Wren by Katrina Lehman, illustrated by Sophie Beer and published by Scribble Kids Books is an eye catching picture book about the arrival of a new baby.
Wren likes nothing more than a bit of peace and quiet but with a busy household and four siblings the chances of getting any are slim to none. Between the cars rushing past outside, the grown ups talking and his brothers and sisters banging and crashing through the house there just isn’t a hope.
Just when Wren thought things couldn’t get any noisier…. a new baby sister arrived. And this baby was certainly making her presence heard, she cried and screeched all the time. Everyone tried everything to soothe her but still she cried. Wren searched to find any quiet space in the house to escape to but the baby was so loud he gave up, the only thing for it was to move to his grandparents, permanently.
At first everything seemed great at his grandparents home in the country; there was no noisy traffic, no other children and best of all – no crying. But before long Wren started to miss his noisy family, he was homesick. He heads back home, ready to finally bond with his little sister and finds they might have more in common than he first thought.
Unusually, this book features a larger family than you normally see in a new baby story, as well as an older sibling, so it would be great to help support an older child who is preparing for a new baby. A sweet story with vivid and lively illustrations that is perfect for any family finding their way through this tricky transition.
Interview with author Katrina Lehman
We’re thrilled to welcome Katrina Lehman to our blog who has very kindly agreed to answer some questions about Wren, writing and large families…
Did you have any favourite books as a child and did any of them inspire you to write?
As long as I can remember, I have read and written. If I wasn’t out on the farm, I had y head stuck in a book or I was writing in my Dinky Diary or I was making up stories to scare my siblings at night. In Grade 6, Colin Thiele visited to talk about Storm Boy and writing. I was hooked. I devoured The Naughtiest Girl in the School, Nancy Drew, Stargirl (Jerry Spinelli), The Lake at the End of the World (Caroline MacDonald), Victor Kelleher’s Taronga and Sonya Hartnett’s books.
It’s silly, I know, but I have always felt that what you read as a child forms part of your DNA. When people tell me they have never read John Marsden’s Tomorrow series or Judy Blume or Hardy Boys or I am David or The Silver Sword or David Almon’s Skellig, I can’t help feeling their loss; it’s like they missed a slice of childhood and an essential part of their character development.
It seemed a natural progression from wanting to write to wanting to work with people who create the magic. I have been a children’s book editor for over 15 years now and have always been fascinated by picture books and how an entire narrative can be conveyed in 32 pages and how the text and illustrations work together.
Some of my favourite picture books that inspired me in my early writing career were: The Rabbits (John Marsden), The Red Tree (Shaun Tan), Fox (Margaret Wild) and Jenny Angel (Margaret Wild). I couldn’t believe that such heavy themes could be depicted with such deftness.
Can you tell us a bit about how Wren came to be published?
I was just so busy juggling too many balls – as a mother, as an editor for Penguin Books, freelance writing, and teaching editing at university – and I deased my own creative writing had just fallen to the wayside. Then out of the blue, I was to run a 6-week creative writing class after work once a week. I was pregnant with #3, full of creative energy, and so totally buoyed up after the sessions that I would go to a cafe and write until midnight. I wrote Wren and my next two picture books in that six weeks!
The idea was a sort of melding of a couple of things: one, wondering how our two very different girls were going to react to a new baby in the family; two, my fascination with families and how different each sibling can be; three, wondering what it was like my brother growing up as the youngest of four and the only boy. So I started writing about this little boy who just wanted to find his own place in a big family… and it all flowed quickly from there. I put it away for almost six months and tinkered with it on and off for a year. I finally worked up the courage to show some editor colleagues and they convinced me to send it to Scribe.
It was the first time I had ever sent a manuscript to a publisher! Scribe ticked all the boxes: it wasn’t too big that I would get lost as a debut author, it had a passionate and very hands-on publishing team, and it produced gorgeous and totally unique picture books. I was so lucky to find a home with them!
We love the bright and unique illustrations in Wren, how closely did you work with Sophie Beer on them?
Miri, my wonderful publisher, and I took six months trying to find the right illustrator for Wren. We wanted a new illustrator, someone local, and something unique. The moment Miri sent me Sophie’s portfolio I knew she was the one. Her work is abstract and bright and my eldest announced that she loved it. So, that was that.
Incredibly, Sophie also comes from a large family, and even her roughs captured the chaos and craziness of my large family, but in a suburban setting. The whole process was very collaborative: we went back and forth with roughs perfecting character consistency, ages, getting the characters absolutely right, and varying the compositions.
Sophie’s intuitive feel for composition as a first-time illustrator was astonishing and she introduced all the minutiae that I so love and that took the story to the next level – even now I am finding little things in the illustrations that I hadn’t seen before.
As one of 4 siblings and the mother of 3 children, how much of the story of Wren is based on your own experiences?
My whole life growing up on a farm in NSW was about a world with adults – camping, leeching, yabbying , box sliding down very steep hills, mouse-hunting, wading through creeks, horse riding. I would give anything to relive that magic childhood world where anything and everything was possible. The complete freedom, independence, creativity and resilience that a rural childhood gave me is something I am sad that I’ll never be able to give my kids in the city so I try to encourage as much free-range play and chaos as possible. In this way, Wren was a loving and vibrant depiction of my won childhood, but in an urban setting. Having three children is definitely challenging and particularly in an urban setting where there is so much social activity that you forget how important quiet time is. Much of the time is. Much of the time the house is full of noise and chaos. We both work so it’s important to not only find time together as a family, but also find time for each child individually. Even just ten minutes on the couch in the morning or at night reading a book, bug hunting, pyjama walks after dinner. Wren was about embracing chaos but also appreciating the importance of giving each other space. It was also about helping people find magic in the mundane and everyday, and hopefully through my writing dig up a place/a memory/a feeling that people thought was long gone.
What advice would you give to someone who dreams of being a writer?
You will be a writer! It will take a long time, and life will get in the way (jobs, travelling, kids, houses) but you will get there. You need to find a special place (for me it was in the middle of a bustling cafe), and sit and let ideas percolate. Don’t be afraid to just get words onto the page and then go back later and sift through it for the gems. Carry around a notebook to jot down ideas no matter how random and keep one by your bed at night for that elusive first line that pops into your head right before you fall asleep. Join a writing group – there is nothing more inspiring than being workshopped. Maybe have a bit more faith in yourself and send that story to publishers when you’re 20 instead of 40… and never think that any idea is too mundane.
Thank you so much Katrina for answering our questions and I definitely agree that what you read as a child becomes part of who you are.
This post is part of the Wren blog tour, be sure to check out the other posts in the tour.
Buy Wren from Wordery with free delivery.
Many thanks to Scribble Kids Books for sending a copy of this book for review.
This post contains affiliate links that won’t change the way you shop but might make us a little bit of money… that we will probably spend on more books.