Sunday, October 18, 2009

Author Focus: Tohby Riddle

1. About Tohby Riddle

Tohby Riddle is an award-winning Australian writer who was born in Sydney and still lives there. His early education was spent at a Steiner school where a love of creating things (mainly with drawings and words) flourished. He is an illustrator, cartoonist, designer and occasionally an editor. He has written and illustrated many successful picture books as well as a novel (published as a young adult book). His work as a cartoonist appeared for almost 10 years in two major daily Australian newspapers, the 'Sydney Morning Herald' and 'The Age'. He is also a former editor of the 'The School Magazine', a literary magazine for children published by the NSW Department of Education since 1916 for use in schools.

He trained at the Sydney College of the Arts, majoring in painting. He worked in various jobs after college one of which was as the mailing clerk at Pan Books Australia. He says that this was a great education for him. In this job he saw what manuscript submissions looked like and what rejections slips looked like. He also met many visiting authors. All of this was an encouragement to write. A book on the art of Maurice Sendak also inspired him. Meanwhile he had started studying architecture at the University of Sydney.

Eventually he had to make a choice between being a dedicated writer or an architect; he chose the latter. Since then has produced 14 picture books, a novel and many cartoons and illustrations. Some of the books have been published internationally, some have received awards, and 'The Great Escape from City Zoo' has had the feature film rights to it bought by a Hollywood studio. For such a remarkably gifted illustrator it is disappointing that some of his early works are hard to buy. As a relatively young writer and illustrator he has potentially many more innovative works to share with his many readers.

2. His Books

Dog and Bird Follow a Butterfly (2009)

This is a wonderful picture book for preschoolers and beginning readers. One day Dog and Bird follow a butterfly. It goes up and down, and round and round as it leads them to a magical moment!

The Lucky Ones (2009)

This is Tohby Riddle's debut novel. It is set in the 1980s and central character Tom is just out of school at the beginning of the rest of his life. But everything seems out of whack, crazy. This is a book that resonates with the issues that teenagers face today, including joy and sadness.

Nobody Owns the Moon (2008)

Clive Prendergast is a fox with a regular job and a place to call home. While he is able to adapt to city life some of his friends like Humphrey the donkey finds it harder. Life in the city is a mixed bag for these two, but a special-looking blue envelope is about to change everything – at least for one wonderful night. The book uses collage to great effect and a text that is clever and works cleverly at multiple levels.

This book was shortlisted for the Patricia Wrightson Prize in the 2009 NSW Premier's Literary Awards. It was also shortlisted in the 2009 Children's Book Council Awards (Australia) in the Picture Book category.

The Word Spy (2008)

This book was written by Ursula Dubosarsky and illustrated by Tohby Riddle (2008). Published as 'The Word Snoop' in the USA (2009) this book is a wonderful journey through the 4,000 year history of the English language. Readers meet palindromes, puns, Pig Latin, new alphabets, anagrams and acronyms along the way.

The book won the Patricia Wrightson Prize in the 2009 NSW Premier's Literary Awards 2009. It was also named as an Honour Book in the Eve Pownall Award for Information Books 2009

Pink Freud (2007)

This is Tohby Riddle's second collection of cartoons. They are a delight for children of varied ages as well as adults.

Irving the Magician (2005)

Irving lives in New York. One day while watching the world go by from his window he notices a man in the street and overhears him say - 'Where's the magic?' Irving thinks long and hard about the words of the man. He takes the man's idiomatic statement literally and sets out on a quest for something different. 'Where's the magic?' Irving asks a shopkeeper at the corner store. 'Well, it's not around here', is the reply. And on he goes. When Irving finds a mysterious book gathering dust on a shelf in his aunt's apartment, he is inspired to become a magician!

This book was shortlisted in the 2006 CBCA awards in the Picture Book category. It was also shortlisted in the Queensland Premier's Literary Awards in 2006.

What’s the Big Idea? (2003)

This is a full-colour collection of cartoons that were all originally published in the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper. It is a blend of the humorous, the strange and the thought provoking.

The Singing Hat (2000)

Colin Jenkins’s life is changed for good when he falls asleep in his lunch hour and a mysterious bird makes a nest on his head. He wakes and makes his way home, blissfully unaware of what has happened. When he does become aware of the bird on his head, his daughter encourages him to leave the bird alone, so he tries to leave the bird undisturbed. But Colin does not realise the complications his new bird hat will bring. This improbable tale is one of several books that build on the age-old theme - dealing with the unwelcome visitor. Tales like 'The Mitten' and the Dr Seuss book 'Thidwick the Big-hearted Moose' are typical of those who have used this idea. The clever story and illustrations that combine collage, watercolour and line drawing immediately engage children. The reader is also swept along by the absurdity of the situation that Colin faces.

This book was named as an Honour book in the Picture Book category of the 2001 CBCA awards. It was joint winner of the Wilderness Society of Australia Environment Award in 2001

The Great Escape from City Zoo (1997)

Tohby Riddle wrote this wonderful picture book before the movie Madagascar was made. The story tells of the adventures of four animals that escape from City Zoo and end up on the run in the big wide world. The books monochrome illustrations support a fast moving tale that children love. Riddle mixes many cultural icons into the story that will keep the adults reading the book interested - King Kong being just one!

This book was shortlisted in the picture book category of the 1998 Children's Book Council Australia (CBCA) awards, and the NSW Premier's Literary Awards 1999.

The Tip at the End of the Street (1996)

A dreamy tale of two children fascinated by what people throw away at the tip at the end of their street. One day they find an old man there who brings the world of the past to life.

This book won the 'Ena Noel Award' (International Board on Books for Young People) and was listed as a 'Notable Book' in the 1997 Children's Book Council Wards (Australia) in the Picture Book category.

50 Fairies You Ought to Know About (1995)

This book introduces the reader to 50 types of fairies that can be held responsible for all the strange, slightly annoying little things that go on around the home and elsewhere.

This title is out of print

The Royal Guest (1993)

The Queen is planning to visit Australia. When the Queen raises questions about the cost of a royal visit, Mrs Jones from Padstow in Sydney offers to billet her. A gracious Queen (sleeping bag in hand) accepts the offer. The Queen experiences everyday suburban life, as she plays cards with Mrs Jones and her friends and helps her to take her cat to the vet. As usual, Riddle uses a simple and quirky idea and wonderful illustrations to spin a good tale.

This early title is also hard to find but you'll find it in libraries.

Arnold Z Jones Could Really Play the Trumpet (1993)

Arnold Z Jones loves playing his trumpet – loudly (and badly)! Unfortunately, he plays the trumpet all the time, even in his sleep. His parents and the family dog try everything to get some peace and quiet, but nothing will stop him.

This book is hard to find but is available on the Internet.

A Most Unusual Dog (1992)

Fletcher, a dog that builds his own kennel, cooks pancakes and rides a penny farthing in the park becomes famous for his talents. But fame doesn’t necessarily bring good fortune.

This book is out of print.

Careful With that Ball, Eugene! (1989)

When Eugene kicks his ball really hard it goes straight towards his grumpy neighbour's window. In that instant, Eugene’s future flashes before him. What might have happened because of that kick - except for his dog?

Unfortunately, the book is out of print but second hand copies can be found on the Internet.

3. Other related posts and resources

Tohby Riddle's personal website (here)
All 'Author Focus' posts on this blog (here)

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