Overcoming A Fear of Spiders
Do spiders scare your children? Damian Castellini, a professional Animator and Illustrator from Deception Bay, was afraid of spiders until he self-published a children’s book with his partner, Michelle Jones.
Damian Castellini is a professional Illustrator, Cartoonist, and former animator who was afraid of spiders until he co-wrote a children’s book titled ‘The Not-So-Scary Huntsman’ with partner Michelle Jones. The recent release, already in its second printing, tells the story of a young girl who befriends Peeper, a misunderstood Huntsman Spider that lives in her garden. Delightfully illustrated by Damian, the book encourages reading, improves literacy, and helps overcome the fear of spiders by raising awareness of their environmental importance.
Damian, who previously co-created ‘Pip & Pete’s Antarctic Adventure’ for Australian Geographic says the idea for the Huntsman story ‘gestated’ for a couple of years as he and his partner Michelle established a permaculture garden in their Deception Bay backyard.
“We had to get used to Huntsmen rather quickly!Developing a story was a somewhat cathartic way to deal with my discomfort around spiders by painting them in a more sympathetic light.”
Writing a book on spiders for children was a little tricky, so the couple worked hard on
character design to make the spider appealing to children. And it seems parents agree. The
feedback so far has been overwhelmingly positive, with some parents and customers remarking, “The book has helped their kids and grandkids with their fear of spiders.”
“We had to get used to Huntsmen rather quickly!” Damian says. “Developing a story was a somewhat cathartic way to deal with my discomfort around spiders by painting them in a more sympathetic light.” More than just an entertaining text and exceptional illustrations, the story also promotes child literacy. Damian and Michelle collaborated to create designs and colours that would entice children to read, whilst the fun rhymes give confidence to young readers, particularly those who struggle with word pronunciation and language, an issue close to Damian’s heart.
Damian moved with his family to Australia from Argentina as a five-year-old and knew nothing of the English language. Feeling socially isolated, he borrowed comics & books from the library, such as TinTin and Asterix. The combination of graphics and text helped to untangle his understanding of English and boost his vocabulary. Damian also taught himself to draw and sketch whenever he felt bored or socially isolated. After graduating from University with a Fine Arts Degree, Damian worked as an Animator, 3D Sculptor and Cartoonist. His professional experience in the creative industries is broad. He has worked as a 3D Animator on children’s TV shows such as Balloon Barnyard, creating 2D animation and artwork for clients such as Rogers and Hammerstein and comics and characters for the education sector. Yet, he stresses that you don’t need fancy equipment to succeed in the creative industry.
“It's more about skill-building, forming networks, and just being persistent about getting yourself out there,” Damian says, adding, “It’s harder if you come from ‘less,’ but you can do it. The tools are not so important as the regular creative process. I write on a ten-year-old laptop that is more dust than computer,” he says with a laugh.
Comparing his upbringing with that of children today, Damian notes present-day kids lack ‘downtime,’ and are rarely allowed to experience boredom, a state that fosters and motivates creativity. He worries that the boundless stream of passive entertainment via television and devices might stymie creative development and learning opportunities, something he believes reading books will only nurture.
“It’s no secret that reading makes a big difference,” he says. “It teaches you to consider and compare ideas, to pause and reflect on a sentence you might not fully grasp at first. You need to analyse concepts.” Reading is something he wants the Huntsman tale to encourage, saying,
“We want children to think about what they are reading, with a few trickier words peppered in, so there is a little bit of challenge in It.” Furthermore, the couple practice what they preach. They ensured that a book encouraging care for the environment was printed sustainably in Australia. Funded partially by crowdfunding, the book was printed using 100% recycled paper without lamination to avoid adding more plastic to our landfill.
The authors are as passionate about environmental issues and conservation as they are about literacy and creativity. When not planting trees, swapping homegrown veggies, or advocating for community initiatives, they run a market stall at Northey Street Markets, selling their spider-friendly book, homemade plush, and recycled woodcrafts. Given the book’s success, Damian says more stories may follow but potentially with different characters. Right now, he’s working on several projects: "The Fairy Folio", with creatures like the Tuft Troll, who maintains tiny gardens in the cracks between pavers, and the Bindie Brownie, who plants prickles around the yard (along with hiding your shoes), as well as drafting a koala conservation-themed book about a boy magically transformed into a koala for a day, and a story about hoarders who save the community when supply chains are cut. “Once I've completed one project, I usually have three more in mind!” Damian stated.
The Not So Scary Huntsman
Available online: littlecastle.com.au
Quick Brown Fox Bookshop
Northey Street Markets
Moreton Bay Libraries.ng.