Interview with Karen Young
Featured Author: Karen Allen
Featured Author: Pat Clarke
Featured Author: Belinda Nowell
First time author, Belinda Nowell, has just released the title Who's Got a Normal Family?. Belinda chatted to us about families, books, illustrations and more!
Who’s Got a Normal Family? brings forward a topic that many families will find important, but is not yet prevalent in the current children’s book market. Where did your inspiration for the book come from, and how did you decide to pose the book’s question in the way you did?
My parents ran out-of-home care facilities for kids when I was a child, so from a very young age my concept of ‘family’ was pretty broad. Then my parents remarried and had more children so I ended up in a big, blended family. Even though I didn’t have any friends with families like mine, I thought we were completely normal. I’m incredibly close to all my brothers and sisters, regardless of parentage, however I found as I got older that people wanted to make sense of who belonged to whom.
I am so passionate about the book’s message – all families are different and that’s the most normal thing of all. I want to live in a world where every child feels the same way.
Illustrator Miša Alexander’s bright and textured work brings the warmth and poignancy of the story right to the reader, yet still keeps the humour and playfulness of a picture book. Where did you source your illustrator and how did you know she was ‘the one’?
Miša is an incredible artist. She lives in Bangalow in north NSW and we would never have crossed paths had it not been for another fabulous talent and great friend, Kelly Boulton, who recommended I meet her after reading an early draft. Miša sent me some sketches and also illustrated the book’s hero Alex and his family from a different manuscript. I fell in love with her vision of Alex instantly and knew I didn’t want to do this project without her.
How did you find the production process ... what were some of the most surprising things that came up along the way?
The production process was very smooth. It’s makes a massive difference when you aren’t trying to do everything yourself. It gives you more time to play in that creative space and gives you the opportunity to think about launching the book and future projects. It’s also a great relief to have someone else double check your grammar and proofs!
Pre-releasing the book during International Families Week attracted some spotlight in its relevance. Have you found the overwhelming response to the book to be enthusiastic since then, and how are you keeping the book’s momentum going?
Luckily, I was a publicist in a previous life so I had a few ideas around launching the book. Pre-releasing the book during that time meant we could talk to a broader scope of media and it worked well because we got coverage in press you wouldn’t normally see surrounding a children’s book. Plus the mentions and articles are spaced out so we are still seeing the results of that first press release now. It gave the book a good nudge into the world and a good foundation to create more leads. I think you really need a plan beyond the initial launch so right now I’m now concentrating on introducing the book to people in education.
A family figurehead yourself, how have you seen your own family and children engage with the book?
There have been lots of questions about the families in the book but kids are totally on board with the message and it’s the best feeling in the world when you realise a child has connected with your characters.
Featured Author: Harriet Cuming
Harriet Cuming released her debut picture book Where Do Teachers Go at Night? in November last year. The book partnered her zany manuscript with Sophie Norsa, Little Steps veteran illustrator, and Crichton Award nominee. Following an amazing reception from librarians, teachers, and young readers, Little Steps reprinted six months later! Our senior editor, Jessica got into the mind of Harriet with some pertinent peculiars, and the responses are below!
Where Do Teachers Go at Night? is your first title and has come out with a bang. Many people who work with children have reacted instantly to the humour and its familiar, child-like question. What was your original inspiration for the book?
My inspiration was a little girl called Sophie, who when she was three years old asked me, “Harriet, where do teachers go at night?”
It was recess time and Sophie was wearing a really cute sun bonnet. I can still “see” her wonderfully intelligent face and her questioning eyes; she was absolutely waiting for a sensible answer.
I cannot remember what I said.
But when the book was published, I sent her the first copy. She is a teenager now and her grandparents are friends of mine.
'Tummy Holes' Book Launch!
Author Rebecca McGregor has launched her fantastically outrageous picture book on Friday 15th April at St Mary’s Primary School Maffra in Victoria.
Billy was the lucky student selected for the honours of cutting the launch ribbon with author Rebecca.
Tummy Holes is the imaginative journey a boy takes on discovering his own belly button – and the weird and wonderful tummy holes of his family and pets! Illustrated by Angel Rae McMullan, the book is written in delightful rhyme and takes the world of belly buttons to a whole new level.
Opened with a ceremonial ribbon, the launch of Tummy Holes featured games, face painting (by a real fairy!) and a reading of the book by the author. The primary students of St Mary's were treated to an afternoon of celebration, fun and reading, as the event brought the world of early childhood literature and adventurous storytelling into a celebration of the book's introduction.
Rebecca's son Clay (also currently known as Spiderclay) holding a copy of Mum's new book
Rebecca’s picture book is also on display at Collins Booksellers in Sale, and is now available in bookstores through national distribution. Congratulations to Rebecca!April 26, 2016
'Tummy Holes' in the Gippsland Times!
First time author Rebecca McGregor has turned the funny-looking and twisted world of a child's confusion at his own belly button into a comical adventure, illustrated by designer and illustrator Angel Rae McMullan. Rebecca spoke to the Gippsland Times about her upcoming launch on April 15 at St Mary's Primary School in Maffra. For the full article, go to http://www.gippslandtimes.com.au/story/3721116/demystifying-belly-buttons/February 26, 2016
Review: Granny, Wait for Me!
Granny, Wait for Me! is the first picture book from Queensland author Sarah Owens. With lively, playful rhyme and equally whimsical illustrations by Anil Tortop, the book is as attractive as it is fun, and Anne Hamilton from Buzz Words praised the book for its 'deceptively effortles and easy pace' and the 'gorgeous and dynamic illustrations.'
For the full review, go to http://www.buzzwordsmagazine.com/2016/02/granny-wait-for-me.html
February 11, 2016
Featured Author: Sean Williams
Sean Williams, the author of new release My Nanna Nelly Will Tour the Illawarra Tomorra, is a keen outdoor enthusiast with a love for his local surroundings. His work is a celebration of the setting's scenery, history and natural beauty, and his individual style of rhyme gives the adventures of lovable character Nanna Nelly and her narrating granddaughter a secretive and wonderfully immersive sense of exploration. With a path into writing that does away with the stereotypical image of authorship, Sean's work is unmistakeably distinct and written with fervour. We wondered how Sean's journey with Nanna Nelly began, and he was kind enough to answer some questions.
What was your inspiration for the character behind the adventurous and lovable grandma, Nanna Nelly?
I got the name “Nanna Nelly” from my children's great grandmother Nelly, who lived in Capetown, South Africa. The loveable adventurous spirit I got from Mrs Champion, the lady who lived next door to me, when I was growing up in Thirroul. Champion by name, champion by nature.
My Nanna Nelly Will Tour the Illawarra Tomorra is a story with rhyme that flows to its own individual rhythm. Can you describe how you entered the world of rhyming and what methods you think brought about this signature style?
My rhyming style started at school, which was not my favourite place — the only thing I was good at was getting detention. Before sitting a test, I would sneak into the staffroom, copy the answers down, write a short rhyme and memorise it. The teachers knew I was cheating but they couldn't figure out how I was doing it. I never got 100%, but I did get enough to pass, just.
Remembering back to your own childhood, was there any book or author who stood out for you?
I never read a lot of books as a child. The only books I did read were all by Dr Suess. His books were funny with a positive message and as for the illustrations … WOW! My favourite books are I Had Trouble In Getting To Solla Sollew and The Lorax.
What do you find essential to have around you when you begin writing something new?
The one thing I need around me, so I can start writing something new is people in conversation. Some of my best ideas come from everyday conversations.
Does Nanna Nelly have any further adventures planned for herself and her granddaughter?
Illawarra Tomorra is one story in a four part series. Nanna Nelly has a lot more adventuring to do in Australia and all around the world.
February 4, 2016
'The Cat with No Tail' Book Launch!
Queensland author Kat Ilich launched her exciting first picture book, The Cat with No Tail, at the Gordon White Library on November 18th. The story, inspired by the odd-looking and much loved cat of the author herself, tells the fable of individual acceptance and the power of true friendship, through the classic style of rhyme. The book is illustrated by award-winning artist Lexie Watt (Sophie's Prize, Chookies and the soon-to-come A Show for Bonnie) and is an exquisitely beautiful tale for young children.
Present at the launch were local council members as well as keen young readers of the community. Kat read to her young listeners' keen ears as they followed the visual story itself and the book was received with love and excitement. Congratulations to Kat Ilich on her launch! You can follow her book and career on Facebook and at www.katilich.com.au
December 9, 2015
Featured Illustrator: Jemma Phillips
Author and illustrator Jemma Phillips launched herself into the world of children’s books with her first creation, Bucket Sheep, released earlier in 2015. Only a matter of months later, she is now introducing her second illustrated book with author Victoria Breheny, The Incredible Edible Garden. We managed to pick the Victorian artist's brains on her inspiration, process, and the journey her work has taken.
Bucket Sheep, your first book, is based on the true day of a certain woolly acquaintance of yours. Were you originally looking for inspiration in a farm setting or did these events just strike you as the perfect beginning for a children’s book?
At the time I had never considered writing a children’s book; I had been illustrating for a couple of years and my dream was to one day illustrate a children’s book. I was visiting my parent’s property ‘Marble’s Run’ when one of the sheep I was feeding got its head stuck in a bucket and ran off with it. I was so busy chasing after the silly sheep that I didn’t realise what a wonderful story it would make until I was back at home. I started to tell the tale to the children I look after as a nanny and after seeing their enjoyment began to write it down. Bucket Sheep was born.
How did your partnership with author and naturopath, Victoria Breheny, come about for The Incredible Edible Garden?
Victoria and I met at a local Christmas market where I was selling my illustrations, and we instantly bonded over our love of children’s literature and illustration. A couple of months after Christmas, Victoria contacted me and asked if I would be interested in illustrating The Incredible Edible Garden. As soon as I read her story, a million pictures popped into my head and I couldn’t wait to get started.
Your style is recognisable over the two books and still manages to broaden into exploring mixed media for The Incredible Edible Garden. What are your preferred mediums for illustration and how do you go about devising the visual feel for the books?
I have loved watercolour ever since I bought my first Winsor and Newton travel set at the age of 16. I still use the set today though my collection of paints has grown. I also enjoy creating collage illustrations and had recently started mixing the two mediums together, alongside coloured pencil. Victoria saw one of my illustrations of a little girl I had done with a head full of crazy curls and said that is how she imagined Annie. We decided to do the entire book in this style. Although it was challenging at times, I love the end result of the three mediums combined together to create the vibrancy of Rosemary’s garden.
As sole creator of Bucket Sheep, how did you find the process different when it came to illustrating another author’s work in The Incredible Edible Garden?
With Bucket Sheep I had a very clear picture of what I wanted the illustrations to look like which made it a lot easier to illustrate – I had previously done a few Christmas cards set on Marble’s Run and wanted the book to have the same feel. The biggest challenge when creating The Incredible Edible Garden was making sure I understood Victoria’s vision for the book. Before starting the illustrations, Victoria and I met several times and discussed what we wanted the book to look like, especially the characters and Rosemary’s garden which helped massively when it came time to illustrate. I was still nervous when it came time to show her the final artwork for the book but instantly felt relieved when she told me she loved them.
Producing a book and seeing it through to release, then marketing the book afterwards can all seem like a mammoth task. While Bucket Sheep has grabbed quick sales from Australian bookstores since its release earlier in 2015, how else have you gone about promoting the book?
Since the launch of Bucket Sheep, I have been busy doing markets and speaking at schools about the creation of Bucket Sheep. This has been my favourite part of the experience; I like to get children involved and at the end of each session I teach them how to draw their very own sneezing Bucket Sheep. It is wonderful to see what they come up with. I also love the social media side of promoting a book and regularly post about Bucket Sheep, The Incredible Edible Garden and other projects I am doing on Facebook and Instagram.
From solely creating your own picture book to becoming a partner on another author’s story, what kind of direction do you see the road ahead taking for your art and future projects?
I would love to create more books both on my own and working with other authors. I am having a little break at the moment to enjoy Bucket Sheep and The Incredible Edible Garden and then would like to see where my next story takes me.
Lastly, is there anything you would tell first-time authors about the journey of bringing a book into the world?
I recommend joining a children’s author and illustrator group as they can be an invaluable source of knowledge and support when you are working on your book and after it is published. Don’t give up! Sometimes the whole process can seem very daunting, especially when the story is so personal to you. The end result is worth all the hours of hard work. Enjoy it! The biggest reward for me has been seeing children read and enjoy Bucket Sheep and I can’t wait to do it again.
Sparkling Reviews of the Launch for Lottie and Pop!
Lottie and Pop at the Fairy Queen's Ball by Shivaun Clifton and illustrated by Kirilee West, celebrated their launch to positive reviews. Held at the beautiful children's gift shop 'Teenie and Tiny' in Brisbane, the launch featured decadently pretty cupcakes, a real flutter of fairy wings and of course, plenty of sparkles. First-time author Shivaun read aloud to her new readers and the work of well-travelled illustrator Kirilee was admired in the turning of pages by hands of all ages. Present at the launch was Megan Daley from Children's Books Daily, who had wonderful things to write about the book's reception. "‘Lottie and Pop at the Fairy Queen’s Ball’ is everything you want in a fairy book; lyrical text with sparkle and adventure, and illustrations which are full of warmth, magic and wonder. Shivaun has ensured that her text reads aloud well, so important in a text for a young audience and yet so often not perfected by first time authors. Kiralee’s illustrations give the text life – her realistic illustrations are everything I want in a fairy book – no Disney, lots of close ups and packed with detail which can be poured over for hours." For the full review, see http://childrensbooksdaily.com/lottie-and-pop-book-launch/
October 16, 2015
Featured Illustrator: Kirilee West
Shivaun Clifton’s delightfully whimsical Lottie and Pop at the Fairy Queen’s Ball is a book that sparkles with prettiness. Author Shivaun discovered an illustrator’s talent in Kirilee West, whose artworks for this picture book delivered a diversity of inspiration, and combined personal touch with fantastical appeal for children.
Shivaun and I met each other while both working as nurses in the Intensive Care Unit at one of Brisbane’s trauma hospitals. Despite not having time to get to know each other well before I left to go travelling overseas, we were able to reconnect after some of our colleagues told Shivaun of my love for drawing. I was in Asia when she contacted me about the idea of illustrating her children’s story and we immediately saw a future for our combined ‘extracurricular’ creativity!
Your illustrations for Lottie and Pop are incredibly detailed and eye-catching. Is this a signature style for your artworks?
Thank you! It was incredibly daunting at first and I had to work hard to not listen to the self-doubt of comparing myself to other successful and talented illustrators. As someone who has never formally studied art – it’s always just been a hobby – I had never been forced to create a congruent and consistent style before. I can say without a doubt that illustrating Lottie and Pop forced me very quickly to accept and nurture my own individual style of expression. I’m not sure where my style will grow and evolve to, but I feel that realistic and emotive portraits are what speak through and to me most strongly.
Because I want my work to be emotive, I am always drawn to people and faces that tell a story. After returning home from travelling I was certain of two things: I was so happy to play with my niece and nephews again yet also held a great fondness towards the kids I had met on my travels. To me, the best way to impart my joy into the book was to bring all of these children into the story. In there, you’ll find my niece’s cheeky grin and bold postures, my nephews’ outstretched arms (an interesting photoshoot for my sister to conduct for me!), a little boy I met busking in Rhodes, and two orphan girls from Kenya wearing their princess crowns. It was a great way to immortalise the experiences I shared with these kids.
It was a big learning curve. Things like bleed and the importance of correct page size had never crossed my mind before and it took making a few mistakes along the way for it all to make sense! Shivaun had given me her story and a generic idea of what she envisioned for her fairies but left the large majority of the creative process up to me. I was able to experiment and use my own love of brown earth-toned paper and soft pigmented pencils to give her story life.
Being able to input my own flair into the characters made it much more enjoyable – I particularly loved creating the Fairy Queen! I had been so blown away by the strong, capable, knowledgeable and quietly powerful women who welcomed me into their homes in Africa and I knew that this was who I wanted to embody my beautiful Queen. Having the trust and blessing from Shivaun to create these characters exactly as I saw them in my mind was an empowering experience.
What does the near future hold for you in projects and where else can we see your artworks taking form … Will Lottie and Pop be off on any new adventures soon?
I’ve got some fun collabs coming up with the possibility of seeing some of my watercolours printed on bridal gown fabric. Since Lottie and Pop, I have been enjoying letting my creativity flow in a lot of different directions and having fun getting back into painting and portrait commissions. Shivaun and I are taking the time out now to focus on our own projects, but are open to the idea of the fairies taking us on another adventure if something magical unfolds!
Andrew King Interview
Books, trains, illustrations and inspiration; we sat down with Andrew King, author of the Engibear series. Read the full interview below to get an insight into the mind of an engineer turned children’s book author, published with Little Steps:
First question, where did you get the inspiration for the character and story of Engibear? And where did the ideas for the follow-ups come from?
While playing with my son when he was young, I wanted to share stories about my work as an engineer. We couldn’t find any engineering characters in young children’s literature to help explain engineering so we created our own. Engibear started life as a tip-truck driving teddy bear in our backyard sandpit. Later he developed into a consulting engineer running a company called “Bearly Engineering” in the fictitious town of Munnagong, as this provided a good platform for the many engineering adventures he had with his friends Engilina and Bearbot.
Engineering is a varied and diverse profession which is constantly growing and provides an almost unlimited number of topics to write about. A great current example is NASA's New Horizons spacecraft which just flew past Pluto and sent back some amazing pictures.
You published your first title with Little Steps, Engibear’s Dream, three years ago. Your second book, Engibear’s Bridge, followed last year, and now you are working on a third? How do you find the time among engineering?
Yes, Ben and I are currently working on a third book – it is about trains both old and new.
Finding the time to work as an engineer and write is quite hard. Fortunately my work as an engineering consultant is fairly flexible, my colleagues and family are good to me and I have managed to cut down the engineering a bit.
Your books have sold domestically and internationally over 6,000 copies. Why do you think your books have been so successful and so well-loved by kids?
Young children love the things that engineers do – who hasn’t stood at the fence of a construction site with their children and watched for ages? So I think it follows that children would like picture books about engineering. To date, there have been very few story books about engineering for young children, so our timing with the Engibear books was very good. Ben’s illustrations are also a great drawcard – his combination of architectural illustration skills with his ability to give life and humour to the characters in the books, attracts both children and adults.
Speaking of that, you have quite a close working relationship with Ben (Johnston), your illustrator. How did that come about, and what is your collaborative process like?
We were introduced to Ben through Little Steps. We were shown a range of his works and my whole family loved them; his style just looked as if it would suit engineering based illustrations. Luckily Ben read a draft of Engibear’s Dream, liked it and agreed to illustrate it.
Ben lives in Sydney and I live in Brisbane but we communicate frequently through all stages of book development by email, file sharing and telephone (literally hundreds of exchanges per book).
We both bring our ideas to the books but we are both receptive to constructive feedback and comments. I think that in our case, the combined effort has produced a book that works better than if we had worked separately – this may partly be because of the technical detail. For Engibear’s Bridge, we also sought external feedback from a wide range of people, including engineering specialists, educators, parents and children. We kept a spreadsheet of nearly 200 comments and worked through each one – it was a great help in many areas from very specific comments about the support struts on the cranes through to overall comments about rhyme or what the characters were wearing.
What was your favourite book as a child, and do you think these books from your childhood have influenced your writing?
Two books immediately spring to mind. They are Now We Are Six (A.A. Milne) and Silly Verse for Kids (Spike Milligan). Perhaps it is obvious that I was born in England about 50 years ago? It would be hard not to be influenced by books you read and enjoyed as a child. I guess using rhyme and having a teddy bear as a central character are in part due to these influences.
Now We Are Six even includes a poem about an engineer (the train driver type)!
Finally, do you have any tips for aspiring authors out there?
Be an active member of your local community and the literary community – listen, learn and contribute.
Be yourself and write the stories you want to write (keeping your intended audience in mind).
Read and write – lots!
Work hard and enjoy it – to write a story and have someone else read and enjoy it really is a privilege…
July 21, 2015
Invitation to Book Launch: 'The Bravest Dugong' by Alec Trost
Children, mums, dads and grandparents are all invited to meet first-time author Alec Trost, who will be launching his picture book, The Bravest Dugong, at The Children's Bookshop in Beecroft, on Saturday August 1st at 1:30 p.m.
Alec will be signing copies and reading aloud, and afternoon tea is provided for all, so come and join him as he introduces the adventures of Charlie D, the bravest dugong.
Brave Charlie D is a dugong who lives in Australian waters with his large family. One day he bids goodbye to all his relatives, and sets off on an adventure to discover new worlds and learn new skills - the most courageous dugong of them all!
A picture book told in rhyme.
RSVP: firstname.lastname@example.org or 94818811
tJuly 16, 2015
Outstanding Review for Howie the Yowie
Author Pat Clarke's classically told children's novel 'Howie the Yowie: Adventures of a Lovable Monster' (illustrated by Graeme Compton) has been reviewed on Reading Time at http://readingtime.com.au/howie-yowie-adventures-lovable-monster/ with a wonderful reception. Congratulations to Pat Clarke!
May 15, 2015
'LILY AND THE MAGIC WALL' BOOK LAUNCH
On Wednesday 1st April, author Stefanie Godinho celebrated the launch of her first children's book, Lily and the Magic Wall. The event took place at Manly Library and included masses of themed activities and fun for young readers, with an appearance from Stefanie's own scruffy Lily herself.
The Mayor of Manly, Jean Hay (AM), was present to open the launch, and Little Steps publisher Ann Castle enjoyed congratulating Stefanie with all of those present.
Author Stefanie Godinho with a circle of her newest listeners
The Mayor of Manly, Councillor Jean Hay (AM) presenting an opening speech
April 14, 2015
Young Fans Keen for More Lily Magic!
Author Stefanie Godinho of 'Lily and the Magic Wall' has been receiving fan mail from her young readers, complete with adorable portraits of Lily herself. This enthusiastic message has been made with particular care to emphasise their keenness for a sequel! Perhaps Lily will have more adventures soon? We will have to wait and see ...
April 10, 2015
Engibear's Bridge REVIEWED
Engibear's Bridge, created by Andrew King and Benjamin Johnston, was reviewed by Magpies below.
March 10, 2015
Goldilocks in QT Kids
Goldilocks by Robyn Press was featured in the latest issue of QT Kids!March 10, 2015