Oliver Jeffers on how his son – and his own childhood – has influenced his art

Best-selling children’s book illustrator and author Oliver Jeffers has spent the past 18 months working on his latest picture book, Here We Are, to be released on November 14.

But he has a good reason for it – the book was inspired by his (then) newborn son – and the realisation that explaining the world and how it functions to a baby is an incredible and eye-opening experience.

Find out about Oliver Jeffers largely unknown childhood ahead of the release of Here We Are in this poignant, stylistic and beautiful video by Netherlands filmmaker Bas Berkhout. The video also explores Oliver’s creative process and latest projects. Oliver is currently book signing in the UK as part of his Here We Are book tour. 

“It’s based on the things I began saying to our newborn son the moment we took him home from the hospital as I gave him a quick tour of our apartment,” says Oliver, an Irish-born painter and children’s book illustrator who now lives in Brooklyn, New York City.

“It started off as a book about the realisation that new life is a blank slate and the strangeness of being a new parent.”

As the book unfolded, so did the political climate of 2016, and Oliver felt it was more urgent to reinforce “some basic things” his parents taught him about the simple principles of humanity.

“I wanted my son to know that while we are all unique individuals, we are all in this together,” he says. 

Oliver grew up Belfast, Ireland, which was a politically divided city at the time. His mother was bedridden his entire life and died of MS when he was a young adult. 

However, “to describe my upbringing, it was very happy,” he says.

Oliver attributes his optimism to his mother, who although suffered from MS, had so much joy. He even turned her room into his studio after her death because he couldn’t bare the thought of no one “going in there” anymore.

With Here We Are, Oliver started writing down the basic things he was explaining to his son and at some point, realised “there’s possibly a book in this”.  

“As I started to make political posts on social media about this xenophobia, this fear of the other, essentially this ignorance, things like that started to seep into the book too.

“It’s sort of reminders that we’re all here, this is the only place we can all live, it’s not like we can go somewhere else.

“I’ve always avoided over sentimentality, but I’m unapologetically sentimental this time around.”

Pre-order Here We Are from Amazon.