Riley the little aviator series

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A blog post by Tania McCartney
I began collecting children's picture books when I was around thirteen years old. I still have each and every one - and my current, groaning collection is testament to a seriously bookish addiction.
Odd, then, that it took me until 2008 - roughly twenty years into my writing career - before I finally found the chutzpah to write my own children's picture book. I had written in every genre you can imagine, from playscripts to magazine articles, adult novels to books about names, but children's books . . . far too overwhelming.
They say picture books are possibly the toughest genre of book to write - and I think 'they' are right.
Nonetheless, writing Riley and the Sleeping Dragon: A journey around Beijing (originally entitled All the Tea in China) was a joy to write. The manuscript opened up like a flower as I wrote, unfolding new and wonderful images that were written seamlessly into the storyline. Basically, as the story went along, I knew the ending would seep in naturally, as though by osmosis.
I'm so proud of Sleeping Dragon - not only because it told the tale of my love affair with China, but because it was the first book in a very unexpected series of books - The Riley the Little Aviator series.
I really wrote Sleeping Dragon by accident. We were on post in Beijing for four years and I wanted to write something my kids could treasure as a memento of their time in the capital. After combining my photographs of Beijing and surrounds with illustrated characters and photos of a red tin plane I found at an antiques market, a friend encouraged me to have the book printed.
So began my self-publishing journey.
Sleeping Dragon did incredibly well in China, and, upon our return to Australia in 2009, I was more than surprised when the book also did well here. Riley and the Sleeping Dragon did so well, it was included in the ABA's Kids Reading Guide 2009/2010.
This success encouraged me to self-publish a second and third book in the series - Riley and the Dancing Lion: A journey around Hong Kong and Riley and the Curious Koala: A journey around Sydney.
These first three books started this adventure/travelogue series that allows children (aged 2 - 8) to armchair travel to a new destination. The books feature cultural, geographical and metaphorical elements that are not only educational but fascinating for children.
In each book, Riley 'hunts' for an animal endemic to the book's location, and each animal is showcased in a new and creative way. For example, Dragon in the Beijing book is not seen until the end while Koala in the Sydney book is seen throughout the book, but in different incarnations (perhaps as a cloud or umbrella).
Printing and marketing these books on my own has been an intense, extremely involved process and although I've loved every minute of it, I must admit I was thrilled when Paul Collins of Ford Street Publishing said he'd take a look at Book Four - about a certain Grumpy Wombat.
I had never approached trade publishers with my Riley series. Truth be told, I was having too much fun publishing them myself! But having the chance to work with Paul was far too tempting, as was the knowledge that publishing with Ford Street would take my books to a whole other level (and just maybe give me some more time to actually write more books!).
I couldn't have asked for a more wonderful publishing relationship. The process has been fabulous and I am ecstatic with Book No. 4 - my first female animal character. Yes, Wombat is a little grumpy (read the book and you'll find out why - I'm not giving away anything!) but I adore this fuzzy critter and all she stands for. Like Australian women themselves, Wombat is tough and knows what she wants. She is also incredibly proud of her Home.
Illustrator Kieron Pratt has brought such humour and detail to the Riley books. His drawings are engaging, achingly funny and extremely clever. When asked to come up with a series of 'contraptions' Riley could use to search the grumpy Wombat, he outdid himself with a line-up of seriously fandangled creations that took my breath away. Kids are going to absolutely adore these contraptions, and will ooh and ahh over the (increasingly) coolest little red plane in the universe.
Next year, Riley will head to Canberra in preparation for the Centenary of our nation's capital. I won't tell you which animal Riley will be on the hop for but needless to say, it's a creature sometimes spotted on Canberra's suburban streets.
In the meantime, I am celebrating the launch of my gorgeous new friend - Wombat - a character I can totally relate to when it comes to an adoration for home. Melbourne is my home town, it is the home of Ford Street Publishing and the home of our Grumpy Wombat. Publishing her with Ford Street feels like I, as an author, have truly come Home.
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Tania McCartney