One Potoroo: A Story of Survival by Penny Jaye & Alicia Rogerson, published CSIRO Publishing
Penny Jaye tells us about her new book One Potoroo, as well as some of her other books.
Thank you for speaking to PaperbarkWords, Penny.
Thank you for having me here.
Where are you based and what is your involvement in the children’s and YA book community?
I’m currently based in the lower Blue Mountains of NSW. I’m a member of the CBCA NSW Blue Mountains sub branch and enjoy networking with other Aussie children’s and YA writers.
How did your impressive new narrative non-fiction book One Potoroo come about? Did CSIRO Publishing approach you or did you come up with the idea?
One Potoroo is a story I’d been working on for a while, inspired by an Australian Geographic flyer about the Gilbert’s potoroo. As is often the case with my picture books, I struggled to find its perfect shape and had put the manuscript aside. After the devastating east-coast bushfires of 2019, I returned to the story with deliberation. Could a story of one potoroo in WA bring hope to a community facing fires and other environmental disasters? I approached CSIRO Publishing with the manuscript early 2020 and was thrilled when they offered me a contract.
Why is this story so important?
I think it’s the hope in the story that makes it important. The book isn’t just about the endangered Gilbert’s potoroo or about recovery from bushfires. One Potoroo highlights the actions of the conservationists and research scientists before, during and after disaster. The story is about courage and empathy and what it’s like when we work together to look after our world.
You skilfully hook young readers into the book from the start. How have you done this?
Thank you for your kind words about my writing.
I knew right from the start that I had to make the story of the Gilbert’s potoroo personally impacting. So it’s a very sad story at the beginning, with a lot of devastation and strong words. But I deliberately situated the narrative in Potoroo’s point of view, offering children a chance to connect with the animal and look forward to what might happen next.
The potoroo lives at Two Peoples Bay. Please tell us about this place including (if you know) why it’s called that.
Two Peoples Bay is a nature reserve in southwest Western Australia, 35 kilometres east of Albany. I only know about it from my research for One Potoroo but from what I’ve learned – and the photos Alicia Rogerson has shared with me – it’s an absolutely stunning place!
The name comes from an interesting meeting in history, when an American ship and a French ship both found themselves anchored there in 1803. The bay was then named: Baie des Duex Nations.
What is one, or more, interesting fact/s about the potoroo?
One interesting thing about the Gilbert’s potoroo is its extremely narrow diet. 90% of what Gilbert’s potoroos eat is fungi truffles. They can eat other things like seeds, berries or insects, but the truffles are their favourite. I was also surprised to learn how independent they are. Joey potoroos leave their mothers’ pouch when they are several months old and move away by the time they are six months old. They then tend to live fairly solitary lives until it’s time to find a mate.
How have you shown that, although small and cute, the potoroo is a wild creature?
Writing from Potoroo’s point of view really helped with this. I was able to show that although the humans’ actions obviously help Potoroo, he doesn’t understand what they are doing. He longs for a safe place to live and the human spaces he transitions through do not feel, or smell, like ‘home’. Potoroo belongs in the bush, and it’s only there that he really belongs.
Potoroo is taken to Waychinicup National Park. Why is this a good new habitat for him? You have described it well for young readers. What did your research about this place involve and how did you then condense and crystallise your knowledge into brief words that are able to tell enough?
Waychinicup National Park is one of a few special locations that have been identified and protected from predators to enable potoroo survival. It was tricky to condense what I had learned about this into brief phrases. One way I navigated this was to keep the story fixed within Potoroo’s experience. What did he need to survive? What were the threats? I then took advantage of the opportunity to include further details in the author’s notes at the back of the book. Learning about conservation research that has occurred behind the scenes and for many years was a fascinating part of writing this book. I am indebted to Dr Tony Friend for his help in this, and the Gilbert’s Potoroo Action Group.
How did your collaboration with Alicia Rogerson work?
CSIRO Publishing were keen, right from the start, to have a western Australian artist work on this project, so when they found Alicia she was a great fit. She was also perfect for this project because she had done some work on Gilbert’s potoroos before, in one of her endangered species collections. She is an incredibly talented artist, with a real eye for detail. She also visited the locations in the book to do on the ground research for her illustrations which makes them even more true to life.
Which of Alicia’s illustrations particularly resonates with you, and why?
There are so many favourites among Alicia’s work! I think the final end papers are lovely. They gently speak of the future. But the night page probably resonates the most with me. Apart from just being beautiful, is shows Potoroo looking up and into his world, expectant, curious and hopeful. It’s perfect and how I’d like my readers to feel as they experience this story.
How have you shown hope in this story?
Hope is a tricky thing to hold, and picture books allow even less space to explain it than other forms of story. I wanted to show children that there can be hope when faced by devastation, and that hope can be found in different places and in different ways that what we might expect. I also wanted to demonstrate the impact that we can have when we work together to solve problems. I did this by inviting the reader into Potoroo’s story and taking them through times of despair into situations of change, from being surrounded by death to being given a chance at life.
You publish books under two names: Penny Jaye and Penny Reeve. When do you use each name?
I write a wide range of books, from picture books to YA, and tailor these to a couple of different markets. My Penny Reeve books explore my faith in an open manner. They suit niche market readers interested in a Christian world view and content related to the Bible. My Penny Jaye titles, on the other hand, are more suited to a general readership and can be found in most bookstores and libraries. I also write for the general market as Ella Shine, a pen name I share with Cecily Anne Paterson for series fiction aimed at 6-9 year olds.
Your excellent YA novel, Out of the Cages won the YA category of the 2019 Caleb Awards. Could you please tell us about this book, and also the award?
The CALEB Awards are annual awards for faith inspired writing. They recognise and celebrate excellence in Christians writing across a wide variety of genres including fiction, children’s books and young adult. Books entered can include faith content, but do not need to.
My YA novel, Out of the Cages, is a general market title. It’s the story of two young Nepali girls who are trafficked and sold into the brothels of Mumbai and about the one that escapes. The story was researched during my time living in Nepal in the early 2000s and has been recommended by Melinda Tankard Reist and Patricia Weerakoon.
Could you tell us about any other books you have written?
I’ve written more than 20 books for children and young people so far. Another picture book written as Penny Jaye was The Other Brother (illustrated by Heidi Cooper Smith), it’s the story about the arrival of a new fostered or adopted brother into an existing family of five and is currently on the Premiers Reading Challenge.
The Pet Sitter stories are a series of junior fiction chapter books for 6-9 year olds. I collaborated with Cecily Anne Paterson to write these books as Ella Shine. They are a lot of fun: two best friends, a talking cat and a sprinkling of magic!
What are you working on now?
I always have a couple of projects on the go at different stages, but my focus work at the moment is completing the rewrite edits of a middle grade fantasy adventure set in the Australian bush.
Thanks for answering these questions about One Potoroo and your other work, Penny. One Potoroo deserves consideration as a children’s book award contender.