'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.'
- author Jackie French

Monday 8 November 2010

Guest Post - Author Janeen Brian and Why She's a Kid at Heart

Maybe it’s because there was no room at the kindergarten.

Maybe it’s because I didn’t have that year of finger-painting, putting coloured blocks in particular holes, singing songs with finger-actions or wrestling with jigsaws.

Maybe that’s why I love all those types of early childhood activities to this day. And as an author it has affected my work.

One – I love flapping my arms and flitting around the room like a duck, with the other ‘little’ kids at my school visits.

Two – I always use as many senses as I can in those visits – and try and have lots of ‘doing’ activities.

I was, and am, a baby-boomer.

And like at the Biblical Inn, when it came to me going to Kindergarten in those early post-war days, there was no room. Other baby boomers were spilling out of the corrugated-iron Nissan hut that did as the local kindergarten and I had to go elsewhere.

Suddenly I was at what historically was once called a Dame School. It was a small, private school, situated in a tiny church hall beside a cemetery, run by two elderly spinsters, who themselves were untrained teachers, but who’d been teaching and running the school since 1922.Their curriculum probably hadn’t changed.

But they were lovely, well-mannered ladies. They spoke like ladies and expected us to speak correctly.

Ladies ‘didn’t eat onions’.

At the age of three or four, therefore, I was involved in French, Latin, sewing, stories and I don’t know what else. But it wasn’t kindergarten. It was a loosely structured program with the ageing women relying on some of the older girls to take care of us ‘little ones.’

My next year was at Primary School. We did have some paint then, thank goodness.

But all this leads me to the point that when I do school visits, I love working with the little ones. I can make up songs that mildly connect to the stories I’ve written and it’s fun; or we have puppets or rhymes or activities that involve the children moving, using rhythm, clapping, role-playing, writing ‘words’ on people’s backs, wearing hats and so on.

Hopefully the children enjoy it too!

But of course, as an adult-in-adult’s-clothing, I am making points that deal with writing along the way.

‘Did you notice how if we changed this word to that, it sounds funny, or wrong? It doesn’t sound finished off?’ Or ‘Can you see that I didn’t repeat the same word, but tried to get other words that mean the same?’ Or ‘Here’s the real story of how I came to have this old little soft toy monkey. Later, let’s make-up one – just for monkey!’

My book launches are a little the same.

For my first picture book in the early nineties, Beach Pirates, I dressed as a pirate, had a parrot on my shoulder and had pre-recorded a conversation about the book with this parrot.

At the launch of I Spy Dad, illustrator Ann James (as the character from the book) read the book up a tree. Terry Denton, another illustrator, was the Dad-rescuer. In the story, Dad flies in on his hang-glider, full of love – but Terry arrived with a red plastic cape and a ladder!

The latest launch was for another picture book called Shirl and the Wollomby Show, and here, because the resolution dealt with the sheep characters knitting, I had needles and balls of wool set out and you’d be amazed how many guests happily knitted a few rows. Then there was the big Knit-Off! where the person who knitted five rows the fastest won a signed copy of the book.

As an extra note – I researched, wrote and published a book about those two women teachers, Winifred and Dorothy Fleming, and their time-warped school. It was called The Flemings of Hopetoun and I count it as one of my best achievements. It joins my other 73 published books on my shelves – along with a little soft toy monkey.

We hope you enjoyed this wonderful insight into the world of one of our country's most successful children's authors. Learn more about Janeen and her wonderful books at http://www.janeenbrian.com/.