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BETWEEN THE PAGES WITH AUTHOR AND ILLUSTRATOR GABRIEL EVANS
Hello Gabriel! Tell us about yourself!
My name is Gabriel Evans. I’m an author and illustrator of books.
I’ve illustrated close to thirty books and recently started writing and illustrating my own picture books. I develop my ideas in a small crowded studio near a river in the South West of WA where I work predominantly in watercolour and pencil.
I spend periods of time travelling to Perth and Sydney visiting schools and libraries to give author and illustrator workshops for children and adults.
How did you decide to become a writer, and who or what are major influences on your work?
I’ve always written and I’m fascinated by the relationship between text and visuals and how these two ingredients combined can produce a third narrative. It’s like the words and pictures are two old friends both trying to tell the same story the way they each remember it. Writing my own stories allows me to control the narrative pacing and decide if the text is working effectively with the art. Influence has come from so many different sources. I’ve always enjoyed comedy told through expression. Gromit from Wallace & Gromit expresses major emotions through minor adjustments to his forehead. I’ve often found this silent response funnier than anything that could be said.
What was your favourite book as a child?
I grew up reading a variety of books including Richmal Crompton’s William Brown series, P. G. Wodehouse’s Jeeves and Wooster series and books by Roald Dahl. They were all books that frequently made me laugh out loud. I still enjoy them today.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
I enjoy developing ideas. Normally this happens through doodling in my sketchbook. Most of the time I’ll end up with pages of random characters, notes and situations that go nowhere. Just occasionally one of these ‘nowhere’ sketches becomes the premise for a story. There’s no recipe for how a narrative comes together. Every idea has its own process of development. It’s an organic and exciting part of the picture book process.
Since we're all library lovers here, how has the library played a role in your life?
As a child my local library played an important role in access to books. Once a week we’d visit the library to borrow the maximum on our cards. And yes, I frequently got into trouble by not returning books on time. When I began my journey into illustration, I used my library to order countless books on illustrators and illustration.
Libraries now play a vital role in my job as an author. They are the link between the author and reader. Not only do librarians recommend books to young readers, but the programmes they provide allows me to interact with readers of my books. Growing up three hours from Perth we missed many opportunities to see authors and illustrators. So, I always make an effort to travel regional whenever I can. I’ve visited some wonderful libraries in the Kimberley, Pilbara and small farming communities in regional WA, NSW, SA, NT and VIC.
I should add that librarians often let me use their secret stash of good coffee and not the Nescafe Blend 43 in the staff room. Who else would be this generous?
Plug time! What's your latest book and where can fans stalk - I mean follow - you online?
My latest picture book is Ollie and Augustus. It’s a story about a small boy and his very big best friend Augustus the dog. Ollie has to start school and is worried Augustus will be lonely. Ollie advertises for a dog friend to keep Augustus company but none of the dogs are suitable. This story is about caring for your friend and being content in your own company. Ollie and Augustus is my first picture book I’ve both written and illustrated – aside from three novelty books. It took some time to find my way to tell the story. My editor loved these characters and was very supportive while I found the right narrative. This took about twelve manuscripts. It’s my first Australian book that has sold to the USA and will be released with Candlewick in 2020. It gets a dustjacket. I can’t begin to tell you how excited I am to get a dustjacket!
My schedule since Ollie and Augustus has become busier with three new picture books in the works, two of them released in 2020 with Little Hare and Berbay. I’m also illustrating an emotionally beautiful picture book with Penguin for release in 2021.
ON THE FRONT LINES WITH CLARE FISHER
How did you end up being the Manager of Library Services?
I accidentally fell into libraries 20 years ago as a trainee with the Pine Rivers Shire Library Service in north Brisbane. In 2008 the Shire amalgamated to become one of the largest Council’s in Australia – Moreton Bay Regional Council. After 16 years working in differing roles – such as Information Services Librarian, Youth Services Coordinator and Team Leader positions, I felt it was time to try something new – somewhere I could really connect with the community and witness how libraries could change lives. Successfully attaining the position of Operations Team Leader at the Alice Springs Public Library in 2016, I moved to the Programs Team Leader role the following year and then Manager Library Services the year after. It’s been a whirlwind love affair in the Alice!
What is one of the most awesome parts of your job?
Being able to try things ‘outside the box’. The Northern Territory is a really unique space to work and my team are encouraged to come up with (sometimes crazy) ideas for engaging our customers and providing the best quality service that suits this distinctive community. Being a single-library service, we get to see immediately what works and what doesn’t and we all get such a great feeling of satisfaction from the value we add to the community in central Australia.
What programs do you run for children and young adults?
We have the ‘regular’ early literacy sessions such as Baby Rhyme Time and Preschool Storytime but we also run special Saturday Storytime sessions, LEGO Club, STEAM Club and a huge range of school holiday programs. Young adults were always a tricky group to pin down – we had them visiting the library but due to cultural differences, we found that activities at set times and days simply did not work for us or our young people. In early 2018 we started the ‘Geek in Residence’ program – hosting youth workers in the space after-school and during holidays to improve our young people’s digital literacy skills. The program has since grown and the number of young people using the space has sky-rocketed to more than 1,800 engagements with young people during July 2019!
What are you reading?
I’m currently on the sixth book of Simon Scarrow’s The Roman series – a gritty look at centurion life during Rome’s heyday. I usually alternate between quality YA fiction, something historically romantic and hard-n-fast post-apocalyptic or zombie-fighting novels!
If you had to choose one children’s or YA book to take to a desert island what it be and why?
Just one? I would probably take Hatchet by Gary Paulsen as it has so many good tips for surviving against the odds in a wild situation!
Lastly, libraries are awesome because?
We can be almost anything to everyone! I love the way libraries have evolved into community hubs, social support, sneaky educators and a snapshot of the community we serve. I love the passion that library users have for their libraries and I’ve found that folk who work in libraries are often the craziest, biggest-hearted humans around. What’s not to love?
Pig the Elf
By Aaron Blabey
I recently obtained this wonderful and amusing book for our library and the students are loving their naughty and favourite pig. Pig the pug is back and it includes a pig Christmas topper that is a great addition to this hilarious book.
Pig the pug is so excited that Santa is coming, he loves Christmas more than anyone else. We all know this pug is greedy and it’s no surprise, he will stay up all night to get his presents. He gets into all sorts of mischief and his expressions are so entertaining, this book will make you smile so hard.
The illustrations are hilarious and they put you in the Christmas spirit from the start of this book. Just one look at the cover and it feels like Christmas and you feel like smiling.This is a brilliant book to read aloud to students and great for shared reading and especially this time of year. It is filled with a holiday cheer and lots of laughs and at the same time will teach children manners in a funny way and the Christmas Spirit too. (Helen Tomazin)
The Christmasaurus by Tom Fletcher
Have you ever wished for something so fantastical from Santa? A talking monkey for a best friend or a new gadget that can make any food that you want? Meet William Trundle, who for Christmas would like...a real life dinosaur! William has loved dinosaurs ever since he was able to know what one was. Since he hasn't been having the best time at school, this year for Christmas all he asks is for the one thing that will make him happy. Little does William know that hiding in the North Pole there is a dinosaur that could fulfill his wishes.
A long, long time ago when dinosaurs ruled the earth, just before they were all made extinct a little egg rolled into the ocean and has been frozen in time until one day when it is discovered by Santa's little helpers. Getting ready to mine for this years presents, the elves comes across something so unusual that even Santa doesn't know what could be inside this egg. Taking it upon himself, Santa cares for the egg until the day it hatches and he gets the best surprise of all when out from the egg pops a dinosaur! The Christmasaurus loves living in the North Pole, with its endless amounts of hot chocolate and candy, there is only one thing he is missing, a friend.
As Christmas Eve rolls around this is where the story comes to life. A stowaway dinosaur, an exact replica of the last dinosaur in existence, a hunter and a little boy who may just get his wish collide in a joyful and heartwarming story that will show you the true meaning of Christmas and family. This is a wonderful book that will get you into the spirit of Christmas and leave you wanting more dinosaurs in your life. If you fall in love with the The Christmasaurus make sure you also grab The Christmasaurus and the Winter Witch to continue this magical journey. (Gabby Cundy).
Dangerous Alliance: An Austentacious Romance
by Jennieke Cohen
With her elder sister married and packed off to London, Lady Victoria Aston is free to enjoy her idyllic country manor lifestyle knowing that the family estate has been secured. Now that her sister is enjoying her “happily ever after” and her once exiled best friend avoiding her, Vicky spends her time roaming the family estate in a stolen pair of breeches and hiding away with one of Miss Austen's novels. When the unspeakable happens and her family is thrown into turmoil, Vicky is thrust into the centre of the Season with one goal: Find a husband to save her family. With Miss Austen's books as her guide and the spirit of Lizzie Bennett in her soul, Vicky must learn to navigate London's marriage mart without breaking her heart. Is roguish Mr Carmichael as charming as he seems? Does childhood friend Tom Sherborne mean well, or is he after Vicky's dowry? As if all that isn't enough, Vicky finds herself the victim of a series of increasingly unfortunate accidents that make her wonder if someone wants to stop her from ever walking down the aisle.
Dangerous Alliance is a thoroughly enjoyable romp through the ridiculous London society, told through the dual perspectives of protagonists Vicky and Tom. Cohen does a great job tackling issues of gender, marriage and friendship that are just as relevant today as they were in Vicky’s time. Dangerous Alliance is a fantastic novel that should appeal to romance and Austen fans - if only so they can argue with Vicky's assessment of your favourite Austen's characters! (Beth Barrass).
Doll Bones by Holly Black
At the very heart of Zachary, Poppy and Alice’s friendship lies a devotion to adventures, questing, role playing and secret messages. It has powerfully bound the group of friends together for most of their childhood, resulting in sleepovers, action figure role playing, mystery, magic and clandestine adventures. The onset of adolescence and the realities of life, however, begin to quietly erode the foundations of the groups’ friendship.
When Zach’s father unexpectedly throws away Zach’s bag of action figures, and effectively prevents the group from role-playing ever again, it seems that the group has been irreversibly and irreparably severed. However, Poppy’s discovery of what appears to be a haunted doll - and the grim challenge of putting the doll’s ghost to rest - offers the group one last adventure. What begins as a fun task rapidly turns into an epic journey, where Zach, Poppy and Alice travel by bus, foot and boat faced with numerous dangerous and frightening challenges to overcome. All the while, things seem to get spookier and more mysterious as the three attempt to solve the puzzle of the doll’s ghost.
Doll Bones centres around the theme of growing up, and the difficult, intimidating new things that this can bring. Through the three main characters, Black also challenges the often-times static, linear and binary ideas that children tend to form. Black instead proposes that life, death, and indeed growing up need not be inert processes, and children have more control in their understanding of them than they may think. Doll Bones will appeal to readers that favour a sprinkling of spooky, and Black’s rich imagery and witty writing style will keep readers hooked. (Alexandra Lloyd).
Story Time Stars: Favourite Characters from picture Books.
Stephanie Owen Reeder
A fabulous resource for all Australian picture book lovers! This book is divided into periods from 1910 – 1990’s . Each character is brought to life with a range of colourful pictures and information on a double page spread. The text is presented with great humour, simple headings such as International appearances, encores and awards make it easily accessible and interesting . This book would be a great gift for new professionals, child care workers, school libraries and international colleagues. (Claire Stuckey).
WHO TO FOLLOW
Your Kid’s Next Read
For those who want to grow readers and writers.
Transforming lives by getting children and families reading.
Just write for kids
An online community of writers and illustrators with a distinct focus on advocating Australian children’s and YA literature.
ABC Radio Canberra interviews Dr Belle Alderman and Sarah Jayne Mokrzycki about why representation matters in children’s books
Better Reading Podcast - Mem Fox
Legendary children's author, Mem Fox talks to Cheryl Akle about her life and career, and why she wrote her latest picture book The Tiny Star for her grandson.
Research Report with Lisa Emerson
Hi everyone! I’m a teacher and researcher in Aotearoa New Zealand, and for the last three years I’ve been leading an amazing team of teachers, librarians, and researchers, looking at how we can more effectively integrate information literacy skills into the delivery of the curriculum through librarian-teacher collaboration.
Sounds intriguing! How did you get into this?
In 2013 – 2014, I worked with Ken Kilpin and Angela Feekery on a project about integrating information literacy into the senior secondary curriculum, and when we published our report, we received a heap of emails from school librarians saying “Hey! You missed us out of this story – and we have a part to play here!”. It was a real wake-up call for me – I was very embarrassed to have missed out these vitally important people – so we set up a new project about librarians in secondary schools. But this illustrates a real theme that has come through in our research about how librarians can be invisible in their institutions.
Wait a minute while I pull off my invisibility cloak, can you see me now?
Sure I can! But it seems to me that teachers can’t. A survey we did on teachers’ and librarians’ attitudes and beliefs about the school library suggests that teachers think of the library as just a building or place with lots of useful resources – including a helpful librarian who can curate the collection, stamp books, and supervise kids who need time out – and perhaps some computers and good Wi-Fi. What they don't see is a skilled professional who curates and has an in-depth knowledge of both the online and in-house resources available and can teach students key research skills such as how to search for quality sources. According to our survey results, schools have no idea of the resource they have in their midst.
What did your surveys tell you about how librarians see the library?
The responses from the school librarians were like a cry for help! They told us how hard they work to raise their profile and let teachers know about what they could offer teachers and students. How they build relationships with individual teachers of departments, only to have their work fall over when the teacher or Head of Department leaves. They told us about reduced hours and being excluded from meetings about the curriculum. As one member of my team, Senga White, says 'librarians see themselves as they really are: superheroes hidden in plain sight'.
OK, how do I get to set aside my invisibility cloak and put on my superhero cape?
I think it’s important that we work beyond the school level and start petitioning at a higher level. One good way to start would be this: in New Zealand, school libraries are funded out of the operating grant, and so the individual school managers get to decide whether to have a school library (it is incredible to me that there’s no compulsion for schools to even have a library!), what it should look like, and how much it should be resourced. We need to start pressuring government to mandate that all schools have libraries to a set of specified standards, including staffing the library with a trained librarian.
But how do we convince them that this matters?
We start by demonstrating how important information literacy is going to be to our students’ futures – and how poor students’ information literacy skills are right now. The Stanford History project is a good place to start – they outline the importance of these skills and describe students’ current information literacy skills as 'bleak'. Our research has shown just how effective teacher and librarian collaboration can be, and the real difference it makes to students’ abilities to engage with information - we are working on documenting this so we can provide evidence to decision makers.
Also, we’re currently writing a book, with contributions from all of our research team and participating librarians and teachers, so keep an eye out for this and help us get the word out there that information literacy is crucial in the modern world!
Remember, change is happening! Each time a librarian is given a platform in the classroom the teachers begin to see the value of their contribution; each time a librarian is included in teaching curriculum, students’ research skills improve and the quality of their work is better; and each time a student begins to see their librarian as a go-to resource for help with their assignments, we’re making progress.
So, get your principal to read some of our work (listed below). Keep communicating with your teachers – and with each other. We are going to start campaigning for change across the ditch – and we hope you will join us.
Read some of our work:
Communicate with the author:
Books without Borders IBBY Australia Event
A large crowd attended the IBBY event in Brisbane on 19 October 2019 at the State Library of Queensland for a fantastic evening, featuring guest speakers Mark Greenwood and Frané Lessac. This vibrant couple of creators shared a range of travel tales that lead to the research for many of their award winning books. Working together or individually the couple have traversed the planet investigating the background into Anzac legends, Caribbean culture and rock formations! They traveled with their young children originally to share literacy and learn from indigenous communities in Western Australia. (Claire Stuckey).
Cooee Mittigar Book Launch
Earlier this month in the Rex Stubbs Memorial Garden in front of the Hawkesbury City library the community gathered to celebrate the launch of Cooee Mittigar by Jasmine Seymour and Leanne Mulgo Watson. This was a significant event for the people of the Hawkesbury as the book honours the Darug people, their language and storytimes, which have been passed down from generation to generation. The ceremony was opened by Uncle Wes who told the crowd about the importance of storytelling within the Aboriginal community and this was followed by a traditional smoking ceremony.
Cooee Mittigar translated means come here friend and this is what the story is all about. Blending English and the traditional Darug language to tell stories that have passed their way down through the years to new generations. These stories are important as they represent the region that they have come from and the people who have shared them over the years. Both Jasmine and Leanne are proud members of the Darug people and have a strong connection to the Aboriginal community of the Hawkesbury.
There was a buzz of activity for both children and adults. With traditional face painting, music, arts and craft and a reading of the Cooee Mittigar, the children were immersed in the celebration. Jasmine and Leanne spent time signing many of copies of their book as well as talking to the people who had come out to share in the excitement. It was such a fantastic day to commemorate the launch of this significant new picture book. (Gabby Cundy).
Can a computer help you choose books?
At the State Library of NSW Meena Tharmarajah is working in the DX Lab to create something special. Scout is an interactive chatbot that can recommend books to children based on their interests. Scout will event print out a list of suggested titles.
You can read more about this exciting project on the DXLab blog. (Mylee Joseph).
Celebrate Reading National Conference
I was fortunate enough to attend the Celebrate Reading National Conference at The Literature Centre in Fremantle, WA. Celebrate Reading is held every year in late October. Every year they have an alternate focus; children’s literature or young adult literature. This year the focus was children’s literature and I was super pumped to go because hooray for picture books. This year the line-up of presenters was top-notch. We heard from Shaun Tan, Felice Arena, Ronojoy Ghosh, Stephen Michael King, Glenda Millard, Leila Rudge, Lisa Shanahan and Dianne Wolfer.
This was my first time attending and I could probably write and write for days about each speaker and session, but for brevity I will focus on a few experiences and insights. (Flicking back on my notes I have 17 pages of scribbled insights and reflections, so that tells you a lot about the quality of the conference – or maybe a lot about my undisciplined note-taking skills). There are a few things that make this conference so different and so special. The format works so, so well because there are no concurrent sessions and the conference runs over two days. This means you get to see everything. Each presenter gets a good hour to really get into their work, their creative process, their influences and their lives.
The artist-in-action sessions were chances for us to see the artists ‘in action’. I really appreciated these sessions because all the artists who drew for us (Shaun Tan, Leila Rudge, Stephen Michael King and Ronojoy Ghosh) mentioned how weird it was for people to watch them work and confessed to being a bit nervous. They warned that what they were about to do probably wasn’t going to be good. In Shaun Tan’s words; “The thing about drawing is that it’s hard.” It was really special to see these talented people create something and also Stephen Michael King PAINTED Rainbow Bear on a 6-foot canvas while his wife played the ukulele and sang for us, so that was a real treat. (That statement might be the biggest understatement of this whole recap).
A comment that stuck with me was from Lisa Shanahan. She spoke about how little agency young children have when it comes to choosing their own books. They are given books as gifts, or their parents or carers are selecting the picture books that come home from the library; it’s not until they are a few years into school where they are given a real chance to select their own reading material. This is why our jobs are so important – to make sure our collections have quality options for them, books that appeal to a wide range of interests and imaginations, and depict the wonderful variety of culture and family and experience this world holds for our littlest readers.
A highlight for me was Glenda Millard and Stephen Michael King’s panel discussion. They spoke about their working relationship and the many beautiful books they’ve created together. The love and respect that they had for each other as artists and people and friends was like another presence in the room. It was beautiful to watch and learn what went on behind the creative process of books like The Duck and the Darklings and Peapod Lullaby.
Stephen Michael King’s solo talk left a strong impression on everyone who attended. He spoke with real and raw emotion about growing up with illness and deafness and how through creating picture books he found a place where he could express himself.
My biggest take away from this conference is that, ooohhboy, do I need to read more. There are so many beautiful books out there and I feel like I’m only scratching the surface. Once I arrived at work following the conference I reserved more books than I could possibly finish, But I’m going to give it a red hot go.
Celebrate Reading 2020 will focus on quality young adult literature. Registrations are already open, which you can find on their website. I’ll definitely be going again – I hope to see you there too!
P.S Are you ready for a Cicada Easter Egg. Have you ever scanned the barcode on Cicada’s name tag at the front and back of the book? Maybe you should give it a go. (Ness Fryer).