The charm of chil­dren’s books

Amy Jack­man talks to chil­dren’s book il­lus­tra­tor and au­thor Ruth Paul about draw­ing, the things kids say and Dis­ney World.

Kapi-Mana News - - FEATURE -

Did you al­ways want to be an il­lus­tra­tor?

I was the one in the class who was al­ways draw­ing, though I was ter­ri­ble com­pared to students I’ve seen now. I did a de­gree in English and his­tory, and then went back and did a diploma in visual com­mu­ni­ca­tions and de­sign at polytech for three years. When did you start? I started when I had my own kids, be­cause I could work from home and didn’t have dead­lines. I started off il­lus­trat­ing other peo­ple’s books, but I solely work on stuff I’ve writ­ten now.

Is it hard to write a chil­dren’s book?

It’s way harder than peo­ple imag­ine. A lot of pic­ture book writ­ers say they don’t write for chil­dren; they write for the child that they were. Any pub­lisher will tell you that get­ting a man­u­script for a chil­dren’s story ac­cepted is dif­fi­cult. In a few words you have to have some­thing to hook the kids into the story. For me, writ­ing is the shorter end of the process. Il­lus­trat­ing takes a lot longer. It’s like putting on a lit­tle play or mak­ing a small video. You have to think through ev­ery scene and ev­ery ac­tion and the com­bi­na­tion be­tween the words.

What makes a good pic­ture book?

There are some ap­palling pic­ture books around. I look at some and go, ‘‘What? Why are peo­ple buy­ing them?’’ I just make sure my work gets bet­ter and re­mains at a good qual­ity. It’s hard for par­ents to know what’s good. Kids are al­ways go­ing to love the books with poo in them, but they’re not nec­es­sar­ily the books kids are go­ing to re­visit or re­mem­ber. If you have chil­dren you quickly work out what works for the par­ent and the child. There are some that kids want you to read again and again, and you’d rather cut your head off and stick it up your bum, but you have to read them. So it’s nice if you can find some­thing that par­ents and kids can read and not get sick of.

Do you have a favourite book from your child­hood?

I loved Dr Seuss and the old Amelia Bedelia sto­ries. Also I loved the il­lus­tra­tion style of Leo Lionni and Eric Carle. Not that I do work that is re­motely like them, but they were quite in­flu­en­tial. There was also this se­ries of sto­ries il­lus­trated by Hilda Boswell. They were that clas­sic old British style of the wa­ter­colour pic­tures. Why pic­ture books? You find you have one thing you love do­ing. I could never write a young adult novel. I could never write a novel full stop. I don’t have that many words. I love that age group of lit­tle kids, up to when they turn into teenagers, and the in­ter­ac­tion with them when I go to schools. Also, be­cause I’m an il­lus­tra­tor and the style I draw in is more brightly coloured and sim­ple, it’s aimed at that age group.

Do you en­joy giv­ing talks in schools?

I can’t imag­ine how peo­ple who aren’t il­lus­tra­tors en­ter­tain classes. I can al­ways fill up the gaps by do­ing lit­tle draw­ings. I re­ally ad­mire teach­ers. The kids ask the most won­der­ful ques­tions, though. This lit­tle kid once asked me if I was more fa­mous than Vin­cent van Gogh. An­other said he thought it was pretty cool that I was an au­thor and an al­li­ga­tor.

You re­cently had a fam­ily hol­i­day to the US.

Yes, we did it on a shoe­string and went right up the east coast. The kids were 12 and nine while we were away and it was a good time for them to travel. They’ll re­mem­ber it for the rest of their lives. The cul­ture was so dif­fer­ent for them even though we are in a western coun­try. It was great be­ing able to travel up the east coast and do all the civil war his­tory so they go an idea of what hap­pened there. They’ll prob­a­bly just say they re­mem­ber Dis­ney World. How was Dis­ney World? Hideous and fan­tas­tic. It was the only day I ended up cry­ing at night and say­ing I was ex­hausted. But at the same time the wa­ter parks were fan­tas­tic be­cause it was so hot. It’s just in­sane. There was no queue at Space Moun­tain while we were there, so we said, ‘‘ Oh, we should go on that’’. We got in and got shuf­fled into this lit­tle cart and I thought we were go­ing to do one of those lit­tle cruisethrough-the-pic­tures rides, but we were on this roller coaster inside some big black dome.

We just screamed for seven min­utes.

Photo: AMY JACK­MAN

Ruth Paul: ‘‘Kids are al­ways go­ing to love the books with poo in them, but they’re not nec­es­sar­ily the books kids are

go­ing to re­visit.’’

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