Ursula and Tohby together!

Laureate Ursula promotes access to books via library cards!

What a privilege to attend a dinner with Ursula Dubosarsky and Tohby Riddle as guest speakers! What a wonderful way to celebrate nearing the end of a difficult year – dinner at the Farm, Katoomba, with CBCA lovers of children’s literature.

Aside from the amazing location and dinner, we heard from Ursula regarding her role as Australian Children’s Laureate, her long-term association with Tohby Riddle (from early days at The School Magazine) and the things which inspired her to write her latest book, ‘Pierre’s Not There’. Tohby then spoke about ‘Yahoo Creek’ (which was shortlisted this year in the CBCA awards), as well as his recent collaboration with Ursula on ‘the March of the Ants’ (due for publication in MARCH 2021!)

While speaking about her laureate role, Ursula emphasised it was an honour, and a job/role to be accomplished – not just an award for past work, but a challenge to inspire and encourage Australian children as readers and writers. With her many engagements as Children’s Laureate, past and present, she (and her magpie company) will undoubtedly continue to inspire many young readers and the professionals who promote children’s literature.

Tohby also spoke warmly of their past work together at the School Magazine (in publication since 1916, and still going – with subscriptions available!!), and he then introduced some of his latest books. This included ‘Yahoo Creek’ and the upcoming ‘the March of the Ants’.

Providing insights into the work of an author/illustrator, Tohby pointed to the endpapers of ‘Yahoo Creek’ (which are clips of Trove-sourced newspapers) as well as how these articles provided the language for ‘Yahoo Creek’. What an amazing use of historical newspaper records to create an imaginative tale for Australia’s youth!

When it came to illustrating Ursula’s story ‘the March of the Ants’, Tohby identified the ‘monastic’ dedication required to illustrate the multitudes of ants in the story (for an exacting audience who would not accept an illustrator sliding off in his drawing) – all to enable the true telling of the tale. Their past collaborations must have spurred him on in those challenging times!

Finally, Ursula spoke about her inspiration for ‘Pierre’s Not There’ – visiting the Palace of Versailles – almost under protest – at the least, disinterested – then sidetracked by a French puppet theatre nearby. Her puppet theatre visit, subsequent emotions and thoughts about this exploration inspired the events portrayed in ‘Pierre’s Not There’. And her haunting recollections ‘illuminate’ her feelings where this tale began. It’s always interesting to get into the mind of an author and hear where ideas come from…

Fans of both Ursula and Tohby should be looking forward to their new collaboration/publication in March – ‘the March of the Ants’. Here’s a link to the short story which has inspired the picture book. Can you picture how it might be pictured? Can you see it how Tohby may have illustrated it?

# Ursula is one of six Australian representatives recently nominated for the 2021 international Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award.