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A Koala Colony of Books in Half Moon Bay

Local publisher shares her story of how the fuzzy animal became the inspiration for 13 books.

by Joanne Ehrich

In my opinion, Montara artist, writer, and comedienne Nancy Margulies unleashed her creative genius with a completely made-up museum catalog. In the book Klassic Koalas: The Koala Museum of Modern Art Catalogue, she explains why certain famous artists really all were big fans of the koala, unearthing original artworks hidden from the public’s view for ages.  

I'm biased, of course: as a publisher here in Half Moon Bay, I worked with Nancy to bring this "museum catalog" to life. The collaboration between us sprung from a line of books I wrote and designed, including Klassic Koalas: Vegetarian Delights Too Cute to Eat (which includes party recipes in shapes of koalas) and Klassic Koalas: Mr. Douglas’ Koalas and the Stars of Qantas (featuring dressed-up koalas are accompanied by funny movie one liners and priceless images by Qantas Airlines).

The oft-asked question “Why koalas?” shall be addressed. I liken koalas' effect on people to listening to the sound of the ocean.

On display in Redwood City Historical Museum until March 1 are four large murals spanning the rotunda depicting Bay Area landmarks. If you look closely at the mural's depiction of Half Moon Bay, you will find a small colony of koalas added by artist and educator Lois White.

My interest in koalas originated several years ago.

In 2002, a friend passed on a news story that a baby koala had been born at San Francisco’s zoo. When I saw the new-born baby koala nestled in the arms of its mother, I noticed how these two animals held each other’s gaze with absolute serenity and unconditional love. The adults watching this take place — including myself — were stunned in disbelief about how everybody could be so affected by a small animal that was barely two feet tall.

In my opinion, they are content creatures that have a way of taking time out to observe what’s real in the moment. Like my Aussie pet parakeet and cockatiel birds, they have a way of recognizing another being. They appear to look at us and the world from outside of themselves, free of the burden of ego. It seems that they have a way of taking time out, just being themselves, and recognizing another being without judgment or any preconceived notions.

In 2004, I had an inspiration: the koalas are giving humans so much joy that we should help them with their continued survival. I decided to capture all I could about koalas. Over the past eight years, I have edited, designed, and published thirteen books under the Koala Jo Publishing label. My first book Koalas: Moving Portraits of Serenity, featured over 300 images taken of koalas by over 120 photographers from 24 countries. The American Library Association’s Booklist named it “…the best collection of koala images.” It also became the world’s largest koala book, weighing in at four pounds.

In learning everything there was to know about koalas, I discovered that in their Australian-island sanctuary, they essentially had no predators for centuries. Therefore, they didn’t develop the same fight-flight coding in the nervous system of other creatures, including us humans and most mammals. Upon visiting Australia, I learned the same to be true about many other Australian animals besides just the koala.

Founded as a colony for prisoners (known for anti-social predispositions), Australians have somehow emerged over the past two centuries as the least defensive and most outgoing and friendly people on Earth.

Could it be that the Aussies' unique natural environment contributed to the Australian reputation of being outgoing and friendly?  

The koala is the central figure of many ancient Aboriginal stories involving sacred and spiritual lessons, and I think there is something mystical about the way koalas stimulate these very deep thoughts in humans. Klassic Koalas: Ancient Aborigial Tales in New Retellings, by Lee Barwood, shows how the koala prominently features in Aboriginal culture. The stories are accompanied by illustrations I created with help of the students of an art school in Ohio.

Since there are only so many books one can write, I’m on to my next adventure: fun games for the iPad tabled and smart phone market. The announcements will be made on koalajo.com soon.

All books by Koala Jo Publishing (www.koalajo.com), now also for the iPad, are available on www.koalajo.com.

Koalas: The Koala Museum of Modern Art Catalogue
Koalas: Zen in Fur

Koalas: Moving Portraits of Serenity
Klassic Koalas: Ancient Aboriginal Tales in New Retellings
Klassic Koalas: Vegetarian Delights Too Cute to Eat
Klassic Koalas: Mr. Douglas' Koalas and The Stars of Qantas
Klassic Koalas: The Book of Valentines and Other Loves
Klassic Koalas: Vintage Postcards and Timeless Quotes of Wisdom

Klassic Koalas: A Summer Party in Koalaland
Klassic Koalas: A Coloring Book of more than 80 Koalas and Uniquely Australian Creatures
Klassic Koalas: The Book of Valentines and Other Loves
The Valentines Code
Vegan Delights

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Laura McHugh February 09, 2012 at 06:15 PM
Your koala work is beautiful Joanne. Thank you for sharing it.
Kristine Wong February 09, 2012 at 06:38 PM
Thanks for your comment, Laura...I'll be posting a gallery of photos from Joanne's Koala Jo books shortly.

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