Sarah Ann Juckes chats about how the British Wildlife Centre inspired The Night Animals

"All we need to uncover superpowers is to look a little closer at the things we see around us."


The Night Animals, chosen as Waterstones’ January Children’s Book of the Month, tells the story of Nora who follows a glittering ghostly fox, hare, raven, and otter in order to find the strength she needs to help her mother who is struggling with PTSD. We had the chance to chat with Sarah Ann Juckes on how she selected the animals and how children can be brave:

Congratulations on The Night Animals being selected as Waterstones’ January Children’s Book of the Month! What’s the most memorable moment so far, seeing The Night Animals out in the world?

Thank you so much! It’s been a brilliant month with so many highlights, from seeing my book in a bookshop window for the first time through to speaking to 10,000(!) children at a Waterstones virtual school event. The real highlight for me though has been the opportunity to speak to so many booksellers. I was able to get to 50 bookshops in-person in January and I was struck by how wonderfully passionate children’s booksellers are. Being able to give the right book, to the right child, at the right time, is such a superpower and the booksellers I met last month all wielded that power so wonderfully. It was a privilege to meet so many.

We absolutely loved the unboxing video you posted with the rainbow animals! What’s the story behind those rainbow animals? Did you get them to celebrate the book?

Thank you again! My ever-supportive partner Ryan Annis is a wizard when it comes to 3D-printing, so he printed these animals in a special rainbow filament to represent the four rainbow-glimmering ghost animals who come to Nora in the book – a fox, hare, raven and otter. He also printed some beautiful bookmarks too to give out to booksellers as a “thank you” – what a talent he is! The video was the first time I’d tried stop-motion animation, but I’d lost my voice that day, so it felt like a fun alternative. It actually worked surprisingly well and only took an hour to do thanks to a free app called “Stop Motion Studio”.

How did you pick the animals that would guide Nora?

The fox came to me in the middle of the night with this idea, so she was there from the beginning. It was after a visit to the British Wildlife Centre that I realised how fortunate we are to have so many wonderful animals here in Britain, so I wanted to highlight these to represent various aspects of Nora’s situation and journey to finding help.

Nora’s friend Kwame is not used to drawing regular animals. Instead, he is used to combining animals and adding fangs and wings to them. Why did you decide to let regular animals guide Nora, instead of these magical imaginations?

In my opinion, nothing is more magical than the things we find right outside our door. All we need to uncover superpowers is to look a little closer at the things we see around us. Whilst writing this book, I learned that hares can run at 45mph and ravens are extremely intelligent birds. There’s something extra-magical about real-life, isn’t there?

Nora’s mother has PTSD, which many children reading The Night Animals may not have heard of. Why did you choose to highlight PTSD?

Interestingly, I do polls in classrooms on how many children have heard of PTSD and in every class, over half put up their hand. As an ex-NSPCC volunteer, I think it’s important that things that affect children appear in children’s books, as they can help normalise and assign a foundation language to children and caregivers to talk about these things together. When I was writing this book, there was a huge spike in the number of healthcare workers being affected by PTSD as a result of the pandemic, which of course means a huge number of children would be, too.

At first, Nora refuses to ask for help. How do you think we can help those who are unwilling to ask for and accept help?

This is a question that Nora’s friend Kwame asks himself and I think there’s a lot we can learn from his response. Being there to listen to someone is so important. Although someone might need more time to ask for help, we can listen to the cries for help that might come in other ways – perhaps even through “make-believe” games. Importantly though, this book aims to teach children from a young age that if they ever need to ask for help themselves, they can and should. This is a lesson we all need to learn sometimes and the more we normalise this, the easier it will become to spot signs and lend a hand when needed.

Why do you think hauntings, be it memories, thoughts, or feelings, could help us be braver?

The Night Animals is an exploration of memory – both the good and the bad. Although memories for Nora’s Mum are ‘dark, angry ghosts’, for Nora, they are a reminder of a time she felt safe. Taking a moment to remember that we are loved and can find help can be an easy thing to forget sometimes – particularly when things are hard. But whether you have rainbow-ghost animals to guide your way or not, often those memories are hiding within us somewhere and can lead us to the friends, family and professionals we might need to get support.

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