The Snow Leopard by Jackie Morris
This is the story of a girl and a leopard, of the high, cold mountains and star spangled snow, prayer flags and magic. Woven out of folk tales and dreams.
The book began with the words, caught in the wind while out on a walk along the cliffs in Pembrokeshire and captured in the small note book that should go everywhere with me, when I remember. As I tried to put the pictures together with the words the two elements began to merge, writing pictures and words together. I read books on snow leopards. I had always been fascinated by these wonderful creatures, so seldom seen. Their huge tails and thick fur, their mythical quality as well as the mountains through which they range, knowing no boundaries or borders made by man all makes these animal so beautiful.
Many years ago I bought The Snow Leopard by Peter Matthiesson. At last I settled to read it, thinking it was about the search for the leopard. It wasn't, it was a search for other things, but the book created wonderful images in my head, images of wildness and patience.
When it came to going to see leopards though the publishers budget would not stretch to a trip to the Himalayas. However, throughout Britain, in many small zoos and safari parks, there are leopards in captivity. I was lucky enough to be allowed into a private leopard sanctuary where a family of snow leopards lived. In the wild you can search for years for a sight in the distance of the elusive leopard. Here I could get close, very close up.
With a collection of drawings and photographs, lots of photographs, and the thumbnail sketches coming together, and a firm commitment from Frances Lincoln I started on work for the book, taking the thumbnails and making a dummy book to see how the words and the pictures fit together.
The front cover was easy. Lord of the Forest had worked so well with the image of the tiger. The back cover had to be the face of the child.
The small thumbnails were worked up and changed. Changes would still be made later as the book came together and the rhythm of the turning pages had to fit and move together. With the leaping leopard the image is first reversed, and then in the finished painting the child's eyes are closed which makes the picture much stronger, more magical.
Also with the painting of the child holding the leopard's head the image is reversed and proportions changed.
||The cover was more difficult than it should have been because I was not thinking properly. It took three attempts. The first one looked like a white tiger, the second was not right and the third version worked. She looks straight back at you with her blue cats eyes. The back cover, which had threatened to be hard, was easy, in retrospect.
The book is now published, in French ( La Panthere Blanche, Gautier Langereau, 25% bigger than the UK edition and better for it ) and Danish (Sne-Leoparden, Klematis ) and in the UK and USA by Frances Lincoln ( distributed in the USA by PGW and in Canada by Raincoast)
Snow leopards are some of the most beautiful and rare cats on the earth, threaded around with myth and magic. To find out more about these animals and their habitats look at The Snow Leopard Conservancy and The Snow Leopard Trust.
For teachers wishing to work on The Snow Leopard there are wonderful resources and lesson plans to be found at The Snow Leopard Trust here, including information on where the leopards live and their prey and the people who live around them.
To find out more about the myth and magic look for Mergichans here. It was only after writing the story and looking for more information on leopards that I found them, and reading this myth made me realize that there is magic in the world.
For more about Snow Leopards and to find out how the wonderful footage of leopards from the Planet Earth series almost wasn't included read the interview with Nisar Malik.
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