Monday, 6 March 2017

Emma Jane's Zoo

Welcome to the shadowy and not-so-shadowy space behind Sally's books. If you're not familiar with this blog, scroll down to see what it's all about.

Emma Jane's Zoo (Post 65)

Emma Jane's Zoo (1986) was one of the fastest acceptances I ever had in the days before email. I sent the manuscript off by Express Post and the publisher rang me up on the next working day to say it was accepted.

This picture book was written in the wake of Dreadful David (Post 4) and, having now learned a bit more about picture books than I knew the first time, I made it my business to avoid making the same errors I'd made with DD. Not that they were errors, precisely, but they were things that went against the prevailing publishing climate. Whereas David was two or three years old and so supposedly too young to engage the typical preschool or early childhood reader, Emma Jane was five or six, the right age for the upward and outwards gaze. Whereas David was a little boy when boys were felt to be over-catered-for, Emma Jane was a girl. Whereas David was gleefully naughty, Emma Jane was simply a bit misguided. Whereas David's mum and granny were exhausted, Emma Jane's family members were all self-motivated achievers. Whereas Dreadful David was a rhyming text, Emma Jane's Zoo was...oh, hang on. This one rhymed too. Apart from rhyme and rhythm, both books had bright engaging illustrations and both had action and humour. By these rules, Emma Jane's Zoo, having avoided all the "mistakes" of Dreadful David, should have outsold it several times over. Instead, it was out of print in a couple of years, whereas DD stayed in print for more like thirty. 

Emma Jane's Zoo  is the story of Emma Jane who--"had relatives who did important things. Her dad had climbed a mountain, her grandma liked to sing. Her auntie was a doctor, her uncle mended shoes, so Emma Jane decided that she would have a zoo. To have a zoo she needed some animals to keep..."

Emma Jane collects animals from a frog to a snail to Horrid Howard the cat to a dog to a goat and a bull, and, having no cages, finds places to keep them. It's not the animals so much as the temporary cages that cause the problem as someone nearly treads on snail (stashed in someone's boot), the cat leaps out of a cupboard, the goat emerges from the loo and the bull unnerves uncle in the tool shed. Mum tells Emma Jane she must release her subjects at once, which is fine, because the resourceful child has a new project in mind.

I had the idea of this story from my children, then five and nearly two. They had a large red plastic crate they used to play with and one day I found son kneeling in front of it and daughter peering inside. It was stocked with earth, leaves and sticks. I asked what it was today and my daughter, a child of few words, simply pointed and said, "Zoo."
Emma Jane's Zoo was an interesting book, with flaps making half-pages which I recall caused a few problems as to whether or not it had 28 pages. I can't remember the significance of that. It is a book I've read aloud at countless schools and it's always been popular with the children. I have always liked it too, and I have a feeling this was the first picture book the illustrator had done.

Today I note one copy on eBay for $45.00 plus $10.00 postage. That's quite a lot more than it cost when it was new.


Sally is Sally Odgers; author, manuscript assessor, editor, anthologist and reader. (Sally is me, by the way, and I am lots of other things too, but these are the relevant ones for now.)

The goal for 2017 is to write a post a day profiling the background behind one of my books; how it came to be written, what it's about, and any things of note that happened along the way. If you're an author, an aspiring author, a reader or just someone who enjoys windows into worlds, you might find this fun. This preamble will be pasted to the top of each post, so feel free to skip it in future.

The books are not in any special order, but will be assigned approximate dates, and pictures, where they exist. 

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