FAUNA: Australia’s Most Curious Creatures – Tania McCartney shares creative secrets

One of the things I love most about being Australian is the amazing fauna we have in our country. Tania McCartney has captured all my favourites and more in her gorgeous new book, Fauna: Australia’s Most Curious Creatures.

“Did you know that platypus have retractable webbing on their hind feet to enable an easy transition from swimming to digging? That kangaroos can’t sweat and that the cassowary has no tongue?”

You’ll discover so many amazing facts about our incredible fauna in Tania’s new book.

As with all of her work, Tania is so detailed in her research that she uncovers the unknown and quirky details that I love.

This is not just a stunning book about Australian fauna, it’s also a book about conservation with Tania flagging species that are vulnerable and endangered; some of these will surprise you.

From koalas to crocodiles, and dugongs to Tasmanian devils there are so many fun and fascinating facts to devour.

There’s a lot to absorb, but kids will also enjoy the fun way in which these facts are presented with sections on drop bears, crocodile nosh, and the aerial acrobatics of the Sugar Glider, just to name a few.

I loved delving into all this amazing information, and poring over the gorgeous full colour, often humorous illustrations that add a whole new layer for readers to enjoy.

Fauna: Australia’s Most Curious Creatures is the kind of book you can take on holidays with the family to try and spot some curious fauna. It’s also a great classroom tool for talking about the fauna treasures we have in our country, and environment and species conservation.

It’s a book that takes the reader on an amazing journey of discovery, and inspires them to share what they have learned. Fauna: Australia’s Most Curious Creatures is published by the National Library of Australia and available where all good books are sold.

We’re so lucky that Tania’s joining us today to talk about how she created her beautiful new book.

Tania McCartney is an author, illustrator and editor of children’s books, with a particular passion for picture books. She has over 50 books in print or production, and recent books include Mamie(HarperCollins), Ivy Bird (Windy Hollow), I Heart the World (Hardie Grant Travel, Feb 2020), and junior fiction series Evie and Pog (HarperCollins, Feb 2020). The founder of Kids’ Book Review and The Happy Book podcast, Tania’s awards include several CBCA Notable books, the SCBWI Crystal Kite Award and the CBCA Laurie Copping Award for Distinguished Service to Children’s Literature. An ambassador for the Chief Minister’s Reading Challenge, Tania has lived in France, England and China, and currently lives in Canberra with her family, a forest of artwork and a mountain of books. 


1. What was the inspiration behind Fauna?
An animal book has been on my bucket list for a while, and during research for some of my other books, I found myself incessantly marvelling at the curiosities of our native fauna. I mean, we all know there’s lots of quirk when it comes to Australian animals, but I was finding more and more super cool facts I was pretty sure many kids (and adults) had not yet heard of.

I was also keen to produce a book that wasn’t a ‘typical’, traditional animal book. I wanted to create a book high on design and laid out in pockets of text that would enchant a broad range of kids—even reluctant readers and younger readers who are ready for ‘more’.

2. As an author/illustrator, did you write the text first and then do the illustrations or did you work on them simultaneously as you were doing the research?
I’m so lucky with the National Library. My publisher Susan Hall entrusts me with creating books in an organic way that fits my style of working. I find text and image a seamless dance, so I put most parts of Fauna together simultaneously.

I would research, write, sketch and play with shapes and form all at the same time. This meant I could create really balanced spreads. If I needed to fill a certain section, I could choose to create a new image or seek out another little fact or chart of diagram.

The book was edited from fully designed and laid-out spreads. Scientific editor Jeannette Birtles was a real trooper. She went through several rounds of spreads in this way and it worked out really well, as image was so tightly correlated with text, and both could be edited in tandem.

3. There is so much amazing detail in this book. Are you able to estimate how many hours you spent on researching and creating it?
That’s a hard question! I tend to work on several books at the same time, but Faunawas one of the rarities where I had to really focus. I’d say it took about 8 months of work in the proper sense—in that I was actively working in a solid way. But there were many times outside that active phase where I’d do further research, read, tweak, re-check, seek illustration inspiration, take photographs, make textures, etc. So perhaps the entire process was a year in the making.

4. Who is your favourite curious creature?
I have a bit of a soft spot for the dugong. Researching this beautiful creature was strangely calming, and I was particularly taken with how bonded babies and mums are. They’re just the sweetest of animals and have an extraordinary evolutionary history. I love monotremes, too—the echidna and the platypus. They have that special something—when you see one in the wild, you can’t breathe, they’re so beautiful. And both are living relics from our dinosaur past.

5. What was the hardest part about creating this book?
Creating Fauna was a joy, but probably the hardest thing was the toll on my body. The hours put into creating these illustrations … graphic design-style imagery may appear relatively ‘easy’ but it’s not. It’s a massive amount of detailed work, complete with many layers of texture and filters. The other challenging thing was the many (and necessary) rounds of edits with Jeannette. For a book like this, multiple rounds are vital. We want to get our facts straight, and science comes up with new facts almost daily! So, this was a laborious process, especially the cladogram at the end of the book. Worth it, though.

6. What did you enjoy most about creating it?
Discovering glorious facts. Learning more about our beautiful and unique fauna. Falling in love with animals all over again. Designing and laying out the book, and having the creative freedom to do so. That meant the world to me.

7. Fauna is fun, funny and fascinating, but there’s also a strong conservation thread. Why did you include this theme in your book?
As Earth’s ecosystems continue to falter, and as most of the world’s leaders continue to put profit and power before planet, we must seize any opportunity to further educate our children on conservation. These kids hold the planet’s future in their hands, and the love and care and concern they already show for nature is heartening. I hope Fauna can help impassion and inspire them further, in even the smallest way. That is, after all, what books are for.

Thanks for dropping by, Tania.

I loved your new book. I can see Fauna: Australia’s Most Curious Creatures making a great Christmas present for animal lovers of all ages.


This is Captain Cook

I’m fascinated by the past so when I see a picture book like This is Captain Cook that encourages a love of history in the very young, I can’t help but be excited about it.

Cover Capt Cook FINALThis is Captain Cook is the creation of the very talented Tania McCartney (author) and amazing illustrator, Christina Booth. It’s not just a recount of history, it takes us into the world of Captain Cook and brings him alive to the reader as a person we might be interested to know.

This is Captain Cook tells about the life and times of Captain James Cook through a school play performed by Miss Batt’s Class.

This is such a unique and innovative idea that ensures this book works on a number of different levels. It can be read, or even acted out.

imagesThe text is full of facts, but it’s lively and fun. James loved running amok on the family farm with his brothers and sisters and goats and chickens.

images-1The illustrations are beautiful, full of little gems to enthral young book enthusiasts, and make adult readers smile.

The text and illustrations are rich with threads that weave throughout the book making it something that kids can pore over for hours. It’s also a book that’s great in the classroom to appeal to different learning styles.

images-2I have never seen history presented for young children in such an entertaining and appealing way.

The is Captain Cook is published by the National Library of Australia for readers aged 3+

Tuesday Writing Tips – Eco Warriors to the rescue

Today I’m thrilled to be part of a blog tour to celebrate the release of my good writerly friend Tania McCartney’s latest book, Eco Warriors to the rescue.

Tania is passionate about literacy, and loves to speak on reading, books and writing. Her latest books include Eco Warriors to the Rescue! (National Library Publishing), Riley and the Jumpy Kangaroo: A journey around Canberra (Ford Street), Caroline Chisholm: The Emigrant’s Friend (New Frontier) and An Aussie Year: Twelve months in the life of Australian Kids (EK Publishing).

Tania puts so much heart and soul into everything she does, and you’ll see from this wonderful book she has created.

eco warriors cover

Eco Warriors to the Rescue!
(National Library Publishing, Aug 2013, $17.99, firm cover, 9780642277800)

Join Banjo, Matilda and Ned on a magical adventure into the Australian native landscape via a series of historic, beautifully-rendered botanical paintings.

Entering the very pages of their favourite book, the children interact with all manner of Australian flora including Kangaroo Paw, Wattle and Eucalypt. Along the way, these intrepid warriors seek ‘tips’ to ensure the survival of our native landscape for generations to come.

Can these eco-warriors help save our native flora from extinction?

Today, Tania is generously sharing her tips on how she created Eco Warriors to the rescue – and I’m doing a review, so stay tuned.

Tania McCartney photoTania’s Five Multi-Media Writing Tips

“I have a real thing for multi-media books—an obsession with photography and interactive book components probably explains why—but kids are also drawn to them, too. This is probably because of the entrancing, multi-dimensional way the book’s pages appear, but perhaps it’s also because so much thought and energy goes into producing a book that features several media components.”

Here are my tips on writing multi-media picture books.

  1. Think about the multimedia format you want to use. It could be completely visual—photography, collaging, graphics, hand-drawn typography. Or it could be three-dimensional—flaps, holes, pop-ups, sound. When considering the multitude of media formats, hold your story and book-purpose firmly in mind so that these formats complement and enhance the story, rather than confuddle or addle it.
  2. Keep in mind the cost of production of multi-media books. If you are a dab hand at graphics, paper-crafting or photography, costs will be minimal (other than your time and equipment) but calling on the skills of others can become costly. Also consider the cost of manufacturing for books that feature unusual components or non-standard page sizes.
  3. Remember you can extend multi-media interactivity online, with links to webpages featuring more comprehensive content. You don’t have to cram everything and anything into a book, thereby overloading it with ‘too much’. Not only is it costly, it can take away from the narrative or message.
  4. Play to your strengths. Implement multi-media elements you have experience in—create elements you understand and can produce well. Sub-standard elements could potentially ruin your work.
  5. Don’t be afraid to try something out-of-the-box or unusual. So long as it’s doable (and you can do it well), let your imagination run wild!


Eco Warriors to the rescue is a riot of colour and visual interest.

It features Banjo, Ned and Matilda, a group of ordinary kids interested in protecting the environment in which they live and play.

I love the way Tania has combined environmental facts with normal everyday activities that kids can relate to, giving readers a clear understanding of how their actions will impact on the environment.

n - CopyTania introduces the reader to some of Australia’s most beautiful and unique plants and their habitats.

The kids, Banjo, Ned and Matilda are diverse and endearing, and I enjoyed watching the action unfold through their eyes.

The author, Tania Mcartney was able to combine her love of writing, photography and design in this book.

She came up with the layout/design concept for, researched and photographed Eco Warriors to the rescue, and clearly this book is very dear to her heart.

Eco Warriors to the rescue is a great book for classroom discussion about the environment – and also for the family library.

As well as the environmental issues tackled, the book contains information about all the plants featured, and the botanical artwork is spectacular.

Combining modern photography and typesetting with historical artworks from the archives of the National Library, Eco Warriors to the Rescue! makes the Library’s beautiful collection of botanical art accessible to the very young. The book also includes interesting facts about Australian flora, as well as floral emblems and birth months, and further ideas on how to keep Australian green.

Eco Warriors to the rescue is suitable for Primary School aged readers.


You can catch Tania, Banjo, Ned and Matilda on tour at these great blogs:

Sunday 1 September

Sneak Peek
Tania McCartney’s Blog

Boomerang Books Blog

Pass It On

Mixed Media Illustrations for Picture Books
Angela Sunde
Under the Apple Tree

Monday 2 September

Book Review
Book Giveaway
Kids Book Review

Eco Tips for Little Readers
Sheryl Gwyther’s Blog

Bringing Up Eco Warriors
The Book Chook

Books for Little Hands

Literature Supporting Sustainability
Children’s Books Daily

Author Interview
Alison Reynolds

Tuesday 3 September

My Little Bookcase

5 Multi-Media Writing Tips

Writing for the National Library of Australia

Elaine Ouston Blog

Soup Blog


Today, I’m pleased to welcome good writerly friend, Tania McCartney to DeeScribe Writing. Tania is sharing her research tips and she’s visiting as part of the blog tour to celebrate the release of her fabulous new book, Australian Story

Tania McCartney is an author of children’s books and adult non-fiction. Her works include You Name It (Hodder Headline 1995), Handmade Living: a designer collective (Handmade Press 2010) and the Riley the Little Aviator series (latest title: Riley and the Grumpy Wombat: A journey around Melbourne, Ford Street Publishing 2011). She is also an established magazine writer, editor and blogger, and is a NYR12 ambassador for the ACT. She lives in Canberra with a husband, two kids and a mountain of books (especially history books). www.taniamccartney.com

The Research Process – Australian Story

by Tania McCartney

What is it about research? Some people love it, some people hate it; I fall into the former category, and then some. I’ve always been obsessed with diving into the deep end of almost any topic, and fishing out delicious facts and figures that bring subjects alive and kicking.

If there was a book more in need of research than Australian Story, I’d like to hear about it! Essentially an abridged historical account of the entire history of Australia – from creation through to our very first female prime minister – the book took many, many hours of fact-scouring, and certainly didn’t start out ‘abridged’.

Gathering facts and figures to tell Australia’s story was a fascinating but lengthy process – and I started out with many more entries than I needed. I began by keeping a Word document of all my findings, including entries I knew were not going to be wholly appropriate for a children’s book. Including these entries in the initial drafts was vital to help me gain a ‘whole picture’ view of our past – and also helped me place events chronologically, and make more educated decisions on what should be cut.

I frequently saved my Word documents as second, third, fourth, etc, files in order to keep a series of updated drafts. This was important due to the large amount of entries I was finding. As entries were cut and added to, I knew the possibility of losing entries – or inadvertently tampering with their accuracy – was high.

The other issue I had with finding entries for the timeline was questionable accuracy. Not only online, which is rife with inaccuracies and subjective information, but also in the history books. Accounts shift and change with popular opinion – so not all dates or recollections would match up, especially on entries before the mid-19th Century. It was important to document each version of these entries so they could be fact-checked. Indeed, some entries were reluctantly deleted in the end, due to an inability to satisfactorily legitimise the content.

Other entries to be deleted were those that were laborious, boring, convoluted, not-so-important or age-inappropriate. Sometimes it was difficult letting these entries go, but it was vital to streamline entries and ensure they were appealing and relevant to children, as well as to the shaping of our nation. Australian Story is by no means a comprehensive and all-inclusive version of our country’s history, but it has turned into a phenomenal and child-appropriate resource for primary school age kids – for whom I’ve been determined to make history ‘cool’ again.

Much of my research was done online and cross-checked ad infinitum. I made certain the bulk of it was done on reputable websites, such as government departments or legitimised historical sites. I also researched entries at libraries and in text books. Entries were fact-checked by historians, teachers, experts, government departments, Indigenous advisors and other professionals before finalising. Then they were checked again.

One of the joys of researching this book was discovering the entries I initially knew nothing (or little) about. As each new entry unfolded, even more would be discovered – it was like opening a multi-layered gift that just kept on giving. I’m so grateful, in particular, to the professionals who mentioned timeline entries I had inadvertently omitted – for these entries often turned out to be very important, most particularly when it came to relaying them to our children.

For this kind of book, I therefore feel that a collaborative effort is key. Compiling and revising (and revising and revising) this material over and over again was dangerous in that I frequently became too close to it, so having others scour and fact-check was vital for accuracy and clarity.

Another aspect of my research process for Australian Story was a very visual one. I tend to work and think visually, so I compiled page layouts as I went along, especially towards the final stages. Text was not the only thing needed for Australian Story. Being a visually-based book, using images from the NLA’s extensive Digital Collection, I was tasked with choosing images to accompany most of my research findings – and this was probably my favourite part of all.

I kept a spread sheet correlating images to text. Laying out pages in draft form with the images I sourced also helped me see where any visual ‘holes’ might be. Of course, not all entries could include images, so it was important to strike a visual balance.

Researching Australian Story was one of the most challenging, uplifting and rewarding processes I’ve ever been through as an author. Sure, it was daunting at times, but keeping and updating regular drafts of your work makes it a whole lot easier, as does taking teensy bites and moving forward, step-by-step, without becoming overwhelmed.

If you are tasked with such research, think about ways you can make the task fit more neatly with your mental processes. If you are a visual, use ways that will maximise a visual slant, even if it’s keeping a running diagram or chat. If you work better with lists or themes, divide your work up appropriately. Keeping separate documents with headings such as Notes, Web Addresses, Contacts, Bibliography, will also help you keep your research on track.

Researching books is a monumentally rewarding part of being an author. Emotional, dynamic, challenging and enlightening, it’s far far far from boring. And the reward is well worth the effort.

Wow, thanks Tania for this fascinating insight into the research process.


Take a trip into the past––from the explosive beginnings of our planet to modern day Australia, in this fascinating journey through time. Featuring succinct entries on historical moments over the past 47 billion years, Australian Story covers ecological change, politics, invention, war, immigration, celebration, culture, modern technology and more.

Illustrated with a striking collection of photographs and images from the NLA’s digital collection, this is history for children like never before, and is a fascinating snapshot of our country. Australian Story tells who we once where, who we are today . . . and where we are going. Australian story is aimed at children in both Key Stage I and II.

Australian Story: an illustrated timeline (1 March 2012), $24.95

National Library of Australia, ISBN: 9780642277459



Australian Story Blog Tour, March 2012

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


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