First advance review of The Snowman’s Wish in Books+Publishing

There’s a very nice first review of The Snowman’s Wish in Books+Publishing this week, by writer, editor and  bookseller Anica Boulanger-Mashberg. Here’s part of what she had to say:

With The Snowman’s Wish, Sophie Masson and Ronak Taher have crafted a soft tale about the passage of time and the beauty in the world. Mr Snowman, a kindly soul existing happily in an ever-shifting natural environment, welcomes everything around him……..Taher’s illustrations—watercolour in texture, with shapes reminiscent of collage—are an ideal complement to Masson’s careful story of enjoying what is around us and knowing that things will always change. This is a lovely book for young readers aged 3–7 and can be read either at narrative face value or as a way of discussing both the senses and the notion of death.

You can read the whole review here.

First advance copy of The Snowman’s Wish!

So exciting to receive the first advance copy of The Snowman’s Wish, my upcoming picture book with the fantastic illustrator Ronak Taher! It is such a thrill always to hold that first copy in your hands, to touch it and turn its pages and revel in its presence in the physical world…and this is a book that in every way has been a truly magical experience, from the very first spark of the story idea, to right now, seeing and holding this stunningly beautiful book. Thank you so much to my co-creator Ronak, to wonderful designer Hannah Janzen, fantastic publisher Margrete Lamond, and all the team at Dirt Lane Press who have brought the world of the snowman to such gorgeous, sensual life. Thank you also to Robyn Ewing for the lovely back cover quote.

The Snowman’s Wish comes out with Dirt Lane Press in July and will be available in all good bookshops around Australia, including online. You can also pre-order copies now by contacting Dirt Lane Press at  info@dirtlanepress.com.

See some of the beautiful internal pages below.

Celebrating new books in troublesome times 8: Kathy Creamer

Next week sees the publication of author-illustrator Kathy Creamer’s new picture book, The Big Old Rambutan Tree, a book which had a very special inspiration and process, as Kathy explains in this  fascinating guest post.

Creation of The Big Old Rambutan Tree

 by Kathy Creamer

Someone once pronounced an orangutan to be an animal that looked somewhat like a sad heap of deflated bicycle wheel inner tubing. I met my first orangutan when I was working at Singapore Zoological Gardens as a volunteer docent, and they were nothing at all like the description of sad deflated bicycle tubing. I became completely enchanted by the beauty and charm of these effervescent and mischievous primates, and one lovely orangutan in particular, who happened to be the zoo’s celebrity, became my favourite. She was a gentle female named Ah Meng, who I met in the days when visitors to the zoo were allowed to get close up to some of the tame orangutans and even share breakfast with them. Ah Meng, who was sitting with her new baby, calmly allowed me to be seated next to her. I was almost nine months pregnant at the time and Ah Meng was clearly interested in the huge size of my baby bump, so much so, she reached out and placed her hand gently on my tummy and kept it there whilst she gazed knowingly into my eyes. I was totally astounded by her gesture and in that instant, I realized she possessed a great intelligence which comprehended precisely what was growing in there.

Orangutans and humans share 97 per cent of their DNA sequence, which makes us very close cousins. And indeed, they are so much like us in displaying facial expression and emotion such as joy, excitement, jealousy and fear, and when a young orangutan displays his anger or frustration, it is exactly like watching a temper tantrum in a two-year-old human toddler.

 

I began researching a little more about orangutans and learned just how endangered they are in the wild. I was distressed by the fact that their young are much sought after for the illegal exotic pet trade; the mothers who fearlessly fight to protect their offspring are usually shot dead by the animal poachers in order to steal the babies. Then there is the significant threat of habitat destruction from human development such as farming; the biggest threat being the recent expansion of enormous palm oil plantations. I was so moved by what I read that I wanted to do something to highlight the plight of these beautiful animals in the wild. So, I decided to create a picture book story about Ah Meng, which was published by the zoo and succeeded in raising much needed funds for the Zoo’s own orangutan conservation program. Ah Meng was so pleased with her book that she painted me an extraordinary picture for the book launch at the zoo!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some years later, after watching a nature program about the uncontrolled  destruction of thousands of acres of pristine Asian rainforest for palm oil plantation, I realized that the orangutan’s struggle for survival had become even worse, and that they were now dangerously further down the path to total extinction in the wild. Moved to try and do something to highlight the problem, however small, I decided to create another children’s picture book story, The Big Old Rambutan Tree.

The idea for the story was inspired by a newspaper report on how a young orangutan in a nature reserve actively helped to look after two orphaned tiger cubs by helping the human carers to bottle feed them. Obviously, as the two tiger cubs grew bigger, they eventually had to be separated from the orangutan.

In the illustrations for the book, I tried to display emotion and movement, as well as revealing the gentle, peaceful expression and exuberant mischievousness of orangutan personality. Unfortunately, I was unable to find a publisher for the manuscript, so it lay for almost ten years in my desk drawer until I decided to send it to Orangutan Outreach to see if they would be interested in endorsing the book should it be published. They were! So, I decided to publish with Little Pink Dog Books, which is a children’s picture book publishing partnership specializing in books by new and emerging writers and illustrators, which I happen to run with my husband. We also began a crowdfunding site with IndieGoGo, to help with the publication costs, and I am pleased to say that many people from around the world have either made a financial donation or have purchased copies of the book. To help Orangutan Outreach I decided all profits from the book would go to their organisation to help with their valuable conservation work.

I am particularly pleased that after many years of effort the book is now on sale, and I would like to encourage readers to help support the conservation of these beautiful primates by purchasing a copy of the book from your local bookshop or by ordering the book directly from the Little Pink Dog Books website.

The Big Old Rambutan Tree

Written and illustrated by Kathy Creamer

Little Pink Dog Books (May 2020)

From the flames of the burning rainforest, an extraordinary bond of friendship ignites between a savage tiger and a gentle orangutan, as they both struggle to survive in their fast diminishing habitat.

 Kathy’s website: www.kathycreamer.com

Connect with Kathy on Facebook

Join the Armidale Parade and The Wrong Spoon: two lovely new readings of my work

Very pleased to let you know about a couple of fabulous new readings of my work: a virtual storytime reading at the wonderful new England Regional Art Museum (NERAM, in Armidale, of Join the Armidale Parade, my picture book with Kathy Creamer, published in 2019 by Little Pink Dog Books. Enjoy all the colour and fun of the big parade in the reading(especially needed these days, where sadly such events cannot be held…)  On the page at NERAM, you’ll also find some great activities created by Kathy, centred around the book, such as mask-making and colouring-in and drawing pages.

 

As well, that wonderful reader Robert Topp from Read Me A Story Ink has just done a great audio recording of The Wrong Spoon, which was published last year in the anthology A Christmas Cornucopia, edited by Beattie Alvarez and David

Illustration by Fiona McDonald from ‘The Wrong Spoon’ by Sophie Masson, published in A Christmas Cornucopia(

Allan and published by Christmas Press. As the opening music to the story indicates, The Wrong Spoon is a humorous Sorcerer’s Apprentice sort of story, and was a lot of fun to write. And I just love the way Bob reads it!

My illustrated talk on inspiration and process of some of my picture books

I am very pleased to announce that I’ve just made and uploaded an illustrated talk about how some of my recent and upcoming picture books came to be: the inspiration behind the stories, how the text developed, and how the illustrators I collaborated with created the visual world of their books. Hope it’s both informative and interesting. It’s suitable for watching by both kids and adults and is a good resource for schools, as well as homeschoolers and anyone interested in how picture books are created. At 23 minutes long, it’s about the length of a normal talk I’d give in person at a school or other venue. You won’t see me in it, though you’ll hear me–the talk is illustrated by slides visually showing the inspirations and processes behind the books. In line with the You Tube protocol for videos suitable for kids, this illustrated talk does not have ads or a comments feature, but you are welcome to get in touch about it via the contact form on this blog, or via my website, www.sophiemasson.org

It’s free to watch and share, but must not be sold or used commercially in any way. It’s now up on my You Tube channel, but you can also watch it directly here.

You can find out more about the process behind some of the books at the links below:
Two Rainbows: Illustrator Michael McMahon shows some of his process: https://firebirdfeathers.com/2017/07/19/michael-mcmahon-on-creating-illustrations-for-two-rainbows/
On My Way: Illustrator Simon Howe shows some of his process: https://firebirdfeathers.com/2019/06/03/creating-on-my-way/
Building Site Zoo: Illustrator Laura Wood shows some of her process: https://firebirdfeathers.com/2017/10/12/the-creation-of-building-site-zoo-part-two-the-illustrations/
There’s A Tiger Out There: Illustrator Ruth Waters shows some of her process: https://firebirdfeathers.com/2019/07/01/creating-theres-a-tiger-out-there/

Many thanks to the wonderful illustrators who gave me permission to use their sketches, illustration development and other creative process elements for this talk: Laura Wood, Michael McMahon, Simon Howe,  Ruth Waters, Katrina Fisher, Kathy Creamer, and Ronak Taher. You can check out the links to their work at the end of the video. Some of the illustrators had also previously written about their process on my blog, and links to those pieces are also highlighted in the slides on individual books.

Many thanks also to my great publishers at Little Hare, Scholastic Australia, Dirt Lane Press, Hachette Australia, and Little Pink Dog Books, who gave permission for covers and other images to be used. Links to the pages for each book on the publishers’ sites are also at the end of the video.

Hope you enjoy!

Celebrating new books in troublesome times 7: Corinne Fenton

Today’s guest post is by Corinne Fenton, whose beautiful non-fiction picture book with illustrator Andrew McLean, To the Bridge, about the remarkable 1000 km horseback journey made in 1932 by nine year old Lennie Gwyther and his pony Ginger Mick, has just been released this month. Two of the three launches planned for the book had to be cancelled due to the current situation, but the first launch, at Leongatha, the place where the main characters of the book came from, was held on March 12. (See photo below). In her post, which was also her  launch speech, Corinne writes about piecing together Lennie’s story from his family and friends.

Telling true stories

By Corinne Fenton

‘Lennie knew that if he travelled twenty miles a day he would make it on time and it wouldn’t be too much for Ginger Mick.

So, on 3rd February 1932, when Lennie and Ginger Mick were nine years old, they set off along the winding road out of Leongatha, to ride six hundred miles to Sydney.’

Some true-story picture books take years to create because it’s difficult to find specific information, or people connected to the story.

This was not the case with To the Bridge, because in the beginning I found Beryl, the little sister of my main character, Lennie Gwyther. I first met Beryl when she was 90. She shared priceless snippets she remembered about her eldest brother – how he loved to build things, how he was quiet and humble, a real thinker and how the most precious thing in the world to him was his beloved pony, Ginger Mick.

She told me Ginger Mick preferred to trot rather than walk or canter, and that he was highly intelligent with a will of his own. If he saw a cow lagging, he would give it a clip on the rump. Lennie called him Ginger for short.

I asked Beryl if Lennie was a loner, ‘No,’ she said, ‘but he preferred to be making things which took time, so he spent a lot of time alone.’

Ginger Mick was the love of Lennie’s life. From the beginning they were inseparable. They were born on the same day and Lennie’s maternal grandfather gifted Ginger Mick to Lennie on their second birthday.

To the Bridge has still taken five years from when I first mentioned this story to Publisher, Maryann Ballantyne and almost five years since I visited Beryl on the Gold Coast. I also made trips to Leongatha and to Ballarat to meet family and source more priceless details. My task was to then bring these volumes of details and information back to 577 words. Many people think it’s easy, but often it’s painful to part with carefully chosen words, leaving only the heart and the framework of precise words, to tell the tale.

And of course the other half of telling the story in picture books is in the illustrations, in this case the stunning ones by Andrew McLean.

Writing true stories is always harder than fiction ones, and over the years I’ve realised how much of my soul travels with my characters. Each book takes a part of me with it and with each book, I meet new people who become lifelong friends.

True stories, like To the Bridge are the way we learn about our past and where we come from. To share that with a new generation is what writing true picture books is all about.

Of course I did not do this alone. There are so many people who rode with us:

Leongatha Launch of To the Bridge

Julie Oliveri, who first mentioned the story of her family to me, Publisher Maryann Ballantyne who knew the power of Lennie and Ginger Mick the moment I mentioned them and who crafted and championed it for me, as only she can do, Beryl Ferrier without whom this version of the story would not be and Andrew McLean whose heart-wrenching illustrations tell the other half of my words and make it a true picture book. It has been an honour and a privilege to work with Andrew once again.

Thanks also to Julie Campbell, Beryl and Lennie’s niece, who went above and beyond to help me, especially for taking me to Flers the family farm, 5 years ago, to see where Lennie and his siblings grew up, and most importantly where Ginger Mick is buried. Thanks Beryl’s son, Laurie Watson, Historian John Murphy, Pat Spinks and Lyn Skillern from the Leongatha Historical Society and special thanks to Peter Watchorn, Leongatha Newsagent for organising the Leongatha Launch, Mary Small, Stephanie Owen Reeder and Beryl for writing their versions of the story, Walker Books Australia and Black Dog Books –To the Bridge is my 12th book published by Maryann and Black Dog and it is also, unfortunately, the very last Black Dog book.

(An In Memoriam note from Corinne: Beryl Ferrier was to co-launch the book with Maryann Ballantyne in Leongatha on March 12 and with me at the Sydney launch scheduled for March 19 at Fort Street Public School, overlooking the bridge on the 88th Anniversary of its opening and Lennie and Ginger Mick’s crossing. Tragically, Beryl was killed in an accident near her home on the Gold Coast on her way to teach French at the U3A University at Tugan, the day before the Leongatha launch and her 95th birthday. She was the most amazing woman.)

More about the book here.

Corinne’s website.

Connect with Corinne on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. 

 

Announcement and cover reveal for The Snowman’s Wish

I am delighted to reveal the gorgeous cover of The Snowman’s Wish, my picture book with the amazing illustrator Ronak Taher, which is being published by wonderful Dirt Lane Press in July 2020. Isn’t it a stunner!

Margrete Lamond of Dirt Lane Press has written a lovely post about the book on the Press’ website blog–here’s what she said, below, but you can also read it on the Dirt Blog itself, as well as news about other great Dirt Lane Press projects for 2020.

From the Dirt Lane Press blog:

Our first book for 2020 is The Snowman’s Wish

Once upon a time, author and general Renaissance Woman Sophie Masson woke up with a story fully formed in her mind. She wrote it down and it ended up on our desk. Very few edits later, and some stupendous illustrations later, The Snowman’s Wish is ready for print and, pending the right advance orders (yes, feel free to advance order … we will waive postage on single-copy purchases), will burst onto the shelves of the world in July 2020.

The story is poignant, a little sad, but also the ‘right kind’ of sad, because it also offers hope and beauty. And what beauty … the illustrations are luminous and vibrant and vivid like no others, and such a powerful complement to the elegance of the text. Here is what Emerita Professor Robyn Ewing wrote about the book:

“A rich and joyful exploration of the beauty of our natural world as experienced for the first time, and an assurance that sometimes wishes do come true, to give us much needed hope.”

Cover reveal for A House of Mud!

I am absolutely delighted to be able today to reveal the gorgeous cover of A House of Mud, my picture book with the fabulous Katrina Fisher, to be published by Little Pink Dog Books in July 2020. Isn’t it just wonderful!

Here’s the blurb:

Building a mudbrick house is an adventure for everyone—Mum, Dad, kids and even Tess, the family dog! Heading out to the block to help make bricks, seeing their house take shape week by week, the children decide that Tess needs her own house too…

With warmth, sensitivity and liveliness in words and pictures, this book recreates the fun–and work!–of a special family experience, building your own unique house.

On the Little Pink Dog Books site, you can also see a few beautiful images from inside the book.

This is a very special book for me, as it’s inspired by our family’s real-life experience many years ago of building our own beautiful mudbrick house (which my husband David and I still live in), by hand, from scratch, and using clay from our own block. And our three lively young children and lively young dog Tess were very much involved at many stages of what was quite a long process (somewhat speeded up for the purposes of my text, of course! )

The book itself has had a long gestation–much longer than the house itself in fact 🙂 It first saw life in an earlier form as a short story in The School Magazine (which was illustrated by the lovely, sadly missed Kim Gamble) and which I then later rewrote and edited and tweaked several times till it was just right as a picture book text: or so, I am very happy to say, thought the wonderful Peter and Kathy Creamer from Little Pink Dog Books, who loved it as soon as they read it. And they found the perfect illustrator in Katrina, who has conjured a beautiful, touching and fun visual narrative–look forward to showing readers a couple of samples from the pages once they are ready!

Here below are a few photos from the actual family mudbrick building experience…including, of course, the children, Pippa, Xavier and Bevis, now of course all grown up–and Tess, who lived a happy long life but who passed on quite some years ago and is now immortalised in this book…

Gorgeous spreads by Ronak Taher for The Snowman’s Wish(out 2020)

A lovely surprise in my email the other day: Margrete Lamond, the wonderful publisher at Dirt Lane Press, sent me the first two colour spreads for The Snowman’s Wish, my book with the extraordinary Iranian Australian illustrator Ronak Taher, which is to be published by Dirt Lane in 2020. I am so thrilled with Ronak’s illustrations: they are absolutely glorious, bursting with colour, character and tenderness. As Margrete put it so well, the book will: ‘glow like an opal, its colours and decorative motifs a contemporary expression of traditional Persian art.’

The story is very special to me, having come out of a dream, and an image of a snowman standing under pine trees, with the first words themselves of the text strangely and wondrously on my lips as I awoke: The snowman was new to the world/and the world was new to him…Spine tingling, I rushed to my desk then and scribbled the whole thing down, feeling the gentle, joyful and melancholy magic of it rush through my storytelling veins, and knowing I had something pretty special there. Which seemed indeed to be the case because both my agent Margaret Connolly and then Margrete, when we sent it to her, loved it at once. And when Margrete sent it to Ronak to consider illustrating, she loved it too. It is just so exciting to see the progress on it, and the gorgeous visual world that Ronak is creating, and I’m delighted to be able to share these first two spreads with you.

Creating There’s A Tiger Out There

Today is the official publication date of my picture book with Ruth Waters, There’s A Tiger Out There(Little Hare) and to celebrate Ruth and I have written pieces on the creation of the book. Enjoy!

Creation of the text, by Sophie Masson

There’s a Tiger Out There began in a dream. In the dream, I was in my house, looking out at the garden, when I glimpsed her: silent stripes gliding through our garden, yellow eyes shining. And with a grip of the heart that was half thrill and half fear, I knew there was a tiger out there and that if I went out—who knew what would happen? Now, it’s not an uncommon occurrence for me to have big cats—lions and tigers, especially—suddenly appear in my dreams, but in this case, it felt different. It felt like this tiger was different, her eyes fixed on me, and when I woke up, I knew why. It was because she wanted to be in a story!

So I began work on transposing her from the realm of dream to the realm of imagination. The first words came quickly, and the first draft was quite simple—just pretty much recounting that dream glimpse and that mix of feelings on seeing her savage, elemental splendour in the midst of our humble familiar garden. ‘There’s a tiger watching me with eyes as bright as sunrise/’ I wrote, ‘There’s a tiger sleek as shadow/stripes of midnight on her fur.’  After I showed the text to my agent Margaret Connolly, who loved it and sent it to Margrete Lamond, who was then the publisher at Little Hare and also loved it, that first draft went through many changes, in collaboration first with Margrete and then, when she left, with Alyson O’Brien, who also loved it and helped me bring the text to its final form. Early on, the draft had transformed from a simple ‘I’ eye-view to the point of view of two siblings, one older and bolder, one younger and more timid, who see a tiger ‘out there’ and react in their different ways—with a twist at the end, of course! It was a story, I realised, about sibling relations, about imagination, about love and adventure and mystery—and the thrill of a good scare!

When I first saw Ruth Waters’ gorgeous collage images, I was so excited! She had completely understood the spirit of my text and created a richly-imagined, warm and distinctive visual world, where the tiger as much as the siblings was completely at home. It was as if that was how I had always seen the world of my story: not only a perfect fit, but extending and expanding it in the most satisfying way.

And of course I just adore the finished book, with Hannah Janzen’s gorgeous design!

Creation of the illustrations, by Ruth Waters

I remember the day I received the email from Alyson from Little Hare Books. I had to re-read it several times. You want me to illustrate a picture book? Me? I had previously written and illustrated my own story but had been waiting for the opportunity to work on someone else’s tale. That said, I opened the manuscript with some trepidation – what if I can’t connect with the story?  I needn’t have worried. As I read each line, I instantly pictured who the characters were, how they looked and what kind of personality they had. A little bit bossy, know-it-all, older sister. A younger brother who adores and does anything she tells him.

The first stage of the making process was to create a series of character sketches in pencil.  Since I work in collage, I also created a collage version to give Alyson a better idea of how they would finally look. I sent these off and waited for her comments. We went back and forth until we were both happy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Character Sketches

The next stage was to figure out how the text should be split across 32-or-so pages and come up with a rough idea of how each page would look. I had already made the decision that the ‘real’ tiger should only appear on the last double page spread. This way, not only the children in the story but the reader would not be entirely sure whether there really is a tiger. Another idea was to give the little boy a cuddly toy tiger – this would act as a visual tool to help the reader conjure up the idea that there is a tiger out there. Another idea, inspired by the line ‘cross my heart’ – which appears throughout the story – was to place a hidden heart-shape on every page. Sometimes the heart shape is made from a blade of grass or appears as a ripple in the water.  I also spent quite a bit of time making sure there was enough variety in terms of perspectives – wide shots verses close-up, double page spreads verses one page of illustration.  At this point I also decided on the colour palette – I decided we should go bright – to match the vibrant orange of the tiger.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Storyboard and colour palette

 

 

The storyboard was then sent to Little Hare and over a few weeks we made little tweaks. Once I got the thumbs up – I made the final sketches to scale and then got to work prepping the paper.

Final sketch and prepping the paper!

 

To create the collages, I first roll acrylic paint on to a variety of textured paper. Then, working with the final sketches, I trace, cut and stick! All of my illustrations are made entirely by hand. It is labour intensive but I much prefer it to using a computer. The other plus about collage is it’s flexibility as I can keep moving the pieces around until I am happy and, only then, glue them down.

Every time I finished a double page spread, I would scan and send it to Little Hare for their thoughts. To me this proved to be an efficient way of working as it allowed me to make tweaks as I went along, rather making lots of changes at the end – when time is tight.

Watch videos of the making process:

 

 

 

 

 

Overall the entire project took about 3-4 months. Much quicker than usual due to my own time constraints (normally I would allocate 6 months). I then packaged it all up and hand delivered it to Little Hare’s production office!

 

 

 

 

 

 

The whole project was a joy to work on from start to finish. And I learnt so much along the way.

Ruth Waters | http://www.ruth-waters.com | https://www.instagram.com/ruthpwaters/