Friday, May 13, 2016

Interview with children's author Janeen Brian

Janeen Brian and one of her muses, Raff.

I’ve recently acquired a family member who I hope, in a few years, will be reading books. It’s something I don’t take for granted – my niece can’t walk, but she can already operate (to some extent) a smartphone. I’ve developed an interest in children’s books as my hidden agenda is to ensure she enjoys reading them. Of course the books I vet are about animals, people who work with animals or both.

Janeen Brian is an award-winning children’s author who also loves animals. Four of her books have won Honour Awards and twelve awarded Notables in the Children’s Book Council of Australia Awards. I’m a dirty dinosaur also won 2014 Speech Pathology Award of Australia in Early Childhood section. Other titles have been shortlisted, translated or distributed worldwide.

In 2009 she won a May Gibbs Children’s Trust Literature Fellowship and three years later, was awarded the Carclew Fellowship (Adelaide Festival Awards for Literature). So she’s a big deal in the world of kid’s books. She’s also an ambassador for the South Australian Premier’s Reading Challenge, The Little Big Book Club and Books in Homes.

Janeen spoke to SAT about her writing and the way that animals, and human-animal relations, inspire her books.

What’s your day job?

My day job is as a children’s writer. It’s a fulltime profession which I began in 1990 after many year’s part-time teaching and part-time writing.

Your latest book, Mrs Dog, is a children’s book about the relationship between a lamb and a retired farm dog. What inspired you to write about this interspecies relationship?

The two characters in Mrs Dog are so much a part of farm life; a sheep dog and sheep, or in this case a lamb, or a ‘little Woolly Head.’ An old dog like, Mrs Dog, is like the elderly in humans who often have more time to reflect and consider what’s important in life. Many things floated around in my head for a long time before the story evolved. I had a name I liked for a lamb (Baa-rah) and years later in New Zealand, I overheard an old lady call out ‘Come on, Mrs Dog’. A slow dog shuffled up behind her. So I had two names. That was all I had, really. Over time, I mulled about a story for these two creatures. Mrs Dog is the end result after many, many drafts.

You’re an Ambassador for the Premier’s Reading Challenge. Why do we need to promote reading?

Reading is alive and well. The Reading Challenge and programs like it, however, are instrumental in bringing a full scale awareness to children who might otherwise have slipped the net and be less inclined to discover the joy of reading. These type of programs also help teachers with their busy schedules, by bringing a ready formed list of books which have been evaluated by those competent in the area of children’s literature.

Sadly, reading does face resistance at times; the tide of technology and interactive devices often require only a press of a button; whereby reading needs time and concentration. Also, there’s the horrific demise of teacher-librarians, who are being phased out of many schools to the detriment of children who need guidance with choice of books, awareness of new titles and encouragement; as well as teachers who simply don’t have the time to explore the library, or have the knowledge that a trained, experienced teacher-librarian has. 

Five Mile Press
Janeen confers with a colleague in the library.

What non-human do you share your life with?

We have a border-collie dog, called Raff or Raffy. Although he is black and white, our previous border-collie, named Nell was tricolour, much like Mrs Dog in the book. We also have two chooks, called Meadow and Rapunzel. Once, our then five year-old grandson named them. Now, whatever two chooks we have, they are always called by those names.

How did you meet?

I’ll speak here about Raff. When Nell died, we waited a while and then sought out the country breeder again. Her bitch had just had a litter and there was one little one left. We drove the hour and a half as quickly as we could, and picked up our new puppy from the farm.

What do you do to spend time together?

My husband and I take Raff for walks, throw balls to chase, pat and cuddle him and stroke his lovely soft ears. We also take him to our daughter’s property in the hills and let him have play-dates with his brother (from another litter). The two of them race around and have fun together.

What’s the most important thing you’ve learned about caring for the non-humans in your life?

For me, there’s more than one! How much love we can share together. How good non-humans make us feel. How they’re part of our whole existence - not just a life specifically for humans. How much they become part of your family. How extraordinarily important they are to nourish our senses.

What could we do to make the world better for non-human animals?

Treat them with care and respect, but give them good training. The whole adage about treat others as you’d like to be treated, can apply to animals too.

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

Stock my book in your surgery! That way, children (and adults) can enjoy the story and sense the loyalty and compassion the two characters in the book had for each other.

The book is beautifully illustrated, with fine, realistic pictures that convey an enormous amount of expression and emotion by the very talented, Marjorie Crosby-Fairall and is published by The Five Mile Press.

Thank you Janeen. You can check out Janeen's website here, follow her on facebook here or tweet her @Janeenbrian