Monday, March 23, 2009

Guest Blogger Mabel Jean Kaplan!

Today I have a new visitor at Spinning Pearls; Mabel Jean Kaplan, the West Aussie author of "Connie and the Pigeons". "Connie" was illustrated by Kelli Hainke, who drew the entertaining little lizard you see on this page.

Here's what Mabel has to say, but read on afterwards for some of my comments on Connie.


The writing of ‘Connie and the Pigeons’ was a real buzz for me. From the moment I read the six line blurb in a newspaper column, I had a story. An aeroplane of Australian historical significance had been rediscovered in an aeroplane graveyard in Tucson, Arizona by two Australian aeroplane enthusiasts where it had been saved from demolition by a flock of pigeons who had taken up residence inside her. All I had to do was get it out or get it down on paper.

Now I’m a storyteller at heart, so Connie’s first airing was during ‘Celebration of Story’ a storytelling concert in a small hall over Perth Central Railway Station. I thought it went over quite well until I saw myself on video. Ugh! Didn’t know I moved so much. Then I remembered the card I’d received from colleagues when I left one of my previous places of employment. It had shown a picture of a mechanised woman with an inscription that read: You could never be replaced by a machine. Too many moveable parts!

I knew then, this story had to be written down. In my mind’s eye it was already a picture book, I could see those moveable parts as ‘the ground crew climbed over her body, checked her joints, rubbed her down and wiped over her engine parts … put a drop of oil here and tightened a loose bolt there’ and when ‘she felt her body begin to shake so much her wings moved up and down' and again when she ‘shook her propellers and flicked her lights as she bumped over the rough ground.’


I’ve always loved aeroplanes. I remember as a child living on a farm in the north eastern wheat belt of Western Australia being woken one night by my father to see an aeroplane flying overhead. Since that time I’ve flown in all manner of aircraft large and small. In the ‘60’s, as a teacher on Kalgoorlie School of the Air, it was the Flying Doctor Service plane that took me out across the Nullabor to Cook on the WA-SA border to visit a group of isolated children. This is the desert I saw when I thought of Tucson, Arizona. In the 70’s I worked on an aboriginal settlement on Elcho Island in North East Arnhemland. The plane that took us island hopping was a single engine, two seater. Many a time a group of children and I looked on as an elderly mechanic climbed over the craft and carefully checked the engine parts after each flight. And I’ll never forget my first trip to Vienna in 1983. Vienna was my husband’s birth place and we were on a journey back to the haunts of his childhood. Bad weather prevented landing in Copenhagen, where we were to have changed planes for our flight to Vienna, and the plane was forced to fly onto on to Oslo in Norway. As we waited for our flight to resume, an airport attendant approached us and advised if we didn’t mind flying in an Austrian DC3 over Czechoslovakia we could leave immediately. We accepted his offer and were soon flying so low over Czechoslovakia we could almost see the grass grow. At this time Austrian airlines were one of the few foreign planes permitted to enter then communist controlled Czech airspace.


I find researching the background behind a story half the fun. For Connie, the story had all but written itself before I had time to do any research. But I soon discovered that Connie, far from being the name of a particular aircraft, was the generic name for all the Lockheed Constellations of the period from 1947 to the early 60’s. I uncovered a political wrangle between the Australian and British Governments over the purchase of the Lockheeds and in the process found the reason for Connie ending up in Tucson, Arizona. As for the so-called aeroplane graveyard, it turned out to be a museum. Saved by pigeons? Yes. But not because the smell of their droppings dissuaded would-be salvage crews from stripping her down, but because the acid in the droppings rendered the metal unsuitable for melting down and re-use. And the two Australian aeroplane enthusiasts? They turned into a whole team of men and women, members of the Historical Aircraft Restoration Society (HARS) based in New South Wales who worked tirelessly over many years to bring a Connie back to Australia.

But this was a children’s picture book and I saw no reason to complicate the story line with literal truth. Just knowing this background greatly enriched the story for me.

One piece of information I was really glad I didn’t know prior to writing the story concerned the pigeons. The live pigeons were long gone. Far from shooing pigeons from inside the cabin, the restoration crew spent long hours removing ‘tightly wadded nests of twigs and the remains of dead birds’ and scraping dried bird dropping from every surface and orifice.

The greatest delight of all came after the book was published. A telephone call from a Qantas pilot in New South Wales who had learned about the book from a Western Australian Qantas pilot. He was also a member of HARS and well acquainted with those involved in the restoration and return of Connie. He was full of enthusiasm and generous in his praise. I felt relieved and delighted the book rang true even to those in the know!


I never cease to be intrigued by the underlying messages different readers attach to a story. Here are two unsolicited comments about Connie and the Pigeons.

This book is based on a true story and the strange adventure of little aeroplane called Connie (Lockheed Constellation L749). But as with all books there is more. It is also about separation anxiety, friendship, doing what you do best, and even recycling! Kathy Pierce, Pittsburgh USA

The text is pitched towards middle and upper primary, the comic sans font enhancing the lively pace of the story. Kelli Hainke’s illustrations complement the text and encourage the reader to look deep and uncover more. Her wandering lizard has its own story to tell and adds a ‘Where’s Wally’ aspect to the story.

The text is ideal for thematic planning and act as a stimulus and springboard into further studies of flight and the history of aviation in Australia. Within my room I have used the ICP strand in S&E to encourage internet research in several learning areas.
Year 5 teacher, Caversham Primary School.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Thanks, Mabel, for a fascinating story behind the story of Connie and the Pigeons. The picturebook, (which you'll find reviewed at my other blog, ) tells a happy and simple story, but the guest blog you just read gives us the background and facts behind the story. As Mabel rightly points out, the sweeter and simpler aspects of the story are not strictly what happened, but, they are "right" for a picturebook. This seemingly throw-away comment deserves careful consideration. When turning a real event into a fictionalised story, authors must choose what facts to keep, what to leave out and what to change or smooth. Having been lucky enough to read both versions of the story, I believe Mabel chose well.

Follow Mabel on her blog tour. She is appearing at the following blogs.

Monday, 23 March Sally Murphy at

Tuesday,24 March, Sally Odgers at (You are here now.)

Wednesday, 25 March, Dee White at

Thursday, 26 March, Refuelling stop at

Friday, 27 March, Brenton Cullen at

Connie and the Pigeons is available through Westbooks in Victoria Park WA (08) 9361 4211

Email:; online through or direct from the publisher Stories for the Telling 54 Hudson Avenue Girrawheen WA 6064 Tel. (08) 9342 7150 Email:

For those on the Eastern coast it is also available from

HARS Souvenirs
cnr Airport and Boomerang Roads

Albion Park Rails, New South Wales 2527


Qantas Founder Outback Museum
PO Box 737
Longreach Qld 4730


Belka said...

Thank you, Sally O,
I am delighted with the way the piece looks on blog. You've contextualised it beautifully. And, I'm so glad you introduced 'Lizard'. I have more about him at the refuelling stop on Thursday.
Warmest greetings
Mabel K

Sally_Odgers said...

I look forward to finding out more about Lizard!

bigsister said...

Thanks Mabel (and SallyO), I will be looking out for your book.

Sally_Odgers said...

Thanks, bigsister. I can recommend this one,

The Book Chook said...

I must admit to a soft spot for books about my feathered friends!

Sally Murphy said...

Great post SallyO and Connie. Really interesting to get the extra info about the story.

Anonymous said...

This looks very interesting! Great job, Sally O, and Mabel

Anonymous said...

I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


Anonymous said...

I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


Anonymous said...

I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.