Jen Storer’s Glorious Story

 

imageJen Storer; word expert, her books and writing encapsulating the most brilliant use of language to tantalise every sense within its reader. Popular and highly acclaimed chapter books include Jen’s bestselling Truly Tan series, Tensy Farlow, Crystal Bay, the latest awesome series Danny Best, and most recently awarded with a CBCA notable is the adventure mystery The Fourteenth Summer of Angus Jack. And new to Jen’s writing repertoire is the absolutely scrumptious Clarrie’s Pig Day Out (review here), and boy, has she entered the picture book world with a tang! I mean fang! No, BANG! Today I am thrilled to welcome Jen Storer to the blog to discuss all things writing and Clarrie! ☺️

Congratulations on the latest release of your sensationally hilarious picture book, Clarrie’s Pig Day Out! I’d like to start with a question from my Miss 6. How did you think to write such a mixed-up story?!

imageThank you, Romi! I’m thrilled that you and Miss 6 enjoyed Clarrie.

Most stories come to me from all over the place. A bit here. A bit there. But it’s easy to say where Clarrie came from.

I was in a café having a cup of tea and people watching. At the next table there was a
grandmother with a little boy on her knee. She was reading the boy a story. It was one of
those vacuous picture books you often come across in cafes. I could tell the boy
wanted to enjoy the story. But I could also see, by his body language, that this was a
lousy story.

I thought, what would I do if I had to read a kid a crappy story like that? The answer was instant. I’d make up silly words!

I rushed home straight away and started writing a story about an old farmer who got his
words muddled.

Obviously the language in the story is intended to challenge the readers’ thinking and play with words. What other teaching and learning experiences do you hope your audience will gain from this book?

I never EVER consider teaching kids when I write stories. The minute I start thinking like a teacher I’m no longer thinking like a storyteller. Any lessons that come from my books are purely coincidental. My entire purpose is to delight, entertain and inspire.

Clarrie is such an eccentric yet humble and romantic type of character. How did he develop in your mind? Is he based on anyone you know?

He’s a darling, isn’t he? When I wrote the story I was studying art. I was learning to draw circles and spheres at the time. Swinging the ellipse. I’d been drawing loads of eggs in my sketchbook. And the eggs had evolved into cakes. And chickens. And then this funny old bald guy in gumboots and overalls. It was Clarrie! The first thing he ever said to me was, ‘I’m very fond of chookens. They make good friends and their eggs make delicious caks.’ (That didn’t quite make it into the story…)

The illustrations by Sue deGennaro are deliciously playful, just like your story! How did you collaborate with one another? How long did the process take? What do you like most about Sue’s art style?

imageI love Sue’s imagination and the whimsical worlds she creates. And I adore her subtle use of collage. If you look closely you can see that she’s used the insides of window envelopes (bills) to make crockery and decorate various buildings. I also love her gentle palette. The original artwork is a dream. And she adds delightful quirks: Clarrie’s odd socks. His dapper suit. The way he’s a bit of a dandy. Miss Winterbottom’s fabulous 70s inspired frock. All these touches are Sue’s inventions.

I can’t remember how long we collaborated but it was quick. From the time Sue signed up to the time of final art was about eight months I think. Maybe a bit more.

We met a few times in person. I saw initial roughs. Then later a heap of half completed
paintings that we all swooned over. It was so exciting to watch Clarrie’s world come to life.

I was hands-off in terms of my vision for the story. I wanted Sue to bring her expertise to it. Lisa Berryman, my publisher, was the same. We just sat back and let Sue play.

I think that’s one of the best things about working on picture books. Seeing what someone else, another professional, does with your text. Seeing their interpretation, and thinking, ‘Wow. I never saw it that way. But this looks awesome!’

Fun Question! Can you rephrase this sentence Clarrie-style:
I could read your book all day.

I could feed your chook all day.

You’ve had tremendous success as an author of chapter books for younger and older readers, including Truly Tan, Danny Best, Tensy Farlow and Angus Jack, amongst others. When you’ve established characters like Truly Tan and Danny Best do you find that you need to reread from the beginning to remember things they’ve done?

imageNo. I carry their worlds in my head from book to book. Occasionally I’ll flick back to check a fact or the name of a minor character. Also, I’m always writing one book while at the same time checking first, second and third pages of the previous one. So the worlds are in continual motion.

Do you plot out the whole series carefully beforehand?

Not on your life!

How do you ensure that everything ties together and flows on from one book to the next?

Each of the books in Truly Tan and in Danny Best are stand alones. There’s no overarching plot that I need to keep track off. All I have to get right is the characters, their relationships and the world they live in. And the voice, of course. That has to be consistent.

You juggle your time between writing, illustrating, speaking, presenting and blogging! How do you manage such a hectic schedule? What’s your secret?

I don’t always manage. Behind the scenes I’m often flouncing about swearing and cursing. But when I’m not doing that, I’m actually a really determined plodder. I’m committed to this work. I’m a boots and all girl. If I decide to do something I’m in it for the long haul.
I’m getting better at saying no these days, too. And listening to my intuition. It provides impeccable guidance. I’m obsessed with my work. Obsessed. I haven’t decided if that’s a good thing or a bad thing!

I love your new inspiring initiative to teach other writers all the tips and tricks of the trade with your girl & duck workshops and online tutorials. Can you tell us more about how this came about and what you have and will be offering interested participants?

imageGirl and duck is my passion. It came about in a stealthy manner while I wasn’t really looking. But now it’s up and running I’m consumed by it. I have exciting plans for it. I adore teaching. Love, love, love. I can talk about creative writing until the cows come home. I’m busy writing and illustrating a book for the ‘duckettes’. I hope to have it available by the end of the year. Then there’s another book planned to follow the first. I’ll also be running online classes. More on that soon. It’s a huge commitment. Under the surface we’re paddling like crazy. There’s so much techy work going on. And business school. It’s awesome. The online world offers astonishing opportunities.

You’ve been in the industry for a while now with many successes and accolades. What have been the most rewarding highlights of your career? Is there anything that you are still striving for?

Apart from dreaming up ideas and developing projects, meeting readers is still the biggest highlight. As well as receiving their mail.

But these days it’s also about inspiring others (adults) to pursue their passions and embrace their creativity. I never planned to do this but ‘creativity coaching’ is something that fills me with joy. I’ve had a tricky journey to get where I am. I’m a late bloomer. First book published at 42 etc. I like to urge younger creatives to get cracking while they can. The sooner the better. But even if you feel you’re too old, forget that! Age is a crock.

There are loads of goals I’m still striving for. Growing girl and duck. Writing. Painting. Drawing. Coaching. Teaching. Travel. You name it. I’m just getting started.

Besides all the numerous projects that we’ve mentioned above, what else are you currently working on? What can your fans look forward to seeing from you in the near future? A sequel to Clarrie’s Pig Day Out perhaps? 😉

imageI’ve written a follow-up to Clarrie. But that’s a secret…
I’ve written the first 30,000 words of a follow-up to Tensy Farlow. It’s about another girl in that same world. I’m desperate to finish it but I need to go to the UK to research it.
I have my girl and duck books.
I’m into the second act of my screenplay.
I have a picture book coming out with Andrew Joyner in August.
Book three of Danny Best is half written. Book two comes out in November. Mitch, Lisa and I are going over the illos and layout now.
Book five of the Tan series has just been released, Truly Tan: Hoodwinked! And I’m halfway through book six. One of my readers named it. It’s called Truly Tan: Trapped! I’m still figuring out where I’m going to trap the poor little peanut.
Books seven and eight of Truly Tan need to be thought about. And written (ahem).
There’s loads of stuff going on.

Thank you so much for joining me for this interview, Jen! It’s been an honour! X

Thank you, Romi, you’re an angel! xo

imageMore information on Jen Storer can be found at her website and Facebook page. Jen’s writing for children workshops can be seen at her new girl and duck website. Plus, details on her Melbourne-based ambassador role for The Footpath Library, an initiative to enrich the lives of homeless people with free books, can be found here.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Review – Clarrie’s Pig Day Out

imageClarrie’s Pig Day Out, Jen Storer (author), Sue deGennaro (illus.), ABC Books, March 2016.

Jen Storer’s remarkable picture book debut, Clarrie’s Pig Day Out, is a glorious word-fest of hilarity that sends its readers into a sensory-overload frenzy. Its ability to turn absurdity to logic, and back again, is second to none. This story of a lawfully, I mean, awfully mixed-up farmer takes us on a jumbled, laugh-out- and shout-out-loud adventure as he goes about his day.

We’ve all been there. Those moments when you feel your life is cluttered with piles of bowls (and books!), your pets (and kids!) won’t listen, and your daily schedule is filled to the brink. Of course it’s natural to stumble along trying to keep on top of it all. Clarrie, too, finds himself in a pickle. Not literally, it’s just a word pickle. Unless it’s a pickle in a jar, then perhaps he finds himself in one of those situations?! Enjoy as this charming, quirky character tells us his story in his native (twisted) tongue that only the most discerning listeners will understand.

imageWhen Clarrie plans his day out with his dog Bert, it’s not only his speech that ends in a series of unexpected mishaps. First, he informs Bert about the bushy-tailed box (that’s fox) that runs past whilst driving his jar (no, car). But Bert didn’t come. If he did, he could have chased the bats (or cats, rather) that Clarrie’s love interest, Miss Winterbottom owns as they dine ever-so-romantically on pupcakes (you get it!) and coffee under the candlelight. Roasting a letter, buying dumb boots and handing honey to Mr Peck for some chickens are next on the agenda. And if all that rollicking rumpus isn’t enough to tickle your funny bones, wait until you see the frantic flitting of feathered fowls (including Clarrie!) as he attempts to rescue them from that sly, lip-licking fox! So how will it end? Will there be a hero? Who will it be? There’s one thing for sure – it’s been a pig day!

Jen Storer brilliantly dazzles and delights as she combines humour, word play and themes of loyalty and friendship. The language is rich and playful, and written in first person with a dialogue that uncannily rolls off the tongue. Enlarged font for the emphasised, erroneous words add extra interest to the visuals, perfectly tying in with Sue deGennaro‘s bouncy illustrations. I love her acrylic paint, watercolour and ink gentleness with little collage details, patterns and textures. The consistent colour palette of sea greens and blues and touches of reds gorgeously gives the book a calming, non-perplexed feel in an otherwise uproarious manner of complete sillyness.

imageOther than its endless possibilities for teaching and learning, including rhyme, word families and comprehension, Clarrie’s Pig Day Out is simply and utterly a divine and entertaining read with a strong, lovable character that we’d love to see more from. Definitely a winning book to pleasure, and treasure, for all children, big and small.

Purchase Clarrie’s Pig Day Out.

*Don’t go anywhere ‘cos Jen Storer has joined us here for an interview on writing and Clarrie!

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

It’s Time to Celebrate!

As we approach the end of 2015, we take time to reflect on the year that was – all the joyous, heart-rending, life-changing and memorable moments. And in light of these occasions, we’re all a little stronger, a little smarter and a little wiser, so let’s celebrate! The following few picture books will give you that extra little reason to take pride in your achievements, and of course, to PARTY!

imageBring a Duck, Lesley Gibbes (author), Sue deGennaro (illus.), Scholastic Australia, 2015.

If there ever was a book about celebrations it’s ‘Bring a Duck’! When Bear finds a party invitation from Pig in his letterbox, he is ‘tickled pink’! But he is also stumped – ‘Bring your own duck?’ – whatever could Pig have planned? With a cascade of ducks of all sorts, shapes, sizes, outfits and personalities, the party is a flapping success! Young readers will relish the fun of the duck-themed games, events and magic tricks, including duck hunts and stunts and pulling a duck out of a hat. And when it’s Bear turn to host an elephant party, we are immediately inspired to dream up the most imaginative of parties for ourselves!

Simply charming and exuberant illustrations team up with the fast-paced, rhyming text that hold our excitement and engagement all the way through.

With humour, delight, playfulness and creativity, ‘Bring a Duck’ is a quacking sensation that is sure to invite sentiments of harmony, togetherness, imagination and fun.

imagePickle and Bree’s Guide to Good Deeds: The Birthday Party Cake, Alison Reynolds (author), Mikki Butterley (illus.), The Five Mile Press, 2015.

From one birthday party to the next. It’s a joyous occasion for Pickle and Bree as they plan a party for their Panda friend, Jason. Or is it? This new, gorgeous series, including ‘The Decorating Disaster’, aims to gently guide its readers to appropriate social etiquette and positive behaviour. So, when Pickle is disgruntled as his bear plans are overhauled by the over-zealous and strong-willed Bree, what’s needed is a fresh perspective. Listening to others, being open to new ideas and accepting differences are just some of the valuable lessons Pickle and Bree learn from their experience. These points are neatly tied together at the end with a list of Good Deeds to acknowledge and reinforce what makes each of us special.

But despite the disagreements, we are enchanted by the party-goers’ funny antics, adorable expressions and energy that exude from the pages. The pastel colours and textures are homely and inviting, and the text encouraging and supportive. Therefore, successfully fulfilling its intention.

‘The Birthday Party Cake’ delicately and sensitively deals with common issues concerning relationships, emotions and tolerance. This enables its readers to value their own and others’ opinions and feelings. A fun, thought-provoking and relevant story for all children from age four.

imageScarlett, Starlet, Emma Quay (author, illus.), ABC Books, 2015.

From honouring the birthday boy or girl to taking centre stage yourself, Scarlett, Starlet certainly enjoys the spotlight! Scarlett loves to dance. And when she does she is the brightest sparkle in her mummy’s and daddy’s eyes. She spreads rhythm all over the place, and even her puppy Jazzy Jo-Jo loves to tap along. A spectacular stage performance sees Scarlett shine like never before. But in the end she doesn’t need the spotlight, or even her mummy and daddy’s affirmations to know that she is, and always has been, a star!

The simple language with its tapping onomatopoeia, repetitive phrases and age-appropriate dialogue beautifully tie in with the basic colour palette of bright red and yellow, which signify strength, power and luminosity just like Scarlett.

‘Scarlett, Starlet’ is delightfully charming; the perfect book for young preschoolers longing to make their mark on the world of entertainment. They will undoubtedly take pleasure in reliving Scarlett’s shining moment over and over again.

imageA, You’re Adorable, Buddy Kaye, Fred Wise, Sidney Lippman (words), Nathaniel Eckstrom (illus.), Justine Clarke (audio), Scholastic Australia, 2015.

There’s no better way to commemorate special people and events in your life than with a song story and bonus CD to swing along to! The well-known, lyrical, alphabetical ode to someone wonderful is gorgeous in this new edition that celebrates the love and pride in those who mean the most.
‘I, you’re the one I idolise. J, we’re like Jack and Jill. K, you’re so kissable. L is the love-light in your eyes.’

With soft and dreamy illustrations that put all the warmth and tenderness in your heart, as well as the added elements of spirit, charm and curiosity. The soulful, Jazzy-tunes of Justine Clarke on the CD ignite that little extra spark to enlighten all the senses.

‘A, You’re Adorable’ is a sweet, melodic book that reinforces alphabet knowledge and feelings of adoration and affection towards our loved ones. Definitely something to appreciate as we look back on the year that was, and the aspirations we anticipate to satisfy in the year ahead.

Wishing all our readers a safe and Happy New Year! Looking forward to more bookish excitement in 2016!

Review – The Emperor’s New Clothes Horse

Fortunate is the author who happens to have a book illustrated by the über talented Sue deGennaro. What I love about Sue’s work is that she takes risks and uses so many varying styles and mediums – it’s like opening a beautifully-wrapped present every time you spy her name on a cover.

These striking illustrations were an absolute joy to meander through. Featuring a 1920s-Pinocchio-come-Swiss-Alps-come-Italianesque style (yes, I am taking creative license on my presumed illustration-inspiration!), the delicate shapes, lines and colours deGennaro uses are absolutely scrumptious.

But what of the story?

Happily, Tony Wilson has penned a fabulous story that no doubt provided such illustration inspiration. In his story, we meet a horse racing emperor who is so good at racing horses, he’s won every single race except the Cristobel Cup. Sending his royal trainers on a grand hunt to find a horse capable of the Cup, the Emperor is charmed by some ‘international’ trainers who wear fancy hats and smile a lot.

Hmm.

The trainers (who appear to have been heftily trained in psychological warfare) warn the Emperor – ‘This is a very magical horse.’ Indeed. It would have to be, being that it’s made of wood, and is designed to hang damp clothes on.

The moment when young Frankie the stablehand goes to mention his mum has one of those in her laundry is laugh-out-loud funny. Watching the clothes horse train for the big race is laugh-out-loud funny. But the last line of the book – post-race – is beyond that. It’s spurt-your-coffee funny.

I love this book. I love the tone, the humour, the voice, the images. I’m also absolutely loving the page layout. Obviously reluctant to place a single comma into the striking landscapes of deGennaro’s work, text columns down the page edges provide the perfect spot for wordage, while smiling eyes can scan the imagery, completely unfettered. Brilliant.

A must-have for any picture book lover. And get one for the kids, too.

The Emperor’s New Clothes Horse is published by Scholastic.

BUTTON BOY

Button Boy is a charming new picture book by Rebecca Young and Sue deGennaro.

Lots of kids love to collect things and in Banjo’s case, it’s buttons. He collects buttons of all shapes, colours and sizes and grandma sews them onto his jumper.

I liked Banjo’s quirkiness, that he finds something a little different to do to keep himself busy. Buttons seem to be such an easy thing to lose so it’s not surprising that Banjo manages to collect so many.

He has a jumper full of buttons but one day he goes to the banyan tree and finds an unhappy little girl who has lost a button.

Grandma Woolly had sewn the girl’s missing ducky button on his jumper just a week ago.

Banjo gives the little girl back her button and this starts him on a quest where one by one he returns the buttons he has found. Soon people are gathering at the banyan tree to collect their missing buttons.

After he has given all the buttons back, Banjo looks around for something else to collect and discovers something that can bring him even more happiness.

Button Boy is a gentle story about a boy’s journey of discovery, about friendship, love, honesty and how the search for one thing can lead to another.

This sensitive text is created by Rebecca Young and the joyful illustrations are by Sue deGennaro. Button Boy is published by Scholastic Australia.