Children’s E-Books: Interview with Hazel Edwards

As we continue to explore the world of e-books on PaperTigers, we’re asking practitioners and people on the ground about some of the challenges and triumphs they personally have faced creating e-books, as well as the challenges and triumphs they see for the industry as a whole. Last week we spoke with Janet Wong ; today we chat with Hazel Edwards.

Hazel is a 2012 Astrid Lindgren Award nominee, and Ambassador for Australia’s  2012 National Year of Reading, and writes a story each birthday for her grandkids. f2m:the boy within was a 2011 White Ravens selection. Hazel is also a director of the Australian Society of Authors and especially interested in e-books. She is perhaps best known for her There’s a Hippopotamus on Our Roof Eating Cake series, as engaging and creative as the author herself, which recently celebrated its 30th anniversary with the release of the Pocket Bonfire short film that screened internationally at 2011 film festivals.

We first interviewed Hazel back in 2007, and since then she has been a regular guest on the PaperTigers Blog; we’re delighted to welcome her back now to tell us about her involvement with e-books.

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What was your inspiration for writing e-books? Was that your intention from the get-go, or was there an evolution in your creative process?

I enjoy e-books, both as another innovative format for my stories and to read myself. Inclusive of print, not exclusive. Audio already exists. Maybe smellovision next?

Change should be embraced, not feared. So, although I’m format-challenged, my aim is to learn one e-skill per day and slowly add e-stories to my website. For e-skilled children who are more visual rather than verbal, I’d prefer them to exercise their imaginations reading mysteries on screen, than play violence-based computer-games.

As a 2012 National Year of Reading Ambassador, I’m keen on any aids to literacy, and reading ‘on screen’ is seen as ‘cool’ by challenged readers, whether kids or adults. That’s the reason for adding my mystery series and performance scripts as an easy way of sharing reading for a fun purpose.

‘Us mob likes your e-stories’ was a response after an outback web-chat with an indigenous literacy program.

Fan mail proves e-books work for challenged readers, whether read on laptops or other devices. Educator Robyn Floyd forwarded this fan mail. And it’s genuine responses like this that make an author’s day.

Recently, my e-mentor daughter streamlined my website to allow sales of my print books, along with a slow move to all e-books, for the ease of readers beyond bookshops and libraries. This also makes my books available for international schools or remote web chats.

Experimentally, I grouped some of my easy-to-read children’s mystery stories into an e-book series, Project Spy Kids, starring Art, a challenged reader who is a sleuth and excellent problem-solver.

My mainstream publishers have my print titles as e-books on Amazon etc.  These include the nonfiction Aussie Heroes series Sir Edward Weary Dunlop and forthcoming Dr Fred Hollows and eco-fantasy  Plato the Platypus Plumber (part-time). An early e-book series was Duckstar.

So why did I become an e-publisher?

  • Some of my publisher merger ‘orphaned’ titles were requested by readers and I had no copies. Rights-reverted titles could be re-published in new formats, from my own site.
  • My aim was speed of reader access (they get the e-book within 24 hours) plus extras like free finger puppet patterns or Antarctic polar ship plans.
  • I write in varied fields. Writing a Non Boring Family History, my most popular e-book, helps grandparents or parents wanting to write family stories for children of their extended families internationally.
  • A non-fiction title in print and e-book format is Difficult Personalities with Dr Helen Mc Grath. This has an audio Louis Braille version as well.
  • International web-chats with authors are more relevant when the e-book is instantly accessible. f2m:the boy within is a significant  gender transition (and punk music) print novel easily and diplomatically available for international readers via Amazon etc.

In 2009 I was an Author Ambassador with the Nanjing International Cultural Exchange.  We did webchats in dual languages, and wrote some school-based stories about school pet turtles in Mandarin and English to exchange between the Australian and Chinese schools. Now some of my titles are in Mandarin.

So although I see my core profession as author, I’ve become an authorpreneur, unintentionally.

Children’s books, particularly picture books, present specific challenges to the e-book industry in terms of faithful reproduction of art and story. They also present exciting opportunities for new forms of interaction. What limitations or challenges, expected or unexpected, have you personally experienced creating e-books for children, and in turn, what benefits have you discovered as compared to printed books?

Picture books are a greater technical e-challenge in terms of preserving the quality via aps but Blue Quoll is innovating with selected picture book titles of mine. Certain stories are better suited to certain formats, but there is enormous potential for adding/changes languages and using the audio as a literacy aid. This is the MOST exciting area.

Plato the Platypus Plumber Part-time is available in Spanish, German and English as an e-book as well as a print picture book. The eco-water issues plus the ‘tool kit’ for fixing watery problems, but also grumpy people, is relevant for the age group, but there are still quality-formatting-conversion challenges to e-books.

However the Pocket Bonfire’ production of There’s a Hippopotamus on Our Roof Eating Cake is an excellent example of the director retaining the sentiment and childlike focus of the original book, but using the strengths of the medium to add new insights via sound, pausing, visuals etc.

I would like to see the Hippo stories in e-book apps formats. But that decision is for the publisher Penguin and when they think the timing and technology appropriate.

Particularly in English-speaking countries, a common concern is the lack of diversity in children’s books. How or do you think e-books might address such concerns, and how has your work engaged with issues of multicultural children’s books?

Stories crossing media into theatre or film and going into formats such as Braille or Auslan signing for deaf kids have always intrigued me.  My books have been translated into Indonesian, Mandarin, Finnish, French, Polish and American, where Mum became Mom and taps became faucets.

I live in a multicultural suburb of Melbourne. Our neighbours are Chinese, Vietnamese, Greek, Dutch, New Zealander, Serbo-Croatian , Somali and Italian. That’s just my street. Hence my Frequent Flyer Twins are Asian-Australian 10-year-old sleuths. Authors draw inspiration from their communities, but the best stories always have universal appeal through compassion.

Originally a popular print series, the Frequent Flyer Twins books now have new covers, e-formatting for all kinds of e-readers and merchandise such as stickers, t shirts, etc. by graphic designer/illustrator Jane Connory.  We met serendipitously in a local park when I was doing a Channel 31 “Kids in the Kitchen” program linking food and reading my picture books.  I had my grandson cooking Hippo footprints on camera (pancakes). Jane now designs all the new e-books in the “Project Spy Kids” literacy mystery series and illustrates the covers.

In the twentieth century the development of children’s rooms in public libraries marched hand-in-hand with growth in the children’s publishing industry. Do you think e-books will change roles of traditional libraries, and how do you envision e-books reaching children of all incomes and backgrounds?

Digital libraries are the key to providing e-books for readers of all incomes. But it’s also necessary to recompense the creators, without illegal copying depriving them.  Currently Australia has PLR (Public Lending Right) and ELR (Educational Lending Right) recompense for surveyed usage of creators’ books in libraries. This is a very significant part of most creators’ incomes. However audio and e-books are NOT included.

Distribution of digital books is a key issue and currently there are discussions of ways creators need to be compensated for library usage.

Stories about minorities need to be better distributed and recompensed, so readers can learn more about other worlds.

We love sneak previews! What are you working on at the moment? Do you plan for it to come out in print, as an e-book, or both?

The Parts of Speech TV Show and the L of a Difference literacy performance scripts have just been uploaded to my site.  Next is the sequel to my chapter book Sleuth Astrid the Mind Reading Chook called Lost Voice of the Grand Final.

This month, I launched a picture book A Safe Place to Live by Bic Walker, a former refugee/boat person from Vietnam and now an architect, who has written a universal story of change from a child’s viewpoint, based on her experiences. I highly recommend this self-published book, and have suggested to Bic than the e-book should be her next challenge.

This is a time of expediential change with e-books. We are all learning together. Next up, I’m going to write Authorpreneurship, a “how to” writing book, just as an e-book, not print.

If you were a fortune-teller, where would you predict the future lies for the evolution of the printed book vs. the e-book generally?

I’d predict that internationally more emphasis will be on audio stories with pictures for future literacy and ease of changing the language. What that technology will be called and in which format, is in transition now.  These are exciting times as regards technology, but the world still needs storytellers, so we can see the world from another’s viewpoint.

Titles, covers, chapter headings and blurbs are especially important for e-books. Readers expect more ‘gadgets,’ but currently print-book conversions work quite well. I predict that the game-book will be the next development, which is why I have been experimenting with my junior mysteries to encourage reader involvement.

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Thank you, Hazel.


2 Responses to “Children’s E-Books: Interview with Hazel Edwards”

  1. Khyiah Angel Says:

    It’s true the industry is changing at ridiculous a speed. Just when publishers (and authors) manage to get their heads around the changes, it will already be moving into the next phase of development. The game book idea is awesome!

  2. Sara Says:

    Isn’t it, though? It’s amazing to me to think about when I started out in the book industry some dozen years ago how very different the landscape looked then from now. One of the most impressive things about any conversation with Hazel, and one that I think comes through so brilliantly here, is how extraordinary she is at not only surveying and understanding these fields, but in leap-frogging ahead of the pack to see all the *new* possibilities even beyond where we are now. The game book is a great example!