Ribbit Rabbit Robot by Victoria Mackinlay, illustrated by Sofya Karmazina

Ribbit Rabbit Robot by Victoria Mackinlay, illustrated by Sofya Karmazina (Omnibus Books, Scholastic Australia) is a fun story to read aloud with children or for beginning readers to read themselves.

Thank you for speaking to PaperbarkWords, Victoria.

Thank you for having me Joy! 

It’s a major achievement to have a book published and an extra bonus to be published by a highly regarded publishing house such as Omnibus Books. Congratulations!

Thank you – it’s my childhood dream come true.

How were you able to get your debut picture book Ribbit Rabbit Robot published? Could you tell us about the process?

I’ve been writing stories and poems my whole life but only started writing picture books about four years ago.  I took several courses, joined SCBWI and critique groups and eventually plucked up the courage to book a manuscript assessment with Clare Hallifax (publisher at Omnibus Scholastic) at the Creative Kids’ Tales conference in 2018.  That meeting resulted in a contract for another picture book (which is coming out next year) and I later sent Clare RIBBIT RABBIT ROBOT when it was ready to go.

Where are you based, what is your background and how are you involved in the children’s literature community?

I’m now based in Bondi but grew up in Scotland and England and have also lived in Ireland, Italy and France.  I’m a world traveller who studied languages and literature at University and worked at Google for 9 years (leading an APAC team).  I’ve always been a reader and writer but rediscovered children’s books when my daughter was born.  I’m actively involved in SCBWI and CBCA and have many great friends who are authors and illustrators.

Could you introduce us to the characters in Ribbit Rabbit Robot?

Rabbit is a cheeky, greedy character who knows what he wants and how to get it.

Robot is not the sharpest tool in the box.  He likes to potter and tinker and is more likely to follow than take the lead.

Frog has an eye for detail and a heart of gold.  He loves reading and is the conscience of the group.  He does the right thing, even when it’s the hard thing to do.

What drives the narrative in your story?

The three characters’ desires for the magic lamp and their different motives for wanting it.

What is the source of humour?

I think it probably starts with the alliterative text being a tongue twister – even now I sometimes get “Rabbit” and “Robot” mixed up!  Add to that an unlikely bunch of characters with some pretty extreme personality traits, some big emotions and a few meltdowns.

You have limited the number of words in your text. This is very helpful for beginning readers but can be difficult to achieve as an author. How did you manage to do this?

RIBBIT RABBIT ROBOT began in a pretty unconventional way.  I set myself a challenge to see if I could tell a story using only words that followed a ‘r*b*t’ pattern – so it was always going to be very tight on words.  I had to rely heavily on illustration notes when I presented my manuscript so the story made sense.  The illustrations do a lot of the heavy lifting in the book.

You have incorporated plenty of dialogue. Why have you done this?

Honestly, because it was the best way I could find to tell the story using only words that followed the ‘r*b*t’ pattern.

I’ve heard mixed opinions about the place of dialogue in picture books; from experts saying it has no place as it can exclude the reader, to others describing it as the oxygen of the story.

In RIBBIT RABBIT ROBOT’s case, I hope it makes the story extra fun to read aloud.  It encourages the reader to be an actor, instilling meaning to the words through the way they say them. For example, when Rabbit says: “Rabbit” as he wishes for a rabbit, it is delivered very differently to the smug: “Rabbit’s” he sniggers when he’s stolen the lamp from Robot, even though it’s the same word.

Sofya Karmazina’s illustrations suit your story well. How would you describe her style?

Isn’t she amazing?  I’ve never met Sofya but when Clare showed me her pencil roughs, I was blown away.  And when I saw the full colour I almost cried.  I’d describe her style as traditional and hand painted.  She has added so much detail to the story.  I left the setting completely open in my text and she created a whole world for these quirky characters.

Which picture particularly appeals to you and why?

My favourite picture is the underwater scene where Genie is freed and transforms into a frog.  The expression on Froggie’s face is just so blissful – it’s a very powerful image.  I love how Sofya has used the fish to direct the reader’s eyes to the transformation for maximum impact.  Super clever.

Underwater scene in Ribbit Rabbit Robot by Victoria Mackinlay, illustrated Sofya Karmazina

Ribbit Rabbit Robot is ideal for reading aloud. How have children responded to your story?

It’s intended as a very interactive read – from asking what children would do in the dilemmas the characters face, to asking them to spot things that begin with ‘r’ in the illustrations. I love watching their brains tick and hearing their responses.  The best is when a child shouts out: “I thought the genie looked like a frog!” when they see the underwater transformation.

What are you writing or working on now?

I have two picture books coming out in the next two years and many picture book manuscripts on the go (always!).  I also have ideas for a junior fiction series and a middle grade series which are screaming for me to write.  Honestly, I have written very little creatively during lockdown (outside my work freelancing), but have been comfort-reading (C.S. Lewis and Enid Blyton) and also soaking up time with the children I’ve been home-schooling; jotting down their observations, questions, turns of phrases.

What have you been reading that you would like to recommend?

I’ve just finished Davina Bell’s THE END OF THE WORLD IS BIGGER THAN LOVE and can’t get it out of my head!  It’s astonishing.  I loved her wonderful unreliable narrators, and had to pause often to savour her beautiful use of language and ponder the big questions raised.  We’ve also been loving ‘BIG IDEAS FOR CURIOUS MINDS: An Introduction to Philosophy’ which is brilliantly accessible and covers everything from ‘why the News doesn’t always tell the whole story’ to ‘what’s fair?’.  Highly recommend – I learnt as much as my daughter did, if not more!

How can your readers contact you?

I’m on Instagram, Facebook and occasionally attempt to tweet:

https://www.instagram.com/victoriamackinlay/

https://www.facebook.com/victoriamackinlaywriter/

You can also contact me via my website: https://www.victoriamackinlay.com/

Ribbit Rabbit Robot will be greatly enjoyed by young children and those who share books with them. Thanks for your responses, Victoria, and all the very best with this and your upcoming books.

Thank you for your kind words and for giving me this opportunity!

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