Norfolk student swaps Oxford degrees for creating a children’s book

7:30 p.m. Aug 5, 2022

Once upon a time, Iona Rangeley had to study for her university degree. Instead, she began writing a story about a penguin.

And soon there was a happy ending – the book was published and Iona started a career as a children’s book author.

Einstein the Penguin by Iona Rangeley
– Credit: HarperCollins Children’s Books

Iona, who grew up in Thornham on the north Norfolk coast, was supposed to be writing a dissertation on children’s literature and studying for her final English literature exam at Oxford University, but instead of revising the works of writers from the Renaissance to the 19th century She read Ben Jonson’s plays and Wordsworth’s poetry and invented a penguin named Einstein.

She said writing Einstein the Penguin was definitely more fun than revising it.

And alongside her degree, she also negotiated publishing deals. The story of a penguin following a family home after a day at the zoo resonated with readers. It was published in hardcover and paperback by HarperCollins Children’s Books and named Children’s Book of the Week by the Sunday Times.

The audio book version was voiced by Miriam Margolyes and won a New York Radio Festival Award.

The lovely illustrations are by David Tazzyman and Iona said: “I really think David’s illustrations are perfect: even if things aren’t exactly how I imagined them, they are usually better than I imagined and are indeed transformative , as I see my own book.”

The book tells the story of two children, Imogen and Arthur, who take in Einstein and help him find what he is looking for (while also helping them).

Described by the publisher as a fantastically funny future classic, it is aimed at children between the ages of seven and ten. “But younger kids can definitely have their parents read it to them, and there are illustrations every few pages,” Iona said. “I always write with parents and children in mind because I love children’s books that can be enjoyed by all ages, so Einstein really is for the whole family!”

Much of her own family lives in Norfolk with her parents in Thornham, grandparents in Wells-next-the-Sea and her brother in Norwich.


The accident happened on the High Street in Thornham
– Photo credit: Chris Bishop

Iona was just five years old when she wrote her first story, Sam and the Pig, and grew up wanting to be a writer.

This summer she returned to her old school, Gresham’s in Holt, to talk to some of the younger children and read excerpts from Einstein the Penguin and some of their childhood stories.

“I spoke to the kids about my own experiences at school and the importance of being creative and finding what you enjoy doing,” Iona said. “During my time at Gresham’s I always knew I wanted to be a writer so it was definitely a moment to go back there and it’s really important to me to inspire kids to believe in themselves and do what.” they want to achieve.”

Plans for a £19million STEAM center at Gresham's have been approved by North Norfolk District Council.  Pho

Plans for a £19million STEAM center at Gresham’s have been approved by North Norfolk District Council. Photo: Brittany Woodman
– Credit: Archant

Iona went on to Magdalen College Oxford to study English literature and now writes full-time – and enjoys lecturing to children. “I think it’s such an important part of being a children’s book author because it means coming face to face with your own audience.”

She said it took about 10 months from the time she started writing the book to finding an agent to send it to publishers. “My agent sent it to a lot of publishers at once, and obviously there were a lot of rejections, but also some prospects,” she said. “In the end I had three interested publishers.”

The Times called it “an outstanding debut. Funny and surprising’, and the Sunday Times wrote: ‘His wit and powers of observation are in the tradition of Eva Ibbotson and Hilary McKay. Full of unexpected phrases and illustrated with just the right amount of freedom and quirkiness, this is a real find. A pleasure to read aloud.”

Einstein the Penguin: The Case of the Fishy Detective picks up the penguin story a year later and is due out in October, and Iona is already working on her third penguin adventure.

“I love writing for children and I have many more ideas for new books, so I would definitely like to continue writing. I’d also like to write an adult book at some point,” she said.

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