readilearn: Meet the author-illustrator team for Turtle Love – Renee Hills and Anna Jacobson

  • Published on May 18, 2018

Turtle Love a beautiful picture book by Renee Hills and Anna Jacobson - interview by Norah Colvin

Do you love turtles? I find these magnificent creatures of the sea fascinating. Although I already owned a collection of picture books about turtles, I couldn’t resist supporting local author Renee Hills publish her first picture book Turtle Love, illustrated by Anna Jacobson, through Pozible at the end of last year. I was delighted when I received my very own copy of this beautiful picture book with its warm and empowering story that engages young children and invites them to be proactive about the welfare of other creatures.”

Turtle Love is warm and empowering


Turtle Love is about Jacob Gordon Lachlan Brown who lives on perhaps the most interesting and beautiful beach in the world. The flatback turtles agree. They come every summer to lay their eggs. But life is becoming more difficult for the turtles because the big ships that load coal are stirring up sediment and this affects the seagrass that the turtles eat.  And this beautiful beach is where they MUST come to nest. Why don’t the flatback turtles go somewhere else? What can Jacob do to help them?

The text explores themes including the impact of man-made coastal developments on the habitat of other species; how to advocate for threatened creatures and the right of all living beings to have a safe place to nest and live. As a bonus, the book contains a story within a story, a mythical explanation for the beautiful coloured rock landform on the beach where the turtles nest.

About the author

Renee Hills has been writing ever since she won a prize for an essay about the future when she was a country North Queensland kid. After graduating and working briefly as a teacher, Renee honed her writing skills as a print journalist, editor, and self- publisher.

After diverting for decades into parenting, alternative schooling, psychology and school counselling, Renee is delighted to have returned to her first and enduring passion – writing.

Renee lives and writes in Brookfield, Brisbane in an octagonal, environmentally-friendly house shared with her husband, two daughters and a cat.

About the illustrator

Anna Jacobson is a Brisbane based artist, poet and writer. She has a Bachelor of Fine Arts (with studies in Creative and Professional Writing and Graphic Design) from QUT and a Bachelor of Photography with Honours from Griffith University.

In 2010 she won the illustration section at the Children’s and Young Adult Writers and Illustrators Conference. She has illustrated children’s books, book covers, comic zines and was a guest illustrator for the Queensland Writers Centre.

I timed this interview with Renee and Anna to coincide with

World Turtle Day on 23 May with it aims to educate people about what they can do to protect the habitats of turtles and tortoises and

World Environment Day on 5 June with its theme to Beat Plastic Pollution.

Let’s find out a little more about Renee and Anna and their beautiful book.

The Interview

Welcome to readilearn, Renee Hills and Anna Jacobson.

Thanks for inviting us.

Renee, tell us a little about how your book Turtle Love came to be and why the story was so important for you to tell.

R: Turtle Love began as a conversation with a friend. We were on an idyllic North Queensland beach, standing in the shade of wispy casuarinas on a perfect mid-winter day. The breeze sighed through the foliage and gentle waves slapped the golden sand.

The beach is home to a small human community and a myriad of coastal creatures. Occasionally on adjacent beaches, vulnerable flatback turtle hatchlings emerge from nests in summer.  (Vulnerable means that the species is likely to become endangered unless the circumstances threatening its survival and reproduction improve. Vulnerability is mainly caused by habitat loss or destruction of the species’ home).

Nearby, two jetties of a huge coal loading facility stalked more than 1.5 kilometres out to sea and poured coal into ships from a 67-hectare stockpile, 24 hours a day, every day of the year. Robyn was extremely worried about plans to build yet another facility on an almost pristine beach to the north where flatback turtles nest.

children's picture books are perfect for teaching about caring for the planet

I had just begun to focus on creative writing. Robyn was a talented artist. A children’s picture book seemed the perfect way to capture my friend’s love for nature and also our childhood memories of carefree holidays on the beach now earmarked for coal port development.

The story became very important for me to tell and publish especially after Robyn died suddenly before she could begin the illustrations. Turtle Love became a way to honour her life and our friendship.

In 2017, I also joined climate change activist efforts to stop the proposed massive Adani coal mine and coal port in North Queensland. At the same time, Turtle Love was being illustrated and prepared for publication. It became a creative expression of the concern for the planet that my activist colleagues shared.

When did you know you wanted to be a writer? Did you always want to be a writer, or did you want to write just this book?

R: I’ve always loved words and writing ever since I realized it was something I was good at (as opposed to classroom calamities with maths).  I found my way into journalism, which I loved, after a brief skirmish with secondary teaching. Regretfully, I left journalism to focus on raising my daughters, one of whom had ongoing health issues. Eventually I studied psychology and worked as a school counsellor. I found this a very tough gig and constantly yearned to be writing.

Writing Turtle Love introduced me to the wonderfully supportive world of children’s literature in Brisbane, including Write Links (I was at the first meeting). I attended many workshops, QWC courses and took online courses on writing in a variety of genres. I also joined a Flash Fiction challenge.

I have ideas for other picture books, middle grade fiction, memoir and family history projects.

Where do you write? Do you like to be by yourself in the quiet, or do you like to write in a noisy space?

R: I live on a beautiful acreage, so I like to look out on trees when I write.  The ideas for Turtle Love came while I was writing at a big table on our verandah. When I want a break from the house, I go to Kenmore Library and try to find a space in their quiet area which also looks out over the Brookfield hills. I take my journal, notebook and fountain pen everywhere and often journal in coffee shops.

What do you use to write – pencil and paper or computer?

R: Mostly I use my extremely portable Toshiba laptop, but I frequently begin a creative piece with fountain pen and paper. Most of my flash fiction begins this way. I love my fountain pen!

When do you write?

R: I’m just starting a new routine of writing first thing in the morning. Otherwise, it’s usually in the afternoon after I’ve done my mandatory gym sessions for a dodgy back.

 Did you think of the story in your head before you wrote it?

R: Turtle Love came to me visually, probably because it is set in such a beautiful place that held very special personal memories.  That’s why I knew it had to be a picture book.

How did you feel when you wrote Turtle Love?

R: I felt deep love, especially when I came up with the idea of the original mother flatback turtle giving the pattern on her shell to the coloured rocks. I think I was identifying with the unconditional love most mothers offer their children and the need to leave signposts for the children.

readers feel wonder for marine life when reading the boosk readers feel wonder for turtles and marine life when reading Turtle Love

How do you hope readers will feel?

R: I hope readers feel love and wonder for the turtles and their threatened environment and for our beautiful planet, struggling as it is with challenges of human development and climate change.

How would you like teachers to present Turtle Love to children?

R: I think it should be presented as an engaging story to entertain children. It could be included the literature appreciation strand in English or be used as part of science units about living things. Its strong messages about conservation and protection of the environment would fit will with any sustainability themes.

Are there any special messages you would like them to discuss?

R: Humans are having a huge impact on our environment and all species with whom we share the planet. Each of those species has a right to life, to safety, to have a place to call home.  We need to affirm and promote respect for the interdependent web of all existence, of which we are a part.

The illustrations are important in telling your story Turtle Love. Do you like the way Anna Jacobson has illustrated your story?

R: I’m delighted with the way children and most adults respond to the illustrations.  Initially, I was unsure about the style because it was very different to what Robyn and I had visualized.  Now I absolutely love them, and I think they really enhance the story.

Anna, what did you think of Renee’s story Turtle Love when you first read it, and why did you decide to illustrate it?

A: I met Renee in a memoir writing workshop and when she mentioned she had written a children’s book and was looking for an illustrator, I said I’d love to illustrate it. When I read Turtle Love, I thought it was an important story about animals and the environment.

bright and colourful illustrations by Anna Jacobson for Turtle Love

What did you most want to show through your illustrations?

A: I wanted my illustrations to be bright and colourful, to help bring the story to life and spark children’s imaginations.

What media did you use to create the illustrations, and why?

A: I used a mixture of ink, which I then scanned, along with other textures, like felt, stitching and fabrics. I used Photoshop to colour my illustrations and create digital collage. I love layering imagery as it allows me to move characters and objects around until I am happy with the composition.

When did you know you wanted to illustrate picture books?

A: When I was a little kid, my Mum would put a stack of picture books at the end of my cot for when I woke up early in the morning and I would look at them for hours. Even then, I knew I wanted to create something like that one day.

Do you have a special place for working on your illustrations?

A: I create the ink textures outside but spend most of my time at the computer building up layers of imagery. It doesn’t feel like I’m at the computer though, as I lose myself in the world of the image. I am so fortunate to have my own study and desk with a window that looks over the trees.

What time of day do you most enjoy illustrating?

A: Sometimes I wake up and begin straight away, have a break, then power on until the afternoon. I’m not a night owl but if I’m working on an image and want to finish it as best I can, and it’s telling me to keep working it out, sometimes I work into the night. Other times, if I leave the illustration overnight, when I come back the next day I can see what’s working and what’s not working right away and fix it.

What things do you most like to draw?

A: I like drawing objects, plants and animals. I find people quite difficult to draw, which was why Turtle Love was such a great challenge as it had many different characters in it.

Anna and Renee, how much did you need to collaborate with each other in making Turtle Love?

R: There was extensive collaboration.  Anna was very patient as I made changes and responded to my requests so speedily!

A: Renee told me the story behind Turtle Love and sent me photographs of the special rocks that appear in the story. This helped in my artistic interpretation of the landscape. I would then create the image and send it to Renee. She would tell me if there was something she wanted me to change and I would send back another version until she was happy with the final result.

encourage children's creativity, let their imaginations run wild

Anna, do you have any advice for teachers when responding to children’s artwork?

A: Encourage children’s creativity! Do not worry about a child ‘staying within the lines’. When I was in grade one, I got in trouble from the teacher aide for drawing multi-coloured fireworks. She told me there was no such thing. My advice for teachers is to let children’s imaginations be as wild as they like.

Do you have any advice for children when creating artworks?

A: Do not worry if you make mistakes! Turn it into a challenge to make your artwork even better.

And from both of you: What is your favourite picture book?

R: There are so many beautiful picture books but my favourite when I was writing Turtle Love was Teacup by Rebecca Young.

A: My favourite picture book from childhood is The Tiger Who Came To Tea by Judith Kerr. A recent picture book I discovered, that I also love, is We Found a Hat by Jon Klassen.

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

R: Matt Ottley illustrated Teacup. His style varies but the illustrations for Teacup started life as large canvasses of muted colour, yet so powerful and inspiring.

A: My favourite illustrator is Brian Wildsmith. My Mum still has her copy of Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Children’s Garden of Verses illustrated by Brian Wildsmith. The colours and stunning imagery inspire me.

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

Thank you, Renee Hills and Anna Jacobson, for sharing these insights about your beautiful picture book Turtle Love. We enjoyed hearing about your writing process and what inspired you to write this book, Renee. We enjoyed hearing about your illustrations and appreciate your recommendation about encouraging children’s creativity, Anna. We wish you success.

Thank you, and thanks for having us!

To find out more about Renee Hills, visit her website

or connect with her on social media:




To find out more about Anna Jacobson, visit her website

Contact Renee on her website for details about purchasing your own copy.

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

Let's find out about sea turtles cover

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    What a wonderful collaboration between Anna and Renee. The illustrations are wonderful and the lessons for children implemented in a fun read are brilliant. 🙂

    Thank you so much for reading and commenting, Debby. It is a beautiful book with a wonderful message for children, and all of us.

    Certainly what the world needs more of to prime the young ones with goodness and good morals to continue on with their lives same. 🙂

    That’s very true, Debby. Thank you for adding your thoughts.

    Much enjoyed the interview – it is sure to delight children – and adults as they read it to them – and impress upon us all to take care of these beautiful creatures …

    Thank you for reading and commenting, Susan. It is a lovely book. 🙂

    Thank you, Charli. It is indeed a beautiful book and, hopefully, will encourage others to care about our vulnerable creatures.

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

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