We had the pleasure of speaking to both Mem Fox and Judy Horacek on their recent Australian tour for their brand new book This and That. Fox and Horacek are well know for their author/illustrator partnership, which has spawned books such as Where is the Green Sheep? and Good Night, Sleep Tight. Here, they chat about their latest work, their inspirations and favourite (or not so favourite) childhood memories.
1. It is so wonderful to see another collaboration from you both, can you tell us a little bit more about your book?
Judy: It is a work of genius.
Mem: We have the same agent – in a nutshell – we have been wanting to work together again and my agent showed Judy the manuscript. And it was actually a much different story in the beginning! Judy took my manuscript and flipped the rhymes, reversed the narrative. Initially, the narrative started with a fat hen, not finished with it. Judy turned it into a bedtime story.
2. What was the inspiration behind This and That? I noticed Mem that you dedicated the book to Judy, who I’ve seen from her blog is adept at doing this and that simultaneously?
Mem: Well, to be honest, the Judy I dedicated the book to was not Judy Horacek, but Judy my cleaner, who also does a lot of this and that!
Judy: I know, easy mistake to make – I was quite flattered until I realised.
Mem: The inspiration for the story of This and That came to me when I was staying in Paris with a very jetlagged grandchild who couldn’t fall asleep. I said ‘jump into bed’ and was wracking my brains trying to think of a bedtime story, and I started saying ‘I’ll tell you a story of this, and I’ll tell you a story of that’ and it just kept going. I remember the next morning writing it down in my notebook at the airport waiting for my flight home.
3. Why mice Judy?
Judy: I wanted the two main characters to be creatures I could fit into all the situations that take place throughout the story. Also, they are actually rats – as ‘rat’ rhymes with ‘that’, which was another reason why I chose to make them rats.
However, I think we eventually decided to take the ‘rat’ and ‘that’ rhyme out of the book, so I suppose they could be either rats or mice depending on the reader. I quite like pet rats, very intelligent creatures.
4. In This and That the two main characters go from place to place, adventure to adventure – sort of similar to the tour you’re doing now. What was your favourite adventure as a child?
Judy: I had pretty regular adventures growing up – I loved going to the beach, swimming in the ocean and pretending to be on a desert island. My favourite adventures were summer holidays with my family.
Mem: Game parks. I’m now terrified of game parks after going to them as a child. They’re meant to be pleasant, but they can be TERRIFYING for children.
I grew up in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) with my parents who were missionaries at the time. I remember one day we were driving through one of the parks, turned a corner and came face to face with a gigantic rhinoceros. I just remember being petrified and I believe my father was as well, as he reversed straight into a sandbank. Technically that wasn’t my favourite adventure, but definitely one of the most memorable!
But I had quite an adventurous childhood. I have lots of fantastic memories growing up in Rhodesia.
Judy: Mem, how can I compete with that?!
5. Mem, in previous interviews you have mentioned how important your ‘writing cave’ is to your creative process. Do you have any tips for budding children’s authors?
Mem: Oh yes. To begin with, try to go to as many bookshops as possible and see what is currently out there. Then go to the library and borrow as many as you can. Get a sense of what the market is, and what is popular at the moment. Take inspiration from other authors. And always carry a notebook with you to write down any ideas you might have throughout the day.
6. What were some your favourite books as children?
Judy: I loved the illustrations in Brian Wildsmith’s books –his illustration style was so bright and vibrant.
Mem: Growing up in Africa as an Australian I read a lot of classic Australian books – Binky Bill was a firm favourite. They might be a little politically incorrect these days, but I also loved the stories of Rudyard Kipling.
7. And what is your favourite children’s book at the moment?
Judy: Where is the Green Sheep, obviously!
Mem: It’s too difficult to choose, which is wonderful – there are so many fantastic Australian children’s books out at the moment, it’s a brilliant time for Australian children’s literature.
8. Mem, you have said that one of your main priorities is encouraging parents to read to their children, especially from the ages of 0-5 years. Why is it so important to read to children?
Mem: Why is it important? I feel like personally it is one of the most crucial thing parents can do for their child’s development.
Parents need to have lots of fun reading to their little ones to foster a love of books. It is important to keep the attention of young minds with lively voices and energetic renditions. And it’s something everyone can do, no matter what their economic background.
Reading aloud to children helps them develop mentally, imagining characters and putting them in context. It creates a bond between parents and their children, creates an excellent routine and prepares children for the future. And even if it’s only for 15-20 minutes a day – that’s all it takes. It’s amazing to me that some people don’t take the time, but it’s such a joyful gift that you can give to your child, and to yourself.
9. What is next for you both?
Judy: We have another book in the works that will be released around this time next year.
Mem: It’s very adorable. That’s all we can really say, but it will definitely involve hilarious ducks.