Posted by: Lisa Hill | July 11, 2011

Sensational Snippets: Drawn from the Heart (2010), by Ron Brooks

Drawn from the Heart: A MemoirIt’s not often, is it, that you borrow a book from the library, and want to buy your very own copy before you’ve finished even the first chapter?  Ron Brooks’ beautiful memoir, Drawn from the Heart is shortlisted for the 2011 CBCA Eve Pownall Award for Information Books Short list 2011 but it should also have been a strong contender for the National Biography Award in either 2010 or 2011, (depending on which year it was eligible).   It is an enchantment!

The Bunyip of Berkeley's CreekBrooks is one of Australia’s most successful and best-loved illustrators of children’s picture books.  His collaborations with great writers like Jenny Wagner and Margaret Wild have been sold all over the world to great acclaim and have contributed to Australia’s pre-eminent place in the world of children’s picture books.  This memoir begins with the story of his childhood, and how he found his vocation, and then takes us through the story of how some of his books emerged from his imagination to the page.  Now that I know whose face the bunyip is modelled on, I shall never be able to keep a straight face when I read The Bunyip of Berkeley’s Creek to the children at school.  (No, I’m not telling, you have to make this delicious discovery for yourself when you read the book!)

Devastatingly, Brooks failed Year 12 English at Swinburne, but he writes like a pro.  Here’s a Sensational Snippet, a portrait in words, of his teacher, Chester Eagle:

Hell and damnation, he could get angry – he’d threaten to drop blithering idiots, missing links and Philistines from the second-storey window to the asphalt below; or mime the grabbing of some unfortunate by the throat – absolutely wring it with gusto, tying it in a great thumping knot, then throw open that window again, and hurl it out.  He’d crash the window closed, spin around and stride back to the front of the class, vigorously wiping his hands on the sides of his jacket as if to remove all traces of contact with the boy.  ‘God damn! Black dogs.’  He’d turn this way and that, snorting through his nose, pulling at it, flustered and furious, grabbing a piece of chalk from the shelf at the base of the board as if to write something up there, but instead, spinning around again and throwing it at the rear wall of the classroom.  And all the while he’d be running his hand wildly, again and again, through his unruly black hair – whipping and pulling not only at the nose, but at the cheeks, the chin, the forehead, the whole head, and snorting, snorting…

It does sound a bit crazy, I know – sad to say, he quite possibly wouldn’t be considered employable nowadays – but he wasn’t.  He was wonderful.

While he is thrashing around at the front of the class, throwing open (then banging closed) cupboard doors, grabbing papers from the top of his desk then throwing them down again, we are all just sitting there, watching.  We are not surprised by any of this, really, because of course we’ve seen it all before, many times.  But we are stunned again by the sheer fury, the power of it; by the whole performance, the theatre.  Enthralled, actually.  Enthralled, and humbled.  Because, critically, we also did know that he was passionate about language, about story, about beauty, about art.  The love and passion he had for his subject was plenty enough reason to respect him. 

We all looked forward to his classes, loved his flamboyant and firebrand style of  teaching; his more extraordinary fireworks we simply regarded as fabulous symptoms of his anything but ordinary enthusiasm.  We understood he really did want to share beauty with us, wanted to help us see, hear, and enrich our lives with beauty.  (p33)

It’s a good thing for all of us that Brooks did not let those dolt examiners at Swinburne discourage him for long.  For a year he lost his confidence, but then he tackled the exam again – and passed with distinction.  Then went on to become the artist we all love.

Beg, borrow or steal a copy of this lovely book, especially if you’re a parent or a teacher, because you never know, one of yours might be another an aspiring Ron Brooks…

© Lisa Hill

Author: Ron Brooks
Title: Drawn from the Heart: A Memoir
Publisher: Allen & Unwin, 2010
ISBN: 9781742371559
Source: Casey-Cardinia Library


  1. This sounds like a perfect one for my son … I’m trying to encourage him to do drawing with his class. This might encourage him not to be discouraged about his own skill. He may not be a Ron Brooks but he has enough skill I reckon to inspire and encourage students.


  2. There were many enthusiastic reviews in the papers when this book came out. I’ve been waiting for it to become more available up here. My library has finally bought a few copies (thanks to the CBCA nomination I suspect, they always buy multiple copies of those books). Glad to hear that you’re liking it too Lisa. I’m even more keen to read it now.


  3. It has its dark moments here and there (Brooks suffered from depression and had relationship problems) but the way he writes about how he designed each book is just brilliant. Anyone who thinks that children’s books are ‘easy to do’ is in for a surprise!


  4. […] mention here because he is a brilliant illustrator of children’s books, and I loved his quasi-autobiography Drawn from the Heart when I read it in 2011.  I recommend that you check the list of his children’s books at the […]


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