London Jewish mum and daughter team up to create children's book

Joanna Gutkin, 36, from Hendon wrote The Elephant and the Goldfish while her daughter, Maya, eight, did the illustrations


A mother and daughter duo have pooled their talents to self-publish their first book.

Joanna Gutkin, 36, from Hendon, has written a children’s book, The Elephant and the Goldfish, while her daughter, Maya, eight, did the illustrations.

The book, which has received positive reviews, is written in rhyme and centres on the codependent relationship between an elephant and a goldfish — an animal that always remembers and an animal that always forgets, according to popular belief.

Joanna had harboured dreams of becoming a writer since she was five, telling the JC: “I always knew I would be a writer, but when I had kids, I found myself surrounded by kids’ books, particularly by Julia Donaldson, whom I love, and so the idea just evolved from there. It started as a small thing in me and took a while to actually write and go to agents.”

A collaboration between mother and daughter was not originally intended, but Joanna, who has written other books, which Maya is now planning to illustrate, spent nearly a year trying to find a literary agent to help her find a publisher.

“I didn’t realise just how hard it would be to land an agent, and when it didn’t happen for me, I wasn’t sure where to go.” It was only when Maya’s teacher, who recognised her artistic talents, suggested to Joanna that Maya could illustrate the books that the idea for self-publication came to her.

Despite not being the initial plan, the final outcome is much more special to Joanna than it would otherwise have been, she said. Being able to publish a book with her daughter “feels even better than if I’d been published traditionally”.

Maya echoed these feelings, saying: “It feels really special to be working with my mum. I love spending time with her, and this project has given us more opportunities to do this.”

Joanna, who is a member of Hendon Synagogue, said that working with her daughter was “a huge learning curve because I had to make sure that I wasn’t forcing Maya”.

However, according to Joanna, once Maya understood what publishing her own book meant, “she became more excited than me and I had to calm her down”.

The story is about a goldfish who comes up with elaborate pranks, which he forgets straight away, and it is left up to the elephant to carry them out. “It is, ultimately, a story about the importance of sharing,” said Joanna.

It was inspired by the suggestion from one of her three children that her husband, Royi, who is rather forgetful, was like a goldfish, and Joanna was, therefore, like an elephant.

Given that this book is the first of many Joanna hopes to publish, she intends to bring Maya in on the creative process in the future. She also said that her husband had been “invaluable” in laying out the pages.

For Maya, a career starting at the age of eight points to possible stardom. She told the JC that her desire was to start a YouTube art channel, “where I can teach people how to draw”.

The pupil of the Independent Jewish Day School in Hendon expressed her gratitude to her Year 2 teacher, Ruth Kosiner, who had “always believed in me” and her art club teacher, Miriam Beagle, who had been “a big inspiration”, adding: “I’ve always wanted to share my drawings with other people, and now I’m doing the illustrations for my mum’s books!”

The Elephant and the Goldfish by Joanna and Maya Gutkin is available on Amazon.

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