Welcome to #TheQuickSixInterview with Joel Slack-Smith and Rebel Challenger!

It was a pleasure to chat to awesome duo, debut author Joel Slack-Smith and illustrator Rebel Challenger about their new collaboration, Roarsome, which is the first in a junior fiction series. With Joel’s background in writing for kids’ animation and Rebel’s quirky illustration style, they are the dream team for bringing to life a story about ‘a lion-shaped pillow that smells like werewolf wee’ and an unexpected friendship.

Thanks Joel and Rebel for your humour and insights. We look forward to the next in the series! 🙂

About the Author

Joel Slack-Smith grew up in Sydney and from a young age was writing funny stuff. A huge fan of “Weird Al” Yankovic, Joel spent an unhealthy amount of his youth writing song parodies.

Roarsome is Joel’s first book but he has been writing for kids (and adults) for years. As an award-winning television scriptwriter Joel has written on kids’ animations such as Space Nova, Berry Bees and Spongo, Fuzz & Jalapeña, sketch shows such as Legally Brown, Comedy Inc. and Balls of Steel Australia, and reality shows including Ninja Warrior, Holey Moley, and Australian Idol. Joel has won three AWGIE Awards for comedy writing and still spends an unhealthy amount of time writing song parodies.

Please find Joel @joelslacksmith on INSTAGRAM | FACEBOOK | TWITTER

About the Illustrator

Rebel Challenger is an artist from Brisbane who splits her time between being an art director/graphic designer in the news media industry and an illustrator of children’s books. The two types of art could not be more different. She is also a volunteer wildlife carer and proud chicken and duck lady.

Since late 2020, Rebel has author/illustrated one picture book, illustrated six more picture books, one junior fiction and one graphic novel. She has another junior fiction and picture book in production and a few more books lined up to do next. Rebel needs a nap. And more chickens.

Please find Rebel at her website: https://rebelchallenger.com and on Instagram.

Roarsome is available to purchase from Scholastic Australia.

WHO wrote, illustrated and published this book?
JS: Roarsome was written by me, illustrated by Rebel Challenger and published by Scholastic Australia.

WHAT is it about?
JS: Roarsome is about a boy called Walter who really wants a nitro-powered drone for his 11th birthday but is crushed to find his parents have given him an old, tattered, lion-shaped pillow that smells suspiciously like wee instead. But later that night the full moon comes out, and Roars the pillow comes to life. Walter and Roars head out on a wild, all-night adventure involving a mini-golf championship, a fart-powered hot air balloon, and some of the most awkward high-fives ever attempted. Walter may not have the drone he wanted, but he ended up with something even better… a best friend.

RC: A boy named Walter wants a drone for his birthday, but instead he gets a lion-shaped pillow that smells like werewolf wee. One night under the full moon, the lion pillow – Roars – comes to life and they go on a wild and wacky adventure. It turns out this might be the best present ever.

What is your favourite part of this book?
JS: Apart from ALL of Rebel’s illustrations that bring so much humour and style to the book, I’d have to say the footnotes. I really enjoyed being able to throw more jokes onto each page, and to speak directly to the reader in my own voice.

RC: The whole story is a lot of fun, but I do love how Scholastic matched up Joel and I – his words and my drawings were a great match.

WHEN did you begin writing this book?
JS: I began writing this book at the end of 2021, and probably took around three months to complete (give or take a few months).

What media did you use to illustrate it?

RC: I always start creating my characters by drawing ideas with biro on scraps of paper. I know I have finally drawn the character how I want it when I start talking to it! Or maybe I’m just a little bit weird. I did this for Roarsome and once I got to know the characters from scribbling them, I drew the final art in Procreate on my iPad.

When was its release / launch date?
JS: It was released in Australia and New Zealand on 1 April 2024. When Scholastic told me the release date was going to be April Fool’s Day I was suspicious, but thankfully they don’t prank their authors like that and the book really did get published just like they said. I need to learn to trust publishers more.

WHERE did the inspiration for this book come from?

JS: The inspiration for this book comes from my two sons. My youngest had a cushion with a lion on it and at bedtime the three of us would make up stories about a lion who lived in a cushion and came to life when there was a full moon. It was during these bedtime story sessions that I realised the huge laughter potential in a hungry, clumsy, loyal pillow who eats and poos stuff really fast.

WHY is this book meaningful to you?
JS: This book is meaningful to me because it was inspired by my kids and makes me think of how fun bedtime can be if you have a funny book around. It’s also special because this is my first book (after many years of screenwriting), so this whole experience has been surreal and extremely enjoyable.

RC: It’s a fun adventure that makes you smile and sometimes that is exactly what you want from a book.

Why would its message resonate with readers?
JS: Despite the wee smell, the slapstick, and the booger-filled high-fives, this is a story about friendship. Roars is extremely loyal to Walter, and no matter what trouble they get into, they know they’ll get out of it together. I think also the classic notion of ‘what if?’ is a huge factor here. Every kid who goes to bed can now look at their (presumably) lifeless pillow and wonder ‘what if this came to life?!’ The possibility of wild adventure in something as bland as a pillow hopefully sparks kids’ imaginations in general.

RC: It shows that sometimes when you miss out on the thing you want, you might get what you actually need. A drone would have been much less fun than the lion pillow Walter got.

How long did it take to illustrate?

RC: I worked on it over a month or two – usually at night after finishing work.

HOW do you feel about the illustrations / cover design? How do they convey the feeling or mood you envisioned?
JS: Rebel Challenger’s illustrations are incredible, and I’ve got a poster-sized version of the front cover up on my wall because it is so awesome (sorry, roarsome). Rebel somehow managed to capture Roars’s party animal wild side, as well as his big-hearted softie side. Thankfully, Rebel and I share a sense of humour, so I’ve been constantly delighted by the extra gags and comedy business she’s been able to add. I feel like the fun, joyous, kooky tone I’ve gone for in the story has been made even more fun, joyous and kooky
thanks to the illustrations.

RC: They are fun and a bit silly which helps create a slightly out-of-control vibe that matches the wild ride of the story.

How have you promoted this book and how can we find it?
JS: I had a launch party, I’ve done some school visits (and plan to do several more), and I just did a kids writing workshop at Gleebooks. Roarsome can be found in all good bookstores, as well as from on-line retailers such as Booktopia and Amazon. And I’m thrilled to say that Roarsome is also in the Scholastic Book Club! In April, Roarsome was named Dymock’s Children’s Book of the Month, which was also very exciting.

RC: I made a fun reel for the book on Instagram and Facebook and plan to do some more things when I find time. Joel has done a book launch and some book signings as well.

OTHER information or experiences you’d like to share?
JS: This is Book 1 of a series. Roarsome Phase 2 will be released in September.

RC: It was quite fun doing black and white drawings for a junior fiction after doing a few colourful picture books. There were about 170 drawings so I got to play with expressions and silliness without worrying too much about having to go back and colour them all in!

Thanks so much, Joel and Rebel! You’re both roarsome! (Had to say it!) 🙂

#thequicksixinterview #roarsome #friendship #humour #juniorfiction #justkidslit

Thanks to Gemma Creegan for sourcing this interview, and thanks to Scholastic for providing a complimentary copy of the book.

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