“P is for Permaculture” spells out a kinder future for eco-conscious kids

This coming Saturday brings a special launch event at the Blue Mountains Cultural Centre for these two new children's board books. Photo: Loose Parts Press/supplied.

Vegan Editor Elizabeth Usher talks with author and publisher Sharon Baldwin ahead of her upcoming book launch at the Blue Mountains Cultural Centre.

Long-term vegan (17 years and counting), mum of two and erstwhile photographer Sharon Baldwin never expected to become a children’s author, let alone found and run a publishing imprint. Indeed, she describes the whole publishing world as something she “stumbled into”. And yet, 2021 saw her enterprise, Loose Parts Press (LLP), publish a full dozen chapbooks of her The Gardeneers series

Plus, in just a few days, she will be celebrating the launch of LPP’s first two full-colour board books for younger children, one of which she also wrote.  It’s called P is for Permaculture and presents the tenets of permaculture (“earth care, people care and fair share”) via an illustrated rhyming couplet for each letter of the alphabet.

Sharon Baldwin with the children’s board book she has written and published. Photo: Loose Parts Press/supplied.

The tagline on the Loose Parts Press website is “Ethical, Sustainable, Beautiful Books for Kids”. Although the children’s market angle was an unexpected turn, Baldwin’s interest in ethics, environmentalism and writing has a long history.

We first met when she burst onto the Sydney vegan scene in 2010, after moving here from San Francisco, and I remember being impressed by her energy, ideas and momentum. Well before the monthly Sydney Vegan Market, she started up a regular social event, Sydney Vegan Drinks (SVD), with fun gatherings at various venues around the Inner West. This was of course great for the local vegan community, but in the end Baldwin herself was probably the ultimate lucky beneficiary, as she met her now-husband Jim at one of the SVD nights! 

Sharon Baldwin recently baked a vegan chocolate ‘illusion cake’ for her husband, as his favourite food is eggplant! Photo: Sharon Baldwin/Instagram.

Baldwin was part of a core group of vegan bakers involved in fundraising at regular vegan bake sales, and her writing skills came to the fore in various blogs, including the food-focused platform Vegaroo, for which I contributed a couple of articles before it wrapped up in 2012. 

This love of writing dates all the way back to her teenage years. “I used to write plays; when I was in school I studied theatre and so I did a lot of play writing and it’s always something I’ve really enjoyed but never really intended to make a career out of it.” 

What also came as a surprise over recent years was an active interest and involvement in gardening and permaculture. Baldwin laughs as she admits, “I’ve always considered myself kind of a brown thumb, that I couldn’t grow anything!” It was only when she moved with her family to the Darug and Gundungurra lands of the Blue Mountains in 2019 that this began to change, thanks to a couple of courses on permaculture and growing vegetables at Lyttleton Stores, a not-for-profit co-operative in Lawson. 

Sharon Baldwin’s attempts to explain the principles of permaculture to her children, Luella and Nikolas, led to her new career as a children’s book author and publisher. Photo: Loose Parts Press/supplied.

At the time she vaguely knew what permaculture was, but it was learning the details of the twelve principles behind it that really hooked her in, especially the way the principles aren’t “just applicable to gardening but to all areas of your life”. 

When Baldwin went home and tried to explain what she was learning to her children, she started looking for age-appropriate resources to help convey the principles. She tells me she was able to find posters, handouts and information sheets but there weren’t any books she could find that were really about permaculture for kids. 

Baldwin chuckles as she remembers the process that led to the 12 chapbooks of The Gardeneers: “I just kind of sat down one day and started writing the first book in like you know two, three days, and then the second book and then the third book and then the fourth book and I was like, ‘Oh, I think I might be onto something there!’ … So that’s where it started!”

The Gardeneers is a 12-book early chapter series for ages 6-10. Photo: Loose Parts Press/Supplied.

From her own experience as a parent, Baldwin recognised the importance of bringing in a top-notch illustrator on the project, explaining: “My daughter’s nine and she still won’t read anything that doesn’t have pictures in it! … Luckily I live in a place where there are lots of creative people!”

In November 2020, local illustrator Tia Madden drew some on-spec sketches for the children who are the three main characters in the first book. Baldwin says: “I saw them and I was just like, ‘That’s them! Those are them, like you drew the kids in my head, that’s amazing!’” 

Local Blue Mountains illustrator Tia Madden brought Sharon Baldwin’s The Gardeneers characters to life. Photo: Loose Parts Press/supplied.

From that point, within just two days it was an absolute flurry to set up and launch a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter, that ended up raising more than 25% over the original target. One of the perks was a monthly subscription for the twelve books to be mailed out over the course of 2021. Baldwin confesses this “was a little scary, because I’d only written 5 or 6 books I think at that point, so I was like, ‘OK, I’ve got to commit to this!’”.

After delivering on the commitment and completing, printing and publishing the full dozen chapbooks of The Gardeneers, Baldwin began to receive requests for resources for younger children, which led to her latest offering, P is for Permaculture. She was also inspired by Ruby Roth’s V is for Vegan, saying, “It’s a book that we’ve read many many many times over the years with our kids.” 

Watch Sharon Baldwin read her new children’s board book P is for Permaculture in full. Video: Loose Parts Press/YouTube.

While there is no explicit vegan agenda in these Loose Parts Press books, Baldwin did want to ensure they remained “accessible to vegetarian/vegan kids and families … to sort of promote an idea of looking at permaculture through a lens that isn’t focused on animals as inputs into a system, which is sort of how in a lot of permaculture groups and writing that animals are talked about”.

She once again teamed up with Tia Madden, and at the same time set about publishing another children’s picture book, Goodnight Blue Mountains, written and illustrated by Skye Taylor and focusing on the striking landscapes, flora and fauna of the region. 

Skye Taylor and Sharon Baldwin will both be reading their board books at this Saturday’s launch. Photo: Loose Parts Press/supplied.

This coming weekend, at 11.30am on Saturday 7 May, brings a special launch celebration of both books at the Blue Mountains Cultural Centre in Katoomba. It will be a family-friendly event, featuring Baldwin and Taylor both doing readings of the two books, plus they’ll be running some kid-friendly activities, craft and art projects. 

The centre’s gift shop is stocking both of the books. Baldwin enthuses that they’ve been “champions of Skye and Tia and myself in terms of supporting local creatives”, and explains that the launch is tied in with the centre’s twice-yearly artisans’ market featuring various crafts and jewellery and items made by local artists. 

Sharon Baldwin leading a nature scavenger hunt along Cooks River for Sydney Creative Play, the non-profit children’s art organisation she ran between 2014 and 2018. Photo: Loose Parts Press/Supplied.

In wrapping up our chat and talking about what drives her, Baldwin touched on some serious themes that would be of concern to many Sentinel readers as well. 

“I’m extremely concerned about the environment at the moment … obviously there are lots of other issues that I’m passionate and that I care about, I’ve done a lot of volunteer work in the refugee space and am passionate about racial and social justice but … certainly the kind of looming environmental crisis as a parent I find very concerning. 

“You know, I think about the future that my kids are going to have and it’s terrifying.  … There’s only so much that you can do as a person so I try to focus my energy on just doing positive things that are making the world better in some small way … Writing, making books for kids, it brings me joy and it’s nice to have a positive creative output during times like this.”

Event details

11.30am, Saturday 7 May, 2022
Blue Mountains Cultural Centre, 30 Parke Street, Katoomba
Facebook event page: https://www.facebook.com/events/378286227481696
Featuring readings of both books, signings, Q&A with authors/illustrators, craft activities for children and books for sale. The books are aimed at children 5 and under, however kids of all ages are welcome, accompanied by a grown-up. This event is also taking place during the Wollemi Artisan Markets.

25% of the profits for “P is for Permaculture” go to NACCHO (the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation). 

Sharon Baldwin also does a weekly story time event each Thursday morning at Good Earth Bookshop in Wentworth Falls.

Loose Parts Press accepts manuscript submissions from Australia-based authors and illustrators, with the publishing criteria and submission process listed here. Baldwin is particularly interested in publishing children’s books that feature vegan themes or characters.

Sharon Baldwin is donating 25% of all profits from this book to NACCHO – National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation. Photo: Loose Parts Press/Supplied.

Elizabeth Usher is the vegan editor of the Sydney Sentinel.

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