Like a cyclone brewing in the tropical waters of the Pacific Ocean, Australia’s Wild, Weird, Wonderful Weather took a while to form. It started life in 2012 as a gentle zephyr—a lift-the-flap picture book for preschoolers, covering basic weather conditions. It featured a simple rhyming text and the refrain: ‘Whatever the weather, I’m ready!’
My proposed acrylic illustrations included young children dressed appropriately for the weather conditions, accompanied by pull-along animal toys, such as a frog for the page about rain. The dummy double-page spreads featured pencil sketches of the characters and weather images from the National Library’s collections. In the end, the book didn’t get off the ground and it was relegated to my ‘to be revisited’ file.
Then, in 2017, I reviewed Tania McCartney’s Australia Illustrated for The Canberra Times. I was smitten by her charming illustration of the Fremantle Doctor. So I rewrote the text for 'Whatever the Weather' for a junior primary school audience and asked Tania if she’d be interested in illustrating it—I know my limitations as an illustrator, and the revamped book needed a different approach. As an added bonus, Tania is also a fabulous book designer.
The book began to take off, changing from a zephyr to a willy-willy. Tania created engaging, child-friendly illustrations, incorporating the weather words that I was having so much fun playing with. Excited by what our collaboration had created, we submitted it to a different publisher. Again, there was interest. Again, there was rejection. But we’re both old hands at the children’s book game, so we didn’t give up! We knew we had a good idea. We just had to find the right format to make it take off.
After a number of brainstorming sessions over copious cups of coffee, we agreed on a new approach—bumping the age range up to middle and upper primary, and adopting a more sophisticated design aesthetic featuring blocks of caption-like text, fun facts, diagrams, graphs, illustrations and stunning graphics. While the cute kids had disappeared, we still included animals on each double-page spread to ensure it appealed to children.
The new approach required a much deeper level of research for both of us. I delved into the vast collections of the National Library for interesting weather information and wrote new text. In response, Tania created three draft double-page spreads. I wrote a proposal and we sent it all off to NLA Publishing. Finally, in 2019, our weather book found a home!
There have been downpours, storms and even a few lightning strikes during the writing and illustrating process, as Tania and I were both creating a number of other books while working on Australia’s Wild Weird Wonderful Weather. Towards the end of the process, we also faced the stark reality of an ongoing weather-related disaster throughout December 2019 and January 2020. Devastating bushfires left us both working in a fug of hazardous smoke and scrambling to make the information in the book as up-to-date as possible before it went to print.
Overall, though, the collaborative process has been a joy, full of robust exchanges of ideas and mutual support and encouragement. Sometimes creating a book is like that. We hope our enthusiasm for weather shows in the end product, and we invite you to explore and celebrate the wild, weird and wonderful weather we all experience in Australia.
Stephanie Owen Reeder is the author of Australia's Wild, Weird, Wonderful Weather (NLA Publishing, 2020) and the award-winning Heritage Heroes series (including Lennie the Legend), as well as many other books.
If weather sounds right up your (tornado) alley, check out Stephanie and Tania's video introduction to Australia's Wild, Weird, Wonderful Weather below, then download our activity pages!