“The March of the Ants”: on the eternal power of story telling

It was great to attend the first launch event for “The March of the Ants” last night at the “Friend in Hand” pub in Sydney’s Glebe. It was organised by a wonderful (relatively new) Australian publisher Book Trail Press established and run by Paul and Beth Macdonald.

The ants were heading off on a very important expedition“, so begins the story that Ursula Dubosarsky has originally written for the ceremony announcing her as the Australian Children’s Laureate 2020-2021.

Paul Macdonald heard the story at that ceremony and, being a seasoned connoisseur and a second-to-none professional, has in an instant recognised its potential for a great picture book. The opportunity has been seized there and then, the rest is history. And quite a history that one has been given the strange pandemic times during which “The March of the Ants” has been created.

With his signature wit Tohby Riddle described last year as the time when having sorted our toilet paper needs we all felt the urge to turn to culture. The start of the marching ants journey echoes it in a way: “They ate the food. They drank the water. They looked at the map and they used the tools… But the journey was long… Some of them became sad. Some of them were giving up hope. Some of them thought they would stop marching altogether.” Who was it then that has come to the rescue?

It was the littlest ant, the stubborn one who refused to let go of her book even after the Chief Ant told her off for taking along something of no particular use.

"The March of the Ants": on the eternal power of story telling Australian Illustrated Books, Hans Christian Andersen Award Kids Book Reviews

Written by Ursula Dubosarsky, illustrated by Tohby Riddle, published by Book Trial Press: 2021

When the going got tough the little ant read the story aloud and the ants listened to it all night. “And after listening to the story, strangely, mysteriously, all the ants in the ant army felt brave again. They felt strong again. They felt they could keep going.” Strangely and mysteriously? Yes, but dare I say it is also quite natural that a good story is able to offer hope and inspire us to keep going.

"The March of the Ants": on the eternal power of story telling Australian Illustrated Books, Hans Christian Andersen Award Kids Book Reviews

It was a delight to be able to attend the launch in person and meet this book’s wonderful creators, its publishers Paul and Beth Macdonald, editor Sue Whiting, Nathaniel Eckstrom (who illustrated Book Trail Press’s previous release “The Hole Idea”), author Oliver Pommothan and a bunch of other fab ‘book people’ of Sydney.

The joy of taking home a signed copy “The March of the Ants” aside, my top take outs, in no particular order, were as follows.

Sue Whiting is not only a brilliant Australian author, but a talented editor. She has introduced the book as being written in only 403 words, admiring Ursula’s talent of saying so much so eloquently in so little a word count. Not surprisingly, Ursula has been nominated for the international Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award a whopping 9 times and once for that ‘little Nobel Prize’ in children’s literature being the Hans Christian Andersen Award.

Tohby Riddle is a jack-of-all-trades talent in children’s book publishing – authoring, illustrating and designing his own picture books. Tohby has been nominated by IBBY (International Board on Books for Young People) Australia as the Australian candidate for the 2022 Hans Christian Andersen Awards (I hope he wins it. The only two Australian recipients of this Award, both in 1986, were Robert Ingpen for illustration and Patricia Wrighston for writing).

The team behind “The March of the Ants” were very grateful that Tohby Riddle agreed to illustrate this story and design the book. In researching for “The Ants of March”, Tohby engaged with “a resident ants colony at home”. He told of him witnessing the ants build a pontoon from their own bodies across a bowl of water so that the other ants can use the pontoon to reach honey on the other end! If that is not the greatest proof of the incredible intelligence of these species (and Tohby Riddle’s) I don’t know what is. His creativity is special, his output is ever so versatile and if that wasn’t enough he is brilliantly articulate about his artistic process and practices. I had the priviledge of hearing him talk about his creative life and books at the Pinerolo Picture Books workshop in late 2019 and came out of the experience inspired. Put in three words Tohby Riddle is my new hero.

Amongst few other behind-the-scenes curiosities is the fact that Tohby Riddle’s ants received an entomological ‘seal of approval’ from Paul Macdonald’s brother who is an esteemed entomologist and an authority on ants! Also, last night Ursula Dubosarsky wore a great vintage orange dress with an endearing ants motif all over it, shame that photos below don’t do it justice. 🙂

Be quick if you want to get hold of this wonderful book, I hear that it is selling fast.

"The March of the Ants": on the eternal power of story telling Australian Illustrated Books, Hans Christian Andersen Award Kids Book Reviews
"The March of the Ants": on the eternal power of story telling Australian Illustrated Books, Hans Christian Andersen Award Kids Book Reviews
"The March of the Ants": on the eternal power of story telling Australian Illustrated Books, Hans Christian Andersen Award Kids Book Reviews
"The March of the Ants": on the eternal power of story telling Australian Illustrated Books, Hans Christian Andersen Award Kids Book Reviews
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