‘Squishy Taylor’ is a new Australian series for early readers. The Squishy stories are fresh and lively, with a realistic inner-city Australian setting; an engaging blend of intrigue, problem solving and family dynamics; and – best of all – great characters.
Author Ailsa Wild tells us about lead character, eleven-year-old Squishy (real name Sita):
‘Squishy is brave, big hearted and sometimes a bit ridiculous. She jumps to conclusions fast and then follows her conclusions into sticky situations, usually with her two step-sisters.
‘Squishy has just moved in with her Dad because her mum has a big job working with the UN in Geneva. This means she has scored a ‘bonus family’, Alice, her dad’s partner and her two daughters Jessie and Vee who are five and a half months older than Squishy. Last, but not least is Baby, Dad and Alice’s new little boy, who might be the smallest, but definitely causes his share of chaos.
‘Squishy loves physical tricks like bunkbed acrobatics, playing monkeybar-tag and hanging upside down on the tram.’
So where did the idea for Squishy come from?
Wild is a circus performer, and says that some of Squishy’s physicality is based on her own experiences: ‘A few years ago, I was in a circus show where we did bunkbed acrobatics – which was partially based on the loft beds my brother and I had when we were kids. We were always figuring out new ways to swing down from them and clamber back up. I still remember the thrill of knowing exactly where I was in the air, and my stinging red palms after the hours of fun.’
(A key difference, though, is that while Squishy thinks green jelly snakes are the yummiest, Wild ‘always went with the crowd on thinking red snakes were the best – but I figured Squishy was cooler than that!’)
The Squishy books are very well designed, with appealing – not daunting – text. Scattered illustrations by Ben Wood really bring the characters to life. Wood explains what he wanted to achieve in illustrating the books:
‘When I first read Ailsa’s manuscript for Bonus Sisters I immediately felt Squishy’s sense of excitement and energy. But how could I portray that in her design? I needed to keep her design loose and flexible, with no sharp angles. She needed bright eyes, and a huge smile! And her hair! It is wild! I needed to make sure it was a character of its own. Her hair and eyes took the longest to nail down to the final design.
‘The compositions have been the trickiest things. Fitting everything into such a small page has become so much fun. Due to this challenge, Squishy’s world has become just so…squishy! Every illustration is jam-packed! It really suits the world.’
We’re always fascinated by the different ways authors and illustrators collaborate on books together. In this case, Wood didn’t start work on the Squishy books until two of the texts were fully written:
‘I joined Team Squishy pretty late in the process, I think. It was late enough that there were two manuscripts already, with mumblings of two more. I liked it like that. It meant I could concentrate on what I was to do, and work from solid ideas and stories. The first joint meeting felt like I was late to the best party going though – everyone knew things that I hadn’t even read yet! And finally meeting Ailsa was awesome! I didn’t meet her until after I had finished designing Squishy.’
Wood created the illustrations digitally:
‘I use a Wacom tablet to draw, and my digital brushes change size and thickness depending on how hard I press the pen on the pad. I decided early on that this was the way to go. Squishy is so lively, I knew she needed smooth lines. I’ve only ever drawn her on real paper once – and found it really difficult, strangely. I don’t usually illustrate fully on computer. A lot of my previous illustrated books are a mixture of watercolour, acrylic, digital, pencil. It has been an interesting time.’
Both Wood and Wild are clearly passionate about creating books that kids will enjoy and engage with! Wild says: ‘I hope young readers are absorbed and swept away in the story. I hope they have a sense of how fun it is to be brave and physical and to try new things. I hope they see little bits of themselves reflected in the characters and it gives them a sense that they belong in the world.’
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