Hello, Baby – The Book and The Creators

Photo courtesy of Cill Matters

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.

THE AUTHOR

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.  

THE ILLUSTRATOR

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.

Dee

  

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. 

TANIA’S TIPS AND INSPIRATION

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.

Dee

Tuesday Writing Tip – Working With an Illustrator and Publisher

I admit it. I’m in awe of illustrators. I like to draw, but being an artist doesn’t make me an illustrator. Illustrators bring movement and life to words. They make characters leap off the page. They bring a whole new level of meaning to your text.

To see how an illustrator has interpreted your story and text, and added a whole new layer of their own, is one of the most exciting, surprising and rewarding moments of the book creation process.

1. Requesting your own illustrator

For a number of reasons (outlined below), most publishers will choose the illustrator for your book without input from you.

I knew Tracie Grimwood, the illustrator of our picture book, Reena’s Rainbow because she had already illustrated five  other books I had written. I suggested her to publisher, EK Books, and was thrilled when they agreed. But I had no expectations. I was happy that Reena’s Rainbow  was being published and was prepared to accept whatever decision the publisher made because I knew that there were so many factors about the design and illustration process that I didn’t know or perhaps hadn’t considered.


(Above are the five books Tracie had already illustrated with my text. Love her work.)

Publishers have a wealth of expertise and experience when it comes to pairing us with the best illustrator for our work. They have designers specifically trained in the area. They have marketing data and expertise about fonts and colours and styles and genre and mediums and all the minute decisions that go into deciding how to get maximum potential from the text and illustrations … how to reach more readers … how to reach the right readers.

Tip: If you plan to suggest an illustrator, do it politely and professionally. If the publisher chooses someone else, accept it gracefully, and don’t complain. There are a gazillion amazing illustrators out there and it’s in the publisher’s best interests to choose the one who’s right for your book. Publishers want to sell lots of books, just like you do.

2. Illustration notes

This is currently a hotly debated topic. Sometimes it’s necessary to tell a publisher certain information to help them understand the context of your story, but this can be included in the pitch document, email etc. If you feel the need to add lots of illustration notes because otherwise the publisher won’t understand your story, it may mean that you need to do some work on your text to make it clearer and stronger.

To tell you the truth, if I were an illustrator, I probably wouldn’t be happy to receive a swag of illustration notes. Imagine if we were given author notes telling us what words, settings and characters we were allowed to use. How restrictive would that be?

3. Leave room for the illustrator

Don’t be prescriptive in your text in relation to how you think the illustrator should depict words and meaning. When they emotionally connect with your story, they will bring a whole new layer of meaning using colour, character and setting. Telling them what to do will stifle their creativity and connection to your story. Be open minded and willing to be surprised.

In our picture book, Reena’s Rainbow, Tracie  drew sound waves and vibrations to show that Reena is deaf … and that’s how she absorbs sound. Imagine if I had insisted I wanted my character to wear a hearing aid or some other device to show she’s deaf. Tracie’s illustration encompasses all the information it needs to convey the text and meaning in a subtle and moving way.The park Tracie drew is full of vibrant colours, just like a rainbow. If I’d stipulated that I wanted a realistic park and trees, the image would not be anywhere near as effective. Tracie used talent and expertise that I don’t have to illustrate in the perfect style for the text, mood and meaning of the book.

4. Don’t interfere in the illustration process

Occasionally Tracie would run an idea past me, but it was a collaborative process and just as she never told me how I should write the text, I never interfered with the illustration process. Letting go of your text and allowing your illustrator, designer and publisher to do their job will ensure that you end up with a wonderful book and great working relationships. If you’re a collaborator not a dictator, people will want to work with you again. It’s also a wonderful experience to be able to share the promotion circuit with your illustrator, chatting about the book you both created.

5. Be flexible

Sometimes an illustration is so powerful that there’s no need for text on the page. Be prepared to ‘kill your darling’ and let the illustration shine.

6. Enjoy the surprise

I have two humorous illustrated middle grade books coming out next year and have never had any contact with the illustrator. On a recent visit to my publisher, she showed his hilarious roughs and they made me laugh out loud. I could see that the illustrator totally ‘got’ my story and character. His illustrations are amazing. A combination of factors – clearly the publisher used their expertise and resources to pick the perfect illustrator. They also chose a style I might never have thought of, but one that looks amazing. Just as we want people to have faith in us as professional writers, we must have faith in the professional publishing personnel and illustrators we work with.

As an author, sometimes it is important to speak up. I’ve seen a picture book where the text said a character’s eye colour was one thing and the illustration depicted another.  Make sure you carefully check every aspect of your book proofs, and if you have concerns, voice them in a professional and respectful way, and I’m sure they will be listened to. Any changes to your text should be run past you first. If the suggestions don’t fit your vision for the story, be prepared to explain your position and make requests in the same manner you’d expect people to treat you.

This blog post is dedicated to all the amazing illustrators who bring our text and concepts to life, and don’t always get the kudos they deserve. 

Whether you’re an author or an illustrator, please feel free to share your experiences and tips in the comments section of this post.

Happy creating 🙂

Dee

 

 

 

HOW GOATS CAN TAKE OVER YOUR WRITING

I don’t have much to report on the writing front this week, because I haven’t been doing a whole lot of writing in terms of word counts. But I have been creating.

I was deeply immersed in my YA WIP when my goat Molly bleated to me from outside my study window. She said it was time I put some effort into that  story about her. And of course, being an intelligent and perceptive goat, she was right.

Her story, Molly Loves to Help, has been brewing in my head for quite some time…and suddenly I knew just where to take it.

So that’s what I’ve been doing – writing a picture book about Molly and doing a few sketches to go with it. It might never get published, but I’m having a lot of fun working on it. It’s wonderful to be creating a book that’s not about an imaginary world and pretend characters, but about someone I love.

So I guess my tip for this week is not an original one – create what’s in your heart – and don’t worry if it sidetracks you temporarily from a project…you must follow the creative muse. The original project will still be there when you ‘get back’.

Next Tuesday, we have a special guest coming to talk about writing memoirs. And of course Friday Feedback will be here again this Friday.

In the meantime,

Happy writing and creating:)

Dee

TUESDAY WRITING TIP – PICTURE BOOKS – Leaving Room for the Illustrator

One of my writerly friends, Claire Saxby creates the most beautiful picture books. (Ebi’s Boat, A Nest for Kora, and Sheep, Goat and the Creaking Gate.)

Oh and of course there’s her wonderful new book, There Was an Old Sailor – just released yesterday!  (More on that at deescribewriting next week)

Claire manages to say so much in so few words. Today as part of the Tuesday Writing Tips blog tour, we’re off to visit her blog http://letshavewords.blogspot.com

Today Claire will talk to us about how to write picture books that leave room for the illustrator – so that pictures and words work together in perfect harmony.

So, come with me! Let’s talk picture books with Claire at http://letshavewords.blogspot.com and find out how she creates her beautiful books – and she has some great tips for picture book writers.

See you at Claire’s place.

Dee:-)

P.S. Claire is going to give us a great writing tip that will be posted here later.