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Heavy Subjects for Little Minds

Interview and review by Haylee Hackenberg

In the world of children’s picture books, there’s books for kids and there’s books grown-ups want for their kids. Every now and again though, a book comes along that spans both categories. Some Families Change – written by Jess Galatola and illustrated by Jenni Barrand does exactly that. I read the book to my 3-year-old who had a great time pointing out the family members she recognised “we’ve got a sister!”, as well as wondering aloud about those she didn’t. By the end, she was smiling, but I was tearing up. Some Families Change, with it’s warm and inclusive illustrations and text that feels like a great big hug, is a beautiful, important book. I spoke with Jess Galatola about why she wrote it, below.

What inspired you to write Some Families Change?

I wrote Some Families Change for my children. I had to explain some very difficult family changes and they were so little at the time. I needed a way of framing the conversation and I felt the best way to broach difficult concepts and subsequent big feelings would be through a story. In a way, writing the story helped me frame events for myself too. As a newly single parent, I needed reassurance that things would be okay. Later, when I decided to submit my story, I decided to make some adaptations to include all families. I felt it would be important to shape it in a conversational way that would reassure both children and parents.

Do you think children’s books are changing for the better as far as more diverse representation goes?

Absolutely. How fabulous is it that children can see themselves in books? All children, of all cultural backgrounds, religions, and life experiences. Children’s books are windows into the soul. They are the first opportunity we get to foster empathy, understanding, humanity and appreciation of difference and diversity. I appreciate that we need funny books and light stories about everyday things. Our children love these stories because they are fun and relatable. However, the world can be heavy, and we need to make sense of that with our littlies. Heartfelt stories are more important than ever. Today’s parents have greater insight into neuroscience and emotional intelligence. We know about the importance of connection and modelling empathy and understanding. I believe that the world of children’s literature is mirroring this and will help us to raise emotionally aware, resilient secure and thoughtful humans.

How do you balance including a ‘message’ in your stories with making them appealing and engaging to kids? (

I am so new to this process and have only begun writing children’s books since writing Some Families Change. For that reason, I am figuring this out as I go. I think my background in Drama teaching helps me to understand and appreciate the importance of character, at the centre of a good story. I deeply appreciate the need to balance symbolism, tension, and mood with the human context. The extra challenge is to do this in few words and to rely on pictures to tell the story from a whole new angle. I find that many of my stories begin far too wordy and didactic. Then, as I edit and peel back words, layer in poetic and stylistic devices, they become more symbolic and subtle, and hopefully more playful too. My next book, The Little Breeze, may be based on one of my sons. When I found myself becoming too preachy, I thought about what I would need to do to make it a story that my boys would enjoy. They are my toughest critic and the truest way to determine if I’ve strayed too far from the child’s voice and experience.

What are your favourite books to read with your own children?

The Magic Faraway Tree was my favourite book as a child, and it makes me so happy that my kids love it too. I adored anything by Enid Blyton, she had such an amazing way of creating magical adventures and I imagined myself at the top of that tree, entering all those magical worlds. I also loved quirky and humorous stories, like Roald Dahl’s The Twits, James and the Giant Peach and The Magic Finger.  As far as picture books, I loved anything by Jeanie Baker (I love her collage art so much) and Mem Fox was another favourite, as well as Joanna Cole’s Magic School Bus series. As a teen, I continued to love fantasy and Isobelle Carmody was one of my favourite YA authors and I love the Wild Magic series, by Tamora Pierce.

Haylee Hackenberg

Haylee Hackenberg is an author based in Brisbane. You can find slices of her life and writing journey here.

Jessica Galatola

Jessica Galatola’s first picture book, Some Families Change, will be released May 1st, with another EK book to follow in 2025. Recently she received a highly commended in the 2023 Pitch It competition for her picture book, Sneeze Adventure. She is a mother to two wriggly boys who love to read picture books before bed.  As a teacher, she has worked in the education sector for fifteen years, specialising in English and Drama curriculum.  Jess has a passion for helping young people discover a love of reading. She believes that the magic of reading begins with picture books.

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