The Highlights of a Professional Life: An Interview With Ursula Dubosarsky

Ursula_Dubosarsky_publicity_photo_A_2011Ursula Dubosarsky has written over 40 books for children and young adults. Some of which include The Terrible Plop, Too Many Elephants in This House, Tim and Ed (Tim and Ed Review), The Carousel, The Word Spy series, and The Cryptic Casebook of Coco Carlomagno and Alberta series.

She is a multi-award winner of many national and international literary prizes including The Premier’s and State Literary Awards, The Children’s Book Council Book of the Year Awards, The Children’s Choice Awards, The Prime Minister’s Literary Awards and The Speech Pathology Australia Awards.

Ursula’s books have been characterised as timeless classics with universal accessibility, always heartwarming, funny and indelible. Her picture books, in particular, emanate energy and delight, wit and ingenuity. She has worked with some legendary illustrators who have brought Ursula’s playful words to life, including Terry Denton, Tohby Riddle and Andrew Joyner.    

I am absolutely thrilled and honoured to have had this opportunity to discover more about Ursula Dubosarsky’s writerly mind, joys, achievements and plans for the future, and she has been so gracious in sharing her views with our readers.

Where do you get your creativity from? Were you born into a creative family?
Well I was born into a family of writers, although they are more non-fiction writers than fiction writers. But non-fiction demands plenty of creativity, as I discovered when I tried to write non-fiction myself (my “Word Spy” books.) My mother also had an amazingly vivid dream-life -I sometimes wonder if that’s where the story ideas come from…  

What or who are your biggest motivators?
For some reason I find this a very confronting question! and I don’t know how to answer it. Perhaps it’s one of the biggest mysteries of creative acts – why do it? It feels like a compulsion.  

Which age group do you most prefer to write for, younger or older children?
I love the succinctness that is demanded of you in writing for younger children – I love throwing out all the words until you have just that bare minimum. The other nice thing about writing for younger children is you get to work with illustrators, which has been such a pleasure in my life. But of course as anyone would say, each form has its particular rewards (and hardships.)  

the-word-spyWhat has been the greatest response / fan mail to you and your books?
That would be my three “Word Spy” books – non-fiction books about language, particularly the English language. I think one reason they get the most fan mail is that the books are written in character. They are narrated by a mysterious person called The Word Spy. So I think children really enjoy the fantasy of writing to an imaginary person – I enjoy the fantasy of writing back as a character! The Word Spy even has her own blog “Dear Word Spy” where you can see lots of the letters children have written to her – and her answers!

What is your working relationship like with illustrator, Andrew Joyner? Do you or the publisher choose to pair you together?
Oh I love working with Andrew.The pairing came about quite naturally. At the time I was working for the NSW Department of Education’s School Magazine, which is a monthly literary magazine for primary school children. I was doing some editing there, and Andrew happened to send in some illustrations. I just so responded to his work, immediately. Anyway then when I had written the text for “The Terrible Plop” he was a natural person to suggest to Penguin, the publisher, as an illustrator for the book.

Cover_0What was your reaction when ‘Too Many Elephants in This House’ was selected for this year’s ALIA’s National Simultaneous Storytime? How were you involved in the lead up and on the day?
That was truly the most thrilling and touching experience. We were just delighted to hear it had been chosen, and I can’t tell you how heartwarming it was to see children (and adults!) all over Australia reading our book. ALIA did a brilliant job of organising and promoting the event – we hardly had to do a thing. On the actual day Andrew and I read the book aloud at the Customs House branch of the City of Sydney library down at Circular Quay. I can truly say the National Simultaneous Storytime was one of the great highlights of my professional life.  

IMG_6741You’ve had two of your picture books turned into successful stage productions; ‘The Terrible Plop’ (2009-2012) and ‘Too Many Elephants in This House’ (2014). How were you approached / told about the news? What creative input did you (and Andrew Joyner) have in the productions?
In both cases it was a matter of the theatre company (Adelaide’s Windmill Theatre for “The Terrible Plop” and NIDA for “Too Many Elephants”) seeing the book and then approaching the publisher to see if we’d be willing to have the book staged. We were very willing! In neither case did we have a lot of input into the production. The writer/director at NIDA did keep us informed and sent us draft scripts -but I think we both felt it was better to stand back and let her and the actors and the rest of the creative team follow their own instincts. Again, for me and Andrew it was a tremendous experience to see the books transformed and re-imagined.  

What are you currently working on? What can your fans look forward to seeing from you in the near future?
Well Andrew and I will be working together on an illustrated novel, so much longer than and very different to our picture book collaborations. It’s called “Brindabella” and is about a kangaroo. I have written the text already – and am now looking forward enormously to seeing what Andrew does with it.  

What other hobbies do you enjoy besides writing?
I wish I could say something strange and unexpected but it’s just walking! I love to walk the dog, but I also just like walking altogether. And I do like looking for very unusual cake recipes, researching their history and then having a go at baking them. I’m not much of a cook but I enjoy it!

the-terrible-plopFan Question –
Katharine: In The Terrible Plop, where did the bear run to? Did he ever find out what the Terrible Plop really was?

(This question is) something I’ve never been asked before and never thought about! I guess the bear would run home to all his brother and sister and mother and father and granny and grandpa and uncle and auntie bears, who listen to his story and tell him that’s what comes of sitting in folding chairs and that in future he should stay safely inside their big dark cave. So I don’t think he OR any of the others ever find out what the Terrible Plop really is – in fact over time it becomes part of the Great Bear Mythology…

Ursula, thank you so much for answering my questions for Boomerang Books! It’s been an absolute pleasure!

Find out more about Ursula Dubosarsky:

Interview by Romi Sharp

Review – Tim and Ed by Ursula Dubosarsky and Andrew Joyner

tim-and-ed Having two kids under five is busy enough; constantly picking up after them, the daily hustle and bustle, and the shouts, shrieks and laughter that goes with sibling shenanigans. But what about young, lively, always busy, curious twins? Now that would be a handful!

Ursula Dubosarsky and Andrew Joyner make a great award-winning team, already bringing us The Terrible Plop and Too Many Elephants in This House, which was chosen as the 2014 National Simultaneous Storytime picture book. And another terrific team they have introduced more recently, are the adorable Tim and Ed.

Tim and Ed, identical twin koalas, are pretty much the same. With their matching eyes, mouth, feet, and head, and their arms, legs, knees, nose, ears and toes that are the same. The only thing differentiating them are their initials on their tee shirts. In their colourful, safe world with their Dad, they share a definite cheekiness, curiosity about their twin existence, and an unequivocal bond.

‘I want to be the same as him!’, Ed reveals, as no contrast will be accepted, even if caused by a dirty, wet pond. Absolutely exhausting their poor old Dad, this duo’s energy just doesn’t seem to tire. With a noisy racket and a toy-ladened house, Dad and Auntie Pim join forces to organise a well-deserved break for the single father. 20140909_144620
However, their sense of security is suddenly shattered when the twins discover that they will be spending the night apart. In the beginning they hardly notice each other’s absence, enjoying their time crashing toy trains and racing bikes around the yard, and dining on spectacular meals.

In the quiet calm of the night they notice the missing presence of each other’s company. But upon reuniting the following day, with the reassurance of their Dad, the koalas realise a little bit of independence can be fun. And although they may look the same, they each have their unique qualities, which makes them special individuals. 20140909_144703

Tim and Ed is a gorgeous picture book that perfectly matches Ursula Dubosarsky’s rollicking, rhyming storyline with Andrew Joyner’s lively, expressive illustrations. Dubosarsky’s real life conversations between father and sons, and activities written with descriptive text, are paired with Joyner’s accurate facial expressions and charmingly drawn details, including a typical Aussie backyard and messy family living room.

Children aged three and up will adore the moments shared with their siblings and parents after reading Tim and Ed. With action-filled behaviours that they can relate to, delightful and engaging illustrations, and learning about being individual and independent, especially when you are a twin, it will be easy to get attached to this picture book.

Pre-order your copy now!

For some fun and educational koala activities while you wait for your copy of Tim and Ed to arrive, head to Here’s a little snippet of what you will find. PhotoGrid_1410833885290