JoJo & Gran Gran is a new animated CBeebies TV series that explores the special bond between an almost five-year-old girl and her fun and wise grandmother. It also happens to be the first British animation that centres around a Black family.
The series highlights the adventures of little JoJo who goes to visit her Gran Gran while her parents are at work. They live close by to one another in a bustling London neighbourhood and Gran Gran always has something planned to do when JoJo comes to visit.
Throughout the series, the fun, yet educational stories are inspired by the passing of time, covering topics such as life cycles, the passing of the seasons, growth or the sequencing involved in activities like baking a cake or catching a bus.
We recently caught up with Laura Henry-Allain, the creator of the lovable characters who we found out, were loosely based on the uplifting relationship she shared with her own grandmother [Laura’s middle name is Josephine].
Our exclusive interview with Laura highlights her unparalleled early years education expertise, the loving relationship she shared with her very own ‘Gran Gran’ and the journey toward becoming a children’s author.
Outside of being an author, can you tell us a little more about your career?
I work as an Early Education specialist. As well as my consultancy work, I am the vice-president of The British Association for Early Childhood Education, an educational consultant for the BBC, Early Years expert in residence for Penguin Random House, a nursery consultant/advisor for Barclays Bank and an ambassador for the Jermain Defoe Foundation!
Over the last three decades, I have used my skills to support those who work directly with children, training train thousands of individuals. I also contribute to education and parenting publications and work around the world with governments and other organisations on matters to do with childcare and Early Years. Before that I was a teacher, an inspector and a curriculum manager within a large college.
Tell us about the inspiration for your characters Jojo and Gran Gran?
11 years ago, my beloved grandmother, Marie-Helena (affectionately, known to us as Mama) passed away and I was devastated by her death. She lived a full life and died when she was 101, yes, 101!
Four months before she passed, my sons Rian and Rohan and I visited her for her 101st birthday in St. Lucia. As usual, she was delighted to see us. She recalled a story in front of her friends from when I was little, and she lived in the UK. Mama regularly visited us on a Sunday; she used to bring us treats, food, sweets, etc. By that time, we had moved as a family to North Kensington, and Mama remained in Paddington where lots of people from the town of Canaries, in St Lucia, lived. Mama recalled that I was the only one out of my siblings who used to wait at the window and jump up and down with excitement and shout, “Mama’s coming! Mama’s coming!”
This was the inspiration for JoJo & Gran Gran, by the way. My middle name is Josephine! The first book was All in a Week, which recalls JoJo and Gran Gran taking part in a variety of activities throughout the week before they reconnect on Sunday.
A short clip on my speech from the viewing of @CBeebiesHQ Jo Jo & GranGran! I 🙏🏽humbly 🙏🏽stand on your shoulders @LennyHenry @malorieblackman @junesarpong @FloellaBenjamin & a reference to @tylerperry https://t.co/o5L7rBpciF #JoJoGranGran #StLucia pic.twitter.com/5h74OwEWsh
— Laura Henry-Allain🇬🇧🇱🇨 (@IamLauraHenry) March 6, 2020
How would you describe your journey to becoming a children’s author?
Over the last 16 years, I have written articles for the education sector press and have written books for teachers. The JoJo & Gran Gran books were the first children’s books that I wrote. I didn’t have any formal support or attend any courses in how to write a children’s book, but I suppose that as a teacher and a mother, and having always read books to children, I just knew how children’s books should flow. The books are self-published, I had to finance the cost of an illustrator and the printing cost. I am fortunate to now have an agent and I’ve written two other children’s picture books and hopefully these will be picked up by a children’s publishing team and, who knows, another TV series!
We learnt that the amazing Cathy Tyson will voice Gran Gran; who else is linked to the TV series?
I am delighted that Cathy Tyson is the voice of Gran Gran. Other voices include Taiya Samuel as JoJo, Llewella Gideon as Great Gran Gran as well as Teresa Gallagher as Cynthia and Ashley Joseph as Jared. Supporting cast members include Inel Tomlinson as Terrence the librarian and Sean Connolly as Ezra the museum curator. I am extremely grateful to the CBeebies team for bringing everything together.
What values would you want viewers/children to take away from the series?
The positive values of a loving family life and seeing a multigenerational community coming together. Grannies are the bedrock of so many families.
There are many educational learning opportunities in the show and many extension activities that children can do after watching each episode.
Within each episode, JoJo and Gran Gran do a number of activities, for example, visiting the post office, baking and taking a trip to the seaside. There is also a live-action segment with children, to support the learning in the show.
In addition, the viewer will clearly see that relationships are at the heart of every episode.
JoJo & Gran Gran is the first animation from CBeebies centred around a Black British family. What are your thoughts on this?
I never wrote JoJo and Gran Gran to be the first of anything. I wrote JoJo & Gran Gran based on the loving relationship that I had with my Gran and her sharing with me stories from when I was a child. It so happened that JoJo and Gran Gran is the first animation centred around a Black family for CBeebies, which of course I am delighted about. The viewers will be able to see a beautiful relationship with a grandmother and her granddaughter, living in a multigenerational community and connecting with their friends and neighbours. Therefore, every child, irrespective of where they live will benefit from seeing a positive family life. This includes the extended relationship that JoJo has with her Great Gran Gran, who is based in St. Lucia and the outstanding live action moment that features children talking about the themes covered.
How did you feel when it was picked up by BBC to be made into a TV series?
I was absolutely delighted that the BBC believed in the concept and commissioned JoJo and Gran Gran. The whole CBeebies production team, voiceover artists, writers, animation team, A Productions, the children who did the live links, etc. have been A for awesomeness – we are all one big JoJo and Gran Gran family. It has been great to connect with the St. Lucian High Commissioner and the St Lucian Tourism Authority for advice and guidance on the show, too.
JoJo & Gran Gran is on CBeebies and BBC iPlayer from 16 March 2020, weekdays at 5.30pm.