Meet the artist behind this year's Summer Reading Challenge hoping to inspire kids to pick up a book

A CHILDHOOD love of comics inspired an artist whose work is hoping to engage new young readers in Rotherham this summer.

Julian Beresford, illustrator and storyteller for the national 2022 Summer Reading Challenge, has revealed how he was fired up by comics such as the Dandy and Beano as a kid.

South Yorkshire-based Julian was commissioned to illuminate the theme of “Gadgeteers” for this summer’s challenge, which aims to encourage youngsters to pick up an associated selection of books.

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He said his passion for comics had developed into an interested in animation and anime, particularly Sailor Moon and Dragon Ball Z, which a friend kindly taped for him.

This “solidified as a career” illustration and storytelling for him.

Now the Doncaster artist’s childhood creativity has come full circle as he plays a key part in the children’s reading scheme.

Julian said he was “happy but shocked” to have made it onto the long list of illustrators, which meant his work was shown to select children who then picked it above that of other nominees.

“The main thing is that the work is for kids,” he said.

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While at school in London, Julian said, there had been no focus on his career or his development outside of his grades, but when he moved north, he became aware of a culture where kids were left to “know your place” and not encouraged to be ambitious.

“In London, even if you grew up extremely poor, there is a certain aspiration, maybe they could write a book, be an author, be an illustrator,” he said, referring to regional inequality across the United Kingdom.

Julie said reading was key as it “opens a door to multiple possibilities”.

He added: “STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) subjects and a science-based career didn’t even feel like a route in the area I grew up in in London.”

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This life experience was a key reason why Julian’s technology-based pitch resonated both with children and with The Reading Agency and Science Museum Group, who wanted this year’s challenge to promote STEM+ by showcasing characters involved with science and science as fun.

Julian was challenged to come up with the character design, and the resulting figures have varied interests, including music and clothing, as well as a strong enthusiasm for looking after the environment.

Julian said his favourite character was a skateboarding girl who was Muslim and was shown to be sporty.

Her clothes were also shown to be protective - to highlight to young readers how science can help protect us in daily situations.

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Another favourite character was a guy who uses a wheelchair and is also “the fashionable one”.

The idea behind the Gadgeteers is that all these characters with diverse multicultural backgrounds, albeit from the same “non-generic working-class community”, come to together at the community hall where all events take place.   

Representation is key for Julian, as he explains how having more working class, Asian and black people in books served as the main inspiration for the Gadgeteers.

Julian also spoke out about a recent backlash to “woke-ness”, which he called a “last-gasp of a certain generation of a certain type of people trying to grasp onto power”.

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Media frenzy about wokeness is about “people trying to give up their certain area of power, every generation has to find a new name for it, for being sensible”, he said.

Julian cites diversity on television, including Doctor Who and Bridgerton, as examples of progress, and said recent criticism about diversity “comes down to the class system again”, with the overall sentiment of “you shouldn’t have what I have” still prevailing.

He said inclusive books were highly important in this environment for raising the aspirations amongst all people because stories “help break the illusion of stereotypes” through positive depictions of characters of different sexualities, ethnicities, and religions.

Julian said the magical power of reading for all was that it revealed how underneath the stereotype or the designated lower aspiration towards any group is an individual who “likes to go on an adventure”.

For more information about Gadgeteers and the 2022 Summer Reading challenge, visit the challenge website.