He takes traditional fairytales and introduces homosexual, transgender and racially diverse characters, as well as wheelchair users. We meet Olly Pike to talk early mornings, equality and LGBT books for kids…
(This article was originally published in February 2016).
Olly has worked in children’s television and theatre. He creates his own online content, as well as the Pop ‘n’ Olly book series.
As a presenter, you must have experienced some early starts; how are you first thing in the morning?
Yes, I’ve had a number of different jobs where I’ve had to get up early. Especially film and television, where the call time is often 6 or 7am. I think the earliest I ever had to leave for a filming job was about 4am. On the flip side, when I’ve worked in theatre, I haven’t had to be at work till 6pm, so it varies.
Currently I fit in Pop’n’Olly around my full time job creating digital content for an entertainment company, so it’s a lot of work in the evenings, weekends and any spare time I can find.
I never used to be a morning person, especially when I worked in theatre, as of a night I’d get home very late. But currently I’m actually enjoying my timetable, I enjoy getting my job done during the day and having evenings and weekends free to work on my own projects. This year I’ve even taken to getting the train half an hour earlier, partly because the trains are less busy but also because I like getting to work earlier so I can think and plan things in the little bit of free time I have.
Oh yes and coffee… lots of it, and breakfast always helps too!
You’ve written and illustrated two books – Prince Henry and Jamie – can you talk us through each book: what are they about, who’s involved, where did the ideas originate?
Jamie is a transgender fairytale based on the story of Cinderella. We see Jamie at the beginning of the story not quite knowing what is wrong, but just not feeling right in the body he has. However, we see a transition into the person that Jamie always was inside. Even though this story has a transgender theme, it is not the only thing to take from it. This fairytale is also about working hard and not expecting to get by on magic (quick fixes).
Prince Henry is a gay fairytale romance and is a story about equality. In this fairytale we see Henry’s parents inviting various princes and princesses to the kingdom, so that Henry can choose one of them to marry. However Henry has other ideas about who he would like to spend his life with.
Children’s books are often based on white, heterosexual, able-bodied girls (in pink) and boys (in blue). Why did you decide it was your job to break these stereotypes?
There are many reasons. Firstly, how can we teach the younger generation without the resources to do so? I think it’s important that more books like these are introduced to children. Prince Henry is now being used in schools in the UK and it’s fantastic to think these classes will grow up with a greater sense of what equality is. Secondly, I think it’s vital that we combat things like discrimination, prejudice and homophobia as early as possible.
You’re making short videos and sharing them on your YouTube channel, with you as the presenter – telling the story of Prince Henry and Jamie. How have your videos been received?
Very well. Like the books, these videos are being used as teaching aids to teach about a wider cross section of society. There are LGBT+ stories, fairytales, information, education and even things to make. I often get responses and messages thanking me for creating stories such as these.
Have you received any criticism or negativity due to tackling largely unexplored themes?
Yes – on the flip side, although not very often, I receive criticism from groups or individuals who oppose these types of subjects and themes being introduced to children. However, much of the time I can see, from their uninformed comments, that they haven’t even read or watched any of my stories. They are just jumping to conclusions as to what they are about, when in fact they would probably benefit the most from observing them!
All my stories are carefully written to ensure they are delivered in an age appropriate way. We have a thorough process and even seek the advice of experts. It’s very important to deliver these subjects in a correct and respectful way.
You offer larger books for educational purposes, how much interest have you had from schools?
Yes, we’ve sent batches of books to schools and organisations. It’s great to hear what they are doing with them, some schools have given a copy of the book to every child in the class and use the stories as part of their assisted reading lessons.
What books did you read when you were growing up?
All sorts. I was very much encouraged to read. I liked reading Roald Dahl, but I also liked books that were a little different in someway – the way you had to read it or hold it. I loved books with illustrations.
What is society’s attitude towards people from minority groups?
That’s quite a big question. But I guess sometimes it can be intriguing when we see or learn someone is different from us. I think a lot of the time it’s the unknowing that either interests or scares people. This doesn’t apply to everyone but as with anything it’s the education and normalisation that can show people that actually we are all just the same.
In what ways can we encourage a less judgmental environment?
By buying my books! Ha ha, but in all seriousness I think education is the key. But it doesn’t have to come across as education, it’s just about usualising and familiarising ourselves with different types of people. We are all equal and this is what we need to teach younger audiences.
Why have you decided to target children rather than adults with your books and videos?
Because as I said earlier, you need to stop homophobia before it even gets a chance to get off the ground. If we teach children about these subjects alongside their academic subjects then we will surely help to create a kinder, more compassionate and happier future for everyone.
What are your hopes for Pop ‘n’ Olly?
Many things! Continue as I’m doing I guess, creating more videos and books. It would be great to get my material more widely distributed. I want to write other stories too, with similar themes on equality, perhaps with themes such as race, gender and disability. But also to create more fun videos. I really enjoy making the videos on my channel that are there just for fun.
Prince Henry (£5) & Jamie (£6.50) are available to buy from www.popnolly.com/shop
Subscribe to the Pop’n’Olly YouTube Channel at www.youtube.com/popnolly
Would you like to see books and videos like this in your child’s school? Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below…