Inside the 2021 CBCA Shortlist
We Love You, Magoo is written and illustrated by much-loved author-illustrator Briony Stewart. It is shortlisted for the CBCA Book of the Year: Early Childhood awards and is published by Penguin Random House Australia.
Thank you for speaking to PaperbarkWords, Briony.
No worries! My Pleasure!
I have loved and promoted your books since the beginning of your career with your Kumiko series and was the chair of the judging panel in the Queensland Literary Awards when Kumiko and the Shadow Catchers (UQP) won best children’s book. I recall you were overseas and missed the awards ceremony but created a stunning acceptance video. This happened around a period when children’s books as part of overall literary awards were not highly anticipated or regarded (thankfully this inexplicable attitude seems to have improved). I will never forget the atmosphere in the auditorium changing from ho-hum to charged and delighted after viewing your animation. It was the talking point and highlight of the evening.
That’s so sweet, thank you for telling me that. I would have loved to have been there, I think that year was particularly special because it was such a community driven award.
Although you live in Western Australia, I know that you have a special place in the hearts of the Queensland children’s literary community. How are you part of the literary hub in W.A.?
Queensland has a special place in my heart too. The Voices festival on the Sunshine Coast was where I made my ‘lucky break’, and my first 5 books were with UQP. But yes, I live in W.A, it’s where I was born and I feel close to my childhood here. One of the things that I love about Perth is the ‘country town’ feeling people always relate to Perth. It seeps into the creative community as well. From when I was a teenager I’ve had encouragement from the likes of Tim Winton and Shaun Tan and other artists who have always been generous and sharing. There’s a whole, ‘rising tide lifts all boats’ aspect to that and you find these things come back full circle. For example I was a finalist in the ‘Tim Winton Awards’ as a teen and then I ended up being a judge for the awards some 15 years later. Similarly, I first wrote Kumiko and the Dragon as a university assignment in a ‘Writing for Children’ unit that I ended up teaching a decade later.
In 2008 Dianne Wolfer and Frané Lessac started a SCBWI branch in W.A and it has become an amazing community for children’s book creators at all levels. I’ve been a member since that first year and 15 odd books later I still receive great support from this group and hopefully, offer the same in return. It also helps that a good number of these creators are practically my neighbours. A lot of us live in and around Fremantle. We share studio spaces. Our kids go to the same schools. My studio is part of a children’s book shop… so more than being a part of the literary hub in W.A I think I am deeply entrenched! Help!
What have you been animating in recent times?
Only book trailers haha! My animation skills are fairly basic but I really love stopmotion animation. Here is a book trailer I made just a few days ago for the second Magoo book. It features my children aged 3 and 5. We had fun making it.
Could you introduce Magoo from your picture book We Love You, Magoo?
Magoo is a loveable, energetic, and frustrating young dog who is still learning his place in the household. He is every dog you’ve ever met and every two-year-old all rolled into one.
What do you think is the source/s of humour in your story?
I think it is its relatability. For the grown-ups reading it, it captures a balance they can recognise, between love and frustration when it comes to trying to care for small people and animals. They can also recognise the irony of little people emulating adult admonishments, especially ‘no!’ (Which we find ourselves saying more than we mean to). Families who have a dog that has been superseded by a human baby also know that very real double-layer of parental guilt, (especially when that dog has always thought of itself as one of the people!)
For children reading Magoo, it is just the simple joy of seeing a character being a little bit naughty, or getting something wrong and then being able to be bossy and tell them what they are meant to be doing. Toddlers love to tell you what you’re meant to be doing.
I love how Magoo is the focus of the story and we only see parts of the humans. Why/how have you done this?
It’s not a new technique, you’ve seen it in Hairy Maclary, and in Tom and Jerry, where the human people are not fully shown. I think it creates a ‘dogs-eye-view’ or toddler-eye view, where the perspective of the story is more literally on their level. It also helps to focus the story on Magoo, his perceptions and reactions to the events. I also think it leaves some room for the human characters to be different kinds of people, old, young, male female, nonbinary. Children have a greater chance of reading it as their own family dynamic.
What media and process did you use for your illustrations in We Love You, Magoo?
I use a combination of traditional media – ink and crayon, with digital illustration. To capture the energy of Magoo I had my own toddlers help me create many of the textures for the book. The linework is hand drawn and then all these elements are scanned and the colouring is done digitally.
Why have you used the colour palette you’ve chosen?
I wanted a limited 3-colour palette to match the simplicity of the story. You can still be very playful within that and where I have used less colour, I’ve used more texture. The Orangey/red colour of ‘Magoo’ was the one I picked first, it just felt right for the character. I did try a blue for the character (because a Blue Magoo would rhyme!) But the red just was the character. The other two colours were a bit of a reference to retro picture book illustrations ie ‘Miffy’ or ‘The Cat in the Hat’. It was hard to pick a different two colours to go with the red for the sequel, but I ended up referencing another Dr.Suess book. If you get a chance to see it I wonder if you can guess which book it references?
What impact has being shortlisted for the CBCA Book of the Year: Early Childhood award this year had on you or this book?
Oh it’s a dream! I used to reverently trace my finger around CBCA stickers on books when I was a kid, so to have one is a special honour. Also, this is the first book I have written since becoming a parent myself. At the time I wrote it I had a dog, a two-year-old, a baby and a fear that motherhood may have kind of melted my brain! It’s hard to see when you are sleep deprived and in the thick of it, that you are still actually learning and growing as a creator in strange and magical (and painful) ways. So as a creator it’s terribly heartening and encouraging to have your work acknowledged in some way when taking your first sort of foray out of the motherhood cave you’ve been hibernating in.
I see that you have illustrated Rosanne Hawke’s wonderful Fosia and the Quest of Prince Zal. You’ve put effort and care into the illustrations at the beginning of each chapter of Fosia and this shows that you have read the book carefully and understood the characters. Which character meant the most to you and why? Have you illustrated the other books in this trilogy?
Yes! I illustrated all the books in the trilogy and I really enjoyed them! Illustrating the first one (Kelsey) was my first go at illustrating someone else’s writing and I really enjoyed it! You get to illustrate things that perhaps you’d never write about yourself. I think Fozia was my favourite, I enjoyed illustrating her as a character but I also enjoyed the moments of sort of folktale/magic realism in that story too.
Could you tell us about some other books you have illustrated?
I have illustrated a mixture of junior fiction and picture book titles for other authors over the last five years (not coincidently how old my eldest child is now!) They have been quite varied, I loved illustrating the action adventure (and fairies) of Nullaboo Hullabaloo for Fleur Ferris, and the detailed, painterly style I used for Stephanie Owen Reeder’s historical picture book ‘Trouble in the Surf.’ Last summer, in addition to illustrating a Magoo sequel, I illustrated a beautifully written verse novel called ‘Mina and the Whole Wide World’ by Sheryl Clarke and a hilarious picture book by comedian Jimmy Rees. Wildly different projects, which has been an enjoyable challenge.
What have you been reading that you would like to recommend?
Ok, terrible dirty secret, but between having young kids and making books I don’t get time to read very much at all for my own pleasure at the moment! However, I LOVED Meg McKinleys ‘A Single Stone’ and ‘Mina and the Whole Wide World’ by Sherryl Clarke. I am determined to read Shirley Marr’s amazing ‘A Glass House of Stars’ but maybe that doesn’t count because I haven’t actually read it… yet!
What are you working on now/next?
Exciting times ahead! I am just about to release ‘Where Are You, Magoo?’ which is the sequel to ‘We Love You Magoo,’ and I’m currently working on the illustrations for a second picture book by Jimmy Rees as well a VERY exciting picture book I am not allowed to tell you the title of yet. Beyond that I have had some junior fiction and middle grade stories that have been waiting, burning holes in my breast pocket for a while now and I think, finally, I can start working on those as of next year.
How can your readers contact you?
Thanks for your generous, insightful and fun responses, Briony. I will continue to follow your career with great interest and admiration and look forward to your next book.
Very kind, thank you. Hope that wasn’t too long!
We Love You, Magoo at Penguin Random House Australia
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