Welcome to #TheQuickSixInterview with Bec Nanayakkara and Joanna Bartel!

It is with twinkling delight to welcome a fabulous duo to the blog today – author Bec Nanayakkara and illustrator Joanna Bartel! Their beautiful picture book, The Book Star, is a heartfelt and inspiring story about being true to yourself, self-expression, creativity, a love of science and a love of books! In the lead up to Book Week, this Book Party celebration is the pure essence of ‘Reading is Magic’ and a perfect way to reflect on how we make connections with literature – and how this reflects back on ourselves. Bec’s gentle and lilting text brilliantly combines with Joanna’s stunning, magical illustrations that are just out-of-this-world gorgeous! The Book Star shines a light on the joy of Book Week costumes, engaging STEM space themes and being one’s authentic self.

Thanks so much, Bec and Joanna! 🙂

About the Author

Bec Nanayakkara is a children’s author with a background in wellbeing-based education. She writes stories to engage, inspire and promote growth mindsets. Her first picture book, Grow Big, Little Seed was published by Hardie Grant in 2024 and she has eagerly awaited the release of her second book, The Book Star, published by Affirm Press.

Bec lives in the New England region of NSW with her husband and five children.

Please find Bec Nanayakkara on Instagram.

About the Illustrator

Joanna Bartel is a designer and illustrator with experience in Arts education, design, teaching and creative marketing.

She particularly loves character design and creating imaginative and playful images to engage children and enhance imaginative learning.

Joanna Bartel can be found at her website: Joanna Emily illustration (joanna-emily.com) and on Instagram.

The Book Star can be purchased via the Affirm Press website.

WHO wrote, illustrated and published this book?

BN: ‘The Book Star’ is written by Bec Nanayakkara, illustrated by Joanna Bartel and published by Affirm Press.

WHAT is it about?

BN: ‘The Book Star’ is about finding what makes you happy and staying true to yourself.

Grace owns thirty-seven books about space and she has read them all. As Book Week approaches, all Grace has to decide on a costume – perhaps she could be the Moon, the Solar System, or even the Milky Way? But when her friends say that space is ugly and boring and weird, Grace has a much bigger decision to make.

JB: It’s about staying true to yourself, no matter what. Grace is a girl who adores reading about space and all things moon, stars, planets and rockets. Naturally she wants to express this passion at ‘Book Week’ but some of her friends discourage her, forcing her to stand alone. Grace teaches us to be confident in our authenticity.

What is your favourite part of this book?

BN: My favourite part is the ending. After all Grace’s costume worries, she decides to stay true to herself and comes up with the very best dress-up of all.

JB: The ending is really lovely. Grace’s pride and confidence in herself shine through.

What media did you use to illustrate it?

JB: The book is initially sketched out using lead pencil and paper. It’s then transferred to the computer where all colour and detail is added digitally with a Wacom tablet.

WHEN is its release / launch date?

BN: June 25, two months before Book Week and just enough time to get your ‘The Book Star’ costumes ready!

WHERE did the inspiration for this book come from?

BN: This book is inspired by Book Week celebrations – the excitement of the day and, in the lead up to the day, the big decision about what to wear. One year, my daughter dressed as the star from ‘Laura’s Star’ (Baumgart), which inspired the idea of a character who loves space.

JB: As a mum of three kids and an ex-secondary school teacher, I feel like I am quite familiar with the school environment and the family home environment, so a lot of visual inspiration comes from my life. For the space-themed pages, I borrowed books from my local library and used the internet for inspiration too.

WHY is this book meaningful to you?

BN: I just LOVE Grace! So, it means a lot to me that I can share her with the world. ‘The Book Star’ encourages young readers to be true to themselves – a message which is so important and which I’m super excited to promote.

JB: Hours and hours of work goes into every book I illustrate, and the characters are alive in my imagination and heart.

Why would its message resonate with readers?

BN: I think we all struggle to follow our dreams, especially in the face of peer pressure. It’s not easy to go against the grain, but Grace does it and children everywhere will be completely inspired!

JB: It’s a universal story of self belief and one that everyone can relate to. It’s empowering for not only girls who like STEM, but everyone who’s ever had to find that inner strength to be themselves. I can remember just wanting to ‘fit in’ as a young kid, to just be like my friends, and I think a story like this would have been so empowering to read.

How long did it take to write?

BN: I wrote this story over a few weeks as an assignment for the Picture Book Writing course with the Australian Writer’s Centre (read the article). From characters to plot, from beginning to ending, I couldn’t believe how quickly it all came together. Perhaps it was beginner’s luck because normally my stories take much longer.

How long did it take to illustrate?

JB: A long time! There are initial character sketches, storyboards, detailed sketches and lots of changes made to page layouts before any colour or detail is actually applied. Once the final art stage (adding colour) is reached, it’s then many late nights drawing and playing with textures, colour palettes and all the little details to bring the pages to life. I worked with the publishing team on ‘The Book Star’ for over a year and it was a joy.

How do you feel about the text / illustrations? Do they convey the feeling or mood you envisioned?

BN: Perhaps the funniest thing about ‘The Book Star’ is all the dress-ups! Joanna has done an amazing job bringing these to life and kids will leave this book determined to design their best Book Week costume yet! I also love how Joanna has captured Grace’s emotions as she moves from excitement to uncertainty to pride and self-confidence.

JB: Yes, I really love the end result and hope it’s what Bec and Affirm Press were imagining too.

OTHER information or experiences you’d like to share?

JB: The cover design of this book really challenged me more than any other one, and I learnt a lot about staying calm and working through a ‘creative block’! The cover design is such a huge part of the book’s identity, communicating so much about the story’s mood and direction, so I felt that pressure and couldn’t get it to look right for ages. I think one of the main hurdles for me what the palette and trying to give it a night / space feel without going too dark. I was so grateful for the publisher’s patience and direction in helping me get to the final result.

Please share your some of your favourite promotional ideas for this book.

BN: I’ll be reading ‘The Book Star’ as part of my library’s weekly story time session, and I’m eager to be involved in local Book Week activities. I also have big (yet admittedly vague) plans for a dress-up challenge on social media – follow me on Instagram @becnanayakkara for updates!

Thanks so much, Bec and Joanna, for sharing the inspiration and journey with your beautiful, inspiring picture book! 🙂

#thequicksixinterview #thebookstar #bookweek #confidence #picturebooks #justkidslit

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