This Creative Life No.3 – the Green Sheep is 10!

Posted on: November 5, 2014

Where is the Green Sheep?’ is 10 years old*. This thing that Mem Fox and I created, sparked by an etching I had done and put on my website, has now been in the world for a decade. A decade! It was my first foray into children’s books, and a wildly successful one it turned out to be. In that time, I’ve written and illustrated some picture books entirely on my own in that time**, and illustrated a new edition of an older book by Mem Fox***, and we are currently working on a new book together****. When I think of the time in that way, it seems slow, but when I think of the fact that some of the first ‘readers’ of the green sheep must now be teenagers, it seems to have gone very fast indeed.

It is a measure of the success of the book that one of the illustrations from it is on display in the National Library’s Treasures Exhibition (under ‘I for Illustration). It’s a great honour the book is seen as part of Australian culture. I’m very proud of that.

All my original artwork for Where is the Green Sheep? is in the collection of the National Library of Australia, as well as lots of drafts, mistakes (ah the mistakes!), the original little mockup of the book, and the green sheep etching. That image is quite small – about 8 cm x 8 cm – very modest given the phenomenon that it provoked. I still don’t know what made Mem fall in love with that particular etching, and not the purple dog, the red tortoise, the yellow duck. The fact that the sheep is green and not one of the other colours is fairly arbitrary. As far as I’m aware, there wasn’t much alchemy or magic involved in that decision but who knows? Would Mem have still been attracted to the sheep if it had been red? Could the book perhaps have been Where is the red sheep? If so, there would have been no bed sheep, but instead an different sheep that rhymed with green – the seen sheep? the bean sheep? the keen sheep? Neither of which would have made a pair with the bath sheep, so that might never have existed… Or would the book never have come into being at all?

The success of the Green Sheep is the result of an enormous number of decisions, by Mem, by me. (A list of the decisions I made would run to the thousands, and may well be the subject of another post). And there are lots of other people involved in the making of a picture book – the designers, the editors, the publishers. About the only thing that is a given is that a picture book has 32 pages – everything else is up for grabs. Layout, distribution of text, placement of text, font, sizing of illustrations ad infinitum. (“Make the near sheep bigger, no, bigger – as big as it can possibly be and then some!”)

The publishers are in fact still working – thinking up new ways to bring the Green Sheep to the world. From the original hardback there’s been the board book, the big format for schools and kindergartens, the soft toy, the buggy book. And now, in honour of the 10th anniversary, the newest iteration – a Green Sheep book a jigsaw puzzle block set! The 6 faces of the 16 blocks make up images from the book. Or you could build a block tower instead. Surely it doesn’t get any better than this.

In honour of the anniversary, the National Library of Australia in conjunction with Penguin are having a birthday party at the Library, on Sunday November 16th. It’s also the launch of the book and block set. Please come along and celebrate with Mem and me if you can, details of the party are here. (Bookings essential)

Happy 10th birthday green sheep! Thanks so much for being born!


p.s. The library is also organising a slide show for the party of artwork inspired by the Green Sheep – anyone can send some in, click here to find out more.

*Where is the Green Sheep? Penguin in Australia, Hodder Mifflin Harcourt in USA

**The Story of Growl, Penguin in Australia, Kane Miller in USA
These are My Hands/These Are My Feet, National Library of Australia
Yellow Is My Colour Star (originally Yellow is My Favourite Colour), Scholastic in Australia, Beach Lane/Simon and Schuster in USA

***Good Night, Sleep Tight, Scholastic in Australia, Scholastic in USA

**** I think it’s still a bit of a secret, but it should be out in November 2015. Just a small matter of me finishing the artwork (!)


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