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Jack and Grace James love their mum’s book – they, along with their dog and a pelican provided the inspiration for the story. Images: Contributed

Monkey see, monkey do

Geoff Helisma

Writing a children’s book is “something I’ve wanted to do my whole adult life”, says author of Patroosh, the cheeky pelican, Renee James.

“I try to live my life thinking I can’t preach to my kids to achieve their dreams if I don’t do the same thing myself. I believe in monkey see, monkey do – I feel very passionate about that with children, especially in their early years.”

Renee is a former co-production coordinator and director’s assistant for a Network 10 children’s show, Puzzle Play, in Brisbane, which premiered in December 2006 and ran for five seasons – these days she is the managing director of Mystery Lane Media.

The book was inspired by a cheeky pelican, as its title implies. “We spend a lot of time over at the beach area near the [Clarence River Fishermen’s] co-op and boat ramp; my children [Jack and Grace] and I often have fish and chips there and spend a lot of time watching the seagulls and pelicans.

“We became familiar with them and their habits – they would try and snatch the kids’ food – and I called one cheeky pelican, ‘Patroosh’. I saw him waiting for a fisherman to catch a fish and the pelican nipped the man’s son’s stomach.

“One day, I’d done the school drop-off and, as I was driving, the story came into my mind, so I kept driving out to Angourie and Wooloweyah; and when I got home I wrote it out.”

Meanwhile, her father Edward ‘Teddy’ Box, who illustrated the book, was recuperating from surgery at Renee’s home. “Dad’s in his 70s and, in his era, he wasn’t allowed to follow his dreams, so I decided to show him my manuscript because I needed some sketches – in a kind-of way his dream came true.”

“She bought the first draft of the story up to me and I read it and I just did a few rough sketches based on the story,” says Teddy. “She made a few trips to the boat ramp and took some pictures. Recovering from surgery, I was virtually a captive of circumstances [laughs].

“Early in life I wanted to be a commercial artist but, unfortunately, as a teenager I was not allowed to do that – my parents didn’t see a future in that.”

Teddy, his wife and oldest son “run the business arm of the Aboriginal community in Warburton, Western Australia”.

The story telling is what one would expect in a well-produced children’s book, but there’s a subtle message for young minds about how kindness towards others can change less than kind types.

The book’s synopsis accurately sums up the plot: “Patroosh is a cheeky pelican who always wants more. He’ll even take the food right out of your hand, or flap his big wings until you drop it in the sand. But after an unexpected event, and a random act of kindness, this pelican’s life is about to change forever.”

Overall, the book and its illustrations capture the birdlife and their antics along the foreshore near the co-op and towards the beach in front of the Blue Dolphin Holiday Resort.

“My kids love the pelicans, but not necessarily because they are cheeky and greedy; so the message to kids is that not everyone is going to help you, that you can’t be liked by everyone,” says Renee. “So just being kind is a strong point – that’s what I try to tell my children all of the time.”

The story aims to encourage children to develop proactive, caring behaviours “without having to be instructed”.

“When they see rubbish, they pick it up and don’t have to be asked; and they know the red bin is for rubbish. I’m a mum and I think I will always try to have a moral in my stories – to guide our children, to tell a story in a gentle way but also provide guidance in a fun way.” Find out more at reneejamesbooks.com.

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