Visiting with illustrator Hélène Magisson

  • Published on September 6, 2019

This week I’m visiting with illustrator Helene Magisson to chat about her latest book Sarah’s Two Nativities written by Janine M Fraser and published by Black Dog Books. The book is due for release this month with a launch scheduled for the 21st.

About Helene

I first introduced you to Helene in 2017 when she chatted about her process of illustrating, especially as it related to the beautiful book of poetry Magic Fish Dreaming written by June Perkins. You can read that interview here.

Magic Fish Dreaming poetry for children picture book Helene Magisson June Perkins

Since the publication of Magic Fish Dreaming, Helene has illustrated a number of other books and now has eleven published books in her portfolio, with more on the way. I am not surprised that Helene is sought after as an illustrator. I think you’d have to agree that her, mainly watercolour, illustrations are exquisite and possess an almost magical quality.

Although Helene now calls Australia home, she has lived in countries all over the world, including Africa, France, and India. That her travels both inspire and enrich her work is obvious in her delightful illustrations that perfectly complement Janine Fraser’s story Sarah’s Two Nativities.

About Sarah’s Two Nativities

From the publisher:

‘Sarah loves her two grandmas – Grandmother Azar and Grandmother Maria. Grandmother Azar tells Sarah stories from the Holy Koran, while Grandmother Maria tells her stories from the Bible. At Christmas time, Sarah snuggles in each of her grandmothers’ laps and listens to two nativities stories about the birth of baby Jesus. They are the same in some ways, and different in others … but both can be Sarah’s favourite.’

  • A beautiful celebration of a multicultural family at Christmas.
  • A very personal story of one little girl whose grandmothers have different beliefs and how she reconciles this.
  • A story of love, compassion and understanding of difference.
Let’s chat.  

Helene, congratulations on the publication of Sarah’s Two Nativities. It is another beautiful book to add to your portfolio. First, could you tell us what appealed to you about Janine’s story and why you think it’s important? 

The book, beautifully written by Janine Fraser, has a strong multicultural message that I immediately loved. The story is a bridge between Muslims and Christians, but even further than that, an interfaith dialogue and bridge between diverse communities. It is all about peace and harmony. A beautiful and so needed message.

Your beautiful illustrations fill every page. What were you hoping to achieve with your illustrations?

I tried to invite the readers inside Sarah’s heart, loving her two grandmothers and being the one child of two different faiths and cultures by showing the complicity she has with them both and how they enrich Sarah’s life.

And from there, I hope the reader will ‘hear’ the story of the Nativity from both perspectives (Koran and Bible) and see how beautiful both are. 

Could you tell us a little about the techniques you used in creating the illustrations and how you’d like the readers to view them. How do you think they have added to Janine’s story?

Sarah's Two Nativities illustrated by Helene Magisson

I have used watercolour and gouache on hot-pressed paper. Each illustration is in a quite big format and full double spread pages to generously complement this beautiful text.

As the text tells the same story (the Nativity) in two different ways, the illustrations had to be similar with patterns like the houses, the scenery or the camels but also different with specifics like the Wise Men from the Bible, or the river and the palm trees mentioned in the Koran.

Also, one story is illustrated during night-time, while the other is during the day.

So, I tried to show in the most beautiful way, how Sarah imagines these two stories for we can be sure that she loves them both equally.

We have been working very carefully with my publisher and art director Donna Rawlins from Black Dog Books (Walker Books) to make sure that both religions were well represented.

We have decided not to show anything about the Nativity itself but instead, we chose to show, in the simplest way, Sarah imagining from a distance the place where everything happened.

What effect do you hope the book will have on its readers?

I think that each reader who will have the book in their hands will also be in some way a peace builder and I hope each one will want to share it widely with other readers.

How would you like teachers and parents to present the book to children? What messages would you especially like them to find in your illustrations?

 Sarah's Two Nativities illustrated by Helene Magisson - differences and similarities

I would like them to see not only the differences but also the similarities in the illustrations.

Because despite our differences, we are finally similar in our hearts.

Our differences enrich us, our similarities unify us.

And that is what I tried to bring especially through the last illustration. All the members of Sarah’s family are gathered together with warmth, love, complicity, conviviality around a table full of dishes from both cultures (koftas, cupcakes, tagine).

You must be excited by the launch coming up on 21 September. Could you tell us a little about that?

I first want to mention that this day will be the International Day of Peace. I think it is the perfect day to launch such a book.

The launch will be held on September 21st at 2pm at the bookstore Where The Wild Things Are in Brisbane (West End).

We would love to invite members of many different communities as we think it is a great opportunity for families and children from diverse cultural backgrounds to share a special moment altogether around this wonderful book and its message.

We are planning to bring to the event a sense of both cultures. There will be drinks and nibbles related to the book (cupcakes, koftas), a book reading by the author Janine Fraser, an Oud performance by Azadeh Shamee and a guitar performance by Marie Baguelin, as well as craft activities for children.

It is a free event, open to everyone but we still need to register to the bookstore.

RSVP here.

Also, I would like to mention that there will be an exhibition in Philip Island from December to late January including the different versions of the text as the story developed and all the original illustrations of the book with some ‘behind the scene’ illustrations as well.

And in the meantime, there will be an exhibition at the Richard Randall Studio in Brisbane organised by Booklinks from 8-13 October (official launch on 9 October) with some illustrations from Lucia Masciullo and Paul O’Sullivan as well.

There will be some originals from Sarah’s Two Nativities and some artworks from my other new picture book Little Puggle’s Song written by Vikki Conley.

More on this later, stay tuned and save the date.

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

Thank you, Helene. I’ve enjoyed meeting up with you again to discuss your new book Sarah’s Two Nativities.

Thank you, Norah, for having me. I really appreciate your involvement in this multicultural dialogue.

And I would like to finish with Janine Fraser’s words:

‘I do think that the story speaks for me to a large extent, with the inspiration for it coming from my own wish for a world of peace and acceptance for our children.’

Janine Fraser

To find out more about Helene visit her website: Helene Magisson – Illustrator

Or connect with her on social media:

Blog: Helene Magisson Illustrator

FB: Helene Magisson

Instagram: helenemagisson

Catch up with Janine Fraser, author of Sarah’s Two Nativities on her author page,

and with Azadeh Shamee, who will be performating at the launch on her website.

You can read another interview with Helene about this lovely book on June Perkin’s Magic Fish Dreaming website.

I appreciate your feedback and comments. Please share your thoughts below.

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    It is a really powerful multicultural story which Helene brings to life with her beautiful illustrations.

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