Wombat Books Blog

Wombat Books blog is the place to keep up to date with all the goings-on in the world of Aussie kid's books.

A Letter to Our Young Wombat Readers

Dear Wombat Readers,

Here at Wombat Books, we love to see children getting involved in the creation of the books they like to read. We’re currently running two challenges for you to inspire your author and illustrator creativity.

Why not have children creating children’s books?

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This was the idea that sparked our first Illustration Challenge in 2014, which produced the book, Zoo Ball, written by Aleesah Darlison. Kids from across Australia adored bringing to life a mischievous visit to the zoo and the ruckus the animals managed to get up to. This was followed shortly in 2016 by Yay! It’s Library Day, written by Aleesah Darlison, which inspired kids to jump into the magical world of libraries in their illustrations. We received over 600 entries!!!

Now we’re running our third Illustration Challenge, Around Australia in 30 Places.We hope Aussie kids can get even more creative as they explore marvellous places around their country.

"The Illustration Challenge began as my fledgling idea to involve children in the world of publishing and have children’s work featured in children’s books,” says Rochelle Manners, Publishing Director.

But that’s not it! Wombat Books has also opened a Kids Writing Competition for the Australian Girl Series.

We're seeking original short stories from school-aged students (aged 5 - 13) to publish in the Australian Girl series, in partnership with Australian Girl Doll. The previous books in the series include The Rainbow Necklace, by Jacqueline Larsen, Amy and the Wilpena Flood, by Claudia Bouma and Annabelle and the Missing Turtles, by Rose Inserra. Submissions are open for new titles where children's stories will be included in the new books.

Wombat Books has established these competitions to provide aspiring young artists with the opportunity to be published.

Young illustrators and writers from all around Australia are encouraged to send their entries to Wombat Books. We can’t wait to read your stories and see your illustrations.

 

Warm regards,

The Wombat Team

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Meet the Australian Girls ...

Are you wishing to submit for the Australian Girl early-reader series? Get to know the characters here:

 

amyHi, I’m Amy from Adelaide!

I love sport especially netball, soccer and football. But when I grow up I’m going to be an actress. I think that would be so cool! 

We live too far away from the country and too far away from the city—we’re stuck in the suburbs. Well, I guess the park is something. There are netball courts, and goals for soccer and football there. Oh, and I’m part of the junior netball team! We’re called the Pink Galahs. I practise all the time, so that one day I’ll be really good. I like to practise everything I do over and over again till it’s perfect. 

I also have A LOT of family from here in Australia, India, Netherlands and Fiji—cousins galore! I love to hear all their different stories, but I most enjoy hearing the Dreaming stories my Grandmother tells that she learned from our ancestors.

 

JasmineUm, hello! My name is Jasmine, except my friends call me Jas.

I live in Sydney, but my friends live ages away from me. That’s ok, though, because we email each other all the time. Sometimes we get to visit each other which is really exciting!

I play the violin and love all sorts of music. On television from time to time they show concerts, but I’d like to see one live. My favourite food is Singaporean noodles (my gran makes the best). She learned how to make them from her grandmother too!

Another thing I like to do is read. I would read an entire library if I could! My favourite books are ones that have a mystery, (maybe I’ll be a detective when I’m older!) and ones that make me laugh. I have lots of books in my bedroom.

 

emilyG’day! My name’s Emily and I’m gunna be a Jillaroo someday.

My favourite animals are horses, wombats, dogs, cats, wallabies and… well, I guess I love ALL animals! Except maybe snakes. Urgh! 

All my friends live ages away from me, and there aren’t many kids on the station my age. They’re either too old or too little. So, anyway I get to stay at my friends’ houses on the holidays, and sometimes they come to my house. We also keep in contact on email and with letters. They tell me all the adventures they’ve been having, and I tell them all the adventures I have. I love adventures! They are sneaky things… you have to go out and find them! 

 

Matilda previewHello, everyone! I’m Matilda.

I have lived all over the place, but at the moment I split my time between boarding school and my aunt and uncle’s cattle station (my parents are away overseas again). I am learning fast that there is a different kind of fun to be had in both places and I think it’s great.

I love history! Aussie history is the best—it stretches back so far. Oh, I especially love the adventures the explorers went on across Australia—or looking for gold! That would be the best!

I also love clothes and dressing up. I love pretending to be someone else. 

 

Bronte in sarong previewI’m Bronte and I love the beach!

Splish-splashing in waves, surfing and making sandcastles are just a few of my favourite things. I get to spend a lot of the time at the beach as we live so close! My friends love going to beach with me when they visit (but they’re not as good at surfing as I am).

I also enjoy visiting Nonna, as she teaches me how to make pasta from dough. Spaghetti meat balls is my favourite (but it’s very messy when I eat it). I like all sorts of food, though: tacos, noodles, pizza, dumplings, and much more. I want to be able to cook just as well as Nonna when I grow up.

 

Wombat Books is taking submissions now. For more information click here.

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Talking Trouble with Amanda Francey

FranceyAmandaWombat Books talks trouble with Amanda Francey, illustrator of Trouble For Toby.

1. What was the best thing about illustrating Trouble For Toby?

I thoroughly enjoyed reading Janet Reid's humorous and beautifully written story. For me to enjoy illustrating a children's book, it's really important that I can relate to it in some way. So the best thing about illustrating Trouble For Toby, was that immediate connection I felt to the main character. Toby reminded me very much of my own son when he was younger. 

His heart was in the right place, but his imagination and impulsiveness often led to trouble. 

2. Toby desperately wants a pet, but his parents don’t think he can look after one. Did your parents let you get a pet when you were a kid? Were you able to look after it?

Thinking back, I feel sorry for my parents. After many years of nagging and trying to convince my parents that I knew everything about ponies from reading books, they reluctantly agreed to let me buy one. Our neighbour sold me her ageing pony before she moved to the suburbs. While I successfully looked after my pony, I had no horse riding experience. Apparently, this is knowledge you learn from practical experience, like horse riding lessons, not from reading books.

I'm lucky to be alive really, after the amount of times my beloved pony aimed my head towards a low hanging branch, tossed me into a creek and trampled over the top of me.

3. Toby’s imagination takes him to crazy places. What is your favourite imaginary place that readers visit in the book?

 When Toby convinces Sam to be park rangers in search for rare animals in the Tranquillity Garden. I will say no more, as I don't Trouble of Toby 10 002 8want to spoil any hairy surprises.

4. If you could be any fictional character, who would it be?

Anne of Green Gables because I enjoyed spending most of my childhood living in my own imaginary worlds, without a care in the world. Plus Prince Edward Island is my utopia. The scenery is positively sublime and the lobster is irresistibly delicious.

 

5. What do you love the most about children’s books? Are there one or two books that stick in your mind as most meaningful? Why?

I've always loved looking at pictures in children's books. The artwork in children's books was the very thing that influenced me to want to become an illustrator. I was a reluctant reader with a love for stories, so I was more inclined to read picture books or comic books, because the combination of words and pictures was easier for me to follow along.

During middle primary school, my favourite children's chapter book was The Silver Brumby by Elyne Mitchell. It was one of few 'illustrated' chapter books on a subject that interested me. If I was a child today, I believe I’d be an avid reader due to the much larger selection of illustrated chapter books offered in libraries.

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Around Australia with Rochelle Manners

wombat med721. Explain how the Wombat Team created the idea for Around Australia in 30 Places? Was it hard picking the places Wombat would visit?

The Illustration Challenge began as my fledgling idea to involve children in the world of publishing and have children’s work featured in children’s books. A few years ago, I approached author, Aleesah Darlison, to be involved and she created two amazing stories. Children could get imaginative and draw different animals around the zoo in Zoo Ball, or different book tales in Yay! It’s Library Day.

In 2018, I wanted the Illustration Challenge to be more of a journey around Australia. We chose 30 unique spots that I or the Wombat Team wanted to travel to. We researched what was in each town and formed a true Aussie adventure with our resident Wombat.

2. What’s your favourite place that Wombat visits on his journey around Australia?

I don’t have a favourite place! I kind of am interested in a lot. I have great memories of going to Alice Springs and the Great Barrier Reef a long time ago! But I would love to visit the Edge of the World in Tasmania and drive the Nullarbor plain…

3. What’s the best thing about running the Illustration Challenge?

Especially as a publisher, I love seeing kids (and adults) get a snippet of their dreams. It’s such a huge achievement for kids to create an illustration for a picture book. Even my kids got involved. I love to see the enthusiasm and feelings of success these individuals get out of their contributions.

4. What’s it like judging all these amazing kids’ illustrations? Does the Wombat Team have a process?pointing web.jpg

It’s so hard with so much talent! In house, we have a few designers, editors and illustrators who we bring together for a round-table event. We usually announce the long list first and then work very hard to choose only 30 kids to be included in the final book. Last year we got over 600 entries. To be chosen is a huge achievement.

5. Has there been illustrator success stories from the other Illustration Challenges?

One of our illustrators in Zoo Ball has gone on to illustrate a full book for Wombat Books. Colourful Memories is being released in July this year. We hope to work with more of our young illustrators in the future!

6. Have you thought about running any other challenges?

I would love to run a children’s writing challenge. If we have children’s illustrators, why not children authors too! If you are interested, subscribe to our newsletter or follow our Facebook page. In the meantime, I can’t wait to see your entries for the Illustration Challenge.

 

For more information on the 2018 Illustration Challenge, visit here.

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Talking Trouble with Janet Reid

ReidJanet

Wombat Books chats with Janet Reid about her debut early reader, Trouble For Toby.

1. What’s one thing hardly anyone knows about you and the Wombat Family should?

I hold a licence to ride a motorbike. When I was in my teens, I rode a motorbike around my parents' farm, and even had a spill or two. Then, when I went to college, I got around on a step-through scooter. It cost me about twenty cents to fill up back then.

2. Toby has a fantastic imagination – from outer space to the circus. Do you often find yourself in your head like Toby?

Yes, I do, especially now I write for young people. But back when I was a school girl, my sister and I would make up stories and play them out. I remember one incident when we were playing in the old pigsties – I was the big bad wolf and she was the little pig. The story didn't end well and involved a bit of blood. I think I was a bit like Toby that day – I did something impulsive and ended up hurting someone. And, like Toby, I felt really bad about it.

3. Toby gets into trouble a lot. Have you ever taught any Toby-like students? Or were you a troublesome student in school?Trouble of Toby 10 002 24

Yes, I have taught kids like Toby. They were generally lots of fun to have in class. Toby's character is actually based on a kid a taught not so long ago. He was a terrific student and I rarely had a problem with his behaviour in the classroom, but he was always getting into trouble in the playground because of his impulsiveness. The spider incident in Trouble for Toby was what sparked the idea for this book.

And no, I wasn't particularly troublesome at school, though I did have my moments. I didn't, and still don't like getting into trouble. My sister, though, was trouble from the start, so maybe some of my ideas come from the mischief she got up to as a kid.

4. If you could be any fictional character, who would it be?

Hmmm … maybe Merida from the movie Brave, and not just for her gorgeous wild red hair. She fought against the conventions for the day, and yeah, she did land herself in trouble along the way, but she learned a lot from her mistakes. I like seeing characters, especially female characters, who push the boundaries of their world and make a difference.

5. Sum up Trouble for Toby in 3 words.

Impulsive, imaginative, courageous.

 

Janet Reid is a CYA success story. For more information, visit here.

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Sweet Dreams and Tender Moments

Dream Bird finalhigh text5 24With Mother's Day coming up, we have the perfect book to share with grandmothers, aunts and mothers.

Award-winning author Aleesah Darlison’s latest picture book, The Dream Bird, is sure to be popular at bedtime with both children and adults.

There are few times during the day that offer tenderness and togetherness between parent and child or grandparent and grandchild like bedtime.

Bedtime stories offer respite from the busyness of the day, establish routines and help form unbreakable bonds. They remain a stronghold of cosy memories that carry children into adulthood, and which are passed from generation to generation.

“We all know the importance of reading to children. I can’t tell you the hours and hours of time I’ve spent reading bedtime stories to my brood of four over the years,” Aleesah says. “They’ve loved every minute of that special, shared, quiet time together and so have I.”

Children across the world have struggled to get to bed at one time or another and will relate to the problems of The Dream Bird’s main character and ‘day child’, Dream Bird finalhigh text5 32George.

It’s George’s grandma who comes up with the perfect solution to help him drift off to sleep—the creation of a story about a beautiful Dream Bird who visits children to help them have the most wonderful dreams imaginable.

The Dream Bird will delight readers young and old as George is transported to kingdoms filled with lollies and experiences the joy of leaping alongside snow leopards, among other things.

Emma Middleton’s detailed, lavish illustrations create a magical realism, bringing to life Aleesah’s text and drawing readers into George’s dreams.

“I wanted to create layered illustrations where you could almost see reality merging into the fantastical world,” Emma says.

Give your child sweet dreams and cuddle up with them tonight to share this magical book at bedtime. The Dream Bird also makes the perfect gift for Gran on Mother’s Day.

The Deam Bird is available here for purchase.

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Our Head in the Clouds with Kellie Byrnes

Kellie ByrnesKellie Byrnes is the debut picture book author of Cloud Conductor.

Do you conduct stories in the clouds?

In a figurative sense I certainly do. I think a big element of being a writer is having your "head in the clouds" all the time, daydreaming and thinking about "what if?" I've always been in my head quite a lot, whether pondering life's mysteries, or making up stories, or contemplating what characters might be doing after the story ends. I think daydreaming is a healthy thing and that adults and kids should be encouraged to do it every day! When we let our imaginations run away, we can come up with amazing goals, solve problems, and learn about ourselves.

I also spend a bit of time looking at the clouds and the sky. I love to take in beautiful sunsets or look up at the stars and the moon at night. I'd like to say I look at the sunrise too, but as a night owl, I have to admit, I am rarely awake for them!

The imagination plays a huge part in Cloud Conductor. Why is a child's imagination so important to you personally?

Children have the most amazing imaginations, and it tends to be one of the things adults love most about spending time with Cloud Conductor 03 002 26them. However, sadly, as people get older this way of looking at the world with wonder and creative eyes seems to gradually get pushed down. Even by the time kids are in late primary school, I notice they spend less time imagining.

It's important for adults to encourage children to explore their imaginations and find inventive ways of solving their own problems and seeing the world. I know how much stories, words, and ideas have helped me over the years, and I hate the thought that children may grow up believing they have to leave that behind.

How can we all be cloud conductors?

We can all be cloud conductors by spending more time out in nature. Whether you like to stare up at the sky, walk through a park, garden, hike, meditate outdoors, swim in the ocean etc., letting your imagination wander while you get some fresh air and forget your to-do list can really make a difference. Having a few hours to yourself to go off and pursue an interest or take in the world around you also helps to get your imagination firing.

As adults, we tend to forget how to live in the moment, or just don't do it often. As soon as you build a sandcastle with a child, or play tug-of-war with your dog, for instance, you are back in the present, and can find more joy and appreciation for life. Letting your subconscious mind romp about while your conscious mind is focused on something else is also a wonderful way to solve problems. I see all these activities as another type of cloud conducting, and something anyone can do, at any age.

Cloud Conductor 03 002 20Escapism is very important in Frankie's life. Why is that?

No matter our age, we all need escapism in our lives at some points. Sometimes when things are outside our control, the best thing to do is just escape for a time and leave our troubles behind. In the book, the main character, Frankie, is dealing with an illness and can't do the things she used to love. This is not only incredibly difficult, but isolating. By escaping through her imagination, Frankie can, for a time, feel more free, happy, and connected. She can also use this reprieve from real life to "power up", in a way, like avatars in video games do. She can also use it to help others.

How does it feel to have your first picture book published?

It feels amazing! This is a life-long dream of mine, and I am so excited and grateful that it has finally been realised. I can't wait to read the book to kids and learn what they see in the clouds. I'm sure I will be amazed by their creativity! I also really hope children who are struggling with illness or any other problem in their life find the book a useful tool to remind them of their own power and strength.

 

Cloud Conductor comes out 1 May. To pre-order your copy head to this link.

 

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Dreaming with Emma Middleton

 Wombat Books catches up with Emma Middleton about her latest picture book, The Dream Bird.

emma middleton 1. Congratulations on such a visually stunning book. Did it turn out how you imagined?

Yes, the illustrations did turn out how I imagined. The story has a classic feel to me, so I wanted to emulate this style in the illustrations. One of the things that excited me about illustrating the story was the transitions between fantasy and reality. I wanted to create layered illustrations where you could almost see reality merging into the fantastical world.

 2. What’s your favourite thing about children’s books?

Gosh, there are so many, I adore children’s books! I think story is one of the most powerful tools that is essential to us in a compassionate society. Children learn, empathise and are entertained by story and it offers a real opportunity to plant seeds of inspiration. The combination of words and illustrations is magical. I particularly love it when the visual narrative is left to tell elements of the story, so the young child can be an active participant in the decoding of the narrative.

3. What’s the best thing about being an illustrator?

The best thing about being an illustrator is having the opportunity to give a child beautiful pictures to absorb and enjoy.Dream Bird finalhigh text5 32

4. What book are you currently reading?

To be honest I always have a few picture book under my bed, but I have just recently started The Shepherd’s Hut.

5. Did you have trouble sleeping when you were a kid? Were there any crazy techniques you tried to get to sleep? i.e. was milk and cookies a fav?

I do remember having milk with honey, but I was actually one of those strange children who often asked to go to bed. Now I realise how lucky my parents were regarding bedtime.

6. On what adventure would you like the Dream Bird to take you?

I would love to go on a tropical underwater adventure. Hopefully the Dream Bird can hold her breath!

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Dreaming with Aleesah Darlison

Wombat Books catches up with Aleesah Darlison about her latest picture book, The Dream Bird.

Darlison Mar15 0291. Did you have trouble falling asleep when you were kid? What crazy techniques did you try to make yourself sleepy?
Sometimes I would have trouble going to sleep as a child and I know that my own children have all had trouble sleeping from time to time, especially when they were very young. Who wants to go to bed when everyone else is having fun? As an adult, I often have trouble going to sleep. We’ve tried lots of insomnia cures in our house, such as: walking clockwise around a table ten times, counting sheep, counting backwards from 100, drinking hot milk, having a hot shower and meditation/breathing exercises.

2. What’s the best dream you can remember?
Oh, there have been so many good ones! Usually, the best ones are when I’ve written a story in my dream and I’m then able to wake up, remember it and write it down before it’s lost.

3. What’s your favourite place that George visits in The Dream Bird?Dream Bird finalhigh text5 24
Probably where George leaps along mountain ranges beside snow leopards. Emma Middleton’s illustration of the snow leopard is particularly striking, although I love all of her illustrations in the book. She has done such a marvellous job of bringing the story to life visually and recreating the images I had in my mind for George’s dreams. I’m guessing that child readers will prefer the kingdoms made of lollies the most!

4. Dreams are thoughts; thoughts are dreams. What’s your opinion on this?
There’s definitely an element of truth in that statement, although I think the thoughts can be so deeply buried in our sub-conscious that we don’t realise that they’re important. And if the thought plays out in our dreams, we might dismiss it as being fanciful or irrelevant because it ‘was just a dream’. Perhaps it’s time we all took more notice of our dreams!

5. Sum up The Dream Bird in 5 words.
Evocative. Sumptuous. Relatable. Dreamy. Surprising.

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Meet Young Illustrator: Nicole

IMG 0666Nicole is 12 years old and one of the young Aussie illustrators featured in Yay! It's Library Day. 

1. Tell us about your illustration for Yay! It's Library Day?

A funky, little mythical boy running in the forest and jumping upon a huge mushroom!

2. What do you love about libraries?

A peaceful library is always a place where anyone could hide away in the land of books and stories that are open to all.

3. What is your favourite book?

The Orient Express by Agatha Christie.

4. If you were sucked into a book, where would you want to visit? Or who?

The Orient Express. I would love to solve a mystery and travel back in time, since I love all things old, vintage and steampunk.... and of course take a trip on the famous Orient Express!

Olivia's illustration will be featured on Page 22 of Yay! It's Library Day. To see the full version, you can get your copy here.

 

Nicole Novobon

 

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International Book Giving Day

By Debra Tidball, Author of When I See Grandma

book boOn International Book Giving Day I like to use the opportunity to take books into places that aren't usually considered child-friendly.

Book Giving Day has, at its core, the desire to increase children’s access to and enthusiasm for books. It’s about encouraging people to give a book to a child or leave a book where a child might pick it up and read it. You can follow how other people are celebrating book giving day by checking out their website and following their blog. You’ll also find a long list of people throughout the world who are getting behind this initiative, including Australia’s very own Andy Griffiths, Mem Fox and Jackie French.

My picture book, When I See Grandma, is written to encourage families with young children to visit their elderly friends and relatives in aged-care homes. The book shows young children interacting with elderly residents, and even reading books together! And although a resident may seem unresponsive, the children's presence brings a warmth and vitality that transcend consciousness.

That's why on International Book Giving Day, I gift picture books to aged-care homes in the hope that children will be able to share the books with residents. As well as to have something to enjoy when waiting for their grown-ups, who sometimes have jobs to do which can make the visit feel p-r-o-l-o-n-g-e-d for a young child

As February 14th is also Valentine’s Day, I’ve bundled my book gift into a bouquet. Gifting the books is my way of simultaneously honouring: 1. the spirit of When I See Grandma, 2. my mother, to whom the book is dedicated, and 3. International Book Giving Day.

How are you going to be involved?

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Meet Young Illustrator: Olivia

OliviaGoodmanOlivia is 10 years old and one of the young Aussie illustrators featured in Yay! It's Library Day. 

1. Tell us about your illustration for Yay! It's Library Day?

I used a mixture of watercolour paints, and coloured pencils to create my illustration. I looked up some pictures of the Isle of Capri, and tried to capture the blues of the water and the rocky coast.

2. What do you love about libraries?

The smell of books inspires me. I love how you can just go in and borrow any book you want. I discovered a lot of my favourite books at the library, and now I am lucky enought to own some of them for myself.

3. What is your favourite book?

The Sea of Adventure by Enid Blyton.

4. If you were sucked into a book, where would you want to visit? Or who?

I would like to get sucked into The Sea of Adventure and see the puffins and bird islands off Scotland. I'd love to go for an adventure with Jack, Phillip, Dinah and Lucy-Ann.

 

Olivia's illustration will be featured on Page 23 of Yay! It's Library Day. To see the full version, you can get your copy here.

olivia

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Meet Young Illustrator: June

juneJune is 9 years old and one of the young Aussie illustrators featured in Yay! It's Library Day. 

1. Tell us about your illustration for Yay! It's Library Day?

I got my inspiration from reading books with my family. I really like the illustrations by Anna Walker - I like how she uses different techniques to make her images. For my illustration I used paint, wash tape, pencils and textas. I even used a toothbrush to spray the paint!

2. What do you love about libraries?

There are so many stories from all round the world.

3. What is your favourite book?

Dork Diaries (Rachel Renee Russell), Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls, Ruby Redfort (Lauren Child) and Bad Dad (David Walliams). I also like comic books like The Lumber Janes.

4. If you were sucked into a book, where would you want to visit? Or who?

Definitely Narnia to meet the Susan, Peter, Lucy, Edmond, Mr Tumnus and Prince Caspian. Id also like to visit Hogwarts in Harry Potter and meet everybody - even Voldemort!

June's illustration will be featured on Page 3 of Yay! It's Library Day. To see the full version, you can get your copy here.

June

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Meet Young Illustrator: Alex

20180201 101338Alex is 12 years old and one of the young Aussie illustrators featured in Yay! It's Library Day. 

1. Tell us about your illustration for Yay! It's Library Day?

My illustration is about when they explore the deep and see something strange in a cave.

2. What do you love about libraries?

How they have so many interesting stories that you can read most of the time without being disturbed.

3. What is your favourite book?

My favourite book Ready Player One by Ernest Cline.

4. If you were sucked into a book, where would you want to visit? Or who?

I would like to visit Vattle School from Ender's Game because it has a really cool anti-gravity battling chamber.

Alex's illustration will be featured on Page 7 of Yay! It's Library Day. To see the full version, you can get your copy here.

 

alexY

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Meet Young Illustrator: Emily

Emily is 12 years old and one of the young Aussie illustrators featured in Yay! It's Library Day. Emily Chester

1. Tell us about your illustration for Yay! It's Library Day?

I thought it would be cool to draw a family interacting with each other and reading stories. I also liked the idea of drawing the bookshelves.

2. What do you love about libraries?

How every book has a different story.

3. What is your favourite book?

I don’t have a fav book as there’s too many good ones to choose from.

4. If you were sucked into a book, where would you want to visit? Or who?

It’s a tough choice between Narnia and the Treehouse in the Treehouse series!

 

Emily's illustration will be featured on Page 26 of Yay! It's Library Day. To see the full version, you can get your copy here.

 

emily chester image

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The Thing

Kate and the Thing 10 6

Wombat Books talks to Heidi Cooper Smith about her debut picture book, Kate and the Thing.

What is the Thing?

The Thing hovers between our reality and imagination. He’s a blank canvas, a big comforting pillow and a shield from the unknown but, above all, the Thing is a friend who shows up in your time of need.

Do you wish you had the Thing when you started school? 

I think the worst thing about being new, in any situation, is the self-consciousness you experience being alone and that feeling everyone is somehow judging you for it. The Thing is big and protective, but gentle and soft – so yes, I would have liked the Thing to have shown up to lend me courage when I started school.

What does the Thing get up to when you're not looking?Kate and the Thing 10 12

The Thing is always present and watching protectively for as long as you need him to be. When he isn’t in your thoughts, he’s on the lookout for a new friend who might be desperate for company and reassurance. He has been known to wake for sneaky midnight feasts of cupcakes with whipped cream.

Can you remember your first day at school?

I remember my first day at preschool above any other – we were joined with a Year One class and told we had to play silently at the front of the classroom so as not to disturb the big kids, which on reflection seems very strange. I felt like they were all looking at me – it was terrifying!

Where did the idea for the Thing come from?

Staring at a big white blank canvas, being afraid to make the first mark. Thinking that a blank canvas is like a fresh start - scary, but full of promise and endless possibility. My mind turned to picture books, as it often does, and the idea of the Thing began to form in my mind...

 

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Monkeying Around With T.M. Clark

4175 123884624464 7510700 nWhat inspired the character of Bongani and his adventures in Slowly! Slowly!?

Bongani is one of the heroes in my adult book Child of Africa. Slowly! Slowly! is one of Bongani’s childhood stories and this one, in particular, is referred to within the adult book. Until recently, my parents-in-law lived in Umhlanga, Durban, South Africa. Their house is considered city living as not much sugar cane or natural bush is left nearby. But someone forgot to tell the monkeys that they needed to move too.

The monkeys have adapted to life in the urban area. They run along the telephone lines; they raid the gardens and the houses for things they can eat. It’s sad, but a lot of the monkeys are not liked by residents, as they can be quite vicious when confronted. They also cause a lot of damage to the houses when they get curious and decide to investigate things. They can wreck your house if they get inside, and monkey-proof fencing on the doors and windows doesn’t always keep them out.

When my kids saw them, they just loved that there were monkeys in the yard. Through their eyes, I watched these beautiful animals as they travelled around in family groups, with little babies on their backs and continued to thrive in a world where so much had changed.

Originally the story was going to be set within the urban landscape to show how life had changed for not only the monkeys, but also the African people who once lived on the land, and are now urbanised in townships. However, when I began to write the adult book, Child of Africa, I realised that my setting needed to be more traditional, and in the wild - a traditional story and one where people and animals lived together in harmony. I wanted to show the traditional homes and the traditional families living together where themonkey grandparents were close by - where the older generation and the younger generation were friends. A close family group.

I grew up rural. There are many dangers out there when you are smaller, but you don’t see them as dangers as a child. You see them as adventures. I wanted the wonderment of this type of adventure in my book once I began changing it to suit Bongani growing up, and no longer wanted the urban landscape.

 

We know that the name Bongani means ‘Be Grateful’ in Zulu. Did you always know that was going to be the main character's name?

I wish I had such foresight… This story was originally written with a different main character a few years back, but when I began writing Child of Africa, I knew that this was Bongani’s story and I wanted to see it in a picture book.

The original story was used in the CYA Conference competition. It was the year that Helene Magisson won, and her illustration career began (and she will tell you about that). But I can tell you that her pictures were outstanding, and when the opportunity came to take Bongani’s story and put it into print, her competition illustrations went to Wombat with my story and the reason I wanted her as the illustrator. I was just lucky that she still loved the story and wanted to collaborate on a book with me!

 

What do you like the most about writing books for children as opposed to your usual adult audience?

CaptureFor the picture books - the pictures! There is no doubt in my mind that having a picture book was what I always wanted to do when I first began writing. To sit with my boys and read them one of my own stories at night as a proper book. So, to have it happen is a dream come true. It took close on 20 years, but better late than never. And believe me – the first night I get a copy of this book in my hands, my children will both be on the bed with me and I will read it to them, adults or not!

Seeing your characters come to life in pictures is one of the most surreal feelings – knowing that everyone is going to look at this book and see the same pictures you do is so amazing to me. Adult readers formulate the pictures from multiple words the author provides. This age group use the pictures, not the words for that. It's magical that illustrations help children fall in love with reading because of the story.

Children are a tougher audience than adults. They will study every illustration, they will get a favourite book and stick with it and want to read it over and over. They absorb everything in a book, and it becomes part of them. I love this aspect of children’s writing that they want to interact with the book, see if the illustrator left ‘easter eggs’ along the way for them in the pictures and they want to be able to tell that same story to you soon… Alternately, they can reject your book, and never want to see it again, with a brutal and honest opinion, but I hope it’s the first choice!

 

Your love of Africa is evident in Slowly! Slowly! Do you think it's important for young children to experience different cultures even if only through the pages of a book?

I do very much. Exposure to different cultures and ways of life when you are younger is really important. Too many people are quick to judge others later in life. To learn that your way of life is not the only way creates an acceptance of other cultures. You create awareness that people everywhere are different, and lots of what impacts on their lives, might not impact on yours, but other things that happen to them are very similar to your own.

Exposure to different cultures creates empathy too. Knowing that their way of life is what it is, and sometimes as much as we want to all be the same and have the same values etc, we are not and cannot.

 

Is the phrase, ‘Slowly, slowly, you catch a monkey’, one that you grew up being told or have told your own children?grandad

It wasn’t an expression I remember from my childhood at all, despite being a Girl Guide for a few years. My baby sister, Dale, said it to me one day during a phone call (her late husband used the expression a lot) and, it didn’t leave me. When I started writing the story, I knew I wanted to use the expression in it, and it was only when I began researching the saying, that I found where it came from.

 

What do you want your readers to take away from Bongani’s story?

Smiles. Love. Feelings of something gone right in this crazy world we all live in. I want the readers to think more about compassion for the animals, and the environment, but more importantly, think about the way they treat each other as family. If just one person reading my work has stronger feelings to value their families, then my work as an author is done.

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Passionate Pursuits for Author, Illustrator and Characters

foxandmoonbeanmedNew children’s book reminds adults and children alike the importance of pursuing passions and doing what we love.
Set in Victorian England, Fox and Moonbeam explores the striking yet unlikely friendship of dancing star, Mademoiselle Moonbeam Lapin, and Gerard Fox, a servant who winds clocks.

The lavishly illustrated book reminds readers the importance of self-belief and finding the courage to step out of the shadows and into the light.

This is a particularly relevant message today when 1 in 35 young Australians aged 4-17 experience depressive disorders that stem from a lack of self-confidence.

Author, Aleesah Darlison, has created the unconfident character, Gerard Fox, to relate to those children who may be too afraid to pursue their passions.

“Gerard Fox is incredibly talented but his shyness forces him to live a lonely life in the shadows. Hopefully, young readers who feel shyness themselves will connect with Gerard and, like him, find the courage to stand in the light so they can be who they really want to be,” said Aleesah.

“I think it’s important to send positive, encouraging messages to children,” agreed illustrator, Narelda. “Fox and Moonbeam have a wonderful, supportive friendship, both have found a purpose to their life and have followed their passion.”

Just like Fox and Moonbeam, Aleesah and Narelda have followed their own passion: children’s books.

“Being able to dream and be creative, using your imagination and making the magical happen is the best thing about being a children’s author,” Aleesah said.

Fox and Moonbeam is now available from Wombat Books!

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Author Interview: Aleesah Darlison

OUP Darlison Mar15 0291. What prompted you to sit down and write the story of Fox and Moonbeam?

I’d have to say that this story sprang, unbidden, from my imagination. The first line, ‘Gerard Fox wound clocks for the Queen’, simply popped into my head one day. The story and the characters soon followed.

 

2. What was it like to see Narelda Joy bring your story to life with her beautiful illustrations?

It was very exciting seeing Narelda’s artwork come through. Even in those early draft stages I knew that what she was creating with her many and varied layers and the complexity and beauty of her illustrations would result in something special. Each page in Fox and Moonbeam is lavishly illustrated and beautifully detailed. There’s so much for both young and older readers to discover in these pages.

 

3. What’s the best thing about being an author?

Being able to dream and be creative. Using your imagination. Making the magical happen. Bringing a stylish, handsome fox to life and allowing him to have an incredible friendship with a white rabbit who also happens to be a world-famous ballerina.

 

foxandmoonbeanmed

4. Why did you choose a fox as your main character? Most people are pretty afraid of foxes, but we can’t help but love Gerard Fox.

Are people afraid of foxes? I’ve always utterly adored them, but then I do tend to see animals in a different light to others and I try to bring that out in my stories. Every animal is unique. Perhaps foxes are just misunderstood and have been given a bad rap all these years. Of course, Gerard Fox is handsome, kind and humble – maybe that’s why he’s so irresistible. He’s incredibly talented but his shyness forces him to live in the shadows. Moonbeam helps Fox find the courage to step into the light.

 

5. What book are you reading at the moment?

Billionaire Boy by David Walliams. I love him. I mean, I love his sense of humour!

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Illustrator Interview: Narelda Joy

NareldaJoy.jpg1. What three words best describe your illustration style?

Detailed, Textured, Soft colours (sorry that's four!)

2. What excites you about drawing for children’s books?
I love being able to create an imaginary world that draws the reader in to become a real place for them. Illustrating children’s books takes me to my happy place, where I feel like I’m making a difference, and creating a little bit of magic.

3. What made you want to bring to life the story of Fox and Moonbeam?

I think it’s important to send positive, encouraging messages to children. Fox and Moonbeam have a wonderful, supportive friendship, both have found a purpose to their life and have followed their passion. I’m a great believer in following one’s passion. I adore animals so that’s a big factor in choosing it too. I also love historical costuming and did lots of research on the Victorian era from clothing to clocks, gas lamps, and theatre lighting.

4. How will you celebrate your first published book with Wombat Books?

I’ll be launching Fox and Moonbeam at a Children’s Book Council of Australia Sub-Branch event in the Blue Mountains of NSW on Saturday 23rd September. We are having a Forest Forage where children can come on a treasure hunt, following the paw prints, and explore all about animals in Springwood Library. I’ll be running a workshop on the day and signing books. I am very excited!

 

You can get your copy of Fox and Moonbeam here.

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