Wilbur and his Mama walk Wally dog by the sea. As Wally chases the pine cone and Wilbur's buggy bounces, the birds begin to appear, firstly chattering and chirping and then gossiping and philosophising...
Wilbur's Walk is Rebecca Nash's debut picture book, and features dreamy illustrations by her brother Daniel. We asked Rebecca about how it came to be.
Congratulations on Wilbur’s Walk! It’s a beautiful picture book. What do you hope children, and those who read to them, will get from it?
Thank you! I am really proud of it. I am hoping that young children will recognise themselves in it.
Often books for kids don’t actually speak ‘kid’ language, and I hope that the small struggles; the small acts of imagination in the book will ring true for kids and the people who read them stories.
Your brother illustrated your book. How did this come about – did you send him the text or was it a project you both planned from the start?
I sent my brother the text after I had written it. I knew he was the right person because when we were children, we would create wacky alternative realities together.
Creative collaboration is part of our brother-sis DNA, and I knew he would ‘get’ what I wrote, and would be able to bounce off the words and create something of his own. Daniel and I know how to play together, so I knew he would know how to play with my writing.
I feel there’s real synchronicity between your words and Daniel’s artwork. Have the two of you collaborated on creative projects before?
Not as adults, no. But our childhood was one big long creative collaboration, so I think that’s why it works. The illustrations are so special – they create a whole world of feeling and express so much.
What do you love about them?
I love the illustrations with all my heart. I think that Dan has channelled ‘kid speak’, as I have tried to do with the writing. When children are developing an understanding of the world, they come up with way more interesting explanations; make way more interesting connections than adults do.
Toys are not inanimate objects, they are as significant as ‘real’ things. A cardboard box can be a boat, a bed, a house for dinosaurs. A tree, when you are learning about trees, is also a million alive things. In this way, I think the experience of being a child intersects with an adult’s understanding of surrealism, and that Dan channels that surrealism in his drawing.
Is Wilbur a real dog, and is the story guided by your own children or whānau?
Wilbur is a fictionalised version of my daughter (who is now 7), and Wally is a fictionalised version of our Collie dog Poe (who is now 8). The story is inspired by our life together. My daughter’s father died in a motorbike accident when she was a small baby, and we survived by loving each other.
I wrote the book when she was a toddler, and my world was narrowed to walking the dog and putting her down for a nap and getting the wrong colour bowl. I wrote the story to try and find meaning in it all; to try and remember that even if our world was small in some ways, we had/have huge amounts of imagination and that watching the birds with a child is its own kind of magic.
What is the special ingredient (or perhaps recipe) that makes an excellent picture book, do you think?
I think the best picture books respect children in one way or another. They don’t sanitise or try to moralise. Ones that realise the potential of a child’s capacity for complex emotion, and their imaginative superpowers.
Which books did you love as a child? And what are you reading, these days?
I loved reading pretty much everything as a child. I was talking to my mum the other day about how I used to like Charles Dickens, Pumpkin Patch catalogues, cake decorating books and maths workbooks all equally. My favourites to read to my daughter are anything by Maurice Sendak (the illustrations! The incredible rhythm of his language!), and Enid Blyton’s series called The Naughtiest Girl in School.
If I read her anything by Bob Graham (Let’s Get a Pup; A Bus Called Heaven) then I inevitably end up weeping. Bob Graham tugs at my heartstrings like no one else can.
What’s next in store for you, Rebecca?
I also write poems for adults, and I’ve got one coming out in the next Landfall magazine about a wacky waving inflatable tube man on the supermarket trolley bay. I hope to have a productive summer of writing. It’s definitely time to write another book for children, maybe this time tapping into the imaginative experience of being a 7-year-old.
Wilbur’s Walk by Rebecca Nash, illustrated by Daniel Nash, $25 RRP Mary Egan Publishing.