Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Hop Up! Wriggle Over! Interview with children's author and animal lover Elizabeth Honey

Elizabeth honey draws inspiration from Australian native animals.

Here at SAT we’re massive fans of books, we’re massive fans of animals, and doubly so when it comes to books about animals. Especially Australian animals. So we were thrilled to be able to talk to children’s author Elizabeth Honey about her latest book, Hop Up! Wriggle Over!

Elizabeth Honey's drawings of Australian animals are brilliant.
Elizabeth Honey grew up on a farm, went to Swinburne art school, had adventures around the globe and a variety of jobs before becoming an illustrator, then also a writer, for children. She lives in Melbourne, in a house of books. Elizabeth is an award-winning author-illustrator of poetry, novels and picture books. Novels include: 45 + 47 Stella Street, Don’t Pat the Wombat!, Remote Man, To the Boy in Berlin - a collaboration with German author Heike Brandt - and The Ballad of Cauldron Bay. Picture books include The Cherry Dress, Not a Nibble!, Ten Blue Wrens, That’s not a daffodil! Her new book Hop up! Wriggle over! features a family of Australian animals. Her books, published by Allen and Unwin, are hugely popular.

What’s your day job?

Same as my night job, crafting stories in words, pictures and theatre, for kids.

Do you share your life with any non-human companions?

Our little dog, Dup, died and as we’re travelling, we don’t have dog right now. We do have the worms in the compost (The Wriggle Boys) the black birds, fruit bats and the golden orb spider who connects his web to our clothesline. We spend time in the Otways with kookaburras, strutting magpies, koalas doing their unearthly bellowing, larrikin cockatoos and all the smaller birds hopping in the bush.

Research is an important aspect of Elizabeth's work. This is one of her photos of an echidna.
How did you come up with the concept of Australian native animals living together?

It’s a favourite old recipe used by Norman Lindsay and May Gibbs. Small children find animals fascinating, and small children are animals.

We’re used to seeing Kangaroos, koalas, possums and wombats in Australian children’s books, but wallabies, quolls, echidnas, numbats, antechinus, bilbies and quokkas aren’t so common. Why do you think this is?

These little animals are not obvious, and have not been popularised. You can’t see them readily and some are becoming rare. People know more about bilbies since the Easter chocolate bilby campaign.

These days kids are not so connected with the bush. I talk about this on my website. As a child I was told ‘Go outside and play,’ but now we have a larger population, the majority of families live in cities, and time-poor parents resort to the electronic babysitter. Just going outside is harder.

Your illustrations are absolutely stunning. How long does it take to illustrate each page?

Thank you. Well, that’s hard to say. First I plan, roughly, the whole book, then mock up each large illustration, considering space for the text. I begin the drawing in earnest, using reference to make sure the animals are accurate. This drawing and rubbing-out this goes on till it I’m happy with my pencil roughs. Then I do the good drawing, on water colour paper, trying hard. Finally the fun part, colouring in, puddling around with watercolours.

A quoll. Check out those amazing feet.
What’s the most important thing you’ve learned about Australian native animals?

We have the most wonderful diverse wildlife, found nowhere else on earth, adapted in intriguing ways to life in the various habitats in this wide brown land. 

What could we do to make the world better for them?

If these animals are given habitat free from foxes, feral cats and cane toads they can rebuild their numbers. The Australian Wildlife Conservancy is working at it. 

We can also find out more, and spread the word, so people know the problems and do something to help. The Conservation Ecology Centre, Cape Otway is researching quolls and koalas. 

Any advice you’d like to share with veterinarians and future veterinarians?

Take every opportunity to engage children on the subject of animals.

Thank you so much Elizabeth. And if you want to find out more, visit and/or follow Elizabeth on any of her channels below.

Instagram: elizabeth_honey

Stay curious and research.