This post is the fifth in a series celebrating picture books by Australian authors. If you missed earlier posts, please follow these links to the introduction, Mem Fox, Kim Michelle Toft and Narelle Oliver.
In this post I introduce you to Jeannie Baker, a collage artist and author. Jeannie was born in the UK but has lived most of her adult life in Australia, and most of her books, though having universal themes, are set in Australia.
Jeannie had already published a number of books prior to 1992 when I first became aware of her work through “Window”, winner of the Australian Picture Book of the Year Award.
“Window” tells, in beautifully detailed collage, of the transformation of a landscape from natural bush to city-scape. The changes are observed through a window by a boy as he celebrates alternate birthdays from birth to 24 years. Like many of Jeannie’s books, “Window” carries a strong environmental message. In her note at the end of the book, she says,
“Our planet is changing before our eyes. However, by understanding and changing the way we personally affect the environment, we can make a difference.”
The intricate details in this textless picture book provide many opportunities for discussion. Children and adults are enticed to study and compare the changes that take place in each successive picture. The carefully constructed collages give a sense of being able to almost step into the scene and experience the sights, sounds and smells of each landscape.
I was fortunate to attend an exhibition of Jeannie’s artwork for “Window” as it toured the country in 1992. What surprised me most was the size of the collages. With all their detail I had expected them to be quite large; but they weren’t. They are miniature, much smaller than a page of the picture book on which they appear. The collection and arrangement of a mix of natural and artificial materials is amazing. Jeannie describes the process of constructing her collages here.
In 2004 Jeannie published a companion book to “Window” called “Belonging”, which, in 2005, also received a number of awards, including one from the Wilderness Society. This textless picture book tells a story of a changing landscape over a number of years as a city is transformed with plants and welcoming spaces for children and families. In a note at the end of this book, Jeannie says,
“It takes time … But by understanding the land on which we live and by caring for it we can choose between just having a place to live or belonging to a living home.”
“One Hungry Spider” is the third of Jeannie’s books I own. Unlike “Window” and “Belonging”, the illustrations in this one are accompanied by text. “One Hungry Spider” is a counting book, but a counting book with a difference: it includes information about the spider. For example when one of seven ladybirds gets caught in the web we find out that “the spider took no notice (because) spiders don’t like the taste of ladybirds.” And when nine wasps fly by the spider left the web and hid because wasps catch spiders. Additional details about the spider are provided at the back of the book. Once again the illustrations throughout the book are magnificent.
Surprisingly I own only these three of Jeannie’s books. However I am familiar with others. At school I had access to many of her titles in big book format (approximately 50 x 40 cm) which were perfect for sharing with a class of children.
These are other favourites:
“Where the Forest Meets the Sea”, “The Hidden Forest”, “Mirror” and “The Story of Rosy Dock”.
Are you familiar with Jeannie’s work? If so, which ones and what do you think of them?
Please check out these and other titles of Jeannie’s if you have a chance. Their illustrations will intrigue you and their positive messages will inspire you.
As a writer, I found inspiration in Jeannie’s response to the question,
“Of all the books you have made, which is your favourite?”
“When a book is finally finished, I find it hard to think about it anymore …I want to fill my
head with something totally different, with a new book. My favourite book is the
‘new’ book I’m working on, still working out and trying to make better than the books I
made before it!”
I think that indicates a strong growth mindset and Jeannie’s joy in the “continual challenges this medium gives … to invent techniques and explore and experiment with materials and their textures.”
It affirms the quest for improvement and a reason to embrace the challenges we both set for ourselves and meet along the way.
Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.