Sprout x Natalie + Cheryl

For more than a decade, author Natalie Jane Prior and illustrator Cheryl Orsini have been a powerhouse team in their native Australia, working on numerous books including The Fairy Dancers, The Tales of Mrs Mancini, and Lucy’s Book. Natalie recalls the day they first met. “We were in a coffee shop in Sydney with our mutual agent, and were introduced to a publisher who was specifically looking for a picture book about mermaids. The idea for our first book came together right there over tea and cake—the connection was that instantaneous."

"In the years since, we’ve enjoyed the most extraordinary artistic collaboration. It’s the rarest of things: the sense that, whatever I write, Cheryl will perfectly interpret it." Cheryl's illustrative style is distinguished by its clear colours, retro sensibility, and incredible attention to detail. She works mostly with watercolour and gouache, and uses acrylic paint sparingly for her linework. Starting with 2015’s The Fairy Dancers, Natalie has also used Cheryl’s illustrations to design fabric prints to accompany their books. “I’ve always loved sewing, so to me it seemed natural to use the beautiful detail and motifs in Cheryl’s work as the basis for fabric. Being able to sew with fabric based on our own books has opened up a whole new creative world for me."

The Tales of Mrs Mancini

Cake. Cats. Cuteness. Who could ask for more? Mrs Mancini lives with her human companion Filippina in a patisserie that sells fabulous gourmet treats, but when she’s not sleeping off cream cakes in the window, she’s busy helping the children who visit her shop on the square. According to author, Natalie Jane Prior, the three stories in The Tales of Mrs Mancini were “inspired by Cheryl’s unparalleled ability to draw food—her cakes just leap off the page”. Cheryl Orsini, the illustrator, describes her work,“I aimed to illustrate Mrs Mancini as a beautiful and rotund older cat with her distinctive heart shaped marking and her tapered peach paws. She quietly works her magic—like a feline fairy godmother.”

ABC Books/HarperCollins, November 2016.

Lucy’s Book

A story for everyone who has ever loved a book with all their heart, Lucy’s Book is about the special relationship between a little girl, her friends, and her very favourite library book. “When I worked as a librarian in a public library I’d always wonder what happened to the books when they went out the door,” says author, Natalie Jane Prior. “That was behind the idea for Lucy’s Book—that, and the fact that we’ve all known kids who read the same book over and over again.” Lucy’s Book follows the life of a library book as it circulates through a community, being read, lost, taken to sea, and turned into a banana sandwich in the process. “We never actually see what’s inside Lucy’s book,” says illustrator, Cheryl Orsini. “This was a fantastic challenge and it gave me the opportunity to play with all sorts of images.”

Lothian Books/Hachette, Feb. 2017.

The Fairy Dancers

Every Saturday morning, with a hop, a skip and a graceful twirl, friends Mia, Emma and Grace put on their tutus and ballet slippers and turn into Fairy Dancers. Accompanied by their beloved ballet teacher, Miss Ashleigh, and Mia’s naughty dachshund, Coco, the Fairy Dancers romp their way through three gorgeous, gentle stories, ideal for bedtime reading.

“The main characters were lovely to draw and they arrived very quickly on my drawing board,” says Cheryl Orsini. “They are most certainly based on children we know but also represent every little girl who has ever danced, skipped and twirled in a little pink tutu.” The Fairy Dancers has been a great success in Australia, and a second volume of three stories is currently in preparation.

ABC Books/HarperCollins, November 2016.