Helene Magisson Dazzles with her first illustrated and written book, Claudette

We welcome Helene Magisson, the wonderful illustrator of Magic Fish Dreaming to the blog for a conversation which is sure to inspire aspiring author/illustrators.

We are so delighted to announce that Helene has published her first ever written and illustrated book with the equally amazing publisher Red Paper Kite ! In the conversation that follows Helene shares her dizzying and wonderful journey and some thoughts on the power of picture books and story.


June: I have enjoyed following your journey as a creative and having worked with you also the process by which you work, Helene how does it feel now to have your first ever written and illustrated book?

Helene: For me, writing and illustrating CLAUDETTE, is a new and very exciting adventure that I would like to continue and develop. It has been such a real pleasure of great creativity.

June: What was different about illustrating your own story as opposed to illustrating the stories of others?

Helene: When I illustrate someone else’s manuscript, my role is to complement the text, and of course, I would never infringe on the author’s space at all. Also, the interaction with the author to develop a project via the publisher is always a rich and interesting experience.

The process was quite different when illustrating my own story CLAUDETTE. Being both, author and illustrator, enabled me to have lot of freedom in my creative process. I was free to adjust the text and illustrations as I felt. I was able to freely assert my style (in terms of writing and illustrating) and to be myself more.

Illustration from Claudette, copyright Helene Magisson


June: Where did the idea for Claudette come from and how long had you been thinking about and working on this story?

Helene: I always have been fascinated by the world of puppets. It is another creative and magical way to tell stories. Also, I value the idea of freedom (especially freedom of thoughts)

so using a marionette to talk about freedom was an interesting tool in my opinion.

Helene Magisson

I kept it on a shelf (just like Claudette in the story) for a while and eventually decided to have a good and last hard work on it in early 2019.

A few years ago, I wrote this story in French quite spontaneously, without the intention to publish it one day. I just wanted to add some new illustrations to my portfolio. And later, my agent encouraged me to work on it and translate it.

Also, as I have a European background, I felt it was interesting to take time to gain a better understanding of the Australian industry.

June: Did it come to you first as pictures, words, or both in combination?

Illustration from Claudette, Copyright Helene Magisson

Helene: It really came as a combination. For me writing and illustrating work strongly together. It is fantastic to have the ability to tell a story through images and words. The story can then be developed in both ways simultaneously. I could not separate them.


June: How will launching this book differ from being part of the launches of other books, what do you notice about the differences in the way an illustrator versus an author have to approach the launching of the book?


Helene: This time I have to carry the entire job myself. I have to be creative in both ways, so thankfully, I have the support of Claudette, the real marionette that I have crafted, painted and dressed up just for the occasion. Now she assists me everywhere I go and hopefully she will behave herself. (She will be part of an event coming up in January 2021, so stay tuned.)

June: Helene, can you tell us a bit about when you first had the dream to be an artist and when you knew you would create picture books?

Helene: I know that I was born an artist. I have always been very sensible to everything related to any form of art.

I had some wonderful artistic experience visiting fantastic exhibitions in museums or watching gorgeous shows in different countries all over the world that have inspired me and enriched my imagination and creativity.

Illustration from Claudette, copyright of Helene Magisson

But it is when we settled down in Australia, that I decided to become a children’s book illustrator.

I have always loved writing but being a non-native English speaker, I first chose to be an illustrator. And finally, I started to break down language barriers, to eventually follow what I can do with passion.

June: What do you say to others wishing to go into the area of picture books?  How do you think they can prepare for this work and what setbacks might they face?

Helene: I would tell others that before they start, try to understand the industry well, how it works, and how to approach a publisher in the right way. Observe, listen, but most importantly read a lot and have a good artistic understanding.

Creating a picture book is a bit like telling a long story just with a few words, and images are here to support in a clever way, with interesting and strong art skills, what the text won’t tell.

Many people think that creating a picture book is easy, but that is absolutely wrong.

Helene Magisson

Illustration from Claudette by Helene Magisson

June: Can you share a little bit about what it feels like to be a creative raised in so many countries and to now be an Australian creative?  How do you think Australia has influenced you?  How do you think you will inspire/influence Australian and global readers?

Helene: I have so much to tell on that topic! I feel that all my travels through culturally different countries have really nourished my creativity. What would our world be without all these cultural exchanges and mixes! I think it is necessary to keep a harmonious balance between what we can bring with our cultural background and what we can receive from the country we live in, so that we can be enriched and inspired by both.

It is very interesting and stimulating to be at the intersection of two different cultures. In Europe the picture books can be very poetic, imaginative, magical and even abstract. Some are nourished by legends, fables and fairy tales that have beautifully shaped Europe’s culture for many centuries.

In Australia I have discovered a very contemporary and realistic world in picture books with a strong and unique identity full of charm, so close to nature and diverse as well.

Helene Magisson

With my European background, I hope I can bring this poetic and whimsical voice in picture books while at the same time having this contemporary style that Australia inspires me.

June: What kind of books would you like to see in the world for future generations?  Do you have any dreams and ideas for many more books?  What do you think the power of picture books is?

Helene: I would love to see many more books that make children dream and escape reality a bit (reality is already everywhere), books that will enrich the children’s imagination, and enable them to be creative as we will really need more creative people in the future.

Illustration from Claudette, copyright Helene Magisson

Also, I would love to see more bridges being built between countries and cultures. Books make us travel, they open doors to other cultures and other artistic styles. Especially during these times of Covid, books are one of the strongest way to keep an opened mind towards others. They are essential, they are our mental food.

June: Thanks so much for your time and all the best for launching the book.


Helene: Thank you so much for this opportunity. I’d also love to give thanks to the wonderful publisher, Red Paper Kite. They are an exceptional published producing many beautiful books

Book Trailer for Claudette

To purchase this book and also in many local bookstores

For more on the publisher Red Paper Kite

To find out more about Helene Magisson

Launch of Sarah’s Two Nativities – Brisbane

Images Courtesy of Maria Parenti-Baldey, Tina Maria Clarke and June Perkins

On the weekend BookLink member, and Magic Fish Dreaming Illustrator Helene Magisson and author Janine M Fraser launched a courageous book about peace and respect of others’ cultural and interfaith stories, Sarah’s Two Nativities at the Where the Wild Things  Are Bookshop.

There were visitors from Canberra and Victoria in attendance as well as many locals,  from many cultures and faiths.  At least 80 people gathered, with a quarter of them being children.

Sarah’s Two Nativities is a story of a young girl who loves listening to both her grandmothers’ nativity stories – one from the Koran and one from the Bible. Young Sarah is concerned at first about which story is true because they’re so similar.  She realises however, her family’s unity will never force her to choose between the two stories, but accept both.

Tina Marie Clark, CYA coordinator, launched the book as it was CYA which launched Helene’s illustrator career. She warmly endorsed the themes of the book and shared some of her experience as a South African familiar with the celebration of many religious festivals with friends and family.

Janine Fraser, the author,  told the story of the background to her motivation for writing the book. Sharing that she had a challenging upbringing in a restricted spiritual environment, which later led her to leave that environment and become an ardent student of comparative religions. During her lifelong journey she observed many instances of multifaith families. She explained how she sees all religions as sharing the message of love and the question of the ‘mystery.’

Janine gave thanks to her family, especially her grandchildren and to Maryanne Ballantyne who championed the book as well as to the wonderful Helene for her illustrations which exceeded all her expecatations.

Janine read from the book in a gentle and softly spoken voice, with small musical interludes throughout provided by Marie Baguelin from France who played the guitar and Azadeh Shamee from Iran who performed the Oud (Arabic for wood). They brought a sense of both cultures at the event through their inspiring performances.

Helene shared  journey to understand the background of the book more, and work on a sensitive way to illustrate it, respectful of both the Koran and the Bible. She did this through extensive research, with the goal of honouring both.

Helene thanked June Perkins, for being her creative sister and both June and Renee Hills who contacted other faith communities to invite them to the launch as well as the community, friends, neighbours and family present and the musicians at the event. She  warmly thanked Janine for her inspiring story and invited us all to an exhibition of the art works on October 9th, which will include her work alongside other talented illstrators. There were a few original art works from the book available for people to view.  Helene also gave a big thank you to  the Where The Wild Things Are event coordinator Genevieve Kruysse.

Everyone was invited to craft their angels, with the assistance of Helene’s lovely daughter, and partake of koftas and delicious cupcakes. Many people decided to buy additional copies for their schools, libraries and friends.

Interview with Hélène Magisson Illustrator on Sarah’s Two Nativities

(c) Hélène Magisson: This artwork summarises the whole message of Sarah’s Two Nativities ‘Because family together in peace is the greatest blessing of all’. 

Interview by June Perkins.

Today the Magic Fish Dreaming blog welcomes back Hélène Magisson, for a delightful interview about her latest illustration work for Janine Fraser’s text Sarah’s Two Nativities.

Illustrator: Hélène Magisson began her artistic career as a painting restorer in Paris, where she was also trained in the art of medieval illumination. She has lived all over the world, including Africa, France and India. She loves to discover other cultures through their arts and customs. She now calls Australia home and has begun a new career of illustrating picture books, some of which have been CBCA Notables. Sarah’s Two Nativities (written by Janine M Fraser) is her first book with Black Dog Books.

1.Hélène began our interview by explaining the significance of the book.

The book, beautifully written by Janine Fraser, has a strong multicultural message that I immediately loved. For me, the story is a bridge between Muslims and Christians, and more globally an interfaith dialogue and bridge builder between diverse communities. It is all about peace and harmony. A beautiful and needed message.

2. Helene, as an illustrator are you often involved in the launch of books you have worked on for other authors?

I have always tried my best to be involved in the launches of the books I have illustrated. It is always a wonderful opportunity to meet the author and celebrate the result of a long and demanding collaboration.

3.Why are you involved in organising this launch?

There are two reasons why I am very much involved in this launch.
The first is that I am strongly, deeply committed to the message of Sarah’s Two Nativities, and I would love this launch to be an opportunity for people from diverse cultural backgrounds and faiths to get together.

The second reason is the opportunity to meet Janine Fraser, the author, for the first time, as I am very much looking forward to hearing in person all about how she came to write this beautiful story, and how she developed it.

Janine M Fraser lives on Phillip Island in Victoria for most of the year, and three months of the year in Manhattan, New York. She loves books, writing and travel and looks for stories wherever she goes. Her previous books have been short-listed for the CBCA awards, the NSW Premier’s Award and the WA Premier’s Award. Janine is also a published poet. Sarah’s Two Nativities is her first book with Black Dog Books.

4.What will be happening? What are you planning?

For the book launch, there will be book reading, book signing by both the author and the illustrator, but what will make this book launch also a bit special, is that we are planning to bring to the event a sense of both cultures.

There will be an Oud performance by Azadeh Shamee, a guitar performance by Marie Baguelin as well, cupcakes and koftas.

‘After my father passed away, I got this beautiful camel toy that he brought back a long time ago from Iran. I always keep it on my desk and it was what I drew first in this illustration. I like to imagine the journey this unique toy has been through to be there in this story as a bridge between these two communities.’

5.Can you tell us about the exhibition? Give us details of the launch and how people can RSVP

The book is launching September 21st  2pm, at Where the Wild Things are.  People can RSVP directly to the bookshop. BOOK LAUNCH RSVP LINK

There will be an exhibition in Philip Island from December to late January including the different versions of the text as the story developed and all the original illustrations of the book with some ‘behind the scene’ illustrations as well.

And in the meantime there will be an exhibition at  Richard Randall Studio in Brisbane organised by Book Links from 8-13 October (official launch on 9 October) with some illustrations from Lucia Masciullo and Paul O’Sullivan as well.

There will be some originals from Sarah’s Two Nativities and some artworks from my other new picture book Little Puggle’s Song written by Vikki Conley.

More on this later, stay tuned and save the date.

6.What were your inspirations when working on the illustrations?

I have a Christian background and I realised that unfortunately I didn’t know much about the Nativity, and the place of Mary and Jesus in the Koran. So, I listened and read many speeches from historians and religious representatives from both sides. It was fascinating and absolutely necessary.

I tried to be inside Sarah’s heart, loving her two grandmothers, being the one child of two different faiths. And from there, I could ‘hear’ the story of the Nativity from the Koran and the Bible perspectives and they are both absolutely beautiful.

Also, we have been working very cautiously with my publisher and art director Donna Rawlins from Black Dog Books (imprint of Walker Books) to make sure that both religions were well represented.

We decided not to illustrate the Nativity itself but instead, we chose to show, in the simplest way, Sarah imagining from a distance, the place where this incredible story happened.

And for sure, travelling and living in different countries, meeting people and having friends from different faiths and cultures helped me really deeply.

(c) Hélène Magisson ‘I wanted to show in thie image above what both books could culturally bring to Sarah. There are some items that are mentioned in the Bible, some others in the Koran and some are mentioned in both books like the angel.’

7. Who do you think this book will appeal to?

I hope it will appeal to many people from diverse backgrounds. I believe Muslims and Christians can be interested in this book, but more than that, all people who are committed to interfaith dialogue and multiculturalism in general. There are always bridges to build between us and this book is one of them thanks to Janine Fraser.

8.  Publication details of book and cost 

Sarah loves her two grandmas – Grandmother Azar and Grandmother Maria. Grandmother Azar tells Sarah stories from the Holy Koran, while Grandmother Maria tells her stories from the Bible. At Christmas time, Sarah snuggles in each of her grandmothers’ laps and listens to two nativities stories about the birth of baby Jesus. They are the same in some ways, and different in others … but both can be Sarah’s favourite.  Visit Walker Books

ISBN: 9781925381795
Imprint: Black Dog Books
Distributor: Walker Australia-HEDS
Binding: Hardback
Release Date: September 1, 2019
Dimensions: 245 x 270mm, 32pp
Australian RRP: $26.99
New Zealand RRP: $28.99

June: Thanks so much for this wonderful sharing Hélène and wishing you the very best for the launch.

For people wanting to register for the Brisbane launch, visit this  BOOK LAUNCH RSVP LINK