Melbourne-based artist and illustrator Evie Barrow brings a moving story to life in I Saw Pete and Pete Saw Me, the new picture book written by Maggie Hutchings. We asked Evie more about her work.

I Saw Pete and Pete Saw Me is a beautiful story about a young boy’s special connection with Pete, a man experiencing homelessness. How did you go about illustrating the characters of the young boy and Pete?

Part of my job as an illustrator is to observe – I love to people-watch. Most of the characters in my books are a mix of real encounters and my imagination. For this book, that’s certainly true. In the text of this story, the child’s gender isn’t mentioned so when it crossed my path I made the suggestion of a young boy because I’d just worked on multiple texts with young female protagonists. Plus, I liked that this was an opportunity to illustrate a compassionate story about a connection between male leads.

What do you hope readers take away from the book?

I’ll be happy just for people to read it – but if they take something away from it, that’s wonderful. I guess I hope that it raises a sense of curiosity, compassion and openness. Perhaps it will provide an opportunity to chat about those in our communities who are vulnerable.

What were some of your favourite books growing up?

This question used to make me feel shame because I don’t have a strong memory of a classic favourite book and envied those that do. There weren’t many in our house but I remember pouring over pages of Little Golden Books from the ’70s and ’80s like, Scuffy The Tugboat, The Poky Little Puppy, and The Boy With A Drum. I actually think they belonged to my older brother.

Meg and Mog, Spot, and Clifford books were also borrowed on rotation from the school library. Animal sidekicks were a strong theme. I’ve always loved picture books – pouring over their images and escaping, be it visually or through story.

Your illustrations have been featured in both magazines and picture books. What do you love about your work?

I love researching and problem-solving, drawing characters, choosing colour palettes and the physical act of drawing – the sound pencil makes on paper. Colouring-in is fun too.

Do you have any favourite local bookshops?

Right now I miss browsing bookshops, a lot! My local, within walking distance, is a Collins Booksellers that has a great picture book selection and they’re always happy to order in a book. I also adore the enthusiasm, support and community that The Little Bookroom embodies. They are real champions of the children’s book industry. And then there’s Readings Kids in Carlton, Metropolis, Hill of Content and NGV in the CBD plus The Younger Sun in Yarraville. We really are spoilt for choice here in Melbourne.

What are you working on next?

I have two picture books finished that are yet to be published as well as illustrations in the new issue of frankie magazine. I’m also starting a new book with you, Affirm, that I’m very excited about, plus a few illustrated works for a group exhibition.