Mo and Crow by Jo Kasch, illustrated by Jonathan Bentley (published by Allen & Unwin)
Thank you for speaking to PaperbarkWords, Jo.
Thank you for having me! This is my first ever chat so I’m very excited.
Where are you based and what is your background, particularly in television? What is some of the work of which you are most proud?
I live in the inner-north of Melbourne with my (almost) 11-year-old daughter, but I’m originally from a semi-rural town in Queensland.
My background is as a writer/editor in TV. I started out as a researcher in adult drama, then trained as an editor while working as a writer as well, then moved into kids’ TV (live-action and animation) and now work between both age-groups.
I’m proud of lots of work I’ve done… but I feel very good about the children’s shows I’ve worked on, particularly when they’re loved by kids I know. Especially my daughter!
The project I’m most proud though would have to be Mo and Crow. It’s my first time being published and I’m still pinching myself.
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 Allen & Unwin. Congratulations!
Thank you. You can’t see me, but I’m truly grinning ear to ear right now.
What was the path to publication for your debut picture book Mo and Crow? Could you tell us about the process?
I actually wrote the manuscript in a class I did as part of the Professional Writing and Editing course at RMIT. My tutor was Sue DeGennaro. Sue’s an amazing writer and illustrator, but she’s also a fantastic teacher. She suggested I submit it to a publisher and a friend put me in touch with Allen & Unwin. I sent it to them for consideration and they accepted it.
What was the impetus for writing Mo and Crow?
I’d been thinking about a few different things that intersected when I started writing…
About how important it is for us as people to not close ourselves off, to others and to possibility. That our world will change (constantly, it sometimes feels…) whether we plan for it or not and that great and enriching things can come along when we’re brave enough to be open to something we haven’t planned for, or that’s new.
How is Mo and Crow an allegory or fable?
Crow chips away at the wall around Mo’s house as well as the one he’s put up within himself to ward off loneliness and anything new and unknown. Despite raging at Crow initially, he realises that the view (and his life) is much richer once things open up.
How did you create the tone of the tale?
I don’t think it was conscious from the outset. But the first line had a very direct and solid shape and, tone and character-wise, that felt like the right way to go. Mo is a pretty grumpy guy when we meet him, and a man of few words. His sharp short speech, Crow’s repetitive sounds, and the short words used generally, are all used to get that across.
How and why have you used repetition in your text?
I love crows, and they are quite repetitious in their sound. It makes me imagine that they’re quite stubborn. The character of Crow definitely is. But then so is Mo. Both are equally determined to get what they want and unwilling to compromise. Mo is stuck in his ways and his world has become quite small. I imagine his days had become quite repetitive, pre-Crow. Hopefully the repetition in the text helps create that sense.
When I read Mo and Crow, I was reminded of the 2021 ad for Australian lamb, ‘Make Lamb, Not Walls’. What is your reaction to this ad? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aCIMYjqWxwA ?
Haha. I’d not seen it! I’m not exactly sure what they’re trying to say about Queensland (and there is a lot less lamb in Mo and Crow…) but I’m on the same page when it comes to trying to do away with division and self-isolation.
How did the collaborative process work with Jonathan Bentley in your book?
We worked quite separately actually. I wrote the text and then Jonathan came on as illustrator. He was working on the illustrations while in the UK with his family last year and I believe that the views he had out his window informed a lot of the pictures. We had a small amount of back and forth after he’d done the roughs, but he nailed the characters so beautifully with very little input from me. And I love the design of the end pages deeply.
What surprised you about any of his illustrations of Mo and Crow?
I’m not sure if I was surprised because I didn’t have any strong ideas about what the illustrations would or should look like. I think the surprise for me was just the delight, of working with such a talented illustrator at all! One thing I particularly love about Jonathan’s illustrations – apart from the cheekiness of Crow – are the colours he chose. They’re so vibrant and sunny, and that is what Mo’s life becomes.
Which of his illustrations particularly resonates with you?
I love the picture of Crow when he first pokes his head through a hole in Mo’s wall. We had a pet galah when I was growing up and the cheeky glint in Crow’s eye is bang on.
What are you writing or working on now?
I’m working on two manuscripts for new picture books and a TV script…
What have you been reading that you would like to recommend?
My daughter and I have just finished reading Nova Weetman’s new book (and the last in her beautiful Clem series) Edge of Thirteen and we absolutely loved it.
How can your readers contact you?
I’m am working on a website right now – watch this space… In the meantime, they can reach me through the publicity department at Allen & Unwin, my fledgling Instagram page @_jokasch_ or via email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks for your responses, Jo. Mo and Crow is a highly appealing work for children with an important message. You have blended the two very successfully. All the best with Mo and Crow.
Thanks so much, Joy. I really appreciate it.