Thursday, August 20, 2009


In Wake in Fright, one of the images that promise freedom to the teacher who feels he is stranded so far away from everything he understands is that of the tumbling surf off Sydney's coast. And many Australians take coastal living so much for granted that they forget there are kids who have never swum at the beach and that pre-schoolers in remote areas might ask their teachers to bring them back a wave in a bottle as a souvenir of their Christmas holidays.

So Bear and Chook by the Sea arrives in the mail like a refreshing whump of a wave and will delight young and old readers alike with both anticipation and memories.

I was lucky enough to be one of Lisa Shanahan's publishers and she sent me the manuscript Bear and Chook a long time ago. It's a Laurel-and-Hardy story about a bear who is a big galumphing romantic - into everything, no boundaries - and a thin-beaked sidekick chook, who is more cautious and has to pick up the pieces, when reality brings the bear's adventures to a sudden halt every time.

I had started to work with wonderful Emma Quay and knew straightaway that she was the right illustrator. Fortunately, she did too and Bear and Chook was a huge success. Instant classic. Then Lisa sent me a second adventure for the pair. Meanwhile, both her career and Emma's had really taken off. Emma was doing books she had written herself and was working with Andrew Daddo; Lisa was working on picture books with Wayne Harris and on her fiction. But they had become close friends and of course wanted to repeat the happy experience of working together.

I left Hodder Headline to work for the ABC and to freelance - and six years later here is the book we all started out on, which they've done with the guidance of one of Australia's best publishers, Helen Chamberlin. Making picture books takes time and patience! And Lisa and Emma have done a terrific job.

Over that time they have both changed. The words and the pictures are more richly textured and I love the irony that this time Bear is not quite as resilient and wants to go home when he gets dumped in the surf.

Young readers will love to read aloud all the sounds the two friends make as they hike to the beach and back. And there are some lovely visual jokes in Emma's pictures - especially in the exhilarating scenes where we find out exactly what Bear has been carting around in his beach bag.

Like Emma, my father was born in England and although he loved Australia, in later life he suffered the ravages of the hot sun on his pale northern skin. So when I saw that at the beach Chook wears on his head a white handkerchief, knotted at each corner I laughed at the image. My father wore one every weekend as he poured concrete and dug the garden. What did thousands of workers like him think that it did for them? Bear's big straw sunhat might not be as macho, but there's nothing macho about skin cancer. Images like this in Emma's illustrations make me smile at our frailty.

I love this book!

Opening Bear and Chook by the Sea is like that first deep breath of salty air as you finally plonk your things down on the sand in summer, and it will be a hugely popular book this Christmas, so don't miss out.

Once more in the conclusion there's the hint of a further adventure. Emma likes to strike out in new directions with every book, though, so I'm not sure that she would want to go back to the same illustration style yet again. And it's always smart to exit on top and leave the audience wanting more.

But you never know...

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