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Isla Fisher writes with the help of ‘tiny editors at home’

The actress draws inspiration from her kids for her children’s books.

Although Isla Fisher returned to dramatic film work in last year’s thriller Nocturnal Animals, the actress has taken the comedic edge she’s honed in live action films like Wedding Crashers and animated fare like Rango and poured it into her own series of children’s books.

Fisher, mum to three young children with actor Sacha Baron Cohen, talks to WHO about Marge and the Pirate Baby, her second adventure with the Button family and their eccentric rainbow-haired babysitter.

Q: Who inspired Marge, the beloved babysitter for Jemima and Jake Button?

A: She’s actually a combination of two of my best friends. Seriously! But neither of them knows it. One of them is just this wonderful storyteller and she can come up with the most banal situation can be turned into this magical, fantastical thing, which is half of Marge, and the other half is my girlfriend who is the eternal Peter Pan and just won’t grow up and sees the world through this very sort of childlike lens, which I also love. And so it’s a combination of them.

Q: She encourages some creative mischief from her charges but at the end of the day, they all end up ticking off the boxes for all the rules the parents have laid down.

A: Well it’s interesting. I wasn’t keen on the responsibility originally. I was more interested in having a character where there was no redemption, she didn’t learn anything and she unlocks the kids’ creativity and helps them approach problems or situations rather in a more imaginative and non-rules-based way. But then, as I started writing, the parent in me and clearly the parent in my editor felt that you want to leave a story with kids learning something. Originally, part of my inspiration for writing these were the really comedic books that my kids would read with not a lot of bad language, but situations where kids are being very sassy or back-chatting parents, and that was where the comedy was coming from. I wanted young people who are learning to read to have comedy that absorbs them in the story but without too much naughtiness or bad lessons being learnt.

Q: What kinds of books did you read growing up and how would Marge fit in? Is reading a family trait?

A: I love all the usual stuff, Dr. Seuss, A.A. Milne, I always love Winnie the Pooh, that character of him being such a loveable idiot. The lines were so original, and I love My Naughty Little Sister, which was a big inspiration for these books, and the Cat in the Hat, which was a big inspiration for Marge, too.

Q: A working on more stories for Marge? When do you find the time?

A: You know, I’m so lucky in that I have tiny editors at home and all their friends, so I’m able to just play around, read aloud at bedtime. What’s really important to me, too, is that Marge is really old in the story, because I feel it’s such a wonderful celebration of the two cultures coming together, the youngsters with someone old and finding her fun and finding her cool, because I feel older people get a little lost in society these days. Now that we have Google, we don’t need to go to the wise elder in the village and just find information out by ourselves, so they are less appreciated.

Q: What can you tell us about the third instalment?

A: The third instalment is super fun. It’s Marge and the Great Train Escape. I think that’s the last thing we decided on and basically I have Marge and Jemima and Jake Button taking a train to the zoo. So mechanical Marge gets up to all sorts of mischief and obviously saves the day, and then I have a really fun zoo story where Marge, at the penguin exhibit, is eating the fish instead of watching, you know, the fish tamer, and then my last story is Marge and the Missing Tooth because Jake finally loses a tooth because it’s been wobbly for so long, and that’s again, all the stories are less about what kind of happens but what everybody feels. The kids begin with something they might be nervous about and over the course of the story, they kind of tackle the issue and hopefully just helps.

‘Marge and the Pirate Baby’ is in bookstores now.