Raaarrrrrrrrkkkkkk! Our house was full of loud squawking as we read the book Flaming Charli by local author and dad Anthony Wood. It’s hard not to make cockatoo noises as we read aloud the rhyming story of Charli the young cockatoo. She’s an energetic little cocky who ends up saving other animals from a bushfire through her special trick. Hint, it has a lot to do with a cockatoo call!
Kids aged 3 to 7 will love reading this book just to get the opportunity to make insanely loud cockatoo calls. But the book also has an important message by introducing the topic of bushfires. It’s refreshing to find a book featuring Australian flora and fauna that goes beyond cute stereotypes and focuses on issues such as bushfires and the animals who are affected. I also appreciated the subtle message of the importance of listening to your mother but also speaking up if you notice something is not right. For a seemingly simple picture book, Flaming Charli communicates a great deal.
I have to mention that the illustrations by local illustrator Lorraine Robertson are superb. Through a technique of torn handmade paper and watercolour, Lorraine has created a collage-like 3D appearance which brings the story to life. The illustrations beautifully depict the Australian bush as well as the cheekiness of a little Sulphur-crested Cockatoo.
Anthony Wood was kind enough to answer some of my questions about the book and his career as a children’s author.
How did you become a children’s book author? Is this your first book?
Flaming Charli is my first book and I became a children’s author both by accident and design. Being a primary caregiver for four children under ten, I have spent innumerable hours reading children’s books so I’ve had lots of exposure for a long time. I actually wrote the initial draft for Flaming Charli while waiting for a ante-natal class prior the birth of our twins. Deep down, perhaps it was a desire to give a lifelong gift to my children that compelled me to write it and, after being introduced to Lorraine, the idea has grown into reality. It is now gratifying to see many children gain pleasure from reading Flaming Charli.
What inspired you to write Flaming Charli?
We had a poem by Michael Leunig on our fridge for many years prior about a Sulphur-crested person who screeched. I’m sure this embedded itself in my subconscious and distilled for many years. The mischievousness of Sulphur-crested Cockatoos first came to my attention in Canberra. They would swing upside down from the rubber seals they tore from street light covers. We were also in Canberra during the 2003 firestorm and so the two ideas collided – a trick (the curly wurly Raaaaarrrrrkk!) and the drama of the Australian bush manifested in a fire.
Another inspiration for the book was a backyard aviary half-way between my house and Lorraine’s house that held amongst others, a Sulphur-crested cockatoo. Every morning and afternoon the children would stop and talk to the cockatoos. I think Lorraine visited the cage on many occasions as part of her research.
Fire and the Australian bush are a recurring theme every year around our nation. In raising the fire alarm with her mother, Charli exhibits that the concerns of the smallest members of society should be a priority with everyone.
Another inspiration for Charli was my very small attempt to add gender balance to children’s picture books. I wanted to write a female character who was both energetic and activ
The illustrations by Lorraine Robertson are incredible. Did you have input into these collages?
Unfortunately I don’t have any skills in the visual arts but I’m lucky that Lorraine does. Apart from a Sulphur-crested Cockatoo, a fire and a nebulous prescriptive that Charli needed to have character, Lorraine pretty much had free reign. Although Lorraine has a Ph.D in Natural History Illustration, she also makes prints and paper. It was a wonderful process of revelation to see what she came up with. In terms of any artistic collaboration, trust is an essential component and the collages Lorraine developed are incredible. I think the combination of the torn paper design and watercolours add a unique characteristic to Charli and her surrounds. The texture of the handmade, recycled paper contributes a nice environmental feel to the book and also sits comfortably with the ethos of our publisher, envirobook.
Where can people buy a copy of Flaming Charli?
The easiest way is to PayPal $19.00 (this includes postage) to firstname.lastname@example.org. Don’t forget to include your postage details in the COMMENTS section.
Are there more adventures planned for Charli?
There are more adventures in the pipeline for Charli. Lorraine is journaling the illustrations for Dancing Charli at this very moment. In Dancing Charli, our energetic Sulphur-crested Cockatoo has an Australia-wide adventure where she meets new friends and enjoys a different dance with each.
You mentioned that you and Lorraine are available for readings at preschools and schools. You’ve also done author events at local libraries. Are there more events scheduled for the next few months?
Lorraine and I have conducted numerous reading/workshops at early learning centres and schools through the Hunter region. We were fortunate enough to be hosted by the Newcastle Region and Lake Macquarie Library networks last school holidays and the author events we conducted there were a great success. We have a few early learning centre sessions locked in before the next school holidays and at this stage one confirmed session for Toronto Library. Lorraine will also be exhibiting some of the illustrations from the book at the Newcastle Region Botanic Gardens in August.
Each session lasts for approximately one hour and is aimed at 3-7 year-olds. They involve a discussion of Sulphur-crested Cockatoos and recycling, then a reading followed by a craft activity in which every child gets the opportunity to make their own collage. If any schools or centres are interested in a session, they can contact us at email@example.com or via our Facebook page (facebook.com/flamingcharli) to organise a visit. For optimum involvement, the sessions are limited to 20 children.
We found the readings were particularly rich when the centre/school built a program around the book. One particular centre used the book as the basis for fire preparedness training and fire evacuation drills. They even had the local RFS come for a visit to speak to the book. Another centre made paper to explore recycling. What is most impressive is the amazing creativity of each location. From creating wall-sized collages and displays to the ingenuity of individual collage makers.
Another feature of the session is the reading. In order to encourage a level of interactivity, Charli’s famous call is rehearsed so when a particular part of the text is reached, students let loose their loudest ‘Raaaaarrrrrkkkkk!’ I think sometimes I have seen the ceiling lift when a whole class of Sulphur-crested Cockatoos screech!
What are some of your favourite books to read to your kids?
As any parent would know, there is no better way to bond with your children than to tuck them under your wing and share a book together. More titles than I could ever list come to mind here but having said that, Jez Alborough is always a favourite. He writes for such a range of developmental stages. For the younger ones there is Tall and Hug which may have only one word per page. I found when reading these works I would make up a different narrative based every reading. His books also range up to the older readers with Where’s my Teddy?, Some Dogs Do and My Friend Bear and many others. Lynley Dodd, Mem Fox and Dr. Seuss titles are also favourites. My eldest is just starting to get into the Captain Underpants series (Dav Pilkey), Zac Power series (H.I. Larry) and books from Morris Gleitzman.
Where is your favourite spot in Newcastle and the Hunter to go with your kids?
We are spoiled for choice in the Newcastle and the Hunter region with an abundance of natural environments. These places are a favourite for our family and in the cooler months, we pack a picnic and select an ‘adventure’ walk from one of the numerous trails around the region. In the summer, the beach or pool is always a favourite (and even better if they have a playground!) We find simple activities with scope for open-ended play offer the most enjoyment for the different age range of our family. For me, the outdoor adventures I had as a child were the ones that had the greatest impact on my memory and as an adult, I find it is a wonderful way to bond with all family members through a shared activity.