My great nieces, Ella and Evie absolutely loved Hello, Baby written by Shelly Unwin and illustrated by Jedda Robaard.
And it’s hardly surprising! Hello, Baby is a perfect ‘Baby’s First Story’.
The emotive pastel illustrations beautifully complement the gentle lilting text. There’s so much love, warmth and joy in this delightful picture book as the family welcomes their new arrival and contemplates the wonderful years ahead with their new baby.
Today we’re lucky to have the author and the illustrator, Shelly and Jedda, here to talk about how they created this beautiful book.
Shelly is the SCBWI ACT Coordinator and author of the much loved ‘You’re Series’ also published by Allen & Unwin.
I had some questions for Shelly about the inspiration behind this book and how she created it.
1. What inspired you to write Hello, Baby?
My parents were foster parents, and I loved helping them care for the babies. So, when I became an author, I knew at some point I would write a book specifically for babies. But if you asked my husband, he would tell you he was my inspiration – he was the one to suggest that I put pen to serviette (we were in a restaurant at the time) and write it. And I’m so glad he did!
2. Why do you think books like this are important?
I think people often buy books to celebrate the arrival of baby, but they’re often hard-back collectables that sit beautifully on the shelf until the child is older. This book is about reading from the day baby is born, and this is so important. Reading to baby as soon as possible has so many wonderful benefits, assisting cognitive development and nurturing the bond between caregivers and babies. And, in our non-stop world, this book says, ‘Pause, pause and look at the beautiful baby you have created. Pause and relish the time you have with them and the future you will have together.’
3. Can you tell me about the writing process?
As I mentioned, my first draft of this book was written on a serviette. I then took it back to my office and reworked it. When I felt confident, I shared it with my critique group for their feedback, several times. This helped to make the manuscript as strong as it could be and ensure I’d nailed the rhyme and the rhythm regardless of who was reading it.
4. What is your top writing tip for picture book authors?
Find a critique group that works for you. It is so important to get feedback from writers who can look at a story critically and help you build it to its potential before sending it out to agents or publishers. Even if you know a lot about books and writing, you’re often too close to your own work to really see where it can be improved, and this is where a good critique group can be so beneficial.
5. In your mind, did you visualise your main character as a human baby? How did you feel when you saw the illustrations?
I always envisioned an animal as the main character, but I thought it would be one animal family the whole way through the story. I was delighted when Jedda illustrated a whole host of animals who gather together with human babies at the end of the book.
6. What have they added to your text?
I love that the family unit is different throughout the story – some families are single-parent families and many of the animals have no clear gender. It makes my heart sing that the book can support any family structure and is accessible to all. I also love Jedda’s beautiful illustration style – it complements the text and is perfectly suited to the age group. Allen & Unwin also added the dedication page at the front of the book and the space for baby’s first photo at the back, which makes it such a special keepsake.
Jedda has created over 40 books. Her books are sold internationally and have been published in many languages including English, French, Dutch, Greek, Italian, Korean and Chinese.
Although she enjoys writing her own stories, Jedda has also collaborated with a number of Australian Authors, including Katie Richie, Kerry Brown, Melissa Keil, Libby Gleeson, Kate Welshman, and Tania Cox.
Jedda is published in Australia by Hardie Grant Egmont, Penguin Random House, Hachette, Five Mile Press – Bonnier, Walker Books, Scholastic books, Little Hare Books, Allen & Unwin and HarperCollins.
And internationally by Little Bee, Langue Au Chat, Pearson & Planeta Junior.
I loved hearing Jedda’s insights into how she illustrated Hello Baby!
1. Did you connect with the text straight away? If so, why?
As soon as I read Shelly’s next, I loved it. I knew straight away how it could look. The images jumped into my mind immediately. Which isn’t always the case when someone else has written the story.
2. Was it your idea to use animal characters? If so, how did you choose which ones to use?
I believe it was always destined to be animals, but the idea of it being a different animal family for each page made it so much more fun.
I’m not completely sure on how I came to to pick each animal. But the text definitely helped set up characteristics for each family.
3. What medium/s have you used?
This book was done entirely on the iPad in Procreate (digital drawing program created specifically for illustrators). I’ve found it the only digital program that allows me to draw and paint and get as close as possible to the feeling of illustrating traditionally.
4. What is your top tip for new picture book illustrators?
Don’t spend so much time perfecting your folio that you never send it in. You will learn a lot ‘on the job’ and although you may worry your initial folio isn’t good enough. If you have what a publisher is looking for they will see it.
5. What was the most fun thing about illustrating this book?
Having so many different animals. As your probably aware I love illustrating animals and this was like Christmas for me.
6. What was the most challenging?
I think using digital media is always the most challenging for me. Not the actual drawing but making the images look as non digital as possible while not pretending it’s traditional watercolour. It’s a balancing act that I am still working on.
Thank you so much Shelly and Jedda for sharing your insights on how you created this beautiful picture book. I hope that Hello, Baby finds its way into many small hands.
If you have questions for Shelly or Jedda, please feel free to include them in the comments section of this post.