Ahoy there! We're Tania and Christina and we're the creators of This is Captain Cook! Thank you so much for coming along to our very special Virtual Launch today. We hope you have a wonderful time.
We loved creating this book. Tania did the words and Christina did the pictures, and it's turned out super adorable, don't you think?
To embark upon on our launch, we're going to share with you how this book came about.
I first came up with the concept for a book series for the very young around 4 or 5 years ago. I pitched it to the National Library and they really liked the idea and were more than happy for me to start with Captain Cook.
Books published by the National Library of Australia need to align with the NLA extensive image Collection (you can search the online catalogue here). As the Collection contains an impressive amount of material on James Cook (even his journals!), he was a great first pick.
I loved researching James Cook, and I learned so very much about him. He was a highly-esteemed man with a very good heart. He looked after his sailors immaculately, and during his first voyage on The Endeavour, insisted they eat sauerkraut and citrus to prevent scurvy. The men were reluctant to eat the vitamin-C-enriched sauerkraut so, instead of whipping them as punishment, the Captain instead asked for it to be served to himself and his officers.
Within a week of seeing their superiors eat this pickled cabbage, the crewmen were gobbling it down. Cook was proud of commanding a ship with not one single sick crewman, from England to Batavia--a real feat in the late 18th Century!
While writing the text, I thought carefully about who could provide the 'right' illustrations. I wanted this book to be narrative, not straight biography. I wanted it to appeal to very small children, aged 3 - 7 (and beyond!) and I knew the illustrations had to be charming and whimsical, with an inherent sense of humour.
Enter my friend and fellow Tassie author/illustrator, Christina Booth. I was delighted when she came on board to work with me on this book, and working with her was a joy. I entrusted my text with Christina, knowing she would add so much more to it. And she did! Enter our little Captain Chook, who just about steals the show.
Of course, The Endeavour carried various animals including its infamous goat, as well as pigs, greyhounds and poultry. As Christina has chooks at home, and simply adores them, the idea of a runaway chook was a fabulous one.
As for the format of the narrative, I had wanted the characters to be played by children, and the scenes to be very childlike, fun and humorous. I'll let Christina explain, below, what happened from there!
When an author starts working with an illustrator--that's when the book becomes 'our' book. Dual citizenship. It's testament to a good working relationship--between creators and also with the publisher/editor--when a book turns out so seamlessly. Between the two of us, our gorgeous editor Stephanie Owen Reeder, and commissioning publisher Susan Hall, a beautiful dance soon formed, and the book was soon taking on a life of its own--one I'm very proud of.
The text actually went through around 10 micro edits. It was sent from me to my editor to my commissioning editor to Christina and back and around and around again, finessing, adjusting, ensuring each and every word earned its place, and that it read easily for the very young. This was very important to me.
There was, of course, a lot of tragedy around Cook's life, and we had to deal with his ending in a delicate way (you'll have to read the book to see how!). One thing that struck me was that each of his six children died without leaving heirs. Three died in childhood, one in college, and two at sea (they had themselves become mariners).
I dedicated the book to my friend Mary's chicken, Freckles. This plucky chook left this earth far too soon. A bit like the good Captain himself.
You can learn more about mine and Christina's creative processes later on today!
Wow, what a delight! Tania had said for ages she wanted to work on a book with me and then, in the middle of being buried in two book illustration projects, this wonderful story arrived in my inbox. 'Can you do a quick illustration sample to send to the publisher?'
Well, it was a small but refreshing break from possums and whales, and so after reading the manuscript (still in progress but great) I had to quickly think about how to present the story in a quirky and interesting way.
I came up with the idea that children could be acting the story out on a stage and straight away Tania was very happy with the idea. The sample was sent in and I was again buried in possums and whales.
How exciting when the idea was accepted and the partnership began. It was a wonderful and exciting journey.
But then I came across a problem. My philosophy is to turn lemons into lemonade so it worked out in our favor. Here's what happened:
My husband likes to make jokes and he started singing that 'Captain Cook chased a chook' rhyme every time I tried to talk about the book. I wasn't certain I could take four or five months of repetitious rhyming and my sanity was going to be at stake.
But then it occurred to me, I usually put an animal in my illustrations so this would be the one--and I LOVE chooks! So the escaped hen became a star (and shut my husband up because he was told it was his idea!).
I loved learning about Captain Cook, more than I had at school, in fact, I discovered some stuff wasn't accurate and school had it wrong (I won't say how many years ago that was, I'm sure they are all up to date now).
I loved working out little stories to put in the illustrations that are separate to the text but that tie the illustrations and the story together. Sleeping babies, burping babies, lost toys, parents trying to help catch the chicken were great fun.
Illustrators need to research as much as authors to get illustrations right and true. I did find it very sad to learn about Cook's children. I also wondered how hard it must have been to live in those times, away from your wife, for the wife to raise children alone, no mail for many months to know if they were all right. It was so different from today.
I dedicated my part of the book to my husband, who sings annoying rhymes and supports me in my work. He is an astronomer as well. He's watched the same celestial events such as the transit of Venus through his telescope as Captain Cook but in a different era with different technology. I wonder what Cook would make of it all now.