Ellen Crimi-Trent, creator of the characters
in our new Schoolies range of early-learning books for preschoolers, talks about what inspired her to create the characters, who the Schoolies are based on and what she loves about making books for children!
What inspired you to create the world of the Schoolies?
I am always dreaming up characters – the Schoolies first appeared when I had to create a back-to-school programme for a client. I thought that the characters I had designed would be great for a book! I had been looking for the perfect set of characters for preschoolers for some time and realised that this was it.
As a mother of two boys, I am constantly inspired by the things they are exposed to. I get feedback from my kids on characters, personalities and names. The Schoolies characters just came organically and with a mission in mind to make learning fun for little ones. I wanted to make them seem likable and lovable for preschoolers. I know school can seem like a big place but by including some characters who are very small, like the ladybirds and light bulb, little children can relate to their size and sense of feeling overwhelmed.
Tell us about the Schoolies. Who is your favourite character? Are any of the characters based on people you know?
The Schoolies are a bunch of fun-loving kids who are just finding their way in the first years of school. Each one is a different animal or character that is excited about learning and making new friends. It’s hard to say which character is my favourite, as I love them all, but I do lean towards Spencer the owl, as he was my first character. He is friends with everyone and is well liked.
Yes, some of the characters are based on my family. My oldest son, Hayden, became Hayden Hoot, although he is not quite the maths wiz. In real life he is an amazing artist and loves computers. C.J. Crawley is based on my youngest, Colby, who is more a maths wiz than artist but he does well in that area, too. Miss Ellie is ME! I have never been a teacher but I am an artist, so I thought it was a natural fit. I am working on a character based on my husband, maybe Hayden Hoot’s dad, but I’m not quite sure yet.
Your illustration style is very vibrant and colourful, have you always wanted to design books for children?
Funny you should ask! Yes, as well as other things. I originally went to college to become a fashion designer but after my first year I changed my major to illustration. As a daughter of a fine artist, I grew up drawing and creating prints and had a passion for fashion, but I quickly realised it was not something I was very good at. Ironically, when I graduated from college and showed my portfolio around I had a hard time getting a job in children’s book illustration but found one in children’s fashion. I designed childrenswear for about five years before branching out on my own, freelancing with print and product design.
What has been your favourite thing about creating the Schoolies books, so far?
My favourite thing about the books is seeing them completed. After months and months of creating images, to finally get the printed book is such a surreal moment. It almost seems like my characters have come alive! I get excited seeing the look on the faces of family, friends and teachers when they look at the books. It seems it’s a big hit already.
The books come in a range of exciting formats – including flash cards, a school house play set, readers, wipe-clean books and more – why is it so important to make early learning fun for preschoolers?
It’s so important to make learning fun for preschoolers because if you make it uninteresting and boring they get turned off and tuned out very quickly. I am hoping that Schoolies gives them happy thoughts so that they really want to go to school.
In My First Day At School, Spencer has a fluttery feeling about starting school. What advice would you give to parents who are preparing to send their children to school for the first time?
My biggest advice is not to freak out! Many parents themselves are anxious and worry if their child will adjust or not handle being away from home. It might take some getting used to but kids adjust fine and, if you don’t make a big deal about it, they won’t either. Tell them that everyone is in the same boat as them, learning new things and making new friends, so that they don’t feel they are the only one.
What’s next for the Schoolies?
There will be more storybooks and activity books coming in 2014, with some new, exciting characters in the mix. You will meet some of the Schoolies’ parents and see more fun interaction between the Schoolies.