The casual teacher, illustrator and children’s book author uses her writing to help kids deal with difficult subjects.
Her gorgeous picture books revolve around a cat called Pepperpot, and deal with themes including diversity, disability and dealing with change.
For Cleall, who has a “menagerie” of pets in her own house, using cats to tell her stories was a natural fit.
“Anybody that’s an animal lover, you can see in animals personality attributes and I suppose it’s a safer vehicle for introducing ideas and thoughts because you’re not talking about children, you’re using another representation of children’s relationships through animals to communicate things, which is ... great!”
Cleall, from Kiama in New South Wales, moved from full-time teaching to a more flexible schedule so that she could spend more time working on her books.
She also visits schools to talk to children about writing.
“Gosh that’s a joy to visit schools in another capacity like that, because you see children’s excitement about ideas of writing and just the concept that they themselves could write a story with characters...” she says.
Her latest book, Pepperpot and Spice, sees her feline protagonist rescued by a cat with a disability, called Spice.
“[Spice] was actually inspired by one of my visits to a school, up at Bundanoon Public School,” she says.
“Two little boys there, after I left, they wrote some stories about new characters they’d like to see in future books and they actually suggested they’d love to see a disabled cat character who might be a bit of a hero, and I thought ‘what a marvellous idea’.”
Cleall also drew inspiration from her “eye-opening” experience working with adults with disabilities.
“...I just thought ‘beyond their disabilities these are people, with skills and their own abilities’ and you really don’t see that, you’re a bit blinded by disability, aren’t you?” she says.
“That’s what I wanted this character to represent, I wanted them to be a character that you don’t feel sorry for ... this character has their own skills and they’re a bit of a hero.”