HEROES OF THE YEAR – REVIEWED

The Ernie and Maud books are full of humour and heart for newly independent readers.

In Ernie and Maud’s latest adventure, Heroes of the Year, kids will relate well to MC, Ernie who has never won at anything…and Marvellous Maud, the ‘greatest sheep in history’.

Now Ernie has a chance to win something. As trainee Superheroes, he and Maud could be in the running to win the “Heroes of the Year”.

“Ernie’s eyes were drawn back to the centre of the photo. ‘That trophy,” he said. ‘Is that — is that what the Heroes of the Year get?” His mouth had turned dry. A ribbon was one thing, but a trophy? A trophy was better than a ribbon…A trophy was better than three ribbons! ‘I’ve never won a trophy before,’ he added shyly.

In Heroes of the Year, Ernie and Maud are on a quest to catch, Pencil Pete, a moustache drawing fiend who has ‘passed through Beezerville and wreaked havoc all over town.’

Of course there are plenty of obstacles standing in their way but the more Ernie sees of the trophy, the more he wants it.

“Ernie felt something stir inside him as he gazed at the glowing trophy. He could just imagine the look on Lenny Pascale’s face when he saw it. Suddenly, he wanted a golden trophy more than he’d ever wanted anything before.”

Ernie looks for clues in Super Whiz’s book, 100 Handy Hints for Heroing. Maud is happy to be involved in Ernie’s quest but she is a gymnastics enthusiast with a goal of her own – to be able to do the splits.

The two use masterful disguises and determination on their mission, but will it be enough to catch the clever Pencil Pete?

The humour, action and quirky characters make these books an enjoyable read. Although Maud seems to go against current publishing trends, I for one enjoyed meeting a talking sheep in a children’s book.

Frances Watt’s fun text is accompanied by hilarious illustrations from Judy Watson

Heroes of The Year is the fourth book in the Ernie & Maud series from ABC Books.

 

MEET JUDY WATSON, ILLUSTRATOR OF “Heroes of the Year”

Today, Judy Watson, the charming illustrator of 19 books including the Ernie & Maud series is visiting Kids’ Book Capers to talk about her creative journey.

Have you always enjoyed illustrating?

Oh yes! Just try to stop me! My Grandma worked that out when I was about 3. She gave me coloured chalks and sent me out to draw on the paling fences in the back yard. Then, embarrassingly, but strangely pleasing too, she called all her neighbours over and made them admire my scribbles.

How did you become an illustrator?

Well, first there was Grandma and the chalks. (Thanks Grandma.) Then there was a lovely art teacher named Cecily Osborn at my school. (Thanks Mrs Osborn!) A little later on there was a lot of painting and drawing and a bit of living the artistic life in London.

Then I came home to Australia and met some publishers and got to know some other illustrators and writers in Melbourne and found my way around the publishing scene.  And eventually, a publisher phoned me to ask me to illustrate a little reader called Yucky Poo! I was earning money doing freelance graphic design work at the same time, so it didn’t matter that it took a little while for each illustration job to come along.

Where does your inspiration come from?

When I’m illustrating somebody’s story, the inspiration comes mostly from the text. As I read a manuscript for the first time, images pop into my head, sometimes in a vague way, and sometimes complete with the medium and other details.

As for the characters, well, if it’s a Frances Watts text, it’s pretty clear to me what the characters look like, because she describes them so well. Not just their appearance, but their personalities and little quirks too. And the rest of the inspiration comes from my childhood, my two children and the world around me!

What inspired you most about illustrating this book?

Well, a real villain in Baxter!! How exciting! And all those disguises. What brilliant fun to put a false moustache on top of the superhero costume. A double secret identity!

Who is your favourite character and why?

That’s a tough one! I’m very fond of HouseCat Woman, because she says so little and yet her presence is there all the time, listening, raising an eyebrow, even stretching if she’s feeling very energetic. And she can fire up most wonderfully if required. Fabulous claws!

But on the other hand there’s the irrepressible Desmond, and the almost irrepressible, yet deep-thinking Maud. No wonder Desmond loves Maud. They are both so positive about life.

How did you decide what the main character would look like?

Well, despite what I said earlier about finding Frances Watts’ characters easy to draw, the first time I drew Ernie, I got him wrong. He was too ‘super’ looking. Not at all the person he is supposed to be. I foolishly gave him extravagant curly hair and a self-assured super pose with head held high. What was I thinking?!

Frances tactfully reminded me what Ernie was all about, and soon we hit on the brown-haired, kind-hearted, slightly self-conscious little fellow that he is today.  Ernie isn’t an athlete. His feet turn inwards a little on the cover of the first book. He is very brave, but a little shy, so he carries his chin lower than Superman. And sometimes, he hides his eyes behind that floppy bit of hair at the front.

Can you tell us about the illustrating process for this book?

In this case I already knew the characters from the previous three books. That made it easy, right? Well, sort of. But I did need to get to know them again. The first drawings of Ernie and Maud weren’t right at all!

So first I did some scribbles, to practice. Then I got straight into putting down pencil sketches for the actual illustrations required. If the pose was tricky, I either did an internet search for helpful reference images (‘enthusiastic sheep in cape and leotard, jumping over gate’) or made a note of it and took photos of my husband and sons doing the required action. (That was funny, I can tell you!)

The pencil roughs were scanned and emailed to the author and editors who gave me feedback. I then made any changes required and inked the illustrations. The inked pictures were scanned and tone added on the computer, and the finished work was emailed through to the publisher for comment. Finally, after any necessary alterations were made, the artwork was emailed to the publisher again, and forwarded on to the typesetter.

What was your favourite part of the illustration process?

The colouring in! Oh well, you know what I mean. The ‘greying’ in.

When all the tricky bits are over – getting the hands to be on the ends of the arms and the thumbs on the right side and so forth – then I can sit and listen to a talking book as I colour in the pictures and watch them take on a little bit of three dimensionality.

And adding the shadows. I love shadows. Did you notice? ( I did, Judy. They are great. I’m an author so to me, shadows seem really hard to do well.)

What was the hardest part of the illustration process?

Getting the idea in my head to appear on the paper the way it does in my head! In a few of the pictures I never quite managed it, even at the end. This tricky part is usually at the pencil rough stage.

Oh, and there’s a little thing called ‘character continuity’. What a pain that can be!

Did you get to collaborate with the author or did you work fairly independently?

The Ernie and Maud books are definitely a collaboration, although Frances was so busy this time around, that she didn’t have time to say much more than ‘bravo!’ or ‘A little more to the left!’

Our wonderful editors Chren and Tegan were able to help with more detailed feedback. ‘A little more to the right and up a bit!’

Can you tell us about the medium you used to illustrate this book?

I used a dip pen (with a nib) and Noodlers Ink to do the drawings. And then I scanned them and added the grey tone on my computer in PhotoShop. It’s lucky that I can use PhotoShop because sometimes I accidentally do get the thumb on the wrong side of the hand or forget to draw somebody’s ears or something.

Happily I can draw the ears or the new hand on a separate bit of paper, scan it and alter the original picture on the computer. I use such tiny stitches that you can hardly see the scars. Have you spotted any?

How long did it take to illustrate?

About 4 months

Any tips for people who would like to become children’s book illustrators?

Practise drawing lots of people, especially hands. That way you’ll probably get the thumbs on the right side and be able to draw anything you like! Practise drawing backgrounds too. It’s really good to be able to draw a bathroom, or a toaster, or the inside of a cupboard, the underside of your bed, or the top of a dog kennel looking down from the tree house.

Take a little sketchbook and pencil with you in your pocket, and you’ll be all set to draw at a moment’s notice.

Note: I often forget my little sketchbook, and that is one of the reasons my house is full of little bits of paper with doodles on them, and also the reason I have so much trouble drawing the top of a dog kennel.

Thanks, Judy, I really enjoyed your honesty and insights into your creative process.

This afternoon, we’re reviewing Heroes of the Year here at Kids’ Book Capers.

 

FRANCES WATTS, AUTHOR OF HEROES OF THE YEAR

Today, Frances Watts visits Kids’ Book Capers to talk about her journey and Heroes of the Year, the latest book in the popular Ernie & Maud series.

How did you become a writer?

The first step to becoming a writer was by becoming a reader, and falling in love with books and stories. That certainly inspired me to write my own. But it was really through writing my first book—Kisses for Daddy—that I developed the confidence to keep writing. And the act of writing one book unleashed a floodgate of ideas!

What do you enjoy most about being a writer?

There are so many things I love about writing it’s hard to say what I enjoy most! I particularly like bringing characters to life, becoming so caught up in their stories that they seem real to me. And, of course, it’s wonderful when those characters become real to other people.

What is the hardest thing about being a writer?

It can be hard sometimes to make the words on the page live up to the ideal in your head. And the ideas don’t always flow when you want them to.

What were you in a past life (if anything) before you became a writer?

I was—and still am—a book editor, a job I find very rewarding. I work freelance and divide my time between editing and writing.

What is your greatest writing achievement?

I’d say that touching people with my books is the greatest achievement. Having parents tell me that Kisses for Daddy is a book the whole family loves and shares, or a teacher say that she uses Parsley Rabbit’s Book about Books with her students, or a child tell me that the Ernie & Maud books are the funniest things they’ve ever read or that they can’t wait for the next book in the Gerander Trilogy. It’s when readers connect with my books that I feel like I’ve really achieved something.

What are you working on at the moment?

I’m currently working on the final book in the Gerander Trilogy. It’s exciting to be revealing secrets I’ve held on to since the first book, The Song of the Winns—but also sad to be saying goodbye to characters who have been living in my head for a long time.

Do you have any tips for new writers?

Definitely I’d say: read. And think about what you’re reading, think about how the book is crafted. Then I’d say: write for yourself. Don’t try to write for a market or follow a formula; write because you have a story in you that’s busting to get out. Once you have written that story, find yourself a reader, someone who will give you honest feedback, and be prepared to keep working—rewriting and editing—until your manuscript really represents the best you can do.

Do your books have any consistent themes/symbols/locations. If so, what are they?

Because I write for several different age groups, on the surface they don’t necessarily have that much in common…Then again, I think there is a certain idealism, a certain quirky sense of humour—and there’s usually a talking animal or two!

How many books have you had published?

My new book, Heroes of the Year, is my tenth book.

What inspired you to write this book?

Heroes of the Year is the fourth book in the Ernie & Maud series. In each of the books in the series the main characters face a moral dilemma and, through their friendship, learn something about themselves. This book in particular was inspired by the idea of learning to accept that it’s okay to lose.

What’s it about?

Extraordinary Ernie and Marvellous Maud are two very unlikely superheroes—Ernie because he’s just an ordinary kid, and Maud because…she’s a sheep. In Heroes of the Year Ernie and Maud are in the running to win the Superheroes Society’s Heroes of the Year award. But when they’re faced with a terrible dilemma, they have to decide how far they’ll go in their quest for the prize…

What age groups is it for?

Ages 7-10.

Why will kids like it?

It’s full of false moustaches! I think kids will love the humour, while identifying with the characters. And Judy Watson’s illustrations are, as always, hilarious.

Can you tell me about the main character and what you like/dislike about him/her?

I love Ernie for his honesty and good-heartedness, and Maud for her loyalty and determination. (There is also a group of older superheroes who act as mentors to Ernie and Maud, and they are terrific fun to write, having very human flaws and foibles.)

Is there something that sets this book apart from others?

Did I mention the moustaches…?

What did you enjoy most about writing this book?

It’s great to have the opportunity to revisit much-loved characters and see them grow and develop across a series. I also really loved plotting this book and working to achieve a humorous trajectory that ties together different threads in a satisfying resolution.

What was the hardest thing about writing this book?

See above re the humorous trajectory and satisfying resolution!

Thanks, Frances for visiting Kids’ Book Capers.

Tomorrow, Judy Watson will be here to talk about the illustrating process and in the afternoon we’ll be reviewing Frances and Judy’s new book, Heroes of the Year. Hope you can join us.