Notes from Sydney: Roads Not Taken
A couple of weeks ago I shared some things we learned while working on the Shanghai book. These were things we didn’t explain in the book because they were fairly complex or we just didn’t have room. We faced similar decisions on every book.
The process is different every time. I wanted to share some of the thought process because we often are asked about this. Plus, it’s an opportunity to share the attractions and unique places that don’t appear in the books.
Bondi Beach, Logic, and Clothing
The first of those reasons is geography. This is a good time to reveal a big secret about the Molly and the Magic Suitcase books. Grab a map of Sydney (or any city or country the books visit) and plot out the sites Molly and Michael visit. What do you find? There is a logical pattern. The sites form a sort of trail, or, in the case of Molly Goes to Barcelona, a circle.
Why did I do this? It just seemed like common sense. Molly and Michael spend a day at these destinations. Now, I certainly don’t make the claim that their tour of Peru or Thailand is possible in a single day (without a magic suitcase), but when it’s a different story when it comes to visiting a city. The Sydney book starts at Manly Beach, makes a quick trip up to North Curl Curl, then down to Shelly Beach. From there, the story moves to the Sydney Zoo, then Luna Park (just on the north side of the Sydney Harbor Bridge), and then on to the downtown sites.
Bondi Beach is well south and east of downtown. It didn’t fit the pattern. Plus, there was another factor: it’s somewhat clothing optional. Thankfully, this was discovered in casual conversation. I talked to someone who traveled to Sydney and knew the beach. He said, “I’m surprised you included Bondi Beach.” I was taken aback. It was world famous, why wouldn’t I include it? “Because it’s a topless beach.” Oh.
Our Sydney contributors failed to mention it, probably because they didn’t think it was a big deal or just assumed I knew. Thank goodness for that conversation.
The old Ultimo powerhouse in Sydney is now the Powerhouse Museum (aka Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences) and it is geared to children. It’s interactive, has great family programs, exhibits and a focus on “creativity and curiosity.” In short, it is someplace we’ll definitely take the real Molly and Michael. The building would have been an excellent visual.
Alas, it too was a little outside of our geographic trail. It also never came up in our interviews with our two contributors that grew up in Sydney.
There was a timing issue as well. It was the last illustration set for the book and we decided the book was already long enough, so the Powerhouse was cut, even though both Amy and I are looking forward to seeing it.
And the Rest
Amy was particularly keen on the World Square and how great it would look as an illustration. A quick internet search shows you just how right she is. But in the end, it is a shopping center and likely not a top priority for our nine (Michael) and ten (Molly) year-old characters. No, the pirate ship is a much more compelling activity for these characters, as well as for our intended early-reader audience.
No trip to Sydney would be complete without an excursion to the Blue Mountains. The “world’s steepest railway” was mentioned by our contributors and I don’t recall any travel resources failing to include it. At a minimum, three more illustrations would have been needed to show the train, a view of the Three Sisters, and the Skyway cable car ride over the canyon. We simply could not fit it into the book. It is also a full-day activity (at least) and there are some time constraints in a day trip to Sydney.
If our intention was to produce an illustrated travel guide, we could make the books as long as we wanted or just have the host character (Wesley, in this case) mention a long list of sites. Other books do this. Because they do, we don’t. Our books are adventure stories and they’re meant to pique a child’s interest in faraway locations and cultures.
All of the places the books visit are enthralling and we try to share things beyond the typical travel book, things specific to kids having a good time. These discoveries are a wonderful thing to share, we love this work. There was never an illusion we could share everything, particularly because our first book was set in Rome. Instead, we want children and parents to discover more about these places together.