A celebration of Australian picture books #4 — Narelle Oliver

This post is the fourth in a series celebrating picture books by Australian authors. If you missed earlier posts, please follow these links to the introduction, Mem Fox and Kim Michelle Toft.

Narelle Oliver

In this post I introduce you to Narelle Oliver, a Brisbane-based author and illustrator. There is much to explore on Narelle’s site, including: information about her writing process and tips for would-be picture book authors; the research involved in creating her books, many of which are about nature; and illustration techniques that involve the use of linocut printing and rubbing, and other assorted media.

Narelle conducts workshops for children and adults. She visits schools to share with children the wonder of her books and talks to them about her writing and illustrating processes. When she visited “my” school she brought along first thoughts and illustrations for, and a dummy book of, The Very Blue Thingamajig, plus a soft toy prototype – and we all wanted one! She also brought a fox from the museum and talked about illustrating Fox and fine feathers. She read to the children, involved them in activities and gave them an experience of linocut printing. It was fascinating for both children and teachers.

Narelle talks about her workshops and sessions in this video.

While you can find a complete list of Narelle’s books here, I will share those I have on my bookshelf (in no particular order).

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The Very Blue Thingamajig is as story about difference and acceptance told in a fun way involving mathematical concepts of patterns, counting and days of the week. The colourful illustrations made using hand-coloured linocuts are appealing, and children love to find the little bird who provides a secondary story throughout the book. On Narelle’s fun page you can colour and decorate your own thingamajig.

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Dancing the Boom Cha Cha Boogie is a gorgeous tale of three little murmels who are washed out to sea in an arkel and arrive on a foreign shore where they are not welcomed by the resident snigs. They are imprisoned until when, the arkel is repaired, they are to leave. At night a young snig releases the murmels who teach the snig to have fun. In the end the murmels are accepted and stay happily in Snigdom with the snigs, learning from and enjoying each other’s company. This book is illustrated with hand-coloured linocuts.

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Fox and fine feathers is a story of friendship, of looking out for each other and keeping each other safe. The attention to detail in these linocut illustrations coloured with pencils and pastels is amazing and accurately depicts the five creatures and the forest setting. Narelle has supported the story with information about the birds, their habitat and the dangers imposed by the feral fox, which is now a serious threat, along with other feral animals, to native species in Australia.

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Narelle Oliver Collection of three stories: Leaf Tail, The Best Beak in Boonaroo Bay and The Hunt.

  • Leaf Tail, Narelle’s first picture book, illustrated by beautiful linocuts, tells the story of a leaf tail gecko and the importance of camouflage to survival in the Queensland forest.
  • The Best Beak in Boonaroo Bay, also illustrated with hand-coloured linocuts, tells of a squabble between five different birds, each professing its own beak to be the best. Finally clever pelican holds a contest that enables the birds to see that each beak is best in its own way. As well as a delightful story about wildlife, it also provides a springboard into discussions about, and appreciation of, differences.
  • The Hunt is another beautifully illustrated wildlife story of camouflage and survival. The story is supported with information about its setting and the workings of animal camouflage and disguise. There are also black and white drawings showing where to find the animals camouflaged in each illustration. It is fun to see if all the animals can be found without referring to the guide.

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Home, referred to in a previous post Home or away, is perhaps a favourite if only because it is based on a true story of a pair of peregrine falcons that nested at the top of a 27-storey building in the city of Brisbane. The birds, named Frodo and Frieda, fascinated a city and, for a while, had their own reality show “Frodocam”. The story, beautifully illustrated using a combination of media including linocut rubbings, collage, photographs, pencil, pastels and watercolours, tells of the adaptation of wildlife to new landscapes and environments.

Each of these books can be appreciated for its story or used as a springboard for discussion. The illustrations appeal to adults and children alike for the attention to detail and accurate representation of wildlife. The addition of supporting information encourages an appreciation for wildlife and their habitats and develops an awareness of the need for their protection. They would be a wonderful addition to any book collection and be much appreciated as gifts.

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.

18 thoughts on “A celebration of Australian picture books #4 — Narelle Oliver

  1. Norah Post author

    Reblogged this on Norah Colvin and commented:

    I am re-sharing this post in honour of Narelle Oliver who sadly passed away today.
    Her legacy will live on in the hearts and minds of readers everyone. She was an awesome lady, talented writer and illustrator, and an inspiration to children, teachers, and writers everywhere.
    Thank you, Narelle, for your wonderful contribution to our lives through your stories and illustrations. xx

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  2. Bec

    Thanks Norah for writing about these lovely books – and their author! It sounds like Narelle Oliver would be a great classroom guest. The illustrations are beautiful. You will be pleased to know I quite fancy the designs as potential tattoos!!!!!!

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    1. Norah Post author

      Narelle Oliver was an awesome classroom guest. I always enjoyed it when we had authors visit the classroom. It was supposed to be for the children, but I looked forward to it for me! 🙂
      I wonder what Narelle would think of one her designs adorning your body! 🙂

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  3. roweeee

    Thanks again, Norah. I’m not sure whether I’ve heard of her work. My kids are now out of the picture book phase and I don’t tend to buy them anymore…unless I particularly like them. Her workshops do sound great and I really love the themes. xx Rowena

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      1. roweeee

        The trouble is that we have so many books that our house is very cluttered and I keep buying more. I have a strong personal love of picture books and still indeed to write a few I think. Or, at least get back to the ones I’ve been working on. Like most of us, I have a very long to do list xx Rowena

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        1. Norah Post author

          Trouble with those lists is: they just keep getting longer. For every one that’s complete, there’s another few to take it’s place. They multiply the way, it used to be said, wire coat-hangers do. (But I never seem to have enough of those either.)

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  4. writersideup

    Narelle’s work is SO fascinating! And what school visits she gives! The kids must LOVE how tactile and informative and interesting it all is 🙂 Thanks so much for sharing another great Australian author/illustrator, Norah 😀

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks, Donna. Narelle’s work is wonderful. We did a little of lino printing at college, but I thought it was an old-fashioned technique. Narelle brings it right into the 21st century, doesn’t she? The detail of her work is amazing! Thanks for reading and commenting. 🙂

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  5. Sarah Brentyn

    I know I left a comment on this but it’s not here. Maybe I dreamed it. Anyway. Moving on.

    She visited your school? That must have been awesome. I’m such a geek–love guest speakers. (Especially authors…) The books look wonderful and am loving the wildlife theme. Except for the thingamajig which is just so cool. 🙂

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    1. Norah Post author

      I’m sorry about the comment, Sarah. In fact I was thinking about comments recently. A while ago it seemed we were all complaining about comments being “eaten”, but nobody had mentioned it for a while. I was thinking we had overcome the problem. I checked my trash and spam folders and there is nothing there. I wonder what happened. I know I sometimes read posts on my iPad but don’t leave a comment, then when I come to them on the computer I forget that I haven’t left a comment, or can’t remember the brilliant one that came to me on first reading! 🙂
      I have always loved rubbing shoulders with authors and illustrators. So far the talent hasn’t rubbed off though. I keep hoping.
      I’m pleased you are enjoying this series about the books. It all started with an idea from you and a prompt from another. Thanks for the suggestion. 🙂

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  6. Marylin Warner

    Norah, we were at a christening last weekend, and the baby’s older sister (4 years old) received a copy of FOX AND FINE FEATHERS so she would have her own gift to open at the luncheon. Such beautiful, amazing and touching illustrations. She carried it around the table and we each got to read a page or two for her. A wonderful book.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks, Marylin, for your comment of support. What a coincidence that you got to see the book just last weekend! I’m pleased you liked what you saw of it, and what a wonderful gift for the big sister. 🙂

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  7. Charli Mills

    Wonderful collection of books by a talented writer and illustrator. I like that her website is of practical use to other authors, too. The Frodocam is a sensation I understand. The small Montana city of Missioula has a bird cam for Iris and Stanley, a mating pair of osprey. It can be fascinating to watch birds of prey live. I’m liking this series, Norah! It must be near and dear to your creative and educational passions.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks Charli. As a teacher I had opportunities every day to read picture books. Now that I am out of the classroom, the opportunities are less regular, so I am enjoying writing this series, and am pleased that others are enjoying reading it. Picture books are definitely something I enjoy! 🙂
      I think when I looked up the link for Frodocam I saw a reference to the ospreys you mention, or others in the US somewhere (I know it’s a big place!) There is a pair of pigeon doves setting up a nest in our gazebo at the moment. We don’t really want them there as they will make a lot of mess (why can’t they nest in one of the trees?) but it would be interesting to set up a dove cam! 🙂

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