Interview with Anne Donnelly, author-illustrator

  • Published on June 7, 2019

Interview with Anne Donnelly, author-illustrator

With tomorrow 8 June World Oceans Day and World Environment Day just a few days ago on 5 June, there is no better time than now to introduce you to Anne Donnelly and her delightful picture book Ori’s Clean-up.

The aim of World Oceans Day is to celebrate, protect and conserve the world’s oceans. The 2019 theme Together we can protect and restore our ocean focuses on preventing plastic pollution.  With its environmental theme incorporating recycling and re-using, Anne’s book is a perfect fit.

About Anne Donnelly

Anne lives in Sydney with her husband, her two children and their new puppy that chews everything! She loves to be creative in all sorts of ways. She loves to read, write, craft and is a very animated storyteller. As a little girl, she used to draw on the underside of the kitchen table and all the way up the stairs, on each step, much to her parent’s shock.

She has released three books in the Ori Octopus series; Ori the Octopus and Ori’s Christmas in 2017. And now she is especially excited about her latest book Ori’s Clean-Up as it combines two of her passions; children’s literacy and care of our environment. This book has been endorsed by Clean Up Australia and is being stocked at various zoos, national parks, museums, visitor centres, aquariums and holiday destinations all over the country.

About Ori’s Clean-Up

Ori the Octopus and his friends have left their rubbish everywhere. They tidy up, but it doesn’t work. To keep their home clean and healthy, they need to do something different, something better.

The Interview

 Hi, Anne. Welcome to readilearn.

 Thanks for inviting me.

Anne, you tell your stories with words and pictures. When did you know you wanted to be a storyteller and share your stories with others?

I was born in Malta and it was common for the older people in the community to tell stories. During my early years, I recall sitting and listening to my parents, grandparents, godmother and other relatives telling stories. I’ve always liked telling stories, something I’ve always done. And I like listening to stories, especially when it’s being told by someone I admire, such as one uncle of mine who spoke five languages and travelled the world with the British forces in his day.

What comes first–the stories or the pictures? Do you consider yourself a writer or illustrator first?

Sometimes the story comes first and sometimes the pictures. It depends where the inspiration comes from. Author or illustrator? It’s close, but I think a writer.

What media do you mainly use for illustrating?

I paint some aspects using acrylic and I use Adobe Illustrator for the majority. I almost always sketch first, then scan and go over it and complete it in Illustrator.

Do you plan the story in your head before you begin to write or illustrate it?

Yes, although sometimes it doesn’t work out. I usually start off with an idea. Then over time it fleshes out in my head and when I think I might have something, I sit and write. However, there have been times when I have not been able to create a story with an idea, even though it seemed so clear in my head!

What gave you the idea for Ori’s Clean-Up?

I have always been a greenie, and not often influenced by consumerism. I had always intended to write a book for young children to empower them to take responsibility for their actions over the environment. I do think our attitude needs an overhaul and the place to begin is with our younger generations.

What do you like best about Ori’s Clean-Up story?

The story is not just about recycling, or composting. It depicts many environmentally responsible actions; recycling, reusing, composting, donating instead of discarding and using fabric bags instead of single-use plastic ones. But it also says to reuse the plastic bags.

Research has shown that a single-use plastic bag’s carbon footprint is greatly reduced if they are reused. So, the approach is practical.

I also like that it covers items that the children will be familiar with; plastic bags and containers, glass bottles, paper, kitchen leftovers etc. There are no car parts, cigarette lighters or factory effluents. Even though these are a pollution issue, the children cannot relate to, nor can they affect any change over these.

Do you have a favourite illustration?

It would have to be page 20, Reginald Stingray washing the plastic containers.

Ori's Clean-Up by Anne Donnelly

How did you feel when you wrote Ori’s Clean-Up?

Like “Finally, this is the book I’ve been wanting to get out there!”

Inspired, energised.

How do you hope readers will feel?

Inspired and energised too. But mostly I want my young readers to feel empowered that their actions do matter. And that even at their age, they can make environmentally responsible choices.

Ori's Clean-Up by Anne Donnelly

How would you like teachers to present your book to children?

I see my book as a platform to start the conversation about all these choices children can make to take care of their environment.

Some children may know about putting paper and cardboard into the recycling bin, but what happens next? When I present to children, I talk to them about products made out of recycled paper and take some examples to show them.

I ask them why taking care of our home is important. I show them a diagram of the five ocean rubbish gyres and what effect this has on the wildlife.

What messages would you like them to discuss?

The why take care of our environment. This knowledge empowers the children. They are not only doing it for themselves, but the entire ecosystem and for future generations too.

The how, what they can do. This gives them tools they can use, a methodology. Having a reusable drink bottle and recycling paper are things they can all do.

You have written other books about Ori. Can you tell us a little about them?

My first book was Ori the Octopus. This introduces the characters and is a story about friendship, helping others and teamwork. In that same year, 2017, I also released Ori’s Christmas. The theme here is compromise, something which I have found children find difficult to do at times.

Ori's Clean-Up by Anne Donnelly

What is your favourite picture book?

I have lots of them. To name a few: Duck, Those Pesky Rabbits, Room on the Broom and Max and the won’t go to bed show.

Who is your favourite author? What do you like about his or her work?

My favourite is Terry Pratchett, definitely. He is so funny and so clever in the way that he pokes fun at our world through the Disc World series.

thank you writers and illustrators for sharing information about your books and your creative process

Thank you, Anne Donnelly, for sharing these insights about Ori’s Clean-Up and your writing and illustrating process. We wish you success with your books and with encouraging children to make environmentally responsible choices.

Thanks for having me.

Find out more about Anne Donnelly on her website:

Ori’s Clean-Up can be purchased (or ordered) from

any book shop & school and library suppliers.

On-line it can be ordered from Booktopia or from bluebellbooks.

You may also find it in many other bookstores and gift shops around the country, including:

in zoos, Great Barrier Reef HQ shop, Daintree Discovery Centre, some maritime museums, national parks & visitor centres, Tamar Island Wetlands, Cocos Keeling Island, Lady Elliot Island, Phillip Island, Wollongong Discovery Space etc.

Author Spotlight

author-illustrator spotlight -Anne Donnelly

This interview is now available free, in a ready-to-print format, in Literacy Resources  Author-Illustrator Spotlight  — Anne Donnelly. The information may be displayed in your classroom or included in a class book about authors and illustrators.

Additional resources for celebrating World Oceans Day

Many free resources are available from the World Ocean’s Day website.

Be sure to check out readilearn’s turtle-themed resources; including the interactive non-fiction text Let’s find out about Sea Turtles

Let's find out about sea turtles cover

And the interactive maths lesson Ten Tiny Turtles.

Ten Tiny Turtles a lesson in addition to ten for the interactive whiteboard

For other books that celebrate our oceans and have themes relevant to marine conservation, check out these interviews:

Karen Tyrrell about her recent addition to the Song Bird Superhero Series Great Barrier Reef Rescue

Renee Hills and Anna Jacobson about their delightful picture book Turtle Love

Kim Michelle Toft about her beautiful picture book Coral Sea Dreaming and The Underwater Twelve Days of Christmas.

 readilearn: teaching resources for the first three years of school
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    This series of books sounds lovely. I was interested in Anne’s comment that either the illustrations or the story come first. I am also like that with my Sir Choc books. It depends where the idea comes from.

    Thanks, Robbie. It is interesting to see that you two author-illustrators have some aspects of your process in common.

    Thanks, Jacqui. I agree. I think Anne has got it right in suggesting actions children can take responsibility for.

    Thanks, Jacqui. Every action, no matter how small, is a contribution, isn’t it?

    Thanks Anne and Norah! Delightful and in full agreement about this essential way of showing children things they can relate to and thus how their actions impact and are meaningful.

    Thanks, Susan. I agree. I think Anne has got it right by providing children with suggestions of things they can do. It can seem overwhelming to look at the large-scale problems that beset us. Small actions we can all do add up. 🙂

    Thank you for your lovely comment, Joy. I agree that teaching children from a young age is important. Anne’s book provides a wonderful avenue for discussion.

    So nice learning about Anne today and her creative process. I also love how she uses visuals to tell her story to the young ones, as it’s so easy to absorb when they see the stories in picture. Great post. Thanks Norah and Anne 🙂

    Thanks for popping over to read, Debby. I appreciate your support. Anne’s book is delightful with a very special message. The story and illustrations work well together.

Please share your thoughts. I love it when you do.

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