The Inspiring, Insightful and Entertaining Janeen Brian.

Janeen Brian’s enthusiasm for children’s literature is contagious. Today I had the pleasure of meeting Janeen at the Noosa Library, as part of the First 5 Forever program.image-2

The large crowd of children were engrossed with her fun-filled story, “I’m a Dirty Dinosaur.” Together the children got to, “sniff and snuff about… shake about the place… tap… stamp,” and slide in the “mud!” The parents were delighted that all this excitement happened without any of the children getting dirty at all!

image-1I was particularly fascinated to learn about the illustrations for, “I’m A Dirty Dinosaur.” The wonderfully talented Ann James had in fact, used actual mud to paint the mud scenes. The effects she has created have quite a textural beauty with leaf prints, brush and line work, scratch reveal and the irresistibly fun splatter technique.

Janeen went on to describe how in her following book, “I’m a Hungry Dinosaur,” she once spotted a curious child testing if the sprinkles and chocolate overlaid in the book were actually edible.image

While the children engaged in activities, Janeen talked further about her career as a writer and her passion for child development. As a young child she remembers with great sorrow the lack of books available to her. She recalled crying at the conclusion of, “Ping The Duck,” as she feared it would be the last book ever read to her as a young child.

It is this innate longing children have for stories, and the multitude of benefits that flow from them, that has spawned the First 5 Forever program. This program recognises the developmental benefits towards self-esteem, communication, learning preparedness, imagination, and bonding that children derive from having books and stories read to them – particularly in their most receptive first five years.

Janeen’s book, “I’m a Dirty Dinosaur,” has been chosen as one of the books in this program, as well as winning the accolade of Speech Pathology Book of the Year in 2014.

Janeen spoke of her life experiences that led her to her love of rhyme, rhythm, and meter. She spoke of the wonderfully rewarding moment when the rhythm, pulse, resonance and pattern of a piece is absolutely right.image-1

Janeen recalled how in her most recent novel, “Yong, The Journey of an Unworthy Son,” she urgently rang her publisher for a last minute edit when she decided the word, “he,” simply had to be removed from a sentence.

So a big thank you to Janeen Brian for her beautiful, rhyming, rollicking, and rhythmic words, that delight the young, and the young of heart.


Interview with Aleesah Darlison


Today I had the immense pleasure of meeting the talented Aleesah Darlison, author of more than thirty books and novels for children and teens.

Aleesah Darlison Headshot 2015 HI RES

Aleesah was inspiring, informative and generous with her knowledge, and I had the opportunity to ask her some questions specifically about children’s picture books.

EM:  I started by asking Aleesah what do you find most rewarding about writing for children?

AD:  For me, it is the opportunity to share my stories and ideas that can influence or excite children, especially the animal stories. Also, having my stories brought to life by talented artists and illustrators, is very rewarding.  The illustrations lift my stories visually which helps me to share them in a very different way. So essentially, it is the interaction with the children and the artistic side of picture books that I find most rewarding.

EM: On that topic, how does it feel to see the illustrations for your book for the first time?

AD: The illustrations are like a gift to me, it is so exciting when the first illustrations come through. There is a lot of joy, it is like opening a present. I have just had the draft illustrations come through for a book called “Free.” This book is about a boy in a wheelchair, who connects with an osprey and wants to be free of his physical difficulties like the osprey. The illustrator has included this gorgeous little beagle which I hadn’t written into my story. Instantly I thought the dog was beautiful and it has added this emotional depth through its interaction with the child. At one point he sleeps with the dog and it almost brings tears to my eyes, especially considering I had beagles when I was a child. It is incredible how illustrators can connect with you, and often in unexpected ways.

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In “Stripes in the Forest: The Story of the Last Wild Thylacine”, illustrator Shane McGrath cleverly illustrates the stripes of the animal hidden behind palm fronds and ferns as camouflage. It is incredible how much work an illustrator can put in to the book, from exploring the bush to researching ideas that lift the story visually and creates 32 pages of surprises for the author and the reader!

EM: What advice would you give to aspiring picture book authors?

AD: Write every day, read every day, immerse yourself in the industry, get to know other authors and illustrators, and connect. We all talk the same language whether one is aspiring, emerging or established. And never give up.

EM: Do you feel that picture books have a big impact on the lives of children?

AD: Books definitely have a big impact on children and the number one impact is (or should be, in my opinion) enjoyment. We really need to focus on enjoyment instead of forcing curriculum components, as this can sometimes destroy or limit the beauty and joy of a book. So books should be fun and children will connect with that.

The theatrical aspects of musicality, rhythm and rhyme engage children. Books that can be sung or performed with actions are extremely important and tend to entice young readers back for a second look.

EM: Do you have any specific examples of how your books have influenced children?

AD: There seems to be this innate connection between children and animals, it’s quite incredible. With regards to my “Warambi” book, children will come up to me and say, ” We have little bats, we love bats, we’ve seen bats!”.Warambi HB Cover _hi res

And with the older novels such as The Totally Twins series, which features identical twins who have very different personalities, the children reading it can connect with the difference in personalities they might have with their siblings or friends. For fantasy novel, children seem to love that escapism and the access to magic that it gives them. I have a book that deals with anti bulling as well, which is great in schools, as kids can see how to act or react in certain situations where they might be challenged or tested by others. I do like to keep my stories light, though, so even if there is a moral the children are not necessarily aware that it is there in the story.

EM: How do you strike a balance between entertainment and delivering an underlying message?

AD: When we first start out as authors we often have a message that we want to trumpet out to the world, but you have to peel it back a bit because kids are smarter than you realise. They will get it and will work out that message pretty quickly. Usually quicker than adults do, which keeps us on our toes.

EM: Do you have a favourite picture book and what is it about this book you love?

AD: I love them all! I’ve read so many great picture books. I love “Pig the Pug,” he’s gorgeous, and “Fearless,” by Colin Thompson and illustrator Sarah Davis, they are such beautiful, funny characters. It terms of my own work, the picture book that I’m really thrilled about is,” Stripes in the Forest.” I love the images. They match the scenes and themes of the story so well. I’ve read it to children a few times already and I still get a lump in my throat in the sad parts. It is quite a serious, emotive story and I’m very proud of it and the story behind it, so I think I’m on the right track with that one.

EM: Thank you Aleesah for your thoughts and insights. I was particularly fascinated by how appreciative you are of the illustrations bringing your story to life.

Further information about Aleesah Darlison and her books can be found on her website

Feluga_Tully Festival_3_March2016


Why I Love Children’s Books

What is there not to love about children’s books? I have always been caught in their spell. As a child I would spend the holidays copying the pictures from my favourite books. Picture books offered me a world of creativity, imagination and unlimited possibility. This seed of inspiration has stayed with me for life.
As a young child I was so inspired by May Gibbs’ charming gum blossom babies, that I planted my very own flowering gum two metres from our back door. In my child’s mind I did not think to check the potential height of this tree, and ten years later, when the tree towered above our little house, it had to be cut down.
Perhaps I should have also taken more notice of the wicked Mrs. Snake, as it was through the same back door, that I once brought in a ‘beautiful’ snake I had found in the bushes to show mum. Her scream quickly showed me that she was not impressed.
 Now, as an adult I am extremely fortunate to once again dive into the world of children’s picture books. In 2011, I illustrated ‘Were You Still Dreaming Ruby?’ by Steve McGlaughlin. One of the many delights of this project was the opportunity to conduct book readings and craft activities with local children. We were warmly welcomed by bookstores including, Berkelouw’s Book Barn Eumundi, and The River Read, as well as local kindergartens. It was a joy to see the children’s creativity and imaginations come alive through story; the joy of children’s picture books for all generations.