A whimsical and inspiring exploration of the creative process for readers young and old from the internationally bestselling author of the Stella books.
Marie-Louise Gay is a world-renowned author and illustrator of children's books. She has won many prestigious awards and has also been nominated for the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award and the Hans Christian Andersen Award. Her books have been translated into more than 15 languages and are loved by children all over the world. She lives in Montreal.
Some books are just so beautiful that you can’t help picking them up to have a look, and Any Questions? by Marie-Louise Gay is one of them. Sure to become a favourite if you do, I certainly recommend taking the time to savour this gorgeous book, and let yourself smile at the whimsical characters who ask such endearing questions as ‘Have you ever touched a snake?’ and ‘Can your cat fly?’, as well as very practical ones, like ‘Where do your ideas come from?’ and ‘Where does a story start?’.
Perhaps not surprisingly, Any Questions? is a reflection on the sorts of conversations that the author/illustrator has experienced while talking to children about her books at schools and libraries. Marie-Louise Gay talks about her own curiosity as a child, and is pleased to note that nothing much has changed, and, yes, she does answer all the questions, but especially the one asking ‘Where does a story start?’. Answer: ‘on a blank, white page’, but what she turns that blank, white page into is a glorious adventure of imagination and storytelling, that, um, tells the story of how a story is born and grows (and sometimes the page is a different colour, so that’s okay, too).
What a brilliant way to start a unit on narrative writing! There is even a great youtube video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D3w96aVnlvM to introduce the book, which follows an encounter between the author and some curious children as they work together to write a story. Use this to launch into some collaborative writing with your class, finishing the book together, where one of the characters says ‘I don’t want this story to end’, and one of the others suggests that they write another story. Great idea. Beautiful words, with beautiful pictures, Any Questions? is sure to inspire some fabulous stories from your class. Oh, and when you have done that, you can always write a letter to Marie-Louise Gay, especially if you have worked together to come up with some more questions.
Catherine Whittle, Monash Primary School, ACT
It tells the story of how to write a story and where to get your ideas from. Stories can come about by asking lots of questions. This book involves the readers/audience to be part of the book. Marie-Louise is very clever in the way the book is set out and how the readers can become involved.
The story also entails many adventures into writing a story. Marie-Louise begins writing a story within a story about 'The Shy Young Giant.' It begins in black and white and slowly various colours are incorporated into the text. Next, she brings in the audience/readers to add to the story. This is very creative and imaginative as it can show to children how, what and when they can develop their ideas and become mini authors. Throughout the book Marie-Louise has caricatures of different children, animals and creatures to help capture the children’s imaginations to become writers.
One of the great ideas that could be used in any classroom to help children to write is using Marie-Louise’s idea of the coloured papers. For example, a white page can become a snow storm, yellowish paper can become dinosaurs, sea blue about the ocean, purplish grey about a storm, green for a jungle and black for a midnight story. Another classroom idea for this book is once the children have written their stories onto the coloured paper the stories could be collated and put into a classroom book. This book could then be used throughout the Literacy block for children to read and share together for example in quiet or silent reading time during the day. Marie-Louise Gay’s book Any Questions? is a valuable book to have in the classroom to help children to understand how to write a story, how a story can evolve by asking questions, doodling or writing on any types of paper. Many a child will love to read this book.
Nicole Holland, Casual Relief Teacher, Bendigo, VIC
Young children love to ask questions and this book is a celebration of that fact. The author has recorded the types of questions she has heard over the years about her stories, her life and herself. She has used these questions to show children how she develops stories and shows how a narrative grows from choices the author makes. The book would be a valuable asset to a teacher talking to children about narratives and how they can improve their own writing. It also shows that even experienced authors have momentary blanks when they are stuck for new ideas. The book has a most unusual structure, it does contain a fairy tale but this story is embedded amongst questions as little characters with speech bubbles appear on each page asking about what is going on. The reader is drawn into co-constructing the text, thinking about what would be the best way to take the story. The final pages have children questioning the ending of the fairy tale and thinking of alternate endings. It finishes with children going off to write their own ending, a fabulous lead in to a writing lesson because the class could then go and do just that, innovate on the text and then share alternate endings. This book is really for fledgling writers providing guidance, inspiration and a real love of the writing process.
Wendy Fletcher, Bellerive Primary School
Marie Louise Gay was inspired to write this book by the many questions that young children ask her at school visits. She talks about her creative process, explaining that sometimes a story can start with an idea, a word, or even the colour of the page. She starts to compose a story about a giant, and then invites children to continue the story. This story-within-a-story device very neatly explores her process in a fun and informative way.
The pages are filled with delightful illustrations, using different techniques and media (pencil, watercolour, collage), and provide numerous talking points for young children (kinder to grade 2). There is much to see and find on the pages, and this would be a wonderful read-aloud book for a lower primary classroom or kindergarten.
Children could be encouraged to think of their own questions for this or other authors, or to create a wonder wall of questions to explore as the term continues. With older children (grade 3-4) I would explore the author’s stunning use of negative space, and its importance in book illustrations or artworks, and the use of story panels, speech bubbles, different fonts, and cursive text. Students could also explore narrative story conventions by working in a pair or a small team to create and illustrate their own story. The book finishes with the author’s answer to some of the questions she is asked most often. This is a rich and charming book, and one to enjoy over and over.
Anthea Barrett, Casual Relief Teacher
For the students, an author visit to their school is often better than a visit from Santa because instead of just once a year, they get to revisit the warm, fuzzy feelings every time they pick up a work by the author. For the author, it might not be so memorable but the authors I know say it is always fun and often inspirational. Take the visits that Marie-Louise Gay has made. She knows she is going to get a barrage of questions, questions she hears each time from each audience like “What inspired you to write this book?” and “Where do your ideas come from?’ and “Where does a story start?”
It is this last one that has inspired this unique book from this talented author/illustrator. Where does a story start? “A story always starts on a blank white page… and if you stare long enough at a blank piece of paper, anything can happen…” A white page could become a snowstorm, old yellowish paper might take you back to the time of the dinosaurs and purple paper could put you in the middle of a thunderstorm. Or sometimes a story will start with words and ideas floating around, captured, recorded, saved or discarded. And so it begins to build… who lives in this setting and what might happen to them?
Capturing the beginnings of a story in text and graphics helped by those children who were asking the questions, Ms Gay takes the reader on a journey through the imaginative process that is as creative as her ideas. Then having taken those ideas and shaken them and turned them upside-down she discovers that her central character is a shy, young giant with birds nesting in his hair. And for a few pages she tells his story until something happens and the story is turned over to the children to continue as a collaborative effort. Then she steps in again to finish it. Except the children don’t want it to end and are inspired to write another one.
This is a most intriguing book that invites the reader’s imagination and interaction. Text and illustrations are integral, particularly the words of the children and this might make it tricky to share as a whole-class read-aloud but it is perfect to share with a small group about to start on the writing process. Young writers often sort out their ideas by drawing first and the concept of letting the colour of the paper suggest the setting is inspirational, particularly if you are focusing on the meanings of words like setting, characters and plot. Have a brainstorm session of possibilities with various sheets of coloured paper, have them draw the setting then think about the characters that would fit into it and from there develop the story. It works! It brought those ideas to life in a way that breathed life into my explanations and allowed them to explore them in a really practical way. This book will excite teachers as much as it inspires their budding writers. There is a queue of reservations for it!
Barbara Braxton, Teacher Librarian, Cooma NSW
The premise of this picture book is interesting. It is taken from the questions asked of the author by children. The author remembers how curious she was as a child and tries to finds a way to answer the children’s questions in an entertaining way. In the process she shares a little about herself but also about the writing process. The book gives a number of ideas of how a story could start, what might happen and how things might change if another dimension, even to a change of colour, was added. This book lends itself to using the imagination. It even leads into a story about a shy giant.
The water colour illustrations suit the whimsical character of the text. However while I thought this book had lots of positive aspects, the pages at times seemed too busy and the text tending to veer off at too many tangents. In my view, it is not a picture book for parents or teachers to read aloud to children. Rather, this book is designed to help teachers encourage children explore their own creativity and so from that purpose would be a very useful tool. It would be very constructive in a classroom situation where the teacher could take a page or two at a time and use it to spark ideas with their class. Any book that helps children learn to use their imaginations has to be a good thing. It can be used for creative writing and art lessons or learning about jobs as at the back of the book the author answers some of the questions about being a writer.
Dale Harcombe, NSW
Marie- Louise Gay has created a book bursting with illustrations that invite the reader to enter a world of imaginative characters. The picture book steps in and out of a variety of children’s play worlds as well as a how-to writing of a story. It demonstrates how authoring can be a social and collaborative activity. The rich in salience, comic, illustrations make this story fun to read with children of all ages.
Fantasy themes of monsters and beasts and other worlds have been created with illustrations and narrative text. Fantasy is a great way to introduce environmental topics about woods and trees and the creatures that may inhabit them.
There is a book inside this book. And there is a conversation between the author, the characters and the reader in the story by the use of captions for co-authoring and story making - which one of them could be you?
After Reading: Discuss the many visual techniques in this story that engage the reader and enhance their reading skills. As part of the 'Australian National Curriculum: English Literature': How and why an author/illustrator writes to a specific audience, this picture book can be useful when exploring the following:
- open pages
- closed frames
- multiple frames
- like a work in progress with pages floating off the pages
- sequential panels, speech balloons and captions
- direct narrative voice from the author to the reader sharing the main ideas of the story
- Contrast, salience, media colour and black and white media, double page spreads and collage, combine with the watercolour, pen and ink.
Discuss how the author achieves her purpose, through onomatopoeia words ‘hoot’ and ‘rustle’ and by minimising the text modality. Talk also about the subject matter appealing to a certain audience. Discuss what hypothetical questions are and how they create a story. If you like reading this you may like A Bus Called Heaven or Captain Congo.
H. Latimer TL Lakemba PS
The cover and illustrations are in a similar design to a Junior Picture Story book, but as I read through, I realised that there was more to this story. Due to the complexity of the information, I feel it is more suited to middle Primary – age 7-9, where students are more able to think abstractly and about others. The author invites the reader along on a story journey. The reader begins to get an understanding of the process an author / illustrator, as they create a new storybook. As there are many different characters within the story, which share their opinions and ideas, this creates a dialogue between the readers also.
There are many questions to be answered and explored by the reader, which engages the child in the storyline. There is much to see in the illustrations, so the reader may spend many times pouring over the pictures.
This book could be used in an English writing session, which explores how to engage the reader. It may be used in an Art based lesson, where students think about character and how characters differences add to the storyline. It is also great for developing Creativity and thinking skills. The reader becomes part of the story, as there are questions to be discussed, answered and thought about. Through class discussions, students learn to listen to and explore each other’s opinion and ideas, when in a safe forum, within a classroom, will develop children’s’ empathy skills and acknowledge differences. Thanks for the opportunity to read this story and share it with the students in my class.
Alyssa Chalhoub, North Fitzroy Primary School, VIC
This wonderfully imaginative picture book is a fantastic addition to any art room, classroom or school library. The book comes from Marie-Louise Gay’s experiences of children asking her lots of questions during her school and library visits. To address the curiosity of children, this clever book fully engages the reader in how one author/illustrator brainstorms, develops ideas for stories and creates books.
The illustrations and vocabulary used in the books are imaginative and colourful. Children will be able to identify, with guidance from their teacher, their own process of creating stories. There is a lot of visual information on some of the pages, with speech bubbles and longer passages of text, so students may benefit from viewing the story more than once.
This book can be used in numerous ways by teachers in the classroom. Art teachers may wish to focus on the illustrations in the book, looking at colour, design and technique. The book features a range of watercolour, sketching, ink and pastel illustrations. Classroom teachers can use this book with their class to show students the writing process, from brainstorming to publishing and starting again. The idea of persistence and trying different things when you are stuck with your writing is a valuable lesson for students.
The author also includes an informative question and answer section at the conclusion of the book, so that students can gain further insight into a writer and their work process. This is a book that can be enjoyed by students and adults of all ages who like to let their imaginations run wild!
Kathleen Temple, Yarrambat PS
The latest picture book offering from Canadian author Marie-Louise has been created from her own experiences as a writer who visits schools and the many questions children ask her about the writing process. The characters are an author and a class group and after asking many questions (presented in speech balloons), the author starts with a blank page. Story ideas begin to develop using various inspirational techniques, especially by asking questions and using your imagination. Suddenly a story “The Shy Young Giant” begins to emerge created from all the ideas previously presented in the book. Along the way, the story is developed by the students as more ideas are introduced. When we get to ‘the end’, we are encouraged that it is only ‘the beginning’.
The use of speech balloons effectively serves to illustrate the conversation between the writer and the class group. This helps to separate this conversation from the story being created. Not a read-aloud story book, it is more a book to dip into, but the interactive nature of the book provides a great learning portal into the creative process of creating a picture book and writing stories in general; it even has an example of what a ‘brainstorm’ looks like.
A great writing task promoted by the book is finding inspiration from different coloured paper; using the colour to evoke emotion and setting. At the beginning of the book, the double page spread with all the questions can be used in a classroom situation before a school excursion to illustrate the difference between appropriate and inappropriate questions.
The book could also be a great resource for Readers Theatre as there are many diverse roles and sound effects can be easily included. As much as younger children will be attracted to the colourful watercolour illustrations and the vibrant nature of the book, it's most effective use would be with an upper primary class, as a go-to-guide for inspiration whenever creative writing is on the agenda.
Elizabeth Ashworth, FNDC Librarian, New Zealand
I imagine that during this author’s writing career, in the course of writing over 60 books and visiting many schools and libraries, that she is often asked interesting questions by curious children. I imagine that is what has inspired her latest book: Any Questions?
When meeting an author in the flesh, children want to know where stories come from and how a book is made. Marie-Louise Gay’s new picture book gives delightful answers and illustrations through a fictional encounter between an author and some very curious children. Some of their questions may not pertain directly to the creative process of writing a book e.g. ‘Can your cat fly?’
Gay embarks on a process of creating a story with the reader starting with a blank piece of white paper. This could be a story of a polar bear in a snowstorm. Gay encourages the reader to stretch their imagination. Words and ideas for settings and characters appear and evolve and at some point it just ‘feels’ right and the story can develop. Gay has sketched, doodled, pencilled, collaged, and painted the words and pictures. This book becomes a story within a story: the author explains the creative process and helping the reader write a story about a giant.
This book has appeal for six to twelve year olds and I would use it to stimulate the creative writing process in students. It could also be a helpful tool in getting students to think of questions to ask an author about to visit.
Claire Cheeseman, Laingholm Primary, NZ