Across the Ditch: Kate and Jol Temple

Terri-Rose Baynton, the New Zealand-based illustrator of much-talked-about new picture book Room On Our Rock, interviews Kate and Jol Temple, the Australian authors of Room On Our Rock

The book has one story that can be read two different ways. When read from front to back, the seals believe there is definitely no room on their rock for others. But when the book is read from back to front, the seals welcome others to shelter on their rock.

TB: Room on Our Rock seems simple at first glance, before you realise it’s much more complex. I’m curious to know what came first. Was it the content and message, or the concept of a back-to-front and front-to-back story?

We had the concept for a back-to-front book for a while, but we sat on it, because we didn’t want the book to be led by the concept. It had to have the right narrative so that the concept became part of the narrative. What we love about this book is that point where a kid gets to the end of the book and starts reading it back the other way, and you can really see them get that message of empathy as the story changes.

What we love about this book is that point where a kid gets to the end of the book and starts reading it back the other way…

TB: And how long did it take until you really felt you’d nailed the manuscript and message?

It took a while to get this book right. There aren’t that many words in the book so it was so important that each one was simple, rhythmic and sincere. The tone of the message was important, too. It’s an allegory inspired by the social and political issues of refugees, but it’s also simply about sharing and empathy.

Putting it together so both the stories (front-to-back and back-to-front) were strong took a few goes! The finessing – that was still going on while you were illustrating! A word or two here and there, anyway. Sorry about that…

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Kate and Jol Temple

TB: The message for Room on Our Rock can be interpreted in many ways. What do you hope your readers take away from it?

We hope this book help to build empathy. That message is relevant to the refugee crisis the world is facing, but it’s also just as relevant in the playground. And that’s where empathy and compassion begin.

To an older reader, or to the parents and teachers of younger readers, there is an obvious parallel to the global refugee crisis. It’s a fable inspired by way too many recent real-life events. If pre-schoolers get it, why can’t some of our politicians get the message, too?

If pre-schoolers get it, why can’t some of our politicians get the message, too? 

TB: Given the complexities of the story… Was it nerve-wracking choosing an illustrator? *haha*

Your work is pretty special. The beautiful line work, the cute little specks of detail we’ve long been enchanted by your watercolour animal studies. We were so thrilled you said yes to illustrating this book! We needed someone who drew beautiful animals and could create humanity and warmth in the characters.

Spread from Room on the Rock, reproduced with permission

TB: This is your first time working with Scholastic Australia and Ana Vivas the editor. How did you find the team and process?

They’re fantastic. Ana is a very talented children’s publisher who championed this book right from the start. Since our writing process is very collaborative anyway, it’s always great to work with a team of passionate people who have the same goal. Scholastic were also amazing in setting up our partnership with the ALNF (Australian Literacy & Numeracy Foundation) and their Refugee Action Support program.

TB: With the book now published and complete, which is your favourite page?

Can we have two favourite pages? There are two of us, after all…

KATE: The first and the last… and they’re the same page!

JOL: For me it’s the ‘Shoo! Go away!’ spread. This is the moment – that reading moment – where, if you haven’t seen it by now, the penny really drops. Every time we read this one aloud to kids you can see the look in their eyes and hear the ‘a-ha!’ – they get it! The opposite of saying ‘Shoo! Go away!’ is simply never saying it. It’s a message that kids really understand.

This is the moment – that reading moment – where, if you haven’t seen it by now, the penny really drops.

The first, and final page of Room on the Rock

TB: We met a few years ago now, at an awards ceremony, and I have been following your career ever since. What started it all? Why children’s books?

Yes, we did! And we’ve been following your career since then. We’d picked up your first book Mr Bear Branches just beforehand and it’s been a favourite ever since.

For us, children’s books have always had a big appeal. We’ve written in other fields but always been drawn to children’s literature. After we had kids, that really focused us on the genre. We also like visiting school and meeting our readers, too.

TB: As a husband-and-wife team, do you have writing roles? Is one the ‘idea’s man’? How does the creative process work for you together?

Our process is always changing. For us, the concept of the book is the main focus. We’ll throw ideas around for quite a while until we settle on something we both love. If it’s a picture book, a lot of the writing is actually done when we’re working through the concept. From there, one of us will get typing whilst the other sets up shop in the peanut gallery. We think of it a bit like old-school plastering: layer after layer, it all comes together.

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Room on our Rock

By Kate & Jol Temple

Illustrated by Terri Rose Baynton

Published by Koala Book Company

ISBN 9781742764108

RRP: $28.00

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Terri Rose-Baynton
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Terri-Rose grew up on a small farm in coastal New Zealand surrounded by animals of every kind and colour. With beaches, rivers and rolling hills to explore, Terri's love for the outdoors and the animals that inhabited them was sealed. Upon leaving school she pursued a career as a script writer, becoming the writer for shows such as Jane and the Dragon and The Wotwots. However the medium of picture books was always calling and in 2012 Terri published her first title Mr Bear Branches and the Cloud Conundrum' which went on to be nominated for an Australian Book Design Award and a New Zealand Post Children's Book Award. She now has four books under her belt and is becoming known for her subtly playful and expressive creatures, endeavouring with every pencil stroke to pay homage to those animal companions that shaped her childhood.