Book Club: Literary City: The Sheffield Connection

editorial image

What do you do if you’re a Sheffield-born acrobat and whip cracker (hands up if you knew that was even a real job) living in Australia? Write your own series of books for children of course.

Ailsa Wild was born and brought up on Grimesthorpe Road in Pitsmoor, before she moved down under. She began her series, starring the cheeky, mystery-solving Squishy Taylor, to address the lack of diversity she saw in books for children.

Her books celebrate strong girls and blended families, and have been published in Australia

to high acclaim. The books are now available in Britain, and Wild is thrilled that people in her home city will now be able to read about her creation.

“In Pitsmoor where I grew up, from the age of two I was ducking out of our house to visit my friends next door,” Wild says. “I wanted the Squishy books to have a real sense of dense urban living, and the ways that can be fun for kids.”

Wild draws on her own family for inspiration. “I have a sister who has a different mum to me, and I often lived with kids I wasn’t related to. So I wanted to tell a story a bit like my childhood, set in a messy, chaotic blended family. The family situation is a benign background to the real adventures, which involve fun things like solving burglaries and tracking down diamond smugglers.”

Her Australian publisher, Hilary Rogers, agrees about the importance of portraying different

sorts of families in books for children. “All too often, kids miss out on seeing their own lives reflected in the books they read. Kids love reading about all sorts of characters, including

ones very different to themselves. However I firmly believe over time a lack of diversity does start to creep into children’s subconscious.”

And Wild draws on her life experiences to bring her main character to life. “Squishy is a girl who really enjoys facing physical challenges in the same way I have. When I was small, my parents were involved in planning and building the Pitsmoor Adventure Playground on Burngreave Street and I grew up with a real sense of the importance children having the freedom to take some physical risks.

“It’s all about climbing up trees and off balconies and sneaking out onto rooftops and exploring the drains. We often don’t think of city kids as being connected to the outdoors, but my most vivid early memories of Sheffield are of digging mud and moss out from between paving stones, rough and tumble play in the allotment and the smell of tomato leaves between my fingers in summer.”