Leanne Barrett: Exhibition Tour with Stephanie Owen Reeder

Saturday 31 August 2019

Exhibition Tour with Stephanie Owen Reeder

There is always something new to discover at the National Library of Australia's (NLA) Story Time exhibition.

Today Stephanie Owen Reeder, author of Story Time Stars, guided members of The Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) though the exhibition. She picked a selection of exhibits that would give writers and illustrators insights into the process in creating books.

To being the tour Stephanie showed us the first Australian children's book, A Mother's Offering to her Children, written by Charlotte Waring Atkinson

Charlotte is the 4th-great grandmother of authors Kate Forsyth and Belinda Murrell. At a recent book talk Kate revealed that even family members cannot handle this book due to its fragility. However it can be viewed as an online version.

We were awed by the illustrations of the 1975 story of The Rainbow Serpent by Goobalathaldin (Dick Roushsey) and were not surprised that this book won the CBCA Picture Book of the Year Award in 1976 and is still in print today. 

Stephanie writes many books based on historical events and therefore highlighted the book My Place (1987) by Nadia Wheatley and Donna Rawlins. Stephanie reminds us that when writing and illustrating books it is important to get your facts correct, otherwise someone will send you correspondence to correct your error. Eg. If you write about or draw a rainbow, make sure you get the colours in the right position.

We looked at the mastery of Shaun Tan's book The Arrival. In the exibition you can see where his initial book idea started, an illustration of a man with a suitcase. There are also illustations showing how he developed the story pictorially. Stephanie spoke about other creative ideas and influences Tan had while creating the story; like a tadpole for the pet character, immigrant's photos and artworks like Tom Robert's Coming South 1886. If you would like to know more about the creation of The Arrival see the book Sketches from a Nameless Land: The Art of The Arrival (Lothian Children's Books 2010).

Stephanie assured writers that even the classic stories like Possum Magic by Mem Fox and Julie Vivas took time to develop and become the story that we love today. The original manuscript, Hush the Invisible Mousewas rejected nine times over five years until the publisher, Ominbus Books, saw a spark in the story. In the original manuscript Hush visited countries all over the world with his grandmother, who was named Grainy.   

Both writers and illustrators appreciate the creation of dummy books. Stephanie showed two of the dummy books on display. One by Bob Graham for his story Max and one illustrated by Nina Rycroft for Dinosaurs Love Cheese. Next to the dummy book made by Rycroft is the manuscript written by Jackie French that also shows notes for the illustrator. 

Around the next wall we were in for a trip down memory lane. Books used to be written on type writers. Stephanie's first story, The Flaming Witch (out of print), was initially typed and illustrated by Stephanie for her children to use at school. In 1987 it was published by Random House Australia and illustrated by Dadang Christanto.

Checking the illustrations is another important step of a book's creation. Stephanie highlighted the notes on one of the Where Is the Green Sheep? illustrations. The notes showed what changes were needed before publication.

Finally, a book is not complete without it's cover. This too is an important part of the book creation process. In the exhibition discover a variety of book covers for The Magic Pudding by Norman Lindsay, showing how covers can change over time. Or see how Graeme Base created the book cover for The Eleventh Hour

Book covers can be changed during the production phase. Stephanie's book Story Time Stars could have been published with an all white title with a similar font to the cover of This is Home: Essential Australian Poems for Children. After discussions, the font was changed to match the Story Time exhibition branding and included colours from the illustrations on the front cover.

I urge you all to take the time to see the exhibition and bring along your little ones to see it too. Children can participate in the exhibition in the Playtime section, write a story, read a book, or watch a story from the Story Box Library.

The exhibition will be open until 9 February 2020

For more events linked to the exhibition Story Time: Australian Children's Literature are;
High Tea with the Curator 27 August 2019 Bookings essential.
Curating Story Time 13 September 2019 Bookings essential.
The Art of Storybook Illustration with Freya Blackwood, Alison Lester and Leigh Hobbs 10 October 2019 Bookings essential.

Read other blogs by me about the exhibition see;
Exhibition: Story Time: Australian Children's Literature

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