An interview with Alison Lester.
Article Type:
Children's literature authors
Pub Date:
Name: Practically Primary Publisher: Australian Literacy Educators' Association Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Education Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2012 Australian Literacy Educators' Association ISSN: 1324-5961
Date: Feb, 2012 Source Volume: 17 Source Issue: 1
NamedWork: Are We There Yet? (Picture story)
Named Person: Lester, Alison
Geographic Scope: Australia Geographic Code: 8AUST Australia

Accession Number:
Full Text:
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 ( And now, in 2012, her book Are We There Yet? has been chosen as the theme for the National Year of Reading.

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 country reading.

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 touring exhibition?

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 February?

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 2007.

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 my imagination.

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 and Hachette.

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.
Gale Copyright:
Copyright 2012 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.