A creative collaboration: when fact, fiction, nature and art come together

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The latest book by Dannika Patterson and Megan Forward, ‘Scribbly Gum Secrets’ could not have come at a better time for my family and I as 2020 has seen us do a lot more bushwalking in our local area and this is one of the very few things I will take away as a positive from what has been a really hard year. We are super fortunate to have bushland behind our house that we can walk to and explore, but as in ‘Scribbly Gum Secrets’, my children spend a LOT of time whining about going for the walk, before we even start! This beautiful book served as a reminder to my children about the wonders to look out for while exploring locally, and as solace to me – I’m not the only parent ‘forcing’ my children to bushwalk!

I have asked Dannika and Megan to talk a little about their book and about their new workshops, which I hope to book in for school in the not too distant future.

Image Credit: Megan Forward

Guest blog post by Dannika Patterson & Megan Forward

What happens when a pair of creatives, both equally passionate about connecting children to nature, get the chance to work on a picture book together, inspired by the Aussie bush?

A whole lot of fun, mess, learning, mess, a brand new co-presented STEAM workshop for schools, mess, more Teachers’ Notes to accompany a picture book than you’ve ever seen, snake skin hunting in the bush … and did we mention the glorious, creative, completely necessary, mess?

The result of our most recent mess creative collaboration is Scribbly Gum Secrets’ (Ford Street Publishing, 2020), our second picture book together, following ‘Jacaranda Magic’ (2018), a story about imaginative nature play.

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In creating ‘Scribbly Gum Secrets’, we took our collaborative processes to a whole new level, setting out from the start to create a picture book that blended fact with fiction, art with science, discovery with a lingering sense of wonder.

We’d each like to share a little more of the ‘why’ behind our work and our most recent nature-inspired collaboration, ‘Scribbly Gum Secrets’.

Image Credit: Megan Forward

Dannika …

The story of Scribbly Gum Secrets was originally inspired by the beautiful bushwalking trails in and around Brisbane that I first fell in love with in my childhood and that I continue to explore with my young family. Nine times out of 10, my story ideas are triggered when I’m outdoors, marvelling at or becoming curious about the ‘why’ of something in our natural world. Fascination comes first, and a story usually flows from there.  

As a mum, I’m keenly aware that when children spend time in nature (even if they don’t want to go at first!) they end up having the best experiences; engaging their senses, paying attention to small details, quieting the busy-ness of their minds, making new observations, being curious, hypothesising and asking story-seeding questions like, ‘What makes the scribbles on the scribbly gum trees?’

While the family-focused bush adventure story I wrote for ‘Scribbly Gum Secrets’ is (mostly!) fictional, key facts about native flora and fauna have been intentionally woven into the narrative. Words and pictures in this book work together to showcase the biodiversity of the (Brisbane) region. The pages of this book are filled with native flora and fauna including; blue-banded bees, carpet pythons, birdwing butterflies, flying foxes, flowering lemon myrtle, bush stone curlews and of course, the iconic scribbly gum trees.

Megan …

Making an urban farm with my family, the basis of my first picture book ‘A Patch from Scratch’, was a powerful experience of nature’s wonderful intricacies, interrelationships, and beauty. From the following of the seasons, the patterns of the movement of the sun across our backyard, the sustainable cycle of returning our waste back into rich chocolate soil, to the wonder and awe at how the earth generously produced fresh food for us to enjoy. As we connected with the myriad of creatures that joined us in this journey, and experienced the rhythms of the seasons, I realised how deeply we humans belonged to this system much more than our built environments and technology. And how this fostered deep faith and trust that the universe was here to support us. That our only responsibility was to stop, notice, attend, be filled with wonder, and care for it with humility and creative thinking. I was fuelled with a desire to invite and reconnect other children and families to these same treasures we had discovered. That we humans care for what we love. And in the context of increasing awareness of our shared need for a healthy planet, this was important for all of us.  

In the light of this, you have no idea how thrilled I was to be invited to work alongside Dannika on both ‘Jacaranda Magic’ and now ‘Scribbly Gum Secrets’ as I sensed a kindred spirit who was beguiled and motivated in this same way. I found a colleague and a friend.

I love the shared journey we have now embarked on and the energy and joy that is created as we work together on our books and share what we have discovered with children, families and teachers. I think we have created learning experiences that are unique.  They are full of energy and playful curiosity, hypothesising about why and how nature works the way it does,  problem-solving the specific issues that come with picture book writing and illustrating, the research that goes on behind them, working together as a team in both our books and workshops, and encouraging children to use all their faculties and gifts to pay attention to nature, to be still, to observe, to be curious, to question and respond. And most importantly, to fall in love with what they find.

Knowing that we are both driven by a common core ‘why’ is a large part of what makes it a joy to work together.

As well as doing our parts, as author and illustrator, to help create quality children’s books, we’ve also developed a series of related educational workshops that encourage children to become more engaged with nature in joyful, gentle, age-appropriate ways.

These co-presented workshops with cross-curriculum connections offer a unique opportunity for students to engage with both author and illustrator, to hear the stories behind the stories, to better understand how the individual building blocks of the book-making process come together, and to highlight that mistakes (or happy accidents!) are a necessary part of the creative process.

By openly sharing our own experiences, processes, whys and happy accidents, we hope to inspire children to give themselves permission to be naturally inspired and wildly creative!

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