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Megumi and the Bear Sydney launch

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On a foggy Saturday morning with Canberra due to reach just eight degrees we packed our kids into the car and headed for Sydney and its positively balmy 21 degrees. Some three hours later we rolled into the CBD. My bloke managed to drive up a bus-only road but then scored a street-side park just around the corner from Kinokuniya. A miracle frankly, or, if I was superstitious, a sign that it was going to be a good day. I’m not, but it certainly was.

AAIMG_0357As Allyx from Kinokuniya said when introducing us, it’s not often that you get both the author and illustrator in the same room. Especially given that Craig (once a Sydney-sider) now lives in New Zealand, and I’m down the highway in Canberra.

Craig kicked things off by talking about the back story. If you haven’t heard about Megumi and the Bear’s long and strange road to publication you can read about it in The Canberra Times here. I followed up with a reading of the book (a lovely hush descended over the room).

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Irma Gold_Megumi and the Bear launchAnd then Craig gave a show and tell that revealed the evolution of the artwork. Craig explained that the original bear (pictured below) was based on his friend, Zimzam, who had a mohawk. When Walker accepted the book for publication they asked Craig to make the bear more realistic. Needless to say Zimzam wasn’t pleased, but Craig was glad Walker made the call. I love our final (terribly sweet) bear but I still feel attached to his endearing teddy-like predecessor who inspired my story.

Then it was time for a tandem book signing. It’s always fun meeting readers and my favourite moment was writing a dedication to a baby born that very morning. I even got to see a snap of the gorgeous little man.

While the parents queued and we signed, the kids got busy with craft, making bear masks and decorating bear biscuits and cupcakes. Most of the kids used the technique my six-year-old self would have employed – cramming on as much icing and as many silver balls as possible. I’m sure my two-year-old son consumed more sugar in that one hour than in his lifetime thus far.

And that’s a wrap! My two older kids declared it ‘the best launch ever’, though truth be told they said that about the Megumi Canberra launch and will probably say it about whatever book launch we go to next. Afterall, what’s not to love about books and food and fun?

Special thanks must go to my bloke who did a damn good job of snapping these pics while wrangling our sugar-high, sleep-deprived toddler. And to all the sponsors who donated items for the launch to help make it such a special occasion: National Library of Australia, The Teddy Bear Shop (Canberra), Walker Books, Kinokuniya Bookstore, and The Art of Teddy Bears.

For lots more photos of all the Sydney launch shenanigans head to my Facebook page.

The job of colouring in

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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