11 August 2023

Knock, knock. Who's there? A new children's book to write home about

| Sally Hopman
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Woman reading to two kids

Catherine Meatheringham reads her new book, Knock Knock, to her children Alexandra, 6, and Nicholas, 9. They are honest critics, she says. Photo: Catherine Meatheringham.

Catherine Meatheringham has always loved to write. But finding time when you’re a mother-of-two and have another job in the Federal Public Service can make it tricky.

So when Catherine wrote her first children’s picture book, My Possum Plays the Drums, about three years ago, she was understandably nervous about taking it to a publisher.

“I ended up going to the Kidlitvic conference in Melbourne where you can pay for a publisher to assess your manuscript,” Catherine, who lives in Hughes, said.

She left the manuscript with an editor overnight and caught up the next day. Something must have been on her side, Catherine said, because the editor told her she had been kept up most of the night by possums on her roof – which just happened to be the subject of her book.

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“It was perfect timing,” she said. “In some ways, I thought I should have ended up giving the possums commission.”

The editor was Cristine Pase from the independent Australian publisher Windy Hollow Books. She has continued to work with Catherine, who has just completed her third book, Knock Knock.

Launched last week at Book Cow, Kingston, the children’s picture book looks at the different ways people say hello around the world.

Along with her second book, All Dogs Bark, which is about the different barks dogs make around the world, all of Catherine’s books share more than just an entertaining story for youngsters.

The first two of her books were shortlisted for Speech Pathology of Australia’s Book of the Year awards. The awards go to books that recognise and celebrate the nation’s best books when it comes to the development of children’s language and literacy. They also promote the role speech pathologists play in helping children achieve those aims.

“I was honoured to make the shortlist twice for these awards,” Catherine said. “It was very special to me.”

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“Someone I know has a child with language delays and they told me the Possum book helped them – for me, that was a goosebump moment.”

Catherine said she had been inspired to write about everyday life, things she knew about.

“With the new Knock Knock book, it’s all about how children like to make sounds in their early development,” she said, adding that she was a fan of onomatopoeia, where words can sound like what they are.

“I love to write stories where kids are encouraged to join in with the reading, so they feel part of the story.”

Catherine said she always tried her new books out on her children, Nicholas, 9, and Alexandra, 6.

“They are very honest with me, especially my nine-year-old. He tells me if it’s boring or doesn’t make sense.”

book cover

Knock Knock is the Canberra writer’s third book and features illustrations by Deb Hudson that celebrate children, language and culture around the world. Photo: Supplied.

Catherine said she had always loved writing since her school days in Canberra and ended up majoring in English at university.

“I suppose it was always a pipedream for me to write books but when I was on maternity leave with my son, I started writing seriously. I read lots of picture books to him, so I suppose that was a natural fit. I ended up writing books for him as a gift.”

These days, with both children at school and working part time in the public service promoting workplace health, Catherine has more time to write. She often takes her laptop to the National Library of Australia’s reading room, which, she says, gives her inspiration to put words to the keyboard.

She is already working on a fourth book, which is due out next year.

Knock Knock, by Catherine Meatheringham with illustrations by Deb Hudson, is published by Windy Hollow Books.

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