Allison's Book Bag

Archive for the ‘Fantasy’ Category

Fox News broadcast meteorologist, Janice Dean, is back with her fourth Freddy the Frogcaster picture book. In her attempt to both entertain and educate, Dean has packed a lot of content into the forty pages of Freddy the Frogcaster and the Terrible Tornado. The resulting story feels rushed and overloaded with information. Even so, fans will enjoy revisiting Freddy and the Frog News Network as they face the latest weather emergency. The colorful and cartoonlike illustrations are a stable in the series and always a delight.

At this point in the series, Freddy has stopped needing to prove his worth to the Frog News Network crew and has instead become an accepted member of the crew. So, every weekend he heads to the TV station and delivers the weather on camera. One spring day, while studying his weather charts and forecasting tools, Freddy realized that his town of Lilypad could face some dangerous weather. But that wasn’t what caused the most excitement at the station. Instead all three felt psyched because the bad weather might mean a visit from the infamous storm chaser Tad Polar.

Dean’s created a good setup for a potentially adventurous, but then unfortunately hurries through the narration. She could have made Freddy face so many different obstacles: His parents might have refused to let him to ride along with Tad, but he could have snuck out anyway and faced danger because of it; On the ride along, the two might have initially gotten too close to the tornado and found their lives at risk because of their daredevil choice; While Freddy was out on the ride along, the tornado might have hit unusually close to his home, causing him to face guilt for not being there. Instead Freddy and Tad spot a tornado, report it, and a few minutes later are back safe at the news station. The story is simple, safe, and bland.

There are positives. First, as with other Freddy the Frogcaster books, detailed explanations of weather fill the back pages. Dean tells what tornadoes are, where they’re most likely to occur, how their measured with regards to strength, and tips to being safe during one. In addition, Dean offers up some cool trivia about the longest a tornado has traveled in the United States and the largest recorded hailstone in the United States. Second, the artwork by Russ Cox is captivating with its colorful palette. In addition, it changes to reflect the weather. When the skies are clear, pages shout with yellow, orange, and blue. When the skies are dark, pages rumble with purple and black.

Hurricanes. Blizzards. Tornadoes. Despite my disappointment with Dean’s fourth entry, I am a fan of her science-based stories. Dean has done much right. She featured animals. She wrote about weather. I’m already brainstorming a list of other types of weathers, in an attempt to figure out what the fifth entry will be.

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My seventh year of attending the Plum Creek Children’s Literacy Festival was special in two new ways. For the first time, I had the opportunity to attend the sessions for students. I accompanied the grade two classes at the school where I taught on the bus drive to and from the festival. When we arrived, students scattered to participate in literacy activities. Around 10:00, they were gathered back together to listen to one picture book author, eat lunch on the lawn, and then listen to a second author.

For the first time, I also had the opportunity to attend the adult sessions with my group of writing ladies. We drove to and from the festival together, browsed available books by featured authors together, and attended the luncheon together. Most of the presentations we attended separately, as we all had unique author interests. A couple of the ladies focused on picture book authors, while two of us mostly wanted to hear those who wrote for teenagers.

As usual, at the end of the day, I walked away with a bagful of signed books and dozens of typed pages of notes. This week’s post will focus on the authors who write mostly for younger readers. Notes are transcribed as I heard them, but at times edited or rearranged for a more cohesive read.

LOREN LONG: OTIS THE TRACTOR SERIES

lorenlong_snoopyLoren Long never saw his parents draw pictures but someone in his life must have been interested because he grew up liking to illustrate. As a child, he used to turn to the funny papers in the newspaper and try to draw the comics the way they were in the newspaper.

Like many kids, Long liked sports. He followed his brothers around. They all liked to play football. His only interest in museums was one that he called the cowboy one. He would draw horses.

Something conventional that Long’s parents did was read to him. His mom read many books to him. Long himself had a hard time sitting and reading a book. He never dreamed that he’d become an author. He thought they were smarter than him. “It’s not about smartness but about ideas.”

In college, Long didn’t know what he wanted to do. He worked on horse farms, but got told to stay away from horses. “College boys don’t know anything about horses.” His job was to weed, rake, pile hay, and stack. Long also got to drive an old tractor. “You’ll see right away that I used from something from my experience in my Otis books.”

I like to think of my books as little movies. The pictures are movies. Page turns create suspense. We can have quiet and loud images. Otis and the kittens was a tribute to those who run toward danger to save people. Read Otis and the Kitten. Read the original Otis.

lorenlong_otismsAfter sharing his background, Long turned to giving advice about how to write. He said to start with a character. Create a main character and then a secondary one. This is the entry to a story. Next comes setting. Then mood and emotion. “These are needed for songs, movies, anything really and are especially needed for a story.” Of course, in every story, something has to go terribly wrong. Long develops a framework: There is a problem, then Otis always saves the day, and then he returns to the tranquil start.

Long switched here to once again talking about his background. He was illustrating magazines and never dreamed that he’d ever write, but then he started illustrating other people’s books and getting his own ideas. He started by writing down his sons’ stories and changing them to make them more interesting and simple. His sons used to make up stories about a green tractor and a farmer’s son and a cat who got stuck in the mud. It’s not hard to see where the inspiration for Otis came from.

lorenlong_otisLong starts with a painting. It takes about seven months for a story to unfold. He puts the paintings in front of him and let them surround him. Then he writes and rewrites. It takes about fifteen rewrites. Then he’ll ship off his manuscript and the artwork. He’ll receive three or more pages of edits asking him to provide more details. “My wife says you know this will happen. I say I thought this was perfect this time. It hurts to have the critiques but it also makes me a better author.”

 

SARA PENNYPACKER: CLEMENTINE SERIES, WAYLON SERIES, PAX

Sara Pennypacker started her presentation by showing a photo of her laying down. This is when she does her best work. She tells kids that writing is a lot about dreaming.

sarahpennypacker_sleepWriting is hard. One can make it easier by writing about what makes them passionate. That might be what you love OR what terrifies you. Students will ask her what makes her passionate. When she was younger, she used to love mannequins and feel terrified of moss. One day she combined those two passions. The result reminds her everyday of what she should be writing about.

I hope what I share will inspire those working on the other side of the book. I think we’re all working on the same side. I met with a bunch of other authors at a conference. We were asked, “Why do you do what you do?” Their answers were similar: To make order out of chaos; To make beauty out of what was ugly. To heal or make something feel good that originally felt bad. Mine was to make just out of what was unjust. I realized we all said the same thing but in a different way. Good books have to connect people by their goals.

After this ice-breaker, Pennypacker shared her thoughts on books. She believes that they connect readers to the rest of “their tribe” through time and space. Readers may not know they’re connected. But they are every time a kid reads something and thinks they were the only one.

sarahpennypacker_mossShe also believes books also raise questions. Questions are more important than answers. Answers separate people. Readers should toss a book that is trying to teach. Yes, books will have a moral. They’ll have a strong compass. Authors don’t write books about nothing. It’s hard to keep morality out a book. But a book shouldn’t preach.

To illustrate, she explains how her own books came about. “What happened with the Clementine books is I had a child who struggled with paying attention and having impulse control.” The series shows that these young people might also be problem-solvers and possess creativity and empathy. Pennypacker is passionate about this issue, but her job is to keep morality out of it. “As many times as my character is criticized, someone also compliments her. But you need to keep proselytizing out of it.”

In the Clementine series, Pennypacker writes about a character who has strong views. Her job is to threaten those passions. “Look for how an author feels about character. Do they feel honest and kind?” Books are windows and mirrors. Everyone should be able to see themselves in books; that they’re worthy of stories. Books should also show what’s out there and what’s possible. “I start every book with faults. A standard is to begin with a character who messes up.”

The character of Clementine has been compared to that of Ramona, the famous creation of Beverly Clearly. While Pennypacker acknowledges that she wants to write the same way as Clearly by telling stories of ordinary kids, she feels Clementine is a different character. Pennypacker believes that readers need books about dysfunctional families, but she also missed seeing functional character books. “I told my kids that I know I failed as a parent but I made up good parents for you.” From the start, Pennypacker knew she wanted a limited number of books. She wanted Clementine to be a strong presence and not dry her out. She also wanted to give Clementine privacy as she matured into adolescence. So she choose to end the series after seven books. “In the last book I wept at the signature scene with the principal.”

The Waylon series came about because Pennypacker loves the idea of chapter books, where one can live with a character as a friend and expand upon that character’s life. After Clementine, she wanted to write about a different type of character, but stay in the school system. Pennypacker believes that ten-year-old kids can be highly developed in some ways such as being gifted in science) but young in other areas such as emotional maturity, and wanted to explore these contradictions. “One day they’re two years old and another time they’re one hundred years old.” Pennypacker picked to have a boy as the main character, because she feels it’s tougher to be male in elementary school than female. “They’re fewer molds that keep you safe, reflected in the fact boys get into trouble more, drop out more, and commit suicide more. Boys have more rigid modes that he’s allowed to show,  boys are denied being allowed to show humanness and Waylon will say there’s a science reason.”

Pax is one of Pennypacker’s most recent publications. She heard a story of a mother’s son who went to war and who got injured and will never be able to walk. This inspired Pax. It just won The National Book Award. Pennypacker refers to it as, “the book of my life”. Pax started six years ago. Pennypacker wanted to write about the injustice of war and about the passion that children have for animals. When someone complimented her on her book Sparrow’s Song and said it reminded her of Elephant’s Compassion (a sentient animal in WW11), she realized the two stories needed to be combined. She couldn’t write about war without writing about animals.

sarahpennypacker_signingPennypacker switches back to talking about the importance of books. The story is a map of life. All stories start in an ordinary world. The character doesn’t get to actualize. Then there’s a call to a different world. The hero refuses the call, which leads to all kinds of questions:

  • Do you seek a mentor?
  • Do you need to bond and seek allies?
  • Are you surprised by a trickster?
  • Have you avoided fixing a problem and isn’t that real challenge?
  • Does it require you to develop a new facet of yourself?

In the end, the hero brings back an elixir. Stories help us process our life as stories and share those stories with the tribe.

Pennypacker concludes by telling of a conference she attended where she heard ones talking about Carl Jung and the question, “Why is their evil in the world?” The answer according to Pennypacker? “When people can’t tell their stories.” People need voice, power, platform, and audience. Children don’t have this. But adults do. And so authors can tell stories for young people. “This is why it’s important for children to read and have access to books. I tell young people that they need to tell their story and in a way that they will listen.”

SALINA YOON: NOVELTY BOOKS, PENGUIN SERIES, BEAR SERIES, BE A FRIEND

Salina Yoon is from  Korea. There, she grew up in a house with a thatched roof. There were no books, television, toys, or even plumbing. “I tell my kids that I grew up with sticks and rocks. My grandmother would use two mirrors and reflect them to tell a puppet show.”

salinayoon_ideaEven after the family moved to the United States, English was never spoken by her parents. Yoon would look at the pictures in books. This sparked her imagination. She grew up to write almost 200 books.

As an adult, Yoon discovered she enjoyed producing “really creative books” for children, the type she would have liked when a child. She keeps an open mind. Everything can inspire an idea. Eventually, the idea will turn into something beautiful.

Yoon started out in the novelty book industry. She would build the entire book and then send it to a publisher to get them to purchase it. If a project doesn’t sell, she’ll move on to the next project. She doesn’t obsess over it. One idea can lead to many other ideas. Out of fifty submitted books, Yoon used to sell an average of ten.

After this sharing her background, Yoon gave specifics about some of her novelty projects.

  • Do Cows Meow? “I had to research to find out the inside of animal mouths. I had to look at the diagrams of biology of animals. I like the large flaps because kids can grasp hold of them. You can’t sell an obvious concept book; those are done in-house or by a book packager. For me to sell a concept book, it must go beyond the basics. Publishers hate to acquire because they have to spend money on these. So my books have to be unique.”
  • OppoSnakes: “It’s tricky as an illustrator to make it interesting. So straight snake is also sheriff snake. The opposite is tangled snake and is also a bandit snake. Art has more layers to it than just the text. If I start out with an idea, I always have to ask: How can I push it? When I design my books, I have to think of their size and shape too. I made a horizontal book to accommodate the snake.”
  • Pinwheel book: “I used a pinwheel. Everyone knows them. It’s fun to blow on and see in the dark. I want to bring this into a book. How can I put something so thick into a book? This is when I have to use my ingenuity to design a book. I created the book pinwheel. It was special and one of my hardest to create. One can spin the wheels in the book and you get to see all different designs. It doesn’t require batteries. If you spin it enough, a horse pops up like in a carousel. The carousel page took me three weeks to figure out. I want kids to grab my books and to learn from them. The books are interactive toys but also books.”

salinayoon_noveltyIn 2010, there were a lot of transitions in the publishing market and downsizing in novelty books. “Novelty books have less of a profit. They are made by people not machines. So publishers began buying fewer of them.” Yoon started to feel the pinch. She submitted her usual fifty projects and received only two acceptances. She considered leaving the book world and going into a paying world, but the dilemma was what career to pursue. She used to be a designer but hadn’t kept up with that field. She also considered Barnes & Noble or Starbucks. A third option was to create picture books.

Yoon hadn’t grown up drawing or writing and so that idea terrified her. The agony over not wanting another job led her to try. Life experience and relationships give Yoon ideas for picture books. Her oldest son would always pick up things including sticks and pine cones. One day her son asked Yoon to make a blanket for his pine cone. From that idea, Yoon wrote Penguin and Pinecone. Her first attempt caused her many doubts. “What were you thinking? Of course you can’t write! Am I being selfish wanting to do something that I like?”

salinayoon_storyboardYoon now has six books in the penguin series. She explained that a lot of decisions are made to create a spread. She wanted to start out with a character who wouldn’t know what a pinecone would be. A penguin would be in the woods. An opposite would be a pinecone. She used animals because this made the story less problematic and she used a simple palette to create a cold cool feeling but also a gender neutral and warm color. Her mother loves to knit and so she had penguin knit. Penguin is a blend of her son and her mother. The penguin books have made a connection with adoptive parents and empty-nesters.

Yoon also talked about her Bear series, in particular the title Found. It was inspired by her son who couldn’t live without a floppy toy.

salinayoon_plushOne of her most special picture books is Be A Friend, originally called Silent Adventures of Mime Boy. The book draws on Yoon’s own life. When she first came to the United States at age four, it was tough for her to make friends. She spoke, ate, and dressed different. She felt alone. The Mime in Be a Friend represents how different Yoon used to feel. She made the illustrations in black and white, so that the red line adventures and the mime’s red heart would stand out. Yoon tells of how a whole class acted the story out and shared it with her through video. The book has also connected with autistic kids because of the nonverbal communication in it.

Novelty books are pretty anonymous. I never got fan mail. That was fine by me because I’m introverted. Picture books brought me fan mail. This makes me realize the importance of books.

Among my circle of pet-loving friends, The Cat Club books by Esther Averill have become popular. We’re unable to resist these adorable tales of a cute black kitty named Jenny and her feline companions. One of my friends even bought a few of the books for her daughters. After which, she lent two of them to me that I had yet to read. Now I’m bringing them to your attention.

Jenny Goes to Sea is about the adventures of four cats at sea. Soon after Jenny and two brothers board The Sea Queen, they meet the ship captain’s cat. Jack Tar tells Jenny and Edward that the two have come from a long line of the noble cats of Egypt and then gives their other sibling the mysterious news that some of his relations may have come from Siam. For several weeks, the cats amuse themselves by strolling decks, climbing ropes, counting whitecaps, and walking the gangplank. Just as they start to get bored, they see land ahead and decide to go ashore. This is when this sleepy adventure story starts to pick up pace. Sometime after getting his fortune told, Checkers goes off in search of a palace in Siam. This act results in Jenny disobeying her master and Jack Tar almost losing his job as the ship captain’s cat. At times the story felt almost too light-hearted and fanciful, but nonetheless this tale from 1957 contains an enduring innocence and charm.

Captains of the Streets is about how three rough-and-tumble street cats became part of The Cat Club. Born and raised in New York, Sinbad and The Duke took off for the south side of then city but soon found themselves hungry and desperate. They sought out Tramps Last Stop, a place known for providing cats with handouts. Here, they meet up with Patchy Pete who tried to steer them towards the east side. But nothing can deter the two brothers from searching for a place of their own. Patchy Pete accused them of being soft. They proved him wrong with their boxing abilities and with their cunning in finding food. Then through finding compassionate folks and intelligent feline companions, they also showed Patchy Pete why having a place of one’s own just might be a good idea. This tale from 1972 feels real to how street cats might live, while also providing readers with the satisfaction of a happy end. The story has a lot of heart and is one of my favorite Cat Club books.

Fans of the Cat Club books will be happy to know that many of their favorite characters make an appearance in one of both books. Besides Jenny and her brothers, Pickles the fire cat appears in two chapters of Jenny Goes to Sea. The President and other Cat Club members are featured in more than one chapter of Captains of the Streets. These two titles should take a cherished place on your shelves, along with Jenny and the Cat Club.

RoseWishThingRose and The Wish Thing is not a typical picture book. The misty illustrations hold an air of the mysterious and are my favorite part of this brief story. As for the text, parts of it are straightforward and tell a universal tale of being new and alone. Other parts feel more abstract and even have details left out, which at times left me confused. For those who embrace Rose and The Wish Thing, the entire package will stir the imagination.

The watercolor spreads, intricately hashed with black ink, immediately captivate me. At the start, an abundance of muted shades of brown, orange, yellow, and green convey Rose’s deep loneliness. As Rose looks beyond her room and her house to worlds far away, a plethora of grays are added. While all these somber colors might conceivably create a sense of dreariness for some, I personally found that they instead invited me to feel Rose’s great turmoil as she unsuccessfully sought out the wish thing. Some pictures reveal what the wish thing is not. Others send Rose swirling into stormy skies and seas, as she searches for the wish thing, and inspire me to use my imagination. When Rose finally does encounter the wish thing, an abundance of brighter colors allow me to revel in her joy. The illustrations perfectly capture Rose’s inner emotional world.

RoseWishThing_InsertThe text is a little more problematic. On the positive side, it unfolds at a gentle pace, along with being simple and easy to read. Often there’s just one line or maybe up to three lines per page. Sentences are typically short such as in: “Everyone searched and searched.” The vocabulary is at an ideal level for being independently read too.

On the negative side, the plot at times feels incomplete or perhaps overly subtle. The plot begins with Rose being a new face in a new place. And as such she naturally feels alone. The problem is I don’t really understand what a “wish thing” is and why Rose is so intent on finding it. Readers are told the wish thing doesn’t have a name and given a list of familiar items which aren’t the wish thing. Yet even when Rose draws the “wish thing,” I don’t know what it is except maybe the equivalent of an imaginary friend? Or perhaps, even though her parents and her dog help Rose look, we aren’t really supposed to know what the wish thing is? Maybe we’re just supposed to use our imagination? I’m not sure, except in the end Rose not only finds the wish thing and also makes new friends.

My one reservation aside, Rose and The Wish Thing is a sweet and magical story. There’s plenty of dramatic and whimsical events. Even if one never figures out the actual identity of the wish thing, I can see imagine young people embracing this new concept into their vocabulary and even creating picture books about their own wish thing.

My rating? Read it: Borrow from your library or a friend. It’s worth your time.

How would you rate this book?

CarolineMagerlCaroline Magerl spent the majority of her childhood at sea on her parents’ yacht. Born in 1964 in a small German town near Frankfurt, picture book author Caroline Magerl moved with her parents to Australia when she was two. Shortly afterwards, while the family lived in Sydney’s suburbia, her dad built a 45-foot yacht. Until Magerl was fourteen, the family sailed the east coast of Australia, and she attended more than ten different schools. At age sixteen, Magerl joined another yacht, crossing the Tasman Sea to New Zealand. Not until almost her twenties did Magerl settle to life on land.

Although her heart’s desire was to create children’s books, Magerl worked steadily as an artist. Drawing on her sailing experience, Magerl made a living as a cartoonist for a yachting magazine. In 2001, she moved and her husband moved to a village in the coastal hinterland of Queensland, Australia, and began painting and exhibiting fulltime. While staying busy time with sell-out shows, Magerl made important connections with art gallery owners. Then, in 2006, the family moved once again. This time, Magerl learned printmaking at from a master printmaker, and soon had a press of her own.

CarolineMagerl_BoatHer wish to create children’s books received a boost when she won the Children’s Book Council of Australia, 2001 Crichton Award, for best new talent in the field of Children’s Book Illustration. Tomorrow I’ll review her first children’s book, funded by a grant, Rose and the Wish Thing. The illustrations were exhibited at the Chris Beetles gallery in the United Kingdom. Save the date of my review: May 25!

Each time she wrote, Magerl sent me samples of her beautiful artwork. I have enjoyed my email exchanges with her, and hope you’ll also appreciate getting to know a little of her background through the below interview.

ALLISON: What about Australia would you show a visitor?

CAROLINE: That could make a long list, but I will show some discipline and say the far north of Queensland for a start. High hills covered in monsoonal cloud, rainforests, huge butterflies and amazing bird life such as cassowaries, with the Great Barrier Reef offshore. There is so much to see in that part of the country in terms of tropical scenery and wildlife.

Penguins at Tasmania by Caroline Magerl, Used with permission

Penguins at Tasmania by Caroline Magerl, Used with permission

The other place I love is Tasmania, the island to the south of the continent. I stayed in a historic lighthouse cottage a couple of years ago at the mouth of the Tamar River. At night, the headland came alive with Fairy Penguins traipsing up to their burrows to feed their young. That was a fabulous experience in a part of the country rich in extraordinary natural beauty and historic interest and I only managed to see the east and north coast!

ALLISON: You had the unusual experience of being raised aboard a yacht. What was the best experience?

CAROLINE: The sheer proximity to the natural environment impressed me deeply, partly because it was so unavoidable and frequently uncomfortable, but also because it was so stunningly beautiful.

Coming up into the cockpit at dawn to see a completely different coast after a night of travel was one of those experiences that had a lasting impact. On one particular morning, I recall emerging from below and asking Dad the names of two islands that I saw to the east. He told me they were called Moon Island and Bird Island. Both were just barren lumps of rock as if randomly hurled into the sea, with tufts of green clinging here and there on the otherwise scoured rock-faces. The sight of these places were all the stronger for being the first thing I saw after a long night of hearing the diesel engine thump-thump-thump and knowing miles of coast had slipped by in the dark.

CarolineMagerl_Boat2On a different note, living aboard offered a completely unique bathroom experience, one of which still brings a smile. We had a sea water toilet and on very dark nights, if I left the light off, it was possible to see the sparkling of plankton in the toilet bowl. These microscopic creatures are bioluminescent and so flash a cold greenish light, particularly when disturbed. One particular night, a tiny fish had been sucked into the toilet via the pump and I saw it go round and round the bowl like a tiny comet trailing its phosphorescent plankton wake. That experience was on a whole other level, for me!

ALLISON: You had the unusual experience of being raised aboard a yacht. What was the worst experience?

CAROLINE: The look on my parent’s faces one particular night, as we entered Crowdy Head Harbor. I was in the aft cabin below deck and my job was to read out the depth of water under the keel from the depth sounder. The sea was quite rough and the situation tense as we came close to the breakwaters on either side of the harbor entrance. Suddenly the stern of the boat was lifted high as a large wave swept under the yacht, and I saw the depth gage indicate shallow water under the hull. I looked up and glimpsed the alarm on my parent’s faces as they watched a wave, which was out of my view. We had passed over a rock or reef at the entrance of the harbor, which had caused the sea to heave up. That was one of the scarier moments of our boating life.

However, there was one worse thing, the week the yacht was sold and we moved off the Rosa-M. For all that it was a home which never stood still, the boat was the only home I felt connected to. It was awful saying goodbye to that triangular room and the life we had onboard.

ALLISON: How difficult was adapting to life off the yacht?

CAROLINE: Adapting to life aboard was strangely easy for me, in that it was genuinely interesting to live in a tiny triangular cabin at the bow of the boat. I was able to see the ever changing scenery through the portholes, day and night. I took less notice of the lack of hot running water, shower, any appliances such as washing machines and of course no phones. I am sure my mother felt these inconveniences more than I did.

Generally speaking, the fun of it all outweighed the negatives for me, but it left me with a bunch of odd habits. I did my laundry by hand right into my late twenties, and still cannot waste water for fear of empting the water tank.

Even when at last I moved ashore, I would find myself tilting a little whenever anyone came up the front steps of the house. That was because the yacht would always list over a bit when anyone stepped aboard, and I had an unconscious expectation this would happen even after a year living on dry land. My husband finally teased me out of that little foible.

ALLISON: What got you started in the business of making picture books?

Dreamt of Birds by Caroline Magerl, used with permission

Dreamt of Birds by Caroline Magerl, used with permission

CAROLINE: My family immigrated to Australia when I was two years old. My father had escaped the communist East Germany leaving his family behind. My Grandmother would send picture books to me from East Germany and these books had an enormous impact on me as a child. They were a window into the world we had left behind and also a window into my Grandmother, who I would not meet again for twenty years. I treasured the books from Germany, but was also deeply engaged with the literature I found in school libraries in Australia. I became convinced of the power of books to connect you to people and places.

As for my own picture books, I submitted work to publishers and art directors for nearly ten years. Then, in my thirties, after much effort I got my first picture book illustration contract. This book was presented with the Crichton award for best new illustrator of the year (Australia). After receiving the award and buoyed with a new found confidence, I rang every publisher I knew with the news hoping to drive home my advantage and get more texts to illustrate. As I waited on the line to be transferred to an art director at one major publisher I heard the secretary announce ‘a call from Mrs. Crichton’… Ouch! Things did get better from there.

ALLISON: How did a childhood living on a yacht shape your art and writing?

CAROLINE: Life onboard was a Spartan existence, we had no hot running water, a toilet which relied on manipulating various valves and pump handles, and a tiny portable television in a cheerful shade of orange. The yacht was 45 feet long but had little spare cabin space. I spent a lot of my time reading and drawing.

A great deal of the atmosphere of ‘Rose and the Wish Thing’ came directly from the experience of living on the boat. In one scene the Wish Thing is espied by Rose through a cardboard telescope. It bobs in and out of view in little circular images, which were inspired by the view out of my childhood round cabin porthole. Our yacht would swing at anchor and the scene outside passed by in a dizzying fashion, as if seen through a moving telescope; clouds, waves, distant shorelines. I used this device to add some suspense in illustrating the approach of the Wish Thing in the story, now you see, now you don’t….

ALLISON: What is your most memorable friendship experience?

CAROLINE: My friendship story revolves around a girl who lived on another boat. Christine and I met when we were both around ten years old, in a town called Bundaberg. Her family also lived aboard a yacht. We rowed between her boat and mine, and played in horse paddocks under the bridge with Christine’s beautiful dingo dog, Simba. When my folks sailed on to Townsville, Christine and I wrote letters to each other. Our paths crossed on a number of occasions and it was always a happy day when I saw her boat chug into harbor. The letters we wrote to each other became a habit for me… writing and illustrating, day to day events. I continue that same thing in my Illustrated Letters, as it feels entirely natural and reminds me of a wonderful time and a wonderful friendship. Christine and I are still in touch and she still has the most amazing devotion to her dogs.

ALLISON: The bond between Rose and the Wish Thing is a strong theme in your book. Why was this theme so important?

CAROLINE: As I was writing this story, I remembered how as a child I drew much strength when holding a particular toy. It had somehow been nominated to provide protection and courage. This is something I have seen many other children do and is heart-warming to watch, but also deeply intriguing. It occurred to me that there is something significant to be learnt from these fleeting relationships.

During the years of writing Rose and the Wish Thing, I happened to see a boy tenderly carry a kitten in the hood of his jacket. We were on a Melbourne tram and he kept his composure by gently stroking the whiskered face at his shoulder, all the while under slander from other youth sitting nearby. This incident was instrumental in shaping a part of the story, that of Rose carrying the Wish Thing in her hood.

Finding the Wish Thing was just the start for Rose, her courage was there all along, but now it was engaged. The world outside her door is after all the object and desirable end to the tale of finding the Wish Thing. It is the friendship that happens once a Rose finds her place in the world, which is the less obvious but true focus of this story.


Allisons' Book Bag Logo

Spring Reviews

Almost a year after I announced that it was time to take a step back from this blog, Allison's Book Bag is still here. I'm slowly working back up to weekly reviews again. Each week, there will be one under any of these categories: Advanced Reader Copies, animal books, religious books, or diversity books. Some will come in the form of single reviews and others in the form of round-ups. Just ahead, there will be reviews of:

  • Freddy the Frogcaster and the Terrible Tornado by Janice Dean
  • The Distance Between Us by Reya Grande
  • Hearts of Fire from The Voice of Matyrs

Categories

Archives

Cat Writers’ Association
Artists Helping Animals

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