Friday, 19 September 2014

The Cleo Stories

My daughter has always provided such brilliant inspiration for drawings. I don't know what I'm going to do when she grows out of her childhood creativity. Luckily I can record some of her childhood in my books. And the first of THE CLEO STORIES, written by Libby Gleeson, is one of those books that has benefitted from Ivy's wacky creations.  

The first book in this series contains two stories: The Necklace and The Present and are all about lovely little Cleo and the wonderfully simple, creative solutions she finds to the problems of a five year old girl.

These stories were written in part with my daughter, Ivy, in mind. Libby had seen quite a bit of her when she was in her preschool years and I guess it had served to remind Libby of her own daughters’ childhoods.

Like Cleo, Ivy has always had a lovely creative streak, so these stories became a vessel for me to remember and record some of her little creations. She is most content when surrounded by toilet rolls and sticky tape and has been known to return triumphant from the bathroom, waving a toilet roll 'trophy' about. 

Ivy’s favourite time is spent in her playroom making enormous mess and beautiful creations.

So Cleo’s bedroom is littered with similar creations – a teddy bear with a paper mane or a beak, toilet rolls with wings attached (never butterfly wings, always bat wings), a mask.

Cleo often wears a set of rabbit or cat ears, just like Ivy did for several years, and an odd assortment of garments - she's not into pretty dresses, but the mismatched and inappropriate:

I was thrilled to read that Cleo's Uncle Tom has tattooed arms and that Cleo’s friend Nick wants tattoos when he is older. I have a good laugh when I think what some parents’ reactions to that will be!

I enjoyed finding interesting solutions to page layouts and the challenge of dealing with a lot more text that I was used to. 

For me, the value in these stories is that Cleo is encouraged to be resilient when she doesn't get everything she asks for, and creative, as she inevitably finds her own solutions. Parents are faced with constant requests for things and saying no can bring about ingenious solutions. I see it all the time in Ivy’s playroom!

THE CLEO STORIES, written by Libby Gleeson and published by Allen & Unwin, will be out on 1st October 2014. 


  1. Love your work Freya! I've just received some children's books you illustrated from our friend Vaughan. They're gorgeous, and my children love them too. I also try to take inspiration from my daughters in my work it's a great way to capture those everyday moments. Very inspiring work! All the best, Sara

  2. Dear Freya Blackwood,
    Our class, 2F from Mimosa Public School, have just read the first few pages of The Cleo Stories. We think it is a fabulous book and we love your creations. Our class have talked about what necklaces they have or would like to have. One friend has the word Best on a silver necklace and their BFF has the word Friends. One boy has blue beads on a silver chain which his parents gave him when he was five.
    We hope you win the CBCA 2015 Book for Younger Readers award.
    Kind regards,
    2F and the library teacher

  3. Hello 2F!

    Apologies for taking a while to reply to your fantastic email! Thank you so much for writing and telling me about your necklaces. I have a few favourites of my own too, and my daughter, Ivy, has a necklace from New Zealand with pounamu hanging from it, a green stone. Apparently the Maori people polish their pounamu with nose grease!!

    So glad to hear you're enjoying The Cleo Stories. I've just finished another set of illustrations for two more stories in a second book. It was lots of fun, because there is a dog in the second book, and I love drawing dogs!

    I hope you are all very well and enjoying the second last week of second term. School holidays are coming up soon!

    My best wishes and enormous thanks to you all,

  4. Ooh, looking forward to more Cleo stories. The first book my 7yo has read, and wanted to keep reading, to find out what happens next! I have raised four children - Grete is the youngest - and none of them are pleasure-readers. I wonder how that happened, when reading has been at the top of my self-indulgent behaviours my whole life? Please keep collaborating on books that call the young readers through the pages!

    1. Hi there, and thank you for the wonderful message. So pleased to hear your 7 year old found Cleo entertaining, and even wanted to read more! It's such a relief when they do find a book they actually want to read, and read more than once. The saddest thing for me is that my daughter never read my books - she only liked books about dinosaurs! I your daughter enjoys the second Cleo book - I think it's out in October? Many thanks! Freya