Self-publishing an educational children’s book
The Return of the Great Auk, follows the journey of the extinct Auk bird, Aukid, in a colourful and educational children’s book.
Julia Dunn came to TJ INK seeking assistance in consolidating the different ideas she had for her educational children’s book. We were immediately engaged with both the entertaining story of the book and the educational spin for children to learn more about extinct species.
Teaching children about the Auk bird whilst making it fun was crucial to what Julia wanted for the title. As books compete with so many other forms of entertainment for children, we knew it was important to create a page-turning vibrant read.
Is this your first book? Tell us about it.
The Return of the Great Auk is my first book. It’s about a Great Auk (an extinct species) named Aukid who, for some unexplained reason, suddenly appears in Greenland in modern times. He seems confused but knows that Great Auks stay in large colonies so he sets off to look for his colony of Great Auks. His search unexpectedly takes him to Iceland where he meets Park, a modern-day Puffin.
Where did your inspiration to write the book come from? Have you always been interested in extinct species?
My inspiration for the book came from my father who told me stories about the Great Auk when I was a small child. As a child I became intrigued about extinct birds, particularly when my father also told me about the Dodo – another extinct bird.
These stories must have resonated with me in some way as I remembered them clearly in adulthood. I had always been interested in nature and animal welfare from a young age. I dabbled in becoming a naturalist in my primary school years and even becoming a vegetarian from the age of 13.
Living in the Home Counties at the time, as a family we spent a lot of our holidays visiting London and the museums there. We frequently went to The Natural History Museum to see the dinosaur remains, which I loved doing. As an adult I still find extinct species fascinating and feel sad that they have been allowed to die out.
How did you carry out your research for this educational children’s book. Did you look into the habits, diet, and other aspects of the Auk bird? How long did it take you?
Much of my research for the book was carried out online. Through this, I found out about a book written on Great Auks by Errol Fuller. I managed to acquire a second-hand copy online from America and that too has helped me with my research.
The book has also helped Matt, my book’s illustrator, bring to life an extinct bird in a pictorial way. Incidentally, I emailed Errol to tell him about my project while I was writing the story. He sent me a very nice email back wishing me luck with it!
The research didn’t take long to do since there is a fair amount of information about the Great Auk. However, I needed to look carefully at what I found in order to relate it to my Auk, Aukid. Since there are other books in the series, research is still on-going.
We love how the book is narrated from Aukid’s point of view. Was this always the plan?
I had always planned to give Aukid a voice because I wanted it to be a fictional story rather than an account of the life of a Great Auk. I feel that by giving him a voice, Aukid seems more lifelike and believable.
The emotions become more personal and are easier to relate to. In a sense, it almost humanises him. Plus, I would like to think that Aukid’s ‘voice’ makes the reader more sympathetic to his plight and indeed to the plight of all endangered birds and animals.
How long did it take you to write the book and were there any surprise bumps along the way?
It’s difficult to gauge how long the book took to write since it was written intermittently whilst I was still teaching. It has probably taken about two years from the initial conception to contacting TJ INK with several edits along the way. The whole process was full of peaks and troughs regarding the actual writing and editing of the story.
The illustrations and interactive information boxes give the book great character and hep to really bring the story to life. Was this an aspect of the book that was important to you?
Finding an illustrator was one of the hardest parts of creating the book and was really important to me. It needed to be someone who could bring my character to life. Actually, more than that – someone who believed in my little Auk. And I found that in Matt.
It was a huge undertaking for someone who had not illustrated a book before, but Matt’s illustrations are superb. He is a very gifted artist, which is evident in his other work.
When Matt agreed to illustrate the book for me, a huge weight was taken off my shoulders. From his first hand-drawn image, I could see Aukid not only taking shape, but coming alive.
The interactive information boxes were created from my wish to use a more sophisticated vocabulary in the story. Furthermore, it means it can encompass a more varied age range. My belief is that exposure to good vocabulary encourages the use of it! I like the fact that the boxes are unusual. I would like to think that this will help set this book apart from other children’s books.
Why did you decide to self-publish an educational children’s book? How have you found the process?
I decided to self-publish my book because I was not confident about finding a publisher to take it on. Also, I feel I have a unique concept writing about an extinct bird and so I wish to form a company around Aukid and possibly look at other products such as a toy Aukid.
I found that self-publishing was a lot more involved than I had originally thought it would be. It would have helped to have researched it more initially. I will certainly be more prepared next time!
You mention in the book that The Return of the Great Auk is part of a series. Can we have a sneak-peek into what we can look forward to in the future?
The Return of the Great Auk is the first story in a series of stories featuring Aukid the Great Auk and Park the Puffin. Whilst we will see the two of them having adventures together with a friendly rivalry emerging, there is an underlying, more emotional story of Aukid constantly searching for more of his own kind.
This is as near as the books get to dealing with the subject of endangered species but my hope is that it does make some children and indeed adults aware of this.
In book two, Aukid and Park travel to Scotland – the ancestral home of Aukid’s Great Uncle Aukid and Park’s home. Subsequent books will take the two to other places that Great Auks inhabited with Aukid ever-hopeful of finding more Great Auks to colonise with. Watch out for adventures aboard a container ship in Book 3!
To find out more about Julia and her books, head over to her website.
Or, if you have an idea for a children’s book, let us know.