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Hazel Edwards: Putting Unexpected Things Together

Imagine having enough ideas to fill over 200 books for adults and children! Australian author, Hazel Edwards OAM has done just that. Whether you’re an adult or a child, you will probably know Hazel for her roof-residing, cake-consuming hippopotamus. There are seven picture books and one chapter book inspired by this lovable character and the first book, There’s a Hippopotamus on our Roof Eating Cake, turned 40 this year.

But, it’s not all about hippos.

Hazel Edwards writes junior and young adult novels that are both quirky and thought-provoking, often with a central theme of coping with being different. She has also published a memoir, Not Just a Piece of Cake: Being an Author, and a swag of adult novels. Hazel was awarded an OAM for Literature in 2013, and, among other roles, is a Reading Ambassador for several literacy groups, including Young Australians Best Book Awards (YABBA) and Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library (who do the wonderful job of providing quality picture books to Australian families in need).

With everything she does, I am honoured to be able to feature Hazel Edwards OAM on these pages so she can share just a little of her inspiration with us.

Hazel Edwards in her study | source: Copyright Agency

Where do you get your inspiration and ideas for your books?

The best ideas come from things going wrong. Or embarrassing moments.  In There’s a Hippopotamus on our Roof Eating Cake, it was our REAL leaking roof which started that idea. My then 4-year-old son thought the noisy workmen fixing our leaking roof were hippos eating cake. Now my adult son reads that book to HIS son. It’s really about the reassurance of a big, imaginary friend who has all the answers.

The Edwards family: three generations reading about a cake-eating hippo.

Other ideas come from experiences I have had, or things I love.

My picture book, Stickybeak, was based on a real duck (a class pet with attitude) that visited us.

Plato, the Platypus Plumber (Part-time) fixes regular things, like leaky taps, but has a special toolkit for fixing grumpy people too. It’s fun to read and touches on the importance of water.

Antarctic Dad was based on my Antarctic expedition. It’s about the experiences of parents who work away from home for long periods, and the fun ways they keep in touch. FiFo (Fly In Fly Out) mining, military and oil rig families of all ages use this picture book.

Flight of the Bumblebee is a fun introduction to classical music and readers can ‘buzz dance’ like bees too.

‘What if?’ is the best starter for a story. 

What if a girl wearing a hijab starts an Aussie Rules footy team?  Melek does in ‘Hijabi Girl’, soon to be a puppet musical with Larrikin Puppeteers (after the pandemic). My co-author, librarian Ozge, wears a hijab and wanted a dress-up character for her students for the parade during Book Week.

Larrikin Hijabi Girl puppets, on tour as soon as they can | source: The Puppet Creation Lab & Puppet Tribe

What are your tips for children who just ‘don’t know what to write’ when they’re faced with a blank page?

Try writing or illustrating WITH another person.

Or start writing, then swap.

The story will get better if you collaborate and share ideas.

Ozge Alkan and I co-wrote Hijabi Girl and the sequel, Hijabi Girl Plays Footy Too, which will be out next year.

The Aspiring Writers page on my website has lots of hints, downloadable PDFs and suggestions for overcoming ‘Writer’s Block’, like interviewing your characters.

What do you want people to gain from your books?

I want readers to experience each character’s viewpoint and the character’s world for the length of the book, and maybe beyond.

After reading, I’d love people to perhaps look at the issues or themes from the book a little differently – with a changed perspective.

And, I want my readers to have fun with words.

What else would you like to share with students, parents and teachers?

Picture books bridge generations and different cultures. They are not just for kids. They can be multi-lingual or in Braille; they can use collage or captioned family photos.

I create a picture book for each of my grandchildren, each birthday.

Creating a story for family members or younger people is wonderful. In my Writing Non-Boring Family History workshops, adults create a book for a child in their family. In schools, older students often perform picture books for younger classes.

Reading a book aloud should be fun for everyone. On my website, and on YouTube, you can find readings of some of my picture books.

I love to see others perform my stories in new mediums. I have fond memories of Canberra where Garry Ginivan performed ‘Hippo Hippo the Musical’.

I write in all genres, but picture books are the most challenging. The position of every word counts.

Discover more about Hazel Edwards, like the location of her favourite reading spot, on her website. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Creativity is the fun of putting together unexpected ideas.

~ Hazel Edwards ~

As a teacher, much of what Hazel Edwards says resonates, but her comment about picture books bridging generations really stood out. Picture books are for everyone and our students, no matter their age, can learn so much from browsing and sharing this genre. Read my blog on this topic, or contact me to find out about workshops for your school or staff.

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