authors, illustrator, interviews

Sean E Avery on Frank’s Red Hat

Sean E Avery is a teacher, sculptor, designer, and the author-illustrator of Harold and Grace, All Monkeys Love Bananas, and Happy as a Hog Out of Mud. Today we’re pleased to chat to him about his latest picture book, Frank’s Red Hat, which is out in Australia, Korea, France and Denmark!

From the publisher:

Frank is a penguin with ideas. Mostly terrible ones. That’s why his fellow penguins are nervous when he shows them his strange new creation. Something they’d never seen or expected to see in their cold and colourless Antarctic world — a red hat.


How did you come to set a book in Antarctica?

I wanted a black-and-white setting that I could slowly introduce colour to! Antartica fit the description perfectly. 

Do you know how to knit?

I do not. My boss (the principal at the school I work at) tried to teach me once but I gave up in a huff. I may have had a small tantrum and thrown my knitting needles over my head in frustration.

Can you tell us a bit about the illustration process for Frank’s Red Hat?

I use lots of different media – paint, crayons, pencils etc – to create textures that I scan into my computer. From there, I can cut the shapes I need from the scanned textures and arrange them to make, rocks, snow, water, seals, and penguins of course! 

Do you have a writing tip for kids who’d like to write their own books?

Write a little bit every day for a few months. It’s very hard (and not much fun) to try finish a whole book quickly in a week. If you work on something slowly, but consistently over a long period of time; the result will be better.

Can you tell us a bit about what you’re working on next?

I have three books coming out next year. Two of those are out next year. One is called Friendly Bee and Friends – a graphic novel about an annoyingly friendly bee who tries to make friends with every bug he meets. The other is a picture book called Mr Clownfish, Miss Anemone and The Hermit Crab which is an underwater adventure. 

Frank’s Red Hat is out now! Ask for it at your favourite bookshop or local library.


Image shows the cover of a picture book: Frank's Red Hat by Sean E Avery. The illustration is of a flock of penguins and only one penguin is wearing a tiny red beanie.

AWESOME EXTRAS

Take a look inside the book!

Visit Sean E Avery’s website for more about him and his books

authors, illustrator, interviews

Frané Lessac on A is for Australian Reefs

Frané Lessac is an author and illustrator and has created beautiful illustrations for more than fifty books. She was born in New Jersey and lived on the Caribbean Island of Montserrat and later London before moving to Australia. Travelling is a major source of inspiration for her work. Frané visits schools, libraries and festivals around the world sharing the process of writing and illustrating books. Today we’re thrilled to chat to Frané about her latest picture book, A is for Australian Reefs.

From the publisher:

Along the Australian coastline, underwater reefs are bustling with the most amazing sea creatures living on the planet. What can blow bubble rings and swim through them? What has teeth on its eyeballs? What creature makes itself nearly invisible to predators by using camouflage? What poops out sand? More than 25 percent of all sea creatures live in coral reefs, also called “rain forests of the sea.” This book introduces readers to everything from playful dolphins to deadly Irukandji jellyfish, leafy sea dragons to brainy octopuses, and walking sharks to whimsical-looking zebra seahorses. With gorgeous patterns and colours and substantial entries exploring each creature’s anatomy, diet, threats to survival, and more, Frané Lessac brings us a truly fascinating undersea exploration of the awe-inspiring Australian reefs.


A is for Australian Reefs is a non-fiction picture book full of fascinating facts. How did you go about your research for the book?

I love animals and especially ones that live in the ocean. I’ve been lucky to have lived close to the sea all my life. From the Atlantic to the Pacific to the Caribbean Sea, and now, the Indian Ocean. Snorkelling is one of my favourite hobbies. To research A Is for Australian Reefs, I travelled up to Ningaloo Reef and visited the Great Barrier Reef. Closer to home, I snorkelled on Rottnest Island and got up close and personal with sea creatures at AQWA (Aquarium of Western Australia) especially rare animals like the elusive leafy sea dragon. Alongside swimming on underwater reefs, I read many books and researched online. Every page in A Is for Australian Reefs is full of facts. My publishers required that I find official proof for each fact from three reputable sources. To do this, I contacted coral reef and marine experts from all over Australia.

You create picture books about different places and creatures around Australia. Have you been to all the places featured in your books?

I’ve been fortunate to have visited many of the locations in my books. When I travel, I take lots of photos and gather information to take home. If I cannot travel to a place, I call local experts, visit websites, watch documentaries, and read as many books as possible. Once back in my studio, I sort through the enormous range of photographs, research books and online sources of information that I’ve collected. 

Everywhere I’ve travelled, there’s always something amazing to discover maybe it’s the scenic beauty, the food, or meeting the best people!

You’re the writer and illustrator of so many picture books. When you have the idea for a book what comes first for you, writing or artwork?

The idea for the book comes first. I need to write all the words first because the artwork might change if one word changes especially in the case of adjectives. It is helpful that I know what I’d like to paint, which will influence what I’m writing. After a polished draft, I decide which words appear on each page. Then I’m ready to create ‘sloppy copies’ sketches of the art.

Do you have a tip for kids who’d like to create their own picture book?

You have the best possible place nearby to help you create your own picture book the school library! It’s a wealth of knowledge with a gazillion ideas to inspire you further. In the non-fiction section, every possible subject to learn and write and/or illustrate can be found. These books are full of images and words that are easy to understand. And in the picture book section, take a close look and see all the different materials and design ideas used to make books! Everyone writes and paints differently. Believe in your words and art, and don’t compare yourself to anyone else. How YOU do it is unique.

Can you tell us a bit about what you’re working on next?

Currently, I’m working on a super-fun project called, The Big Book of Australian Nursery Rhymes. I’ve chosen lots of well-known traditional English nursery rhymes and adapted them to feature Australian animals. There are quite a few laugh-out-loud rhymes and some work better than the originals! The art is bright and colourful and designed for a young audience. After I finish all the rhymes and art, it will still be an entire year before it’s out in the world. Books take a loooong time.

A is for Australian Reefs is out now! Ask for it at your local library or favourite bookshop.


AWESOME EXTRAS

Image shows the cover of a non-fiction picture book: A is for Australian Reefs by Frané Lessac. The cover illustration shows a coral reef with a whale shark swimming and the additional words: a fact-astic tour.

Take a sneak peek inside the book

Watch Frané Lessac talking about how she creates her picture books (YouTube)

Visit Frané Lessac’s website to find out more about her and her books

authors, illustrator, interviews

Helen Milroy on Owl and Star

Dr Helen Milroy is a descendant of the Palyku people of the Pilbara region of Western Australia. She was born and educated in Perth and has always had a passionate interest in health and wellbeing, especially for children. Dr Milroy is the author and illustrator of nine children’s books, including Backyard Bugs, Backyard Birds, and Wombat, Mudlark and Other Stories. Today we’re chatting to her about her stunning picture book – Owl and Star.

From the publisher:

Owl loved the sparkle of the stars. He would sit out on his tree at dusk and wait for them to appear. One evening, Owl became worried. His favourite little star had not shown herself. Owl searched far and wide. Where could Little Star be?


When creating your picture books, what comes first for you – the illustrations or the story?

Either. Sometimes I see something and I get images for a story, other times that image or thoughts about something I have noticed sets me off on the storyline first. I even go to sleep thinking about the story. Then when I start illustrating, it is like the images just fall out onto the page.

Owl knows the night sky so well that he notices even a small change. Are you a stargazer yourself?

I do love looking at the stars and wondering what it is like up there. I loved looking at the sky day or night as a kid. Making animal shapes from the clouds during the day or waiting to see a shooting star at night. I always thought the moon was a magical being and used to say hello when it was full and bright.

Can you tell us about your illustration process for Owl and Star?

In this case I had written the story before the illustrations so I wanted the illustrations to also tell the story even if you couldn’t read the words. Like two stories together. I spent a long time thinking and researching about owls before drawing any. It took me a long time before owl appeared properly on the page but once he was there, the rest was easy.

Do you have a tip for children who’d like to create their own picture book?

Yes just get started! Draw, write and tell stories, the more you do the better they get especially when they come from your heart. If you love what you are doing, it will show in the stories and images.

Can you tell us a bit about what you’re working on next?

I am working on several projects at once. More birds, bugs and beasties from the bush, more tales from the bush mob and a new series about some neighbourhood pets that get together for some adventures!

Owl and Star is out now! Ask for it at your favourite bookshop or your local library.


AWESOME EXTRAS

Image shows the cover of a picture book: Owl and Star by Helen Milroy. The cover is dark blue with an owl at the centre. The owl is cradling a little star and behind him is a large yellow sun.

Take a peek inside the book

Download the teachers’ notes for this book

Watch a YouTube video of the author Helen Milroy reading another of her stories, ‘Dingo and Moon’

Visit Helen Milroy’s website for more about her and her books

authors, illustrator, interviews

James Foley on Stellarphant

MEET THE AUTHOR-ILLUSTRATOR

James Foley makes picture books, middle grade novels and comics for kids. His work has been published as books, in anthologies, and in magazines and newspapers. Today we are thrilled to chat to James about his latest book, Stellarphant.

From the publisher:

Stella wants to be an astronaut. There is only one problem – Stella is an elephant. Every time she applies to Space Command, they come with a new reason she can’t join. But where there’s a will, there’s a way and Stella is determined to reach for the stars.


What sparked the idea for this story?

I was at our annual SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) Rottnest Retreat, June 2014. Sitting around in the cottage with my friends and we were all sketching and scribing away. I made this random pen and watercolour sketch of an elephant and penguin as astronauts. Elephants had turned up in my sketchbooks regularly over the years, but never as an astronaut. The story that became Stellarphant grew from there. 

I’m also a massive nerd who loves learning things, and I was reading about all the species that have been to space. The back endpapers of the book were another early image I couldn’t get out of my head. 

The endpapers showcase the huge number of animals sent to space since 1947. Was there a particular animal you were surprised to discover had been to space? 

I was most surprised that the first earthlings to circumnavigate the moon were not humans; it was some tortoises, mealworms and wineflies, sent by the Soviets! I also loved that there was an experiment that sent fertilised chicken eggs to space – it was called ‘Chix in Space’ and was sponsored by KFC. 

The endpapers in Stellarphant aren’t even the full number of animals that have been to space, they were just a bunch of the most fascinating ones. 

Stella shows resilience, persistence and creative problem solving skills in the face of repeated ‘no’s. Have you ever been told it’s not possible to do something and persisted anyway?

I was really lucky that when I was younger, and being a writer/illustrator was still just a dream, I didn’t have anyone tell me I couldn’t do it. My parents and siblings and friends were all very supportive of my creativity. Though I can be incredibly stubborn, so maybe they knew that they couldn’t stop me if I really wanted to try.

Sometimes it’s your own head that is telling you no; that often happens to me when I’m in the earliest stages of a new project, or even just starting a new page. The little doubting voice flares up, and I wonder if I’ll be able to finish the task ahead. When that happens, I find that my fear of not meeting my deadline usually trumps the fear of failure, haha! I know that I just have to get the work done. 

The book is definitely about determination, but for me it’s also about discrimination, and diversity, and equity, and feminism. And it’s also about learning to let go of what other people think of you; to stop looking for approval from others, and to realise that you are good enough the way you are. 

Can you tell us a bit about how you went about creating the book? Words or illustrations first?

The whole story grew from that image of the elephant and penguin spacewalking. 

That’s how it goes with my stories, most of the time; they start with an image (either in a sketchbook or in my head), then the plot grows from there. 

When I first started trying to write the text for Stellarphant I was pretty inexperienced at writing. The manuscript was, uh, not great, haha! It took me a while, and it took writing a bunch of other stories, to figure out how to make Stellarphant click.

Now I’ve learned from experience that it’s best for me to hold off on writing down a new idea until I’ve thought about it for a really long time; I need to let the ideas percolate and simmer in my head until I’ve got all the plot beats. I’m definitely a planner; I need to know the beginning, middle and end of the story. I won’t start writing unless I know where it’s going. 

As I’m brainstorming and writing, I’ll get pictures in my head. So once I have the story completely written out, it doesn’t usually take too long to scribble out a sketchy little storyboard for the whole thing. From there I can edit, improve, rearrange, until the words and pictures are fitting together just so. 

That’s how it worked with Stellarphant. I did one scribbly little version of the storyboard; then maybe two full-size black and white rough versions of the book. Then I figured out the colour scheme and did a colour rough for the book. Then I did the finals. It was a fairly straightforward process compared to my first book, where I made 13 different storyboards! 

Can you tell us a bit about what you’re working on next?

I’ve got two projects on the go – the first is a comic short story which will be published in 2022.

The other is a MASSIVE project that I’d love to talk about, but it’s still super secret! It’ll come out in early 2023. 

Stellarphant is out now! Ask for it at your favourite bookstore or local library.


AWESOME EXTRAS:

Meet James Foley: Come to a free book signing + drawing workshop! 13 November 2021 [WA event]

Take a peek inside the book!

Download the Teachers’ Notes

Download fantastic Stellarphant activities and templates [click & then scroll down the page]

illustrator, interviews

Cindy Lane and Great White Shark

MEET THE ILLUSTRATOR

Cindy Lane is an award-winning artist and illustrator who loves the ocean. She was born and grew up by the sea in Sydney, lived by the Great Barrier Reef in FNQ, and now has her studio by the Indian Ocean in Perth. Cindy loves to make her own paints with materials she finds in nature, and collects waters from all over the world to use in her paintings. Seawaters from across Australia were used in Great White Shark, her first picture book, written by Claire Saxby.

From the publisher:

In Great White Shark we follow a female shark on her way to warmer waters to give her pups the best chance of survival. Set in a stunning underwater world, Claire Saxby’s signature poetic prose and Cindy Lane’s sublime illustrations showcase the grace, majesty and power of one of the ocean’s top predators.


Can you tell us a bit about how you created the illustrations for Great White Shark?

It all starts with a sketch – pencil on paper. I like the scratchy feel of graphite on a surface, with sound and feel for feedback as you create. I do also draw digitally, but it can be quite a clinical process, not what I want at this stage. It can be all too easy to erase the less-than-perfect lines when drawing on a tablet­­­­­­­­­ – a double tap of your fingers and it’s gone! I like seeing the messy, roundabout road maps of initial sketches, the sparks of ideas, and where they led.

From pencils sketches to a pencil thumbnail sheet! Once this was approved by the art director I went on to do some sample colour illustrations from the text, just to determine a style that the publisher, author and I were all happy with. This was a combination of pastel on sanded paper and watercolours on cotton paper, both with digital sketching over the top.

Thumbnail sketches by Cindy Lane for her picture book Great White Shark
Thumbnail sketches by Cindy Lane for the picture book Great White Shark

Once these were approved, I was let loose on the double page spreads, cover, title, index pages and the endpapers. There was still lots of research to be done, and luckily the PLANET SHARK exhibition was visiting Fremantle. I got to see so many sharks, including multiple Great White models up close, the preserved body of the massive Megamouth shark, plus the HUGE Megalodon jaws!

Using sea waters from my collection, I started watercolour painting the backgrounds and creatures that feature in the book. They were then photographed or scanned individually, then collaged together digitally to create the scenes.

Did you discuss the story/illustrations with the author (Claire Saxby) while illustrating the book?

No, I had no direct contact with the author during the illustration process. Claire Saxby’s feedback was always via the editor and art director.

How long did it take you (from signing the contract to going to print) to illustrate Great White Shark?

14 months.

Were you already interested in sharks before you were asked to illustrate the book?

Definitely! I’ve always had a love for the ocean and all of its inhabitants. Even those that get bad press. Especially those ones!

Great White Shark is out now! Ask for it at your favourite bookstore or local library.

Back and front covers of Great White Shark by Claire Saxby and Cindy Lane

AWESOME EXTRAS:

See Claire Saxby & Cindy Lane talking about Great White sharks. [YouTube]

Watch Cindy Lane painting pages from the book here and here. [Instagram videos]

Download the Teachers’ Notes from the publisher’s website.

Learn more about Cindy Lane’s art & illustrations on her Instagram account.

Great White Shark by Claire Saxby and Cindy Lane
authors, illustrator, interviews

Peter Carnavas and My Brother Ben

MEET THE AUTHOR

Peter Carnavas is an award-winning author-illustrator. You might have read some of his many picture books, such as The Children Who Loved BooksLast Tree in the City and A Quiet Girl. His novel The Elephant won a Queensland Literary Award and was shortlisted in four other national awards. Peter lives on the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, with his wife, two daughters, a dog and a cat. Today we’re thrilled to have Peter Carnavas visiting to talk about his latest children’s novel, My Brother Ben.

From the publisher:

Luke and his big brother Ben spend the summer on the banks of Cabbage Tree Creek. Quiet Luke sketches birds, while Ben leaps off the Jumping Tree. The boys couldn’t be more different but they share the same dream: winning a boat so they can explore the creek properly. Then Ben starts high school and the boys drift apart. When Luke catches Ben sneaking out at night, he knows his brother’s up to something, but what?


When you were growing up did you have a big brother or sister?

I have two big brothers and one big sister. One of my brothers is just a few years older than me so we grew up doing everything together: playing backyard cricket and soccer, playing computer games and drawing silly pictures of each other.

In the book, Luke chooses soul birds for himself and considers soul birds for his various family members too. Which bird would you say was your soul bird?

I tend to do things slowly so I think I’d be a slow-moving water bird, like a white-faced heron.  I’m not a very good swimmer so it suits me that these herons only go ankle-deep into the water.

How long did it take you to write My Brother Ben – from the start of the first draft to the final draft?

It probably took me about year from start to finish.  Every time I thought I’d finished it, my editors pointed out ways to make the story even better, so I did many drafts. That’s the great thing about editors – it’s similar to the way teachers show you how to improve your stories. The illustrations didn’t take too long – probably only a few days to draw all the birds – because they are black and white pen drawings, and I didn’t have to paint them.

Do you have a tip for kids who might be interested in watching birds?

The main character, Luke, has an aunt who teaches him all about birdwatching.  She tells him to keep still and let the birds come to him, and this is something I’ve discovered when birdwatching myself.  I’ve found that if you walk through a bush track or a forest, you probably won’t see many birds straight away. But if you slow down and keep quiet for a while, you’ll notice small movements and sounds, and then you’ll notice more birds. Also, when you keep still, birds will be less afraid. Another tip is to start by looking for water birds in lagoons or ponds, as these birds keep quite still themselves, so they’re easier to watch and identify.

Could you nominate a children’s book you’ve recently read that you would recommend?

I have loved reading Sara Pennypacker’s books this year, particularly Pax and Here in the Real World. Pax is a wonderful story about a boy trying to reunite with the fox he once raised – great for upper primary students.

My Brother Ben is out now! Ask for it at your favourite bookstore or local library.


AWESOME EXTRAS:

Watch Peter Carnavas talking about the book (YouTube)

Download the Teachers’ Notes for My Brother Ben

Read two more interviews with Peter Carnavas here and here

Visit Peter Carnavas’s website for more about him and his books

My Brother Ben by Peter Carnavas

authors, illustrator, interviews

Anna Ciddor and The Boy Who Stepped Through Time

MEET THE AUTHOR

Anna Ciddor has always been fascinated by the past. It would be her dream come true to step through time! Instead, she immerses herself in research and hunts out the tiniest details so she can bring the past to life in her imagination. Anna has written and illustrated over 50 books on topics as diverse as Vikings, Irish druids, Australian history, travel, and toilets. Today we’re thrilled to talk to her about her latest book, The Boy Who Stepped Through Time.

From the publisher:

When Perry steps into a crumbling ruin while on holiday in France, he is not expecting to be transported back 1700 years to Roman times. While he hunts desperately for a way home, he must blend in as a slave in a grand villa – even if it means eating mice for dinner! He dodges the perils of Roman life. And all the time there is the danger that he will be trapped in the past forever …


How did you come to write a novel about Ancient Rome?

Well, it’s a long story because I actually started writing it when I was ten years old! You see, I read a book about Ancient Romans and I was fascinated by the idea of people lying around on couches eating with their fingers and spitting out their pips and bones on the dining room floor! I decided to write a novel about a boy from Roman times. I described him running down a stone-paved street dressed in a tunic. (A tunic was a type of dress that Roman boys used to wear.) I got stuck trying to work out what would happen to him though, so I stopped writing and went back to playing with my sisters. When I grew up, I became an author and illustrator, but it wasn’t until nearly fifty years after I started it, that I finally went back and finished the story about the Roman boy.

You joined forces with a researcher to help you with the accuracy of historical elements of the book. Could you tell us a bit about how you worked together?

I really needed help with the research because Roman times were so weird and different from the world we live in now. Romans cleaned themselves with olive oil instead of soap, they ate food like peacocks and dormice, they all got in a huge bath together, and they even went to the toilet together! The researcher and I worked for about a year researching the book and planning what was going to happen in every chapter. When I started writing and picturing the scenes though, I discovered I still needed more information. What sort of spell words did the Romans use? What medicine did they use to cure a sore throat? I kept sending the researcher text messages and she found me the answers but sometimes they were a big surprise. One Roman spell word was ABRACADRA. And one cure was to drink horse saliva!

You also illustrated the book. How did you go about the illustrations?

Again, the researcher helped me by finding Ancient Roman sources of things I was illustrating. For example, my granddaughter asked me to put a cat in the story so of course I did, and when I wanted to draw the cat, the researcher found me mosaics of real ancient Roman cats. They turned out to look exactly like my granddaughter’s two cats. Hers are tiger striped – one is orange and one is brown.

Is there an aspect of ancient Rome that you wish was still around today?

No! There are lots of things I am glad are NOT around today. The Boy Who Stepped Through Time is about a boy called Perry who goes back in time, and one of the things he hates most about Roman life is the toilets. The first time he needs to go, he opens the door and sees there are three toilet holes all in a row on a wooden bench, and a woman is sitting using one of the holes already. Even worse, instead of toilet paper they all share a sponge on the end of a stick.

Can you tell us a bit about your next writing project?

At the moment I am planning a sequel to The Boy Who Stepped Through Time. You can enter a competition for a chance to win your name in it! Click here to enter.

The Boy Who Stepped Through Time is out now! Ask for it at your favourite book shop or local library.


AWESOME EXTRAS

Read a sample chapter from The Boy Who Stepped Through Time

Download the Teachers’ Notes for the book

WIN your name in Anna Ciddor’s next book!

Visit Anna Ciddor’s website for more about her and her books

The Boy Who Stepped Through Time by Anna Ciddor
authors, illustrator, interviews

Kylie Howarth on Fish Kid and the Turtle Torpedo

Kylie Howarth is an award-winning, internationally published children’s author-illustrator from Western Australia.

Kylie Howarth swimming with a turtle
Author-illustrator Kylie Howarth swimming with a turtle.

Kylie has swum with whale sharks, manta rays and humpback whales in Ningaloo, piranha and pink dolphins in the Amazon, braved scuba diving with lionfish in Egypt, marine iguanas and hammerhead sharks in the Galapagos Islands and encountered great white sharks in South Africa!

Kylie not only draws inspiration from her underwater travels but also her own two fish-kids who are ocean explorers too. The textures in Kylie’s book illustrations are created during their backyard art sessions. 

We’re pleased to have Kylie visit Alphabet Soup today to talk about her latest book Fish Kid and the Turtle Torpedo.

From the publisher:

Fish Kid’s friendship with bestie, Emely, soon hits a snag during a tricky sea turtle rescue. Secretly wishing for powers of her own, Emely’s strange behaviour leaves Fish Kid wondering if their friendship and the super-sick turtle will survive. And if things weren’t bad enough, another turtle from the sanctuary goes missing. Can this super hero-in-the-making use his fishy powers to save the day?


Have you been to all the places Fish Kid visits?

Yes! It’s tough work having to visit amazing places like the Galapagos Islands, Ningaloo Reef and the Maldives! Visiting these places allows me to meet the sea creatures that feature in my books. It was my scuba dive with 20 hammer head sharks that actually inspired the Fish Kid series.

Do you have a favourite sea creature?

I LOVE humpback whales. I was lucky enough to fulfil a dream recently, and swim with humpbacks as part of my research for Fish Kid and the Mega Manta Ray. I collect humpback whale sculptures, books, paintings and my favourite pair of earrings are humpback whales!

Each book in this series includes some featured pages with Fish Kid Facts about sea creatures. How do you go about researching for the books?

I try to meet all the creatures in my books face-to-face to learn about them. If I’m on a snorkelling tour, I’ll quiz the local instructors and underwater photographers to find out what they have observed about each sea creature. I then follow up with library and internet research, checking several different sources to ensure each fact is correct.

The Fish Kid books also include black-and-white illustrations scattered through the story. Can you tell us a bit about how you create your illustrations?

For the first book I used pencil and ink to create the illustrations. I’ve since taught myself to illustrate on an iPad using a program called Procreate. You can use pencil and ink looking ‘brushes’ drawing directly on the screen, so the second and third books in the series were done using this technique on my iPad. See if you can spot the difference!

Can you tell us a bit about what you’re working on next?

I have just completed final illustrations for a picture book I’ve also written, which will be released next year. Although most of my books have an ocean theme, I’ve branched out a little and this one features some Australian bush animals!

Fish Kid and the Turtle Torpedo is out now! Ask for is at your favourite bookshop or local library.


AWESOME EXTRAS:

Watch Kylie Howarth share some facts from the Fish Kid books (YouTube)

Learn how to draw a Hammerhead shark (YouTube)

Download some classroom activities

Make a woven turtle torpedo!

Visit Kylie Howarth’s website for more about her and her books.

authors, illustrator

Rebecca J Palmer on Monkey Mind

MEET THE AUTHOR-ILLUSTRATOR

 

Rebecca J Palmer is an author, illustrator, printmaker, educator and teacher. She is the author and illustrator of a new picture book – Monkey Mind – launched in November 2020. We’re pleased to have Rebecca stop by to talk to us about some of the behind-the-scenes activity in the process of creating Monkey Mind.

From the publisher:

Piper wants to try lots of new things, but something always stops her – her monkey!  Some monkeys are playful. Some monkeys are fun. Not Piper’s monkey. 

Piper’s monkey is very, very, naughty. Everyone else can tame their monkeys. So why can’t Piper? 

Monkey Mind is a gentle story for children and adults about the worrying thoughts that cause anxiety.

On with the questions!


Monkey Mind by Rebecca J PalmerMonkey Mind is a book about facing anxiety. Were there any ‘monkeys’ you had to overcome in the creation of the book?
Oh Yes! Even adults have monkeys! When I first signed with my publisher, Little Pink Dog Books, I was excited and I said to myself, ‘Yay! Everyone’s going to see my story!’ But my monkey said, ‘Oh no! Everyone’s going to see my story.’
That was the start of it for me. I’m a first-time author-illustrator, so everything I did was new, and my monkey questioned everything I did. He said some really mean things like, ‘I can’t do this’, ‘It’s too much for me,’ ‘I’m too old,’ ‘I’m not an author, who am I kidding?’ and worst of all ‘Everyone will find out I can’t draw either!’ He was a mean little monkey. He took some taming I can tell you.

Can you tell us about the illustrations and what materials/tools you used?
I knew I wanted to do etchings. I decided those furry little lines could be made with blue ink – because blue is used to represent depression or anxiety. I also loved the mindful aspect of creating etchings and ‘zentangles’. I thought the process should reflect the main idea of the book. Live in the present!

  • I start out with a copper plate.
  • Then I skritch skritch (what I call this part of the process), into some asphalt that I’ve poured onto the plate and allowed to dry.
  • My ‘skritches’ expose the copper.
  • Then I place the plate into a bath of citric acid.
  • The acid ‘bites’ into the copper surface, but not the asphalt, and creates a line. The longer I leave the plate in the acid bath, the deeper the line.
  • Then I clean the plate so I can see the lines, which could be a pleasant surprise or a bit disappointing, because I’m never quite sure what they will look like.
  • Then I rub soy-based inks into the scratches, wipe the surfaces gently so the ink is just left in the etched lines. This is pretty satisfying, because you can see it properly for the first time and get more of an idea of what your print is going to look like.
  • The next stage of the process is to print the etched plate. 100% cotton paper has been specially made for this process and must be torn to the correct size, soaked and then patted dry so it is damp. It then acts like a sponge and ‘sucks up’ the ink.
  • The paper is carefully placed on the prepared plate in a printing press, and I turn a big wheel like a ship’s steering wheel and the plate is placed under pressure. It travels through two big rollers that squish the ink from the plate onto the surface of the paper.
  • Then comes the exciting bit! Peeling back the paper to reveal the print.

How long did it take you to create the book, from your first draft to the book being published?
Hmm. I’d say about three years. I had already started writing the manuscript because I was teaching some adults at university who were really struggling with anxiety. I thought it was strange we didn’t start teaching ‘monkey taming’ skills using picture books earlier than this. Kids are really clever. We just need to give them the tools early, so it becomes as easy as breathing in and breathing out.

Then, a publisher opened up a submission window. I was one of eight people offered a contract from 400 applications!

But then the hard work began. I changed my etching process to dry point etching (because of the cost of the copper for the etchings). Then, as I learned this new process, I realised I’d have to learn how to use Photoshop and some other digital programs, and then learn how to do watercolour! So I had to ask for help. My publisher agreed to me doing all the graphic design, the cover, and the typography.

Then, on top of it all, I hurt my knee. I was awarded an arts grant with the DLGSCI to let me ask my school if I could take off term four in 2019 to finish the art. It was a lot of hard work! Eventually it all got done. It was hundreds of hours, but it was a chance to achieve my heart’s desire and I couldn’t give up, I thought I might not have this wonderful chance again.

Do you have a tip for kids who would like to write or illustrate their own books?
I have three!

  1. Ask for help when you need it. (People love to be helpful!)
  2. Turn a gift into a talent. Many people are born with a gift like – being able to draw. Others can’t draw to start with but love it and they practise a little bit every day, and end up better at drawing than the gifted person who doesn’t practise!
  3. DON’T GIVE UP. Practice whenever you can, but don’t beat yourself up if you take a break!

Etching: There are other etching processes you can try that are not so expensive and long winded as this! Your local art shop has scratch board for instance, that gives the same satisfying ‘skritch scritch’ experience.

Can you tell us something about your next author/illustrator project?
I have two manuscripts that I’m working on right now. I have one that I started working on five years ago! I say to my monkey – listen, don’t take it personally, and learn. If it’s helpful, use it, and make the work better. If it’s not, then I say to my monkey, ‘Other people’s opinions of my work is none of your business!’ Think about this. 😉

Monkey Mind is out now! Ask for it at your favourite bookshop or library. 


AWESOME EXTRAS:

Monkey Mind by Rebecca J PalmerTake a sneak peek at some of the pages in Monkey Mind on the publisher’s website. 

Watch a 1-minute YouTube video showing a drypoint etching print of a page in the book.

Watch a 35-second YouTube video showing the process of making Monkey Mind.

Visit Rebecca J Palmer’s website for more about her and her book. 

authors, illustrator, interviews

James Foley on Chickensaurus

MEET THE AUTHOR

James Foley. Photo by Jessica Wyld Photography.
James Foley (photo by Jessica Wyld Photography)

Chickensaurus by James FoleyJames Foley is a Western Australian author, illustrator and graphic novelist. James uses a variety of materials and tools to create his books: pen and ink, pencil, charcoal and watercolour. He also uses digital tools: Adobe Photoshop, a Wacom graphics tablet, an iPad Pro and the Procreate app. His latest book is the fourth instalment in the hilarious S. Tinker Inc series: Chickensaurus.

From the publisher:

Sally Tinker, the world’s foremost inventor under the age of 12, is back with a new adventure in invention. When Sally’s nemesis hatches a fowl and poultry plot, there’s no room for the lily-livered. Sally and co will need all their pluck to return the world to its rightful pecking order.

On with the questions!


Assuming you’ve never seen a real chickensaurus, how did you design your dinosauric creatures in Chickensaurus?
I started off with some of the dinosaurs that everyone is most familiar with – T-Rex, velociraptor, stegosaurus, triceratops and pteranodon (though technically that last one is a pterosaur, not a dinosaur). I drew them normal to start with, then added chicken-y details on and gave them silly names. Sometimes the bits I added were suggested by the silly name I gave them – for example, the stegosaurus became an eggosaurus, so it’s basically a giant walking egg. Some of them just started out as a silly drawing and then I found an even sillier name for them – for example, the velociroosters turned up in my sketchbook in 2016, and there were other versions of lizardy chickens in my sketchbooks as far back as 2012.

Just how many chicken puns do you have in your archives? (Would Chickensaurus win the record for the most chicken jokes in one book?)
I hope so! (Though is that really a record that I want my name to be on? Should I be proud or ashamed?) I gathered as many silly jokes as I could and then found places for them in the book. There’s one particularly pun-filled part that I’m strangely proud of, where a character gives a long ‘villain speech’ using as many chicken and egg puns as I could fit in. It’s very, VERY silly.
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Chickensaurus is Book 4 in the S. Tinker Inc series of graphic novels. You also write and illustrate picture books. What’s different about the way you go about creating your graphic novels, compared to your picture books?
They’re basically the same process; graphic novels just have A LOT more drawings and A LOT more words. But there is one difference with my writing; when I’m writing a graphic novel I write it out like a movie script. It’s mostly just what the characters say to each other, with a few descriptions of the settings or the action that are basically notes for myself. On the other hand, when I’m writing a picture book the text is usually more than just what the characters say.
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Do you have one tip for young storytellers who’d like to create their own comic books or graphic novels?
Yes, and it’s an easy one – read lots of comics! It doesn’t matter if they’re superhero comics, or funny comic strips, or big fancy graphic novels … just read lots of them. And while you’re reading them, pay attention to the ways that the authors and illustrators tell you the story. Notice the things you like about the comic and maybe have a go at trying some of the same drawing or writing techniques. Notice the things you didn’t like so much about the comic and then ask yourself what you would have done differently. You can learn HEAPS just by reading other people’s work.
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Can you tell us a bit about your next project?
My next two projects are a short Sally Tinker comic adventure that will go into next year’s School Magazine, and a picture book about animals in space!

 

Chickensaurus is out now! You can buy it from the publisher’s website, find it at your favourite book store, or ask for it at your library. 

Chickensaurus by James FoleyAWESOME EXTRAS:
Click here to watch an interview with James Foley for Paper Bird Books Home Club (1/2 hour YouTube video)