As a long-time fan of Sean E Avery‘s, I’m buzzing with glee to have the opportunity to get the inside scoop on what makes him tick (or sting?!). He quickly shot to kidlit stardom with the success of his first picture book, All Monkeys Love Bananas, then went on to win awards for his edgy, quirky and heartwarmingly amusing books, Happy as a Hog Out of Mud and Frank’s Red Hat. Sean is a multi-talented author-illustrator with a few new releases, including his funny middle grade graphic novels, the Friendly Bee and Friends series, and delightful picture book, Mr Clownfish, Miss Anemone and the Hermit Crab. Welcome, Sean, and thanks for bee-ing here! 😉
Hi Sean! Welcome to Just Write For Kids! It’s a pleasure to speak with you about your fantastic books!
Howdy! Good to be here! 😊
As a supremely talented author AND illustrator, can you tell us a bit about your journey into creating children’s books?
Why thank you very much! I wrote and illustrated a little picture book in the third year of my graphic design degree in 2011 called All Monkeys Love Bananas that went on to be published and sell over a hundred thousand copies. This book introduced me to working with kids doing writing and illustration workshops, so I became a primary school teacher as my primary profession and I’ve always made books on the side ever since.
Your latest books include your buzzi-licious Friendly Bee and Friends middle grade series, and your sharp-witted yet heartwarming picture book, Mr Clownfish, Miss Anemone & The Hermit Crab. What can you share about the main ideas and themes of these books?
Mr Clownfish, Miss Anemone and the Hermit Crab is an underwater friendship triangle about the ever-shifting dynamics of new and old mates. I’ve always wanted to write about the symbiotic relationship between these sea creatures and finally managed to weave the narrative in – it took many years of planning and pondering to get it right! Friendly Bee is also about friendship and adventure. Lots of problem solving and learning to accept folks for who they are. Lots of deadpan humour too. Dark and anarchic in style, inspired by creators like Aaron Blabey and Dav Pilkey.
What do you hope readers will gain from reading these stories?
First and foremost, a good laugh. Second, if these books are being read by a grownup, I hope that grownup enjoys the story as much as their kid does. Third, I hope there are some fun lessons about life to unpack with a class of kids if these books are being read in a school setting. I also hope the graphic novel format of Bee inspires reluctant readers to give reading a go.
What are your favourite parts of these books?
The collage art style in Clownfish was a lot of fun to create. My books are highly character-driven, so the characters are really the best thing about my work.
How do the lengths of the processes in creating picture books and junior fiction graphic novels generally compare? Do you prefer one genre over the other?
I think I might be better at creating graphic novels, because my edgier humour can sneak out. It takes about 3 – 4 months to create a graphic novel versus the 2 months it takes to make a picture book. I enjoy making picture books more, but I think my gift lies in creating middle grade illustrated fiction like Friendly Bee.
Based on the common ‘animal’ thread amongst your books, do you enjoy observing the funny side of nature? Where do you normally get your inspiration from?
I love the animal world. I find them a lot more fun to draw – I do have a few books coming out over the next few years with people in them though, so I’m slowly creeping out of my animal comfort zone! Inspiration is in abundance everywhere I look, no one clear defined source to speak of. 😊
What is your absolutely favourite animal in the world?
My spirit animal, the platypus. An animal that shouldn’t rightly exist, but does and does so in a whimsical, unconventional way.
Aw, love that!
Congratulations on your recent Indie, WAYRBA and CBCA Picture Book of the Year Awards for Frank’s Red Hat! What does winning awards mean to you?
Thank you! It’s always nice to be recognised by the literary community. Awards have never been my measure of success as a creator though – I’m all about reach and universal appeal. I’m also more on the commercial side of the creator spectrum than the serious literary side.
You are certainly multi-talented, being a writer, illustrator, designer and teacher. How have these skills helped you become the success that you are? Which part of the process do enjoy the most?
I feel that having high competency in these areas have definitely given me a unique selling point as a creator. I love every single part of creating books – writing, drawing, design, sales, marketing, publicity, distribution, editorial, politics, foreign rights, teaching, research, kidlit community engagement. I involve myself in all of it because I love the business and want to know everything about it. I think ignoring any parts of the process limits your potential in kidlit to an extent, and I want to succeed in this world as bad as I want to breathe.
What is the secret to engaging readers with humour in your writing and illustrations?
Great characters in my opinion. Pushing limits, combining genres and styles, doing something new and unexpected.
How do you go about promoting your books, and where can we find out more about them?
I visit schools; present at festivals; promote on social media (@seaneavery); send newsletters (coming soon); update my website regularly; do book shop signings, do holiday workshops and readings around Perth; beginning to do interstate visits too!
Do you have any other information or experiences you’d like to share?
In the words of Stephen King:
“You can, you should, and if you’re brave enough to start, you will.”
Best advice ever. I live by that sentiment, and so should everyone I think.
Thanks so much, Sean, for this fabulous chat! 😊
It has been a pleasure! Thanks for having me. 😊
Sean E Avery is a teacher, author-illustrator, and designer born in South Africa; living in Perth, Western Australia. He’s best known as the creator of best-selling children’s picture books, All Monkeys Love Bananas and Frank’s Red Hat.
His picture book, Happy as a Hog Out of Mud, won the 2022 WAYRBA Picture Book of the Year Award and Frank’s Red Hat won the 2023 CBCA Shadow Judges Picture Book of the Year award and was shortlisted for the 2023 Indie, WAYRBA and CBCA Picture Book of the Year Award. His books are sold internationally and have been translated into Arabic, Mandarin, French, Korean, German and Danish. Sean’s new graphic novel series, Friendly Bee and Friends, and his new picture book, Mr Clownfish, Miss Anemone and the Hermit Crab, are out now.
In his previous artistic career, Sean was a sculptor who used CDs and DVDs to create breathtaking works of art that reside in galleries and private collections worldwide. His sculptures have been featured in publications like Ripleys Believe It Or Not!, The Huffington Post, and Kid’s National Geographic to name a few.
He is curious, enthusiastic and ready to work hard for the things he believes in.
Visit Sean’s awesome website and check out his awesome books at SEAN E AVERY.