Picture, if you will, a Loaded Die...

Back in the days when I would read to my son, the dearth of enjoyable stories inspired me to write the text (and copious illustration notes) to six children's picture books. Submitting to publishers is like driving the great desert highways -- long stretches of nothing with a bump every six to twelve months when you run over a stock rejection -- so at times the journey can seem overly wearying. Judges at the 2009 CYA Conference at least had some nice things to say.

The Bravest Animal of All (32 pages) is a bedtime story to a child who is afraid to go to sleep. The narrator sets out to allay the child's fears by discussing various forms of bravery, each of which is played out by anthropomorphised animal depictions of famous people: a penguin, no longer flightless, hunched at the controls of a Lockheed Vega 5b and pioneering in the spirit of Amelia Erhardt; a Martin Luther grizzly bear at home amongst his polar brethren; a young donkey who has put his tail-pinning fears aside and gone to his friend's birthday party… History, in short, meets funny animals until the everyday aspects of bravery are revealed. "I laughed at the illustration notes in this book. Nice concept - not sure on the goose-stepping but it goes with the rest of the humour… You wrap up the book nicely with the child going to sleep - not scared. Nice ending."

Grated Expectations (32 pages) explores the notion of pre-conceptions. In each tale, from the title page onwards, the reader's expectations are built in one direction, only to be shattered by a single line of rebuttal on the concluding page: a Transylvanian tourist whose real thirst is for hot pies and tomato sauce; the punk serenader whose gruff appearance belies a birthday song and love for his old grandma; the happy hunter who treks high and low only to shoot animals with his camera… A jolly, rhyming romp through the dangers of making assumptions. "This is a fresh idea for a picture book. Great concept - especially the shredding of Great Expectations!"

The Great Milk Race (32 pages) tells of several milk-producing mammals (and a coconut) racing down Thirsty Hill to fill a glass with milk. It has no particular message or moral, its sole purpose being to entertain and give children positive associations with reading. (Although the whole race is good-natured and even the competitive goat is a gracious runner-up.) A rollicking, rhyming, rumbustious race towards literacy. "A whacky story with a fun twist."

It's Not the End of the World (32 pages) begins when two emus collide while running across the Australian desert. Their mishap precipitates a series of similar collisions, which spreads throughout the animal kingdom in a zany, slapstick tribute to Dr Seuss -- most beloved of children's authors, whose style has become tragically anathematic to publishers. "Kind of mad and all over the place, but in a good way."

Monsters Chase You (When) You Chase Monsters (32 pages) are mirror image stories. When one is finished, the book can be flipped over and read in the other direction. A surreal exploration of the power of imagination -- how it can scare you and how it can make you feel better -- the dual stories are word-by-word palindromes. When read backwards, each gives the text of the other. (Quite literally a reflection, as both stories take place beside a river.) Nuances of expression; subtle tricks of perspective and depth perception; an artistic adventure! "Great concept to flip over and have a second story in one. Interesting to see who picks up this great idea - and what a challenge to the illustrator."

1¼ Cups of Water, ½ Cup of Milk (32 pages). Masha wants to make Russian pancakes the way her Babushka taught her, but she lives on a drought-stricken farm in Australia. How will she find 1¼ cups of water, ½ cup of milk? (Not to mention the eggs!) Mayhem in a rhyming rumpus, featuring droopy horses in galumphing abundance, a nanny goat in a coconut tree, and even a special appearance by the Dairy Godmother… "Liked the idea of a foreign food being made - and the concept of the grandmother and her wearing bikinis… I hope to see these off-centre stories in print soon."


  - random selection from the unpublished memoire, Freefall