Meet our Team: Dr Anna Desjardins (Notley)

Dr Anna Desjardins (Notley)

Product Developer & member, MRU, BA/BSc (Hons), MA, PhD

Dr Anna Desjardins (Notley) is a picture book author who is about to release her first book of poetry for children, through MultiLit’s Putto Press. She describes the upcoming collection, titled Peppermint and Popcorn Days, as a project of the heart. Anna brings creativity, practical experience, a long-standing interest in language, a strong academic background in research, a love of working with children and linguistic expertise to the MultiLit Research Unit and product development team.

How long have you worked for MultiLit?

I started at MultiLit when my second child was one, and she turned nine this year, so I’ve been here eight years now.

Tell us a bit about your background and experience. What inspires you in your role?

I have an academic background in linguistics and child language acquisition. Prior to working at MultiLit, I was working in a research context, conducting experiments to understand more about how children learn language. I enjoyed this work, but felt that I wanted to link the satisfaction of research discovery with practical application. I also knew that I loved actually sitting down and interacting with the children involved in my research projects. Oral language is the foundation on which literacy is built, so it was a natural progression to look at moving into the world of literacy and education.

I was fortunate to find my way to MultiLit, which is a perfect fit for me! Here, research forms the foundation of everything we do, but that research is then analysed and translated into tangible resources that form part of a child’s introduction to, or ongoing journey into, literacy.

For example, I love the challenge of designing a lesson that we know from a research perspective is working on key oral language, reading or writing skills, while also ensuring the tasks are engaging and motivating for children. I find it especially inspiring to know that little stories, songs and games I have dreamed up to serve a particular educational purpose are out there in classrooms, in the hands of teachers and their students, acting as a piece of the puzzle that will shape their minds and open them to new horizons as they move into the world as readers and writers.

What are some of the key responsibilities in your role?

I sit across the MultiLit Research Unit (MRU) and the product development team. In the MRU, I wear my researcher’s hat, keeping abreast of important research and making sure that gets considered in our development of programs and associated materials. I also contribute to running trials of our products in schools before they are released. (When I’m lucky I even get to deliver a lesson or two.) In the product development team, I wear my creative thinking hat. I contribute to the overall design or lesson sequence of a product and then write actual content. Depending on the product and its requirements, that might be a scripted lesson to teach children a grammatical concept, a story for children to read practising particular sound-letter correspondences, an act-out game to reinforce new vocabulary, a rap song to help children remember the important parts of narrative stories, or an imaginative writing prompt to support them in producing their own written work.

Tell us a bit about your upcoming book

I am so excited about this book! It is a book of poetry for children, spanning themes from the dreamy to the downright silly. I think I never really grew up. (Do any of us?) So, this book has been about tapping back into how one sees the world as a child.

 I hope that it will offer children recognisable, as well as sometimes surprising, ways of thinking about things, and expose them to some of the wonderful ways in which language can be played with. 

The book has been illustrated by one of my oldest and dearest friends, Anna Falconer, and it very much represents a project of the heart for both of us. Anna has not only taken the images that were in my head and brought them into the world, but has added her own magical touches, which have lifted the poems into something more than my words alone. I can’t wait for little people to hear these poems read to them, as they linger over the details in the pictures.

What inspired you to write a book of children's poetry?

I had a beautiful book as a child called A Treasury of Poetry, illustrated by Hilda Boswell. I still have it. Every page of that book is stamped in my memory for all time, and I copied many of my favourite poems out so that I could carry them around with me in my own little book. I suppose you could say that the thing that has inspired me the most in this project would be the thought that our book might become, even for one child, a book like that for them. 

Is this your first poetry book?

Yes, this is a brand-new adventure! I have always dabbled with rhythm and rhyme, but for the most part, my efforts have simply resulted in silly bedtime songs for my children or in verses written into birthday cards for friends and family. Then I started writing some poems for MultiLit InitiaLit readers and the germ of an idea that perhaps my work was publishable was born. I realised that I already had the beginnings of a collection with bits and pieces that I had written over the years and stuck in a box, and I began to add to it in earnest. When I approached Anna to illustrate for me, it suddenly started to feel like something that could really happen.

I have also been fortunate enough to have some storybook work published through Putto Press this year, as part of the LanguageLift picture book series. It doesn’t feel very real yet, but soon I might start to feel justified in adding ‘children’s book author’ to my job hats!

What’s one thing you wish more people knew about literacy?

I think the message that ‘reading to children’ is important is well and truly out there. But what people might not realise is that it is not just the quantity of books you read, but the quality of the language interactions around those books that matter. It’s the conversational exchanges that happen as you read — talking about the storylines, the words or the pictures — that build children’s oral language and deepen their understanding of the content, laying a solid foundation for their own independent reading down the track. This can be the most natural of processes, following the child’s lead in what they have noticed in a picture, or playing with language sounds by encouraging them to join in with a refrain or an alliterative turn of phrase. The more interactive the reading process, the better.

Also, I would add, don’t discount the humble decodable reader! These books, which are designed for children to practise reading text on their own using sound-letter correspondences they have been taught, may not have the flair of a beautiful children’s storybook, but I can speak to the fact that plenty of work went into creating a storyline, carefully selecting words, and designing engaging illustrations to accompany the text. Although they appear simplistic, they are, in many ways, harder to write because of the constrained language that is used in each one. They serve as an important step in providing children with reading practice in the context of a real book, and good ones should fulfil that goal while still managing to inform, entertain and charm children.

You can buy Anna’s picture books from here .

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