of the year, and also bring to life a few of the other ideas I have bubbling away!
Anything else we should know about?
Although the books were originally designed for very young babies, I have been blown away with the love received by children all the way up to preschool age and beyond! As they learn to read and about the world around them, they have surprised me with their wide-ranging appeal. In our throw-away culture I hope the books are something that last, that become family favourites, and something all little people just have to have to welcome them to our amazing world.
Thank you for chatting to us, Ruth! It's great to learn about your inspiration for these wonderful books, and we love how they help children (and parents!) learn more about the world we live in and its wonderful wildlife.