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Artist, children’s author partners with Save the Whales

March 23, 2023   ·   0 Comments

Robyn Gram-Barclay has written two books in “My Good Friend, Ted!” series

By Zachary Roman

Robyn Gram-Barclay’s passion is art.

However, Gram-Barclay had a bucket list item she always wanted to complete: write and illustrate her own book. 

Being an artist, she’s had the opportunity to do the artwork for other authors’ children’s books.

As an art teacher of 20 years, Gram-Barclay has taught children as young as three-years-old, all the way up to adult students. Now, Gram-Barclay is officially an author too.

In 2019, Gram-Barclay wrote a poem for her son, who loves sea creatures. She then took the poem to the school where she was working and read it to her students to get their feedback and see what ages it would suit.

That poem would eventually become Gram-Barclay’s first children’s book: My Good Friend, Ted! It’s a fun story for kids in Junior Kindergarten to Grade 2 about Ted, the blue whale who is red. However, it wasn’t until 2021 that Gram-Barlcay illustrated the art for the book and really started to pursue publishing it.

“In 2021, that summer, I ended up just going full speed ahead… [I said] ‘I’m going to try to make this into a book and see how I can bring it to life’,” said Gram-Barclay, a mom of three who lives in Bolton.

When she’d illustrated for other authors in the past, Gram-Barclay used acrylic paint. For her own book though, she wanted to challenge herself and use watercolours. It seemed fitting, since her book was set in the ocean and all its characters were marine life.

“I outlined everything in different coloured (markers) first, to add a cartoonish kind of flair, and then just worked the watercolour in and tried to manipulate the colours and see how I could best achieve the techniques I wanted,” said Gram-Barclay. “I’ve been told it’s a neat effect… you can see the lights and the darks of the watercolour.”

My Good Friend, Ted! was published in 2021 and Gram-Barclay was soon thinking about making a sequel thanks to its success.

She began writing again in June of 2022, went full-speed ahead with painting, and published her second book in December 2022: My Good Friend, Ted! The Sea-quel in The Ocean of Colour.

For her second book, she worked on the rhythm of her rhymes more extensively, editing it with her father who was an English specialist, teacher and principal. Gram-Barclay also expanded on her watercolour techniques to add more detail, create more vibrant colours, and fill in the water more efficiently. Despite water being the background for her paintings, Gram-Barlcay has to fill it in last so it doesn’t impact the colour of the marine life she paints.

During March Break, Gram-Barclay did a book share at the Albion-Bolton branch of the Caledon Public Library. During a book share event, Gram-Barclay reads both of her books to attendees, but also goes through the process of how she made them. She said children are often very curious about how books are made and have their own ideas for characters and stories. 

Gram-Barclay’s second book has an important message for children too. In it, Ted gets bullied by the other blue whales because he happens to be red.

“I go through those important questions and discussions with the kids… they understand what the messages are,” said Gram-Barclay. “They say ‘why are the (blue whales) treating Ted like that… he’s so nice to everybody.’”

In the end, the blue whales apologize to Ted and everyone is able to play together again, to the kids’ delight. Gram-Barclay said it fills her heart with a lot of warmth and joy to see children recognizing the message of her second book.

“As Ted says, blue or red should not matter, it’s kindness and respect that makes me gladder,” said Gram-Barclay. “We’re all in this together, we’re in an ocean of colour.”

Getting feedback from children is an important part of Gram-Barclay’s writing and illustrating process. Her first book is for children ages four to eight and her second is for children ages six to nine. 

“Children are the audience… I’ve had adults say, ‘Oh, it’s so cute’ and I find that wonderful and it’s an honour,” said Gram-Barclay. “But if the kids are not taken with it, then who am I writing for? This is a story for them.”

The cover of Gram-Barclay’s first book features the title overlaid on Ted’s big red tail. A child once asked why Ted’s face wasn’t shown on the cover of the book, and it was a piece of advice that stuck with Gram-Barclay. The cover of Gram-Barclay’s second book features both Ted’s face and some of his sea creature friends.

Gram-Barclay said she loves the fact that children have been inspired to write their own stories after hearing hers, and said she wants children to know they should express their creativity and be proud of it.

Gram-Barclay’s son has always loved marine life and wants to be a marine biologist someday. Blue whales are one of his favourite mammals and this served as a big inspiration for Gram-Barclay when writing her books.

Gram-Barclay has recently partnered with Save the Whales, a non-profit founded in 1977 that works to protect the ocean and all that inhabits it. One dollar from every My Good Friend, Ted! book sold now goes to Save the Whales, as well as two dollars from every crocheted sea creature — Gram-Barclay has partnered with local artists to make crocheted sea creatures that are available on her website,

Gram-Barclay’s books and art prints are available on the site, and any item on the site with a Save the Whales logo next to it means a portion of the proceeds from that item’s sale will go to Save the Whales. Gram-Barclay’s books and art are also available at local bookstore Forster’s Book Garden.

Gram-Barclay is already beginning to think about writing a third book to make the Ted series into a trilogy, and she has a great idea from her son that she really wants to turn into the next book.

“I’ve had people ask, when’s the third one coming?” said Gram-Barclay. “We’ll see!”

“Just start writing,” she adds. “Anyone, [at] any age that has a story they want to share, write it down. Follow your dream, whatever it might be… there’s no age restriction. You could be 10 or you could be 50… there’s no limit to what you can create and how you create it.”



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