Lesley Gibbes has a hit with ‘Searching for Cicadas’

Above: Lesley Gibbes with her book Searching for Cicadas

AWC presenter Lesley Gibbes is no stranger to cicadas. “They are the soundtrack of my childhood,” she says. “My own summertime garden is full of cicadas.”

So Lesley didn’t have to reach far for inspiration for her latest picture book Searching for Cicadas, illustrated by Judy Watson.

The book has already proven to be a popular pick at bookshops and libraries, a beautiful story about a child and their grandfather who go searching for cicadas in the summertime.

Here’s a little excerpt to give you the feel of the text.

In the summertime, Grandpa and I go cicada-watching. I collect the tent and sleeping bags and Grandpa packs the cooler.|
We put our camping gear into my wagon and walk down to Apex Reserve.
Last year we saw five Green Grocers, three Yellow Mondays and one Floury Baker.
This year I want to see a Black Prince.
Grandpa says they’re as rare as hen’s teeth.

Searching For Cicadas is part of the award-winning narrative non-fiction Nature Storybooks series. Other books in this series include, Emu, Big Red Kangaroo, Koala and Dingo by Claire Saxby and Platypus by Sue Whiting.

Searching For Cicadas is a heart-warming narrative interspersed with facts about cicadas, encouraging children to learn more about the insects that create the soundtrack to summer. With an underlying theme of respecting nature, Searching For Cicadas shows children there is beauty and wonder everywhere, if they take the time to look for it.

Inspired by a childhood memory

Lesley says that Searching For Cicadas was inspired by a childhood memory. “It was a memory of grandmother’s garden in summertime,” she says. “We’d have the loveliest afternoon teas under the big jacaranda tree in her backyard. 

“My nanna would always say she had nothing to feed us then suddenly, as if by magic, she’s come out of the kitchen with freshly baked scones, sponge cake with jam and cream, cheese and biscuits and a big pot of tea. 

“It was wonderful, but the thing I remember most vividly were the summertime cicadas. As they whizzed and buzzed around us my father and my grandmother would tell me all about them. I loved learning their names and finding out about their secret life underground.”

A dash of nostalgia

It’s a book that’s become a hit with adults too. Lesley says: “Many adults have bought the book to enjoy secretly themselves, others have enjoyed the pleasure of sharing it with the little ones in their lives.”

In addition to the storyline, the book provides fascinating information about the noisy creatures.

“My research was a combination of facts and fiction,” she says. “I did a lot of factual research on cicadas but the research I loved doing most was finding out about other people’s childhood memories of cicadas. It was fascinating. Everyone had memories of collecting and playing with the alien looking cicada casings left clinging to trees. 

“One of my favourite researched memories was set in the 1940s where a group of children spent the morning collecting cicadas and stashing them in a hessian sack. The children then boarded a tramcar full of smartly dressed men and women ready for work. When the tramcar went under an overpass and the carriage darkened the children opened the sack and let the cicadas fly. Well you can imagine the chaos! The children made a hasty escape when the conductor opened the doors to let the cicadas escape. I can still hear their laughter.

“Another memory came from a family in America who took their boys searching for cicada nymphs with torches at dusk in their front yard. The boys would collect the nymphs and put them in a jar with a stick. During the night, as the boys slept, the nymphs would split their casings and emerge as adult cicadas. The boys would wake to discover what cicadas had hatched overnight, then they would take them outside to release them. I was fascinated by the fact that these boys searched for the nymphs and not the adult cicadas. This idea features in my text.”

Working with an illustrator

A winning picture book is the combined effort of both the author and the illustrator. And Lesley says she gave illustrator Judy Watson free rein with the images. “There was only one request and that was that the sex of the child in the story be ambiguous so children could imagine whatever sex they wished.

“My favourite part of the picture book creating process is seeing the illustrator’s storyboard. The illustrations come as sketches with the text paginated for the first time. Suddenly my manuscript becomes multidimensional. I just love it.

“It’s at this stage I get to make comment about the illustrations and the layout of the text. All I could say was wow! Judy Watson understood my text as if she’d written it herself. Judy’s illustrations and my text melded together perfectly.”

Lesley is one of our wonderful presenters here at the Australian Writers’ Centre. She created the popular online course Writing Chapter Books.

You can find out more about Lesley Gibbes and her books at www.lesleygibbes.com

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