Sally Rippin's series for junior readers Billie B Brown has been such a hit that Hey Jack! - a spin-off series starring Billie's best friend Jack - has just been launched. We chat with Sally about Jack, Billie and writing for children.
Can you tell us a little bit about your latest book?
I am currently working on a new series of early chapter books for kids called Hey Jack. Jack is best friends with Billie from the Billie B Brown series and, being the quieter of the two, I thought it would be nice to be given the opportunity to see the world from his perspective.
In my mind, the Billie B Brown series is an antidote to all the fairy and princess books out there marketed towards girls, whereas the Hey Jack series is for boys who can’t relate to super heroes or sporting stars. While Billie likes to dress-up, she also likes to climb trees and kick a soccer ball around. She is very good on the monkey bars but hopeless at ballet. Jack, on the other hand, might be shy, but he shines in his school musical. He builds excellent Lego castles and even makes his own robot costumes out of cardboard boxes. I hope kids who have read and enjoyed the Billie series will love the Jack series, too.
What has been your favourite experience as a writer?
I have to say writing the Billie B Brown series has been the highlight of writing career so far. I love writing the stories and feel like I’ve tapped into an infinite well of memories to draw on from my own childhood. Most of all, I am overwhelmed by how popular this series has become, and in such a short time. I receive dozens of incredibly cute emails every month from young readers and I can’t tell you how many invitations Billie has received to birthday parties! I am thrilled, too, to receive emails from parents who have told me that the series has inspired their child to read. This is everything I could have hoped for as a writer and I feel enormously grateful.
Why do you write for children?
I like kids. I like the way their view of the world constantly reminds me to be open and inspired and in awe of everything around me. I like their sense of humour, playfulness and innate creativity. I also think having such a strong memory of myself at a young age helps me empathise and understand children and why they do things that from an adult’s point of view may seem incomprehensible. I think it is a great honour to perhaps be among the very first books a person has ever read. Many of the books I read as a child had a profound effect on me. I remember many of them with fondness and many of the characters have stayed with me like old friends. I would love to think that one of my books could have the same effect on a child today.
Describe your main characters in three words.
Jack: Introspective, imaginative and insightful
Billie: Boisterous, bossy and brave
What has been your favourite book of the past month? The past year? Of All time?
Oh, that’s a hard one. Past month: I just finished reading Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder and loved it, but I also recently read The Brain That Changes Itself by Norman Doidge and loved that, too – obviously for very different reasons. One took me out of my head, the other lead me into it. Both gave me great insight into what makes people tick.
Past year: Hmmm... Maybe Skellig By David Almond, or When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead – two beautiful and wildly imaginative children’s books that I read around the time of writing my own children’s novel Angel Creek and both inspired me greatly.
All time? Oh, way too hard. Recently I’ve been saying To Kill A Mockingbird is my all-time favourite novel, so I’ll stick with that, but I was also blown away by Niccolo Ammaniti’s I’m Not Scared. I love the way that both these stories explore the darkest places of humanity from the skewed and largely innocent perspective of a child.
What’s your favourite place to read?
Bed. Hands down. As long as I can stay awake...
What kind of reader do you think will love your book the most?
I write a wide range of books from picture books to Young Adult novels, but if we are talking specifically about the Jack and Billie series, let’s say a young reader who is ready to try their first chapter book. Someone who wants to read about a character they can relate to and who could, very possibly, become their very best friend.
Holly Harper is a children’s bookseller at Readings Carlton where she organises the kids and Young Adult e-newsletters. She also writes books for younger readers under the name H.J. Harper. Find out more about her Star League series and other books here and follow her on twitter - @hj_harper.