Picture books are often born out of a whirl of memory, observation and deeply felt emotion. ‘Hello World’ is no different. It arose out of the recollections of my own time as a parent of three boys and the rhythms we grew into when they were little, alongside my own careful observations of other babies and toddlers across the years.
I can remember one such moment so clearly. I was waiting in the car just before school pick-up and I was watching a grandmother walk down the street with her grandson, clutching on tight to his chubby hand. She was lunging forwards, intent on getting to the school gate before the bell rang, while he was lunging backwards, stopping to greet every dandelion along the way like a long-lost friend. I was struck by the exultant way that little boy welcomed each flower, undone by their sunshiny brilliance, even as his grandmother brushed on past them, her mind firmly planted elsewhere. I was so moved by that little boy’s joy, his astonishing capacity to live so completely in the present, his five senses electrically attuned to wonder.
Over the years, I’ve been both encouraged and challenged by that very same quality in my own boys too. The way they were so delighted by ordinary things, whether slipping on a pair of stripy shorts in the morning, or seeing a lizard on the footpath at playgroup, or taking turns on the swing in a park, to scrunching up their carrots at dinner or watching the moon rise, just before bed.
So it was with some trepidation that I set about writing a text that attempted to capture the energy and the voice of a wonderstruck toddler, and all the moment-by-moment joy to be found in the rhythms of an ordinary day, from the first ray of sunshine in the early morning, to the first pearly smudge of moonlight in the evening.
All picture books are extremely difficult to write but books for babies and toddlers are especially so. These books tend to be inevitably short and poetic. They often celebrate the present, describing or capturing a moment or an experience—almost everything that happens in the life of a baby or a toddler. These books often play a huge role in cementing a deep and warm connection between adult and child. And of course, they play a foundational role in building literacy. So, while there is a real impetus to keep the text tight and economic, there’s also a contrasting spur to ensure that the language is rhythmic and delicious, tasty in the mouth, fit to be read aloud over and over again.
By the time I finished an early draft of ‘Hello World,’ it was a mere one hundred and forty-four words. I tweaked that text for months and months, before eventually showing it to my good friend, the author-illustrator Emma Quay, who is such a consummate writer for babies and toddlers. She gave me some excellent feedback and I went away and tweaked it some more. And again. And again. And again. This went on for some years, tweaking a word here, a phrase there, then leaving it to rest, until finally one day, I felt it was ready and I sent it off to my agent, who sent it off to Harpercollins, where it was accepted within days of being received.
The writing of a good text is only the smallest part of the overall success of a picture book though, especially for babies and toddlers. It’s the illustrations that are the shiny star of the show. When my publisher Chren Byng suggested the brilliant illustrator Leila Rudge for the text, I was super-thrilled. We had worked together on ‘The Whole Caboodle’ and it had been such a wonderful experience and so you can imagine my delight when Leila said a wholehearted ‘yes’ to the text!
It has been such a thrill to see the book come to life through Leila’s stunning illustrations. I love our perky little sunshine girl with her barely-there pigtails and her tattered well-loved catty. I love the warm connection within her family, those darling brothers and her parents, all the close-up minutia of a messy real home. While the text lingers on the daily moments, the illustrations carry the momentum of the whole story, the glorious life of this one small toddler.
I also adore the patterns and textures that are scattered throughout the book, that invite a little reader to reach out and pat the pages, the stars and stripes and checks, all the flowers and the polka dots too. And being an endpaper aficionado, I can’t help but be overjoyed by the way the endpapers so cleverly connect the whole story.
One of my favourite illustrations from the book is on the very last page. When I first wrote the text, I imagined an intimate last scene for our sunshine girl curled up tight in her cot, with the last line, 'See you soon' rounding off a soft quiet moment. But Leila could clearly see something even better and she flipped that last line over an extra page, so that the very last scene in the book now is of our character in her parent’s bed. There they are, sleeping together, the little girl stretched out like a small starfish, her dad covered by just the tiniest snick of blanket and her mum protecting herself from any free-ranging karate kicks. And suddenly, that very last page is just so joyful and laugh-out-loud funny! It's such an immense privilege to collaborate with an illustrator who sees the world in such a deliciously playful way, and who can finish a story with such a creative burst of warmth and earthy realness.
As a parent, one of the things I’ve learnt is that when your kids are little, life is so just so busy that it can be a challenge to savour the small ordinary moments, to see their beauty and true significance. One of the things I’m hoping with ‘Hello World’ is that this book might offer a lovely window for toddlers and their big people to gather up close, to linger together on all the little things that matter the most in a single day; waking up, playing, adventure, discovery, fun, feasting, creativity, community, kisses, hugs, cloud watching, stories on knees, moongazing, comfort in the dark, love and delight, and wonder and joy.