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Graeme Base

The job of colouring in

17 October 2012

Sharing the books you read as a child with your own children is an incomparable literary pleasure. But an even rarer pleasure is to share a writer who spans the generations. I read Graeme Base as a child and after three decades he is still publishing new books that my own children are now reading. So you can imagine my delight when I heard that he’d be at Paperchain in conversation with Canberra dynamo Tania McCartney.

AnimaliaGraeme’s second book, Animalia, holds a special place in my childhood. In my memory it is somehow bound up with moving from England to Australia, a place that was brash and colourful and unfamiliar. The world of Animalia, pushed into my hands some time after I arrived, was also a book of discovery. Of strange words that thrilled the mouth. (Diabolical. Ingenious. Jovial.) Of intricate illustrations full of riotous colour, as potent as the new country I found myself in.

Animalia is the book that made Graeme’s career and has now sold almost three million copies around the world. At the time he thought it was ‘a stupid idea’ but he’s grateful that the publisher didn’t insist on editing any of the language, and wondered aloud if the same would be true in today’s climate. He thought not, and I suspect he’s right. So often children are underestimated. The truth is, kids are big thinkers and their vocabulary can only grow if they’re challenged. Books (and publishers) that fail to recognise this irritate me. But Graeme never does that.

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When my eldest was four, Santa brought her Animalia. She’s a big reader but she didn’t take to it quite as I had, and I must confess I was disappointed. But later my son did, poring over its pages for hours, searching for the boy hidden on every page, interrogating me about the meaning of phrases such as ‘versatile virtuoso of vociferous verbosity’.

The WaterholeNext I bought The Waterhole and together my son and I fell in love with it. A story of drought and the change wrought by seasons, it appealed to his keen interest in the world. We read it over and over until the hole became tattered around the edges. I think it actually overtook Animalia as my favourite Base book. The ladybugs’ speech amused me every time and we relished trumpeting the final animal chorus together ‘Ooola! Oooya! Wahoooo! (Yippee!)’, always smiling as we closed the book.

Now Graeme has another book out, Little Elephants. Elephants are my favourite animal and these ones have wings. What’s not to love? It’s also the first book where humans are a real feature (‘The hardest creatures to draw,’ Graeme said). I meant to take photos of the evening but managed to leave my phone at home so you’ll have to content yourself with Graeme’s gorgeous scribble on my book. And I’ll leave you with a quote from James, Graeme’s son. When asked what his dad did for a living he replied, ‘Stays home and colours in.’ Now that’s a pretty good job.

Graeme Base