Q&A with Andy Fackrell

Our May membership is a brand new release and we were thrilled to be able to chat with Andy Fackrell, the author and illustrator of Group Hug!: A Collective Noun Safari. We spoke to Andy about his creative careers thus far; how he was stuck out in the Serengeti with a cackle of hygenas; his inspiration behind the book and how it supports the United Nations Development Programme and the Lion’s Share, two organisations committed to protecting our most vulnerable wildlife groups.

You can watch our Q&A with Andy here or read the full transcript below.

Q&A with Andy Fackrell

Janice: Welcome to Little Birdie Books. It’s Janice here. And today I am really honored to have Andy Fackrell with us, who is the author and illustrator of our May featured book ‘Group Hug’. Hello, Andy! Andy, tell us where you are chatting to us from today.

Andy: Well, I just arrived into the Bay of Plenty in New Zealand yesterday to see my family here. And it’s a little chillier than where I live in Sydney. So I’m rugged up. It’s sunny, but it’s definitely icy. And if you see out there, out towards White Islands, a volcano just about 20 miles offshore, that’s amazing. My long soulful walk that I do every morning here for about 2 hours, it’s just a great place to be.

Janice: That sounds really good. Andy, as I said, you write an illustrator this book. So you are actually not only a children’s book author and illustrator, but can you tell us a bit about your wonderful career and the various continents that you have lived in so far?

Andy: Well, like I said, I’m a bit of an Itinerary Walker, and I do roam. I have spent a lot of time roaming the planet, and that’s been luckily through my career that I chose to go back to start. I studied I actually studied at University in New Zealand, illustration and advertising. The first thing I got into was advertising as an art director and luckily and then as a creative director. And then as a creative director writer, as I sort of stayed in the industry, I’ve turned into more of a writer than an illustrator. But that luckily suited me well, I really wanted to travel, and so that career let me go to some interesting cities like Singapore and Portland in Oregon and a good time, a good decade in Amsterdam and then back to Los Angeles and occasionally Sydney between once or twice. And so, yeah, and I chose careers that I guess I got lucky to choose to work on brands that interested me. Essentially those were sports brands and really Nike and added us with the brands that I work for for much of my career, which is as a sports junkie and Michael Jordan lover. What else out of life. So that’s really what geared me to working towards in film. More so now I write film as well so that’s full circle. I’m now illustrating kids books, which is fantastic. So it’s a fantastic side hustle, if you like, or more increasingly the full time hustle.

Janice: That’s awesome. Wow. So you definitely have had an immense range of life and world experiences. So I’d love for you to tell us with the book Group Hug, can you sort of give us a bit of a synopsis? And then also, how did the idea for this picture book originate?

Andy: Well, it’s a story about a little boy that his name is Wilbur. And like me, and he wants to know more about the animal kingdom and their lives and so he’s transported to natural habitat from the Zoo by asking him a question, and he ends up in their environment discovering what life is really like. And the book touches on very gently touches on environmental issues. Like on the hippo page, they would have been forest shrinking, and I’ve tried to make it very subtle. So the book is about not only collective nouns, which is really the purpose of the book is understanding. So it’s called Group Hug, a Collective Noun Safari. That’s the notion of how to understand where we got to with these names, these group hugs. Sorry. With these collective nouns, which are fascinating and very much fun as well. So that’s a long synopsis. In one of my last jobs in advertising, once I finished that career, I thought, where did I want to go most in life? And I stood on the Serengeti, and it was probably the most amazing experience of my life that I not only got stuck on our Jeep, ran into an arkhole, and we got pretty much most of the night in the Serengeti surrounded by hyenas. By the time we got back to the tent, I was not only scared beyond belief, but amazed that I kind of spawned on the huge numbers of animals. How do I do something? I was sitting on Bondi Beach with a friend and he said, “I need to go get another surfboard for my quiver”. And I was like, “What do you mean, quiver? What is that?” He goes, “Oh, it’s the collective noun of surfboards.” And so within a couple of seconds, I was like, collective nouns. I know what the book is about. So that’s a short story of how it came about.

Janice: I love hearing the inspiration behind that. And, I mean, I’m sure you know this already, but collective nouns are just something that fascinates both kids, adults, even as adults. I think that’s one of the things that drew us into the book was like, oh, I didn’t know that was the collective noun for gnus. It draws people in and makes them want to know about it more. And I would also be terrified if I was stuck in a hole with hyenas.

Andy: What’s the collective noun for hyena, which actually is a cackle, which is a lot behind. Yes. Very fitting for a few hours. So I just didn’t know that how many collective downs were written. So some animals have three or four, right? Like a whale. I can’t think of other multiples at the moment. It’s a very peculiar English thing. When I traveled and go back to Europe and I thought, well, maybe I’ll get my book translated into different languages. It’s difficult because German friends looked at me because they sort of don’t have vocabulary that we have in English. Yes, the French and Spanish have flamboyance of flamingoes. But it’s a very English thing, which I love.

Janice: Yeah, it is beautiful. Now this book is published by Ford Street Publishing in conjunction with the United Nations Development Program. So can you tell us about how that partnership came about and why you decided to do that?

Andy: Well, I guess I put my advertising hat on, and I sort of was thinking I’d like to do something. I’m a huge environmentalist, and I did an anti poaching film in Africa a few years ago, and I realized there is the problems that every species is under, not just human and through nature as well as human encroachment. And I just felt like there’s another thing I can do with this. And actually, I heard about this program called the Lion’s Share, which is UNDP developed by David Attenborough. And the idea was so intriguing. So the idea for The Lion’s Share is mostly for advertising and films. So if you use an animal in an ad, for instance, like Qantas would use a koala. They used to use a koala. They have to pay a percentage of the production money to the animal welfare groups so much as like, you paid talent. Animals and support their charities and support their help in the wild. So I thought whatever I did and at the time, it was still an ongoing thought, especially for kids books. Yeah.

Janice: If you guys can see here that’s what the Lion’s Share logo looks like, keep an eye out for that. It would be very cool to see it done with books. Like you said, you touched on this a little bit before when you mentioned that Wilbur poses a question each time. So I wanted to ask a bit about that in terms of how did you come up with the structure of that book? There is this two line refrain that is kind of used each time a new animal is introduced. And then when the animals introduced, we kind of use these rhyming couplets to tell us about the animal. And it’s collective noun. So I just wanted to read this one just so that people watching can get a feel for it.

Andy: I looked at how the structure worked in terms of coming back to the story and having these refrains and so I have to pose the question to the animals so we can help them transport them to the wild from the Zoo. Each time he’s coming back to the Zoo, it goes into the environment. But posing the question, sorry to get to the second page, the two lines there there’s two functions, really. One is to describe the collective noun and to romance. If you look at the hippo ones, our bulbous bodies keep us afloat. We call ourselves a hippo bloat. But the other two lines talks about the environmental issues. So there’s a lot going on. So I hope that there’s three elements of the book: introducing the animal where they live in the wild. And you see on the right side it shows the map of the Zambia. So you see the Zambia for the Google map thing there. So, you know, geographically we’re going to go to the wild next. Yeah. And then the next page is really talking about, like I said before, in a very gentle way, the animals are not the difference to the environment. So I thought putting it in rhyme would help us identify the message as the one piece. Yeah. And I thought the big question was rhymes: are rhymes then or are they out? They’re always sort of fluctuating a book, I felt like with collective nouns is such fun. And there’s alliteration in collective nouns anyway. Like a flamboyant of flamingos. Yes. It gives you a balance to be as much fun as you could with sort of alliteration and rhyme. So I decided, right. I’m going to go against what everyone says. Do what everyone says you shouldn’t do. That’s what I was always my advertising thing. But I think it’s fun. And I felt there’s a sort of message to the book, and I think it keeps it light.

Janice: I think so. I really appreciate it hearing the intention and the purpose behind each of those three elements that you just spoke about. So yeah, thank you for telling us about that. So I wanted to know what did you enjoy most about creating this book?

Andy: Firstly doing the research. If you look at the hardbound book, it has the map of the world and then it has all of the collective nouns listed. And then next it was, how do I select what ones I’m going to write about. Yeah. I really enjoyed getting that down to a list of about 30. Yeah. Then it was about which ones I’d like to illustrate. So at this stage, I got about ten or 15. And then I did scans with a pencil which was the basis for the illustration. So it’s equal, I have to say. I’m sorry to say.no,  [between the text and illustrations].

Janice: That’s okay. Well, it sounds like I definitely am going to have to get a hardback copy for my personal collection because I would love to see that list of collective nouns that you have in there on the end papers.

Andy: On the inside cover, you have a world map of all the collective nouns where they live. On the back is the actual names of the animals. So you can have a game of what’s the collective nouns and flip back and forth. I’m obsessed by collective nouns. I just think that was kind of my thing. One of my thoughts was the animals are disappearing and also the vocabulary is disappearing. Yes. It’s going to help in a way, hopefully keeps the romance with the language as well as the illustrations.

Janice: Again, sort of maximize book by using the end papers and using it as another opportunity to show the kids something or make it really fun or talking point. So, yes, we will definitely get a copy of that and make sure we show everybody that as well.

Andy: Every inch of the book is a way to bring something. And the end papers are lovely because they remove you from the actual narrative, but they give you a beautiful chance of more information or emotional.

Janice: Yeah. So I guess you have touched on this already a bit, Andy, but what would you really like families to get out of this book?

Andy: I just think like knowledge of animals and just the beauty of the natural world to help romance that into, not just treat animals as just an expense. I’m absolutely obviously an animal lover, and I just want to build up that. In a sense, the first book that I really remembered was The Giving Tree as a kid, and I just always loved books that burn on your brain. My belief is you become an environmentalist at age about four or five years old that defines you very much that age. I think that’s I what like about the book is that it’s a chance for anybody in our world out there. Like how I have a lifelong love for the natural world, and that’s really what I’m trying to get. Yeah.

Janice: Thank you. So to wrap up, Andy, what is coming up for you for the rest of 2022?

Andy: Well, excitingly. I’ve got another book coming out in August, and this one, I’m the illustrator, and I’m not the writer that I could shave off a few years off the job because Group Hug took me quite a long time. Yeah. And it’s a wonderful story written by a Melbourne author. I won’t talk about what it’s about, but it’s out in August. It’s a lovely story. And on the film side of things, I’m supposed to be going to Europe in a month or two to shoot a film, a documentary about the refugee crisis going on. Right. And that’s actually with the United Nations as well. That’s actually the Afghanistan refugee scenario as well. Yeah. Of course, with Ukraine, things even more serious. But yeah so there are two huge projects coming up that’s pretty much it for the end of the year.

Janice: We’ll definitely share about your next book when it comes out as well on your website. Yeah. All good. So this book is out in May. It is our May feature book. In our six month membership, you guys would know you get the parent reading guide and the activity that we design that goes along with it. It’s all about enriching our language in your home. We really hope you guys enjoy this book as much as we have. And our four kids between us have really enjoyed reading this book so Andy thank you so much for writing illustrating this awesome book. Thank you so much for chatting with us today.

Andy: I really appreciate it. It’s a real pleasure. Thank you so much for having me on.

Janice: No worries. All right. Take care.

Andy: You, too. Thanks so much.