There are moments in life that make us stop and adjust our perspectives on the world. Even encourage us to see the world from another’s point of view. Author Kaylene Hobson and illustrator Ann-Marie Finn from Dragon Tales Publishing have achieved just that by introducing us to their new, loveable character, Gus. ‘Gus, the Asparagus’ is a story targeted towards children and families with an Autism Spectrum Disorder, promoting awareness through this valuable and entertaining resource.
Gus is a part of the Green Family. He is the only asparagus, but he doesn’t mind. Despite his differences, they love him anyway. But upon entering school, Gus finds it difficult to ‘fit in’ with the other fruits and vegetables. Cleverly, the story integrates some of the challenges that a child with Autism may face; like highly distracting birds and misunderstanding the rules in a ‘rolling’ race.
A diagnosis of ‘Asparagus Syndrome’ sees Gus finally thrive as others become more aware of his needs and help to make adaptations to his environment. And the best part is, Gus makes a friend who doesn’t mind his upside down, asparagus ways… being different is okay.
‘Gus, the Asparagus’ is a simple story that clearly defines its’ message of accepting differences in yourself and others, yet in a humorous, light-hearted manner. The mixture of explanatory narration and amusing dialogue is like watching a children’s television show! Whimsical, goggle-eyed characters and bright, bold colours that Ann-Marie Finn has illustrated perfectly suit the playful text by Kaylene Hobson.
A sweet, charming and significant book for families, teachers and specialists, and all primary school children to connect with, whether on the spectrum or not. ‘Gus, the Asparagus’ is sure to spear your hearts with its juicy goodness!
Ann-Marie Finn is a talented artist and author, having produced stunning books including ‘A Trip to the Moon’, ‘Captain Kieron’, ‘I Despair of My Hair’, and illustrations for ‘Isaac’s Dragon’ and ‘My Dad is a FIFO Dad’. I am fortunate to have had the opportunity to learn about Ann-Marie Finn’s fascinating journey to creating her books, including the scrumptious ‘Gus, the Asparagus’.
You have a gorgeous, eye-catching style of illustrating. Please tell us a bit about your artistic background. How did you come to illustrate children’s books?
Well I’ve been an illustrator since leaving college, and I always knew that I wanted to be a children’s book illustrator eventually. I started out designing greetings cards and stationery, and there was never really time to work on anything new. Then I left work to have my two children and I knew then that I had to just go for it! I took a story that I had written years earlier as a student, adapted it to be about my first little boy Liam, and A Trip to the Moon was created.
Congratulations on the release of your latest book with Kaylene Hobson, ‘Gus, the Asparagus’! Can you tell us a bit about how you and Kaylene collaborated and what you hope the readers will gain from this book?
The reason Kaylene and I met was through a group that Kaylene set up to help kids on the spectrum to interact with each other. Once she found out I was an illustrator and I found out that she was an author we started talking about a collaboration. We completed Kaylene’s first book in July last year and haven’t stopped thinking up ideas since. When I first had the idea to make Gus the Asparagus a character I sent her a message. I knew she would either laugh and think I was crazy or decide it was a good idea and we should run with it! (She did both). The idea behind the book was to create a character that kids with autism could connect with and understand, a book for them to understand themselves rather than for adults. We also hoped it would be fun for any kids, not just those on the spectrum.
How did working on ‘Gus, the Asparagus’ make you feel, considering the topic is so close to your heart? How does the story resonate with you personally?
I loved every moment of working on Gus. The best part was that we were never short of ideas! In fact we had too many and had to cut out some pages (good excuse for a sequel though…). Gus himself is very much like my eldest Liam, and he actually helped me out when I was illustrating the book and gave me ideas on what would make Gus more comfortable in class. I love it when my kids get involved in my work.
We’ve seen a mixture of amazing artistic techniques across your books, including pencil sketching, collage and digital media. Do you have a particular style or type of medium that you tend to prefer over others? Describe the illustrative process you used for creating ‘Gus’.
When I see a manuscript or think up a character I can usually see it in my head before I start to work on it. I knew Gus needed to be a very simple but bright character, without fussy backgrounds. It didn’t take me long to get him right. The characters were created from painted colours on textured paper.
The pencil sketch style that I developed for A Trip to the Moon is my favourite though, I like that I get to draw it all by hand but have the ability to manipulate the images easily in Photoshop and keep the hand drawn look. I’ve used that technique in most of the books I’ve illustrated.
What were the most rewarding and challenging aspects of creating the illustrations for this book?
The most rewarding part was when I got the look of Gus just right. Both Kaylene and I knew instantly when he was right, I think it’s his eyes that do it! There weren’t any real challenging parts to the illustrations, it’s amazing how easy it is to get the right expression on an asparagus!
Do you like asparagus? What’s your favourite vegetable?
I love asparagus! Luckily the variety I eat doesn’t have saucer like eyes so I don’t feel like I’m doing anything wrong….
Yes, I would consider asparagus to be my favourite 🙂
You have authored and illustrated several children’s stories. Do you have a preference for a particular role in creating books for kids? Why?
Well I have never considered myself an author, just an illustrator. The fact that I have written 3 and a half of my own books doesn’t register really, but I think that’s all part of being an asparagus…
What has been the biggest highlight for you since beginning your journey in the field of children’s literature?
The feedback is most definitely the best part of every book. I’m always a bit scared of doing book readings (I’m allergic to public speaking), but seeing the kids being interested in what I’m reading, pointing to the pictures and asking questions is amazing. It’s the whole reason I wanted to illustrate children’s books in the first place.
You have two new projects due out soon. Can you tell us a bit about the works you are creating with Georgie Donaghey and Michelle Worthington?
I have just finished Lulu by Georgie Donaghey and received the first copy a few days ago. It was a very challenging one for me because I decided to paint the illustrations this time. It’s very time consuming and less easy to correct if I make mistakes, so tougher when working to a deadline. In the end though I think I got it right and I’m very pleased with the final result.
Angels Outside the Window is a gorgeous story by Michelle Worthington about her son’s experience with having a baby brother born prematurely. I am in the early stages with this one, trying to find the right style to work in. I want to keep it soft and dreamy; a sensitive style to go with a sensitive topic. Michelle is kindly donating profits from the sale of this book to the Life’s Little Treasures foundation, so it’s an extra incentive for me to get it just right!
What does your art space look like? Creative clutter or meticulously organised?
It’s clutter central. Whenever it gets too much to cope with I panic and try to get someone to organise it for me. Kaylene has tried to empty my desk before, so has a professional de-clutterer. But it still ends up the same way. I can draw pretty pictures but I can’t for the life of me put something back where it belongs!!
Is there anything else about Ann-Marie Finn that you can share with us? Something we won’t find on the internet!
Hmmmm, I think you might have guessed by now that I’m a bit of an asparagus 😉
Thanks so much for talking with me, Ann-Marie! It’s been a blast!
World Autism Awareness Day was celebrated on April 2nd this year. You can find more information about the cause here.
To WIN a copy of ‘Gus, the Asparagus’, head to the Gus the Asparagus Giveaway!
Entries close 9pm (AEST) Sunday April 26th 2015.