Florence & Fox by Zanni Louise, illustrated by Anna Pignataro
Author & Illustrator Interview
Congratulations on your picture book Florence & Fox (Walker Books Australia) being recognised as a Notable Book in the 2022 CBCA Early Childhood category, Zanni and Anna.
Thank you both for speaking to Joy in Books at PaperbarkWords.
Where are you based and what is your background in writing/illustrating?
Zanni I am based in Northern NSW, between Lismore and Ballina. I’ve told stories all my life but only began writing for children after my kids were born about twelve years ago. My first book (illustrated by Anna) is called Too Busy Sleeping and came out in 2015.
Anna I am based in Melbourne near the bay. I have been illustrating and writing children’s books for over twenty years. My first picture book won the Crichton Award for Children’s Book Illustration. [CBCA new illustrator award]
Zanni, you are the wonderful instigator of the Lismore Flood Recovery Auction. You must be exhausted! What is the current status?
Zanni The auction has been wonderful. And author, Maggie Hutchings, has been a wonderful support through it all, taking on a lot of the work load. We have well over 200 wonderful items and have raised closed to $50,000 for Lismore flood recovery at the time of writing this.
In your picture book, Florence & Fox, your characters Florence and Fox are navigating the rules of Sharing Day. Could you please introduce Florence and Fox and their situation?
Zanni Florence and Fox began as a series of stories I wrote for my girls as an incentive for them to stay in their beds. The sound of my keyboard was a gentle reminder I was right outside their door, whipping up a fresh story for the morning. Then, the characters were two kids. The stories were often inspired by my life growing up in rural NSW and the silly adventures my brothers and I got up to.
How have you incorporated your own childhood, or other, experiences in this book?
Zanni Drawing loosely from my own life helped the stories flow thick and fast. My kids became very demanding, wanting more and more Florence and Fox stories! But I had a deep well of inspiration to draw from.
How did you collaborate on the book – generally and with details such as characterisation and setting?
Zanni Anna and I didn’t have much conversation during the making of the book, other than some back and forth with the publisher about what kind of characters Florence and Fox were (e.g. people or animals). I had written the stories set in an urban environment so was happy Anna created a similar world in her pictures. Anna intuitively tapped into my subconscious in lots of ways. Fox’s kitchen is just like my own in Alstonville, even though Anna’s never been there!
How have you kept your writing in Florence & Fox simple, yet engaging, enough for young children to enjoy?
Zanni I tend to write quite loosely and freely, as I feel that helps me tap into a natural voice. The feedback I have had is that Florence and Fox’s conversation is very genuine. I think that’s largely because I wrote the stories when my kids were about that age, so I was tapping into their voices and dialogue.
Which of Anna’s illustrations in this book do you particularly like, and why?
Zanni I love Fox’s kitchen scene best, partly because it’s just so beautifully rendered, and partly because it’s so like my home!
Anna, you have used pencil, coloured pencil, watercolour and collage in Florence & Fox. Could you give an example from the book to explain where and why you have used one or more of these media.
Anna Let’s look at one of Fox is sitting at the kitchen table and Florence is at the door. Each picture in the book has mixed media. This one is one of my favourites: I threw myself totally into old fashioned collage, where I do swatches and/or drawings, cut them out and stick them down, evident here in the hanging plant, car, basket and various objects on the table. Florence and Fox are drawn separately and cut out then pasted in, not unlike putting characters into a theatre set or backdrop. Both Florence and Fox are made with pencil, colour pencil and watercolour. This makes them really pop out of the pictures with very obvious collage marks and shadows which is how I wanted the illustration to look. Parts of this pic are purely colour pencil like the floor and table. I use very soft watercolour washes on the walls and outside the window because they are not the focal point. This picture especially, is vibrant with textures, quiet areas and strong compelling areas.
Overall the mixed media and style of the book gives it and the characters a nostalgic but contemporary feel with whimsy and childlike innocence.
I do everything by hand, I don’t use photoshop or Procreate.
Although I am dabbling in Procreate atm.
Anna, how have you used facial expressions and body language to bring Florence and Fox to life as the characters we now see?
Anna I like to exaggerate perspectives, attitudes and expressions. It isn’t difficult to lose an expression or create an expression in a character by putting just one line or dot somewhere. A lot of successful illustration is about what you leave out! Dramatic angles work too but subtle variations in the character’s relationship to each other should be evident in the drawings and that is how I have brought the relationship to life, it is built up, page by page, between characters. This might be a leaning of the head or a sideways glance. You can see the expressions of face and body are extremely important and powerful in this story. They add to the words of the story and in the conversation between Florence and Fox. Animal expressions are not dissimilar to human expressions in my picture books. I often look in the mirror at my own expressions to assimilate angles and feelings. I always find myself unconsciously making the same expression that I am drawing. It is hilarious!
How/why did you select the colours that you have used in the book?
Anna I really worked on a very specific colour palette and style for this book and for these characters. It needed to be completely different and so I developed a mix of different techniques from the classical to the contemporary. I wanted to go with soft, earthy greens and natural textures. I felt this special and unique picture book needed something nostalgic too. The coloured pencil really lends itself to these various tones and values. It allows for subtle differences and balance in colour. It echoes the variation of Florence and Fox’s feelings and their quite separate characters and mindsets. I have predominantly gone with green. A challenging but fresh and exciting colour.
I see colours as a “life long skill”. I am still learning and being challenged by colours, colour combination and their relationship to each other. I have my own secret recipes for them all.
What impact has Florence & Fox being recognised as a CBCA Notable Book of the Year: Early Childhood award this year had on you or this book?
Zanni This is a wonderful honour and I hope it means more children will have access to the book because of this. Anna and my first book together was also long listed, which was lovely.
Anna We love the book so I guess I feel proud for one. A Notable Book can give a book a new life. In any case Florence and Fox was always going to be out in paperback mid year.
Could you tell us about your picture book writing and illustration course?
Zanni Our course gently leads people through the entire process of writing and illustrating a picture book, from idea, through to character, story, artwork delivery and publication. Anna and I provide feedback throughout the course. It’s online, which gives people the flexibility to do the course in the comfort of home. Our intention is to support and inspire. Our students have created magnificent work through the process!
Anna I’ll speak to the illustration part of the course. Full of tutorial videos and content spaced out into six modules, one module a month. Each module explores and expands an illustration topic. Topics include blw, colour, materials, techniques, character development , creating worlds, storyboarding, composition, contrast, design skills, finished art.
The course is really jam packed with so much valuable information about everything to do with writing and illustrating children’s picture books, including amazing interviews with industry people, publishers, editors and relevant tips on how to be published. We give feedback each month, we zoom every month to discuss topics and progress and at the end of the six months students really have something substantial to show. Please read our testimonials. It’s a very “home grown” course, with a personal touch, contemporary and valid.
What are some of your other books, including your collaborative work with each other?
Zanni Our first book together is Too Busy Sleeping. We have another Florence and Fox book coming out in 2024. I also write the Human-Kind series, funny books like Errol, some junior fiction and more recently a middle grade with Walker which is coming out next year called Queenie in Seven Moves.
Anna I have created more than 80 picture books.
Some are my Agatha series that deal with specific emotions like jealousy, fear and self doubt.
Kit and Caboodle is a picture book about a witch and a bat who find friendship and companionship.
The Heart of A Whale, which won the international children’s book award, is a poetic story about a lonely whale who’s song eases the creatures in the ocean .
More recently my book Grandma Loves You is a celebration of Grandmas and a dedication to my mother.
Along with writing my own stories, I continue to be lucky enough to collaborate with many wonderful authors:
Including Robert Vescio, in Seal Child a story about displacement and hope and Susanne Gervay in Elephants Have Wings which emphasises peace and inclusion.
I worked with Zanni on her very first book Too Busy Sleeping, a wonderful story about a new baby sibling coming home, patience, curiosity and eagerness. Seen through the eyes of Eleanor, the big sister. We clicked instantly and have become very close friends. Soon we will be working together again on the second Florence and Fox story.
Which award has meant a lot to you?
Zanni I try not to get too preoccupied with awards, as it can really affect your creative output. Any acknowledgement is lovely, however.
Anna It is nice to be rewarded, appreciated and acknowledged for working hard to bring exciting and imaginative literature to children. I am not sure how I feel about awards though as so many incredible books are overlooked by many.
The Crichton Award [CBCA new illustrator award] means a lot to me because it was at the start of my career and really catapulted me into the children’s book world, a world that has afforded me a magical dream come true career and way of life. I will never forget how I felt, opening that letter, receiving the incredibly wonderful news that I had won. I cried and cried with joy. So did my family. It was truly amazing and life changing. It was always my greatest wish as a child to illustrate stories. In doing so it is my hope to encourage children to listen to their hearts, follow their dreams and believe that anything is possible.
What are you writing or working on now or next?
Zanni I’m writing a new middle grade novel, a junior fiction series and always have picture book ideas on the go.
Anna I am working on a book with author Margaret Hamilton which is the third in our series. It will come out in the US in 2023 at the same time as Australia. Published in Australia by Little Hare.
I am also creating a series of wellness books for toddlers, I am starting the conversation early about being still, being present, environmentally aware, kind, grateful and wild. These are lightly worded books with watercolour and coloured pencil pictures. The first two will hit shelves in November published by Windy Hollow Books.
I am really excited about a project I am starting mid year. A wonderfully fun and detailed rhyming story about two adorable koalas. More info to come on that one! I really love creating new characters and their worlds. This book will be reminiscent of my Princess and Fairy books which sold worldwide and are still close to my heart. I am also developing a little idea about a mushroom too. I love drawing and painting botanicals, especially mushrooms and toadstools and draw them every chance I get. They are the stuff of fancy and imagination and bring me right back to my childhood.
What have you been reading that you would like to recommend?
Zanni I read a lot of middle grade, mainly. I recently read Pony, by the author of Wonder, which was really excellent.
Anna I read lots of books at the same time.
I am reading the last in the four Neapolitan novels by Elena Ferrante, The Story of the Lost Child, it has a lot of European superstition in it and reminds me of growing up in an Italian family living with grandparents. It really resonates with me.
Also The Hidden Life Of Trees by Peter Wholleben, highly recommended for tree lovers like me.
And Patti Smith poetry. Because everyone needs more poetry in their lives!
How can your readers contact you?
Zanni Readers can reach me through my website www.zannilouise.com or Instagram @zannilouise
Anna Please go to my website www.annapignataro.com. I love to hear from my readers big and little!
Thank you for your enlightening and generous responses, Zanni and Anna, and all the very best with this book, your future work and getting through the flood aftermath.