MEET AURA PARKER – AUTHOR + ILLUSTRATOR

Aura Parker’s illustrations and writing always bring joy and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed following her journey into the children’s lit space since ‘Twig’ – full review here. There is a soft, playful and lovely flow to all of her illustrations and the detail is just mesmerizing! Aura’s work inspires curiosity about nature and a connection to the world around us. We take time out of Aura’s busy schedule to talk about her new book ‘Meerkat Christmas’ and the inspiration and love for the animal kingdom in her work and why she wishes for more courage in the world.

Questions and answers: all things about stick insects!

My children and I enjoyed your first book ‘Twig’ (2016) so much that my youngest daughter mounted a campaign for her own stick insects, so you are responsible for the stick insects that now live with me! What was it that made you think, ‘stick insects would make an awesome book character?’

Say oh! First of all, I would like to publicly apologize to you, Megan, and all the other parents who have committed to petting stick insects, ALL for me and for TWIG. I should also apologize to all the librarians who invited me to speak, only to end up with loose stick insects in the library! Yes, they CAN fly and trust me, they DO! However, I have had a lot of fun with them. LET’S GO CHICKPEAS! I LOVE THAT YOU HAVE STICK INSECTS FOR PETS!! They will surely be blessed with a large number of eggs and will live for many, many generations! (Sorry again, Megan!)

Photo: The Little Family Picture Co.

Twig was my first picture book as a writer and illustrator and the character, Heidi, is still very close to my heart. A stick insect that doesn’t understand the power of her amazing camouflage is a great metaphor for longing for connection and feeling invisible. I think the story strikes a chord, as we all have to deal with being the new person at some point in our lives. Heidi is tentative, she has to get out of her comfort zone (the twigs) in order to make friends. Looking at the expressions of the children when I am reading; ‘One two Three. One two Three. Why is no one playing with me? I see them wide-eyed, holding their breath, relating to Heidi feeling dispirited, with her slumped posture and the lonely blank space around her. I was shy growing up and always felt safer staying in the background and the story is quite personal to me. I also wrote it at a time in my life when my kids were very young and we would go on little adventures in the bush near our house looking at nature up close, so that’s also woven together.

Since ‘Twig’ I have avidly followed his bookish journey and realized that his books span the animal kingdom. You obviously have a natural curiosity and love of animals. What do they have that makes them good book characters?

I take endless inspiration from nature, but I think of my anthropomorphized characters as children, particularly the meerkat cubs, they roll around and play like little children and can occasionally be seen in outfits. My fireflies are also little children who are too tired to turn off the lights.

Can you tell us about your latest book, ‘Meerkat Christmas’?

Well, someone might have a bit of a meerkat obsession. HOW CUTE ARE THEY? Really! (Don’t worry Megan, you can’t keep them as pets, so I think you’re pretty safe this time!) 2019’s Meerkat Splash was my first book about meerkats, which is a bath time rhyming book, so following that story. the meerkats are back for meerkat christmas. It’s a counting book and they play climbing, but who makes them collide? It is a cheerful and Christmas cuteness! My meerkat books are all about colors and fun with just enough alliteration, rhyme, and repetition to make them catchy, but without driving you crazy reading over and over again. Designed to be read aloud, with carefully selected words to give children an uplifting reading experience to help make future readers and learners by equipping them with the language to explore the world when the time comes for it to open up.

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I remember that I was very small, curled up and fascinated by a voice that read just for me. Storytime is a time to be captivated by the sweet sounds of language and the sheer joy that the suspense of a good story can bring. My books present imaginary worlds based on familiar early childhood experiences, such as bath time, bedtime, and playtime, adding just the right amount of drama and rhythm for a little one, without disparaging them. I want the child to feel attracted to the book, not outside, because when the text and the image are of quality and cadence, they enchant you and leave you wanting more.

You produce awesome downloadable creative activities for many of your books, is art and play something you think goes hand in hand with reading your books? (You can find Aura activities here https://www.illustrated.com.au/activities)

Absolutely. Thanks, yes, I want the stories to be memorable and inspire imagination and creative play. My stories have led to some great craft, especially Twig! Kids all over the world have made Twiggy creations and it’s a joy to watch. I also have some lovely Meerkat Christmas craft ideas. There is so much you can do to extend the books.

In addition to children finding joy through your books, what subtle messages do you hope your books convey?

A love of nature and looking closely at things. The Silly Seabed Song is a feast of color inspired by the beauty of our fragile natural world, the Great Barrier Reef drawn through the filter of my imagination and illustration style. I also hope that the stories foster respect for our environment and celebrate our remaining, endangered biodiversity, and encourage children to investigate and appreciate the natural world.

I hope they inspire a love of language, designed to be read aloud, they are an ode to the joy of the spoken word. I want them to be a beat-and-beat lullaby, augmented with sweet illustrations and gentle humor. I’ve always thought you could sing to my books! They also encourage imagination, so books are food for curious minds!

Turning now to practical questions (!), what is a typical day like for you as an author/illustrator?

Well, my days can be varied. I spend a lot of time working alone in silence, writing and drawing (actually, I do a lot of administrative work when I want to write and draw), and the other part of the time I give presentations in front of hundreds of children! So my typical days are full of contrasts. I have a strong drive, and always have, a yearning and longing for solitude and space to write and do things, and I am amazed at how oddly motivated I can be! I am always trying to do everything so that I can get to the magical place where there is time to work on the exciting new idea, but I have to climb the mountain of daily tasks and sometimes I feel like I will never get there. I do have some super nerdy habits that work for me though. Every morning I sit down with myself and write a list of things I want to accomplish for the day, whether it be responses to some editorial suggestions, comments on a cover design, some rough drafts, or a final piece of art I’m working on. that must be completed in order for me to meet my deadlines. I draw little squares on my lists and I really enjoy marking them off, it’s so super nerdy and satisfying! So every day there is a new list and if I don’t finish something, it continues the next day. My second habit that serves me well is, I always go out for a great walk (my Border Collie partner Mojo makes sure this happens). Walking is great for figuring out something I’m working on, and I’ll often stop and jot down notes on my phone when I’m working on a new story, not to mention it helps me sleep better. The final habit is that I have an hourglass that lasts exactly one hour, which is probably why it’s called an hourglass, funnily enough! I try to turn it on when I need to focus on art or words without interruption, and (try to) hide my phone and email for the entire hour. I can do a lot in an hour without interruptions. Evenings are often full of kids needing this and that and me waiting for dinner to magically cook itself, and sometimes it does because my family is wonderful! I often go back downstairs and work a bit at night, but I love it.

Can you describe your workspace for us?

My work space is in the basement, and it has somehow acquired the nickname of Cheese Cave. I have a good mix of digital and traditional art supplies, working with watercolors, colored pencils, pens, and Wacom with Photoshop. I listen to music, except when I’m writing, I need silence.

Aura and Mojo!

Any advice for young readers and writers?

I say, go ahead! Value the time you have, use it to draw, to read and gobble up as many books as you can. Be kind to yourself! My artistic pursuits began in childhood, and I don’t think I would be doing this today if I hadn’t drawn constantly as a child and was encouraged by my mother. I think a lot of kids stop drawing just because they think they’re not good enough when they really are! Trust me, you ARE good enough. It is a true art to stay in the playing field and not psych yourself up by comparing yourself to others, as we can be our own worst critics.

If you could have one wish for the world, what would it be?

Oh, so I can be a magical fairy and wish for world peace? That would be great, as would magically fix the climate and global poverty, but since the problems are so daunting and complicated…

What I wish for is ‘courage’. Yes, courage to everyone, as we have all the science, all the compassion and good hearts, but it takes courage to take action and get out of your comfort zone and really make a difference. Courage to pursue what you want, to speak up, to discover, to learn, to ask questions, to try all things, to persevere, to fail gracefully, and to succeed humbly. God, so much to do! But courage is essential to at least begin to try to solve all the overwhelming and complicated problems.

I know I already ordered a few things, but I would also grant the power of invisibility and have dinner magically cooked for everyone! TADA!

What’s next for Aura Parker? Can you tell us about your next project?

Yes, I can share that my next book is called Bowerbird Blues and it’s coming out in 2023 and I’m excited for this one. It is a project very dear to my heart and it has taken me years to carry it out. It’s about longing and it has environmental themes and of course my favorite color is blue! I can’t wait for all of you to read it and see what you think.

With this project I have been working with a mentor, the extremely talented and accomplished Bruce Whatley. I sought criticism from him when I was working on my final art for Bowerbird Blues as I wanted to focus on illustration art and he was able to give me some advice and pointers. It was great to have an experienced eye on him as he developed the art. He started out as a hand-painted watercolor and I’ve also worked on it digitally. We talk about textures, brushes, illustration style and pro tips as he of course understands the whole creative process and is extremely generous. Thanks Bruce!

Thanks for having me on the blog and supporting my stories. May stick insects live long and prosper! Merry Christmas from me and the Meerkats!

More information about Aura Parker and her work can be found here https://www.illustrated.com.au/

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