Book of Curious Birds by Jennifer Cossins
Inside the CBCA Shortlist
Interview extract by Joy in Books at PaperbarkWords blog (adapted from an interview in Magpies magazine) & how to use the book with children.
I interviewed Jennifer Cossins while she was creating Book of Curious Birds (Hachette), which features some of the strangest birds from around the world. It is now shortlisted for the 2022 CBCA Eve Pownall Information Book award. Below are some extracts from our prior interview that may be of interest, followed by a few teaching ideas as people prepare to use this book in Book Week.
Jennifer, you were born and still live in Tasmania. What is so distinctive and special about Tasmania for you?
Tasmania’s wilderness is the biggest reason why I still live here. There is a wildness and freedom to living on an island with so much nature (and of course unique animals to draw!) – I love that both the mountains and the beach are close by almost wherever you go in Tasmania. Yet Tasmania is also big enough to have a great community of creative people and to provide endless inspiration for my work.
Could you tell us about your path to publication and where this had led?
Writing and illustrating a book like this is an interesting experience, with hours upon hours, days upon days, of being hunched over my drawing pad and researching animals. Although it can feel quite isolating at times, there’s always a whole bunch of people around the edges that makes something like this a reality.
I self-published my first 4 books, which then went on to be published by Hachette. Self-publishing was a great experience and led me to learning about all aspects of book production, which really helped, I think. Now I have a publisher though, I have far more opportunities and great people to work alongside. It also allows me to focus on doing what I do best and not have to worry so much about the business side of book production.
Your books show your great love for, and knowledge of, the animal kingdom. How do you decide which animals to feature in your books and what is your research process?
I spend a lot of time on google looking up animals, often randomly, such as searching for lists of animals beginning with Q or endangered sea creatures, for example. I have massive Pinterest boards where I collect animals I think I’d like to draw one day, so when I’m looking for something, I can go back to these lists and see what I’ve saved. I have a great collection of animal books too, so flicking through the pages is always inspiring. I choose animals primarily based on what species they are (I like to get a good range of different types on animals in every book), followed by how they look, again to get good variety in the illustrations as much as possible.
You write and illustrate your own books. Do you write or illustrate first – or is your process simultaneous? Which is easier for you (writing or illustrating) and which do you have to refine and work on more?
I generally draw first, as it’s easier for me to draw. The writing is the hardest part for me, even though it takes far less time.
How would you describe your illustrative style?
I like to draw realistically with bold, distinct lines and colours. I love that the bright bold colours really stand out once the book is printed.
What method, media and tools do you use?
I draw digitally on a Wacom tablet with a digital pen in photoshop or on an iPad in Procreate.
How you decide how much of the page to fill with illustration (and words) and where to place your animals and other creatures?
It’s hard to describe actually! I’m a very visual person so I generally play around until it looks and feels right.
What is the role of white space in your work and when and why do you use landscapes or other backgrounds as an alternative?
I almost always use white backgrounds because it makes the animals pop out from the page. Also, when there’s so much going on in each page, like there is in most of my books (especially the last two), I like a white background as it keeps the focus on the animals.
I do sometimes use a partial background, like in the A-Z books, for example drawing the branches birds are sitting in or the ground under an animal. When there’s only one type of animal on a page, there’s more opportunity to add details as the focus is all on one animal.
What do you hope children and their families learn or remember from your books?
My aim with my books is to inspire curiosity, a sense of wonder and a love of animals, especially with regards to protecting them.
Using the book with children:
Curious facts about curious birds Each child selects the birds that they find are the most curious and explain to others in pairs or small groups why these birds are particularly curious.
Australian birds Children make a visual table, by sketching these birds, of the Australian birds in this book.
Feathers, beaks, eyes and feet In her introduction, Jennifer Cossins highlights attributes such as colourful feathers, peculiar beaks, beady eyes and funny-coloured feet. Children classify birds from the book that fit into each of these categories. They may be then able to find some that fit these categories from other sources.
Dangerous, clever, fast, awkward, silly, massive and tiny birds The author-illustrator also mentions in her introduction that she has included birds that are dangerous, clever, fast, awkward, silly, massive and tiny. Children find these in the books and classify into these categories. As in ‘Feathers, Beaks, Eyes and Feet’ above, they could then find other birds that fit these categories from other sources.
Curious birds Jennifer Cossins uses the word ‘curious’ in the title. Children list other words that could have been used instead of ‘curious’.
Jennifer’s other books include A-Z of Australian Animals, The Ultimate Animal Alphabet Book, The Ultimate Animal Counting Book and 101 Collective Nouns. Children browse these books and select one to focus on. They then find the most amazing creature in that book.