When the pandemic hit, and the world stood still, Joanna decided to use this time to write and illustrated her ﬁrst book
I have always loved crows along with many other creatures. But when I ﬁrst arrived in Colombo I spent a lot of time watching them play, squabble and became a lot more aware of them … because there were just so many of them there
I have purposely not given crow a gender. On the surface this is because when you look at any crow you cannot see if it’s male or female
Crows! They’re everywhere and are often considered to be mean, rude pests. But one traveller to Sri Lanka fell in love with the island’s crows, enough to pen and illustrate a book about these magnificent birds.Joanna Perry is the daughter of a doctor, sibling to doctors who are married to doctors! But Joanna chose a different path altogether. She studied for a BA (Hons) in Photography and has spent her career working in top ten Advertising Agencies in London in the United Kingdom as a creative. During this time she has bagged many awards including the prestigious Cannes Gold, Silver and One show.
In 2016 Joanna became Chief Creative Officer at Leo Burnett in Colombo, which is when she noticed and fell in love with Sri Lanka, and its very many crows.
When the pandemic hit, and the world stood still, Joanna decided to use this time to write and illustrated her ﬁrst book. While she enjoyed a daily swim in the sea, photography, and creative baking, it took a whole year for Joanna to write and illustrate OH NO CROW! in her garden shed in the south of France.
Excerpts of a conversation with the author of OH NO CROW! Joanna Perry
Q Where did the idea for OH NO CROW! come from?
I have always loved crows along with many other creatures. But when I ﬁrst arrived in Colombo I spent a lot of time watching them play, squabble and became a lot more aware of them … because there were just so many of them there. Once I had moved into an apartment I used to swim every day in the rooftop pool. The crows made full use of this as their own spa facility - drinking deeply in the morning and having a proper splashy wash at night. There would often be upward of 15 lined up along the edge of the pool as I swam up and down on the opposite edge.
Q When did you write OH NO CROW?
I started writing OH NO CROW! in September 2020 as the world went into a second lockdown. Advertising freelance work had completely dried up, and I was home in my garden shed studio with nothing but time on my hands. I started doing more of my own creative projects to give form to my day.
One day the three words OH NO CROW came into my head, and I thought it would make a good children’s book title for a story about a naughty crow that ﬁnds lots of mischievous things to do. The book almost wrote itself… as each page got written, it led me to the next step of the story.
QTell us a bit about your background
My family are doctors, married to doctors. I am the only one that took another path. I attended St. Mary’s School in Cambridge as a child and then went on to study for a BA (Hons) Photography at Nottingham Trent University.
I started out thinking I would be a Photographer’s assistant in the advertising world. While studying, I realised I was more interested in the ideas that go into ad photography than the technical side of taking the pictures. A twist of fate meant I got a job as a junior creative in an advertising agency in London. Writing and art directing ads is what I have been doing for over 25 years now.
That career has given me plenty of experience in storytelling, character development storyboarding and art direction, all of which have been helpful in bringing this Colombo crow to life. Damon Troth, my Creative Partner and dearest friend also worked with me to design OH NO CROW!
I ﬁrst visited Sri Lanka on holiday in 2014 and fell in love with the country and the people and a street dog called Lola - but that’s another story! When I was offered a job as Chief Creative Officer at Leo Burnett in Colombo, I jumped at the chance. Seeing crows every day certainly sowed the seeds for OH NO CROW!
Q Why a crow?
Crows are the most amazingly underrated creatures. The more I ﬁnd out about them, the more I love them. For instance - did you know that they stay with their parents for two to three years to give them time to learn all the skills the parents want to pass on to them? During this time they help
bring up their younger siblings.
They have a deep bond with their parents which mean that the offspring will visit them even after they have started their own family. Crows live for about 15 years in the wild, but twice as long in captivity. They are incredibly intelligent – it is thought they have the problem-solving skills of a 5-year-old child. Some people think of them as flying monkeys because of their superior intelligence.
The famous Aesop fable where the crow ﬁlls up the urn to displace the water so that he can drink is not just a fable, it’s true. If you check out YouTube it has ﬁlm of a magpie - also a Corvid (which is the family of birds that includes crows, ravens, magpies and rooks) - doing the exact same thing. They are feared and judged by some humans because they are black in colour, and are opportunistic city survivors. But really they do humans a great service, cleaning up our discarded half eaten food. I also love how glossy and healthy they look. In Colombo, the stray dogs and cats have a tough time on the streets, and it really shows. But crows take great care of themselves, are resilient and always seem to be the picture of glossy, beady eyed health.
Q Why did you decide to illustrate the book yourself?
After it was written, I started thinking about the illustrations. I have always been a bit of a doodler - but I wasn’t sure I could illustrate a book to my satisfaction.
However, I was very keen for the setting of the book in Sri Lanka to be totally authentic. I had plenty of time on my hands thanks to the lockdown! So I decided to do rough drawings that perhaps I thought could be used as a brieﬁng tool. Once I had done the sketches, I just kept going and my conﬁdence grew. As with everything, the more you practice the better you get.
The illustrations in my opinion are far from perfect, but I think the love in my heart for Sri Lanka shows through, and children don’t care as much about technical drawing skills as adults often do. It took nine long months to ﬁnish the story illustrations, but it was fun. Here I was, unable to go anywhere, but travelling to Sri Lanka every day as I painted the colours and characters of my favourite place on the planet.
Q Why did you publish it yourself?
I’m impatient! If you read the story of almost every successful book out there - it took many many rejections before a publisher ﬁnally said yes. Dr. Seuss was turned down 27 times, but went on to sell 600 million books. He could so easily have given up because the person who ﬁnally said yes was a friend who he accidentally bumped into on his way home, ready to burn the manuscript because it had just been rejected again.
In more modern times, J.K. Rowling had her ﬁrst book Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone rejected 12 times before it was published and became an overnight success! One notable exception from the books that are great favourites of mine is Dick Bruna’s Miﬀy (Nijntje in Dutch). But he had a huge advantage because his father and uncle had a publishing house. I didn’t want to wait and wait and wait to see OH NO CROW! in print. And I also wanted to retain control over what the book looked like.
Luckily, the internet and the world of apps like Facebook and Instagram allows creative people to do it alone and self-publish, and promote more easily. Having said that, it’s not a completely new phenomenon. Of course for a book to really be read by the world, you need the distribution might of a good publisher. I am hoping to ﬁnd a literary agent to help me choose the right publisher soon - that is the next step for OH NO CROW!
Q What do you think makes OH NO CROW! Interesting?
I think there are quite a few aspects to this story that make it a tale for our time. I have purposely not given crow a gender. On the surface this is because when you look at any crow you cannot see if it’s male or female; there are no dangly bits! But of course I did consider assigning one.
We all know that most books have a male as the default mode for anything adventurous, which is sad. But it did not feel right to make crow female either. I ended up thinking it would be better to allow the child to decide for themselves.
OH NO CROW! is ﬁrst and foremost a fun story about a naughty crow - but along the way it does open a child’s mind to the world beyond their cosy bedroom, and the poverty that exists out there. It gently facilitates conversations about how other people live which I hope will develop empathy in the young reader.
Little children love repetition. And they also like to exert a bit of parental-style power over toys and characters. The phrase OH NO CROW! gives the child a part to play in the story as it is read - which makes it engaging and fun. Those pages have a certain pantomime quality - which kid does not like to yell behind you when the villains are putting the hero in danger?
The book also begins to explore the idea of not judging a person or a situation with a knee-jerk response. The story twists in a way that shows the audience that sometimes all is not as it ﬁrst seems, which is a great lesson for all of us.
OH NO CROW! Is written and illustrated by Joanna Perry, 64 pages
First published October 14, 2021
Instagram page: ooh.no.crow
Available on: etsy.com