VICTORIA CARLESS’ book, Lani and the Universe, celebrates the magic in nature, science and in our every day.
Good Reading for Kids chatted with her about what she dreamed of becoming when she grew up.
ABOUT THE BOOK
Lani Scrub has a plan: study hard and become a world-renowned scientist like her hero, Kit Galway, who wrote The Meaning of the Universe.
The plan is ruined when Lani’s mum decides to ‘find herself’ by joining a nature-loving community called Passing Waters.
Lani should have known things were up when they got backyard chickens.
At Passing Waters Lani fails every test thrown her way – despite coaching from nine-year-old nature kid Lentil and a chef/astronomer named Meadow.
Turns out failing is hard, and what’s worse is their tree change is making her question the meaning of the universe …
And when the community’s future is threatened, will Lani Scrub pitch in to save the day?
MEET VICTORIA CARLESS
Lani dreams of becoming a world-renowned scientist – when you were growing up, what did you dream of becoming?
When I first went to school, I remember wanting to be a teacher when I grew up. I’m the oldest child in my family, so I liked to teach my brother, sister and our dogs what I had learned when I got home. They were very patient with me.
When I could read by myself and experienced how books can transport you to another world, I wanted that job and began to dream of being a writer. How lucky am I?
Where did you get the idea for the nature-loving community called Passing Waters?
Some of my strongest memories growing up were times spent in cabins in rainforests, as part of school camps and when I joined Brownies/Girl Guides. I suppose these experiences staying with lots of people and learning about ecosystems helped me recreate the communal living ‘vibe’ of Passing Waters.
All the animal care stuff the children are responsible for at Passing Waters was inspired by my childhood spent on my grandparents’ farm, with my siblings and cousins every school holidays. There was always some orphaned animal to raise, every school holidays. From calves to wallabies to goats, to a cockatoo who imitated the ring of the telephone, you name it, we helped raise it.
At the farm I also learned a bit about stars. Every evening after dinner my grandparents would walk us all to the cattle gate to close it for the night. There were probably ten kids, a bunch of working dogs and a cat who accompanied us. My grandfather would point out the constellations as we walked.
All of these things came together to inform the setting and the story.
Why is it important to keep trying even when you fail?
I ask myself this sometimes too. I think it’s because you never know when you are going to succeed at something you really want to achieve. It could be on your second or your 22nd attempt. I always wonder: what if I quit just before I get there? That would be disappointing. And even though failing is tough, each time you fail you learn something about yourself.
Is your character Lani based on a person you know?
Lani is a completely made-up character, but that said, I am sure there are elements of me in her. For example, in the same way that Lani does in the story, I have felt strongly about following a particular path in life. It was a challenge when things didn’t turn out the way I assumed they would.
In Lani’s case however, by joining a new community and facing the challenges she is presented with however she begins to see that other possibilities for her life might exist. She also begins to see the value of other types of knowledge, apart from just only being ‘book smart’. And she learns there is perhaps more than one pathway toward achieving your goals or dreams.
What kind of challenges does Lani face in this book?
Lani’s life plan is to be a scientist like her hero Kit Galway. The plan goes awry when her Mum decides they’ll leave their home and everything Lani’s ever known for a tree change. Lani has to start afresh at a new school where there are unfamiliar subjects, such as Green STEM. She also learns about astronomy, as well as the environmental and ecological principles that form the community’s way of life. She finds all of these concepts very challenging at first and does not want to participate in the community at all.
By leaving her home and school and her best friend to stay at Passing Waters Lani also learns a great deal about friendship and although this is painful for her at times, it shapes her understanding of what it means to be a good friend.
Due to her stay at Passing Waters Lani’s grows as a person, without even really wanting or intending to.
Can you describe this book in three words?
Searching, connection and stars.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Victoria writes works of fiction and for theatre. Her novel for young adults, The Dream Walker, was nominated for the Queensland Literary Awards and the Children’s Book Council of Australia Awards.
Recently Victoria was commissioned by the Museum of Brisbane to write a work for The Storytellers, an interactive, award winning exhibition celebrating the layers of the city’s history.
Victoria lives in Brisbane with her family, a nervous cat and a blue heeler who is 98 in dog years.
Gus and The Starlight was her first book for Middle Grade readers. One day she would like to own a caravan like this one.