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Historical Stories Come Alive: Stephanie Owen Reeder

Canberra-based author and illustrator, Stephanie Owen Reeder, loves books, history, art and her family – all of which inspire her writing. Written for children aged seven and up, the five books (so far) in her Heritage Heroes series feature ordinary children in history achieving extraordinary things. Lennie the Legend, the third book in the series, has pushed the little known story of nine-year-old Lennie Gwyther to front stage with statues, a musical and even a movie option. Stephanie ensures the younger book lovers are not left out with several picture book historical stories, including Trouble in the Surf, helping history come to life for all ages.

Enjoy reading about Stephanie’s writing journey with your students, and discover where she gets her marvellous ideas from as Stephanie answers our five questions.

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

Most of the ideas for my books come from real life; either from my own or my children’s experiences, or from true stories from Australian history, like the books in my Heritage Heroes series or the picture book Trouble in the Surf. I am always on the lookout for great story ideas, and I keep an ideas file. I currently have enough ideas for about 20 new books!

Do you have any tips for young writers who may be struggling with the blank page?

Write about what or who you know. Write about things that have happened to you or members of your family. Interview your grandparents or older members of your family. I’m sure you’ll find a few good stories there. Or research the history of your local area or state to find interesting stories about young people just like you who have done inspiring or clever things.

Historical stories are a great place to start, as they provide you with plot, characters and a setting. It’s then up to you to bring those three elements to life. It’s great to play historical detective and then create a story out of what you have found. 

Which of your books is your absolute favourite? Why?

This is like asking me which of my children or grandchildren is my favourite! I’ll keep it to two. Lost!, the first book in my Heritage Heroes series, is one of my favourites. It was the beginning of what has been a wonderful writing journey through Australian history. It also is close to my heart because it is about three children, just like my own kids, and the power of parental and sibling love. It’s also the book that my readers seem to fall in love with.

My other favourite is Lennie the Legend. It’s been my most successful book, winning the CBCA Book of the Year Award, and it’s also been optioned for film and stage. I never thought that would happen!   

Which of your characters is your favourite? Why?

My favourite character is Lennie Gwyther from Lennie the Legend. He’s such a laid-back, practical, no-nonsense little boy who just gets on with things, whether it’s riding for miles and miles through a blazing bushfire or riding his pony, Ginger Mick, in the Grand Opening Parade for the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Lennie––a real person––is down-to-earth, caring and resilient. A real inspiration for us all!

When you think about children reading your books, how does this make you feel? What do you want their ‘take-aways’ to be?

One of the most fabulous things about being an author is knowing that thousands of other people will be able to experience the joy that you felt while creating your book––the excitement of a story unfolding on the page, the invitation into another world, a different way of thinking, a different way of living. We can all learn so much from stepping back in time and finding out about how people lived in the ‘olden days’. There are so many similarities and so many differences. But when it all comes down to it, people are people, wherever or whenever they live, with needs, wants, desires, flaws and foibles––just like us. Books allow us to step into their world to help us discover who we are or who we would like to be.  I’m honoured to be able to share those other worlds with my readers.

For more information about the wonderful Stephanie Owen Reeder and her books, or to contact her if you’d like to make a booking for a school visit, visit her website or find her on Facebook.

Making history accessible and engaging for young learners is important. Historical stories, written about children and for children, are an essential resource for teachers. Discover why picture books are just as, if not more, valuable for older students here.

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