I’m welcoming Australian author of children’s books, Aleesah Darlison.
I was lucky enough to chat with Aleesah at the Children’s and Young Adult Writers and Illustrators Conference (yes, I’d love to be an author) in early September.
Among many of her published books are two that, through her beautiful stories, connect children with wildlife.
Pipp Puggle is a tiny echidna with a big problem. Although he’s good at doing lots of things, like:
curling into a ball, and
building terrifically tidy burrows,
Pipp’s spines simply will not come.
Tired of waiting for them to appear, Pipp sets out on a quest to make them grow. But he soon learns that some things can’t be rushed…
This story is based on Little Bentwing-bats which are native to Australia and are classified as vulnerable due to the disturbance of their colonies and the destruction of their caves through the clearing of forests. Little Bentwings are small, chocolate-brown insectivorous bats with a body length of about 45mm. Absolutely tiny!
When Warambi’s home in the forest is destroyed, she finds herself separated from her family and forced to shelter in a rather unusual place.
What is your fondest childhood memory of a wild animal?
There are so many! One of my best would have to be finding a baby eastern rosella chick, saving it and taking it home to raise it up into an adult bird. I loved that little rosella.
He had such a vibrant red head and colourful feathers. His name was Joe and we taught him to talk.
He was a real sweetie.
Can you tell us about your background and how it has inspired you to write stories about wildlife?
I grew up in the country on a small farm. We always had loads and loads of animals around us – both tame and wild. I loved animals so much I used to want to be a vet.
Now I live in the city and have my own children, but I still adore animals. I think it’s important for children to have exposure to animals where ever they live. I can’t tell you the number of times we’ve visited the zoo!
I love sharing my passion for animals and I think it is so very important for us to look after them all.
How do you research the animals you write about?
I borrow reference books from the library or buy them, I visit zoos and wildlife parks to get up close and personal with the animals and to take photos.
I also visit the animals in their natural habitats and have done quite a bit of flying fox chasing. I google information on the internet and have also phoned the Australian museum to ask questions about habitats and geographic locations, etc.
I also get in touch with people who work with FAWNA and WIRES, volunteering their time to care for sick and injured animals. These are the people that care for animals every single day and who know most about them. And they’re so passionate about the animals they care about! When it comes time to release a book, I ask some of these animal carers to visit schools with me and to bring ‘special guest’ animals along so children can see for themselves what they really look like.
We’ve had echidnas, bats, koalas, possums and even a very small crocodile come along to meet students.
Warambi has a strong conservation theme. What was your inspiration for writing this book?
The original idea came to me after my mother told me about a tiny bat who’d set up a home in an unusual place – just as Warambi does in the story.
I thought it was such a lovely image and the idea just grew from there. As I researched more and more about bats, I was able to gather all the information I needed to create a full narrative non-fiction story about a little bent-wing bat.
All of the ideas behind Warambi are based on real-life events, things that really happen.
Things like humans cutting down forests and destroying bat nursery caves. We need to be more aware of how we affect the animals in our world and hopefully Warambi can help children understand that. It will be up to them to save some of the animals that we are now driving towards extinction.
What wildlife activities do you love sharing with your family?
We’re very lucky to live on Sydney’s Northern Beaches where we’re surrounded by great national parks and beaches. We’re always out bird-spotting.
We visit zoos and wildlife parks and go for bushwalks. We have possums that come out in the evening and run along our fenceline and regularly go to watch the flying foxes head out to feed at night.
My father still lives in the country and we often go up there to enjoy the space, the fresh air and the abundance of wallabies, birds and reptiles (sometimes some snakes!).
We’re hoping to hire a campervan to go around Tasmania to do some bird and animal spotting. I’d love to visit some of the Tassie devil parks and the seahorse sanctuary down there.
What it the most rewarding comment you have received from a child about Puggle’s Problem or Warambi?
I get a lot of positive feedback for both books. So many kids love them!
Probably the best is that kids have asked their parents to read them the story over and over, every night before going to bed. Surely, that’s a sign that they love the books!
I know I would love to see more wildlife-related picture books from you. Do you hope to have more books like this published in future?
Definitely! I’ve already written several picture books that feature Australian animals. It’s a true passion of mine, so hopefully very soon you will see more picture books from me on this subject.
There are lots of great resources related to both Warambi and Puggle’s Problem at Aleesah’s website. Make sure you check them out!