Today I proudly welcome educator and writer Norah Colvin here to guest post. I was delighted when she accepted my offer to visit and chat about some of the women she has highlighted on her website so far in their roles as writers and illustrators for children’s books. I hope you enjoy this post as much as I did upon receiving it. Norah, the floor is yours.
Each month for the past year, I have interviewed an author or illustrator of children’s books, mainly picture books, for my readilearn blog. I was delighted when Christy Birmingham invited me to share information about these inspirational women on her blog.
In each of the interviews, the women talk about their motivation for writing or illustrating, what inspired them to become writers or illustrators, and share advice for teachers to encourage children as writers.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Rebecca Johnson twice. The first time she told us about her Insect Series which won the 2014 Whitley Award for Best Educational Series. In the second interview, Rebecca told us about Rainforest Camp from the Juliet Nearly a Vet series of junior fiction books which this year won the Wilderness Society Award for Children’s Literature, the second of Rebecca’s books to have done so.
In addition to being an author, Rebecca is a part-time primary school science teacher and mother of two. She believes her love of telling stories actually began right back in high school, inspired by hearing, then repeating, a good joke. She went on to become a teacher and has now written over 80 books. Her past experience as a wildlife carer has given her an extra insight into the behaviour of our native animals, giving her fiction stories a taste of realism.
At the beginning of 2016, I was excited by a Kickstarter project to publish Magic Fish Dreaming a beautiful book of poems written by June Perkins and illustrated by Helene Magisson. I was delighted to support the Kickstarter and see this project develop from the very beginning, right through to its launch, which I attended. I was even more delighted to interview both June and Helene.
June Perkins works with many forms of artistic expression: writing, poetry, photography, digital storytelling, blogging, video documentary and education.
In the interview, June explained that she spent nearly a decade living in Far North Queensland, and was mesmerised by its natural beauty, intrigued by its inhabitants and learnt some wisdom through its distinctive weather and people.
Prior to writing Magic Fish Dreaming, she wrote many short nonfiction pieces for ABC Open, and ABC Open’s award-winning Aftermath project, and worked as an invited editor on 500 words. She holds a doctorate from the University of Sydney on the topic of Writing Empowerments (2004).
June recently won an Australian Society of Authors Emerging Writing Mentorship to work on one of her picture book manuscripts. She has several other texts in development and looks forward to sharing them with potential publishers, and readers, one day soon.
Helene Magisson explained that she began her artistic career as a painting restorer in Paris, where she also trained in the art of medieval illumination.
Helene has lived in countries all over the world, including Africa, France, and India. Her travels both inspire and enrich her work. She now calls Australia home, and it was when she settled in Australia, that Helene began a new career illustrating children’s books.
Helene has illustrated four books for New Frontier Publishing including The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams Bianco, and The Night before Christmas by Clement C. Moore. She is now working on her seventh book for Wombat Books.
It was wonderful to interview Lauri Fortino about the publication of her first picture book The Peddler’s Bed. I had met Lauri through her reviews of books which she publishes on her blog Frog on a (B)log. By day, Lauri is a library assistant and by night, a picture book writer. In her day job, she gets to read and enjoy a great variety of books, especially picture books.
Lauri says that she knew at age 11 that she wanted to be an author. For an autobiography assignment in fifth or sixth grade, on a page entitled What I’ll be Doing in 1998, she wrote “I want to write children’s books mainly about animals.” It was just seventeen years after that Lauri’s first book was published. She says that even before age 11, she was writing and illustrating her own stories.
Another author I had the pleasure of interviewing twice (here and here) is Karen Tyrrell, an award-winning author who writes books to empower kids (and adults) and help them live strong and be resilient.
After many years of classroom teaching experience, Karen continues to educate through sharing her own story of resilience as a survivor of bullying, through her words on the page, and through her workshops for adults that deal with writing, marketing, and funding, in addition to empowerment. She presents workshops for children in schools, libraries, and other creative spaces. With her flair for costuming and performance, she always conducts entertaining sessions with a splash of fun staring in her own scripted pantomimes.
In her first book Me and Her: A Memoir of Madness, Karen tells of the bullying she experienced as a teacher, and of her remarkable survival story. Her second, Me and Him: A Guide to Recovery tells of the important role of her husband as support on her journey back to health.
From there Karen has gone on to write a number of children’s books, including Bailey Beats the Blah and STOP the Bully, both of which are endorsed by Kids Helpline. She won an RADF (Regional Arts Development Fund) grant for her picture book Harry Helps Grandpa Remember about memory loss and strategies for remembering.
Karen’s four Junior Fiction novels Jo-Kin Battles the It, Jo-Kin vs Lord Terra, Song Bird Superhero and The Battle of Bug World share positive messages of self-belief, resilience, team building, problem solving and STEM science; each with a good dose of humour included.
The first author-illustrator I interviewed for the readilearn blog is Chrissy Byers. It was only after many years in the classroom as an early childhood educator, and becoming a parent herself, that Chrissy was able to fulfil her lifelong dream of being an author and illustrator. With the success of her first book The Magic in Boxes, and the recent publication of her second The Magic in Dress-ups, Chrissy shows us that dreams can come true.
Chrissy’s inspiration for writing the books was the decline that she had noticed in the amount of time children spent engaging in imaginative play. She felt compelled to write and illustrate a children’s book which would remind parents, and inspire children, to see the magic in everyday household junk.
What also inspires me about Chrissy’s books is that she sourced recycled paper and card choices for both the hard and soft cover versions of her book. All text pages are a combination of consumer pulp and recycled materials. The lovely end pages on the hard cover edition were manufactured in France and are 100% recycled. The paper back cardboard cover comes from Germany and is also 100% recycled. There are few, if any, other children’s book on the market which use recycled materials in this way.
As with Lauri and Chrissy, I interviewed Cynthia Mackey after the publication of her first picture book Katie Schaeffer Pancake Maker. I’d had the pleasure of being a beta reader and providing Cynthia with feedback during her writing process. It was all the more special then, to see the book when it was published.
Cynthia has always loved children’s literature. After years of teaching preschool and kindergarten, she is proud to have written her first children’s book which encourages children to play creatively using loose parts. Cynthia writes in her spare time and has plans to publish more picture books for children. (I know one’s on the way. I was happy to be chosen as a beta reader again. 😊 )
Cynthia lives on the west coast of British Columbia, Canada with her family and her piano where she faithfully continues her weekend pancake tradition.
Helene Magisson used beautiful water colour paintings for illustrating Magic Fish Dreaming. Chrissy Byers used mixed media including photographs and sketches for her book. Muza Ulasowski told us in her interview how she creates her beautiful illustrations digitally.
A graphic designer and children’s book illustrator based in Brisbane, Australia, Muza is both inspired and surrounded by a vast array of local birds and animals who tend to make their appearances in her book illustrations.
In 2010, she was invited to illustrate her first children’s picture book and enjoyed it so much, that she has been collaborating ever since with Australian and international authors. To date she has illustrated over 11 children’s picture books and is currently illustrating several more which will be published in 2017/18. Whilst primarily concentrating on creating digital images for children’s picture books, Muza also specializes in graphic design, designing book covers and book layouts to print ready stage.
In her spare time, she enjoys illustrating in pencil and charcoal, acrylic painting, wildlife photography, sewing, and creating artworks for her colourful and crafty ETSY store.
When I interviewed Aleesah Darlison, she had written over thirty-five books for children. I know that number is increasing, as another was published just recently. In 2016, Aleesah set up Greenleaf Press, a business designed to provide critical support services to authors and illustrators. The company also acts as a booking agency for school and preschool visits.
In addition to picture books, Aleesah writes chapter books and novels. Her much-loved stories promote courage, understanding, anti-bullying, self-belief, teamwork and environmental themes. In 2015, she won the Environment Award for Children’s Literature (Non-Fiction) for her picture book, Our Class Tiger. She has won numerous other awards for her writing.
Putting a slightly different spin on the writing process was the interview with co-authors of the fractured fairy tale Cinderstella, Brenda Miles and Susan Sweet.
Brenda S. Miles, PhD, is a pediatric neuropsychologist who has worked in hospital, rehabilitation, and school settings. She is an author and co-author of several books for children, including Move your Mood! and Stickly Sticks to It!: A Frog’s Guide to Getting Things Done. Brenda encourages children of all ages to dream big, find joy, and embrace adventure.
Susan D. Sweet, PhD, is a clinical child psychologist and mother of two. She has worked in hospital, school, and community-based settings and is passionate about children’s mental health and well-being. Susan hopes all children follow their dreams and find their own happily ever afters.
Susan and Brenda also co-authored Princess Penelopea Hates Peas: A Tale of Picky Eating and Avoiding Catastropeas and King Calm: Mindful Gorilla in the City.
I loved the story behind the publication of Pamela Wight’s first picture book Birds of Paradise, a book thirty-five years in the making. When I read the delightful book, I just knew I had to interview her – a story book with its own happy-ever-after story.
Pamela Wight humorously places herself in a group of what she calls “bi-genre” or “ambi-writers.” She tells us to think of Ian Fleming who wrote the James Bond books, and also switched genres and wrote the children’s book Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. She reminds us that before A.A. Milne wrote the Winnie-the-Pooh books, he penned a popular whodunit entitled The Red House Mystery.
Before fulfilling her lifelong dream of publishing her children’s story Birds of Paradise about two special sparrows, Pamela wrote two books of romantic suspense, The Right Wrong Man and Twin Desires. That certainly qualifies her as an ambi-writer.
I have been an admirer of Kim Michelle Toft’s work for many years. Not only does she do the most marvellous and unique silk paintings to illustrate her work, her books inspire children, and adults, to share her passion for protecting the ocean and its inhabitants.
In the interview, Kim explained that she started drawing when she was 4 years old. She would spend hours on her own, drawing. Her mother would buy her small Golden Books and take her to see all the Walt Disney movies. That’s when she knew that she wanted a career in art. She started writing and illustrating her own picture books when her daughter Casey was born, 26 years ago.
Kim lived her entire adult life on a beach somewhere in Australia. Her love of ocean, its force and its beauty is what inspires, calms and fascinates Kim. Through her illustrations and stories, she gives the ocean’s inhabitants a voice and help to educate children about their preservation. At the back of all her books, Kim includes additional information about the creatures and the environment. Her books are a wonderful combination of story, art and information.
The interviews with these inspiring authors and illustrators can be read in full on the readilearn blog. They are also available as PDFs to download, print and share with children.
About Norah Colvin
Norah Colvin is an early childhood educator. After many years in the classroom and a variety of other educational roles, Norah now makes and shares teaching resources on her website readilearn.
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Reach out to Norah at LinkedIn.