Today I am delighted to reintroduce you to Dimity Powell as she introduces us to Oswald Messweather, the star of her latest picture book. I have previously talked with Dimity about her earlier books At the End of Holyrood Lane and Pippa. She also wrote a wonderful guest post for us about the importance of libraries, Libraries: A Wondrous Universe to Explore.
About Dimity Powell
Award winning children’s author, Dimity Powell writes exclusively for children with over 30 published stories including Oswald Messweather (2021), Pippa (2019), critically acclaimed, The Fix-It Man (2017) and At The End of Holyrood Lane (2018), winner of the 2019 SCBWI Crystal Kite Award.
Dimity believes kids and great stories are life-essentials, like ice-cream. She fills her spare time reviewing the ones she loves (stories that is, not ice-cream flavours) at DIM’S re VIEWS and Kids Book Review for whom she is the Managing Editor. She is also a Books in Homes Australia Role Model, an accredited Write Like an Author facilitator and online and in-school presenter for G.A.T.E.WAYS Education.
Dimity is an experienced presenter at writing festivals, conferences and schools both in Australia and overseas who is represented by Speakers Ink and Creative Kids’ Tales Speakers Agency. She loves eating cake with ice cream, sailing on the beam and writing in her diary although combining all three at once makes her nauseous.
Dimity lives on the Gold Coast, Australia where dreams sparkle and superheros surf. Discover more at www.dimitypowell.com.
About Oswald Messweather
Mess and disorder upset Oswald. Even the complexity of his own name is enough to set Oswald’s legs jiggling and his palms itching with anxiety. To combat his unease, Oswald obsessively counts his take-everywhere pocket pals – his crayons. It is a compulsion he finds comforting but also extremely exhausting.
Oswald’s obsessive preoccupations distract him from everything and everyone else around him, until one day Oswald is encouraged to use his penchant for perfection and eye for detail in a class project. With the help of his crayons, Oswald’s classmates create something spectacular, which helps Oswald realise just how valuable he is in spite of his anxieties.
Oswald Messweather is not a picture book that focuses intently on the educational perspectives of children with OCD but rather more on the emotional aspects associated with this debilitating condition.
Thank you so much for visiting us at readilearn again, Dimity. It’s a pleasure to have you here to talk about your new book. Please tell us, what gave you the idea for Oswald Messweather?
It was strange and unexpected. I wasn’t prompted by anyone or anything in particular for this one as I normally am. Rather I was playing around with names, acronyms and realised, quite abruptly that the condition of OCD was not represented as strongly in young children’s literature as it could or should be. The idea to encompass this disorder into a picture book grew from there.
He has a very long name — Oswald Constantine Dorian Messweather. Why was it necessary for him to have such a long name?
This was wholly intentional. I wanted a name that represented convoluted mess and disorder and when initialised produced a subtle yet recognisable acronym for the condition of OCD. Ozzie’s name is drenched in dramatic irony which astute readers will pick up on. Also, each of his names has a significance and meaning that contributes in part to his character and his story. I’m quite fanatical about researching names and their meanings and get stupidly excited if I can find even the most tenuous of links between a meaning and a characteristic.
‘Oswald Messweather is a must-read for all children so that they can understand what OCD is. This excellent book may create miracles in classes and playdates. Loved every page! A must-read.’
What can you tell us about Oswald and the audience you had in mind when writing his story?
Oswald is just a normal everyday run of the mill boy. He looks and dresses a little more neatly than some young primary schoolers but other than that, you’d never guess he harbours great oceans of anxiety. Mess and disorder upset him inexplicably, filling his head with worries until he feels out of control and overwhelmed. These emotions invade him at home and at school so that he finds it difficult to focus on the positives around him. Negative thoughts dominate his actions and behaviour. Enacting these behaviours provides some sense of calm but it is false comfort and exhausting.
These issues affect many of us in varying levels but when OCD manifests itself in young children, the results can be erosive and detrimental to their mental wellbeing. Withdrawal and antisocial behaviours are easily misinterpreted especially in the classroom. I wanted to share Ozzie’s predicaments and story through a picture book to spread the realisation that OCD exists in children too and with care and attention, may be better managed.
I wanted audiences as young as five to relate to Ozzie after learning that children as young as that can suffer from OCD in very real and debilitating ways. However, I’ve been heartened to discover that young people between the ages of 9 – 13 are also connecting with Ozzie’s situations, feelings and dilemmas.
These reactions mean the most to me of course but when I get comments like: ‘Oswald Messweather is a must-read for all children so that they can understand what OCD is. This excellent book may create miracles in classes and playdates. Loved every page! A must-read.’ I’m filled with giddy joy and hope because it suggests that teachers, parents and carers will gain as much from this book as children.
Is Oswald’s character based on someone you know or is he completely fictional?
Oswald is completely fictional but as with most of my characters, his emotions and reactions are inspired by past events and real people. Without that anchor of realism, I find it difficult to relate to my characters. I ‘get’ Ozzie’s situation 100% because I too am afflicted with fears of uncertainty and repetitive compulsive behaviours to offset these fears. By understanding that, I feel I can do better justice to his unique story.
Instead of reacting uncontrollably, Oswald learns to redirect his actions creatively and calmly. It’s a beautiful, hope-filled turning point.
What do you like best about the story of Oswald Messweather?
Ironically, it’s when his observant and caring teacher, Miss Mopp, steps in and suggests a different course of action for Ozzie. She gives him reason to employ his compulsions with purpose and this in turn liberates him to some degree from his obsessive compulsive behaviour. Instead of reacting uncontrollably, Oswald learns to redirect his actions creatively and calmly. It’s a beautiful, hope-filled turning point.
Do you like the way Siobhan McVey has illustrated your story?
100%! Her stylised restricted colour palette drawings portray Ozzie in a way that kids seem comfortable with. He is neither too complicated nor precision perfect however he is neat and well within the lines which contrasts beautifully with the mess that floats about him both figuratively in the swirling tendrils of knotted anxieties and literally at home and in the schoolyard.
One of my favourite spreads is when Ozzie is adrift on a tumbling ocean of worrisome thoughts and fears, just he alone in a tiny boat and nothing but the waves. This scene pays quiet homage to the narrative that appears later on and is both metaphorically intimidating and comforting; how does an illustration achieve that?! I am sure we have all felt lost at sea at times; it’s scary but also reassuring, knowing that we are not alone in our tsunamis of concerns and uncertainties.
How did you feel when you wrote about Oswald Messweather?
It was strangely cathartic writing Ozzie’s story. Once I had the bones of the idea in my mind, fleshing out the details was relatively fast. In fact, I completed the first draft in just under eight hours on a flight from the Gold Coast to Singapore. Reaching the end of Ozzie’s story before my plane had taxied to a stop was invigorating. I remember floating through the arrivals hall in an absolute bubble of elation and satisfaction that had more to do with being in the zone with Ozzie than actually being in Singapore again! It’s strange how writing can make one feel.
As the story progressed I felt closer and closer to Ozzie and a kind of sympathy for him, too. Anxiety and fear of the unknown can be crippling for anyone let alone a child. It tortured me to imagine what he must be enduring. I wanted to help him.
How do you hope readers will feel?
I hope readers will feel equal measures of elation after they become acquainted with Oswald. I didn’t realise what an oddly lovable character he had become until children began to tell me themselves. Children find a certain solace in his sombre and serious demeanour. I think this allows them room to reflect on their own similar situations and take heart in his story. I hope people young and old understand the nature and complexities of OCD a little better after reading Ozzie’s story and appreciate that everyone’s coping mechanisms are different. I do not see this book as a cure all or complete overview of the disorder. No picture book could cover everything in one tiny snap shot of a character’s life but I do think Oswald is a marvellous conduit for initiating deeper discussions about mental health, emotions and reactions.
How would you like teachers to present Oswald Messweather to children?
Oswald Messweather is the type of character-driven story that encourages questions about emotions, causes and responses. Ozzie is a student like any other. Students could examine his behaviours and investigate possible reasons for them. It would be useful to explore the relationships that exist between Ozzie and the sub characters: his parents, sibling, classmates and teacher, not to mention the intimate relationship he has with his crayons. The Teacher’s Notes that accompany this book provide a wealth of possible aspects to explore with children, many emotion based, which I believe is an important concept for children to recognise and acknowledge especially when attempting to foster stronger self-esteem, mental resilience and deeper empathic awareness.
Are there any messages you would like them to discuss?
One of the main messages Oswald imparts is that no matter what limitations or anxieties you harbour, nothing is too difficult to overcome providing you allow yourself time and patience. We are all able to bring something useful to the table no matter how large or small; your contribution matters and is valuable. Something else I’ve been sharing with young people about Ozzie’s creative epiphany is that while you can’t always stop the waves, you can learn to sail over them. Don’t be afraid of capsizing all the time. Instead focus on how beautiful it is to be at sea!
Do you have any advice for teachers in their role as writing guides?
‘Allow budding writers to express themselves first and foremost before applying the rules of play.’
Teachers play an enormous role in establishing the mechanics of acceptable writing and understanding language. What I’d encourage more of however is to provide more space for children to explore their own creativity. Offer prompts for out-of-the-box thinking without the confines of overcorrecting. Truly transformative stories whether they are entertaining, enlightening or deeply moving must be felt by the reader as well as by those crafting them. If too many hurdles are thrust in front of child’s creativity, they will ultimately trip over. Allow budding writers to express themselves first and foremost before applying the rules of play.
I had a young scribe in one of my school holiday writing workshop camps once who was wonderful with words and bursting with ideas yet struggled to get more than a few sentences on the page. We discussed possible causes for this temporary writer’s block and she revealed that she is much more at home writing in verse. When composing poetry she could feel and see the images she was trying to convey much more clearly. A-ha! I encouraged her to start over, this time in loose free verse. The results were fluid and fantastic. Sometimes is wiser to let the child guide you.
Do you have any advice for children as writers?
Read! This is my golden standby for children and adult writers but really is one of the best ways to become a better writer, in my opinion. Read anything you can get your hands on. Read what you like. Read outside of your comfort zone. Read some more. Then write. It’s not so much about writing what you know; rather write what you’d love to READ! If your writing excites you to giggles and moves you to tears or causes you to gasp in amazement, chances are it will elicit those kinds of reactions in others, too, which is exactly what you want.
Thank you, Dimity, for this wonderful introduction to Oswald Constantine Dorian Messweather, an endearing character who will stay with readers, young and old, long after they have closed the pages of his book. Stories like his are important. When children are able to both identify and empathise with a character on the page, they grow in understanding and we all grow stronger in our shared humanity.
Oswald Messweather Publication Information
Published: 28 March 2021
Illustrator: Siobhan McVey
Publisher: Wombat Books, $24.99 (HB), $14.99 (PB)
ISBN: 9781761110184 (HB) 9781761110320 (PB)
Format: Hardcover 32pp Paperback POD
Ideal for: 4 – 8 year olds and sufferers of OCD
Find out more about Dimity Powell on her website:
Or connect with her on social media
LinkedIn: @Dimity Powell
YouTube Channel: Dimity Powell
Buy the Book:
Other Useful links
Oswald Messweather Teachers’ Notes:
Oswald Messweather Downloadable Fun and Activities:
Oswald Messweather Book Trailer:
OCD Facts and Support Links:
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