I’ve put on the kettle, and baked a batch of cakes, coz today I have a visitor!
Catriona Hoy is a picture book writer, secondary science teacher and much more besides. She recently spent over two years living in the UK, but we’re very happy to have her back in Australia.
Catriona is the author of ‘My Grandad Marches on Anzac Day’ (Ill: Benjamin Johson), ‘The Music Tree’ (Ill: Adele Jaune), ‘Daddies'(Ill: Mal Webster), ‘Mummies are Amazing’ (Annie White) (all with Hachette) and ‘Puggle’ (ill Andrew Plant, published by Working Title Press).
Today she’s here to talk about her new picture book, ‘George and Ghost’. ‘George and Ghost’ was released in UK in November, but Aussies have had to wait until this week. ‘George and Ghost’ is illustrated by Cassia Thomas and is a story about friendship, mixed with a little bit of science. Actually it’s several big bits of science, but they are slipped into the story very delicately!
Thanks so much for having me to visit, on this first day of my blog tour. It’s nice to be able to chat from the comfort of my own home, although it’s lovely to meet you in person too!
George and Ghost blends art and science. Was that a conscious decision? If so, what motivated it?
I can’t point my finger at a particular gestalt moment about George and Ghost…I didn’t set out to write a story with a science theme. I think the idea came from living in England at the time, where every second pub seemed to claim it’s own ghost. I often begin my writing with a phrase or an idea that gets stuck in my head and for this book it was…’How much does a ghost weigh?’. It was tied up with this image I had of a little boy and his friend, Ghost. I’d read stories about the ways in which paranormal investigators try to measure a ‘presence’ and all these ideas fermented in my head for a bit. I wondered how this little boy would measure his ghost.
I was also intrigued by the differences in the education systems between Australia and England. In the English primary school my children were enrolled in, science was taught as a separate subject and was streamed. There was a big emphasis on being able to prove an answer to a question.
What came first? The characters or the science?
The characters definitely came first but then as the ideas progressed I saw how I could weave the science into the story. I wanted there to be that ‘scientifc method,’ where a question is posed and an answer sought. I began to see how I could put in ideas about matter and energy as well. George proves that he exists to George because he can be weighed and takes up space. Poor old Ghost is sent packing, shedding tears that couldn’t exist. But plucky ghost comes back to show that there are things that are real that can’t be weighed, such as music and light, which are forms of energy.
So I was able to blend together my science teaching background and these loveable, gorgeous characters. Incidentally, the illustrator, Cassia Thomas has done a brilliant job. I knew as soon as I saw the character roughs that she would capture that blend of curiosity and love that I wanted to capture.
What activities can you see being generated by George and Ghost?
I’ve actually written up a whole set of classroom notes, where I see how this could be used as a start in enquiry learning. There is the scientific method…making a hypothesis, testing it and drawing a conclusion…and the fact sometimes the conclusion we draw is incorrect if we haven’t measured correctly or thought about our question carefully enough. That all sounds pretty dry but think how far it could be taken. In fact what is reality, we could start with Descartes and keep going.
In terms of practical activities, all sorts of fun science… what kinds of things can you weigh? Can you weigh a thought? Can you weigh a sound? Does a sound take up space? Children could measure the volume of objects by displacement of water, the old Archimedes principle.
Do you have any other books in mind that would introduce scientific principles in a young child-accessible way?
I’d like George and Ghost to keep going and have other adventures and investigate other things. Of course that means that lots of people have to buy the first one! I don’t tend to start out with an idea to put science into a book, I just write about things that interest or intrigue me. I enjoyed writing ‘Puggle,’ which came out last year because I learnt all sorts of fascinating things about echidnas.
Do you think students today have the opportunity to equally develop their science AND their art? Or does the structure of the current secondary education system make that difficult?
I think students these days are much luckier than they were in my day. There is much more emphasis on enquiry learning, different learning styles etc. It’s not about memorising facts so much as learning skills that are transferable and about the ‘big picture.’ One of the things that I’m hoping for George and Ghost is that it will encourage lots of open ended questions, whether they be in the classroom or at home.
You worked with a UK publisher on George and Ghost. Was that a different experience when compared to working with Australian publishers? If so, how?
I’ve worked with a number of editors now and I’d have to say that it’s not an Australian/UK thing so much as an individual thing. It also depends on the size and philosophy of the publishing house. It has been great working with such a variety as I’ve learnt something from each one. I think we have more opportunity in Australia to make our picture books more challenging, perhaps because we tend to start our chidlren at school later. The educational market over here is certainly a very important one and can often make or break a book.
I talk more about the editing process in my next blog stop tour tomorrow!
Thanks for stopping by Catriona. I do like visitors! For more details about Catriona and what she’s up to, visit her website.