Big Panda and Tiny Dragon review: what is ex-Samaritans volunteer James Norbury’s book about?

Samaritans volunteer ‘stunned’ by six-figure book deal and popularity of his drawings created to help people look at life differently

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Big Panda and Tiny Dragon is a beautiful book full of hope and inspiration to anyone and everyone - filled with intricate, heartwarming illustrations and profound words on every page.

Not only is the book a treasure in itself, but the author and illustrator, James Norbury, also adds to the book’s appeal.

Norbury is a 44-year-old self-taught illustrator and writer from Swansea. He draws on his own background and experiences, from being a former Samaritans volunteer for just under two years, to having odd jobs and struggling to make ends meet.

His experiences supporting callers to the helpline, as well as his love for drawing and animals, all inspired Norbury to create the characters of Big Panda and Tiny Dragon which soon amassed a following on social media.

What is the book about?

The book is a collection of beautiful illustrations about the surprising friendship between a panda and dragon. Each page contains an illustration accompanied with some text with words that will leave you smiling.

The words and quotes throughout the book are there to inspire anyone and everyone going through a tough time, rough patch or struggling with their mental health. The book is ‘dedicated to everyone who gets lost.’

“I try to cover subjects which will genuinely trigger change in the way you think rather than just sound good on paper,” Norbury said.

The book, through this unlikely friendship, leads you through the hurdles and setbacks many of us experience in life. The comforting friendship offers the reader advice and wisdom.

“I still think of the drawings as my little panda drawings, I never thought they would make money.”

It takes you through the seasons, starting and ending with spring.

Norbury said: “It seemed natural to me to start with the period of growth, where things go from nothing to something.”

The seasonal setting of this book allows it to be one you can come back to all year round.

What is the inspiration behind the book?

A big inspiration behind the book was Norbury’s experience as a volunteer for the Samaritans.

“We couldn’t ever advise people in the Samaritans. This book contains a lot that I would have said to people if I had been allowed to,” he said.

Norbury’s experience listening to the huge pain and suffering up and down the country urged him to create drawings that would allow people to see some light and perhaps change their way of thinking.

“I’m hoping that it gets people out of negative thought patterns. It’s not a miracle cure but by looking at things differently you can make a huge difference,” Norbury said.

Another inspiration is his passion and love for spirituality and Buddhist philosophy. Norbury wanted to share these ideas in a simple way to people. The pandemic and his lack of confidence deterred him from starting a spiritual group and so he took to his beloved drawings to convey the hopeful messages.

The characters of the panda and dragon, as well as the background of the illustrations, all have an Eastern feel with James confirming his “love of East Asian culture which was quite an influence.”

What makes it unique?

The illustrations almost take you back to childhood drawings of Winnie-the-Pooh making the book familiar and heartwarming to a person of any age.

Norbury started posting his drawings on Instagram and Facebook when he had no following whatsoever to “spread a little bit of peace and happiness.”

His drawings soon amassed a following and he now has over 200,000 followers. His work in the form of calendars, postcards and more, soared in popularity, as did his self-published book.

The popularity of his social media posts, illustrations and book deal was “incredible” however Norbury said: “When the posts started getting more popular, I started to feel more intimidated and exposed.

“I never imagined anyone would take the drawings seriously.”

Big Panda and Tiny Dragon is being published in 20 countries. Norbury said: “I was stunned at one translation. It’s crazy.”

Norbury hopes to use the money to set up an animal sanctuary in the future.

Our review

Not only does Big Panda and Tiny Dragon fill your heart with warmth, light and joy when you are feeling down but it is one to share with everyone in your family and friendship group.

It is a book that will help anyone and is one to cherish.

The book will be published in the UK by Penguin Michael Joseph this Thursday 16 September.

And whether there will be another book on the cards, Norbury answered “I do have other ideas” - leaving readers excited for what else is in store.

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