The three children's books with alliterative titles, Dreadful David Dee, Susan Shouted Shark and Greedy Glutton Garth that Henry Schoenheimer wrote and I illustrated and finished the writings were perhaps the most enjoyable and creative experiences I have ever had. At the time, Henry and I were working at a hothouse of educational ideas --the Australian Council for Educational Research. Henry was a legend in literature in Australia's Educational scene, he had a quick, perceptive, creative mind and freely gave his perceptions of the state of Education in Australia and his visions about where Australia stood and what could/should be done.
Rhyming poetry that is educationally sound and fun for children to read is very hard work to achieve. It requires a special kind of person who has a readily-accessable thesaurus in their head, is aware and sympathetic to the aspirations of the children, has a sound knowledge of the vocabulary of the children for whom the books were written, and an ability to enthuse children to read further. Take some time to read and digest any passage of the books and you will realise what a creative literary genius he was.
The idea to create these books stemmed from a short poem titled Dreadful David Dee that Henry wrote for a children's reader. He showed it to me, telling me how it had been surprisingly popular, and we discussed the prospect of developing it into a longer hard-cover book. I had just finished doing a series of five children's books with the publisher Hutchinson and when I presented Henrys script and a rough version of a few pages of the book, Hutchinson not only accepted it, they asked us for more.
The journey of getting the words and pictures to the best of our ability was fun all of the way. I even had Henry, who had never touched a brush before, illustrating his ideas, and I added my ideas and changed his words -- and we both loved it. In Susan Shouted Shark I pointed out that there was too much of a gap between Susan's naughty childhood and when she got the wicked notion to cry "shark", so I made a rough illustration of what I thought should be on the page, then Henry wrote the words -- a process he had never done before.
You will note that I chose to hand letter all of the text. That was done to make the words appear less official, by writing in a script like the children might write. That also was very hard work. Another strategy I employed was to keep the concept simple on each page by many illustrations of the same idea to send the message that at a concept could be expressed in many ways -- a very important consideration for children who are in their "concrete" learning stage.
Sadly Henry died without seeing any of my finished pages. What a tragic loss for literature.
Teacher, Lecturer in Advertising Art, Senior Lecturer in Communications Media, Production Area Specialist with the Australian Science Education Project and Senior Research Officer with the Australian Council for Educational Research. The children's books that we authored were produced in our own time while working at the ACER, were a labour of love of our crafts and a tribute to the climate of encouragement to achieve excellence that pervaded ACER during the halcyon days of the seventies.
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