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!  

Katrina Germein’s website is great for finding information on her books, writing tips, teaching notes and her blog:
Follow Katrina on Facebook, and view photos of her recent book launch:

Follow Katrina’s boards on Pinterest:


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.



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.