Tag Archives: Australian authors and illustrators

Meet author-illustrator Chrissy Byers – Readilearn

This month it is my pleasure to introduce you to Chrissy Byers – author, illustrator, and early childhood educator. It was only after many years in the classroom and becoming a parent herself that Chrissy was able to fulfil her lifelong dream of being an author and illustrator. With the success of her first book The Magic in Boxes, and another on its way, Chrissy shows us that dreams can come true.

Chrissy, what was your motivation for writing this book?

As an experienced early years class teacher, I had noticed that, with the rise in technology there was a decline in the amount of time children spent engaging in imaginative play.  I was compelled to write and illustrate a children’s book which would remind parents, and inspire children, to see the magic in everyday household junk.

Unlike a traditional children’s book, I felt that the recount genre would suit my intentions better than a narrative.  I saw this as being an additional bonus for primary teachers, as there are very few examples of recount picture books.

The repetitive text elements encourage pre-reading children to join in a shared reading experience.  It also provides opportunity to incorporate hand gestures when reading, which helps focus young minds and occupy little hands during carpet time.  The rhyming couplets assist in reading prediction and keep the beat of a fast-moving text.

Do you think of yourself more as a writer or an illustrator?

Continue reading: Meet author-illustrator Chrissy Byers – Readilearn

Plant the seeds of literacy

About this time last year, I shared my excitement when Jackie French was recognised for her “long and distinguished career as a beloved children’s author” as Senior Australian of the Year. At the time she was halfway through her two-year role as Australian’s Children’s Laureate with the task of promoting the importance and transformational power of reading, creativity and story in the lives of young Australians.

If-you-want-intelligent children

Later in the year, in a series of posts celebrating Australian picture books, I shared more of Jackie’s work.

jackie french's books

Now the roles of Children’s Laureate and Senior Australian of the Year have been passed to others. Jackie has obviously been asked what she is now going to do with all her “free” time. In her newsletter she says, “if one more person says ‘now you can relax’ if (sic) will bite them like a wombat, the snappish kind” because it means that work is finished, which it isn’t. I feel exactly the same way when people ask me about my retirement, though I fear Jackie and I work at a very different pace and the occupation of my time may seem like retirement in comparison to hers.

While an author may not have received the top recognition as Australian of the Year 2016, three advocates of children’s literature each became a Member of the Order of Australia:

Jackie French for significant service to literature as an author of children’s books, and as an advocate for improved youth literacy’.

Ann James for ‘significant service to children’s literature as an author and illustrator and through advocacy roles with literacy and professional bodies’.

Ann Haddon for significant services to children’s literature, as a fundraiser and supporter of Indigenous literacy, and to professional organisations’.

It is wonderful to see the recognition given to authors, and to the importance of reading.

lucy_goosey_cover_lowres

One of my favourite books, illustrated by Ann James is Lucy Goosey. It is a beautiful story, written by Margaret Wild, about the love between mother and child. I can’t read it all the way through without crying. But in a good way. It is very touching.

Ann talks about illustrating the story here:

I’m also pleased to say that I have an original Ann James, done for Bec at a literary festival many years ago, hanging on my wall.

Ann James

In her Senior Australian of the Year Valedictory Speech, Jackie French says,

“You never know what seeds you plant will grow; if they will keep growing; who will take them and tend them. But there is one thing I have learned in my 62 years: keep planting seeds.

Jackie French - keep planting seeds

 Never think: I am 62 and still have not achieved world peace, universal tolerance and justice, or even an Australia where every single child is given the chance to learn to read.

Change is never fast enough for any person of goodwill.

A rain drop is just a rain drop. But together we are a flood.  Together we have changed the world.

Jackie french - raindrops

She concludes her speech with these words:

“Let us give our children role models who do not, will not despair, no matter how long it takes to change the world. And let us never surrender, no matter how tired we are, or how long it takes. Because with these weapons we shape the future of our planet.”

I like her words of hope. She is a meliorist. But even more than that, she is an active meliorist. She puts her words into action. She may no longer carry the title of Children’s Laureate or Australian of the Year, but her advocacy doesn’t stop.

Thank you

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Curiosity, dead chooks, science and the S.T.E.M. push

Curiosity, questioning and science are recurring themes on my blog. How could a post entitled “Curiosity, dead chooks, science and the  S.T.E.M. push” not appeal to me? While I don’t think I’ve written about dead chooks, yet, when I was six I was the best chicken catcher in the family and I definitely saw a few chooks running around with their heads chopped off!
In this post Sheryl Gwyther talks about the awakening of her scientific questioning at age four when seeing a similar a spectacle. The transcript of a talk delivered to other authors “Children are born scientists … It’s called curiosity” (my words exactly!) is included in the post. Sheryl urges authors to include science in their writing for children and suggests three rules for doing so:
Never be didactic
Entertain
Create characters that children can connect with
While she doesn’t say it in so many words, I think the message of keeping the science accurate is implied. (I have questioned the inaccuracy in The Very Hungry Caterpillar in previous posts.)
Sheryl’s closing paragraphs motivate and inspire writers. She says,
“We have the opportunity, the passion and hopefully, the commitment to reach out to young Australian children through stories about the wonder of science, and the responsibility for their future custody of this planet.
Great stories, cleverly laced with scientific understanding not didactic waffle.
Great stories to make them feel and think, and question.
Great stories – for the sake of their future on this planet.”

Some of the authors from my celebration of Australian picture book series are doing just that:
Kim Michelle Toft
Narelle Oliver
Jeannie Baker
Please read Sheryl’s post in its entirety. She offers much good advice and inspiration. You can find out more about Sheryl by following these links:
Sheryl Gwyther SCBWI Assistant Regional Advisor Queensland Public Profile
Author webpage
Author blog
Twitter

Thank you

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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

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A celebration of Australian picture books #3 — Kim Michelle Toft

Australia is a land of geographic diversity: of grassy plains, stony deserts, forested mountains, snow-capped peaks, golden beaches and sparking blue water.

It is home to world’s largest coral reef system, the Great Barrier Reef, one of the seven wonders of the world and a popular tourist destination.

Conservation of the Great Barrier Reef, along with other marine environments is important to the health of our planet.

Kim Michelle Toft is an Australian silk artist who makes beautiful picture books with an environmental message aimed at increasing an appreciation of our oceans and their precious creatures and raising awareness of the importance of protecting them.

Kim Michelle Toft's books

I own these five of Kim’s books; each of which has an engaging story supported by child-friendly information about the marine environment and its importance, and is beautifully illustrated with magnificent silk paintings, which are delightful in themselves:

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One Less Fish counts back from twelve to zero and contains the message “Without constant care we will lose some of the world’s most beautiful natural resources. Remember: fish that die one by one may soon become none by none.”

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Reef Superstar introduces many creatures of the reef and provides supporting information about the reef and each creature featured. (Does not appear to be available at the moment.)

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The World That We Want contains forty-five creatures to be found in illustrations of nine different habitats and explains the inter-connectedness of ecosystems and their importance. The beautiful last pages open out to four pages in width showing the world that we want, from the forest to the ocean.

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A Sea of Words and accompanying Wall Frieze provide an alphabet of beautiful sea creatures with accompanying information.

12 underwater days of Christmas

The Twelve Underwater Days of Christmas is an innovation on the original carol using beautiful illustrations of marine creatures. As well as information about all the animals it includes a stunning six-page foldout poster, and information about the original carol.

In this video Kim invites you into her gallery and studio and explains her silk painting technique.

Kim is also available for visits to schools. When she visited “my” school she read from her books, engaged students in related activities and demonstrated silk painting by creating an original which the school was able to purchase. Her vast knowledge, experience, and passion for her work and the marine environment make these visits worthwhile.

Kim’s books can be enjoyed by adults and children for the beauty of their illustrations alone. However the combination of visual appeal, richness of information and encouraging (strong, but gentle) environmental message provides even more reason to have them on your bookshelf or, better still, coffee table. They make perfect gifts for people of any age. I am happy to recommend Kim’s books to you.

Thank you

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A celebration of Australian picture books #2 – Mem Fox

I own and have given away more picture books by Mem Fox than by any other author. To say I appreciate Mem’s work would be an understatement. I currently have on my shelves twelve of her more than thirty picture book titles and two of her eight nonfiction titles.

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Her first picture book Possum Magic was published in 1983. I love the story behind this book, as much as the story itself. Mem wrote the first draft in 1978 and over the next five years it was rejected by nine publishers. When it was finally picked up by Omnibus Books she was asked to reduce it in length by two-thirds and to change the characters from mice to possums. The book is now one of Australia’s most popular with more than 3 million copies sold around the world.

You can listen to Mem read Possum Magic or some of her other books here.

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In the ten years after the publication of Possum Magic Mem published almost twenty other books. I read her autobiography Mem’s the Word (released in the US as Dear Mem Fox) not long after it was published. At the time I was in my late thirties and was thrilled to find that Mem had also been in her late thirties when her first book was published. I thought there was still hope for me. I’d certainly had enough rejections by that time to fill a rather large shoebox, so maybe I just needed a few more!

Since then Mem’s output has hardly lessened and she has another new book coming out next month. In the meantime, I’m still hoping there’s time for me!

Mem is an author, not an illustrator. The twelve picture books I own were illustrated by eight different artists. Four illustrators did two of these books each. A quick glance at the list of Mem’s books confirms the number of artists who have been engaged to illustrate her work and the variety of artistic styles used. How wonderful for the artists to have that experience, and for teachers and parents the opportunity for discussing artistic styles with children.

My reason for raising this issue of author and illustrator is that I also am not an illustrator. A number of years ago when discussing picture book authors, an acquaintance scoffed at  my praise for Mem’s work: how could she possibly consider herself a picture book author if she didn’t do the illustrations? This acquaintance, in the process of having her first picture book published, was author and illustrator. In the intervening years Mem has gone on to publish a number of books, and this acquaintance none. Okay, neither have I. Yet!

Reading magic

Another thing that Mem and I have in common is our passion for literacy and our advocacy of reading to children every day. Mem’s book Reading Magic should be placed in the hands of every new parent along with a collection of picture books. I practice what I preach by giving a bundle of these as gifts to friends with newborns. I have written about that here. As well as Reading Magic, the bundle generally includes Where is the Green Sheep? and Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes, among others. Nurturing a love of books and reading is one of the greatest gifts a parent can give a child.

The love of reading is gift

Below is a list of the Mem Fox books on my shelves at the moment (a few have mysteriously disappeared!) but the best way to check out Mem’s books is on her website here. While you are exploring her website, there is much else of value to discover, including suggestions for writers, teachers, parents, and children as well as other interesting information. Exploring Mem’s site is the best way of finding out about her wonderful books.

Here are the ones I own, in addition to the three mentioned above (in no particular order), with links to further information about each title on Mem’s site and to information about the illustrator where possible:

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Night Noises illustrated by Terry Denton

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Just like that (Now published as Harriet, You’ll Drive Me Wild!) illustrated by Kilmeny Niland

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Shoes from Grandpa illustrated by Patricia Mullins

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Hattie and the Fox illustrated by Patricia Mullins

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Guess What? illustrated by Vivienne Goodman

Whoever you are.

Whoever You Are illustrated by Leslie Staub

Wombat Divine

Wombat Divine illustrated by Kerry Argent

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Wilfred Gordon McDonald Partridge illustrated by Julie Vivas

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Koala Lou illustrated by Pamela Lofts

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Sail Away illustrated by Pamela Lofts

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A Particular Cow illustrated by Terry Denton

 

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I hope you have found something of interest. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.

 

 

 

A celebration of Australian picture books #1

Recently my friend Sarah Brentyn, who blogs at Lemon Shark: Navigating the Unchartered Waters of Parenting and Life, shared a series of posts about first lines (paragraphs, sentences and pages). She discussed the importance of hooking the reader and shared some of her favourite first lines from a variety of genres. When she shared picture books I was inspired to share some by our many wonderful Australian authors and illustrators.

These are just some of the Australian picture books I quickly located on my shelves:

Australian picture books

I own multiple titles of some authors’ work, and of others’ I own but one or two. Sadly, there are many whose work I don’t own. There are too many wonderful books to share in just one post so I have decided to write a series with a post dedicated to each author of whose work I own multiple titles, including Mem Fox, Narelle Oliver, Jeannie Baker and Kim Michelle Toft (and I might sneak in New Zealander Pamela Allen).

In this post I share some lovely books, their first lines (according to Sarah’s definition) and tell you a little about why they are on my shelves.

For this series I have commandeered “celebration” as a collective noun for Australian picture books so it is fitting that the first I share is A Compendium of Collective Nouns by Jennifer Skelly.

A Compendium of Collective Nouns

This delightful little book was a gift from my grandchildren (chosen by their mother). In the introduction Jennifer asks, “Do you remember laughing when you first learned that a group of crows is called a murder? Or a group of owls is called a parliament?” Like me, Jennifer has always been interested in collective nouns but, unlike me, she has published a collection of them. Her beautiful drawings illustrate collections such as “a crash of rhinoceroses”, “a flamboyance of flamingos” and “a wisdom of wombats”, but who ever heard of “a rabble of butterflies”?

While there are a number of Hippopotamus on the Roof books I have only the original, There’s a Hippopotamus on our Roof Eating Cake by Hazel Edwards (illustrated by Deborah Niland).

There's a Hippopotamus on the Roof Eating Cake

It begins,

“Our roof leaks.

Drip!

Drip!

Drip!

My Daddy says there’s a hole in our roof.

I know why there’s a hole.

There’s a hippopotamus on our roof eating cake.”

The copy on my shelf actually belongs to Bec. Her dad bought it for her on a trip back home to Belfast in 1990. He went all the way to Belfast and brought her back an Australian picture book! A good one though.

In this video Hazel Edward talks about the original idea for the book, other contributing ideas and changes as well as the the important relationship between author and reader. She also reads the book.

Wombat Stew by Marcia K. Vaughan (illustrated by Pamela Lofts) is a favourite.

Wombat Stew

It begins,

“One day, on the banks of a billabong, a very clever dingo caught a wombat …

and decided to make  …

Wombat stew,

Wombat stew,

Gooey, brewy,

Yummy, chewy,

Wombat stew!”

The amusing story tells how the animals trick the dingo and save wombat from his fate. It is a great book to read aloud with its rhythmic language and repetition of the song “Wombat stew” with slight word changes each time. Children enthusiastically join in with the reading and love acting it out. One year I wrote a play with my year one class and they performed it for the school and their parents. It was a lot of fun.

Little Bat

Little Bat by Tania Cox (illustrated by Andrew McLean) begins

“Little Bat was nervous.

She’d never done this before.”

With the encouragement of her mother and other animal friends, Little Bat discovers that she can fly. I like the story’s positive message that if you try you can succeed. Books with this theme were always popular and inspired lots of discussion in my classroom.

When I saw When the Wind Changed by Ruth Park (illustrated by Deborah Niland) in a bookstore, I had to have it for my bookshelf! When I was a child I, like Josh, must have been good at making faces, because my mother was always telling me that if the wind changed I’d stay like that. Well, I don’t think that happened to me, but it did to Josh! The book begins

“There was this boy named Josh.

He could do lots of things.

There was one thing he could do best of all.

He could make faces.”

Of course one day the inevitable happens! Fortunately the story has a happy ending, for Josh anyway – I’m not so sure about Dad!

Are you familiar with any of these books? Have you seen them in bookstores near you? What books by Australian authors have you read?

Thank you

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