Prolific Leura author Jennifer Rowe has been keeping kids enthralled for 35 years, and on Saturday she was appointed a Companion of the Order of Australia for her services to literature.
Best known for her children’s books penned under her grandmother’s name, Emily Rodda, Ms Rowe was “moved to tears” and “amazed and honoured” to receive the award.
“I feel as though my work as Emily Rodda has been the driving force and my general advocacy for children’s reading,” Ms Rowe says.
She was happy to see children’s literature being taken seriously, as it has a vital role to play in kids’ education and development.
“We are trying to prepare the readers of future generations. Australian kids are not reading as much as kids in other countries,” the Leura resident of 25 years, says.
“With all the competition and electronic devices, books can give them something that nothing else can. They gain an ownership of the book that you don’t get with anything else.”
Having published more than 50 books for kids including the award-winning Rowan of Rin and Deltora Quest series, as well as popular adult mystery novels, the 70-year-old says nothing beats the satisfaction when an adult shares how her books changed their perception of reading or helped them get through difficult times.
She explains how a father and son became stuck in a lift and reading Dog Tales helped the boy forget he was scared. Or when a young woman brought a battered copy of Deltora Quest to Katoomba library after an author talk and told Ms Rowe she never read as a child, but now she was at university studying English Literature because of her books.
“It brings tears to your eyes,” Ms Rowe says.
So, just how has she been keeping kids enthralled for 35 years?
There are themes that cut across all countries and cultures, Ms Rowe says.
“In Rowan of Rin, Rowan was scared of everything but he was the one who succeeded. To really be brave you have to face your fear. If you don’t feel fear you’re not being brave … readers tell me, I feel I was Rowan,” Ms Rowe says.
In Deltora Quest, it was themes of courage and keeping going when everything seems impossible, that resonated with readers.
She aims to write books that children and also adults can enjoy, telling tales like you would around a campfire where the audience could range in age from five to 85.
“It’s telling the tale how we would tell each other before we were so sophisticated,” Ms Rowe says.
She’s clearly cut through, with a list of awards as long as your arm.
Ms Rowe’s stories are inspired by the people, places and world around her; friends and family – her husband, four grown-up children and two grandkids – which keep her in touch with children today.
The Shop at Hooper’s Bend, published in 2017, was inspired by the little shop on the highway at Bullaburra, which was her great uncle’s “magical” corner store in the 1960s.
Ideas might ruminate for years but some need to be told, now.
“Once the idea talks to you, you can’t ignore it,” Ms Rowe says.
Usually she’ll start the day with an early morning coffee at Wisteria Place Cafe in Leura, then it’s home to her “writing room” which overlooks a lush, leafy garden.
These days she’s more selective in the projects she’ll take on. She’s got two children’s books on the go, a high-fantasy stand-alone book due out at the end of the year and a sequel to one of her books – she’s coy on which – coming out next year.