Tylissa Elisara on Writing and Representation

Photographic portrait of Tylissa Elisara for Lunch Lady Magazine

Inspired to write a children's book that represented her son's culture, Tylissa Elisara created Wurrtoo—a children's book described as Indigenous Blinky Bill meets Winnie the Pooh. 

Tell us a little bit about you. 

I don't even know where to begin, so I think I will provide five foundational facts about myself, if that’s okay:

  1. I am blessed to have spent most of my childhood with my large extended family, swimming in the beautiful beaches and creeks surrounding our home in Far North Queensland. 
  2. I am a social worker, and I have lived in Brisbane since late 2022 with my husband and three beautiful children (13, 5, and 2). 
  3. I had my oldest child when I was still a teenager. This experience has ultimately shaped the person I've become. I sacrificed a lot to be a mum while pursuing full-time university, full-time work, and my own personal development through counselling, etc. I’ve since found it extremely difficult to turn this switch off and am guilty of still overloading myself. 
  4. Currently, I am trying to find a balance between caring for my children, finishing a master's degree in writing, and working full-time as a policy officer in child safety. I hope to help improve outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, families, and communities. At the same time, I am engaging myself in as much publicity work for Wurrtoo as I can manage. I would also like to eventually study for a PhD relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies in children’s literature.
  5. If it isn't already obvious, I find it hard to unwind, but I do enjoy reading and writing while watching classic romance movies or Gilmore Girls when the kids are in bed.

What was your favourite kids book when you were a kid? 

I enjoyed the humour of Morris Gleitzmen's novels (especially Toad Rage and Toad Heaven). I also adored classics, which started when I first picked up The Enchanted Wood by Enid Blyton when I was seven. I loved these stories' magic and fantasy elements and often incorporated them into my own fantasies.  

What’s your favourite kids book as an adult?  

Besides Wurrtoo, which has changed my life forever, I still adore The Faraway Tree series, Winnie the Pooh, and The House at Pooh Corner. These were my son’s favourites when he was younger, and I will forever cherish my memories of reading them to him.  

Describe the moment you realised you wanted to write a kids book? 

I was seven years old, and it would have been when I read The Enchanted Wood or when we were asked to write stories in class. My year two teachers offered much encouragement through parent-teacher interviews with my mum, little awards on parade, and letting me read my stories to the class. I found the process enjoyable and fun, and the validation was just a bonus. 

Tell us a little about Wurrtoo

Something I haven’t really mentioned before is that the overall idea began when I read Homer's Iliad. The way Homer personified the sky was a new concept to me. Then, not longer after the 2019-2020 bushfires, I saw a video of a rabbit, a koala and a wombat seeking shelter in the wombat’s burrow. And that's how Wurrtoo was born.

But the motivation for this story unfortunately arose when my son experienced racism at the age of two. We walked into a servo, and I told him he could pick a lolly. The woman working there walked past and muttered, “Be careful of that one; he looks like he’s got light fingers”. My heart broke into pieces. It continued to ache when I read him bedtime stories without representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture. 

The book has been described as an Indigenous Blinky Bill meets Winnie the Pooh. Do you think this is an accurate description? 

Yes! I love this description. Blinky Bill and Winnie the Pooh were both hugely inspirational in the making of this book.

Winnie the Pooh is my son’s favourite story, and Blinky Bill is one of the classics that disappointed us with its lack of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander representation. The character in my book called Kuula is based on Blinky, and Wurrtoo’s naivety is lovingly based on “the bear of very little brain.”

What has writing Wurrtoo taught you about yourself? 

I am used to being independent and have a hard time asking people for support. That trait drew me to writing in the first place. However, the reality of writing is quite the opposite. I immediately grew comfortable receiving help from the beautiful teams at black&write! and Hachette. 

The writing process taught me so much about my own culture. I had to research and talk to numerous Elders and knowledge holders. Seeing how willing people were to help me and receiving such positive responses from the public since Wurrtoo’s release date has also shown me how amazing, kind and generous people can be. 

Who did you write Wurrtoo for? 

As I said earlier, I wrote this book for my beautiful son, Jaxon. We’ve been through everything together, and I owe him everything. He’s always been such a loving little person (when he was a toddler, he would only call me ‘Beautiful’ instead of ‘Mum’) and has grown into the kindest big brother and friend. I know I am biased, but he’s going to be one of those people who changes the world one day just by being the person he is.

When I read him Wurrtoo, he showed me nothing but praise and encouragement. His support is the sole reason I was brave enough to submit for a publishing opportunity. 

What do you hope kids feel when they read it? 

A few Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have said it has comforted them to see their culture represented in the type of books they used to love. One woman teared up telling me that if she had read it when she was younger, maybe she wouldn’t have felt so ‘weird’. I couldn’t have asked for anything more than this. Still, I hope that children from all backgrounds can enjoy the story. I think everyone can enjoy reading the story of Wurrtoo and Kuula and learning about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ways of knowing. 

Do you ever think of what Wurrtoo might be doing now? 

I would like to think that he and Kuula are travelling the island again, trying to find out what happened to their families. There were still a few real places along the island, such as Emu Bay, Kangaroo Head, Pelican Lagoon, Seal Bay (home of the sea lions) and Penneshaw (home of the little penguins) that I didn’t end up incorporating into the story. So, I hope they are out there exploring these new locations and having a lot of fun as they get closer to the answers they’ve been searching for. 


Hatchette are the proud publishers of Wurrtoo: The Woman Who Fell in Love with the Sky by Tylissa Elisara. Look for more kids and YA books by Hachette check here.