Tasmanian children’s author, Dr Anne Morgan, provides insights into the intriguing weedy seadragon, her collaborations with Lois Bury and a new venture in writing nonfiction for CSIRO publishing. The result is a magnificent and magical book to inspire, inform and leave the reader captivated but this mysterious creature.
|The Way of the Weedy Seadragon, by Anne Morgan & Lois Bury|
CSIRO Publishing, 2021.
I saw my first seadragon nearly twenty years ago, while snorkeling with my children at the Tinderbox Marine Reserve, a 30 minute drive south of Hobart. I was working for the National Oceans Office in Hobart at the time, and my daughter, then in grade six, was researching seahorses and seadragons for a school project. We had heard that Tinderbox was a good place to see these marvellous creatures.
My son saw it first, and pointed. With its dots and bars and vibrant colouring, the weedy seadragon was so well camouflaged in the swaying seaweed that it took me a while to ‘see’ what I had been looking at for some time.
The weedy seadragon (Phyllopterix taeniolatis) is a fish belonging to the family Sygnathidae, which includes pipefish, seahorses and seadragons. Of all the sygnathids’ curious traits, male pregnancy is the most startling. Females lay their eggs and transfer them to the males’ brood pouches or, in the case of seadragons, a brood patch on the males’ tails. The father incubates the developing embryos for some weeks, before ‘birthing’ the young seadragons.
Weedy seadragons can be found along the southern coasts of Australia, but Tasmania’s ‘weedies’ tend to grow the largest – up to 46 centimetres. They are a protected species, and their habitat is under threat from warming oceans currents, marine pollution, and from unlicensed collectors taking them for home aquariums.
Tasmanian book creators, Nicole Gill and Coral Tulloch, both have children’s books with CSIRO Publishing, have both been loud in their praise of this scientific publisher, which has recently extended its non-fiction list to include children’s books. Most of my twelve published children’s books had been in the fiction or fantasy genres, but I have been long fascinated by nature. In 2019, I decided I would have a go at writing non-fiction picture books and submitting them to CSIRO Publishing.
I wrote the poem called ‘Weedy Seadancers’, after snorkelling with my children. It won an award for nature poetry and was later published in my poetry collection, A Reckless Descent from Eternity, (Ginninderra Press). All I had to do was adapt my seadragon poem to the text of a 32 page children’s picture book, right? Well, there is a lot more involved in writing children’s picture book texts than that, but CSIRO Publishing liked my submission.
I then did something a little unconventional – I recommended an illustrator to the publisher. Publishing houses are responsible for design of the book, and they generally choose from their own stable of illustrators. But CSIRO were new to publishing books for children, and they were not only looking for good manuscripts, but for good illustrators.
|© Ann Morgan and Lois Bury at a book signing for their new collaboration:|
The Way of the Weedy Seadragon.
Renowned Tasmanian artist and illustrator, Lois Bury, had illustrated my fantasy picture book, The Moonlight Bird and the Grolken (IP Kidz, 2016), and we were keen to work together again. Lois submitted some weedy seadragon concept illustrations, and CSIRO issued us both with contracts.
The Way of the Weedy Seadragon was published in February this year and has already gone into reprint. We have been thrilled with the reviews, but perhaps the most heartening of all the ‘gongs’ is a Thumbs Up as a ‘beaut book!’, from Australia Zoo.
You can read more about the book on CSIRO Publishing.
Teacher notes are available.
Dr Anne Morgan is the joint convenor of the Society of Children’s Writers and Illustrators, Tasmania. She has a PhD in writing and a Master of Education Degree, and has taught in Tasmania, the Northern Territory and China. Her books include The Captain Clawbeak series of junior novels (Random House Australia) and The Smallest Carbon Footprint in the Land & Other Ecotales, which won the Environment Award for Children’s Literature (Junior fiction) in 2014.