An enthusiastic and prolific writer from the age of six, Gina Newton grew up to become a marine biologist and zoologist – but she never lost her passion for creating stories and sharing information with children through the written word. Gina Newton writes both fiction and non-fiction for children, with her gorgeous book, Amazing Animals of Australia’s National Parks winning the coveted CBCA Eve Pownall Award for Information Books in 2017. With her science background, Gina’s books, whether fiction or non-fiction, are factually accurate, beautifully presented and engaging for environment enthusiasts of all ages.
Gina Newton is passionate in equal measures about Australia’s wildlife and environment, and promoting a love of writing in children. Find out what Gina loves writing about, where she gets her inspiration and what her recommendations are for aspiring writers.
Where do you get your ideas for your books?
When I was 10 years old, I saw a film at school about kangaroo shooting and thought it was very cruel. The film made me determined to do something to help wildlife because I loved nature and animals. I started a petition and found out about the Australian Wildlife Protection Council. I became one of their first members. I’d been creating stories since I was six and loved writing stories and drawing pictures for the council. At university, I studied Marine Biology and Zoology and later specialised in Aquatic Ecology. After having my own kids, I went back to university to study Science Communication. This meant I could finally combine my love of animals and writing.
All my writing, both fiction and non-fiction, has wildlife and environmental themes. I am passionate about getting children excited about wildlife and nature. My wish is that children will grow up knowing we need to protect animals and their habitats, and that we can all make a positive difference.
It’s the animals themselves and what may be happening to them, that inspire the ideas for my books.
What are your tips for students who ‘don’t know what to write’ when they are faced with a blank page?
In my workshop, Write Your First Book, there are lots of practical ideas for thinking up stories. For example, you could write down a list of 30 words (ten action words, ten describing words and ten people/animal-related words). Randomly select once word from each list and see if they make a title (or part of a title) for your book. You might end up with: The Jumping Blue Cow or Why my Fuzzy Brother Disappeared.
Another way to help with inspiration is to get a stack of postcards or travel magazine pictures. Pick one and imagine you have just started a holiday there. How did you get there? What will you do? What good things will happen? How will you deal with the problems?
Another fun idea is to develop an unusual character to inspire your story . For example, they could be half human and half animal, or an alien from another planet, or a new creature from the bottom of the sea. It might help to make a list of all the physical and behavioural characteristics of your new character first. What do they look like? What special talents do they have? Are they on a mission to do or find something?
“Write about what you know.”
I hear this from so many authors – and it’s true. If you’re interested in something – it doesn’t matter what it is – then write about it.
Contact Gina Newton here to find out about her school workshops.
Which of your books is your absolute favourite and why?
That question is hard. Each book has something unique and special about it. My first published book was a fiction picture book called Blossom Possum: The Sky is Falling Down Under (2006, Scholastic Press). It was my first, so it will always be special. I can’t explain the thrill of receiving that first letter that says, ‘We are pleased to accept your manuscript for publication’.
Blossom Possum has sold over 145,000 copies!
My third book, Amazing Animals of Australia’s National Parks (2016, National Library of Australia) is very close to my heart. It is an information book that showcases over 120 amazing animals and their habitats. It won three awards. I’ve had loads of great feedback from kids, teachers and librarians about it.
My two newest books, due for release in October 2020, are also favourites. I wrote an earlier version of Hold on! Saving the Spotted Handfish (CSIRO Publishing) over 15 years ago and desperately want people all around Australia to know about this amazing little fish.
I wrote the other book, Combat Wombat to the Rescue (Ford Street Publishing), six years ago. It’s about an eco-warrior wombat who saves the animals from a bushfire.
I hope the first book will show how important science is in the fight to save threatened species, and I hope the second book will provide an opportunity to gently talk with young children about the tragic bushfires we endured this summer and about the hope of recovery.
Which of your characters do you love the most?
Blossom Possum is my favourite as she is so determined and gets everyone to help. Sometimes, she’s a little too trusting though. It’s important to try hard, but it’s also important to listen to your instincts and to your knowledgeable friends.
In Amazing Animals, one of my favourite animals is the Giles Planigale. This tiny marsupial could fit on your thumb, and has a triangular-shaped head so it can fit between the cracks of clay soils where it can catch lots of bugs to eat.
Handstand the Handfish is the narrator of Hold On. I really like him as he explains what has happened to his species and how scientists have stepped in to help save the Spotted Handfish from the brink of extinction.
Combat Wombat is such a lovable character. He’s like an accidental hero who tries really hard but he gets stuck a lot. He is very clever though, and a good leader.
How do you feel when you think about children reading your books? What do you want their ‘take aways’ to be?
I feel so grateful when I get feedback from a child, a parent, a teacher or a librarian. There are so many books out there to choose from, I’m glad they chose to read one of mine. I am always thrilled when a child says they really like one of my books, or it’s their favourite. It’s also very nice when a parent tells me that my book was in the top ten for a while.
My books are written primarily with children in mind, but I also hope that adults will read them too. By reading my books together and talking about the messages, I hope everyone gains understanding and awareness of environmental issues. I also want my books to be fun and enjoyable to read.
I really would love children to think about the environment after they read my books, and to have more empathy and understanding for Australia’s wonderful wildlife and habitats. It would be great if readers are inspired to explore nature with their families. I want people to be inspired to visit national parks or the beach, or go to wildlife sanctuaries which do amazing conservation work.
Gina Newton certainly follows the advice of writing what you know about and her books are proof that you can create wonderful things and effect change through the power of words. Discover more about Gina and her books on her website. Also check her publisher’s websites (Ford St Publishing and CSIRO Publishing) for teacher notes for her upcoming books.
Remember that picture books are not only for little kids and can be used to reinforce ideas and concepts in all curriculum areas, not just English. Find out about the importance of using picture books for older children in my blog post, Can picture books be used for all levels?