Welcome to The Art of an Author with Rhonda Ooi!

It is with such pleasure to welcome Rhonda Ooi to the blog to share her story behind the gorgeous, ‘Sweet Summer Days’ piece in Our Australian HeART, beautifully collaborated with the talented Mel Corrigan. In our interview with Mel, we learned about her process and the way she brilliantly captured the childhood nostalgia that Rhonda so eloquently and vividly describes of cartwheels over rolling hills, in amongst nature’s beauty of small creatures and tiny treasures. Evocative, lyrical and utterly joyous!

Thank you, Rhonda and Mel! 🙂

About the Author

Rhonda Ooi is an author and primary school teacher with an interest and specialist qualification in Gifted Education, who spends most of her time imagining stories, inspired by the children in her life.

Her writing is lyrical, gentle and filled with heart. 

The ‘O’ section of her bookshelf is ready… waiting for her first picture books ‘Ned Needs to Build’, and I’m NOT an Owl, which are both due for publication in 2025. 

Please visit Rhonda Ooi at her website: Rhonda Ooi Author – Rhonda Ooi, Children’s Books, Children’s Author 

and on Facebook and Instagram.

About the Illustrator

Mel Corrigan is a Melbourne based illustrator with an architect-trained eye for detail.

Mel is passionate about capturing the playfulness and imagination of children and is interested in using different compositions to enhance the narrative emotion. She finds inspiration in the little things: the everyday joys and interactions that colour our days. She also has an interest in animals and nature, and her detailed drawings would be well-suited for non-fiction books.

Mel’s work is created from a mix of hand drawn and digital techniques. She loves using watercolour and coloured pencils, and more recently has enjoyed working digitally using Procreate.

Her first picture book ‘Deva the Bengal Boat Cat’ (written by Jill De Vos) was published in 2023.

Please visit Mel Corrigan at her websitehttps://melcorrigan.com.au and on Instagram.

Our Australian HeART can be purchased via the Just Write For Kids Australia website.

Donations can be made directly to our fundraising page at The Indigenous Literacy Foundation.

Rhonda, thank you for joining me to chat about your amazing work!

Thanks so much for having me!

When did your author journey begin?

I have been a teacher for just over 15 years. I am a bit addicted to picture books. I have always used them to introduce topics, engage kids and just for fun. I used to write little stories for the kids to learn spelling patterns and loved writing with the kids. I’ve also been keeping a notebook full of cute things kids do and say. It wasn’t until 2020 when Covid hit that I had the time to do a course and it was natural to choose picture book writing.

What does writing children’s books mean to you?

Since I started writing, I haven’t stopped. I now work 3 days a week teaching reading, to give me time to write. If I’m sitting and I’m not at work, I’m writing. If I’m standing, I’m probably thinking about writing. I couldn’t imagine myself writing for anyone but children. Picture books are magical and I remain in touch with my inner child.

Tell us a bit about your published works.

Sweet Summer Days in Our Australian HeART is my first published work. I had already collaborated with Mel on my picture book I’m NOT an Owl and we were searching for a publisher to take us on when Sweet Summer Days was chosen.

I had already signed a contract for another picture book with Starfish Bay Ned Needs to Build (mid 2025 release). Ned was inspired by one of my students. He was in grade 3 and used to bring me pictures of intricate, detailed maps he drew. His mum told me that their house was full of his buildings. Ned Needs to Build celebrates a sibling relationship by exploring the different ways they express their creativity.

Mel and I submitted I’m NOT an Owl to a couple of publishers before Woodslane Press said yes! It will be published in March 2025 so will officially be my first published picture book. It was inspired by something my son said to me when he was about 4 (he is now 20). We were in the car and he looked tired, so I suggested that he have a sleep. He said, ‘I’m NOT an Owl Mummy!’ then promptly fell asleep. It is a narrative about a boy who doesn’t want to sleep during the day because he knows he isn’t a nocturnal animal. It has a non-fiction element both within the story and at the end.

What does your writing process look like?

This is so difficult to articulate. I am a bit of a ‘feel my way’ kind of writer, which is why I haven’t gone down the rhyme track yet.  

I used to start with the idea, but after a recent course with Margrete Lamond, I’ve been starting with a theme then weaving through my ideas. Then it is draft after draft after draft, where I trawl a thesaurus to find perfect words and cut what isn’t needed. I often come up with ways to solve issues when I’m in the shower or trying to fall asleep, so I make sure my phone is always with me. I use notes to keep little gems of inspiration. I belong to 3 critique groups, so I submit to them too and draft again. I sometimes get my manuscripts assessed. I have just submitted 6 manuscripts to CYA for assessments.   

What drew you to enter the Just Write For Kids’ Picture It! Anthology Competition?

I try to enter as many kidlit related competitions as I can, so I knew about Pitch It! and entered that. I was talking to Mel about Picture It! and she said she’d love to enter but she wasn’t confident with the written element, so we decided to collaborate.

Your entry, Sweet Summer Days, was selected as one of our pieces for the anthology. We love it! What does it mean to you to be included?

I was so excited when I found out. Mel and I were still trying to get our picture book signed, so we were happy that if that didn’t happen, we’d have this beautiful piece that we created published. It wasn’t long after that we signed another contract for our picture book, but this will always be special to me because it is my first. I have been so proud to share it with my students.

Words by Rhonda Ooi. Illustration by Mel Corrigan.

Why were you inspired to create this piece?

Mel left the written component up to me. She has such a talent for interpreting my words. Sometimes I think she is inside my head. When I thought about what I love about Australia, I thought about my childhood. I thought about doing cartwheels and handstands on the grass. I thought about spinning around and watching the clouds move. I thought about catching tadpoles, stick insects and of course putting them back. I think these childhood experiences are universal. I still watch kids when I’m on yard duty. They are still doing cartwheels and handstands. They are still catching ladybugs and digging in the dirt to find treasure. The words also resonated with Mel and her experiences as a child and with her own children.

In what other ways do you spread the joy of books to children?

As a parent I read to my son as soon as he was born and even after he could already read himself. As a teacher, I share my passion for kidlit with my kids. I look for picture books and/or chapter books to fit into whatever we are learning about. I share stories with kids for fun too. I just started working with struggling readers. My aim to is not only help them to read independently, but to develop a love of books and reading. I’m looking forward to sharing my own stories with kids in story-time sessions and I’m excited to join the Author Pen Pal program next year.

Thanks so much, Rhonda! It’s been an honour! 😊

#authorinterview #ouraustralianheart #sweetsummerdays #childhood #nature #picturebooks #justkidslit

Our Australian HeART by Just Write For Kids Australia and Friends is published by Daisy Lane Publishing.

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