Eoin Colfer’s latest book, Little Big Sister, follows the tale of two sisters: an older sister, Starr, who has dwarfism, and a younger sister, Babs, who grows taller than her. It is a heartwarming tale of family and growing up and is illustrated by Celia Ivey, an illustrator with dwarfism.
But how did the project come about?
Speaking to Irish Country Living, Eoin explains that the seed was planted after a phone call from Sinead Burke – an Irish writer, academic and disability activist – about who would be playing the character of Mulch Diggins, a character with dwarfism, in a film adaptation of Eoin’s best-selling Artemis Fowl fantasy series.
Her comment was that the actor, Josh Gad (also known as Olaf from Frozen) “wasn’t a little person” and that it would be great if little people had more representation. While Eoin explains that he had no control over who was cast, the conversation stayed with him.
“I kind of felt bad that all the stories I had written were not representing little people in the real world,” he says, explaining that Little Big Sister was actually inspired by a real life story that was shared with him by the mother of a daughter with dwarfism.
“[It] never really hit home to her, that she was a little person until her little sister grew bigger than her,” he continues.
While Eoin believes that writers should venture out of their own usual genre, he also understood that he would need somebody with the real-life experience of dwarfism for their input.
In fact, it was Sinead who reached out to Celia Ivey to say that Little Island publishing was looking for someone with dwarfism to illustrate their book.
“But they wouldn’t tell me what it was for. They said it was a book about dwarfism, about a character with dwarfism achondroplasia, specifically,” Celia says.
The publishers liked her colour and style, while she also shared with Eoin the lived experience that he needed.
When Celia went to college, she studied visual communication, “which is a mixture between graphic design and illustration,” she explains
Throughout the course of her life, she leaned more towards illustrating. “I made an Instagram and I started just enjoying it.”
Over the years Celia has had some health issues resulting in her needing a number of medical interventions, including surgery.
This is the first time that she has collaborated with an author to illustrate a children’s book.
“I’m at a point in my life now where I want to hone in on some really good projects, because I’m at a really good place physically. So, I want to really explore and enjoy that aspect,” she says.
Eoin feels it is important to highlight and give a voice to underrepresented children. In one part of the book, Starr doesn’t want to participate in sports day due to physical limitation, which a lot of kids can relate to.
Eoin hopes that this book can help kids feel less alone. “I really love the idea that there’s a kid somewhere in some country, a little girl with dwarfism and she reads this book and it makes her day,” Eoin says. “That’s a big thing. Have one day made, it’s a little victory. So, I would definitely like to do that again. And we’re trying to persuade Celia to write her first solo book.”
Something for everyone
This book has an appeal to all age groups due to its loving and heartwarming story. “I’ve given it to a few people and everybody really loves it. It’s unusual that I’m getting unanimous praise. Sean, my 20-year-old, who I don’t think read any of my other books, read this and he loved it,” Eoin says.
Due to its success, it is rare that Eoin doesn’t get asked about Artemis Fowl. This interview was no different. The book was made into a movie in 2020, after having been in the works for nearly 20 years. While Eoin has no plans to resurrect Artemis in the future, he does have a few plans that he can’t talk about yet. “There are plans by various companies, but there’ll be no more novels. I might do some short stories or something, but I won’t go back to Artemis as the story is done. Done to death. I should have stopped,” Eoin concludes.
Little Big Sister is available to purchase now in bookstores nationwide and online.