When you go to Melbourne

While you can easily find illustrated children’s books devoted to the cityscapes of New York, London and Paris, the same can’t be said for our fair city. But a new book is about to change all that, with the release of When you go to Melbourne – written, designed and illustrated by Maree Coote.

Maree swapped a highly successful career in advertising to hone her creative energies into her passion for Melbourne’s history and style. When you go to Melbourne takes young readers through a vibrant romp of the city, where hidden treasures can be discovered within the illustrations while learning about Melbourne’s history along the way.

Maree Coote

1. Can you tell me a bit about yourself and how your love affair with Melbourne first began?

I was born in bayside Melbourne and always loved going on trips to town with my mother. I love the idea that when you are a little kid, the city is like another planet – everything is so big, noisy and driven. It’s really quite alien and remote from a child’s perspective. The city churns with such purpose and it’s very exciting when you are little to learn your way around.

2. You have done other books before; what gave you the idea to write and illustrate the children’s book, When you go to Melbourne?

I thought we needed a book for children about their own city. The shelves are full of Madeline in Paris, and Trip to New York – which are lovely – but I think it’s empowering for kids to have their own stories told, and to have their own city elevated to the same story-worthy level as any other international city. A sense of place is important to build in children because it offers them belonging and a sense of inclusion, which contributes to their well-being, and hopefully leads them to appreciate and respect their city – even to contribute to it in some way.

Also, when visitors come to Melbourne, I hope their children can take a book home, or read one on the plane trip here so they can gain more from their visit.

3. What came first, the images or the story?

I had been thinking of doing a picture book about Melbourne for a while, and what happened in this case was the sing-song words: ‘When you go to Melbourne, see if you can see, all the things that I saw when Mum took me.’ As soon as they popped into my head, it all came together. The book pretty well wrote itself then.

I also added another level of hidden clues and icons, so that if they can’t come to town, a reader can work out where to find ‘all the things that I saw’ from the clues in the illustrations. I wanted it to be nonsensical and fun; to have that flavour of cheeky irreverence that is so important to kids.

4. How do you think Melbourne has changed since you wrote your first book ten years ago?

Melbourne has changed in many ways – both good and bad. I think it is much harder to keep our Melbourne-ness intact these days, because so many interests are out to carve it up for profit.

Also, there’s another aspect to the way the city has changed. In the past, the city was like a bigger version of our home towns: it had a bigger post office, bigger station, bigger town hall and so on. But so many new suburbs today now don’t have any of this, just a shopping mall some distance away. So as time goes on, somehow the city itself with all its quaint ways could be becoming more exotic than ever before for many Melburnians.

5. How do you describe Melbourne’s sense of style? What makes it different from other cities around Australia?

Melbourne has an intelligent style. It is highly-informed, well-read, involved and satirical. That’s a very creative trait, to be self-mocking and satirical, and I think it’s very healthy and leads to Melburnians seeing not only the world but themselves in a unique way. They feel a sense of ownership over their city and it comes from a sense of being interested, rather than striving to be interesting.

There are two ways to make things happen – you exploit what exists or you create something new. I think Melburnians have always been the latter. I hope we can remain that way.

You can find Maree Coote’s ‘When you go to Melbourne’ in the Little Bookroom and in all good bookstores.

Framed illustration of Pellegrini's by Maree Coote