A Celebration of Australian picture books #5 — Jeannie Baker

Jeannie Baker - planet changing

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.

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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.

Jeannie Baker - time

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.

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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.”

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One Hungry Spideris the third of Jeannie’s books I own. Unlike “Window” andBelonging, the illustrations in this one are accompanied by text. One Hungry Spideris 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.

4 of Jeannie Baker's books

These are other favourites:

Where the Forest Meets the Sea”, “The Hidden Forest”, “Mirrorand 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?”

She answered,

“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.”

Jeannie Baker - favourite book

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

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

21 thoughts on “A Celebration of Australian picture books #5 — Jeannie Baker

    1. Norah Post author

      We do have many good ones! I thank you on behalf of all Australian picture book authors and illustrators! We do have some good libraries too. Have you visited?

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      1. lizannelloyd

        Although I visited Perth briefly when I was 19, I never went into a school. While I was in charge of a primary school library I found many internet links to school libraries in Australia which were inspiring but also depressing as we were given so little money or priority in British schools.

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        1. Norah Post author

          I’m pleased you found the Australian school libraries inspiring. Sadly now many school librarians are becoming a thing of the past as individual schools are able to choose their personnel. Putting administration (as seems to often be the away of it) ahead of libraries, librarians and children is not something I am in favour of.

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  1. Bec

    Thanks for sharing Jeanie Baker’s work! I have such fond memories of ‘Window’ and I have no doubt it has shaped my worldview. We certainly saw similar transformations near home with the nearby rural areas being mercilessly developed into sterile, dense, residential estates. I feel such sadness about what we lose, so it is nice that Window was followed-up by Belonging which shows the potential for claiming neighbourhoods to be that ‘living home’ Baker describes. I also really like the look of ‘The Hidden Forest’ – I hadn’t heard of this one but from the cover it looks like it might be about our remarkable kelp forests?

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    1. Norah Post author

      Greening our existing towns and cities and maintaining green corridors in new developments is very important. We all need time to experience nature to develop a real sense of belonging (good title) and one’s place in the world. You and I both agree on that. I need to breathe in the green outdoors more often.
      The Hidden Forest is gorgeous and about the kelp forests. Sadly I just this moment read that the destruction of some of our kelp forests is allowing the release of stored carbon. That’s not a good outcome.
      Thanks for your comment.

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  2. macjam47

    Wonderful post. I love the quotes you included in your post. Jeannie Baker is a new-to-me author. I need to get my hands on some of her amazing books. Thanks for the introduction.

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  3. Sarah Brentyn

    I love her quotes. The books look great (though I would probably skip the spider one). 😉 I hadn’t heard of her so I’m glad you posted this. The whole series has been great to introduce authors many people might not have heard of. I’ll have to write some books before I can comment on this with an expert opinion but I don’t think I’d leave a book once it was published. I’d hold on to it — the place, the characters…they’d always be a part of me. Trying to improve is always a good thing but finding it difficult to even think about something you wrote? No. I don’t think that I could forget, even if I tried, a world I created or characters whose stories I told.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you, Sarah. The spider book is lovely. It’s not at all scary, but I can understand if you have a great aversion to spiders. I’m pleased you are enjoying the series. I hope you’re not bored yet. I still have a few more to go.
      When are you writing your book Sarah? It would be nice to discover the feeling for ourselves wouldn’t it?
      I’m inclined to agree with your sentiment, but I also agree with Jeannie. If you are not as excited about your new work as you are about what you’ve already done, then I’m not sure that will be as good. I think the passion for it and interest in it needs to be high.
      Thanks for sharing. 🙂

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      1. Sarah Brentyn

        No, no! I agree you should be completely invested and passionate about what you’re writing at the moment. Absorbed in it, living and breathing it. I just don’t know if I would brush off what I’d already written because I wanted to fill my head with something else.

        And, yes, Norah. Let us both find out for ourselves. Sacha is my number one pain in the arse (lovely, wonderful, supportive) person for pushing me to get back to writing my books. I have to stop talking about it, pick one, and work on it. Today. 🙂

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        1. Norah Post author

          I hope you did, Sarah. I’m looking forward to seeing what else you’ve been writing. If it’s anywhere near as good as what you produce for your blogs it will be great! Go for it!

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  4. TanGental

    The quote is so right (or maybe write). By publishing – completely finishing a book – it passes from being the writer’s to the reader’s and the interest in it wanes. The next one becomes the obsession and therefore the favourite.

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