Pinerolo (Italian for the place of pines); The Children’s Book Cottage is the only centre for children’s books in NSW. Established in 2010 by Margaret Hamilton, Deputy Chairman of the Children’s Book Council of Australia National Board, author and former publisher, Pinerolo is nestled in The Blue Mountains. Open by appointment, its aim is to promote Australian picture books and their creators and to provide an inspiring environment for learning. As well as a gorgeous permanent exhibition of original artwork from children’s picture books including Patricia Mullins, Bob Graham, Stephen Michael King, Ann James, Julie Vivas, Jeannie Baker and Deborah Niland, there are various illustrators’ artwork for sale. So beautiful!
Hamilton explains to me, ‘I was not a reader at school. When I finished school, I didn’t know what to do. A friend of mine was applying for a job at the Parramatta Library and I thought that I’d apply as well. It was at that library that I discovered books. I started reading avidly and worked my way through the children’s bookshelves. I ended up being the Chief Children’s Librarian there for fourteen years! I studied Librarianship part-time for six years. Maurice Saxby was one of my lecturers; sowing the seeds for a lifetime friendship. He invited me to the CBCA meetings in the 1960s. It really changed my life’, she muses. ‘I then went on to be a bookseller for three years. Librarians would come in, we held events and visits, and I met publishers. Later I worked in the Sydney branch for UK publishers Hodder & Stoughton, as the only female director on the Board, for eleven years before establishing my own publishing company Margaret Hamilton Books which ran as an independent publisher specializing in picture books for fifteen years. We won lots of awards and I made a lot of great friendships’. Thus a lifetime of great experiences, contacts and friendships was created through a love of children’s books. It was only natural that Hamilton was keen to continue her love of celebration the genre.
Pinerolo offers an illustrator in residence programme, for which thirty applications from all over Australia are received annually for the six places awarded each year. Each individual recipient lives at the cottage for a week by themselves working on their book, being mentored by Hamilton and using the extensive research and reference library at Pinerolo. One of the illustrators in residence, Dale Newman, has just had her first book published, KidGlovz. I’m really keen to read it.
Another Pinerolo initiative is the one-day courses offered to aspiring writers and illustrators. An award-winning author or illustrator such as Glenda Millard tutors them for the day. School visits and workshops for children and adults are fascinating with Hamilton’s extensive background drawing on wonderful examples to show the visitors such as original manuscripts for well-known books with red line corrections and a fold out sheet showing how books are printed on a single sheet of paper.
I asked Hamilton about trends in picture books. ‘There was the ebook panic a few years ago, but the sale of children’s books has increased dramatically, particularly picture books’, she explains. ‘Picture books just don’t seem to translate into ebooks. Children need to and want to sit on laps and hold picture books and watch the pages being turned and have voices reading to them. Nothing can replace that. There’s also a strong trend for great series too. There’s no doubt that Andy Griffiths has given the whole publishing industry a real boost’, she smiles. ‘With the young adult (YA) category, Australian authors have largely led the world. In the 1980s I was trying to sell books in Bologna (the largest children’s book fair) and a US rep said to me ‘You Australians are so brave. You tackle subjects we would never dare to!’. Another trend is the wider than expected audience of YA with 14 – 24 year olds reading the genre. ‘Authors are getting younger. They write from their point of view and are in direct communication with their readership and have a great rapport with them. They also write more economically. Their writing is just tighter and they are willing to take editorial advice’.
Hamilton is fond of the Grug book series, which she first published at Hodder & Stoughton in 1979. ‘Ted Prior walked in off the street. Later, when we held a Write Your Own Grug Book competition we had 8,000 entries! Ted Prior and I spent a week going through all the entries’, she laughs. Hamilton is the recipient of the Dromkeen Award, the Nan Chauncy Award and the Lady Cutler Award and The George Robertson Award for Service to the Publishing Industry as well as an Order of Australia. She has also written her first picture books, Counting Through the Day and B is for Bedtime, which is on the CBCA Awards Notable List.
It’s wonderful that Hamilton is keen to share her valuable knowledge and experience and to celebrate the joy of children’s books. Pinerolo is also available for family accommodation. Sounds like my kind of holiday!