Book People: Zanni Louise
Zanni and I met at Children’s Book Council of Australia conference, where we walked around the garden of Jackie French together, and let me tell you, that is a wonderful place to start a friendship! I have followed the rise and rise of Zanni Louise since this time and continue to be astonished by her talent and her prolific output! From the ‘Stardust School of Dance’ series (reviewed on Five on Friday) to ‘Tiggy and the Magic Paintbrush’ to Archie and Errol – Zanni’s writing is infused with warmth, authenticity and gentle humour. I was so honoured to be asked to contribute a few words to her latest series, ‘Human Kind’. If you have little people in your life, pre-order these ones today…because what the world needs now is kindness. You can shop all of Zanni’s books on Booktopia here
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TEN THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT ZANNI LOUISE
1. Tell us about your latest book.
‘Human Kind’ is a new picture book series to help kids, their parents and teachers talk about values. As kids’ awareness about the world grows thanks to the media and the internet, being able to understand and articulate what certain values mean to them as an individual becomes more and more important. For instance, if a child knows they value kindness over all else, it can affect their behaviour in the world.
Values, both in general and in specific – like honesty and persistence (the first two books in the series) – are tricky topics to discuss, as they are often quite abstract, and mean different things to different people. Unlike lots of books about values in the market, Five Mile (the publisher) and I were interested in doing something that was neither moralistic nor didactic; we wanted to connect with kids, and give them language to discuss values in their own way, rather than directing how they should think about them.
My approach to writing this series was to use a fictional cast of characters, who talk about what the value in question means to them. To avoid imposing too much of my own opinion and personal values into the stories, I spoke to real kids in primary school about what these values meant to them. The kids gave me remarkable insight, talking about how it feels to be dishonest, times where they chose honesty over dishonesty, and why they think persistence is important. With their permission, I used some of their anecdotes in the ‘Human Kind’ books.
The books are gorgeously illustrated by American contemporary illustrator, Missy Turner. At the back, child psychologist Dr Ameika Johnson provides recommendations for carers and research-based information about the value in question. We’ve also called on members of the community (like Megan Daley from this website!) to share how the value in question has impacted their life. We thought this might be a nice way to help normalise experiences for kids, as well as broaden their perspective.
This series is intended as an open door to discussion, rather than a definite statement. We hope ‘Human Kind’ will inspire kids and their adults to provide space in their life to discuss what certain values mean to them!
‘Human Kind’ (series)
2. How did you get started as a writer?
I always wrote as a kid, and in university, chose lots of creative writing subjects. I never considered being an author as a career though. I fell into writing educational material for TAFE, and later started a blog, which helped me develop confidence as a writer, and helped me build a community. I discovered picture books once I had kids of my own, and have been writing or illustrating every day since!
3. What does a typical day look like for you?
When the kids were young, I wrote fervently in the cracks of life. Now, they are both at school, so I treat writing as my grown up job. I exercise in the morning, get the family ready for the day, then drop the kids off at school. I drive five minutes home to my little slice of paradise, where I sit working on the front porch until pick-up time. I’m a full-time author these days, which means I pay all my bills with creative work (big achievement for me! This has long been my goal.) Some days are spent generating new ideas and work. Some are spent writing commissioned work. Others are spent editing. Some days, I’m out at schools and festivals, or teaching writing to adults. But I love this work just as much as my writing days.
4. Can you describe your workspace for us?
See above! Sunny. Green. Fresh air. Surrounded by butterflies, and the call of birds and insects. Did I mention slice of paradise? Oh, and I have a real coffee machine, which is an integral part of creative work.
5. Any words of advice for young readers and writers?
Create endlessly, whether it’s on a napkin, or on the wall of the shower. Creativity is a muscle, which needs work. The more you use it, the more that muscle develops. Next thing you know, you are dreaming in stories!
Also, be open to playing with ideas. The first idea is rarely the best, so keep playing until something emerges.
6. Do you have a favourite book or character (your own or somebody else’s)?
No, not really. I love so many! I love quirky, clearly defined characters, like Pooh Bear (any A.A. Milne character actually!), Pippi Longstocking, Ronia the Robber’s daughter … I love flawed characters, strong-willed characters, and fun characters.
7. If you were not a creator of books for young people what would you be?
Such a toughey, as there’s literally nothing I’d rather do! But if you twist my arm, I’d say singer. (I can’t sing for quids, but it would be amazing to be able to!)
8. What is your favourite food to eat and/or your favourite music to listen to whilst you are working on your books?
I am a salad fanatic, so start the day with salad, and look forward to salad for lunch. (Boring, I know.) I don’t tend to listen to things when I work. But if I am drawing, I’ll put on a podcast, or audio book. Very occasionally, I like a bit of gypsy jazz when I write and develop new ideas. But definitely not when editing.
9. How much of yourself or people you know is in your books?
No-one specifically, but most characters borrow something from my daughters. It’s hard not to be inspired by their quirky antics. Plus, they are the age of my readers!
10. If you could have one wish for the world what would it be?
I wish for all children to feel safe, loved and have access to a good book.
You can shop all of Zanni’s books on Booktopia here