Inside the 2021 CBCA Shortlist
Russell Prize for Humour Writing for Young People
“I ATE SO MUCH I FELL ASLEEP ON YOUR CAKE.” (Your Birthday Was the Best!)
Your Birthday Was the Best! written by Maggie Hutchings and illustrated by Felicita Sala (Affirm Press) is shortlisted for the 2021 CBCA Picture Book of the Year and the Russell Prize for Humour Writing for Young People (of which I was a judge). It is very funny and clever – in both words and pictures (I have laughed aloud every time I’ve read it and even laughed aloud reading the words without the illustrations) and it has enormous appeal for children (and adults as well).
Thank you for speaking to PaperbarkWords, Maggie.
Where are you based and what is your background?
Hi Joy, thank you so much for inviting me to chat. I’m based in Yamba in NSW and I have a background in counselling, mediation and training.
How has your career and life led to writing picture books?
Although I have a degree in literature and have always enjoyed writing, my counselling career really spurred me on to write. But the cockroach stories are inspired by my own indestructible positivity. I’ve spent 20 years sitting with people in dire straits trying to help them find silver linings and ways through terrible things!
Is there a common thread between your books?
I’d say the commonality is the belief in the basic goodness in people, especially children who generally don’t judge or mind difference in others.
Who is telling the story in Your Birthday Was the Best! and how would you describe its voice?
The protagonist is a happy-go-lucky cockroach character who is rather a blithe spirit. He is totally unaware of others and of course that leads to chaos and hilarity.
Was it a process of trial and error to find the right character and voice or did it come to you early?
The voice came really easily actually! I’d written some fairly serious books and some sweet lovely characters and this just burst out of me!
Why is the text written in capitals (except for ‘i’)?
Felicita hand wrote the text as we wanted it to seem like the cockroach was writing the book all by himself, but we also used a lot of capital letters to express the positive exuberance of the main character.
What do you think creates much of the humour in the book?
I think everyone has a friend like our cockroach! That one person who turns up uninvited and hasn’t a clue they are annoying. It’s very relatable.
How did your collaboration with illustrator Felicita Sala work?
My publishers thought we would be great together and happily I was already going to see friends in Rome where Felicita lives. So we had lunch and a wine. The rest is happy cockroach history.
(That’s incredible. How serendipitous!)
Which of Felicita’s illustrations in the book do you particular enjoy, and why?
I really love the scene in the BIG outside bin with grandma. Its so warm and lovely and also totally silly and mad.
What impact has being shortlisted for the CBCA Picture Book of the Year award this year had on you or this book?
Well for a start; when I heard the announcement, I screamed! It’s fantastic and I feel very blessed.
Have any responses to the book particularly resonated with you?
I’ve loved the fact that the book was released in such hard times. Bringing laughter was such a joy and the reactions have been lovely. I’ve noticed that kids know ALL the words and love screaming when the kid in the book does!
Could you tell us about some of your other books?
I’ve written a series of four books about Lena and Luka (Unicorn!, Mermaid!, Dragon! and Fairy!) with Cheryl Orsini. They are all stories where magical creatures help the girls out in difficult times and I’ve loved writing them.
I’ve also written two books with Evie Barrow: I Saw Pete and Pete Saw Me and Enough Love?. They are issues-based books, one about homelessness and one about family life and separation/blended families. Although these are serious topics I hope I’ve written about them with some compassion and humour.
What are you writing or working on now?
Book two in the cockroach series is well underway (out in 2022) and I’ve written a book three.
I’m currently finishing off a book with Jess Racklyeft (out in late 2021) and have another exciting project in embryo stage…. but I can’t say too much about those at the moment apart from I’m as excited as a cockroach at a party about both.
What have you been reading that you would like to recommend?
That’s a hard question as my reading list is mostly kids books but I’ve been enjoying Matt Chun’s stunning series of Australian species books with the grandkids. We love anything by Alison Lester, Jane Godwin and Felicita Sala.
How can your readers contact you?
I’m on Instagram as @maggie_hutchings_writes or through Affirm Press.
Thanks very much for your responses, Maggie. I’m sure I can speak for many in saying that we greatly look forward to your next book, and are ready for lots more laughing and screaming!
Thanks for having me!
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