Meet Jane Tanner
Jane Tanner is the acclaimed illustrator of the best-selling picture books There's a Sea in my Bedroom, Drac and the Gremlin, The Wolf, The Fisherman and the Theefyspray and Lucy's Cat and the Rainbow Birds. She has won or been shortlisted for many prestigious awards, including the CBCA Book of the Year Awards in the categories of Picture Book of the Year, Younger Readers' and Early Childhood.
What prompted you to write for children?
I’ve always been interested in children’s books. Some adult literature can hide behind cleverness and verbose language. The pared down nature of children’s texts leaves no room for pretention…words need to be essential and the meaning clear, leaving space between pictures and text for intelligent readers to make their own interpretation of the story. I love this process.
How did you feel when you won the Children’s Book of the Year Award for a Picture Book in 1989 for your illustrations in Allan Baillie’s Drac and the Gremlin?
I felt encouraged, amazed, humble and delighted…. all at once!
Looking back on your prominent career, what would you say has been your greatest achievement?
My greatest achievement has been learning to understand which different age groups my books are aimed towards, modifying my style to suit each age group and creating honest, positive stories that I truly believe in.
What kinds of books did you read while growing up?
I was fortunate that my mother was passionate about literature and she led me from A. A. Milne through Dickens, Austen, Bronte, Poe, Shakespeare and the great poets before I’d finished primary school. I loved these writers too but my hidden obsession was comic books. I spent my lunch money on them and devoured them in secret.
Who has been your biggest inspiration or influence for writing?
My greatest inspiration has been the insights of Bruno Bettelheim’s wonderful book The Uses of Enchantment. I also love Sendak’s Higgelty Piggelty Pop and Lewis Caroll’s Alice in Wonderland.
Do you have any quirky writing habits that you’d like to share with us?
Nothing quirky, just hard work and constantly editing myself.
What can you tell us about your new book, Lily and the Fairy House?
Lily and the Fairy House is a celebration of childhood fantasy in the classic tradition of Ida Rentoul Outhwaite, Margaret Clark and May Gibbs. My passion for connectedness with nature is illustrated in the Australian trees, flowers, insects and birds featured and I have studied all these details from life. To get authentic lighting I actually made a model of the fairy house and lit it with a reading lamp. I also made the table from a gum leaf and the bed from rose petals. I made a leaf boat too which I floated in a bowl of water to study the reflections. The children featured are real and I tried to draw them like tiny, real playmates…never cute or twee.
Can we look forward to another book soon?
I am working on a surreal looking picture book for older readers, which is a departure from my recent books. In some ways it harks back to The Wolf which I illustrated many years ago. This picture book is drawn in charcoal and has dramatic use of computer graphics combined with traditional techniques. I am using my 15-year-old grandson as a model…very different from his earlier role in Playmates.
What kinds of themes or ideas are central to your work for children? Are there any particular messages that you want to get across?
I aim to empower my child readers…also to celebrate childhood. I believe that busy, modern children need to slow down and feel connected to the natural world…both through tactile experiences and through imagination.
That is why my backgrounds are careful plant studies whenever possible…to remind children of the beauty of the world around them. Feeling small in nature and being able to daydream encourages the ability to ask the big questions…and maybe to take care of the world we treasure.
Do you have any advice that you’d like to offer to aspiring writers and illustrators?
Be brave and work constantly…and question every thing. But only invite criticism from those whose opinions are based on knowledge and who you trust…and keep your mind open.