Sally Rippin didn't know that she was days away from death when doctors found the aneurysm in her leg.
"They caught it just in time," the wildly successful children's author says.
"I was about to jump onto an international flight."
The brush with "potential disaster" in 2022 was a wake-up call for the spirited writer and it was one that changed the course of her life.
After recovering from surgery she's gone from career strength to strength and was announced as the eighth Australian Children's Laureate in February.
"It's an extraordinary honour and I'm incredibly grateful to all the people who contributed to help me get to this place," she says.
Like Morris Gleitzman, Jackie French and other laureates, Rippin will promote the "importance and transformational power of reading, imagination and story in the lives of young Australians".
It's a title awarded by the Australian Children's Laureate Foundation, a not-for-profit organisation that was inspired by a similar program in the United Kingdom, and given to outstanding children's writers.
The Darwin-born author is in the midst of a prolific career with more than 100 books to her name over 25 years of professional writing.
The author has also tried her hand at adult non-fiction with the release of her 2022 book on reading and neurodiversity, Wild Things.
Billie B Brown and Jack, the title characters of her most successful kids' books, typify Rippin's outlook on the world.
As a tomboy child, moving from country to country with her dad's job, Rippin was frustrated with the limited selection of strong, female characters to idolise.
"I think it's changed a lot now but there seemed to be very little representation of strong female characters in children's books."
So she created Billie B Brown - a kid who stands up for herself and what she believes in.
"We really wanted to show that not only could you have a really strong female character in a children's story but her best friend, Jack, is a very sensitive boy," she says.
Boys are "often indoctrinated to feel that they have to be strong, powerful and not have feelings".
Rippin felt it was just as crucial to represent vulnerability in Jack as strength in Billie.
Despite these career triumphs, the author thinks her greatest successes have been in her private life.
The aneurysm health scare meant Rippin reunited with her high school sweetheart and, after a whirlwind romance, the pair were engaged in December.
"He nursed me through, took time off work and looked after me when I came out of hospital," she says.
Rippin couldn't be happier. "The highlight of my day is waking up next to him each morning, I wake up with a smile every single day."
The laureateship means Rippin is spreading this enthusiasm and her robust love of reading among kids during regular visits to schools in metropolitan, regional and remote towns around the country.
The role requires she visits schools in each state at least once per year.
But Australia's highest-selling female author plans to bring her own mission to the role by spending the two years of her laureateship advocating with decision-makers to fund appropriate teacher ratios in schools.
"There's a lot of pressure put on teachers to be a counsellor, to be a nutritionist and potentially to identify and know how to support a child with mental health struggles or who may be neurodivergent," she says.
"We're asking a lot of one person."
While researching her adult non-fiction book, Wild Things, Rippin found that teachers were desperate for support with struggling students.
She said "the number one thing" they asked for was a lower student teacher ratio so they could work one-on-one with kids who find reading difficult.
Rippin is speaking from experience as the mother of a 20-year-old son with ADHD and dyslexia who struggled with reading skills in school.
"I have to admit my youngest son's been my greatest teacher," the mother of three adult sons says.
"I really had to learn to step up as a parent to understand how to better advocate for him to get the support he needed," she says.
Before he came along, Rippin said she assumed slower learners hadn't been exposed to enough books or that their parents hadn't read to them.
This message is often given to parents - that if you read to a child from birth, they'll pick it up naturally, she says.
"It's actually not true and it can be really damaging for parents to hear that. Although, some children will appear to pick it up by osmosis," she says.
The author promotes an immersive approach when teaching kids to read. Drag a finger under the text when reading along with a book so kids can recognise words as they're spoken, she says.
Or ask them to shout out words they recognise from the recipe book while cooking together.
Some kids pick up language skills more easily than others but all children deserve the resources, attention and education to be confident readers, Rippin says.
These skills don't appear by chance, they require "rewiring of the brain", she says.
"None of us are born with the brain wiring to be able to read. We have oral language skills but we need to actually be taught to read."
Kids who slip through the cracks at school and enter the world as hesitant readers face stigma.
"If I was to say, 'I'm not very good at maths', you wouldn't judge me at all," Rippin says.
"But people assume that if you're not good at reading, it's because you're unintelligent.
"This is a really terrible myth."
Now, in the aftermath of COVID-19 restrictions, is the perfect time to talk about how reading is taught in homes and schools, Rippin says.
Parents were effectively sitting beside their kids in the classroom while schools were closed and learning transitioned online.
She says the zeitgeist shifted when "people were starting to recognise where their children were falling through the gaps," she says.
"They're seeing what they're not understanding or how they're not able to follow the instructions," Rippin says.
"Once our structures and support systems were taken away from us, a lot of people did recognise that their children were potentially neurodivergent."
Rippin says parents were also realising, during the lockdowns, that "a lot of those characteristics that children had, they'd inherited from themselves".
The author comes into the laureate position with the message that "all kids can be readers" and not just those who consume lengthy, complex novels.
Braille, oral storytelling, comic books and audio books hold great stories as well, she says.
"The kids are actually fine," she says.
"If we want to make the world a better place for them, I need to be speaking to the adults."
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