With the upcoming release of Super Sloth 2, author Aleesah Darlison reflects on how the joyful creativity of this series compares with the emotional depth of her other works.

Why do you write children's books?

Well, that’s because children’s books are the perfect form for stories, at least for me! They’re direct, they’re usually filled with action and adventure, they cover important issues, and I get to use my imagination and go on fictional adventures whenever I write one.

What inspired you to write the Super Sloth series?

I’ve always loved sloths – they’re super cute – and I like the idea of combining two unusual things, like putting what we expect might be a slow sloth in the fastest, busiest city in the world, New York.

What do you love about this series?

It was so much fun to write! During my research, I got to watch sloth videos and documentaries. Creating my characters, I was able to develop a unique sloth superhero and loyal, courageous sidekicks … and quite a few dastardly villains. I simply had a blast with the creative process.

How does the second book of this series, which releases in March, compare to the first? Were there any differences in the writing process?

All the books in the series were planned before I started writing, which helps me maintain story arcs and maintain character development. Book 1 is Romeo’s origin story where we learn about how he got his superpowers, then we accompany him on his first adventure in ‘the big smoke’. In Book 2, the main villain, Professor Ian Weird-Warp, returns to create havoc in New York, but this time he has a mob of mutant chick-oats (half-chicken-half-goat creatures) to help him out. So, my writing process for each book in a series is usually the same, as I do plan ahead.

What do you hope your readers will take away from Super Sloth 2?

I’d love readers to enjoy the story, to be on the edge of their seats while they’re reading Romeo’s adventure, and to get a good giggle out of the story. It’s great for some fun escapism … and to learn about friendship, courage, and loyalty as well.

With very playful and humorous stories of magic and adventure, do you incorporate many personal influences into this series?

Having had an adventurous childhood growing up in the country, then having raised four children who had lots of adventures and mis-adventures themselves, I have a deep pool of experiences, memories, themes, and issues to draw upon whenever I’m writing. In terms of Super Sloth specifically, a few years ago I was lucky enough to travel to New York City for work so while I was there I explored and experienced as much as I could. When it came to writing Super Sloth, I then incorporated those experiences into the stories to give them authenticity.

Another new release for you, Grace the Amazing, is coming out in May and it touches on some deeper themes of life and death. What inspired Grace the Amazing?

My incredible early primary school teacher inspired that story. I absolutely adored her and I know she thought a lot of me too. It wasn’t until I was fully grown up – only a few years ago – that I was heart-broken to learn she passed away from breast cancer when I was still a child … and I never knew, I was never told. She had such a positive influence on me as a child that I felt I owed it to her to recreate her, us, in some way and to dedicate the book to her. Grace the Amazing is fictional, but it includes aspects of my relationship with that beloved teacher as well as imagined aspects of what I would have liked to say to her had I known that she was unwell.

What was it like writing about these topics in a children’s book? How did it compare to writing a more humorous story?

Writing Grace the Amazing took me back to my childhood. It was like travelling back in time, allowing me to experience a deep dive into emotions and experiences that existed long ago, but which still live vividly in my mind. I relived elements of my childhood, revisited the little country school I attended, and re-read my old school books in which my teacher’s perfect hand writing still sings to me, loud, clear, kind, and encouraging. If nothing else, her words are still with me. And now my words in Grace the Amazing will stand for her, always. It was a deeply personal story to write. It was emotional and writing the book made me cry at times, but it also made me feel that what I was doing was important and worthwhile. I love writing funny stories like Super Sloth and, despite the deeper issues explored in Grace the Amazing like mental health, family dynamics, grief, and loss, there are many funny scenes in there as well. I’d like to think the book has many layers and can offer reads a truly rich and emotional experience on many levels.

What do you hope your readers will take away from Grace the Amazing?

That caring for yourself and others is the key to a good life. That we are all special and amazing. And that love – and saying ‘I love you’ – can heal so many wounds.

You have had over sixty books for children and young adults published. Did any of them shape you as an author in an unexpected way?

That’s a great question! It’s often hard to analyse what each book offers you or how far you might have come in your career when you’re pushing hard to meet a deadline. I never, ever thought I’d have so many books with my name on them. I feel lucky every day that publishers have seen the value in my work, my words, and continue to publish my stories. I can only hope readers continue to enjoy them too! My funny stories are a joy to write and have taught me that I do have a sense of humour. Like many authors, I have self-doubts, but when young readers tell me they laughed when they read my stories, then that’s proof I must have done something right. My more serious ones have taught me that delving into past experiences and using them as narrative problems can be a way for me to better deal with those issues and that it’s okay to be vulnerable. That my experiences resonate with others and that brings us all closer. I’d say Running from the Tiger and Grace the Amazing are the two books that are closest to my personal experiences and which have helped with my own healing and hopefully the healing of others.

What can you share with us about the Little Darlings Project?

Little Darlings is a Facebook Page community that focuses on those little darlings of literature – Australian picture books. On it, we welcome discussion about anything and everything related to picture books as well as recommendations of great picture books that you love. We also share reviews, interviews, news, event information, and author and illustrator features. 

The Little Darlings community is designed to support everyone and to raise the profile and awareness of Australian picture books, their creators, their themes and purpose, and their importance in shaping young lives. I created the page and curate it because I absolutely adore picture books, they’re such a beautiful form of children’s literature and I want to share that love with others.

Do you have any other projects in the works?

Always! Later this year, I expect that Super Sloth 3 will be released. I finished writing that recently so it’s currently with the illustrator. I have a few picture books that have been contracted and are due out in 2024 and 2025 and I’m in the midst of writing the first book in a middle grade series that’s vastly different to those projects. So, I think I’m covering a few bases there. Writing certainly keeps me out of trouble, anyway!