Welcome to the blog of the Tasmanian branch of the Children's Book Council of Australia!

Sunday 25 October 2015

Phasmid: Saving the Lord Howe Island Stick Insect

Coral Tulloch, watercolour illustrator of ‘Phasmid: Saving the Lord Howe Island Stick Insect’ takes CBCA Tas readers behind the scenes of this book on the phasmids, who were thought to be extinct for 80 year,s and their rediscovery on a volcanic outcrop, 23 kilometres off the coast of Lord Howe Island. Will they make it back home? Read on …

Sometimes something comes out of the blue, and that’s exactly how this book came to me. Rohan Cleave, an invertebrate zookeeper at the Melbourne Zoo, approached my booking agent with a story idea he wished me to see.

There was just something about Rohan, his dedication and passion for his subject and his enthusiasm to tell its story that intrigued me. I wanted to help Rohan and suggested several things, including a publisher. I had always been really impressed with the publications from the CSIRO, and because of Rohan’s work, I thought the two would suit each other beautifully.

The only problem was that the CSIRO had not yet produced children’s books for trade. This manuscript came to them at exactly the right time and they offered Rohan the publication. I was thrilled for him and as the project progressed, I continued to help both he and Briana Melideo, the publisher and editor, with ideas I had for the publication.

But my main stance, from the very beginning, was that although I was ready to offer support and help, I felt I was not the right illustrator for this book despite Rohan’s insistence to the contrary. As time went on, I suggested several illustrators but Rohan kept holding out. Eventually I thought I would have a go at some rough illustrations. 

A while later, during a meeting with Briana and Rohan at the Melbourne Zoo where we also met our subjects, Rohan mentioned their common family name – ‘Phasmid’, and the book commenced.  Great title!

This amazing creature has been bought back from extinction through the efforts of scientists and the breeding program developed by the Melbourne Zoo. Initially the rescuers slept at the zoo with their two breeding Phasmids, Adam and Eve, and noted everything they could observe about this creature. No one had ever noted their habits, their lives before, so everything was new and experimental and so very important.

On September 7th, 2003 (Threatened Species Day), Eve’s first nymph hatched and was named Yarra. Since then over 12,000 nymphs have hatched and the survival of a species, once thought extinct, is now a certainty.

This book is a lyric story of the Phasmid and has a great information section on the facts behind its survival. It was decided to delay the launch of the book until Threatened Species Day this year for a double celebration of the book and the anniversary of the first nymphs’ hatching.

Melbourne Zoo was wonderful and closed the Butterfly House for the morning of the book launch where thousands of butterflies landed on all who attended.

It has been such a joy working with Rohan and watching his discovery of the process of storytelling that brought his book to life. It has been an extraordinary delight and privilege for Rohan and I to work with the CSIRO.  Briana is an incredible editor and I wish her all the very best for all their new titles.

For now the Phasmids live behind the butterfly house at the Melbourne zoo and hopefully one day soon they will return to their beautiful home on Lord Howe Island.  

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