Iceberg by Claire Saxby, illustrated by Jess Racklyeft

Iceberg by Claire Saxby, illustrated by Jess Racklyeft

Inside the CBCA Shortlist

Author & Illustrator Interview

Inside the 2022 CBCA Shortlist

Inside the 2022 CBCA Notable Books

“In the pale morning an iceberg calves – shears from a glacier and plunges to the ocean in a haze of sparkle-frost. The iceberg is flat-topped, sharp and angular and carries ancient weather in its layers of ice-clothing, a coat for each year volcanoes blew and black ash fell like snow.” (Iceberg by Claire Saxby & Jess Racklyeft)

Claire and Jess, you both have incredible backlists of beautifully crafted books. Congratulations now on your lyrical, cyclic picture book, Iceberg (Allen & Unwin), being recognised as a Shortlisted Book in the 2022 CBCA Picture Book category and thank you both for speaking to Joy in Books at PaperbarkWords.

Where are you based and what is your background in writing/illustrating?

Claire Hello Joy. Thanks for having us. I’m Melbourne-based and I’ve been writing for children for 25 years or so. For some of that time I also I worked in community health as a podiatrist. What I loved about podiatry was the stories people shared. I now work part time in a children’s bookshop, putting books into the hands of young readers.

Jess I had almost a decade working in publishing sales – first at Lonely Planet then at The Five Mile Press. On the side I was always drawing and dreaming of working on the flip side – creating the books! When I left on maternity leave I decided it was a good time to give freelance work a good crack – and that year received my first book offer and my work opportunities grew as my kids grew older. I have now illustrated 30 books and in the past couple of years begun writing as well.

Claire, your title Iceberg is stark and powerful. Why have you chosen this title?

Some years ago I fell in love with the language of ice, the language of icebergs. I wrote a poem that was published in the wonderful School Magazine. More recently, I revisited the poem and knew I wanted to dive more deeply into the Antarctic. I wanted to understand why so many birds and ocean animals visited every summer. The Antarctic is viewed as a white and blue cold place and yes, it is, but there’s so much more. And what better ‘viewpoint’ than that of an iceberg, floating in the ocean currents? Icebergs are both stark and powerful. Also silent. Using the iceberg as a ‘character’ allowed me to move the action through the story. Like the iceberg, with most of its volume out of sight and underground, this title hints at the life of the Antarctic and its importance to life throughout our world, even if it’s not visible.

Jess, your cover has a commanding, eye-catching presence and perfectly captures the subject. It is stunning. Could you please briefly talk us through it, including why you have chosen this composition and shapes.

I had created several cover options (some attached!) and submitted them to the Allen and Unwin editorial, sales and marketing team for feedback. We all decided the stark focus on our lead character – the iceberg – was the winner! [see at top]

Draft cover by Jess Racklyeft
Draft cover by Jess Racklyeft
Draft cover by Jess Racklyeft

Claire, how would you describe your book concept and structure?

Iceberg is a lovesong to the wonder of the ocean, the wonder of nature and all the wonders of our world. I set out to share the wonder I felt, and hopefully to instil curiosity. I wanted this book to be as real as it could be, but also lyrical and a little magical.

Claire, your writing features complex ideas and imagery. Which of your poetic descriptions or single words are you particularly happy with, and why?

Oh, that’s tricky. Each of those words and descriptions is part of the whole and I wonder if they work as well if they are separated out. But I love the notion of ‘sparklefrost’, and the onomatopoeia of ‘…cracks unshackle …’.

Were there any sources that particularly helped with your research?

Claire The Australian Antarctic division had both information and images and was a wonderful resource. Photographers brought descriptions of movement to life eg the rafts of penguins exploding through ice holes.

Jess Along with Claire’s amazing research, I gathered lots of books about Antarctica – both for kids and adults – as well as watching documentaries on the amazing place. I even watched YouTube videos on different kinds of ice movement to try and reproduce the beauty of an iceberg calving, or pancake ice etc.

How did you collaborate on the book, particularly with regard to the pages that open out as four-page spreads, and where you decided to use these? (If there is a technical term for this form, what is it?)

Gatefold pages in Iceberg by Claire Saxby and Jess Racklyeft

Claire After the manuscript was accepted by Eva Mills at Allen & Unwin and Jess agreed to illustrate we had the most wonderful meeting at the Melbourne A&U offices and talked about all things possible. Much of it went over my head, talk about paper stock and the like, but we did talk about the possibility of the gatefold pages and it was so exciting when it was confirmed that they would be part of the book. Easy for me, but not so easy for Jess and the designers to work out how to make them fit. But they did!

Jess This was the idea of the publisher and very exciting for all of us! Because I was limited in how many animals I could use on each spread (I think we settled on a max of four!) this was my time to let loose and introduce the life in summer in full glory!

Jess, you use watercolour, acrylic painting, collage, pencil, ink and digital illustration in this book. Could you give an example (as a double-page from the book) to explain where and why you have used one or more of this media. From these pages, could you also explain how you use texture and show mood?

The biggest challenge for me was creating the delicate texture I saw in the images of icebergs – as Claire describes so beautifully in her text. Layers upon layers, and shades of blue and white. I ended up creating texture through hundreds of monoprints – rubbing paint on oven trays, then stripping it back with crunched up tissue paper, then taking prints. I scanned these into my computer and layered it over watercolours. I felt this process did a good job of showing the delicacy above and the translucency below the water.

Image from Iceberg by Claire Saxby and Jess Racklyeft

Jess, how do you create perspective and depth in these illustrations?

I decided to follow the sense of the seasons by moving the horizon for each spread. So in winter, where we start, the horizon line is very high – it slowly lowers, while the sun rises – for each spread. In addition our lead character iceberg moves from the left to the right of the spreads. These kinds of visual aids helped build a sense of perspective (not my strong suit!) and depth and hopefully conveyed the seasons with strength, moving from dark ice to bright blue skies and the life in the ocean in summer.

Image from Iceberg by Claire Saxby and Jess Racklyeft
Image from Iceberg by Claire Saxby and Jess Racklyeft

Claire, which of Jess’s illustrations in this book do you particularly like, and why?

I love all Jess’s art! But if pressed, the foldout four page spread blows me away every time I open the book.

Jess, I can imagine your double page that begins, ‘Seals cluster around holes …’ as a labyrinth puzzle for children where seals travel from where they are now situated on the page to larger holes! Do you have any plans to turn it into one of these?

Ha! I have never thought about it but love that idea.

Image from Iceberg by Claire Saxby and Jess Racklyeft

What do you hope readers most remember and take with them from this book?

Claire I want them to be gobsmacked by the splendours of the Antarctic world, and curious about every part of it. I want them to want to know more.

Jess Claire’s closing statement that I handwrote is the perfect summation of the message of the book for me. A sense of this delicate beauty that we all need to work to protect.

Page from Iceberg by Claire Saxby and Jess Racklyeft

What impact has Iceberg being recognised as a CBCA Shortlisted Picture Book of the Year had on you or this book?

Claire Jess and I were so excited to see Iceberg a Notable in both the Eve Pownall and the Picture Book category. It’s fabulous to be on the CBCA Picture Book Shortlist as it offers the opportunity to reach more readers, to encourage more curiosity and to introduce this unfamiliar world. If readers can wonder at this world, then they will be able to understand the importance of protecting it.

Jess I was thrilled to see Iceberg long listed in this category and the Non Fiction category. But to have the shortlisting in the Picture Book category is a dream come true – to me it’s the category that really celebrates the power of author and illustrator to create such a unique art form. After ten years of hard work, I feel honoured to receive my first shortlisting in this very special way.

You have another collaboration on the way, Whisper on the Wind. Could you tell us a little about this book? Did your collaboration on Iceberg ease your process? How did it change?

Claire Whisper on the Wind was released early in 2022. It is the story of a child’s dream and the wonderful ways this dream is delivered. It feels like a lullaby to me. Again, Jess’s art is beautiful and wonder-filled, like all the best dreams. It was fabulous to work with Jess again, to know and trust that she would see the spaces in my text and know just what to do with them to make our book sing.

Jess Whisper is now out! It is a very different story – but just as beautiful (Claire is one amazing talent). I found the art harder, set at night in the ocean is rather tricky! It was also a difficult time in my life as we were homeschooling our 5 year old and 8 year old in lockdown in Melbourne. However, like in the book the sun began shining towards the end – I think this book will always remind me of this hard time but the power of love that keeps everyone afloat.

Claire and Jess, you are welcome to answer any of the following:

What are some of your other books?

Claire This year has been a busy year for books for me. My middle grade historical novel, The Wearing of the Green was released early this year, around the same time as Whisper on the Wind, and Tasmanian Devil, a Nature Storybook illustrated by Max Hamilton, was released in June.

Jess Recent books include Big World, Tiny World: Forest and an upcoming addition – Reef that I have also written. Next year I am also releasing a new book with Allen and Unwin called Big Cat. And Claire and I are brewing up some new ideas together! [Joy – that sounds exciting!]

Which award has meant a lot to you?

Jess This one! They all do – but this really has encouraged me and feels like a wonderful moment to stop for a moment and celebrate.

What are you writing, illustrating or working on now or next?

Claire I have a few projects in various stages of development and Jess and I are hoping we will be able to work together again soon.

What have you been reading that you would like to recommend?

Claire I read so much that I have started to keep a visual diary of what I’ve read. There are so many great books being released, it is impossible to single out any one title. Read for pleasure. Read for information. Read anything. Read everything that takes your fancy.

Jess I recently bought a book called “Picturebook Makers” that talks through some of the leading illustrator’s processes for different books and is also a stunning book just of their art.

How can your readers contact you?

Claire I can be contacted by my website at

Jess I am mainly on instagram under @jessesmess

Thank you for your truly wonderful and generous responses, Claire and Jess. I can see why the two have you have produced such a fine book – you work together so well and a both a pleasure to liaise with. All the very best with this ‘art book’ in words and pictures. It forms a story that is informative, powerful and beautiful.

Iceberg at Allen & Unwin

Claire Saxby’s website

Jess Racklyeft’s website

Jess Racklyeft’s article about Big World, Tiny Forest at PaperbarkWords

CBCA Shortlisted Books 2022

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