What a muddy idea!

Children’s author Janeen Brian reveals how I’m a dirty dinosaur, the fun picture book used in the First 5 Forever program, came about.

Many years ago, I was approached by a librarian and asked if I’d care to devise a program of rhymes/poetry, which could be presented to various kindergartens and day-care centres in her area.

The librarian’s chief concern was that many of the children in the centres were displaying a lack of stimulus patterning and language development. The obvious connection was that they were not being involved or encouraged with every-day language, songs, poems, or rhymes – and possibly this stemmed from home situations. The resulting problem was that many children neither knew, nor had even heard of nursery rhymes.

For the program, I created props and an interactive narrative based on the song The wheels on the bus whereby we’d ‘travel’ to another aspect for a different poem etc. I also decided to write several poems of my own. One of those was called I’m a dirty dinosaur  and it had 4 verses, the text of the last one being almost the same as it now appears in the book. And although the words in the other verses were changed to create to final book, the patterning, rhythm and rhyme remained.

For some time after the poetry program had finished, I wondered whether the poem might be suitable for a picture book and when presenting at a StoryArts Festival in Ipswich, Queensland, I approached Ann James, an illustrator, and asked her thoughts. She was keen on the idea – and to my delight, also keen to illustrate it.

But the middle verses needed changing to give the work more action and illustrative opportunities, and a structure – which it now has, because we follow the dinosaur’s dirtiness from his snout, step by step, down to his tail.

Then comes the humour, in that we know, through the illustration, that the clean dinosaur is not likely to remain that way! So it becomes a cyclic story.

Ann’s first thought was to produce it as a concertina book, but after discussion with the publisher, it was considered to be too costly.

From that point, Ann began creating samples of painterly dinosaurs. She eventually moved away from that style, seeking a cleaner line using Magic Pencil, a pencil that produces different colours as it’s moved across the page. Ann also used water colours for other aspects of the illustrations such as the bird.

She also wanted something with texture to create the dirtiness in the illustrations; paint was not working. Her eureka moment came when she remembered the dam at her country cottage. There she found plenty of mud! And she began to play and experiment, creating lots of muddy marks and pictures – they were perfect!

Meanwhile, the publisher and I were working through the text. I changed one line from sprinkle it with mud to splatter it with mud because the second word had a stronger, explosive, more fun sound. We also decided, because I’d used the word dirt in three successive lines, the last one needed changing. So, after some head-scratching, we altered one line from I flick it in the dirt to I flick it in the muck.  A great word! I’ll also be grateful to Ann who suggested we change I think I’ll stomp right to the pond to I think I’ll stomp right to the swamp.  Why didn’t I think of that?!

Once the text was set, the illustrations complete and the cover design in place, all was ready – and, in 2013, I’m a dirty dinosaur was launched!

About the author

Janeen Brian is an award-winning, children’s author and poet with over 100 books published in both trade and educational publishing. She enjoys writing picture books, junior fiction, poetry and novels. Popular titles include Where does Thursday go?; That Boy, Jack; Meet Ned Kelly; Silly Galah!; and Silly Squid!; Our Village in the Sky; I’m a dirty dinosaur; I’m a hungry dinosaur and Where’s Jessie? Her latest books are Mrs Dog; Yong: the journey of an unworthy son; Meet Nellie Melba and Little Chicken Chickabee.

Many of her books have been translated and distributed worldwide while more than 200 stories, poems, plays and articles have been published in children’s magazines or anthologies.

Janeen was the recipient of the 2012 Adelaide Festival of Literature Carclew Fellowship and has also received two May Gibbs’ Children’s Literature Trust Fellowships. Janeen is an Ambassador for both The Premier’s Reading Challenge and The Little Big Book Club.

She loves reading, creating mosaics, aqua-aerobics, yoga, walking, gardening, travelling, craft work, watching theatre and films and spending time with her family and friends. She lives in the seaside city of Glenelg, in Adelaide, South Australia with her husband. She has two daughters and four grandchildren.


I’m a dirty dinosaur by Janeen Brian, illustrated by Ann James, Published by Penguin Random House Australia

Janeen Brian

Janeen Brian