I’ve featured a few children’s books on Linda’s Book Bag and when Natalie Page asked if I’d like to be part of the launch celebrations for Zak and Jen’s Astronomical Adventures: The Petal Planet, I readily agreed as it is a wonderful book. I have a review as well as a guest post from Natalie and you will find a Zak and Jen personalised bookmark giveaway at the bottom of this blog post too.
Zak and Jen’s Astronomical Adventures
The Petal Planet
To Jen, her life was a terrible bore. She wished she had more than the landscape she saw… Jen lives alone on her solitary sand planet, until one day, a boy named Zak comes to visit. Through a little of Zak s magic and an unusual umbrella, Jen is transported to a beautiful world, and her new friend helps her learn a valuable lesson along the way.
From Rock Bands to KidLit
The Story behind Zak and Jen’s Astronomical Adventures
A Guest Post from Natalie Page
The Background – you never know why some people come into your life
Imagine this, you are out one evening watching a rock gig with your boyfriend and you happen to see this extremely talented band play. In a fit of over confidence you decide that you want to invite this band to play as part of a charity gig you are organising for Help for Heroes, so you make the call to the band’s management and amazingly, they agree!
Several months of planning later and you are chatting to the band after a very successful charity concert and a friendship is born. This is story of how I met Chris Nuttall, drummer for rock band Heaven’s Basement and now illustrator of Zak and Jen’s Astronomical Adventures.
That charity concert took place back in 2010 and somehow, despite extremely busy lives and both having children, Chris and I have managed to stay in touch.
As the years rolled by I got to know Chris a little better and soon discovered that as well as being a talented musician he was an exceptionally talented artist. I was particularly struck by two characters that featured heavily in some of his paintings. They resembled rag dolls and in each piece they were pictured against a beautiful night sky. The imagery was so ‘other worldly’ it was captivating, and I wasn’t the only one who thought so. I often wondered about the background to the characters, who they were, why they were in space. But that was all I ever did.. wonder.
Writing the book
In 2014 my life changed forever, I gave birth to my daughter and found myself on maternity leave. For the first time in over a decade I had head space to be creative. I had always loved to write. However, school, university and my career took over and I lost the ability to simply ‘write for fun’, swapping my fiction stories for PowerPoint presentations and business proposals. Suddenly that wasn’t the case anymore and my brain was alive with hundreds of stories that I just couldn’t wait to get down on paper.
It was during this time that I saw Chris post another image on Facebook of one of his rag doll paintings and my brain went into over drive. I called him and asked whether it would be ok for me to write a story featuring the characters he had painted. Strangely enough he told me he had been looking for an author to write some stories about them and the partnership was born!
Either unluckily or luckily for me, I had a baby who was not fond of sleeping, so I often found myself up in the middle of the night trying to settle her whilst sat in a chair. I soon found that this was my most creative time, and one night, when my daughter was taking a particularly long time to settle, I pictured the characters coming to life in my head. As I sat, watching my daughter drift off my brain became filled with ideas and rhyming sentences and once my daughter was back in bed I was scribbling them down. For the first time in ages the story flowed out of me and within 45 minutes I had a first draft.
I sent the draft to Chris the very next day and he loved it. From then on we embarked on the long journey together to try and achieve one goal… get published.
We agreed up front that this was an entirely joint project with all credit being split 50 / 50. This makes things a lot easier as we never argue over who contributed what.
If I can give any upcoming authors / illustrators any advice, it would be that if you decide to partner up, be sure to have the conversation up front about how things are split. Don’t forget to include discussions about if your book becomes hugely successful and you have things like merchandise to consider. It may not happen, but at least you will know where you stand if it does.
The journey to being published
Our journey has been a somewhat unconventional one. Despite what you might think, we have found that traditional publishing agents are not keen to take on an author / illustrator partnership. This is apparently because big publishers prefer to match authors and illustrators themselves, often pairing an established author with a debut illustrator and visa versa (you don’t always see Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler together!).
It soon became clear that if we wanted to get the book produced as per our joint vision, then we would either need to self-publish or approach independent publishers directly (the big publishing houses don’t tend to accept unsolicited manuscripts directly from authors).
Thankfully for us, Austin Macauley were willing to take on our project and have been very supportive in allowing us to dictate how we wanted the book to look and feel.
The finished product is one that we hope will inspire children. We have tried hard to combine a simple, yet thought provoking story with some magical characters and we hope that people will enjoy what we have taken the time to create. Fingers crossed we will get to continue and turn these characters into a series!
My Review of Zak and Jen’s Astronomical Adventures: The Petal Planet
I loved this little book. It is beautifully illustrated by Chris Rivers Nuttall as some of the images elsewhere in this blog post show and the text works so well with the pictures. Zak and Jen are cartoon like which will appeal to children, but also they are not conventional looking children so that I feel an important issue of appreciating people for who they are, not how they look, is subliminal in this story.
There’s a really well constructed story with a defined beginning, middle and end that would satisfy all children, but with the potential for future stories to come. Indeed, I think it would make an excellent talking point with younger children to discuss what might happen next and to develop their oracy through making up new adventures for Jen and Zak.
I thought the rhyming prose was pitch perfect, especially as it is hard to construct a narrative in rhyme without it feeling contrived but Natalie Page does this brilliantly. There are so many useful ways the story could be used by teachers and parents too. Exploring the rhyme scheme, looking at homonyms and homophones would all be fabulously exemplified in Zak and Jen’s Astronomical Adventures.
I also really liked the messages behind the text with Jen coming to appreciate what she has in her own life and with the potential for children to try to grow plants too so that they are emulating Jen’s activities.
It sounds as if I’m just reviewing Zak and Jen’s Astronomical Adventures with my ex-teaching head on, but the bottom line is that this is a wonderful story, well written, fabulously illustrated and perfect for children of all ages!
Win a Zak and Jen Bookmark
For your chance to win one of five Zak and Jen bookmarks with a personalised message please click here.
There is also more aabout Zak and Jen with these bloggers: