March 13 - 19, 2016: Issue 255

 Louise Park


We had a wonderful morning this week speaking with children’s Author Louise Park who let us in on some great news – you can now speak to Harriet Clare and she will write back to you! Visit the to see!

Newport Author Louise Park has a background of over 25 years in education, beginning as a primary school teacher and spent the last two decades leading the training of teachers in guided reading, writing and literacy acquisition in children. Part of this was creating and developing successful reading resources to help children crack the reading code.

Her blockbuster bestsellers Zac Power and Boy vs Beast ignited such a love of reading in children that parents are writing to her on a daily basis to thank her.

‘I’m in love with the magic of seeing children crack the reading code and making them want to read more!’ Louise explains. ‘Years of helping children learn to read has made me critically aware of that perfect match between reader and text. If the book grabs them, engages them irrevocably, if its content gets them right where they’re at, if the readability is just right, if all those things come together in one package then a child cannot help but succeed.’

Louise has written over 250 books for children aged two to 12 and is an Ambassador for the Bright Futures are Written by Hand Campaign

Louise’s books dominated the top ten slots on the children’s charts in 2013 and held eight of the ten most coveted positions in publishing. She also holds position nine on the prestigious ‘10 best-selling books of all time in Australia’ (adults, children’s, fiction and nonfiction), finding herself in excellent company alongside the likes of Jamie Oliver, Jodi Picoult and Nora Roberts.

With total sales over 3 million, her books are delighting children the world over.

Her new Harriet Clare book series, where you can enter fun-filled world of Harriet Clare's Secret Notebooks—where you help Harriet solve all, are a beautiful and thoughtful progression from earlier works.

Harriet Clare Boys Beware, Harriet Clare Pinky Swear & Harriet Clare Concert Scare have recently been joined by the 4th book in the Harriet Clare series, Harriet Clare Camp Bugbear – and we thought it was high time we caught up with the lady who has created this great series. 

When and where were you born?

I was born in 1961 and grew up in Sydney’s inner west.

What did you do for fun as a child?

I have four older brothers and a sister who is 12 years older than me. She went to live in America when I was young. So, I basically grew up under four boisterous brothers. Our backyard had chickens, a rooster, fruit trees and a big veggie garden. My brothers and I would go through an old gate in our back fence into a park that was always overrun with knee-high grass. I would play there with my brothers; climb trees, hide, and play cowboys and Indians. Actually, we had a coal shed in our backyard and they used to pretend to tie me up and leave me in the coal shed so that they could rescue me! We used to play ‘knights of the Round Table’ and Ninjas, too! We also put on concerts for the neighbours and when we were done we’d send the hat around for a collection and that would be our pocket money for the week. It all sounds a bit nutty now but it was the 1960’s and that’s what we did! I was also an elastics fan, a high-jump fan and a Jacks fan! Oh, and I was the best yoyo-er in the street. I could walk the dog, rock the cradle—you name it, I could do it better than all the boys!

Did you read books?

I did read books. The Nancy Drew Mysteries was my absolute favourite for a long time so it should be no surprise that I write Zac Power books. I read the Nancy Drew books over and over and over along with Hans Christian Anderson’s fairy tales. I loved Scooby-Doo and watched it, as well as Get Smart, into my teens. Roald Dahl still is a big hit to me, even as an adult.

Did you go on adventures of your own?

I always went on adventures! You know that old gate that went through to the park?  For me, that gate never actually went to the park—It was a secret portal into all sorts of amazing worlds!

Where did you go to school?

I went to Bethlehem at Ashfield. Unbeknownst to me Geraldine Brooks went there too and she is one of my most loved adult authors. When I left there I attended Sydney University, did a couple of degrees, became a teacher and taught Primary School. I then began training teachers in Literacy. Literacy is a passion for me. Ensuring young people have all the skills they need begins when they are young. Making sure they do have this means they won’t be hindered by a lack of literacy in adult life.

How did that become being a writer of books for children?

When I was training teachers I was working for Scholastic part time. Scholastic is a big children’s publisher. I began working there full time and ended up becoming their General Manager and publisher of their Educational Division. Then I left and set up on my own. And I am having the time of my life! 

What were you trying to achieve through your characters?

Zac Power Test Drives and Boy Versus Beast are designed completely for those boys who are on devices a lot of the time and they’re just not that into reading. These kids are most at risk of slipping through the literacy net, and their literacy levels are plummeting. 
In Zac Power Test Drives I took highly captivating content and wrapped it up in an irresistible package for them! I set out to hook them. In Boy Versus Beast we literally hijacked the computer gaming world and took reading to these boys on their terms. Now, both series have massive followings, turning reluctant reading boys into readers. I get letters from parents saying things like their boy slept with his Boy vs Beast book under his pillow! Heaven! 

I should explain that I write under three pseudonyms; H. I. Larry (Zac Power Test Drives), Mac Park (Boy vs Beast) and Poppy Rose (Bella Dancerella). It’s funny, at times when I do talks in schools and public libraries the children can be quite surprised by all of my secret identities and they love hearing the back stories behind the names.

You have just recently published a new book in the Harriet Clare series – what’s this character like?

Harriet is a feisty, fun, happy, mischievous, loves-her- friends-kind-of-girl. She’s a good skateboarder loves doing ballet and jazz, adores her dog and lives a very normal everyday life filled with everyday relatable and often hilarious activities. Harriet does, however, suffer from a little bit of anxiety and can have panic attacks if she lets it go too far. This is not introduced in a ‘hit you over the head’ manner but implicitly through stories young girls can relate to. As Harriet moves through the series she gains tools to handle her anxiety so that it doesn’t interfere with her life or stop her from doing all the things that everyone else does.

Why a character like this?

When I looked around, knowing that children learn from characters in literature, knowing that they need to relate to them, that they can see them warts and all and see themselves in them, I couldn’t find any characters that were worriers— that had that little internal chatter going on, that exhibited some anxiety. Unfortunately anxiety is becoming more and more prevalent in children. For the first time, in 2015, the National Report into Childhood and Adolescent mental health included anxiety due to the big spike of anxiety in this age group and is now second only to ADHD.  So I wanted children to be able to see a normal fun-loving, everyday character that has this and for them to relate to her; to feel affirmed that ‘this is ok’ and to see that dealing with tricky emotions is something that they can do and that we all do at different moments in our lives. 
I also wanted children to be able to really get into my main character, Harriet’s, head and heart— so they can have a deeper empathy and understanding. I broke ground with a unique format to achieve this on a whole new level. They’re chapter books written in a usual diary format, except every ten pages or so she interacts with the reader and asks the reader’s advice or opinions. The reader actually gets to write in Harriet’s diaries with her. This puts them right into her shoes, into her head and her heart. For example, there’s one incident when Harriet is on camp. She’s in a cabin with a group other girls she doesn’t know. One girl, she thinks is staring at her. Harriet thinks she’s staring because she has curly hair, or because she thinks Harriet is a bit strange. Her internal chatter kicks in—in a negative way. In actual fact, the little girl is just shy and is working up to breaking the ice with Harriet and wants to be friends. So, Harriet asks the reader:  Why do you think she is staring at me? And the reader gets to really step into the situation and see it as though it were happening to them. And then they write their thoughts in her diary.

When I’m in schools and I ask students what they think I get the full range of answers. One will say she’s just working out how she can say hello to her’ and another will say, ‘yeah, she’s staring at her because her hair is far too curly, she should straighten her hair before she goes to school;’ – you get all these reactions, the whole gamut of reactions. And I love hearing them all. 

I also wanted to help children get back to the basics of writing by hand: to draw, doodle, colour, and to do their own bubble writing, their own borders, their own headings, all those things that children used to do before computers dominated the scene. I’m all for computers and keyboarding but I am very much for a balance between writing by hand and computers. It’s important for so many scientifically researched reasons.  So, Harriet models this and the reader continues it. And when they are done they have a beautiful hardcover book with a ribbon as a keepsake for ever more. A keepsake that contains their thoughts, their writing, their drawing—a time capsule of them! And perhaps when they have their own children they’ll share these books with them. Share with them what they did when they were their age. Keeping an email isn’t quite the same as a piece of handwritten work, is it? And let’s face it these kids are the generation that stand to lose the most with everything stored on hard drives that can crash!

What a wonderful idea – fantastic.

Well, I hope so. The children seem to like them, and this is very relaxing, therapeutic and allows them to express themselves – to colour in, a bit like the colouring in now used for adults for relaxation. I do think one of the contributing factors for anxiety is  an emphasis on perfectionism – when they’re doing everything on a computer where it’s centered and it’s beautiful and perfect, the borders are there, the clip art placed perfectly and so on, and it goes in and is marked with not much room for being a human. Or just being! Just being a kid again!

I also feel that kids need to know that we all fail, we all make mistakes and that’s ok. It’s not the end of the world—and that you shouldn’t stop yourself from joining in or doing something because you may not do it perfectly.

There’s also another kind of perfection in the way anyone expresses anything, in their drawings, their handwriting – that’s them and there’s something great in being themselves, in adding one more colour, another voice and idea.

The Illustrations are beautiful. Did you visualise these characters and know what you wanted?

Yes. I write the Illustration Brief, which takes forever as there are these little things all over each page as well as the normal illustrations and borders.
I love the Illustrations, the artist is just fantastic. I found Marlene Monterrubio at the Children’s Book Fair that is held at Bologna each year, where publishers sell rights to books. There’s this great long wall as you’re walking in where illustrators will post examples of their work hoping to get picked up. I love that wall, every time I go there I comb that wall. Marlene had a little business card pinned up with a doodle of a girl on it with a scarf and I knew as soon as I saw it that she was the one!  

The 4th book in the series is out now: Harriet Clare Camp Bugbear has just been released. How many books will there be in the Harriet Clare series?

The intention is to do 12. I’m just beginning the 6th book now – they’re around 96 pages each.
I’ve also started Harriet Clare’s Blog of Awesomeness on the website too
Lots of the children were sending in their completed pages to me. Their mums had taken photos of their pages and emailing them to me. They are THE BEST EMAILS! I cannot tell you how wonderful it is to receive them and see their children’s work! I seriously have the best job in the world. But it got me thinking that readers really needed to be able to start talking to Harriet—they needed a place to share their gorgeous work. So, I created this blog so that they could interact with Harriet in a safe environment. I post their work and write back to them as Harriet! They love it and so do I. 

What has the feedback from parents been like?

I am getting a lot of ‘thank you’s’ Some are from parents who are grateful to have reluctant readers who suddenly can’t get their noses out of the books. Others have a child with anxiety and tell me how much the series has hit home and is helping.  And others are thrilled that their child is off the computer and writing, drawing and contributing to the books. It’s a real mix!

Did you always want to be an Author?

Yes, I think I’ve written all my life. I can remember writing stories when I was younger and knew then this is what I wanted to be.

Can you remember one of your earlier ones?

The one I remember the most, which wouldn’t have been my first but some reason this one stays with me, was a story written when I was around 8 years of age. My mother took me into ‘town’, as it used to be called then, and around Circular Quay there was a restaurant where you went down the stairs, it had big old barrels around its walls. I was drawing the room on a napkin when a man came up to tell us about the place. He explained that the restaurant had once been a real swashbuckling place with a secret tunnel that went out into the harbour. He said they used to roll the barrels down the tunnels and out to sea.  
That was it, I was sold – but when I wrote the story I was inside the barrel going down the tunnel. I always remember that.

Ten years from now, what do you hope you have achieved through dedicating so much to writing and creating these books for children?

I want to bring joy to them. I want them to love literature and love reading because it opens doors – if you don’t have literacy you’re behind the eight ball, you really are. I don’t want any child to get to High School without being fully equipped as they will just fall further and further behind. 

What do your children think of them?

They think I’ve never grown up, in a good way. 

Who is your favourite Australians children’s Authors?

I love John Marsden, Emily Rodda, Alison Lester and hundreds more! Too many to list here. 

What are your favourite Illustrations from your own works – for the boys and the girls?

The Zac Power illustrations are a lot of fun. He has really awesome gadgets that he sues on missions. In one adventure he is sent up in a plane and is wearing his ‘parachute pants’. They’re like these funny 1970’s flares with daises all over them. The parachute comes out from the butt of his pants so that when it’s activated he ends up hanging from his pant’s seat, so to speak. Not very cool for a VERY cool spy! 

The there’s the awesome beasts in Boy vs Beast and Kai’s hover board. I want one of those soooo badly!

Boy vs Beast

For the girls it would be Harriet but there are so many it would be difficult to nominate just one – every day that Marlene sends artwork through I fall in love with the new one.

How long have you been in Pittwater and why did you move here?

Since I was 24. Why?; the area, the man, the job. All of it – my life was here.

What is your favourite place in Pittwater and why?

Nature wise it would be the Palm Beach lighthouse – Barrenjoey. I’ve walked up there forever and actually started a story about this place which I should go back to. I’ve taken my children up there, up the wonderful Smugglers Track.
Food wise, I love the Boat House and Church Point Wharf and Bilgola Beach Café – it’s wonderful to eat by the water or up atop that hill. It’s just such a beautiful area, so many places we can be.

What is your ‘motto for life’ or a favourite phrase you try to live by?

This too shall pass. 

That has been my motto for decades and has stood me in good stead through many a challenge – ‘breathe and keep walking’.

 An example of a Harriet Clare Activity Page

A sneak peek inside - Harriet Clare: Camp Bugbear 

Copyright Louise Park, 2016.