Australian Children’s Laureate 2016–2017: Q&A with Leigh Hobbs

Books and reading never cease to encourage and move us, expanding our imaginations and bringing to life stories and worlds both real and fantastic. This month on We Hear You, the children’s author and illustrator and Australian Children’s Laureate for 2016–2017, Leigh Hobbs, shares his thoughts on books, reading and the ongoing inspiration they provide to children and adults alike. 

Leigh Hobbs and his mother
Story time: Leigh Hobbs as a child with his mother

What do you think constitutes a good quality book for children?

Every child is different. Just as adults are. Children need to be engaged from page one whatever the book is or they’ll stop reading it. I imagine a good quality book won’t patronise them. I like the idea that children will be stretched by a book. Learning new words, being stimulated, thinking, analysing or being made to laugh by a book. In any case, if a child is engaged in one book and enjoys reading, it will lead to another.

What books did you enjoy as a child? What effect did reading have on you?

As a child I didn’t read fiction very much as I could rarely remember who was who in a story. My mind would wander. I’ve always preferred reading non-fiction. Knowing I was reading about something that supposedly ‘really happened’ fascinated me. My imagination would be triggered by something, about the crusades, or the French revolution etc, and I’d be off daydreaming. Reading is a journey. It has certainly transported me to faraway places imagination wise. I also enjoyed as a child coming across words which I didn’t know and would look up and adopt. Later I’ve employed some in my own writing, even though they have now gone out of common usage. For example, the words ‘bold’ and ‘alas’.

What are the key themes or ideas when you’re writing for children?

I have never consciously set out to explore a theme in any of the 20 children’s books I’ve written and illustrated. I work intuitively. The character or characters essentially drive my stories rather than a key theme or idea. That said, I don’t consciously explore a theme or idea. However, if I look back I can see some related themes or ideas. If I wanted to identify them, the themes would include: ‘love’ (Old Tom and Angela Throgmorton in Old Tom); ‘friendship’ (Mr Chicken and Yvette in Mr Chicken Goes To Paris); ‘being different’ and the ‘search for friendship’ (Horrible Harriet); and ‘being yourself’ (Fiona the Pig).

Old Tom and Angela Throgmorton

What do you hope children and educators are gaining from your books?

Primarily I hope that children enjoy my books; that they derive pleasure from the words and the journey my characters take and from pouring over the detail in the illustrations. It gives me great pleasure to learn children really like a particular character and they ‘get’ him or her. Additionally, I hope children are stimulated as well.

What were your favourite books as a child?

As a child I loved The Readers Digest Children’s Omnibus Annuals. I received one every year for Christmas. As I mentioned previously, I’ve always read more non- fiction than fiction. However, having said that, Kidnapped and Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson were read to me as a small boy by my father and I adored them. They left a lasting impression; a very good one.

You can find out more about the Australian Children’s Laureate initiative and the work of Leigh Hobbs on the Australian Children’s Laureate website.