Penny Jaye writes stories for children through to older readers. Her books include The Other Brother, The Pet Sitters series (Under pen name: Ella Shine), YA+ novel Out of the Cages and her latest picture book: One Potoroo: a story of survival.
Andrew: Hi Penny, thanks for joining me on the blog! Let’s start off with a surprise question. Imagine all the animals in the world are tame, there are no rules and restrictions, and of course all animals’ needs and well-being are taken care of. If you could have any animal in the world as a pet, what would you choose?
Penny: An elephant for sure. I just love them.
Andrew: I saw on your website that you wrote your first book when you were seven. What was it about and do you still have it?
Penny: It was an absolute classic chapter book called ‘Creepy Crawlys’ (spelling errors included). I told three fantasy style, illustrated stories about bugs. One chapter is called Cockroach Me! I still have it and often read it to kids during school visits.
Andrew: I’d like to focus on your latest picture book One Potoroo. Firstly, what is a Potoroo and why did you choose to write a story about one?
Penny: A potoroo is a small marsupial. It has the appearance of a large rat, but has more in common with a wallaby than a rodent. There are several species of potoroo in Australia, but the Gilbert’s Potoroo is the most critically endangered. I was inspired to write a story about this potoroo after seeing a brochure in an Australian Geographic store about a devastating bushfire that almost wiped out one of the last natural habitats of this animal.
Andrew: Did you learn any surprising facts about potoroos when you researched and wrote this book?
Penny: Yes, I did. Maybe that’s why I love researching so much! I learned that the Gilbert’s Potoroo is a very fussy eater. About 90% of its diet consists of fungi truffles, and these are only found in unique types bushland. I was also fascinated by the proactive approach of conservationists working in south west WA. Their attitude was ‘when a fire comes’, not ‘if’, and that made all the different to saving this animal from extinction!
Andrew: What themes or facts could a teacher or parent explore with kids through One Potoroo?
Penny: I think One Potoroo is a story of resilience and the interdependency of environment with humanity. It is set against the backdrop of bushfire, a very common occurance in the Australian bush, but it’s focus is on new beginnings and hope. Teachers and parents could look at themes of working together, the importance of understanding unique ecologies, conservation, changing environments, life cycles and more.
Andrew: What are Potoroos biggest threats for survival and is there anything we can do to help them survive as a species?
Penny: Like many small marsupials and mammals, feral pests are a big threat to potoroos all over Australia. For the Gilbert’s Potoroo this is especially the case because there are so few of them left. Recent estimates are that there are only about 100 animals left. They need safe, wild habitats that are cat, fox and python free. They cannot breed or survive for long periods of time in captivity, and are also very shy creatures, so it is vital natural habitats that can support their diet and lifestyle can be found and protected.
Andrew: How can people follow you and how can teachers get their hands on teachers’ notes for your books?
Andrew: Thanks heaps for coming on the blog and all the best as you write more books for us!
Penny: Thanks for having me, Andrew!