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Karen Foxlee

"Our mother had a dark heart feeling. It was as big as the sky kept inside a thimble."

Karen Foxlee's new kids' novel, Lenny's Book of Everything, is stealing the hearts of readers young and old. It's the story of the beetle-obsessed Lenny Spink, an encyclopedia that arrives by stages in the mailbox, and a boy who can't stop growing.

Karen was born and raised in the outback town of Mount Isa in Queensland. She wrote her first story on butcher's paper when she was seven, and since then, has always wanted to write. She now has several acclaimed kids' and adult titles under her belt, including the wonderful Lenny's Book of Everything. Read on to meet Karen's character, Lenny, her brother, Davey, who can't stop growing, and find out why they're so obsessed with Burrell's Build-it-at-Home Encyclopedia. You can also listen to our podcast interview with Karen on Souncloud or iTunes

Who is Lenny Spink? 

Lenny Spink lives with her brother in an apartment overlooking a Greyhound bus station, and at night they like to stay up to watch the arrivals and departures. Lenny misses her dad, who left and never came back, and is fiercely protective of her brother, who can’t stop growing. She has to help her mother a lot as she works two jobs. Life isn’t easy in the Spink household.

The thing I love about Lenny most is her tremendous sense of wonder. She’s so open to everything she reads in the ‘Burrell’s Build-It-at-Home Encyclopedia’ that arrives weekly, issue by issue, to their mailbox. In particular, she loves beetles and has plans to become a coleopterist when she grows up, and discover new species.

Lenny was quite a surprise (and a real gift) from my imagination. The first words I wrote were in her voice – Our mother had a dark heart feeling. It was as big as the sky kept inside a thimble. That’s how dark heart feelings are. They have great volume but they can hide in small places. You can swallow them with a blink and carry them inside you so no one would know. I knew straight away that Lenny was going to tell this story.

What is gigantism, and how does it affect Lenny’s brother, Davey?

Gigantism is a rare condition that causes abnormal growth. Davey starts growing around his fifth birthday. By the time he is seven, he is man sized. His growing also has a detrimental effect upon his health.

I based Davey’s condition on pituitary gigantism, which is usually caused by a tumour on the tiny pituitary gland in the brain and results in the overproduction of growth hormone. I used considerable artistic license, however, in making Davey’s condition a one-of-a-kind condition that baffled doctors in the early seventies.

How did you entertain yourself as a kid growing up in Mount Isa in Queensland? 

For countless hours, we explored the dry Leichhardt River, which was a few streets from our house, built cubbyhouses and forts, played in the park, rode our bikes out to the Barkly Highway and watched the big road trains coming in and waved at them until they sounded their air horns, and played a LOT of sport. We also had an encyclopedia set arrive in my childhood home when I was around eight and spent hours exploring its pages. We loved those books until they literally fell apart.