Katrina Germein Dances Up A Thunderstorm

photo-on-26-02-14-at-9-53-amKatrina Germein is a well-loved children’s best selling author and early childhood teacher. She has received Highly Commended and Notable Book Commendation awards in the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards and from the Children’s Book Council of Australia. Three of her books have also featured on the popular children’s programme, Play School.  Some of her titles include the acclaimed ‘Big Rain Coming’, the hilarious series, ‘My Dad Thinks He’s Funny’, ‘My Dad Still Thinks He’s Funny’ and ‘My Mum Says the Strangest Things’, as well as beauties like ‘Somebody’s House’ and ‘Littledog’.
Already a hit in our household, her latest book, with illustrations by Judy Watson, is a sheer whirlwind of energy; it’s  ‘Thunderstorm Dancing’.    

pages-from-thunderstorm-dancingA family day at the beach suddenly turns bleak, and a little girl makes a quick dash for cover. While the thunderstorm charges outside, it is inside where the riot is raging. The girl hides whilst her daddy and brothers whizz and howl like the wind, puff like the clouds and zap like the lightening. Poppy thumps as loud as the thunder, and Mummy is the pounding rain. It’s a romping, swinging and rumbling commotion…
Until Granny’s piano music shines a gleaming ray of sunlight. What could the little girl be once the storm has settled?
 

‘Thunderstorm Dancing’ is beautifully rhythmic, with the perfect blend of rollicking onomatopoeia. Every word takes the reader into each lively scene. You can’t help but feel the beat, and it will most certainly get you to your feet! Katrina Germein says as a child she enjoyed acting out stories through dance…
”I felt as though part of me was there again as I was writing ‘Thunderstorm Dancing’.
Her language is dynamic, and text perfectly placed to reflect the movement of the story and pictures. Judy Watson’s mixed media, including inks, washes, pencils and digital media, and varied perspectives create for a visual festivity on every page. She also cleverly utilises a mix of orange and blue colour tones that depict the vibes of chaos and calm.
 

This whole book is just breathtaking…literally. The sweeping illustrations by Judy Watson really pull us along for the ride, and Katrina’s text sings and dances off the page; getting us marching and stomping and clapping along. It has huge teaching and learning potential in the areas of the arts and environmental studies. ‘Thunderstorm Dancing’ is fast paced, delightful and energetic. Preschool children will be roaring for more.  
Allen & Unwin 2015.

I’m absolutely delighted to have had the opportunity to delve into Katrina Germein‘s writerly mind, and discover more about the wonderful ‘Thunderstorm Dancing’.

thunderstorm-dancing-cover-lores-1Congratulations on the release of your newest title, ‘Thunderstorm Dancing’! What was the inspiration behind this story?  
This story has been a long time becoming a book but the text was written in a frenzy over a couple of days. The rhythm grew in my head and verse by verse I scribbled down the pages as they came to me. I remember writing some of it at the service station and some of it on a café napkin. I’m not sure of the exact inspiration but as I wrote it, I was holding a memory of music classes at primary school. Our teacher, Mrs Vaughn, used to play the piano and call out a story while we romped around the room and danced our own actions.  

This book is such a fun, active story that is perfect for promoting dance and dramatic play. As a teacher, do you have any other great teaching and learning ideas for children to engage further with ‘Thunderstorm Dancing’?  
I’m glad you said that Romi because I do feel that it lends itself to creative expression and like I said, it played out like a performance in my mind as I drafted it. I think most teachers and students will be able to springboard into their own ideas. There are connections to creating music with household items and children could easily act out their own actions for each of the storm elements, or even choose music that they think represents the different pages.  

Clapping and body percussion is always fun. The children in this clip use basic percussion instruments to illustrate the weather with music. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6DYEucGZTF0 Rainbow ribbons and scarves would work well too.  It’s all about allowing the children to experiment and express themselves with music, art and drama. I guess I’m hoping that students can have fun with the language and rhyme, as well as appreciate the emotion of the story and engage with the sensory themes – maybe some messy art, like foamy storm clouds.  

Storms are a great way to get children talking too. Everyone has a storm story they can share through discussion or writing, drawing and other art. I’ve been collating art ideas on my pinterest board here. https://www.pinterest.com/KatrinaGermein/thunderstorm-dancing-by-katrina-germein/ (And Judy Watson shares some of her original sketches here https://www.pinterest.com/judywatson98284/judy-watson-thunderstorm-dancing/)  

Family is another theme that could be explored.    

You’ve written ‘Thunderstorm Dancing’ in exuberant poetic prose, different to the jokes and funny phrases seen in ‘My Mum Says the Strangest Things’ and ‘My Dad Thinks He’s Funny’. Did you find one style more challenging than the other? Do you have a preferred style of writing?  
Different stories lend themselves to different styles. I enjoy experimenting with various approaches within the picture book genre. Thunderstorm Dancing is my third rhyming book and I love rhyme. I also like simple prose.  

dad-and-mitch-10-alt-1Judy Watson’s illustrations perfectly compliment the rollicking nature of the text. How did you find the collaborative process with her?  
Judy’s artwork is amazing. I have had so much fun seeing the story grow into a beautiful picture book.  

You’ve been paired with a number of amazing illustrators, including Tom Jellett, Bronwyn Bancroft and Judy Watson, amongst others. Have any of these artists really surprised you with how they’ve represented your words?  
No major surprises. You never know how an illustrator will approach a text and watching the illustrations materialize is all part of the fun. I guess there are little surprises along the way but I’ve never been completely flabbergasted or anything shocking like that.  

Somebody’s House’, ‘Littledog’ and ‘Big Rain Coming’ have all been featured on Play School. How did the producers approach you and what was your reaction to the news?  
Having books read on Play School is the absolute best. The show is well respected because it is created with children in mind – it’s about the kids. Early childhood professionals choose the books and consideration is given to what children will enjoy and engage with. So it’s about as good as an endorsement as any children’s author can hope for. (It also means people send you lovely exciting messages every time the episode is repeated and they catch it with their children.)  

What is it about writing stories for children that makes you happy?  
Writing makes me happy and I seem to write for children. I don’t know. It’s just what I do.  

What advice can you offer emerging writers wanting to succeed in producing great picture books?  
If you want to write picture books then your time is best spend reading and writing picture books. Read lots and lots of contemporary picture books (not the ones you remember from childhood). Read them out loud and read them to children if you can. I think you’re best off reading picture books themselves, rather than books and articles on how to write books – although sometimes that can be helpful too. Write and write and write. Be prepared to reflect and redraft. Not everything will work but the more you write the more chance you have of writing something great.  

What’s next for Katrina Germein? What can your fans look forward to seeing from you in the near future?  
(Fans! I’m not sure that I have any of them but thanks for suggesting that I do.) I have a few projects up my sleeve but I’m always reluctant to share too much unless I have the signed contract in my drawer and right now I don’t. I’ll be sure to post the news on Facebook when I can share. For now, I’m just excited about having a beautiful, new, book about to hit the shelves. Yay!  

Yay, indeed! Thank you so much for answering my questions, Katrina!  
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Katrina Germein’s website is great for finding information on her books, writing tips, teaching notes and her blog:
www.katrinagermein.com
Follow Katrina on Facebook, and view photos of her recent book launch:
www.facebook.com/KatrinaGermein

Follow Katrina’s boards on Pinterest:
https://www.pinterest.com/KatrinaGermein/

Rhonda is in Therapy

Rhonda is in TherapyI spent three days in Melbourne last week—something I needed to recharge and inspire me after the past three months of un-fun uncertainty and ahead of Tuesday’s widely expected Queensland budgetary hack job. It was exactly what I needed—budget or no budget, and be it writing, playwriting, or all manner of other arts practices, Melbourne just ‘does’ arts.

My trip was prompted by (bias alert) the opening of a play my sister’s currently in. Called Rhonda is in Therapy, it’s a four-person play written by playwright Bridgette Burton that examines a mother’s grief, guilt, and loneliness in the aftermath of her child’s death.

It’s dark subject matter, but incredibly compelling, and there was a buzz in the air in both the theatre where it was performed and the streets outside where laneway pubs and restaurants bustled and AFL fans hustled against the biting, wintery Melbourne weather to see their teams play football finals. In Melbourne, unlike in Queensland (I noted with plenty of envy), arts and sport abut each other effortlessly.

In Rhonda is in Therapy, we meet the Rhonda of the title (played by my sister, Louise Crawford) as she visits her new therapist (Kelly Nash). Rhonda’s specific aim is to understand why she’s started an affair with a student (played by the eminently attractive Jamieson Caldwell*) while her dutiful husband (Ben Grant) tries to hold things together at home.

The script (and its execution) is stellar, something of keen interest to me not just as a writer but as someone who is necessarily fascinated with what makes successful works of art, be they plays, TV series, films, books, or visual art. I’ve had many, many discussions in recent times about how a good script sets up a good show—without it, you can add all the big-budget special effects in the world and you’d only be (to be crass) polishing a turd.

The evidently talented Burton created the script with some help from the R E Ross Trust Playwrights Script Development Award (get outta here—funding for the arts!). I was impressed by her ability to expose both the rawness and the humour of the situation—often in quick, rollercoaster succession. I knew Rhonda is in Therapy was going to be a challenging play, but I was surprised at how often it both made me laugh and then almost immediately tear up and sniffle.

That and how the quality writing and the assured performances enabled the show to be staged with an austere but not sparse set (as a writer, I so often bring things to life in my head, it doesn’t often occur to me what they’ll look like brought to life on the stage).

The set was laid out in triangular formation, potentially connoting the love triangle—two chairs denoting the therapist’s office, a couch denoting Rhonda’s home, and a desk and two chairs contained within a floor-to-ceiling skeleton of walls that also gave the impression of cage bars.

Continuing the Melbourne-does-arts-well theme, it was fitting that Rhonda is in Therapy is playing out in fortyfivedownstairs, a not-for-profit theatre space that used to be a factory of sorts—all exposed brick, iconic windows, and exuding authenticity and history.

The theatre’s in the basement and, as you descend the stairs, you can also stop off at packed, pumping galleries on other levels. I’ll not deny that I was simultaneously inspired and despairing. What would it take for Queensland to reach the same vibe and level of arts support? Particularly in terms of writing? Our work isn’t location-specific—as long as we have pen or laptop, we can write anywhere.

Brisbane artists traditionally flee head to Melbourne to pursue their arts practice, something I both understand and am attempting to resist. Would Brisbane’s creative industries be pumping in the same way that Melbourne’s are if those artists stayed here? Or is the climate too tropical and Melbourne’s inclement, introversion-inspiring weather the necessary ingredient for groundbreaking creative work?

If you’re in Melbourne or plan on heading to Melbourne in the next few weeks, I’d highly recommend Rhonda is in Therapy (and not just because my sister’s in it). I’m still mulling over the play’s themes and nuances specifically and the rich arts culture in Melbourne more generally.

Budget or no budget, writing, playwriting, and all the arts practices in between, what do we need to do in Queensland to achieve the same?

*There was a hilarious moment the night I attended the play when Rhonda tells her young lover that she’s heading home to her husband. A middle-aged woman in the front row who clearly thought Caldwell was fairly good looking, involuntarily let her inside voice out with the surprised, slightly outraged: ‘What? No!’