We are so excited to share a new series with you all, a Q & A with some of some very talented children’s authors and illustrators. To kickstart this series, we are bringing you our first interview with Australian author, Maura Finn. Maura’s book, My Magnificent Jelly Bean Tree is one of the featured books in our Box of Wishes.
1. Your book, Rose’s Red Boots follows little Rose as she takes off on different adventures with her dog and red boots. You’ve mentioned that your favourite pet growing up was your cat, Tulip. Was there a reason you decided to give Rose a pet dog instead of a pet cat?
I do love cats, but I have also had many dog friends in my time. A dog character was more suitable here as they’d be more likely to go roaming around the countryside, and his story is all about the fun and freedom of playing in nature – crunching autumn leaves, splashing through muddy puddles, climbing trees. The things that I hope all children get to experience and enjoy.
2. In My Magnificent Jelly Bean Tree, the boy’s imagination takes him on a wonderful magical journey. Why a jelly bean tree? Where did the idea of this picture book originate? The possibilities are endless when it comes to our imaginations so how did you decide what would be included in the book?
As with most of my stories, the idea for a jelly bean tree was sparked during a brainstorming session, remembering the things that I loved best as a child. I was always so fascinated with jelly beans – obviously for their sugary taste, but equally for the colours, and their yummy smell. And so I started thinking on all the different things you could do if you had your very own supply of ‘fresh’ ones.
I love playing about in my imagination, which is obviously something that comes so naturally to children. This story always sparks off a conversation with the prep – Grade 2 classes that I’ve read to, around what type of tree they’d like to grow. It has been a lot of fun hearing of their plans for their Ninja-Lego trees, unicorn trees, chocolate pudding trees, and a surprisingly large number of money trees – gold coins only.
3. In My Magnificent Jelly Bean Tree, there is a subtle message about sharing. Was that intentional from the beginning or how did it come about?
Yes, most definitely by design. My intention was to build the reader into an excited frenzy imagining all the things a jelly bean tree would bring them, and then to have them realise how much more joy there is when you share. In my earlier drafts there was an extra stanza that reinforced the joys of sharing, but I chopped it off because the story was a little too long, and I hoped the message would get through anyway.
4. Did you always aspire to writing children’s books? In a previous interview, you mentioned that started toying with the idea of writing children’s book when your youngest daughter was one. Do you think there was an advantage to starting your career after becoming a parent?
I have always written, journal style, to try and access my own thoughts. But writing creatively, and for an audience, was something that other people did. And it wasn’t until I made a book for my father’s Christmas gift that I realised how much I enjoyed it. I had all the children in the family illustrate a part, and present it to him for Christmas. It was fun, and felt right, so I guess I got kind of hooked.
Being a parent does mean you have a constant stream of inspiration and observation to fill up your creative pool. But of course the disadvantage is that you no longer have much time to call your own. Whatever did I do with my days pre-children ?
5. What are your favourite reads with your kids at the moment?
My youngest and I are reading ‘Nanny Piggins’ by R.A. Spratt , which I must say is absolutely hilarious.
And my eldest is mad on ‘Ruby Redfort’ by Lauren Child, who is also the author of the picture books ‘Charlie and Lola’. She has just about finished the series, which is always tough, but I get the feeling she’ll be reading it again.
I’ve also been downloading a lot of audio books lately. A top tip for long drives and giving kids downtime whilst keeping them off screens. It’s also a great way to share the classics – when the oldy-fashioned style of language might alienate young readers.
6. What are/were your favourite reads for 3 – 5 year olds?
Oh, that’s one tough question. Honestly, there are too many wonderful books to list, so I suppose you really need to be guided by your little one’s interests. Carer’s should think about what they like best as well though (so they can stay sane on the 40th re-read). And if you are reading with enthusiasm and joy, then it pours out through your voice and your kids are bound to love the story too. When my kids were little I would always pick up 20 or so books from our local library when we went for weekly story-time, and then buy copies of our favourites for our home collection, as we discovered them. Sometimes it’s those strange, less heard of, stories that hold the greatest charm.
I personally love rhyming stories (when the rhyme is done well). I find them energising to read out loud. They pull you along without effort. And I also love picture books that directly involve the reader.
I was reading ‘Where is the Green Sheep?’ to my little 2 year old niece the other day, and we had so much fun looking at each other in mock confusion, as we wondered where on earth that cheeky sheep could be.
7. What is coming up for you in the near future?
Well, my latest book ‘Oh, So Many Kisses!’ was just released a couple of weeks ago (April 2018), and although I am of course completely biased, I think it is truly wonderful. It was published by the lovely team at Scholastic New Zealand and illustrated by the very talented Jenny Cooper. It’s a cosy bedtime read, which visits familiar scenes from a pre-schooler’s day. The idea for the framework of kisses, came from my observation of just how many kisses we land on our little ones each day, and has been designed to reflect our multicultural communities. So far it has been met with many positive reviews – which always makes the job worthwhile.
And I’m also working on a bunch of picture books and a series for older children now, which brings with it a whole new array of joys and challenges.
Check out more about Maura Finn here.
Want to transport your child into a magical world? Receive My Magnificent Jelly Bean Tree along with another magical book and themed activities in our Box of Wishes. Subscribe or buy as a one-off – head over to the SHOP page to find out more.