The Monkey and the Moonbeam is Auckland author Jonathan Smith’s debut picture book, publishing by Little Love.
There is a forgotten part of the world, where a deep lush jungle grows on a misty mountaintop. Hidden in this rain forest are the tallest trees in the universe and living in these trees is a family of monkeys who love each other and their home.
Little monkey NicNic is off on an adventure around the world, through lions’ manes, flamingo feathers, and the clutches of a cumulous cloud! In search of something just out of reach, the star strewn night sky invites you to join him on this magical journey.
This beautifully illustrated story about the importance of the simple things is the debut picture book from renowned Auckland architect Jonathan Smith.
Jonathan was born in Singapore in the days when the jungle still existed and the steamy, lush landscape is evoked through his vibrant and layered illustrations.
“You could hear the howler monkeys call during the long hot evenings. Snakes were often found in the bathtub or wrapped around the car axle. It was therefore a bit of a climate shock to move to Wellington in my early years,” he says.
Jonathan has always been fascinated with storytelling in all its forms and sees many parallels between his work as an architect and an author.
“In architecture practice we always attempt to create a narrative in our projects, a thread that runs through the design. Writing this story has allowed me to expand on that and provided me with an amazing freedom, while also holding on to what it once felt like to have the unconstrained mind of a child.”
Tapping into a child’s perspective was helped by his son Nic, an inspiration for the story.
“From a young age my wife and I began the ritual of music and story appreciation during bath and bedtimes, this story was distilled during these moments. Imagination and curiosity are superpowers that children have in abundance. Holding onto these gifts can be tricky, especially in today’s world of over connectivity and busyness.”
Jonathan says the book is a very personal journey and it layers deeper themes beneath the accessible children’s tale.
“I was a restless sleeper myself, going through life’s wants, needs, pushes and pulls, striving… becoming a father, fantasising about having an uninterrupted sleep, realising what is actually important, going through a pandemic and reflecting on everything.”
He found the process of illustration very freeing. While an architectural project takes many years to come to fruition, illustrating gave much more immediate completion.
“That said, the first illustration took me about eight months to finish, but by the last few I was far more efficient,” says Jonathan, whose technique involved a number of layers, including spraying, acrylic, water colours and another layer of spray as he looked to capture the depth of light at dawn and twilight.
It’s a book that wouldn’t have happened without COVID-19. Jonathan says while he started the book 10 years ago, most of the illustrations were completed during the initial year of the pandemic.
“The pandemic created a lot of anguish and stress throughout the world, but there are positives including the importance of loved ones, human connections, and reengaging with the simple things in life.”