When the Waterhole Dries Up by Kaye Baillie, illustrated by Max Hamilton
Inside the CBCA Shortlist
Author & Illustrator Interview
When the Waterhole Dries Up by Kaye Baillie, illustrated by Max Hamilton (Windy Hollow Books) is a cumulative, riotous tale about a small dusty boy living in a dry outback place who is about to hop into the bath but is pre-empted by a cavalcade of Australian native animals and a couple of reptiles.
The view through the window in the top left-hand side of many of the pages cleverly enables readers to predict what might happen next.
When the bath seems to be full of animals, something else arrives and the pace escalates again …
Congratulations on your 2022 CBCA shortlisting in Book of the Year: Early Childhood, Kaye and Max, and thank you for speaking to Joy in Books at PaperbarkWords.
Thank you, Joy! It’s a pleasure to speak with you.
What relevance is there in where you live or your background to creating a book about drought and/or Australian animals?
Kaye: I grew up on an orchard in the Goulburn Valley. Our water supply consisted of a rainwater tank, a dam and irrigation channels. The closest swimming pool was twenty kilometres away so swimming in channels amongst leeches and yabbies was completely normal. Whilst I didn’t consciously set out to write a story based on childhood experiences, those memories and experiences are always just below the surface. So, it felt quite natural when I had an idea a few years ago to write a story set in the outback. I’m very comfortable in isolated places and as I like humour and quirky animals, I wanted to write about a dusty boy who is eager to take a bath, but he gets interrupted by one animal after another as they look for a place to cool off.
Max: I love creating artworks of Australian Animals and aim to raise awareness about protecting Australian Fauna through my art so Cristina at Windy Hollow thought I would be a good illustrator for Kaye’s story.
Have you set this story in a real, specific place, even in your mind, (if so, where) or is it more generic/universal?
Kaye: While the story is not set in a specific place, in my mind it is a combination of the dry, dusty towns that I visited in central Australia and the houses in tiny towns that I pass on general travels.
Max: When illustrating Kaye’s text for “When the Waterhole Dries Up” I really wanted to create a complete world for the reader and illustrating this particular book was a lot like creating a little movie through the visual narrative.
I set the scene of an outback landscape in drought with the cover illustration and the dry, cracked earth illustration created for the end papers.
As the story commences the dusty boy can be seen getting ready for his bath through the window of his home linking the outback setting to the antics that will take place inside his bathroom. We are soon welcomed into the bathroom as he runs his bubble bath and gets undressed, ready to jump in. Visual clues to the unfolding story are included such as glimpses through the window of storm clouds rolling in and sneak peeks of the upcoming animals hoping to invade the boy’s bath.
What is the significance of the title, When the Waterhole Dries Up?
Kaye: In my earliest draft of the story, all the action stems from the local waterhole being dried up and imagining what the native animals might do to find water. So the title is literally a prompt or question about what might happen if the waterhole dries up and what might the consequences be to those who rely on it. The word ‘waterhole’ sets the scene of an outback place.
In When the Waterhole Dries Up, what is the deeply satisfying relationship between the waterhole and the bath?
Kaye: Precious water. When there is no such thing as a town water supply, the drinking water comes from the rainwater collected in a tank from the roof and the bath water comes directly from the dam. A full waterhole means not having to ration the water for baths or missing them altogether. I think the act of submerging yourself in water is also one of relief, pleasure, and relaxation and while cleansing the skin, can also cleanse the mind of worries.
Kaye: Bubbles float, pop, and wobble. They are fun, pretty, playful, relatable, and a little magical. I also needed a ‘b’ word to associate with bath so ‘bubbly’ was perfect.
Max: Bubbles were mentioned within the story so I felt they must become a part of the illustrations such as the boy preparing his bubble bath, spilling his bubble bath liquid on the bathroom floor as a little child may do and then the animals can be seen making bubble beards, blowing bubbles and splashing about. These are relatable bath time activities that little children of the Early Childhood age bracket would be familiar with and recognise within the illustrations. They are also reminiscent of my own childhood as kangaroo makes bubble bath liquid bubbles with his hands as my own Dad did when we were little.
This book is perfect for young children and will also be enjoyed by those who read it to them. You have both brought a great deal of skill to this work. You haven’t foregrounded any adult characters (although a parent appears in the window near the end), only the dusty boy and the animals, which is quite unusual but works perfectly. What did you need to pare back or leave out in your words/illustrations so that the book works for the very young?
Kaye: I didn’t cut very much at all. In fact I added to the text once I decided on the structure. From the first idea to the published version, I imagined a very patient boy who allows the local animals to come into his house and use the bath. I love how the boy handles the situation all by himself. The animals are so funny and playful that the boy is never in danger.
Max: I chose to leave any parents out of the illustrations to help the reader decide whether the animals are invading the boy’s bath or are within his imagination. The absence of any adults also helps make the connection between the boy and the animals stronger. As mentioned previously the unfolding story can be seen through the bathroom window. Glimpses of the approaching animals can be seen, a wonderful suggestion by Cristina our editor at Windy Hollow, and I have also illustrated the storm clouds rolling into the landscape. I chose to leave out a lot of detail within the bathroom so the main focus remains with the animal antics and the various expressions of the outback boy.
How did you create humour in this story?
Kaye: I set up a scenario where friendly animals cause chaos in a bath. Straight away this feels funny. I gave the animals fun descriptions such as ‘clumsy croc’ to help create the atmosphere. The rest of it was up to Max who perfectly delivered all the facial expressions, the little moments like the spilled bottle of bubble bath, the antics of the animals, the mayhem set off by the dragon and the end scene where they are floating in the waterhole. The illustrations are so funny and an absolute joy.
Max: Subtle humour is injected into the beginning of the story with the little boy’s expressions as he enjoys the animals jumping into his bath.
Bathtime bubbly fun also adds some gentle humour suitable for the Early Childhood aged reader. Then as the story and pace escalates the humour does too with the animals splashing in the bath and then out of the bath, almost jumping out of the bath onto the reader’s lap.
The story can be taken at face-value as a fun, imaginative tale. However, what clue/s do you give to suggest that this may also be happening in the boy’s imagination?
Kaye: To be honest, I never thought of this as happening in the boy’s imagination. When I wrote it, I felt that everything was really happening in this special little world I had created.
Max: The animals do have some human qualities such as the crocodile clumsily dropping his bath toy, the kangaroo washing under his arms and at the very end a crocodile bath toy can be spotted on the floor amongst the boy’s dirty clothes.
How did you collaborate on the book? Did Kaye write the text and then Max illustrate it or was there interaction between you both?
Kaye: There were a few times when Max contacted me to clarify details such as what age the boy was meant to be, or which colour the quoll should be. But the illustrations were done completely separately to the writing of the story.
Max: Kaye wrote the text independently and submitted it to Cristina at Windy Hollow books who then asked me to illustrate it. Kaye had included some illustrator’s notes about the type of animals and the location the story is set in. Cristina and I then worked quite closely in the early stages of the book development, having a brain storming meeting where we bounced ideas off each other – such as discussing the inclusion of the bathroom window as a tool to illustrate the storm clouds and rain approaching which then ignited Cristina’s idea of including the glimpses of the approaching animals. It is very much a collaborative process with the Author, Illustrator and Editor which I love.
Kaye, why have you chosen these animals and reptiles?
Kaye: I did some research into which Australian animals might live in an arid environment and who were also diurnal. I didn’t want to use animals who only come out at night or would never be found in such a setting, such as the koala. I also chose animals according to their size for variation and whose names would match best with alliterative verbs and adjectives.
Kaye, your writing is exemplary and sophisticated in form here. It ranges from a wistful introduction to establish where the unnamed dusty boy lives and what he is waiting for; to the cumulative tale where each creature is described alliteratively, for example, “clumsy croc”, “rollicking roo”, “quivering quoll” … Not only that, but the verbs also fit the pattern, for example, the croc creeps and the quoll queues.
Then it changes into a House That Jack Built and There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly type tale when the thorny dragon spikes the dingo, “who chases the emu, who pecks the quoll, who trips on the roo, who hops on the croc …”; before ending in a satisfying conclusion that resolves the introductory scenario. Was this all in your mind before you began or did it evolve? Please explain.
Kaye: Thank you, Joy. In my first drafts I had fewer words per spread. So when I introduced each animal, the cumulation wasn’t repeated in the text but my art notes explained how to show this in the illustrations. I also used onomatopoeia in every spread which I later removed. One critique in 2018 recommended I keep the humour and the cumulative structure, get rid of the onomatopoeia, and consider structuring the story in a well-known style such as ‘The House That Jack Built’ so that the text builds upon itself. As soon as I considered using that story structure, it was like a lightbulb moment. I studied cumulative stories and saw how that style of text would suit what I was trying to achieve and would make the story much more satisfying to read. Including extra text also provided the opportunity to use alliteration which I then applied to the descriptions and actions to match the animals. My ending was always with rain filling the waterhole and everyone rushing off to the water, but I had included the animals returning to the house to help clean up the mess. I agreed with the critique that this should be removed and quickly realised that to finish with the bathing scene made the story much cleaner and tighter.
Max, how would you describe your style and what media and process did you use for the illustrations?
Max: I have used watercolour and coloured pencils to create the illustrations for this book. Watercolour was the perfect medium to illustrate the translucency of the bathwater, the animals submerged within the bathwater and all the splashing that follows. I used toothbrushes and straws to splash the paint onto the page. I think my style is quite traditional and hopefully conveys a gentle sense of fun and warmth.
Max, please tell us something about the simple yet highly effective facial expressions that you give both the boy and the animals.
Max: I spend way too much time pulling faces at myself in the mirror to help me illustrate various characters expressions. With this book I wanted to portray different types of personalities and character dynamics e.g. The boy is patient and understanding of the animals invading his bath, the Emu goes from being relaxed in the bath to quite frustrated just as a mum would be having her relaxing bubble bath interrupted, the kangaroo looks after the quoll as a parent or older sibling would do and the thorny devil is just a that – a mischievous little devil of a character.
Max, you have shown great technical skill and made great choices about which parts of the animals and other creatures to show, and where to place them in the bath. This is an absolute highlight of the book. Could you please give a couple of examples and explain what you’ve done?
Max: As well as being an illustrator I am also a Graphic Designer so design comes into play a lot when I am illustrating. I think about the negative space and area for text as much as I think about what’s going on within the illustrations. In terms of where the animals are placed within the bath in “Waterhole” I mainly considered things such as the gutter of the book and I wanted each character to have their moment as they enter the story – just as an actor would when walking onto stage in a play.
How do you present this book to children? Do you run workshops?
Kaye: I purchased a baby bath, soft toys to represent each animal, and some shredded blue paper to replicate water. Then at story times I ask someone to help me. As I read the story, the relevant animal appears before landing in the bathtub. It’s lots of fun and the kids love seeing the toys in action.
What impact has being shortlisted for the CBCA Book of the Year: Early Childhood award this year had on you or this book?
Kaye: Apart from the sheer joy, shock and pride I felt after receiving a shortlisting from the wonderful CBCA, I spent more time understanding the judging criteria, the dedication, skills and passion of the judges, the processes they follow and the decisions they must make, the broadness of the talent that exists in the Australian children’s literature community, and how because the CBCA is such a highly respected and trusted organisation, that their work provides an invaluable service to anyone interested in children’s literature. For our book to be recognised in this way will no doubt provide it with a broader audience and a longer life which I feel so grateful for.
Max: It is wonderful to receive recognition from peers and the CBCA Judges and in time we hope being shortlisted in the CBCA Awards will impact the amount of books sold. Illustrating children’s books has been a lifelong dream of mine and each book takes me approximately to 6 months to illustrate so being shortlisted is very rewarding.
Could you both tell us about some of your other books or work?
Kaye: My books are varied and range from educational books which are sold in Australia and overseas through Cengage Learning and still in print after twenty years, to heart-warming picture books such as ‘Boo Loves Books’ illustrated by Tracie Grimwood and published by New Frontier Publishing which is fiction and won the Speech Pathology Book Award in 2021, to ‘The Friendly Games’ illustrated by Fiona Burrows and published by MidnightSun, which is about a boy and his famous letter written during the 1956 Melbourne Olympics. It is non-fiction and was shortlisted in the NSW Premier’s History Awards in 2021. My chapter book, ‘Archie Appleby and the Terrible Case of the Creeps’ illustrated by Krista Brennan and published by Wombat Books is spooky fun for lower primary readers and in 2017 was my first trade book. I also love writing short stories which often appear in The School Magazine.
Max: “When the Waterhole Dries Up” is my second book I’ve illustrated for Windy Hollow books. My first book “My Possum Plays the Drums”, written by Catherine Meatheringham, was shortlisted for the 2020 Speech Pathology Awards. “Waterhole” was on the 2021 list.
I have two books on the way soon – “Tasmanian Devil” a nature storybook written by Claire Saxby, published by Walker Books, is due for release 1st June and “Where the Lyrebird Lives” by Vikki Conley, published by Windy Hollow Books, is due for release July 1st.
What are you writing or working on now?
Kaye: I am currently promoting my newly released fiction picture book, ‘Great Big Softie’ illustrated by Shane McGowan and published by New Frontier Publishing which is about a soft-hearted monster and the choices he makes. And I’m looking forward to launching two more books later this year. One is a biographical non-fiction STEM picture book, ‘Railroad Engineer, Olive Dennis’ illustrated by Tanja Stephani and published by The Innovation Press in the USA. The other 2022 release will be ‘There Was a Young Zombie Who Swallowed a Worm’ illustrated by Diane Ewen and published by MacMillan Children’s UK. I have four more books currently being illustrated which I’m very excited about and am looking for another story idea to whisk me away.
Max: I am currently illustrating a Nature Storybook for Walker Books, written by Megan Daley, and another lovely story for Windy Hollow Books written by Catherine Meatheringham, who wrote “My Possum Plays the Drums”, my first book.
I also have some stories of my own that I am slowly working away on between illustrating other people’s texts.
What have you been reading that you would like to recommend?
Kaye: I’m currently reading Renee Treml’s third graphic novel in her series, ‘Sherlock Bones’, and have just finished reading ‘Home’ by Carson Ellis.
Max: I have been reading “The Echidna Near My Place” by Sue Whiting and Cate James and “Town is by the Sea” by Joanne Schwartz and Sydney Smith.
How can your readers contact you?
Kaye: My new website link below is best and it provides social media links.
Max: Instagram @mhdesignillustration