Aura Parker is a picture book creator who’s making a splash with imaginary worlds based on relatable early childhood experiences, like bathtime, bedtime and playtime.
Her illustrations are incredible, her rhymes remarkable, and today, Aura explains the work that goes into each book, and offers fun ways to share her stories with your little bookworm.
You’re an award-winning illustrator, author and designer, Aura. What’s the creative process when coming up with a beautiful new picture book?
My creative process is usually driven by the excitement of a new idea, and I have been known to jump around telling all who will listen!
My books are designed to be read aloud, with words carefully chosen to charm and delight my little readers. I want to draw them into the book, not out, because when words and pictures are working well together, it leaves you wanting more!
I want to give kids an uplifting reading experience to help make future readers and learners of them by equipping them with language to explore the world when the time comes for it to open up.
This means that although my books probably look simple, my stories are carefully crafted and I spend a lot of time getting every beat of the text working, and all the tiny details of the illustration right, before each title goes to print.
For my rhyming books, I write the whole text first in rhyming couplets and then work on the pictures, but for other stories I do both together. I have to choose just one moment in time to best tell the story through images and work out which words will best lead readers to the next page.
Art-wise, I draw the whole book in pencil sketches, before making the finished art in a mixture of watercolour, paint, coloured pencil, as well as digital techniques.
I just keep playing around with the words and pictures, experimenting until everything feels right, while trying to maintain a child-like sense of fun, navigating deadlines, making storyboards, and giving care and time to my little characters.
Sometimes, sketches of my characters make me laugh when I am in the studio by myself. I do get a lot of pleasure out of making the books, and I hope it shines through in the stories!
Your latest title, The Silly Seabed Song, adds music to the mix. What is this story about, and why is it such a treat for under fives and the grown-ups reading it aloud?
The Silly Seabed Song is an ode to playing with language and the joy of the spoken word. It celebrates silliness and laughter, with smiles on every page.
The story is about Turtle Hatchling Fred who is trying to sleep, but the Rock Oysters are being too noisy with their song. There is also the riddle of the backwards poem.
Reading with silly voices is encouraged with this story! The song has very funny words and would sound wonderful performed with hand actions and some simple percussion.
The Silly Seabed Song is in the story twice. The first time, we sing it loud and silly, and the second time, we sing it whispered and hushed. This story works well before sleep, because its ending is soothing and calming for little people.
The book is also a feast of colour, inspired by the beauty of Australia’s fragile Great Barrier Reef, which is in peril. I hope the story inspires young learners to think and talk about the Reef and observe its natural wonders in a fun way.
We meet a lot of sea creatures drawn through the filter of my imagination and illustration style. I’ve added tiny details to explore, and the endpapers are a look-n-find where children can spot and count the little sea creatures.
You encourage children’s creativity by conducting illustration workshops and storytimes at schools and libraries.
What are some great ways for parents to support preschoolers’ drawing and literacy skills, and boost their wellbeing?
Enthusiasm is contagious – and so are smiles!
Please sing loud and silly, read lots of stories, make lots of pictures, and always keep pen and paper readily available for doodling.
The tone of your voice, and those kind words of encouragement, make a big difference to your child’s life. Your little sponge craves your time and energy, and stories are great mood changers. Children are captivated by the sweet sounds of language and soaring joy the suspense of a good story can bring, so read as much as you can!
Young children sometimes find it hard to sit still for long, so I may play a drama game during storytime to get the wriggles out and focus their attention, so we can read for longer.
My simple meerkat game works well, inspired by my book, Meerkat Splash! I tell the children to listen out for the ‘call of the meerkats’:
‘One kat, two kat, three kat, four kat,
Everybody be a meerkat!’
Whenever they hear it, they have to freeze, paws up, still and straight like the sentry meerkat on guard. I tell them the ‘call of the meerkats’ could happen at any time. The next call ends the game and they sit down again. It is also very cute seeing a bunch of kids pretending to be meerkats!
‘One, two, three, four,
All the meerkats hit the floor!’
That sounds like a lot of fun! As well as featuring meerkats and sea creatures, your titles inspire a love of nature, with glow worms, moths and stick insects aplenty.
Where do you get inspiration for your critters, and which creature will you bring to life next?
I want to encourage and share a love of our natural world, caring for it, learning about it, and putting the health of our planet at the heart of all decisions. I create my books with this in mind, and I’ve always found inspiration in nature.
When my children were small, we would go on little adventures exploring the bush near our house to look closely at the patterns, the colours and the insect life, and my imagination is drawn to certain things. I do have a lot of bug characters!
As for what’s coming up, I can’t spill the beans too much, but if you can keep a secret, I am working on a new book about a bird.
I haven’t done a bird character before and am finding bird legs extremely odd to draw! Have you noticed how their knees go backwards?
Anyhow, it is a beautiful and meaningful book, full of sadness and longing, but I promise it will be sweet and hopeful, too. I am crafting it slowly, with lots of love, and it has themes of connection, as well as strong environmental themes. I am really excited about it!
On a final note, what funny feedback have you received from young readers?
At my first public storytime event, a little girl told me she loved my book and asked if she could pat my shoes because they had a furry texture!
Since then, so many funny things have happened – especially, when we have question time with the little ones and they end up telling me funny stories, mainly because they haven’t quite learned how to ask questions yet!
A little boy once put his hand up and proceeded to tell me a great yarn about how he went for a ride in a limousine and it was wonderful because there were meerkats in the limousine. It was hilarious!
Another time, in a discussion about my first book, Twig, a child asked me, “How did you make such a strong cover?” I was impressed, even flattered by the question, and proceeded to share the cover design and publication process, only to realise, I had misunderstood. What she really meant by ‘strong’ cover was the fact it was a hardback edition! I’m still laughing.
Kids are the absolute best, and I am hoping a limousine full of meerkats will come and pick me up one day!
Join in the fun
To see how The Silly Seabed Song sounds (try saying that fast!), check out Aura’s reading of the book on YouTube.
Your child will also be kept busy with her fabulously free colouring and craft activities at https://www.illustrated.com.au/activities and you’ll find Aura’s picture books where all good titles are sold.