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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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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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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Ten Questions with Deborah Kelly

DKellyBWHi! I’m Deborah Kelly.

I grew up in New Zealand but have lived in lots of places including Japan, Scotland and, of course, Australia. I live with my husband and two kids in NSW.

I have written several picture books for children including The Bouncing Ball, Jam for Nana, Dinosaur Disco (Random House) and the soon to be released Me and You (Penguin Viking). I also have a picture book coming out in 2017 with EK books. I have written books for Macmillan Education, including Sam’s Great Invention and Don’t Sweat It. My short stories for children are included in Random House’s Stories for Boys and Stories for Girls anthologies.

This year Wombat Books published my first chapter book Ruby Wishfingers: Skydancer’s Escape, which has been beautifully illustrated by Leigh Hedstrom. The second and third books in the series will be published this year also, Ruby Wishfingers: Toad-ally Magic and Ruby Wishfingers: Hide and Seek. Two more Ruby Wishfingers books are also scheduled for next year. I hope that kids will have as much fun reading the Ruby Wishfingers books as I had writing them!

I regularly visit schools, festivals and libraries to share my books with children and chat about writing. For me it is one of the greatest things about being a children’s author!

 

1) What was the first story you ever wrote and has it been published?

My first attempt at writing a children’s picture book was cringe worthy. Without going into too much detail, it involved a ladybug with a bad case of wind. I’m very thankful it never made it to publication!

2) What is your favourite part about being an author?

There are so many things I love about being an author. Working in my pyjamas. Drinking copious amounts of tea. Getting lost for hours in my own imagination. Seeing my characters brought to life by illustrators. Getting to work with talented, dedicated people in the publishing industry who are passionate about what they do. Being part of a community of inspiring, creative people. Being able to visit lots of great schools, libraries and festivals to share my books with kids. It’s an absolute honour and a privilege to be able to speak directly to children, all over the world, through my books.

3) What do you do for fun?

I love spending time with my family and friends and just being silly with my kids. I love bushwalking and swimming. And I read a lot! I am also a dedicated yogi. I couldn’t imagine life without my daily yoga practice!

4) How do you test out your stories? Or who do you test them on?

I always let a manuscript have a ‘cooling off’ period before showing it to family or friends. If I get a good response from them and I still like it a month or so later, I might think about submitting it to a publisher.

5) What was your favourite children’s book when you were a kid?

rubywishfingerstmes

There were too many to count! I still have my childhood copies of The House that Sailed Away by Pat Hutchins and The World Around the Corner by Maurice Gee—two books that I adored as a child!

6) Have you ever travelled overseas as an author?

I spent four years living and working overseas and I’ve been to lots of countries as a backpacker! I’m yet to experience travelling as an author on tour—but I think it would be great fun!

7) Have you met anyone even more famous than you that was exciting?

I said hi to Bob Geldof when I was working at a train station in Scotland! He was there for the Make Poverty History concert. I’ve also met Jeanette Winterson, Dame Kirri Te Kanawa and Jenny Morris. I’ve met loads of amazing authors and illustrators, far too many to count and all of them much more famous than me!

8) What writing do you like to do the most?

I love being in the ‘flow’—those wonderful moments where I’m just watching the story play out in my mind. I write it all down as fast as I can and worry about editing it later!

9) Where do you see the future of children’s books?

I certainly prefer print books over anything electronic. So do most people I know. I think this is especially true of children—particularly toddlers who are very tactile creatures!

10) What is your favourite way/time to read?

Snuggled up in bed on a rainy evening, when the kids are asleep and the house is blissfully quiet!

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