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8 June 2009 ·

Beach Lane Books in San Diego

We took the train from Los Angeles to San Diego – a scenic ride, much of it along the beach – and met Allyn Johnston, the publisher of the new Beach Lane imprint for Simon & Schuster. It’s always interesting to meet someone you’ve corresponded with for several years; we had a wonderful afternoon going over the manuscript for The Princess and the Panther, playing with a couple of problem lines, phoning Lauren Stringer the illustrator and discussing some of the philosophy of picture books in general. eg:

How scary should picture books for small children be? My own feeling is that children are innately programmed to feel fear – being afraid is a very useful survival tool – and if we deny them any fear in the stories we read and tell them, we deny them the tools they need to deal with fear. That’s why traditional tales are so often terrifying! And what about Maurice Sendak’s work: would Where the Wild Things Are be published today?

It’s a fine line. I think children need to feel tested, to experience fear and then be brought back to safety, which gives them the tools they need to learn to do the same thing in their own lives. But, as writers, illustrators, publishers, we don’t want them to be so afraid that the adult reader says, “I’m not reading you that before bedtime!”

And now, I have to get the words right in those few tricky lines: the balance of rhythm, sounds and meaning.

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Wendy Orr is a Canadian-born Australian writer. Her books for children and adults have been published in 27 countries and won awards around the world. Nim’s Island and Nim at Sea have also become feature films, starring Jodie Foster and Abigail Breslin (Nim’s Island) and Bindi Irwin (Return to Nim’s Island.) Her latest book is Cuckoo’s Flight, a companion to the highly acclaimed Bronze Age novels Dragonfly Song and Swallow’s Dance. Read full bio