Rosie Haine studied children’s book illustration at the Cambridge School of Art, and she has also earned an MA in Globalization, Ethnicity, and Culture from Sussex University. Rosie’s research for this book brought her to museums and archaeological sites across the UK and Europe, including Chauvet Cave and the British Museum. She worked closely with archaeologist Ulrike Sommer to ensure that this book reflected human development, history, and artifacts from the Paleolithic Age.
What made you decide to become an author?
It wasn’t a decision; it happened slowly through a process of failure and discovery.
When I was younger, I wanted to be a writer and journalist, but it was difficult to get into the particular field that I was interested in, which was radio documentaries. My interest in social politics led me to do a Masters in Globalization, Ethnicity, and Culture, and I had a small amount of success getting radio ideas commissioned. However, I was unable to get enough of the kind of work that I wanted, and so I spent five or six years feeling unsatisfied, bored at work, and not knowing what I should do.
It sounds dramatic, but at some point, I realized that I needed beauty, which was missing in my everyday life in an office. I used to pick flowers from the garden at work and watch them shrivel on my desk, and felt the same was happening to my soul!
During this time, I was always drawing and making things, and going to evening art classes. I realized that being a journalist was actually a waste of my visual talents, and that I needed to do something creative. Eventually I stopped deliberating and made myself choose a path, which was studying for a master’s in children’s book Illustration.
Over the two-and-a-half years that I studied, my drawing was completely deconstructed and rebuilt, and writing the stories for my illustration felt like a natural step. Because I’d been copywriting for years as part of my job, it actually felt easier than the drawing itself.
What makes you most passionate about this job?
For me it’s all about having a vehicle for my ideas. This was what I’d always been looking for, and what had attracted me to journalism—I had something to say and was trying to find the right medium for it.
Children’s books are wonderful, they are like a small theater in which the author and illustrator can create a universe. You get to have words and pictures, they’re not too long, and you can be as imaginative or true to life as you wish. And children are a wonderful audience.
What’s a typical workday like?
I juggle a lot of different things—as well as books I also work for a website, make ceramics, textile art, and do printmaking, so my days really vary. But I almost always start my mornings doing the crossword with my husband, snuggled up on the sofa with a coffee and our dog Twig. I then take Twig for a walk before getting home to start whatever I have to do that day.
Ideally it would be some drawing or making—if I’m doing printmaking or ceramics, I will go to a communal studio, which I really enjoy as I can have inspiring conversations with other artists. If I’m drawing or writing then it’s in my little home studio, which is full of books and has art all over the walls. It’s hard to keep tidy, but it is a space that I love and the scene of most of my creations.
On a perfect day I would get the opportunity to take an afternoon nap! I only need fifteen minutes, and it really helps me if I’m feeling blocked in my work.
I often do something creative for an hour or so after dinner in the evenings. It’s a really good time for me to make progress on an illustration or come up with new ideas, it feels like a no-pressure bonus part of the day.
Where do the ideas for your books come from?
I would say they mostly come from a small seed of an idea, an inkling or emotion, or even an observation, which then has to be interrogated and grown.
It takes a lot of work to get it from that to a book—a lot of thinking and drawing.
Sometimes an idea can also come from enjoyment of drawing a particular thing—for example Hooves or Hands came from my love of drawing horses, and so I thought I’d do a book about them as it would be fun. It isn’t Rude to be Nude was similar. I loved drawing people and had been enjoying mixing up interesting and exaggerated skin tones, and so this led to doing a book about the human body.
How much research do you do before you begin a book?
Usually a lot. For Hooves or Hands, a pretty silly book about the horse-human relationship, I did tons before I realized what the book was really about. And We Are Human Animals is the result of several years’ work, in which I must have read over 20 books and a lot of academic papers, visited numerous museums, went on a research trip to France to visit ancient caves and see cave paintings, and I even went solo camping in a nature reserve to draw and really immerse myself in a wild landscape.
I also had many conversations with an archeologist friend who specializes in neolithic Europe, who was enormously helpful in fact checking the contents of the book and making me think more deeply about how people lived.
Where do you find your inspiration for new stories and characters?
It’s a combination of actively trying to stay curious—reading the news and books, going to exhibitions and seeing movies—so looking for ideas in what’s out there already. But it’s also really important that I give my mind time to wander and daydream.
A long train journey is a great way to get some new ideas. Being captive with nothing to do but look out the window (which I have to do because I get quite travel sick otherwise!) can often make my brain spark something. Also spending time on my own really helps, so I can fully engage with my imagination.
My characters are amalgams of people I see around me. I’ve lived in London for twenty years and love to sit on the tube watching everyone—people are fascinating to me. Going anywhere busy with a sketchbook is a really good way to record characters, especially if you can also eavesdrop their conversations—I am essentially very nosy.
I plan to move to the countryside soon, which I hope will also inspire me, but perhaps in a different way.
My stories also feel very personal, and come from somewhere inside me that needs to be found and brought to the surface. Sometimes I set myself little projects, which often uncover something and lead to a bigger project.
What inspired you to create We Are Human Animals?
We Are Human Animals came from the feeling of belonging that I have when I’m in nature, an almost god-like natural force, a complete oneness and rightness in being within it.
I have a fascination with evolutionary psychology—the idea that our brains and bodies developed when we lived as part of nature, and that this can explain a lot of our behaviors today. So that long-term preoccupation also contributed to the book.
Once I started exploring the idea, I became fascinated by how our ancestors engaged with the world around them. Seeing the cave paintings of animals in France was extremely moving—you could see the artist’s hand and eye so clearly, that they had drawn these animals so many times. You could observe the intimacy and awe they had for these beautiful beasts that they relied upon for food, but must also have worshiped. It made me think how we’re only intimate with domestic animals today, and yet still so fascinated by wild animals, even though we relentlessly destroy their habitats. Children play as animals, have toy animals, read books and watch movies about anthropomorphized animals, and yet we’ve never been so distant from them.
As a species we urgently need to get back to our natural roots, and accept that we are animals and need the natural world just as wild animals do. We love forests, flowers, mountains, and sunsets because they are the beautiful phenomena that we evolved alongside. Our divorce from nature is leading to destruction, and our idea that we are above animals is one of the things that has put us in this perilous position.
After I’d finished the book I realized I’d put humans in an animal world, which is the opposite of all the books about animals doing human things which we most commonly read to our children.
What do you hope young readers will take away from We Are Human Animals?
I want them to be soothed by the beauty of the natural world like I am, and also to connect and notice it. It concerns me that we are now mostly an urban species, separated from the world that made us. If we don’t know nature, how can we know that it is in peril?
I grew up in the countryside and was always reassured by its rhythms. There is our human calendar, and then there is the year that passes outside, where you can read the time of year by what flower is out or what bird is around. But these signs are increasingly becoming muddled, and I find that very disturbing. When we have a very hot dry summer I worry about the ancient oak tree that grows opposite my childhood home, but if I didn’t have this reference point, would it matter to me as much?
Many people also feel excluded from the countryside, and in the UK most land is in private ownership and normal people can’t even go on it to enjoy what’s there, or to gaze at the stars without light pollution. This makes me very angry, and I believe that access to nature is a human right.
There’s also something about our very humanness that I wanted to express. These people were so sophisticated, made such beautiful objects and art, found joy and meaning in gathering together for celebrations, traded found objects like shells, played music—I wanted to express how humanity is nature, is from the natural world, not separate from it.
Do you have a favorite spread?
“The sun and moon were mysteries” is my favorite spread, because it expresses the amazement that I feel every time I catch sight of the full moon, which always surprises me, and makes me stop in wonder. It blows my mind that our ancestors were gazing at the very same moon thousands and thousands of years ago.
I also really love the endpapers and very much enjoyed drawing all the people, imagining their paleolithic and modern selves. Because it’s just a lottery when we were born, we could just as well be ancient hunter gatherers.
Is there anything else you feel we should know about We Are Human Animals or yourself?
In some ways it’s a very personal manifesto for myself, and the way that I see the world. I would love to go back to a time when the planet was still teeming with life, the landscape was still controlled by natural forces, and we were just a minority species.
I do like and appreciate modern plumbing and medicine, but I also think we have lost so much that we can’t get back. I just want us to take better care of what we have left, and to understand our place here.
HARDCOVER; Releases: 3/7/2023
Order this book from:
A resonant reflection on what it means to be human, in the prehistoric past and today.
Since the early days of our history, we have been human animals. Thousands of years ago, in paleolithic times, we got up with the sun each morning. The seasons were our calendar, and everything we ate we picked or caught. Some animals were our friends, and others were our food. We loved to meet and talk and dance and wonder at our world. Centuries and centuries have passed since then. But—even though our world is very different now—we are still human animals like the people before us.
With simple, poetic words and evocative illustrations, this book transports readers to the strangely familiar Stone Age, when our ancestors were shaping what Homo sapiens would become. We Are Human Animals will spark unforgettable discussions about the history of humanity and the ties that bind us to those who walked the earth long ago.
“A first-rate introduction to paleontology for young readers and a fine conversation sparker.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)