Billie B Brown: the best friend who never grows old

If you have a young child, chances are you'll know the name Sally Rippin.

Australia's best-selling female author has published more than 70 books and sold more than 5 million copies in 14 languages.

But those numbers mean little to the 6- to 8-year-olds who are simply fans of Billie B Brown - Sally's most popular and well-known character - and Billie's best friend Jack.

Billie B, a young girl who is happy to be herself and stands up for what she believes in, is celebrating her 10th anniversary this year in her own Brave, Brilliant and Bold way, with the launch of three new books in the series.

Sally Rippin, who loved daydreaming and drawing when she was at school, created the Billie B character when she became a mum, to help one of her boys along his reading journey. Billie's been part of the family ever since and a faithful friend to thousands more.

Many readers will already know about you but for those who are just discovering your work, what inspired you to start writing for children?

SR: I was lucky to grow up in a household of books and always found reading easy. Nowadays, I have only to pick up a book from my childhood and I'm flooded with memories of the worlds they took me to and the characters that became friends.

I still love reading, but nothing replicates the connection a child can have with a book and how great an impact this can have on forming our views of the world.

It's such an honour to write for children. Reading is the best way we can understand ourselves and the world around us, as well as develop empathy for others, so it's a joy to think that my role is to be able to do this for children and hopefully help them develop a love of reading for life.

Author Sally Rippin

Author Sally Rippin

Read more from Sally Rippin

Why Billie B? What's so special about her as a character? How did you invent her?

SR: Even though reading has always been easy for me, I've since learned this isn't the case for everyone.

Like many parents, I truly believed if you read to your kid every night and gave them access to plenty of books, they'd eventually just pick it up for themselves. That was until my youngest son was born.

Unlike his older brothers, he just couldn't seem to pick up reading and began to say he hated it and books were boring. Which of course is something no parent wants to hear, let alone one who's a children's author!

My son needed books that were engaging, like the ones his friends had started reading, but was stuck with readers that may have been very pedagogically sound, but often weren't even proper stories.

So, I saw it as my challenge to create a series of books, using the language of an early reader, but with real character development and a storyline that would give struggling readers the incentive to persist.

When creating my characters, I wanted someone kids could relate to, so drew upon memories of my own childhood.

Billie is a mixture of myself at six, combined with observing my sons and their friends as they grew up. I wanted her to be a strong female character who could be a positive role model for little girls, and gave her a sensitive best friend, Jack, to encourage boys to feel comfortable to express their feelings.

But most of all, I wanted the series to be fun, affordable and collectible, to ensure all children across all demographics could access great stories and hopefully develop the confidence to try more challenging books later on.

This year marks the 10th anniversary of your first Billie B Brown book. Have children and reading habits changed much in that time? What are your thoughts on the increased use of computers and other electronic devices.

SR: All parents want their children to learn to read and I would say the majority of them recognise the importance of books, at least in those first few years of their child's reading journey.

This message is reiterated by educators and reaches far and wide thanks to our fabulous public library services and, if anything, has just grown stronger over the years since I was first published.

The way we absorb information from paper is completely different to how we read from screens, and there is nothing that replaces the tactility and warmth of books.

Technology will take over more and more aspects of our lives, but I am hopeful nothing will ever replace the experience of being read to, or reading from, a beautifully illustrated, dog-eared, much-loved book.

Why is reading important? If there was one piece of advice you'd give to parents about reading, what would that be?

SR: Reading is such a unique experience. Sharing a picture book with a child on your lap is a loving moment which becomes their first step to associating reading with pleasure.

Some children may struggle to reach the next step of reading independently and will need extra support during those crucial first years, but once they have developed the skills to be able to read what they like, there is nothing like the joy of losing yourself in worlds created from the depths of someone's imagination.

From developing vocabulary to empathy, reading is the easiest way for children to learn so much without even realising it.

However, if I have learned one thing from raising a struggling reader who was later confirmed to be dyslexic, my advice would be to slow the whole process down as much as you can, right from the beginning, and take the pressure off wherever possible.

Make sure your child is getting the right reading support they need and never make reading time at home become a battle.

Let them read what they want, even if it might look trashy to you.

Your job is to ensure they see books as a source of pleasure, not torment, even if that means reading aloud to them so they can experience the joy of great storytelling for as long as you possibly can.

Some kids will pick reading up like magic, but others will need to be taught.