Award-winning children's author Alison Lester has received
many accolades during her career as a writer and illustrator. She has
been appointed the first Australian Children's Laureate, along with
Boori Pryor (www.childrenslaureate.org.au). And now, in 2012, her book
Are We There Yet? has been chosen as the theme for the National Year of
We caught up with Alison to find out more about her work and how
she's involved in the National Year of Reading.
How did you feel when you were asked if Are We There Yet? could be
the theme book for the National Year of Reading?
I was contacted back in June 2010, more than 18 months ago, and I
was absolutely stoked that Are We There Yet? had been chosen. It is a
book that celebrates Australia and I was hopeful it would help get the
Since that first contact, the book has taken on a life of its own.
Vision Australia has produced the book in DAISY and Braille versions for
vision-impaired children. Penguin has introduced a box set of the book,
with a jigsaw puzzle and card game. There's a National Year of
Reading touring exhibition using the original artwork, which will be
accompanied by a competition for under 12s to write a short piece about
where they live in Australia or a place they have visited. The whole
thing ends with a beach party in Inverloch in November 2012, which is
not too far from where our original journey started and ended.
What will people see if they go to the National Year of Reading
The exhibition will be visiting every state and territory during
2012, starting in Darwin in February and ending in Melbourne in
November. For the most part, the exhibition contains the original
artwork for Are We There Yet? but there are also things like the map the
family used as we travelled round; photos of us all en route; my travel
notes and the original water melon hat, which features in the story.
Why won't you be at the National Year of Reading launch on 14
I'd already promised to go on a return trip to the Antarctic.
My first trip was in 2005, as an Antarctic Australian Arts Fellow,
leaving from Tasmania on the ice breaker Aurora Australis, travelling to
Mawson Station and Casey Station on the Antarctic continent and then on
to the sub-Antarctic Macquarie Island. I kept an online diary and
photographic journal to track my adventure and thousands of children
followed me online. When I got home, I was inundated with beautiful
drawings of Antarctica, produced by children who'd read my
descriptions and looked at my pictures. I used some of these
illustrations with my own work to create a collaborative exhibition of
Kids Antarctic Art, which was part of the Hobart Midwinter Festival in
Although I won't be able to attend the National Year of
Reading launch in person, in Canberra on 14 February, I have already
recorded a message to be played to the audience at the event and I might
be able to talk by satellite phone from the ship.
With the spotlight on Are We There Yet? you must have received a
lot of requests from schools for you to visit in 2012.
I'm always pleased to receive invitations to go on school
visits and I'm just sorry there aren't more days in the week
to enable me to accept them all. I try to fit in as many as I can and
it's a fine balance between this and the time I need to spend at my
desk creating new stories and illustrations.
What do you do when you visit schools?
Most of my visits are show and tell. I take kids through my folio
of artwork, from the original sketches to the finished pieces. It helps
them see how stories take shape from the first idea through to the
printed book. I especially enjoy going to schools in regional and remote
parts area and often these visits, because of the distances involved,
mean staying a whole week rather than just an hour or a day. It's
incredibly satisfying working with the teachers and children to create
words and pictures about their real and imaginary lives.
Where do you get your ideas from?
A lot of my books have grown out of things that have really
happened and telling these tales to children helps make kids aware of
the value of their own stories. I believe that when writing, you need to
know what you are writing about and, so often, truth is stranger than
fiction. I grew up on a farm right down the southern part of Victoria on
the coast. Until I was a teenager, life centred around the farm and that
complete section of my childhood has stayed with me. The freedom and
adventure of riding horses and all that sort of stuff is a big part of
How did you become an author?
I began as an art teacher and although I loved the teaching part, I
didn't like the everyday routine of school. In my late 20s I became
an illustrator, and after five years illustrating other people's
books I was encouraged by my editor to try writing my own story. Clive
eats alligators was my first solo book in 1985 and since then I've
produced more than 30 books, published by ABC, Allen and Unwin, Penguin
You're an ambassador for the National Year of Reading but are
you a keen reader yourself?
I'm a mad reader. I read all the time. I can't sit at the
table without picking up something to read. I think it's made me a
harsh editor on myself. I get really impatient with books when
there's sloppy writing or when things need to be tightened up. I
think also when you read you learn about narrative and how to tell a
story, which you might not learn any other way. I think it's very
important for young writers to do a lot of reading. More than that, I
think it's a great thing for anyone and everyone to read.