SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Cheesits - the Mona Cheesa is missing. And when that most famous work of art is discovered to have been taken from its frame in a Paris art museum, the world's foremost international cat of mystery, William, is called in on the case. "William And The Missing Masterpiece" is the latest book, ostensibly for children, from Helen Hancocks whose debut book "Penguin In Peril" was the best-selling picture book in the United Kingdom in 2013. She joins us from the studios of the BBC in London.
Thanks so much for being with us.
HELEN HANCOCKS: Thank you ever so much for having me. Hello.
SIMON: What comes first for you - pictures, story, words?
HANCOCKS: Sometimes it's like, I get a picture in my head and I know that I want to carry it on. Or sometimes I'll have the story. But with this one it was - I had the character William and just sort of started shaping a story around him and what his adventures would be.
SIMON: When you say you had the character William, I mean, you have that character right at your feet, don't you?
HANCOCKS: Yes, yes. So he's actually based on my cousin's cat called William and I go up there quite often to visit. And I would just stare at him at every visit and wonder what he got up to. So I just made my own versions of his adventures.
SIMON: And the real William, what's he like, if we were to meet him?
HANCOCKS: Oh, he's the most handsomest cat you'll ever meet. His fur is so soft. His eyes are brilliant green. He just has a definite character. He doesn't seem a normal cat. If he was a man, I think he'd be a very handsome man. And I don't know, he just has a bit of mystery about him. I guess it's why I had to write a story about him.
SIMON: Now, in the narrative of this book this robbery occurs at a particularly unfortunate time, doesn't it?
HANCOCKS: Yes. So it is National Cheese Week in Paris and they're holding exhibitions sort of on a cheesy theme, and the Mona Cheesa goes missing. So it's not the right time really for it to happen.
SIMON: The annual homage to fromage.
SIMON: Part of the charm of this book, of course, are the illustrations.
HANCOCKS: Thank you.
SIMON: And I particularly like the Mona Lisa reinterpreted with cheese.
SIMON: Hence the Mona Cheesa. Without being heavy-handed, do you think or hope that youngsters might actually learn a little something about cheese?
HANCOCKS: I hope so, yeah. I've done a few school visits in England and it's really interesting to see what they learn through it, and a lot of teachers have said they've explored art and like, different cheeses and things through the book.
SIMON: Yeah. Did you learn drawing from your father, do you think?
HANCOCKS: Yes. Yeah, so my father was an art teacher and my grandparents were both artists as well. So I definitely think I've got it from that side of the family. I mean, I've always been encouraged to sit at the kitchen table with whatever, like, crayons or felt tips and paint and just be left for hours to carry on doing whatever I wanted.
SIMON: What do you think you've learned about children by telling them stories?
HANCOCKS: I don't know, I think they're definitely a lot more alert and cleverer than I thought. They always think of a question which you'd never thought of, and it always sort of surprises me how much they can take from the pictures and the words and put their own interpretation on it that you'd never think of. They're so fascinating. I kind of forget that I was once that age and was also fascinated in so many things. So it's sort of nice to be reminded about that and to sort of think, oh, like a child and be curious about everything around you and be eager to learn.
SIMON: Helen Hancocks, her new book, "William And The Missing Masterpiece."
Thanks so much for being with us.
HANCOCKS: Thank you ever so much for having me.
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