Encouraged by her daughter to follow her dream of writing a children’s book, a Far South Coast author has now published a beautifully illustrated tale for youngsters that is inspired by her own home environment and the people and creatures who live there.
Christine McKnight, who lives at Wallaga Lake, and is the director of the nearby Cobargo Preschool, recently released a children’s book titled Cecile The Seal, which was illustrated by former South Coast artist Jude Walker.
“Cecile The Seal is about being yourself and finding what’s right for you,” Ms McKnight said.
“It’s about respecting wild creatures and the environment.”
The titular character was inspired by a seal that visited Wallaga Lake (an area seals don’t often inhabit) and lived there for about a year while possibly recovering from an injury, as she had a large scar down her side.
“She seemed to interact with our family and the dogs, coming over to the jetty when she saw us or swimming alongside the kayak,” Ms McKnight said.
“She would often bring an octopus she had captured to the jetty to show us and then dismantle it to eat it in front of us!”
Ms McKnight said it was a long-held dream of hers to write a book, which was encouraged by her daughter Harriet, “as she encouraged all her family to follow a dream”.
Harriet died in 2018, when she was just 30 years old.
“The seal was connected to her as it appeared during her illness and gave us all moments of joy and wonder as we sat on the jetty facing a sad situation,” Ms McKnight said.
“It seemed nature and our environment was providing us with appreciation of beauty and encouraging respect for wild creatures and their connection to our world.
“It was a positive process collaborating with Jude in the years after as we worked together to create something of beauty that brought joy and a sense of achievement.”
Ms McKnight said there were several lessons that she and Ms Walker hoped young readers would get out of the story.
“[For instance,] that all creatures have some things that they need, that are just right for them,” she said.
“Seals don’t eat cake and spaghetti, even if we think we’re being kind offering them, that they know what they need and will seek that out. People need to do that too.
“That even though wild creatures look cute as in the early pages they are actually just that – wild, and they survive best being left to do their own thing.
“That they interact with people on their own terms and we should enjoy that and accept it as it is.”
She said she had read her book to the children at her preschool, who were enthralled by the tale.
“When read to my preschoolers unprompted discussions amongst the children afterwards showed that somehow the children understood and absorbed that as the message without it being something presented to them,” she said.
Ms Walker, who is now in Melbourne, said the 2019-2020 bushfires and COVID-19 state border closures made it hard to meet up and work on the project.
But, eventually, they managed to come together and decided to create lettering that expressed the meaning of the words as a device to assist early learners with their reading and engagement.
“We both work with children so creating something both beautiful and engaging was the aim,” she said.
“The children at my Melbourne school have loved it with discussions from the children about what different animals and humans from different cultural backgrounds like to eat.”
To buy Cecile The Seal, visit Shop7 Artspace in Bermagui or email Ms McKnight at [email protected]