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Interview: Samantha Tidy talks about When Grandma Burnt Her Bra

Samantha Tidy is a writer of fiction and non-fiction for both children and adults. She seeks out stories that cultivate connection and resilience and that help build community. Her new book, When Grandma Burnt Her Bra is unashamedly a feminist text for both male and female readers. It uses humour, history, the childhood perception of age, underwear and dinosaurs to broach a tricky subject without casting blame.

When Grandma Burnt Her Bra is published by EK Books.

Can you tell us a little about the new book?

When Grandma Burnt Her Bra tells the history of women’s rights in a way that children will understand it… using dinosaurs!

The picture book uses humour to tell the story of feminism and women’s rights, exploring how, throughout history, both men and women have broken down barriers. It’s not a complex story – its one that small people (and big) will understand easily so that they get a snippet of history, and a laugh-out-loud story too. The illustrations make the story come to life – as they should!

How difficult was it writing the book?

Explaining the history of women’s rights to children is a little difficult! Really, the hardest part is conveying to children the concept of gender inequality – when seemingly, in today’s society, women have a much better situation than, say 100 years ago. Once I introduced the concept of ‘dinosaur thoughts’ to represent old ways of thinking, the story fell together easily, and suddenly I had dinosaurs dancing all over the page and new ways of explaining a tricky topic. That moment was a joyful one!

What research was involved?

I am fortunate that sometimes my day job allows me to find ideas for my writing. At the time when I came up with the idea for this story, I was writing content for the National Library of Australia’s Digital Classroom website about feminism. I learnt all about the suffragettes and the early risk-takers who fought to secure the right to vote for women. Some of the historical detail was so shocking and sad, that I realised that the next generation must remember this, as there is the potential to forget the efforts of many generations of women to secure better equality for women. Hopefully, my book is a primer for more research and interest in the progress of gender equality.

What was your routine or process when writing this book?

I am a bit of a ‘pantser’ (rather than a planner) when it comes to writing children’s books. I always do a few weeks of primary source research and academic reading when I have an idea for a story. I then let it sit for a few weeks knowing there is a story brewing in my subconscious, and then I wait… usually, it will wake me up about 4 or 5am in the morning, and I get up and start typing. I then sit with it until its done.

If a soundtrack was made to accompany the new book, name a song or two you would include.

I Am Woman by Helen Reddy, and I Will Survive by Gloria Gaynor!

What did you enjoy the most about writing When Grandma Burnt Her Bra?

Seeing Aśka’s illustrations for the first time. When I saw how she had brought the story to life, I knew it was a perfect match and a book to last the ages, or as we like to say in the trade – ‘it will have a long tail’. She really got what I was trying to communicate.

What did you do to celebrate finishing this book?

Writing is such a process without a beginning or an end – you never really do finish a book and decide it's done! But when you think it's as perfect as you can get it, I usually celebrate by sending it to whichever of my publishers I think will love it! In this case, EK Books were the perfect publisher for this story – they publish books with heart on issues that matter. They had the courage to back this title and see its value in the hands of children, educators and adults. How wonderful to share this important message far and wide.

What is the favourite book you have read so far this year and why?

I recently read Starberries and Kee by Cate Whittle – a middle grade solar punk novel. It was so brilliantly written and it really offered hope to young readers in a climate changing world.

What’s next on the agenda for you?

I am working on some more picture book titles that showcase history – a couple of which are about fantastic women who were risk-takers just like the grandma in this story. Stay tuned!


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