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.

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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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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Getting to Know Katrina Roe and Gemma

Gemma Gets the Jitters comes out this July. In preparation, Wombats Books interviewed author Katrina Roe.

Katrina Roe website1. Gemma is very afraid of heights. Have you ever gotten the jitters about something?

Like Gemma, I also had a fear of heights. Growing up in the Riverina, on the Hay plains, I didn't come across mountains or tall buildings until my first trip to the Blue Mountains for a school excision in Year 5. We were all bundled onto the Scenic Railway and the Scenic Skyway, an experience that I found both thrilling and terrifying. Mostly terrifying. Again, on a school camp in Year 9, I remember being forced to climb to the top of an extremely high rope wall. Many frightened tears were shed at the top of that climbing frame, as I was not allowed to come down until I went over the top. I found this experience upsetting and humiliating, and it wasn't until a friend offered to help that I actually made it over. This experience did nothing to cure me of my fear of heights!

2. Marty is very helpful with Gemma’s anxiety. Why do you think it’s important to have supportive family and friends when dealing with anxiety?

For those who live with anxiety, supportive family and friends can make all the difference. Being pushed or forced to do something you don't want to do only increases the feelings of powerlessness and loss of control that come with anxiety. Having someone come alongside you to guide you through a difficult challenge can be very empowering. In my final years of school, I met some adventurous friends who loved to go bushwalking, canyoning and abseiling. I abseiled a number of times with these friends. While I always found it terrifying to go over the top, it was so much easier when I had an calm and reassuring person to guide me through it step by step. I remember being amazed at how much safer, calmer and confident I felt with that supportive presence.

3. How do you think kids can overcome their anxieties?

The first step is to acknowledge your fears and to want to overcome them. Even kids need to understand that they can choose whether they control their fears or whether they will let their fears control them. Parents can help by sharing times that they have overcome their fears, or by modelling positive self-talk. It's amazing how often a small act of support - such as offering a night-light to a child who is scared of the dark - can help children to feel more at ease in a challenging situation. Small repetitive rituals can also provide comfort to kids, such as a bedtime prayer for a child who is scared of nightmares. When an anxiety is more intense, the 'stepladder approach' (outlined by Collett Smart in the Notes section of the book) of taking small steps towards a long-term goal can be helpful.

4. Why do you think this book is important for children to read? Do you think a lot of kids would relate to Gemma’s jitters?gemmagetsthejittersmed

It is pretty normal for small children to experience anxiety in challenging situations. Common childhood fears include things like dogs, heights, big crowds, the dark, having nightmares, being alone in a room, deep water, getting lost, going to the doctor, having vaccinations, scary movies, speaking in public, or losing Mum or Dad. Children are constantly being warned of the dangers around them, whether that be roads, strangers, hot things, or bodies of water. And they are also learning how to behave in various social situations. So it is quite normal for children to experience some anxiety in relation to their environment and their interactions with others. Most children will grow out of these anxieties as they find ways to exert more control over their world.

It's natural for children to try to avoid situations that make them feel anxious. But avoidance won't help them overcome their fears. It's important for children to learn that, with time and practice, they can choose to overcome their fears, rather than allowing their fears to control their behaviour. This book also shows that by being a supportive friend, they can help each other be braver. It's also empowering for kids to see Gemma expressing her creativity through her passion for photography.

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Polar bears and whirlpools with Emily Larkin

LarkinEmily1) When did the idea of The Whirlpool first come to you?

 In 2012 I was part-way through a creative writing course at the University of the Sunshine Coast, and wrote the first version of The Whirlpool as an assignment. The class challenged me to consider how words and pictures work together to create meaning. I wanted to tell a story featuring an animal protagonist who had a lot of humanity - and the image of a polar bear cub came to me. I wrote the initial concept rationale with one column for text, and another for descriptions of the illustrations I had in mind. Writing in this way meant I could pair lines with images in a way that made sense to me. I loved my uni course and learnt a lot, and was encouraged by my teacher, Dean Jacobs, to seek publication. 

 

2) What’s the significance of the whirlpool in the story?

 The whirlpool symbolises a torrent of overwhelming emotions. Whirlpools move in cycles, representing that individuals sometimes feel trapped in a cycle of negative thoughts. In the course of the story, the polar bear cub escapes the whirlpool's influence and is buoyed by hope.

 

3) Describe a time when you felt like your emotions were a whirlpool.

 I think most people, at one point or another, feel overwhelmed, sad, lonely or worried. When I was about 5, my wonderful mum gave me a magic rose quartz necklace that would help me to feel calm and happy, because she knew I was a worrier. I had this necklace for years and wore it everyday. And then I lost it over at a friend's house, during a long game of hide-and-seek. I don't remember the necklace falling off, but I remember touching my neck and realising it was bare. I went back to the house, trying to remember and search all of my bizarre, half-squashed hiding places... but it was nowhere to be found. Losing the magic stone felt like losing a friend and I was very sad. But I knew that without the stone, I'd be alright. I'd learnt that the real magic was believing that even if I felt overwhelmed sometimes, I would find peace again. 

 

4) Why do you think this book is important for children to read? Do you think a lot of kids would relate to The Whirlpool?

 I hope that The Whirlpool resonates with children and adults. Like the polar bear cub in my story, kids often feel intensely because they're always discovering, and so much is new to them. For example, a kid might laugh at a joke an adult's heard a thousand times like it's the funniest thing in the world - or feel like a rainy day has lasted forever. I think it's important for kids to know that it's okay to feel a range of emotions. It's okay to feel lonely, sad or uncertain - but these times don't have to last. 

 

  5) How does it feel to be a first-time Australian author? Can we be on the lookout for more books to come?

 It feels surreal, because I've always wanted to be a published author. I love stories because they offer new insights and help me interpret the world and people around me. Stories challenge me, and make me think and feel - and the chance to share something is exciting. I love reading and writing and want to always do both. Please, be on the lookout! I have more stories to tell. 

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