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What a privilege it is to welcome both award-winning animator and author, Penny Harris, and talented illustrator and multimedia developer, Winnie Zhou to the blog to discuss their innovative and highly developed new series for early years children; Ginnie & Pinney ‘Learn and Grow‘! Thanks for coming along, ladies! 🙂
Thanks, Penny and Winnie, for joining Just Write For Kids for this special interview! And congratulations on the release of the first two delightful picture books in the Ginnie & Pinney series, ‘3, 2, 1, Here I Come’ and ‘Pinney the Winner’!
Penny, how did you and Winnie come together initially to develop this concept, and what drew you to her style of art / design?
PH: I was lecturing at Monash University in Multimedia Practise and Winnie was one of my Masters student at the time. Her Masters project included animations of some of the characters we have used in the Ginnie & Pinney series. When both Winnie and I had left the university we got together to more fully develop the characters as they are today. I was really drawn to the whimsical and sweet drawing style Winnie has done and could see potential in them for the kind of project we finally developed. We began this journey in 2011 and have been working together on Ginnie & Pinney since then. I don’t think we have had one argument over all this time and have worked really harmoniously. It wasn’t until 2014, when I read an article in The Age newspaper, about teaching ethics and empathy to young children, that Winnie and I finally had a clear vision of what we wanted to do. It was all systems go from then on.
Winnie, can you talk us through the process of developing the characters? Were there any challenges or major changes before you both agreed on the final look?
WZ: Developing the characters was a long and fun process for me. As Penny said previously, they were a part of my Masters project with the characters created for a series of short animations with wise and encouraging messages.
I loved creating the cute animal characters and Penny thought they were charming. After we both left the university, we decided to work together to create something based on these characters. This was in 2011!
The original characters were a much softer colour and had very simple facial features. Once we decided to go down the track of creating the Ginnie & Pinney series of children’s books I made some changes to the characters. The colours were intensified for catching small eyes. More facial details were given to the characters so as to show different emotions and feelings by the facial expressions. I also added stitches to the characters, so they look more unique and, like a hand stitched plush toy.
In order to make our project global, we purposefully chose nine animals from my Masters project that represent some countries across the globe. Ginnie Giraffe and Pinney ‘Potamus for Africa; Kevin, Kelly and Kylie Koalas and Lulu Kangaroo for Australia; Miranda Panda represents China; Tao Tiger for India and finally, Dodo Komodo Dragon represents Indonesia. I have created many more animal characters and hope one day they might join the Ginnie & Pinney group of friends.
‘Ginnie & Pinney: Learn and Grow’ is an engaging, interactive and empowering series about helping children develop ethical, social and emotional skills. What has been your experience with putting the books into action in terms of feedback from educators, parents and children?
PH: We first published the books in China in Mandarin as Winnie had a relationship with a university and publisher in Jinan, Shandong Province. We followed this by self publishing where we trialled the materials in a number of schools from ELC to grade 2.
Feedback from educators, parents and children has been excellent with many positive endorsements and testimonials.
The series was selected by the Finnish not-for-profit educational organisation, HundrEd, as one of a hundred of 2019’s most innovative educational projects out of 37 countries which was incredibly affirming for us and all the time we had put into the project. Late last year Ginnie & Pinney was selected by the Victorian Department of Education and Training for the 2020 School Readiness Funding Menu which was another exciting affirmation of the efficacy of the Learn & Grow series.
WZ: We took our idea to China and showed the storylines and characters to the Chinese educators in 2014. They really liked it and said they would like to see more books that would foster empathy and emotional intelligence in children. As the educators mentioned, not only academic skills but also emotional intelligence is the most critical skill that helps adults thrive in the society. Most of the parents in China also agreed with this but there weren’t many materials could show how to teach their children about empathy and develop emotional intelligence comprehensively. With all of this feedback, we decided to make Ginnie & Pinney a handy tool for both parents and educators to use to educate children on understanding feelings and to develop their emotional skills.
Do you have a personal favourite character that you relate to the most? Why this one?
PH: That is a difficult question as I like all the characters but Pinney ‘Potomus and I have a special relationship. I understand his gung-ho nature, often acting before he thinks and his kindness. He is always in a hurry to get things done but when it comes to loyalty and kindness, Pinney is it!! Maybe he is a bit like me, always in a hurry and full of ideas, but with the best intentions. I think I have learnt a lot through this time thanks to Pinney and the rest of the characters.
WZ: Ginnie Giraffe is my favourite character because I think I’ve have a very similar personality as Ginnie. She is caring and sweet but worries a lot and she could be stubborn sometimes. She is not perfect, none of the characters are. But she is real. She reminds me that there’s no right or wrong about who you are. We are all different. We all have our advantages and disadvantages. There are always moments we are proud of ourselves and those we are not very confident about. We all learn from our life lessons and we work hard to shape ourselves to become the type of person we want to be…I learnt a lot from Ginnie. 🙂
How has the process been with publisher, Big Sky Publishing, and how have they supported you along the way?
PH: We were thrilled to get a publishing contract with Big Sky Publishing after working for many years to develop the series. Big Sky is wonderful to work with. They respond immediately to emails or any queries we might have. They gave us, and continue to give us good advice about many aspects of the process of publishing the books and are putting an enormous amount of effort into the marketing of the series. I have dealt with a number of publishers over many years and Big Sky is the only publisher I have dealt with where I feel there is excellent personalised service with their team … and that they actually care!
What would you most like readers to know about ‘Ginnie & Pinney’?
PH: I would like readers to know that the Ginnie & Pinney materials are there to help young children develop their emotional intelligence, ethical thinking and empathy and also to stimulate discussion between and adult and child. The stories were purposefully written with the help of high-level educators to assist in this goal. Use of the questions found on our website or in the Teacher Resource will help with this and encourage dialectic reading between adult and child.
WZ: Ginnie & Pinney is a series of stories that lead both adults and children to think. By reading these stories and discussing the issues at a different age, you may find that you have alternative thoughts or ideas regarding the problems the characters had in the stories. You may also feel differently or have a different understanding of a certain scene. That’s the magic of these books. They are aimed to help you “Learn & Grow”.
Thank you both for the wonderful interview, and congratulations again on these valuable books! 😊
Discover the story behind the Ginnie & Pinney stories with Penny Harris and Winnie Zhou, with special appearances at the following media sources…
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