Alberta by Tania Cox

Alberta by Tania Cox



Alberta by Tania Cox

Title:                Alberta
Author:            Tania Cox
Illustrator:        Janine Dawson

Author: Tania Cox was born in Ayr, Queensland in 1968 and began writing picture books for the very young in 1996.  Her titles include Little Bat, Baby, the 2004 CBC Notable Australian Children’s Book Wolf’s Sunday Dinner and the CBC shortlisted Snap Goes Chester. Tania wrote her first children’s picture ‘book’ at the age of eleven for a school project. The story was about a family’s outing to the circus, titled ‘A Day at the Circus.’ Many years later, she completed external courses in short story writing and children’s literature through the Brisbane college of TAFE. Tania Cox talks about how she came to write Alberta: “The idea for writing Alberta came from newborn babies and penguins”. A few years ago when Tania visited a friend and her newborn baby, she was amazed at how little the baby was, and she remembers feeling very, very BIG! And, for a long time, Tania had been wanting to write a story about penguins as they are one of her favourite animals. She says she wrote lots of stories about penguins, but none of them seemed quite right. Then, she says,
“I was in my writing room reading a story about a baker with ‘BIG dreams’ and my husband was hurrying off to work as he said he had a ‘BIG day’, when suddenly the words ‘Nothing Alberta the penguin did was ever little,’ came into my head. I was quite excited about these words, so I quickly wrote them down.… And finally I felt I had a storyline for one of my favourite animals. Hence, I’d started the exciting journey of writing ‘Alberta’.”

Illustrator: Janine Dawson was born and grew up in Manly, Sydney. Dawson says she was always a drawer, but never took it seriously. She says:
 “I always drew as a kid but I wasn’t the ‘artist’ of the class. I think the thing is I just kept drawing, because I am a bit of a dreamer. I’ve always loved children’s books and have always collected them. I was a bit of a nerdy kid at school. Spent my school holidays in various libraries pouring over books.

At first Janine worked in theatre, then switched to animation after hearing a talk about it at the Sydney College of the Arts. After living overseas for a few years Janine returned to Australia and decided to try and have a go at children’s book illustration, a passion she’d always had, but never thought she could actually do. Now, she says “if I’m very lucky and eat all my vegetables, I hope to continue being able to illustrate children’s books well into my 100’s.” Among the many books she has illustrated are the highly successful Lily Quench series by Natalie Jane Prior, the Dulcie & Dud stories, published by Omnibus, Junkyard Dogs by Margaret Balderson and Pudding & Chips by Penny Matthews.  Janine still lives in Manly with her daughter, Rosie, her cats and some very nervous fish!

Alberta, the penguin has a delightfully BIG personality, which her parents and friends just can’t ignore. When her parents tell her she is going to be a big sister Alberta is delighted. “Yippppeeeeeee!” she cheers. Although Alberta is very disappointed that the eggs are so little, she soon learns being a big sister brings big responsibilities. One day, when she is left in charge of the eggs, she bravely and cleverly foils the hungry egg-thief. And when her little baby twin sisters are hatched she welcomes them “in a very Alberta way.”

At the start of the story, using simple and direct language Tania Cox introduces a funny and engaging character, Alberta  – larger than life, exuberant, and self-confident – “Nothing Alberta did was ever little”; “’THAT’S not a fish! THIS is a fish!’” The pace of the story changes as events are introduced which cause Alberta to slow down a bit, to reflect, and to wait: “The big egg must be coming next, thought Alberta. So she waited and waited”, and to be responsible: “One morning Alberta’s mother waddled off to catch some fish.”  “There were many things Alberta would rather have done – so many that she didn’t see the hungry egg-thief until he had landed right near the eggs.” At this point the pace of the story changes again, as Alberta deals, in a big, clever way with the egg-thief. “STOP!” she shouted, rushing towards the nest. THAT’S not an egg! This is an egg!” The story has a warm, satisfying ending. When Alberta sees her baby twin sisters her heart skips “two tiny beats” and she hugs them “…in a very Alberta way,” which is of course BIG. The story is interspersed with Alberta’s big exclamatory language: “Wheeeeeeeeee!” “Yaaaaaaahoooooo!”


Janine Dawson used pen and ink and watercolour for the illustrations in Alberta. This is a perfect medium for the snowy, watery landscapes. Janine explains the challenge of depicting the landscape:
Gentoos (Alberta is a Gentoo penguin) apparently live in a very rocky landscape, and build their nests out of rocks, which makes for a very 'busy' picture indeed, so I got around this by not putting black lines all around all of the rocks, but rather splotches of light watercolour that would give the same impression that were lots of rocks around. Leaving off the black lines around the rocks meant that the ground wouldn't 'compete' with the characters. The other challenge was that Alberta's story takes place pretty much in the one location, so thinking up different angles to keep it visually interesting as well as continuity was a constant challenge for me.
Janine Dawson has created warm and appealing characters, using open, fluid lines to portray movement, and tender, contained lines to depict moments of quietness. She also uses the characters within the landscape to portray mood, and emotion. For example the picture of a tiny disappointed Alberta, alone on a rocky outcrop, with her parents, barely visible but conveying their concern. Janine says that in the end illustrating Alberta “was a very rewarding experience, mainly because I did have so many challenges, but it drew me out of my comfort zone which is a really good thing to have happen from time to time and I feel I have achieved something that I first was a bit frightened of doing. I had loads of support from my editor Jane who was always there helping me on, and I think that when you are facing something a little bit daunting, that to have that gentle encouragement just helps to keep you going.


  • Read Alberta aloud and with feeling, highlighting Alberta’s natural exuberance, her concerns and her courage.
  • Play around with the concepts of big and little, using Tania Cox’s text as a model: “THAT’S not a snowball! THIS is a snowball!”
  • Using two page sequences, as in the book, draw your own big and little ideas. Make these into a book, a poster, or a frieze for display.
  • Make a word poster, using Alberta’s exclamations as a starting point. Add some of your own exclamations.
  • If you go to the zoo, take a sketch book with you. Janine Dawson says she trotted off to the

zoo to watch the penguins and their actions. She says, “When I don't know how to draw something the best thing then is to go out and find it and try and watch it and draw it.”

  • To get her penguins just right Janine did heaps of research like getting out Library books and looking on the net. You can do this too.
  • Draw the characters from the story on card. Cut out your drawings and make them into puppets, with icy pole sticks for holders. Use these to tell the story of Alberta.
  • Dramatise the story of Alberta.
  • Janine Dawson loves black and white line drawing. She says that when she worked as an animator she “learnt most from the quick cartoons and sketches we’d all do of one another...                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           these sharpen your observation and wit, and… teaches you how to ‘see’ things and communicate them in a quick drawing. Choose partners and do many quick black and white line drawings of each other.
  • Two of Janine Dawson’s favourite inspirations are cartoonist George Herriman who drew ‘Krazy Kat”, and illustrator E.H Shepherd who drew Winnie the Pooh and Wind in the Willows. Find examples of their work and talk about why Janine Dawson liked their work so much.
  • Find out about Gentoo penguins. Where do they live? How do they build their nests. When and where do they lay their eggs? What are their predators? What do they eat? How do they get their food?
  • Find out about other types of penguins. Compare them with the Gentoo penguins.
  • Jan Dawson says she had lots of help from her editor. She says, “I think that when you are facing something a little bit daunting, that to have that gentle encouragement just helps to keep you going”. Work together, and help each other when you are drawing, making up your own stories, friezes, posters. and picture books.

Source: http://www.workingtitlepress.com.au/teachers_notes/Alberta%20Teachers'%20Notes.doc

Web site to visit: http://www.workingtitlepress.com.au

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Alberta by Tania Cox


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Alberta by Tania Cox