Introducing the Wonderful Women behind We Are Girls!

21 November 2018


The Hinkler publishing team had the pleasure of working with eight incredible women to create the We Are Girls book. We spoke with some of them to learn a bit more about them, to talk about the book and what it means to them.


Kayla Harren – Illustrator of Olivia and the Outstanding School Fair

Kayla Harren is an illustrator living in the middle of the United States. She loves animals (especially her dog, Tina), chocolate and going for long walks in the woods. Some of the books she has illustrated include Mary Had A Little Lizard, Hannah’s Tall Order and Juma the Giraffe.


Q: What do you like most about this book?
A: I like Olivia and her go-getter attitude. Her love and empathy drive her to do amazing things.

Q: What made you want to become an illustrator?
A: Looking at the illustrations in picture books while my mum read to me is one of my favourite memories of childhood. My love of reading first started with my love of pictures. If my artwork inspires children to become readers, then I will have accomplished something important.


You can find more of Kayla’s work at her website and on her Instagram @kaylaharren.


Maike Plenzke – Illustrator of Victoria and the Valiant Adventure

Based in Berlin, Maike is a freelance illustrator who loves to do colourful illustrations for book covers, magazines and other exciting projects. She has also ventured into creating comic books with author Flora Grimaldi, which have been published in France and Germany. When she is not drawing, she loves bouldering, riding her longboard in the sun and watching a movie on the couch with her significant other and her dog.


Q: What do you like most about this book?
A: I love that it pictures a girl hiking and exploring nature – something that I loved doing when I was younger with my grandma and still love doing to this day. It's so exciting to find interesting plants and animals on the way and I really enjoy the quiet, maybe because I have always lived in big cities.


Q: Which was your favourite illustration to do and why?
A: Probably the cave with the bats. It somehow felt really relaxing to draw it... and bats are just fascinating!


You can find Maike on Twitter and Instagram at @maike_illu.


Debra Thomas – Author of the real-women biographies for all six stories

Deb is a writer, editor and communications specialist based in Melbourne. Amongst the many degrees and projects to her name, Deb graduated from NIDA (MFA in Writing for Performance) in 2014 and in the same year won Sydney Theatre Company's prestigious Patrick White Playwrights Award; the same play is now published by Deb was later commissioned for Power Plays by STC, which took to the stage in 2016. In 2018 Deb was commissioned by Frankston Arts Centre to pen a new work, Chimera. Deb teaches the Dramatic Writing program at NIDA Open in Melbourne.


Q: What do you like most about this book?
A: I remember growing up that I was drawn to books and films that had girls my age in them, especially if they played a lead role – but they were really difficult to find. The majority of books had boys in the starring role. If I was lucky enough to find a book with someone who looked like me within the pages, there was generally only one central female character and she was always off to the side as a love interest – she was rarely the protagonist. I was excluded from stories, so it made me feel unimportant and invisible.

I love that the We Are Girls books are changing this by giving girls choices and expanding their possibilities, both in terms of reading and imagination! These books are filled with girls who are the centre of their own stories – just as they should be.


Q: What advice would you give to someone who wants to become a writer?
A: Write every day. The hardest thing about writing is writing – but if you do it every day it does become easier. Just as you have to train your muscles to improve at sport, you have to train your brain to be a good writer. You do this with practice.

You also need to read and read lots. You have to put food in your body to get it to function, and to write you have to give your brain nourishment. Reading will show you what you like reading, what you don’t like reading and thereby what you don’t want to replicate, and will fill your head with wonderful ideas for stories. And it’s fun!

But most importantly, write lots of brilliant, witty, smart, diverse female characters so that girls and women can see themselves represented and all our stories can be told.


You can find Deb on Twitter at @dragonintheroof.


Monique Dong – Illustrator of Indy and the Incredible Race

Monique Dong is a freelance illustrator and her passion, her happy place, is creating illustrations that encompass light, life, warmth and colour. She is married to her best friend and they have a two-year-old boy, Felix. They are expecting their next baby boy in March 2019!


Q: Which was your favourite illustration to do and why?
A: I enjoyed illustrating that moment of victory for Indy, as she crosses the finish line. Her face flushed from the effort – all the hard work paying off! Her family, her support team, cheering her on from the sidelines! I feel, as I illustrated her journey to this moment, I am celebrating with her!


Q: What made you want to become an illustrator?
A: I started drawing as a hobby when I was becoming a teenager. I would copy my favourite illustrations from children's books. At that time, I imagined becoming an animator! I even studied animation after high school. But my love for illustrating just a moment became clearer a few years after I got married. I started an Instagram account and took great pleasure in creating my own art to share there! It was from there that I decided that becoming an illustrator would be a dream job for me!


You can find Monique on Instagram at @moniquedong and commission her artwork through The Bright Agency.


Olya Badulina – Illustrator of Claire and the Colossal Treehouse

Olya is an independent illustrator specialising in illustrations for children. She received a Bachelor of Arts degree from the Novgorod State University in Russia, where she focused on painting. She lives in St Petersburg in Russia and has collaborated with publishers from all around the world. Olya is currently learning to speak Finnish in preparation for her family moving there next year. She is married, has 2 children and often draws her inspiration from her family. She loves nature, the Baltic Sea, watercolour and oil painting, travelling and city architecture.


Q: What was your favourite illustration to do and why?
A: The first spread with a town view. I think I managed to show the source of inspiration for our character. Also, I really like the spread where the girls are looking at the finished treehouse. Claire managed to build a team to help make her dream come true.


Q: What advice would you give to someone who wants to become an illustrator?
A: Do not disregard a classical drawing course – it will lay a solid foundation to your professional success. Also, be sure to draw things that you really like.


You can find Olya online at her website at or on Instagram at @olyabad.


Katie Hewat – Author of all six stories

Katie Hewat is an Australian children’s book author who lives on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula. Katie’s younger years were filled with a love of reading and writing. This led her to complete her undergraduate studies in Professional Writing and Editing, followed by postgraduate studies in Publishing and Editing. Since 2005, Katie has penned more than 70 published books across many children’s genres, including educational, craft, licensed and early childhood, but her real passion lies in writing children’s picture books and junior fiction.


Q: Which was your favourite story to write and why?
A: Emily and the Everlasting Melody was the first story I wrote in this series and is still my favourite. I loved being able to use the fun words and rhythms and sounds that made up the music Emily hears everywhere around her. Emily and Grandad’s relationship was also drawn from my own experiences with my sparkly-eyed Grandpa and so holds a bit of a special place for me.


Q: What made you want to become an author?
A: Just like the girls in this story, I was once a little girl with big dreams: I wanted to become a children’s book author! From as early as I can remember, I had a fascination with books, whether it was reading, writing or even making them with a hole punch and a piece of ribbon. This went on throughout my childhood, teens and studies, and eventually led to me realising my dream when I had my first children’s book published at age 23.


Q: What advice would you give to someone who wants to become an author?
A: My three main tips for anyone wanting to become an author are to be persistent, learn to treat constructive criticism as a positive learning experience, and make plenty of time in your life for daydreaming!


Eugene Smolenceva – Sofia and the Spectacular Outfit

Eugene graduated with a fine arts degree and has worked as a graphic designer. For the past few years she has followed her passion to work as an illustrator for children’s’ books. She is inspired by the things that she loves, including cats, unicorns, travelling and looking at children’s books in bookstores.


Q: What do you like most about this book?
A: Sofia is such a bright and extraordinary character who isn’t afraid to experiment, and she follows her dreams. I want as many girls as possible to read and be inspired by her story.


Q: Is there a woman (someone you know or someone famous) who inspired you? Why?
A: I am inspired by the famous Finnish writer and artist Tove Jansson. She was an interesting person whose work brought joy to many, particularly with her Moomin books for children.


Q: What advice would you give to someone who wants to become an illustrator?
A: I would suggest practise as much as possible and try and draw every day. There are many useful tutorials online where you can get the basics of drawing, and you should also look at and study the work of other illustrators that you like. 


You can find Eugene on her website at, and on Instagram at @eugene_smolenceva.


Violetta Borigard – Illustrator of Emily and the Exuberant Melody

Violetta is a Kiev-based freelance illustrator and author of activity books for children. Her favourite techniques are watercolour, ink, pencils and digital pastel. She graduated from the Ukrainian Academy of Printing with a degree in Book Graphic Design.

Her favourite part of illustrating Emily and the Exuberant Melody was the scene where Emily and her Grandfather share a dance.

We were unfortunately unable to talk to Violetta about her experiences illustrating Emily, but you can find more of her work at Instagram at @violetta.borigard