An interview with author Philip Bunting

Published on Wednesday, 09 June 2021
Last updated on Monday, 07 June 2021

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Philip Bunting is an English-born, Australian-based author and illustrator who’s making his mark here, there and everywhere!

Philip’s picture books have been published in over 30 countries around the world – from New Zealand to the Netherlands – and his talents don’t end there.

His title, Give Me Some Space! was recently read aboard the International Space Station by NASA astronaut Shannon Walker, and back on Earth, Philip is here to explain the deep thinking that goes into his simply beautiful books.

Give Me Some Space! was chosen for National Simultaneous Storytime 2021 and read to over one million kids in New Zealand and Australia, as well as being read live from space.

Could you please explain the story and how it provides a fresh perspective?

Give Me Some Space! follows one space-obsessed girl’s mission to leave the Earth behind and find life in space. The lead character – Una – explores our solar system, checking in on each planet for signs of life, without much luck. It is only on her journey back from the Kuiper Belt – when she sees our beautiful blue planet twinkling in the distance – that Una floats into the realisation that there is life in space. We are life in space!

The key idea behind Give Me Some Space! was to translate what astronauts call ‘The Overview Effect’, whereby many experience a profound shift in perspective upon seeing the Earth as one, from space. Astronauts report that their elevated vantage point provides an instant and deep understanding of the interconnected, delicate and singular nature of life on Earth. 

I hope my book helps to provide readers with some small sense of this perspective, and acts as a gentle reminder that we are all spinning through space, right now. In fact, we are orbiting our star at around 30km per second, while spinning at a rate of roughly 1,600km per hour!

We sit aboard the most spectacular spaceship in the Universe, and we are all very lucky to be here. It is our collective mission to look after our spaceship, so that we can continue to explore the Universe for many years to come. 

Some of your books, like Mopoke, and Bad Crab, contain very few words. How does this enhance the parent-child book reading experience?

Give Me Some Space! is a bit of an exception, as it is a book that was deliberately created to be read aloud to groups, but you're very much correct – my books typically use as few words as possible.

The intention here is to cause the readers (adult and child) to investigate and interpret what's happening on each page – both through written and illustrated clues – and to engage in dialogue throughout the book.

Less words often leads to more questions, and more questions in a book reading provides a far richer experience for both adult and child, leading to improved engagement, better understanding, and typically more fun. 

Animals feature heavily in your books, and in many other children’s books. Why is this, and how do you choose an animal for a storyline – or a storyline for an animal?

Good question! Here's my very rough, back of the envelope take on it… My guess is that we hairy humans have been translating messages through animals since the dawn of our kind. When we interact with or observe other people, we tend to make conscious and unconscious comparisons to those people (sames, differences, likes, dislikes, etc.) which are all very personal, and often very distracting.

Featuring an anthropomorphised animal (rather than a human) in a book allows the storyteller to skip past the typically less important surface-level stuff (such as age, gender, ethnicity, cultural inflections, etc.) and deliver their idea in a less encumbered manner. 

It's really quite difficult to say how each animal is selected – as most creative decisions like this happen kinda organically as a result of the conflation of thousands of influences, from Jungian archetypes, to well-embedded folklore, to classic one-liners from The Simpsons.

So, typically, there is not a single reason to feature a particular creature – they just end up fitting the bill. Or beak.

That said, sometimes these decisions are a little more conscious. For example, the subversive storyline for my book, Not Cute. required an explicitly cute creature – hence I chose the quokka.

Likewise, the idea for my first book with my wife, Laura – Koalas Eat Gum Leaves.– called for a creature with a particularly monotonous diet. And dinner menus don't come with much less variety than those of the poor old koala! 

Many of your books have received industry accolades, and one of them has made it into space. Which book are you most proud of, and why?

Mopoke. is still closest to my heart. I made that book as a first birthday present for my little girl, Florence. I had no intention of trying to get it published, it was my better half, Laura, who encouraged me to send it to a few publishers.

Five years and 20-something books later, I'm very glad that she did!

Apart from your own books, what are your favourite titles for under fives?

There are heaps, but a few that seem to stick in the rotation in our house are:

Thanks for sharing, Philip. We’re looking forward to seeing what you create next, and love the kids’ activities you’ve created here.

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