AWW Feature: Wendy Orr

Wendy and Harry

Welcome Wendy Orr!

While she may be best known as the author of Nim’s Island, Wendy Orr has written more than 20 childrens and young adult books earning her multiple awards including the Children’s Book Council of Australia Book of the Year for Ark in the Park (Harper Collins 1995) and her single adult novel, The House at Evelyn’s Pond, (Allen & Unwin, 2001) was shortlisted as an Australian Audio Book of the Year.

Wendy Orr emigrated to Australia from Canada in 1972 and settled in NSW where Wendy worked as an occupational therapist while raising two children and running a dairy farm with her husband. Wendy began writing seriously in 1986, her first book Amanda’s Dinosaur  won an Ashton Scholastic competition for an unpublished picture book text that same year. In 1991 Wendy was injured in a serious car accident and forced to retire, she and her husband moved to the Mornington Penninsula in Victoria where they are busy trying to restore their few acres of bush to its natural state as a home for wildlife. They share their home with Harry, the poodle-bichon cross adopted from a shelter and Wendy writes full time.

Rainbow Street Pets has been published this month by Allen & Unwin Australia and includes six tail-wagging, melt-your-heart stories of loyal, lost, playful and cuddly pets. Read on to learn what inspired Wendy to write about these wonderful animals…


Animals seem to have snuck into most of my books. (My mother’s treasure drawer still has a manuscript entitled “Glossy the Fairy Horse or Shetland Pony”. Titles and decision-making were obviously not my major strengths at eight.)  My first published book, Amanda’s Dinosaur, was crammed with animals, and a few years later Ark in the Park, a CBCA Book of the Year, was set in a pet store, albeit a rather magical one. And Fred and Selkie in Nim’s Island and Nim at Sea run a close second to Nim when kids write to me about their favourite characters.

But Rainbow Street Pets is the first time that the stories have sprung directly from the animals, rather than the humans around them.

Many of the stories are ones that I’ve been wanting to write for years, and have been waiting to see the format that would bring them all together. An animal shelter provides the perfect medium. We adopted our present dog, Harry, from the Lort Smith Animal Shelter between the writing of the first story about the lost dog Bear, and the second. In fact his history of initially being unsuccessfully adopted and returned to the shelter sneaks its way into the story of Buster, the cat with attitude.

Most of the animals of Rainbow Street are based at least partly on animals I have known, whether as a child or adult. Bear’s story is a combination of two border collies: Jack, my husband’s working dog before we were married, who visited us in town before we bought our first farm, leapt the fence, raced down the highway till he saw a ute at a traffic light, jumped in the back and ended up in a town 40 km away; and Bear, who leapt out of my husband’s ute the first day we moved to town from our last farm, and spent the day running up and down the beach with us following him, always fifteen minutes behind. (We got each of them home safely, eventually, and they both lived till well over sixteen, so were obviously not too traumatised by their adventures. )

Cappy the Lion Cub

Kiki the lion cub was based on the story of family friends – Mona and Juan – who already had six dogs and a three-legged goat when they were given the surprise (shock?)  gift of a lion cub (the offspring of Clarence the cross-eyed lion on Daktari).  Mona of the Rainbow Street Shelter was named in her honour. In the US version, Mona’s elderly helper is named Juan, but I decided on Bert for the Australian book.

And the story of the stolen horses comes from a mystery of finding a horse and pony in a hastily erected corral when I was out riding in the foothills in Colorado as a twelve year old. The Shetland pony crawled out under the fence and followed me home – but my mother made me take it back! I rode out every day for a week to pick grass for them, and then they, and the corral, disappeared.

Although I did have a guinea pig named Henry in my London student bedsit, his story (entwined with that of Nelly the reading dog) is one in which the child protagonist appeared first. I saw Sam very clearly in my mind: a very smart little girl, with mild athetoid cerebral palsy. I don’t specify what her problem is, because it’s not what matters. What matters about Sam is that she faces her problems, of her speech sometimes being unclear, and her coordination never being great, and she gets on with what she’s good at. I love all these kids, but if I’m pressed: Sam’s my favourite.

The individual stories are being published by Henry Holt (Macmillan) as separate books in the US. LOST! A Dog Called Bear, MISSING! A Cat Called Buster and WANTED! A Guinea Pig Called Henry are already out; ABANDONED! A Lion called Kiki will be released in July, and the final two four and eight months later. It was challenging but also fascinating to write them simultaneously for the two countries, not only changing language but the settings in my mind. (On the copy edit I did yesterday for STOLEN! A Pony Called Pebbles, I had to ask my editor: Did we decide to change this word, or was that for the Australian edition?)

I knew that one of the major changes was that there would be no illustrations in Rainbow Street Pets, and so I was absolutely thrilled when I saw the table of contents and chapter headings, with their photos of the animals. It was well worth the trouble of having to wiggle changes into a few of the descriptions to match their pictures. And to say I love the cover would be one of the understatement of the year: huge thanks to Bruno the designer, who’s made me a very happy author.

Learn more about Wendy Orr at

Website I Blog I Goodreads I Twitter

Also by Wendy Orr


Watch the Nims Island Movie Trailer

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Margaret Lynette Sharp
    Jun 04, 2012 @ 20:39:40

    Loved this guest post! Animals can be so surprising and inspirational, appealing to so many people of all ages and backgrounds! Wendy’s high status as an author of animal tales is well deserved.
    Coincidentally, our own dog is a rescued one, very cute, but had, like Harry, more than one prior home. She was only thirteen months old when we adopted her, and had spent a month in the RSPCA.



  2. Trackback: Bookish News and Publishing Tidbits 5 June 2012 | Read in a Single Sitting - Book reviews and new books

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