As Roald Dahl wrote in his famous children’s story ‘Matilda’, books have the power to send an important message: that we are not alone. I had the pleasure of speaking with Kaye Baillie, a local children’s book author. Kaye grew up on an orchard in Invergordon, Victoria, with a handful of books she loved. “I wished I could be the children in Enid Blyton’s ‘The Magic Faraway Tree’ and ‘The Enchanted Wood’, she says. “It’s like entering a new world”. Kaye dreamed of being creative but could not imagine writing as a career, instead moving into secretary work and amateur theatre. When Kaye was in her thirties, she started a Diploma in Professional Writing and Editing during which she published two educational books.
“I want to capture an idea, play with it, mould it, make it real,” Kaye says. “I don’t have the patience to write for adults, and the themes of children’s stories can be just as rich and diverse.” Friendship, grief, migration, war, loneliness, fear, history, family, love – all of these can be found in children’s books. Kaye’s most recent book ‘Boo Loves Books’ tells the story of a young girl, Phoebe, and a huge rescue dog, Boo, as they overcome their fears and learn to love reading. The book is inspired by a true story about a Book Buddies program where kids who had insecurities or worries about reading could read to homeless cats at an animal shelter in Pennsylvania. One boy’s transformation captured Kaye’s attention. He adored cats, but hated reading so much he argued with his mother and called himself stupid. Through the program, the boy ended up loving reading to the cats so much he convinced his mother to adopt three cats. “I loved the whole story and wanted to write a story to help children who might feel like this boy.” Kaye hopes that ‘Boo Loves Books’ will help young readers realise that they are not alone with their anxieties and that with some encouragement, that they can do things in their own way.
Like the boy in the Book Buddies program, much of Kaye’s inspiration comes from true stories from the internet, television, and newspapers, or even her own life. One of Kaye’s stories coming out in the US next year is about a female civil engineer, Olive Dennis, who designed an entire train in the 1920s. Another upcoming book, ‘When the Waterhole Dries Up’, is a humorous cumulative tale, for age 3 and up, about a boy in the outback who is filling his bath. However, one by one, native Australian animals take over! Kaye had a lot of fun writing this book, and it will be a wonderful read-aloud story that allows young children to join in too. “It’s the ideas that stay with me, that make me feel excited and I want to spend time with, that I will write.”
When asked for her advice about making a career in writing, Kaye warns that writers can face unreliable income, and to have support from either a writing grant or a second job. “However, writing chooses its author,” Kaye says. “Wrangling words and ideas is challenging and when they feel right, it’s a great feeling.” Thankfully we have writers like Kaye, and the publishers, editors, readers, teachers, bookshops and librarians who bring joy to so many people. It is because of the passionate and creative people in the children’s book industry that we continue to live in a world with bright, inspiring and meaningful stories.
Story: Stephanie Downing. Photo: supplied.