A celebration of Australian picture books #6 — Jackie French

If-you-want-intelligent children

This post is the sixth 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, Narelle Oliver and Jeannie Baker.

In this post I reintroduce you to Jackie French, prolific and well-known Australian author and advocate for literacy and the environment. She is currently the Australian Children’s Laureate with the task of promoting the importance and transformational power of reading, creativity and story in the lives of young Australians. In January she received an Australian of the Year Award for her contribution to literacy. Jackie’s words from her acceptance speech “If you want intelligent children, give them a book” resonated with me.

You can listen to Jackie’s acceptance speech in its entirety here:

These are some of my favourite quotes from the speech:




Jackie has written over 140 books and won more than 60 awards. I am not going to share all of Jackie’s books here; just a few of her picture books that I own. This complete(ish) list of her books indicates the range of genres in which Jackie writes. Although in Standing on the Shoulders of Giants by Mark Rifidi Jackie describes it differently. She says,

“People assume I write in different genres. From my point of view I don’t. Whether it’s history, ecology, or the fiction I’m writing about now, it’s all grounded in the way of life here and the landscape here.”

(Jackie lives a self-sufficient life in the Araluen valley on the edge of the Deua wilderness area.)

jackie french's books

These are the four of Jackie’s picture books that I currently own. I have read others and given others away as gifts. While these four are illustrated by Bruce Whatley, Bruce is not the only illustrator of her work.

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Diary of a Wombat is probably Jackie’s best known and most popular picture book. This is what Jackie says about it, as recorded in Standing on the Shoulders of Giants:

Diary of a Wombat isn’t fiction … (it) is pretty much a week in the life of Mothball, who is one of the wombats that got fed last night” 

The seeming simplicity of the text coupled with Bruce Whatley’s gorgeous illustrations make this book a joy to read, over and over.

In the book Mothball sleeps, eats, scratches, eats, sleeps, and easily trains humans to be “quite good pets”.

You can listen to Jackie read it here.

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A sequel to the Diary, Baby Wombat’s Week is pretty much a week in the life of Mothball’s baby. It is just as delightful and humorous as the original story with new adventures and escapades; but still lots of sleeping and eating.

There are two other books in the series: Wombat Goes to School and Christmas Wombat. The Secret World of Wombats is a non-fiction text exploring “everything you ever wanted to know about wombats.”

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Josephine Wants to Dance is a delightful story of a kangaroo who loved to dance but dreamed of dancing another way. One day the ballet came to town and Josephine decided that was how she wanted to dance. Though others discouraged her, Josephine was determined to give it a try. It is a lovely story of believing in yourself and following your dreams.

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Too Many Pears is another delightful and humorous story with illustrations that add interest and humour. (It reminds me a little of the battle Charli Mills had with gophers in her vegetable patch.)

Pamela, a cow, loves pears. She loves them straight from the tree, in pies, with ice cream … any way she can get them. Amy and her family have to figure out a way of stopping Pamela from eating all their pears. They do. But then Pamela spies the apples!

I am happy to recommend each of these books. They will not disappoint. Jackie’s text coupled with Bruce’s perfectly matched illustrations continue to delight during repeated readings.

Jackie’s website too is a treasure trove of interesting stuff. On her Kids’ Facts and Info for School Projects page she shares her writing process and a lot of other information that would be of interest to writers as well as to kids. She also has a page of Writing  Tips and Advice and a page about How to Get Kids Reading, topics close to my heart.

In addition to illustrating Jackie’s books, Bruce Whatley writes and illustrates books of his own as well as those of other authors. In a recent post I talked about drawing on the right side of your brain. In this video Bruce challenges everyone to have a go at drawing with their left hand. Is that engaging the right side of your brain?

I am very grateful to Sarah Brentyn, who blogs at Lemon Shark, for alerting me to Standing on the Shoulders of Giants by Mark Rifidi just in time for this post. Thank you Sarah and Mark. I’m certain I will be having more to say about Mark’s book in future posts. It is a great resource celebrating the work of 20 Australian picture book authors and illustrators.

In the final paragraph of her biography chapter in Mark’s book, Jackie says,

“The one thing you show readers by writing about history is not to be afraid of change. Tomorrow always is going to be different from yesterday. It always has been. But human beings are extraordinarily good survivors, superb adapters. We are very good at creating a sort of world that we want. Books are perhaps the most effective tool to help us find it.”

I like her thinking!

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any aspect of this post.


19 thoughts on “A celebration of Australian picture books #6 — Jackie French

  1. Bec

    Diary of a Wombat is such a lovely story, and interesting that it is relatively recent and already a ‘mainstay’ of children’s books. We’ve of course got several of her gardening books, too, which are great. Thanks for the interesting background on Jackie French.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Norah Post author

      You are welcome, Bec. And of course “Diary of a Wombat” was a gift to me from you and Glen. Even more special for that reason. I loved watching Jackie on “Better Homes and Gardens”. She is such an authentic, down to earth (in the best possible way) person. Thanks for sharing. 🙂


  2. Charli Mills

    You spotlight the accomplishments of an amazing author who has a wonderful mission to get children reading. I’ve enjoyed all your picture book highlights from Australia, yet Jackie French is definitely deserving of a laureate title. And I can only hope that my gophers looked as ill as Pamela the Cow after too many onions!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Norah Post author

      I hope so too! But Pamela then went for the apple tree. I hope “your” gophers just went!
      Thank you for your lovely comment. I’m pleased you are enjoying this series. It’s not over yet! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. macjam47

    Wow! These books look fabulous. I especially liked the wombat books, though the others look just as charming. When you listen to an author read her own work there is a magical quality to it that you don’t get from someone else reading it. I am very impressed by Jackie’s awards and accomplishments.
    Thank you for presenting Australian authors of children’s books, Norah. Fortunately some of Jackie’s books have appeared in our local bookstores, but that is not always the case with some of the other authors you have spotlighted.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Norah Post author

      It’s exciting to hear of Jackie’s work appearing in your local book stores. They are definitely worthy of an international audience. I’m pleased you have enjoyed learning about our Australian authors. I have enjoyed writing about them. The process of writing ensures I learn more about them too.
      I agree with you about an author’s reading of their own work. I have often commented how much more I enjoy it when an author reads the audiobooks I listen to. I think it makes the reading all the more special, and you know you are hearing it the way the author intended.
      Thanks for your lovely comment.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. roweeee

    Reblogged this on beyondtheflow and commented:
    You’ll all know how much I love sharing a bit of Australia with you. Well, Norah Colvin has saved me some effort and written a wonderful post about one of my favourite Australian children’s author’s Jackie Frech. She is a prolific writer best known for “Diary of a Wombat”. A few years ago I was lucky to do a writer’s workshop with her at the Sydney Writer’s Festival. Enjoy Jackie with a cup of tea and Vegemite toast! xx Rowena

    Liked by 1 person

  5. roweeee

    Thanks so much for posting this Norah and sharing my “old friend” with the world. I did a writer’s workshop with Jackie French a few years ago at the Sydney Writer’s Festival. The workshop included putting the text and illustrations together, working with the illustrator and how that process can completely change the text. I found that fascinating and a little daunting. You put so much effort into the thing to send it off and then might have to start from scratch…humph!
    One of the interesting things that came up re Diary of a Wombat was that the pages are white. They tried black to represent night but it didn’t work. I can be a bit daft at times and hadn’t really thought through that the action is set at night.
    I really enjoyed meeting her. She was even more special in person and has such a beautiful heart. xx Rowena

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Norah Post author

      What a wonderful experience to do a workshop with Jackie. Everything I have heard or read about or by Jackie confirms your assessment of the size of her heart. She exudes warmth in a very motherly, earthy, and intelligent way.
      I guess the action happens at night because wombats are nocturnal! Black pages would have been a bit too dark perhaps. I wonder how blue would go. I have some stories about noctural animals e.g. Little Bat and Stellaluna that have blue backgrounds. I don’t think anything is lost with white though. It makes the illustrations very crisp.
      Thanks for the enthusiasm of your response.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. roweeee

        I think these workshops cost me something like $70.00. They weren’t expensive and it’s the best money spent. Over the years, I’ve done workshops with an impressive list of Australian writers and it’s really helped my writing in all sorts of ways.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Norah Post author

          Learning from the masters is the best way to go! We are fortunate with the quality of our writers in Australia and their willingness to share their experiences. Our writers’ festivals and groups are a great source of encouragement. 🙂



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