Meet the illustrator: Tina Snerling

Tottie and Dot cover

Tina Snerling is an Australian illustrator with a brand new picture book — Tottie and Dot. Today Tina is visiting us to talk about how she starts illustrating a new book project.

When the publisher gives you a picture book text, what’s the very first thing you do?

I start to think about the colour palette, style of drawing, characters and the actual scenes to be illustrated. This can take days, weeks or months, depending of the depth of the book. For Tottie and Dot, the colour palette was very important to the storyline given the intensity of the scenes. They needed to be completely contrasting in every way.

Once you had the story text for Tottie and Dot, how long did it take you to complete all the illustrations?

This is a little difficult to answer as the process is quite long! I usually start developing the characters first, like this:

Tina's sketches for Tottie and Dot


Tina snerling sketches 2

I created around 10 different ideas and ‘girls’ in this case before I came up with the ‘final’ Tottie and Dot! Then once the girls are drawn, I work on different poses and facial expressions I might need. Then comes the fun part of illustrating each page! This took around 6 months full-time illustrating to complete the book ready for printing. Some days I can work 15+ hours illustrating — it depends how creative I am feeling!

Can you draw whatever you like?

I get given an illustration guideline from the author. They usually have a general idea of what image will be illustrated, then I get to the fun part and add my own personality and humour to the illustrations! Working with Tania is amazing, as I get to go crazy with my imagination, and add my own quirky details. In Tottie and Dot I loved the incorporation of the cats — it was so enjoyable creating crazy things for them to do in each scene.

Did Tania (the author) see any of your illustrations before the whole book was finished?

Tania and I work very closely on our books. We are a little bit different to most illustrator/authors where we work as a team. We are in constant daily contact (sometimes until all hours of the night) and bounce ideas off each other.

Do you decide where and how much text goes on each page, or does the publisher decide that?

The text is already set out on each page when I receive the manuscript. This was part of the author’s role and is important especially in picture books as we are usually limited to 32 pages. As the book designer, I do get to decide the font, size and position of the words though!

Did you do the cover first, or last, or somewhere in the middle of all the illustrating?

Our publisher usually likes to see the cover fairly close to the beginning of the book. Once the characters have been decided and the scene is set, the cover then usually comes next! I still tweak a few things later on once the book is coming to an end though! With Tottie and Dot, we actually had another cover:

Alternative Cover for Tottie and Dot

… which we stuck with for some time, but at the final hour I changed it to be the current cover you see today:

Tottie and Dot cover

Tottie and Dot is published by EK Books. You can find out more about the book (and the author and illustrator) on the Tottie and Dot website. This blog post is part of a Blog Blast — for more interviews, giveaways, book reviews and news on Tottie and Dot, check out the participating blogs

Book reviews by kids, Book reviews by Matilda

Book Review: An Aussie Year

An Aussie Year by Tania McCartney, ill. Tina Snerling, ISBN.9781921966248,   EK Books

Reviewed by Matilda, 7, WA

A review copy of this book was provided by the publisher.

an aussie year

This is a book about 5 Aussie kids and one dog and each month they tell you what Australian children do in that month. Matilda is my favourite character because my name is Matilda too, and that character even looks a bit like me.

There are lots of illustrations scattered across the page of each month. My favourite month in this book is December because everyone’s celebrating.

Some of my favourite illustrations are:

  • The girl playing hopscotch in February (because I like to do that)
  • The Harmony Day pictures on 21 March where they’re all holding hands.
  • The Easter egg hunt with the costumes and the bilby
  • The Tasmanian devil at the tea party (he’s funny)

At the back of the book there’s a map of Australia with a bit about each of the states.

I learned some new things in this book — like Canberra Day is in March. (I didn’t know there was such a thing as Canberra Day).

I think all kids up to age 10 would like this book. There’s lots to look at and even if you think you know everything Aussie kids do in every month you can still learn some new things.

This review is part of a Blog Tour celebrating the launch of An Aussie Year. Check out all the stops on the tour. Or why not have a sneak peek at the characters in An Aussie Year?


An Aussie Year Blog Tour

An Aussie Year

An Aussie Year is a new picture book (out this month!) about what Australian children love to do each month of the year. There’s a Blog Tour to celebrate (we’ll be featuring a book review of the book on our stop of the tour).

Would you like to see one of your stories published? Then DON’T FORGET to enter the ‘An Aussie Year writing competition‘. The winning entry will be published on the Kids’ Book Review site as part of the book launch celebrations! (Entries close 27 October, so get those entries in!)


The Coolest People in Australian History

Tania McCartney (photo)
Tania McCartney

Tania McCartney is one of our favourite visitors and — hooray! — today she’s visiting again. We’re celebrating her newest book Caroline Chisholm: The Emigrant’s Friend. This is the fifth book in the ‘Aussie Heroes’ series of junior historical fiction, it’s an illustrated chapter book for children aged 8–12. (Illustrations are by Pat Reynolds.)

Tania is on a blog tour to celebrate the book. You might remember when Tania launched her book Australian Story: An Illustrated Timeline, she gave us Ten Reasons Why History is Exciting. Today she’s here with her list of The Coolest People in Australian History. Awesome!

Over to you, Tania.

There’s a saying you may have heard: fact is stranger than fiction.

What does this mean?

Well, it means that Real Life — and the many quadrillions of things that happen in Real Life — are often more shocking, more exciting, more adventurous, more interesting, funnier and crazier than anyone could ever make up in a storybook.

History and its stories are particularly stranger than fiction — and the further you go back in time, the more bizarre these stories can be. Some of you may have read the Horrible Histories books, and you’ll know exactly what I mean!

The history of the Australian people is, of course, many thousands of years old. It all began when our First People arrived — some say over 60,000 years ago. Other than the precious relics of our Aboriginal stories and cave paintings, our country’s recorded history is a lot shorter than that — just over 200 years.

In that time, many people have dedicated their lives to shaping this great country of ours — standing up against injustice, providing a helping hand or creating something beautiful. There are simply too many people to choose from, but I’ve chosen five people I think are some of the coolest Aussies in history.

To me, these people are cool because they were either brave or talented — or both. The brave ones were ferociously brave. The talented ones were the best in their field.

I wonder who will make this Cool Aussies list in 100 years’ time. Will it be you?

  1. May Gibbs (1877–1969). Cecilia May Gibbs was an artist and author responsible for the beautiful Snugglepot and Cuddle Pie series of children’s books (among many others) that celebrate our Australian flora. Once upon a time, the only books Australian children had to read were from British or American authors! May Gibbs was one of the very first authors with a true focus on Australian life and our environment, and of course, many Aussie authors have since followed in her footsteps. Very cool indeed.
  2. Donald Bradman (1908–2001). Australia is a nation of sport-lovers and quite possibly our most famous Aussie sportsman would be Sir Donald Bradman. I’m sure you’ve heard of him. He was such a fine cricketer, people said he was the equivalent of three batsman, not just one. He was also cool because he was a vibrant, entertaining sportsman; his skills would attract enormous crowds. I must admit, I still don’t ‘get’ cricket but there’s no doubt Mr Bradman was probably responsible for making it so popular.
  3. Ned Kelly (c.1855–1880). Some people would argue that a murderous bushman is not the coolest of historical Australians, but much has been written in support of Ned Kelly — that he was misunderstood and targeted by the authorities — perhaps even set-up. Some have even called him a modern-day Robin Hood, robbing from the rich and giving to the poor. When he was hanged at age 25, his final words were ‘such is life’.
  4. Eddie Mabo (1936–1992). Eddie Koiki Mabo was born in the Torres Strait Islands and was a champion for Indigenous land rights. He was deeply committed to forging a landmark decision with the High Court of Australia that allowed Aboriginal people to claim back the land that was taken from them when white man arrived in Australia. Today, we celebrate Mabo Day on 3 June every year, in honour of Eddie’s important achievements. Not only cool — awesome.
  5. Caroline Chisholm (1808–1877). Caroline was born in England but emigrated to Australia with her family, where she began helping the penniless, homeless young women sent by boat to Australia. As more women and families began to arrive, Caroline helped them find work and housing. She also reunited families and improved appalling conditions on immigrant ships and on the Victorian goldfields. Caroline helped families make the best of terrible situations and dedicated her life to the wellbeing of others. Not much cooler than that.

What do you think of my 5 Coolest People in Australian History list? Do you agree with it? Who would be on your list and why?

Leave a comment below, with YOUR top 5 Coolest People in Australian History, and I’ll publish your picks on my blog! Make sure you leave your first name and age with your comment.

~ Tania McCartney, author of Caroline Chisholm: The Emigrant’s Friend.

Caroline Chisholm - book cover

Do you want to know more about Tania McCartney and her new book? Check out the other stops on the Caroline Chisholm Blog Tour.


Writing a series of picture books – Tania McCartney

Riley and the jumpy kangaroo book cover

Tania McCartney
Tania McCartney

Today we have pressed the pause button on our Poetry Festival to take time out for a celebration! We are very happy to have Tania McCartney visiting as part of her Riley and the Jumpy Kangaroo Book Launch Blog Tour — A Very Jumpy Tour. This is the fifth book in the Riley series, so we asked Tania some questions about how she goes about writing picture books in a series.

This is the fifth book in your Riley the Little Aviator series. When you wrote the first book, did you plan to write a series or did Riley and the Sleeping Dragon enter the world as a standalone picture book?

I wrote Riley and the Sleeping Dragon while living in Beijing — and I never dreamed the book idea would become a series. As this book was just a little personal project of mine, I was surprised when the book did well in China and I was even more surprised when the book did well in Australia, when we returned home in 2009. These kinds of surprises are very nice!

Because it did so well, I wondered if another title might work. And it did! so I just kept going. So far Riley has visited Beijing, Hong Kong, Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra.

Each book in the series is set in a different part of the world. How do you choose where to send Riley next?

I had originally planned for Riley to travel to Asian cities, but kids in Australia were desperate to have Riley visit their home town, so I quickly changed that concept to Australian cities. Sydney came first because it has the largest population, followed by Melbourne.

I wanted to send Riley to Canberra this year because it’s where I’m currently living, and the Riley books have a bit of a cult following here. I also wanted to help celebrate Canberra’s Centenary Year — 100 years old in 2013!

I choose the place depending on where we’ve visited as a family because all the photos used in the Riley books are taken by me. I have a lot of photos up my sleeve including Tasmania (we spent two weeks touring the island in 2010; it’s SUCH a cool place and I’m actually a Hobart girl), New Zealand, the west coast of the United States, and several Asian and European countries/cities.

I’d actually love to send Riley overseas again. I’ve even had thoughts of sending Riley to the North Pole. Shall have to rug up for that visit!

Is there anything different about each new title, or do you try to keep all the Riley books as much the same as possible (apart from the plot)?

It’s important to tie a book series together and this is usually done with the way the books look, and the same kind of plot structure/theme. I also think it’s important to add extra elements that make new books in a series feel fresh and exciting.

For the Riley series, I changed up the way I did each book — just so I could add that freshness.

In Riley and the Sleeping Dragon, the dragon isn’t seen in any of the photos … until right at the very end. This helps make the ending more of a surprise.

riley and the sleeping dragon (cover)

In Riley and the Dancing Lion, there are lions all through the book, but they’re never the one Riley is looking for. This makes kids wonder what the ‘right’ dragon will look like, and helps build suspense.

riley and the dancing lion

In Riley and the Curious Koala, the koala is hiding on the pages, sometimes in different forms, like a cloud or an umbrella. Kids LOVE to hunt for koalas in every photo (though he doesn’t appear on the page featuring Luna Park — so don’t break your eyes looking for him!).

"Riley and the Curious Koala (cover)"

In Riley and the Grumpy Wombat, the wombat isn’t revealed until the end, but I gave Riley a series of amazing ‘contraptions’ he can use to help find her (because the wombat travels underground and Riley would have found it hard to spot her while flying a plane!).

Riley and the Grumpy Wombat (cover)

In Riley and the Jumpy Kangaroo, I decided to change things up by adding colour to the photographs for the first time. As the story unfolds, more and more colour creeps into the images — and when you see the very last photograph over a double page spread, you’ll understand why!

Riley and the jumpy kangaroo book cover

Is there anything you need to keep in mind each time you start writing a new book in the Riley series?

Yes —Panda I need to make sure we include the animal from the last book! Each time Riley starts a new adventure, a little toy version of the critter from the previous book joins the entire crew. Eventually, Riley will have an entire zoo of creatures accompanying him. Kieron and I have joked about attaching a hot air balloon to Riley’s plane so all the creatures can sit in it.

I also need to ensure I keep the style and ‘voice’ of the book the same as the others. This is what ties it to a series. Sometimes this is difficult to do because as you grow as an author, your voice and style changes and (hopefully!) improves. I would actually love the opportunity to do the Riley books a little differently now but I can’t alter the look of an established series.

Have you decided in advance how many titles will be in the Riley series? How do you decide on the right number of books for a series?

I was hoping to release a Riley book every year, forever! But my work on other books has become so busy, Jumpy Roo took two years to produce. The next one may even be three years away. This is upsetting because I adore the books and I have kids asking for them all the time. I will try to make them more frequent!!

Where to next for Riley?

I’m thinking maybe Tassie or New Zealand. I’d love to visit Tassie again soon, so that may sway me. Or maybe I could ask the kids of Australia to nominate Riley’s next destination. Perhaps I’ll send him to the city where kids make the loudest noise!

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

The Jumpy Roo book launch is being held at Floriade this year! Anyone living in or visiting Canberra on 15 September is invited along, but RSVPs are essential if you want a goodie bag and balloon! You can find out more here.

You can also visit the Riley the Little Aviator website to see updates, learn more about the places Riley visits, and see behind-the-scenes work. There are also some fun activities for kids.


If you’d like to learn more about Tania, visit her website, the Riley the Little Aviator website or check out some earlier Soup Blog posts featuring Tania here and here!

Interview with Tania McCartney © 2013 Tania McCartney and Rebecca Newman

This post is just one stop in the Riley and the Jumpy Kangaroo blog tour. For the full Blog Tour schedule, jump in your little red plane and head right here.

teachers' resources

10 Reasons Why History is Exciting (& a sneak peek inside the book!)

Tania McCartney, authorToday we have National Year of Reading Ambassador Tania McCartney visiting Soup Blog as part of her blog tour to celebrate her new book Australian Story: An Illustrated Timeline.

You might know Tania as the author of the Riley and the Grumpy Wombat: A Journey Around Melbourne (and her other Riley books!). In Australian Story she takes us on a trip into the past—from the explosive beginnings of our planet to modern day Australia.

Earlier today we posted a review of Australian Story. Now Tania is here to give us 10 reasons why history is exciting. Over to you, Tania!

Australian Story cover

One of my biggest aims in writing Australian Story was a far-flung idea that I wanted to make history ‘cool’ for school kids. Most kids would look at the subject of history and not in any way, shape or form, associate it with ‘cool’. I know I didn’t when I was a kid, so yes, my cool-seeking goal was certainly a big one.

I do, however, think that maybe—just maybe—I’ve succeeded.

Australian Story isn’t your typical history book. First of all, it’s mostly pictures—and we all know how much fun picture books are; even us big kids know that.

Secondly, it’s light on text—so it doesn’t bog you down with those boring facts and figures that go on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on—almost as long as this sentence.

Thirdly. It’s exciting. That’s right. Its entries have been hand-selected, like the choicest cherries on the supermarket pile, and they are just the most delicious bites of action, fun, terror, invention, shock, sweet, sour, romance, achievement, winning, losing and yes yes yes—cool.

And now [DRUM ROLL!] Here is an exclusive sneak peek at two pages inside Australian Story!

A peek inside the pages of Australian Story by Tania McCartney (first sample)

A sneak peek inside the pages of Australian Story by Tania McCartney (sample 2)

Writing Australian Story, for me, made history not only cool but exciting. And here are 10 reasons why I think history is making a major comeback because it’s sooooo exciting.

1.     It tells the truth (well, as far as we know, anyway). And the truth is always stranger and more bizarre and more eye-opening than fiction.

2.     It’s oftentimes unbelievable. Did you know, for example, that in 1859, a farmer released 24 rabbits into the wild near Geelong, and these 24 rabbits became the fastest multiplying mammals in world history!? Unbelievable. But true.

3.     It reveals where we’ve been—but also where we’re going, and it’s always exciting to look towards the future and all the breathless possibility that lies ahead.

4.     It sheds light on how things came to be and how we have come to know them today. For example, the humble lamington may just be a chocolatey/coconuty cake to you, but where did it get its name? Why, it was named after Lord Lamington, the Governor of Queensland during the 1890s, of course! Don’t you know anything?

5.     It makes us realise how little we know about our country and how it formed. Knowing these things and being able to tell your friends or even better—your parents—all these really cool facts is a very exciting thing indeed, especially when it impresses them (and it will).

6.     It’s a snapshot of our achievements—and for such a small population, we have certainly achieved a lot, including the creation of both the bionic ear and artificial skin, offering the first round-the-world air service, and the claiming of almost half of Antarctica, excuse me.

7.     History allows us to learn from our past—and hopefully do even better, and make better choices. Looking back helps us understand what NOT to do. Well, that’s the hope, anyway. Understanding how people did things a long time ago—and comparing it with how we live now is kind of awesome (and certainly makes us appreciate where we are now!).

8.     It makes us feel. Whether it be laughter, shock, pride, anger, appreciation or even crying our eyes out (how embarrassment), when we hook up with history, we are guaranteed to feel a range of emotion —and that’s what good books are all about.

9.     It’s worth celebrating. No country has a perfect past, but we have much to celebrate and much to look forward to and work towards. We are quite possibly the finest example of successful multiculturalism in the world. And if that’s not cause for celebration, I don’t know what is.

10.  It’s entertaining, especially when done in a way that’s memorable and fun. Not many topics can both educate and entertain at the very same time, but history absolutely can. Now, that’s exciting. And, dare I say it—cool.

© Tania McCartney, 6 March 2012

Check out the other stops on the Australian Story Blog Tour!

Monday 5 March

Blog Tour Schedule and Book Giveaway

Kids Book Review

Book Launch Party Wrap-Up

Tania McCartney’s Blog

Book Giveaway

Alphabet Street

Tuesday 6 March

Book Review

Buzz Words

Australian Story Research Process


Book Review and 10 Reasons Why History is Exciting

Soup Blog [You’re here!]

Wednesday 7 March

Australian Story Teaching Notes for Key Stage I

Sheryl Gwyther’s Blog
Book Review and Teaching Notes Ideas for Key Stage II

The Book Chook

Book Review

Kids’ Book Capers

Image-Sourcing for Australian Story

Blue Dingo

Thursday 8 March

Book Review

Reading Upside Down

Book Review

Pass It On

Book Review

Bug in a Book

Friday 9 March

Book Giveaway


The Writing Process for Australian Story

Sally Murphy’s Blog

Book Review

Books for Little Hands

Book Review


Saturday 10 March

Book Review

Kids Book Review

Book Giveaway

Posie Patchwork Blog

Book Review

Suite 101

Sunday 11 March

Book Review

My Little Bookcase

Book Giveaway

Australian Women Online

Blog Tour Wrap-Up

Tania McCartney’s Blog

Book reviews by Rebecca

Book Review: Australian Story

Australian Story: An Illustrated Timeline by Tania McCartney.

Published by National Library of Australia, ISBN 9780642277459.
(A review copy of this book was sent to us by the publisher.)

Australian Story cover

Follow Australia’s history on a timeline from Earth’s beginnings until 2010.

Every page of Australian Story is packed full of facts, dates and interesting bits of information—everything you ever wanted to know about Australia from long, long ago until today. Read this book and everyone will be begging you to join the quiz night team as the Expert on Australia. (Only agree if someone on the table brings lamingtons … )

The timeline is illustrated with artwork, photos and maps from the National Library of Australia. There are images of postage stamps, old magazine covers, Australian money (see what the $1 note looked like!), old posters, flags and an image of Captain Cook’s handwritten list of Indigenous words. And there’s lots more, too.

Do you know the answers to these questions?* (See if your mum and dad know.)

What is the name of the last volcano to erupt on the Australian mainland?

Who designed the Aboriginal flag?

What was the name of the first recorded European to land on Australian soil?

When was the first Melbourne Cup horse race held?

Who was Australia’s first Prime Minister?

Which Australian creature featured on the two-cent coin?

*You’ll find all the answers to these questions in Australian Story.

This is a book that we highly recommend for Aussies of all ages.

(You can WIN a copy of Australian Story. In fact, you have two chances. Chance 1: Head over to the Kids Book Review blog. Chance 2: Head over to the Alphabet Street site. Good luck!)

© March 2012 “Review of Australian Story: An Illustrated Timeline by Tania McCartney” by Rebecca Newman (Alphabet Soup magazine)

Three Quick Questions: Tania McCartney (#6)

All through October, Alphabet Soup is celebrating turning three. We have heaps of writers and illustrators stopping by to answer THREE QUICK QUESTIONS and today’s visitor is Tania McCartney, author of the ‘Riley the Little Aviator’ series. The latest is the series is Riley and the Grumpy Wombat.

Riley and the Grumpy Wombat (cover)

1. Where do you like to write?

In my trackie dacks. All hail the trackie dacks! I write from within these dacks … though of course, I don’t use my legs to type. I suppose I could get little teensy trackie dacks made for my fingers? I also like to write in cafés with my laptop, although I don’t wear my trackie dacks to the café. If you saw my trackie dacks, you’d know why.

2. Can you name a book you’d recommend to our readers?

I read the new Dr Seuss book—The Bippolo Seed and Other Lost Stories—and it wasn’t even published yet, so I felt very special seeing it so early. My heart was thumping out of my chest when I first picked it up. It thumped so hard, I had to give the book a hug to calm my heart down. I know I don’t need to recommend a new Dr Seuss book, because if you’re a reader, you’ll know how good the book will absolutely most certainly be. So I won’t say a thing. Except “read it”!


The Bippolo Seed (cover)
Tania McCartney recommends The Bippolo Seed and Other Lost Stories by Dr Seuss

3. Can you offer a word or phrase that kids could use for inspiration if they have writer’s block?

Onomatopoeia. (That’s all those funny words that sound like something—crash, tinkle, splash, squelch … you can use them to kick-start any sentence.)

Tania’s latest book—Riley and the Grumpy Wombat: a journey around Melbourne—is out now. See more on Tania’s books at or visit her book character Riley at his own blog— Make sure you stop by for some really cool book reviews and author/illustrator interviews, too!

© October 2011 “Three Quick Questions with Tania McCartney” by Rebecca Newman (Alphabet Soup magazine)

(Psst … see you back here tomorrow, when author- illustrator Mark Wilson answers our Three Quick Questions.)