A Word on Review Posts

Most of you who know me or have been following my review posts over the last eight years or more know that I’m forever on the hunt for the next great read. I simply can’t get enough of picture books, and am also partial to a gripping YA read and a belly-busting, laugh-aloud mid-grade chapter book.

And being a bit of an over-sharer, I like to tell people about the more illuminating and memorable reads that find their way to my desk and ultimately my heart (my bookshelves are far too full to accommodate them). Because good words were meant to be spread…

I’ve been doing this with regular review posts, author and illustrator interviews and feature posts from some of your favourite kids’ literary greats and some shiny new talents too for the Boomerang Books Blog, for yes, over eight years and have no plans to cease sharing great children’s stories anytime soon.

However, roads bend, circumstances alter and new directions need to be taken at times. So, while you may notice a drop in the regularity of reviews on this site, please stick around for the odd post from me or visit me at Dim’s Write Stuff where I’ll endeavour to keep you up to date with all the latest and greatest releases in the world of Kids’ Lit.

There’ll be links to where you can source any reviewed titles and of course you can continue  to take advantage of the great discounts and service offered by Boomerang Books.

Till next, #ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Thank you all sincerely for reading, sharing, caring about kids books!

Dimity

A Little Taste of Australiana – Picture Books to Whet Your Aussie Appetite

There are so many aspects that make our country great. From our exotic wildlife to our amazing landscapes and landmarks, and also our inspirational national treasures that become icons all over the world. With Australia Day fast approaching, it is a wonderful opportunity to not only research the past and celebrate the present, but also for our younger generation to think about their role in shaping a great, successful future. Here are little teasers of hugely beautiful picture books to honour the joys, wonders and beauties of Australia and all this country has to offer.

Yes, our country is great. But there are certainly ways to make it even better. Beck and Robin Feiner propose this ideology to our children; empowering them to build a vision for our future with their newest picture book, If I Was Prime Minister. This inspiring tale gives readers the opportunity to hear other kids’ ideas as they introduce themselves with concepts they’re passionate about. For example, Ziggy would hold NO CAR DAYS for scooters, bikes and skateboards. Each page encourages further thought and discussion into the benefits and practicalities over the long term. Illustrations are bright and bold, simple and straightforward, and brilliantly represent the narrative’s messages of multiculturalism, compassion, empathy, care and kindness towards each other and our sustainability. Imaginative, fun, insightful and powerful, a highly recommended resource for all our Aussie students to consider.

ABC Books, June 2018.

Joanne O’Callaghan and Kori Song are a dynamic author – illustrator pair from Hong Kong inspired by the beautiful and fascinating city of Melbourne. In Found in Melbourne, two children explore well-known, and not-so-well-known, must-visit places by counting and rhyming their way through the city and beyond. From ONE giant mouth at Luna Park to TWO people singing and dancing at the Princess Theatre, THREE trams past the Shrine, and so on. They reach TWELVE fancy cakes at Hopetoun Tea Rooms in Collins Street, 100 butterflies at the zoo, 1000 triangles in Federation Square, and 1,000,000 stories in the State Library. All sights are explained in the back of the book, which is lusciously illustrated with fine detail and sublime accuracy. A wonderful resource for young Melbournites to explore their own city, as well as visitors looking for superb culture, history and beauty of this vibrant city.

Allen & Unwin, March 2018.

Speaking of loving the place you’re in, The Gum Family Finds Home in this unique and remarkable Aussie tale by Tania McCartney and Christina Booth. The endpapers immediately draw the reader in with illustrated ‘photographs’ of proud and cheeky koalas enjoying their adventures in magnificent locations around Australia (Uluru, Karlu Karlu, The Bungle Bungle Range, just to name a few). McCartney’s language is just as magical with her lulling descriptions and whimsical phrasing, sweeping us up on the journey to find a safer, more suitable home for the Gum family – as opposed to the scarce, wind-swept tree they currently reside. Here is a gorgeous geological trip full to the brim with amazing facts, contemporary knick-knacks and stunningly illustrated landscapes with ancient ancestry. And all the while weaving in the characters’ conundrum, with a marvellous twist and ‘rock-solid’ ending to settle any questions regarding the perfect place to belong. Couldn’t be more exciting, interesting, informative and heartwarming than this!

NLA Publishing, August 2018.

Another book, which is absolutely gorgeous – a piece of art – by Tania McCartney, is Mamie; based on the upbringing of and celebrating the iconic May Gibbs and 100 years of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie fame. From the imaginative perspective of a little girl, Mamie lives and breathes fairies and pixies, singing, dancing and painting, until she is transported into another strange world across the sea to ‘creeks and dusty plains and the hottest of suns in high blue skies.’ But magic for Mamie is not far away and her dreams of reuniting with her beloved fairies and pixies becomes a reality, in the most amazing way possible. Together with the biography on May Gibbs, the gentle, inspiring tale and beautifully visual and playful illustrations, Mamie is an incredible culmination of fact and fiction and Australian native flavour. McCartney is the perfect choice to represent the supreme talent of this honoured creator and her legacy.

Angus&Robertson, November 2018.

Following picture books, The Singing Seal and Kung-Fu Kangaroo, third in the whimsical ‘True Animal Tales’ series by Merv Lamington and Allison Langton is the tenacious, Quite a Clever Quokka. Based on real life stories with value-based messages and featuring Australian wildlife, these fun rhyming tales always expose readers to a taste of the Australian landscape and our unique native animals. This one, set on Rottnest Island in W.A, circles around themes of chasing your dreams with Leonardo da Quokko, who becomes a famous artist and Archibald Winner, despite missing his home and friends. Clever by nature, clever by illustration, Quite a Clever Quokka certainly impresses with its energy, and ability to entertain, inform and capture the hearts and souls of any age reader.

Affirm Press, November 2018.

Happy Australia Day! 🙂

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Flames by Robbie Arnott

Australian literature is the best. Over Christmas I’ve indulged in reading the literature for adults I can’t easily justify reading during the year (but read anyway) when I am focusing on YA and children’s lit for work – and also pleasure.

I’ve been reading a mix of Australian and international fiction. I have to say that the Oz books are better. Highlights have included Trent Dalton’s Boy Swallows Universe (HarperCollins Australia), Marcus Zusak’s Bridge of Clay (Picador, Pan Macmillan, reviewed here), Gail JonesThe Death of Noah Glass (Text Publishing) – the best literary fiction I read last year by probably my favourite writer for adults – and I have just finished Flames by Robbie Arnott.

Flames (Text Publishing) is an extraordinary debut novel. Set in Tasmania, shrouded in the gothic and macabre, it reminds me of one of my all-time favourite novels, The Sooterkin by Tom Gilling (Text Publishing). Both novels share a kinship with seals. 

The cover is an abstract, reimagined Tasmanian wonderland, designed by the talented and charming W. H. Chong from a lithograph by Harry Kelly. It evokes both place and the elements of each chapter: Ash, Salt, Sky, Snow and Wood … Flames smoulder and taunt or empower the characters.

The tale begins with the return of Edith McAllister two days after her ashes were spread over Notley Fern Gorge. “Now her skin was carpeted by spongy, verdant moss and thin tendrils of common filmy fern. Six large fronds of tree fern had sprouted from her back and extended past her waist in a layered peacock tail of vegetation.” She is one of several McAllister women to appear after cremation, causing her grieving son Levi to commission a coffin for the eventual death of his twenty-three-year-old sister Charlotte in the hope that this will alleviate fear of her own reappearance after death.

As well as Levi’s viewpoint, the author shares the perspective of Charlotte, who escapes to remote southern Melaleuca; Karl, who bonds with a seal to hunt the Oneblood tuna (and witnesses the most harrowing and unforgettable scene in the novel); and his daughter Nicola who loves Charlotte. Other characters include the coffin-maker (whose derangement is largely shown through his letters to Levi); the “Esk God” water rat; the farm manager who cares for the wombats; the gin-swilling female private investigator and the enigmatic Jack McAllister. The entwined lives of these characters are skilfully explored.

The setting will be familiar – and not – to those who know the Tasmanian landscape. Place is wrought superbly. Images are unique and expressionistic. Flames are volatile.

Flames has deservedly been shortlisted for the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards fiction prize, alongside The Death of Noah Glass. Australian literature is flourishing.

Review: The Vanishing Throne by Elizabeth May

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The Vanishing Throne by Elizabeth May is the follow up to the first book in her Scottish steampunk faerie series, The Falconer. Since I adored The Falconer so much, I went into this one with high hopes for another amazing and heart-pounding action adventures. It did NOT disappoint! In fact, I feel thoroughly exhausted right now from just how intense and face-paced this book was. It drove us forward into a war-torn world, from wicked faerie prisons to a destroyed Edinburgh. I felt like I fought battles, wielded a sword, and unravelled faerie secrets right alongside Aileana. I think that’s why I adore this series so much! It makes you feel part of the world, taking every step and breath with the protagonist.

The story takes off several months after the events of The Falconer. Aileana is now imprisoned by the wicked and evil Lonnrach as he drains her blood and roots through her memories looking for a hidden object. And Aileana is not alone alone, she has no idea if the world survived the breaking of the seal and every monster in faerie escaping into the world. Are her friends alive? What happened to her love, her mysterious faerie warrior partner, Kiaran McKay? Every day is a torment of wondering and hating herself from failing to keep everyone safe. Until she gets a chance to escape, aided by Kiaran’s long lost sister, who will stop at nothing to get Aileana back home. Except home is not what she left. And Lonnrach will stop at nothing to get her back. Even with her Falconer lineage making her a better warrior, it’s not enough. Aileana needs to unlock her powers — but the cost of that is so very deathly high.

As a huge fan of faerie stories in general, I really loved exploring May’s Scottish variation. I’m used to the Irish strains with Holly Black, Cassandra Clare, and Maggie Stiefvater’s books. But this really pulls forth a dark and viciously monstrous breed of faerie who are very far removed from being human. Sometimes I found the rules of their powers a bit convoluted and would’ve preferred some clear-cut definitions, but overall it was nail-biting not knowing which fae alliances would hold and which were doomed from the start. We also explore more into the backstory of the Seelie and Unseelie rulers and some ancient and dark forces who have answers Aileana would do a lot for. It was also excellent to finally find out the origin of the Falconers themselves.

Aileana continues to be a collision of vulnerability and violent warrior. I love this about her! We’re not given a YA character who just bulldozes into any dangerous situation. Oh Aileana wants to fight. She will fight anything (Kiaran also is 10/10 fond of stabbing things and is frequently told to sit down). But the book takes time to explore the PTSD of the traumas she’s gone through, to talk about her fears and feelings. It made the story so personal throughout all the action scenes and plot twists. I also was relieved that the 1800s “proper society” speak and plot lines had been retired (um, due to the world turning to ash and war) because Aileana was less constricted by that and free to be her badass self.

The friendship between Aileana and Kiaran’s sister, Aithinne, was a delightful surprise! Finding female-friendships you just can’t help but root for is my favourite thing. Aithinne was also a fantastic character, a bit mad from being locked up so long, and very flippant in fighting so she’d try Aileana’s patience amazingly. She brought some humour to the otherwise intense and dark storyline. But Aithinne also had her traumas. The book touched on women bonding together and lifting each other up in the face of having been abused by a man, and it was very tone-appropriate for this day and age too.

The book also explores a lot of the backstory and history of the faerie kingdoms. It’s a lot, but it was so good to get answers…and obviously unwind more questions. Some of the story takes place in the pixie kingdom where there’s a fragile alliance with some of the fey and the remaining living humans. There are also explorations to fae realms and shadow realms, and it keeps you on the edge of your seat the whole time. Not to mention the battles! The word we’re after here is: INTENSE.

This was a very satisfying sequel, with no hint of a lagging pace, and I couldn’t have been more pleased! The unwinding romance of Aileana (a girl who causes chaos) and Kiaran (a boy who brings death) is addictive and satisfying and I can’t wait to see where it goes in the finale, The Fallen Kingdom.

A Discovery of Witches (Times Two)

Having once been a must-read-the-books-before-watching-the-show purist, I’ve come full circle, watching A Discovery of Witches before I even knew there was a book of the same name to read.

Clearly I’d missed the cultural zeitgeist memo, with Deborah HarknessAll Souls trilogy, of which A Discovery of Witches is the first instalment, being popular enough to warrant being picked up for TV.

But with the first A Discovery of Witches season just eight—albeit excellent—episodes long, and a second season only commissioned after the first series went gangbusters and therefore not yet even shooting, there’s frustratingly too little televisual offerings of the tale available.

Which is why I am, frankly, grateful for the books. Or, rather, even more so than usual.

How close is it to the book? I wondered while watching the show. And what happens after the cliffhanger Season 1 left us on?

The short answer is: very close, with the TV show staying incredibly true to the book save for some (I would argue necessary) tightening up of a few plot points to keep the story moving swiftly. The other short answer is: I’m just about to find out. I’m waiting for the second book to arrive, so will be able to report back just as soon as I have it in my hands.

For those uninitiated with A Discovery of Witches—as I was just a few weeks ago—the book introduces us to the complex crossover of the lives and politics of witches, vampires, and daemons. Protagonist Diana Bishop is an orphaned witch turned academic of alchemy who doesn’t operate as a witch.

When she unknowingly calls up a long-lost book from the Oxford library stacks—a book that is rumoured to contain answers about the three creatures’ beginnings and potentially endings—she attracts the interest and the ire of witches, vampires, and daemons alike.

In particular, she attracts the attention of vampire Matthew De Clairmont, with an attraction between the two of them crossing the traditional bounds of vampire–witch relationships. Cue much tension between the different species surrounding them and the elusive manuscript. Also much banter between all three.

A perk of coming to the series so late is that all three books in the trilogy are already available. Which means the only thing getting between me devouring the tale is the fact that I’m waiting for Books 2 and 3 to arrive in the mail.

Boomerang Books has notified me that the books have shipped and I’m eking out the final pages of Book 1 while I wait. Suffice to say I’ll be shaking down the postie every time they so much as look in my mailbox’s direction …

Picture Books to Prepare for School – Part 2

In Part 1 of the ‘preparing for school’ series, we focused our attention on themes relating to new beginnings and gentle steps towards independence and new friendships. This post will include picture books with beautifully heartwarming sentiments of embracing our own and others’ individuality, uniqueness and personal preferences, what makes us human and advocating for equality. A value-driven start to the new year will set us all up for a peaceful, harmonious future.

Beginning with P. Crumble and Jonathan Bentley’s new release; We Are All Equal, this issue-based, prevalent topic in today’s society is a terrific resource to introduce to youngsters right from the get-go. Actress, comedian and LGBTQIA rights activist, Magda Szubanski, gives it “A resounding YES!” Here’s a book that truly celebrates the richness of difference and the reinforcement of equality despite lifestyle, origin, wealth, ability, size, shape, or gender or sexuality preference. We Are All Equal uses its gorgeous illustrations of a range of animals to highlight our wonderful diversity without preaching didactic messages. Rather, it phrases each rhyming verse gently and with the opening of “We are all EQUAL…” It dispels the idea of bullying and performance-based pressures, and focuses on sharing our hopes and dreams, pride and sense of community. A must-read for children and adults globally.

Scholastic, November 2018.

Ann Stott and Bob Graham address another current topic of today in Want to Play Trucks?. Acceptance, compromise and negotiation are all qualities that make the friendship between Jack and Alex so special. Here are two boys with differing preferences that encourage us as readers to challenge common gender stereotypes. They are excellent role models for our young children who may come to the playground with already-formed preconceptions on what is ‘typical’ behaviour. The narrative involves heavy dialogue between Jack, who likes noise, action and danger, and Alex, who enjoys “dolls that dance and wear tutus”. Graham further reinforces the notion of ‘getting along’ in this diverse environment with his subtle illustrative references to culture, ability and lifestyle in and around the sandpit setting. Want to Play Trucks? shows us a very raw and real look into a non-stereotypical world of imagination and pretend play. Recommended for pre-schoolers and beyond.

Walker Books, August 2018.

The pairing of Nicola Connelly and Annie White come together again following the gorgeous My Dad is a Bear in this fun, light-hearted tale of diversity and inclusivity; it’s Is It The Way You Giggle? This is a sweet rhyming story with whimsical, soft-palette and energetic illustrations that ooze with the magical essence of joy in childhood. The narrative begs a thousand questions for the reader to ponder, beginning (and ending) with the essential premise – “What makes you special?” There are a multitude of qualities, skills and characteristics that make us all unique, and this book is a beautiful discussion starter to have with your little one upon entering the journey of new experiences – to be able to be proud of and confident in who they are, as well as recognising and welcoming the similarities and differences in others. From the colours of your eyes or skin, to the shape of your ears, the things you enjoy like singing and dancing, the way you giggle or wiggle, your interests in painting, writing, reading or swimming, or how you love your family. Big, small, common or quirky, this book allows us the freedom and celebration of being unique. Is It The Way You Giggle? is a feel-good story for preschool-aged children that will certainly bring a smile to their face.

New Frontier Publishing, April 2018.

Filthy Fergal comes delivered in a whole league of its own when it comes to books on individuality. Sigi Cohen of the My Dead Bunny fame, together with illustrator, Sona Babajanyan, unapologetically present this disturbingly witty rhyming tale of a filthy boy thriving in the repugnant squaller of rubbish and flies. In similar vein to the legendary classics of Paul Jennings, through grime and repulsion and gag-worthy moments, there is love and family and an all-important ‘twist’ that aims to melt your heart. The text’s dark humour matches perfectly with the illustrations’ ominous and grungy mixed-media, multi-layered techniques. Filthy Fergal may not overtly promote good hygiene practices, but it does clean up in the areas of exploring belonging, commonality and difference, and being true to yourself. Suitably unsightly for school-aged children.

Yellow Brick Books, October 2018.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Review: Girls Of Paper And Fire by Natasha Ngan

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Girls of Paper And Fire by Natasha Ngan is a brutal and harrowing story, mixed with gorgeous writing and a lush setting and a heroine you can’t help but adore. It’s a dark premise, but it’s handled so well, and it’s also important to discuss. And how amazing it is to see YA shelves being filled with more and more diverse fantasy tales?! This is rooted in Asian lore and myths and also has a sweet and lovely queer girl romance, along with demons and rebellions, secrets and assassins, and women who fight back.

The story follows Lei, who is a member of the Paper caste — the lowest of lows and also, disgracefully, human. The world is ruled by demons, with a demon king on the throne who has zero tolerance for rebellions. Her life is pretty quiet and simple as she lives with her father since her mother was taken by the palace some years ago. But then the palace guards return, this time for Lei. He’s heard tales of her intriguing golden eyes and he wants to own her too, nevermind how Lei feels about it. With no option but to go (or die), Lei is taken to the palace and turned into one of the king’s concubines. She and eight other girls are trained to serve him, learning to charm and be delicate ladies with manners. But Lei wants to find out what happened to her mother and she’d rather see this king destroyed instead of taking more girls. Amidst trying to stay afloat in this quiet but backstabbing world, she starts to fall for one of the other girls in the king’s consort: the mysterious and beautiful Wren, who is definitely more than she seems. Lei is determined not to lie down and let the world walk over her. It’s time to show the world she’s not made of paper, but instead: fire.

I particularly enjoyed the world building Ngan gives us. It’s intense and well-developed, making it a delight to explore as we learn the history and why the demon king is in power. It had a lot of typical average-YA-fantasy things going in, but wrote them in a captivating fresh voice. The inspiration is from the author’s own Chinese and Malaysian background and I think that’s incredibly special too. You can tell how much heart and love went into this telling!

The premise is ultimately very dark, centring around a demon king who murders humans and rapes his consorts. While it never gets graphic, it is also careful to unpack and discuss this horror. I’m actually really glad the author is dealing with this dark topic for teens because, as she said in her author’s note: While I realise these are hard discussions, especially for teens, it is of vital important we have them. Books can be safe places to explore difficult topics. While we cannot shelter young people from being exposed to sexual violence, whether through lived experience or indirectly, we can give them a way to safely engage with and reflect upon these issues. I hope Girls provides such a space.” This is so so true. Teens are aware and affected by these issues TODAY and they need discussion, not sheltering. It’s a horrible and harrowing topic, but handled with care.

I also loved the inclusion of romance between Lei and Wren! They’re so sweet together and I loved how their initial attraction grows into a deeper and lovely bond. It’s also special to see lgbtqia+ romances starring in fantasy books, because that’s still something we’re starved of!

Lei is such a winning protagonist too. She’s so real. She’s unsure and anxious, and prone to impulsive decisions. I loved her brave and fiery side, but also how she wasn’t stony or closed off. Her heart was on her sleeve and it was refreshing to have a heroine who is equal parts brave and awkward.

Honestly these girls just stole the whole book and are here to steal your hearts as well. It’s a gripping and emotional read, fantastically written and engaging. It features people who are cruel and people who are kind. It’s no light fluffy fantasy, but it’s one that will stay with you and make you think.

Review: Waiting for Elijah

There are some books you take a deep breath before opening, and Kate Wild’s Waiting for Elijah is one such book. That’s not because you don’t want to read it, but because you know it contains information that will upend your understanding of the complexity of life. Specifically: mental health and what we ask of families, our health system, and our police in trying to grapple with it.

Before proceeding I should say that Waiting for Elijah undoubtedly warrants reading. The book examines the circumstances surrounding, and the aftermath of, Elijah Holcombe—a smart, well-loved, gentle university student and husband suffering from mental illness—being shot dead by a police officer in 2009.

Elijah’s death was one in a series of fatalities where police had shot people struggling with mental illness. Whether Elijah moved—forward, backward, aggressively or otherwise—remains critical to understanding the shooting. Worried he was being pursued by police officers intent on killing him, Elijah had grabbed a knife—a bread knife, but a knife no less—and run when the police had tried to approach him.

Tragically, Elijah’s parents had earlier gone to the police station and explained that Elijah was harmless but was having an episode and was, as a result of his hallucinations, very afraid of the police.

By Elijah’s parents’ reckoning, the police officer who shot Elijah should have known this information and handled the situation differently. But through a series of administrative sliding doors moments, he didn’t. And as an officer faced with someone holding a knife and who wouldn’t drop it when asked, was the officer at fault?

There are arguably few authors more qualified to examine the issue sensitively and well. Wild is an ABC investigative journalist whose work has attracted three Walkley Awards and a Logie. Perhaps most recently and notably, her reports were instrumental in leading to a Four Corners story on juvenile detention in the Northern Territory that kicked off a royal commission.

In Waiting for Elijah, she turns her attention to the timeline of Elijah’s death, setting out to specifically understand what happened in the crucial moments that led to his death and to generally understand the difficulties around tackling mental health—particularly relating to police officers’ roles as first responders.

Elijah’s death was undeniably tragic for everyone involved, but Wild also paints an empathetic tale of a grieving family’s compassion and refusal to label the police officer as a monster—they maintain all along he is simply a man in an impossible situation who made a mistake.

As Wild determines, police are trained to exert authority and gain control of a situation, which is very often the antithesis of what a person with mental illness will respond favourably to. But the solutions require understanding and nuance and training—and even then the issue is still incredibly complex.

As she notes: ‘If a police officer acted in accordance with their training, their perception could not be flawed. Reality resided in a training manual somewhere, not the human frailty that collided in Cinders Lane.’

Slam Poetry: ‘Limelight’ by Solli Raphael

Solli Raphael is a phenomenal Australian slam-poet. I was fortunate to meet him at a Penguin Random House roadshow. He is a personable, thoughtful young man with an enormous talent. He is only thirteen.

Solli is the youngest Australian to win the all-age poetry competition, the National Australian Slam Poetry Finals, held at the Sydney Opera House in 2017. This led to a TEDx solo live poetry performance at Sydney’s International Convention Centre in front of 5000 people and a solo performance at the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast in front of 35,000 people (with millions watching here and around the world) in 2018.

He has a vision that sees people caring for all humanity, as well as for our environment. He writes and delivers his poems with thoughtfulness and engagement. You can view some of his performances online (links below). He presents his important themes and issues with developing tone and pacing, enhanced by thoughtful, apt facial expressions and gestures.

And now he has written a book, Limelight where he introduces slam poets as people who “use their personal experience to tell a poetic story”, often employing rhyme. Repetition, alliteration and assonance also feature in Solli’s work. Solli and his fellow slam poets aim to raise awareness on issues such as the environment or racism.

In Limelight Solli shares his experiences of some of his formative performances and gives writers’ tips. These include his creative discipline of brainstorming ideas at the same time each day and how he counteracts writers’ block. He explains some of the figurative speech he uses, such as similes, metaphors and idioms.

There are over 30 poems (in a range of forms) and slam poetry in the book. The title poem, ‘Limelight’ is a combination of slam poetry and song. ‘We Can be More’ is a paean to protect the planet: “realise that your litter is a bitter pinch to the earth”. Solli’s performance of ‘Australian Air’ has been viewed 3.5 million times online and is a highlight of the book. Its play on “air” and “heir” challenges us to act to save our country. Its refrain, “We breathe in, we breathe out” gives us space to physically breathe in and out and recognise the essential nature of air and breath: something we can’t survive without and we ignore at our peril. Other poems include ‘Media Literacy: Fake News’ and ‘Evolution’.

Solli has a list of upcoming appearances on his website. He is worth seeing as well as reading.

Slam and similar poetry are of particular appeal to young readers but Solli Raphael offers creative, intelligent, challenging ideas, all wrapped in hope, for everyone.

Web: www.solliraphael.com.au

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCRLfzW5wCxIqnyXaoE2nOlw

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/solliraphael/

Instagram: @solliraphael

Picture Books to Prepare for School – Part 1

Whether your little one is a school starter or not, undoubtedly, they will need to prepare themselves for a new year of friendships, challenges, opportunities and exciting adventures. There will also be chances to inquire into and discover all new domains, hence raising even more questions about the world than ever. The following picture books are the perfect guides to helping with the navigation of unfamiliar experiences and the mastering of the already familiar. All the best of luck and success for the year ahead!

Philip Bunting is such a genius! In How Did I Get Here?, this author-illustrator pro takes us on an amusing and absolutely fascinating journey through life. That is, life as we never knew it before we came into existence. But what exactly was existence like back at the beginning of time? Well, according to Bunting, “our entire universe fit into a space smaller than an orange.” And then there was a really BIG BANG, and particles formed to create ginormous dust clouds. I love the language put so simply and whimsically, yet appropriately contextual and factual as to not undermine the intellect of our inquisitive readers. Scoring through the development of Earth to the first forms of life, we come to realise that we are all related, all created equal – that “All of life is one.” Over generations life forms adapted and changed, evolution brought on many species, including Homo sapiens, whose curiosity took them to all corners of the Earth (“Except Antarctica. We left that to the penguins.”). Bunting raises an important concept, and empathetic touch, in reminding us that our similarities and differences unite us as one. As well, he leaves us with a special, heartwarming feeling that the miracle of life – that is you – is a culminated creation from those particles that were once part of the stars and Earth. But imagine if any of those occurrences happened differently… another existential query to ponder!

With its endearing storytelling narrative, and funny speech bubble dialogue amongst the enchanting cartoon-style, stone-age characters and cute diagrams, How Did I Get Here? is incredibly insightful and entertaining for ages four and up. Here is a book to be utilised on repeat with a different insight, perspective or question to be gathered each read. Perfect for new beginnings, if you know what I mean!

Koala Books, August 2018

Maddie’s First Day by Penny Matthews and Liz Anelli reminds me of both my girls when they started school. Here’s a sweet story of taking those vital little steps to independence when faced with the mammoth journey into schoolhood. Maddie is excited about her new adventure and eagerly prepares all her essential items, including her uniform, pencil case and water bottle. But she also ensures she is not without her special security blanky – secretly hidden in her school bag for the first day. The expression ‘wobbly feeling in her tummy’ so accurately portrays the myriad of emotions these small children experience. The anticipation of an unfamiliar classroom to the comfort of seeing old friends, and the enjoyment of making new ones. It’s all part of Maddie’s growth towards adjusting to big school. When she is challenged about her maturity for bringing her blanky to school, Maddie finds common ground with another and shows great resilience and confidence in her ability to move forward… although, blanky is never far away, just in case!

Matthews outlines many common aspects related to starting school in a beautiful narrative that reflects its own individuality with plenty of heart. Her character’s surroundings emanate a mix of love and support, and this is equally shown in Anelli’s gorgeous illustrations mixed with patterned collage media and soft pencil detail. Maddie’s First Day is packed with gentle touches of reassurance and the comfort of knowing you are not alone on this exciting, and often nerve-racking adventure.

Walker Books, September 2018.

Many of us have been here at some point in our lives – it’s the feeling of invisibility (in the non-magical sense). Best-selling author Adam Wallace aptly highlights a concept that many have felt but not many want to talk about. In Invisible Jerry, sensitively illustrated by Giuseppe Poli, Jerry glides through school crowds totally unnoticed. No one says sorry if they knock him over, no one laughs at his jokes, no one listens to his opinion, and getting picked for sports teams… that just doesn’t happen. Jerry feels completely invisible, until he meets Molly. This little girl lights up his world, and he lights up hers. A beautiful relationship that shows us that it only takes one person who respects and appreciates you to feel like a real person – like someone with worth and plenty to offer. And the best parting message to take away is that any ‘Invisible Jerry’ can pay it forward to other shy and self-conscious kids who don’t like to stand out, just like Paul.

I love that Wallace was inspired to write this story from listening to children’s thoughts on the matter, as well as his own childhood experiences of similar nature. I also love that he doesn’t push readers of this personality to take giant leaps of confidence to achieve greatness, because that wouldn’t be realistic. His gentle approach with the reassurance that one’s talents and opinions will be noticed in time is the perfect message to impart for those quieter kids… and it’s totally okay to be you. Poli’s fluid illustrations beautifully support the text with his depiction of a small yet bright Jerry with potential, in amongst the shadows and crowds around him. And the colour and joy that oozes from the pages once Jerry finds Molly is so brilliantly uplifting.

Invisible Jerry is an important book for the reserved child with so much potential, who simply wants to be noticed… in an unassuming manner. Eye-opening and valuable, this book should be gaining attention all over our schools and homes.

EK Books, November 2018.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

January 2019 Young Adult Releases To Be Wildly Excited About!

This first month of 2019 is already promising to be wildly exciting for YA releases! Some huge titles are releasing and getting ready to blow our minds and set the standard super high right upfront. I, for one, am cramming in desperate rereads as the old favourite authors add to their series and also trying to decide between the dozens of fresh-faced books and newer authors to try. Can we just…have them all? Please?

Here are some I’m specifically excited for!

The Wicked King (#2) by Holly Black

BUY HERE

If you haven’t read The Cruel Prince yet, my first question is: WHY NOT. It’s a murderous twisty tale of fae and intrigue, of betrayal and loyalty, and a enemies-to-lovers storyline that will absolutely steal (and stab?!) your heart. It ended in such a cliffhanger and I’ve been angsting desperately for this sequel foreverrrr. Now it’s finally here and I am READY.

 

King of Scars by Leigh Bardugo

BUY HERE

While this isn’t technically a sequel, it is a spin-off the Grisha series! Leigh Bardugo wrote the first Shadow & Bone trilogy and gradually it grew to giving us the Six of Crows duology and the Language of Thorns fairy tales. I’m not sure if it’ll be as good if you haven’t read, at least, the Grisha books, so get onto that! You still have time. I’m WILD for this series because it’s centring around Nikolai, the part-prince-part-pirate hearthrob who was a secondary character in the Grisha books. Now he’s stealing the whole page.

A Curse So Dark And Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer

BUY HERE

Her contemporary books are some of my all time favourites so OF COURSE I long to see what she does with a fairy tale retelling fantasy! It promises beasts and cursed princes and broken promises and a girl with cerebral palsy and towers and MAGIC.

I feel like I’ve been ready and hyped for this one forever!

Stain by AG Howard

BUY HERE

Another author I’ve been following since her debut series, Splintered, which was an Alice in Wonderland retelling. Now we’re back in the retelling realms with a Princess and the Pea reimagined. Which also is quite different to the usual ones that get retold?! A girl without a voice must win back a kingdom and save a prince!

The Dead Queens Club by Hannah Capin

BUY HERE

What if King Henry VIII was…in a modern contemporary highschool!? This is going to be such a fascinating modernised retelling and I am HERE for it. It’s narrated by a girl determined to find out why local highschool heartthrob seems to be following in the infamous terrible Henry VIII’s footsteps…and why his girlfriends (and he has a lot) often end up dead…

The Girl King by Mini Yu

BUY HERE

This is the tale of two sisters who become rivals in a war to claim the title of Emperor. Their father takes the title away from them, promising it to a distant male cousin instead. Both his daughters, Min and Lu, are furious and are not about to stand for this. But the accidentally become enemies in the process…because who truly deserves the throne?! It promises ambition, sacrifice and betrayal, as well as shapeshifters and swords and hidden powers!

Back to School with these 4 Campus Novels

A campus novel is a book set in a school, college or university and the most popular is probably the Harry Potter series. Campus novels have always been popular amongst readers, so I thought I’d share four of them with you here.


Stoner by John Williams
My favourite campus novel by far is Stoner by John Williams. William Stoner comes from a poor farming family and attends University to study agriculture. He soon falls in love with literature and decides to put aside his plan to manage the family farm in order to become a career academic.

Stoner is a deeply honest portrait of an average man, living a lonely, underwhelming and sometimes depressing life.

However his story is told with such reverence I was completely swept away and bereft by the end.

A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray
This is the first in the YA series of historical fiction novels to feature Gemma Doyle. Beginning in late 1890s India, Gemma is shipped off to Spence boarding school for girls in England after the death of her mother.

The school is a complete culture shock for Gemma and she finds it difficult to adjust. Gemma also finds it hard to deal with the boarding school ’mean girls’. A Great and Terrible Beauty is a gentle coming-of-age story told with well drawn characters and a touch of humour and longing.

The Exclusives by Rebecca Thornton
Josephine and her best friend Freya attend an elite all-girl boarding school and have an irreparable falling out in 1994. In this dual narrative, Josephine reflects on the events from her perspective 18 years later. The mystery slowly unravels as the novel works towards the ultimate reveal.

The Exclusives by Rebecca Thornton will appeal to readers of YA, NA and those who enjoy dissecting female friendships gone bad.

Variant by Robison Wells
Those looking for a male main character in their campus novels will love Variant by Robison Wells. In this YA thriller, Benson Fisher has been moved from foster home to foster home and is understandably excited when he receives a scholarship to Maxfield Academy.

Right away Benson notices something isn’t quite right at the Academy. There are no teachers or adults on campus and the curriculum is strange. There are gangs of students in charge of various contracts at the school. Furthermore, the grounds are surrounded by a large wall patrolled by students on quad bikes. Benson wants to escape but if he’s caught he’ll be given detention. But the rumour is students don’t return from detention. How will he survive?


Will you be adding any of these to your TBR? What’s your favourite campus novel?

Contemporary Classic: ‘Bridge of Clay’ by Marcus Zusak

Marcus Zusak exceeds expectations in his new novel Bridge of Clay. This is an epic Australian tale awash with masculinity: the masculinity of deep, beautiful men. It is a story full of heart, intelligence and sensitivity. Its men are mates, brothers and family and they are men who love and cherish women. The Dunbar men are athletic, physical and even hard, yet tender and loyal. They are a “family of ramshackle tragedy”.

The structure is sophisticated. Matthew, the eldest of five Dunbar brothers, is typing the story of “one murderer, one mule and one boy”. Each chapter begins in typewritten font before settling into Goudy Old Style. The typewriter itself is part of the narrative and family heritage. The boy who Matthew writes about is the one “who took it all on his shoulder” – the fourth Dunbar boy, Clay.

Early on we know that the boys’ mother has died and their father has fled. We are forewarned about the long backstory about the mule, Achilles, only one of a number of past tales that enrich this book. These strands are elemental and seamless, and we are swept up in each.

We learn of the boys’ mother, Penelope – the Mistake Maker, the pianist, the teacher, the refugee from the Eastern Bloc. She grew up steeped in the ancient Greek classics of The Iliad and The Odyssey and shared them with Michael Dunbar and their children.

When she dies, the boys call their father “the Murderer”. After years away, he returns asking for help to build a bridge on his property. Clay, the quiet smiler, the runner, the boy who sits on the roof, the one who loves Carey and shares the book, The Quarryman with her, is the son who goes.

Zusak draws the female characters with love, respect, admiration and affection, even old neighbour Mrs Chilman, a minor character. Carey is a ground-breaker, an independent, aspiring female jockey.

There is a strong sense of place: the racetrack, The Surrounds and house in Archer Street in the city; Featherton, the town where it all began; and the bridge itself, the overarching metaphor. The writing is uniquely Zusak: idiosyncratic (“cars were stubbed out rather than parked”, “The furniture all was roasted.”); humorous, enigmatic and prophetic.

Bridge of Clay is published by Picador, PanMacmillan Australia. It is a contemporary classic.

Marcus Zusak’s backlist includes: 

The Book Thief

The Messenger

When Dogs Cry

Fighting Ruben Wolfe

Bookworm And Reader New Year Resolution Ideas!

It’s that time of year where we almost can’t help ourselves and start making New Year goals and resolutions! I personally love it. But then I also like making lists and having things to tick off and achieve. So January? I am thriving with the goals.

Now as a bookworm, I naturally gravitate to making some of my goals very book-orientated. I’ll pick a amount of books to read in the year, set a Goodreads goal, and absolutely lie to my To-Be-Read pile’s face and say, “Yes! I’ll read you all this year instead of buying new books!” (Hilarious, truly.) But what if you want some different, but still reader centric, goals to set?!

You’re very very lucky. I am here.

IDEAS FOR BOOKWORM GOALS FOR 2019

  • Try picking an author and promising to read ALL their works! This is a great goal for those of us who say “Oh yes! I love Neil Gaiman” (or someone else) and then proceeding to read like 2 of their 39894 books available. Also it’s entirely fun to immerse yourself on a singular author’s style and see how they grow and change from book to book. Also saying, “Yeah I read 39894 books by Gaiman this year” is pretty hardcore. Look at you GO. (Note: the, um, numbers mentioned here may have been an exaggeration…)
  • Challenge yourself to read several books outside your comfort zone. I personally love comfort zones (I cling to them feverishly ok) but I still think it’s important to stretch yourself. I normally stare suspiciously at memoirs and sci-fi, but I’ve found favourites amongst them! So promising to read a few books a year that I wouldn’t normally gravitate towards is really invaluable.
  • Wage war on the backlist! I don’t know about you, but I’m insufferably addicted to new and shiny books. What’s coming out in 2019?! EVERYTHING AMAZING APPARENTLY. And I end up skipping over equally amazing books who have the misfortune to be published, ah, like 1 to 10 years ago. So! One of my goals for this year is to read more older books. Not necessarily classics. But just books I was excited for years ago but never got to.
  • Reread some childhood favourites. NEVER underestimate the value of the reread! Although sometimes it does lead you to question your childhood tastes…but pfft, that aside, it can be a comforting walk down memory lane, a cosy long-ago remembered dessert, and the reuniting of an old friend!
  • Swap recommendations with some bookworm friends! Have a friend pick some books for you to read, while you pick your favourites for them. Challenge each other and, coincidentally, infiltrate their lives with your favourite books. There is no downside! Unless they hate your favourites and then you must dispose of a body. (KIDDING…maybe.)
  • Set a consistent reading time. The cry of “I have no time to read” is very common for all of us. But it’s ok to make it somewhat of a priority. Obviously you have commitments you can’t ignore (work or family or necromancy practise…I don’t know…whatever people do), but even setting aside 20 minutes a day as sacred reading time can really help. Or prioritise it over watching a movie or scrolling twitter. Don’t turn reading into a chore! But there is such comfort in getting a few chapters done every day. 10/10 would recommend.

YA Thrillers: ‘Two Can Keep a Secret’ & ‘One of Us is Lying’ by Karen M. McManus

I enjoyed Karen M. McManus’s One of Us is Lying (Penguin Books) so much I read her second novel Two Can Keep a Secret (Penguin) as soon as I received an advance copy. I’ve had to wait impatiently until now that it is published to review it and, because Karen’s style is so addictive, I’ve added a mention of One of Us is Lying as well.

In Two Can Keep a Secret, teen twins Ellery and Ezra have just moved to Echo Ridge, Vermont, to stay with their Nana. Their mother, Sadie was also a twin. She was homecoming queen, left home when she turned eighteen and is now in rehab and too unwell to care for her children. Homecoming queens seem to be the target of tragedy in Echo Ridge, particularly in the theme park Murderland, recently renamed Fright Farm.

A popular young science teacher is found dead on the road, another girl goes missing and the disappearance twenty-three years earlier of Sadie’s twin Sarah seems to hang an ominous cloud over the present. Within three weeks Ellery and Ezra have “reported a dead body, gotten jobs at a murder site, and been targeted by a homecoming stalker…” Secrets are rife.

The narrative is told from the point of view of Ellery and Malcolm – who lives with his mother, stepfather and hot stepsister – and likes Ellery. His older brother Declan was the boyfriend of a murdered girl and his return to town coincides with more trouble.

This is a place where “anything different stands out a mile.” Diverse characters are Ezra who is queer and their new friend Mia who is Korean and has “her hair buzzed short on one side and streaked red on the other”.

The setting in a town shrouded in murder and Halloween-theme park where many of the local teens work delivers chills.

Ellery is fixated on true crime and has a collection of books that includes In Cold Blood, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil and Fatal Vision. She wants to do something for the missing girls, “and the ones left behind.”

Karen McManus’s first novel, One of Us is Lying, poses the fascinating conundrum of five students sent to after-school detention. One, Simon, dies there and the other four become suspects. Bronwyn is a brain who doesn’t break rules. Addy is a beauty. Nate is a bad boy. Cooper is a jock and Simon ran the school gossip app and was about to post secrets about each of the suspects.

(all quotes from the ARC)

Review: A Very Large Expanse of Sea by Tahereh Mafi

BUY HERE

A Very Large Expanse of Sea by Tahereh Mafi is just a brilliant story that is here to give you all the emotions. I didn’t expect less from the queen Tahereh Mafi, truly! She’s the author of the famous Shatter Me series and I also discovered her middle-grade magical books his year, Furthermore and Whichwhood. And least to say, she’s absolutely an autobuy author. This tale is a little different to her others though, as it lacks (firstly) magic! And the style is less flowery and whimsical and more solid as we experience the world through Shirin’s eyes.

It’s a tale drawn from personal experience and you can feel that bleed through every page. The author has lived and shared so much of the pain she shows us through Shirin and as we walk in her shoes, we experience the micro-aggressions  to the outright huge racist and xenophobic actions from people around her. She hates school and how people snub or outright bully her and she aches to be loved but is certain it can’t last. It’s an important story.

It takes place a year after 9/11, and much of America’s views of Muslims has been condensed to viewing them through the lens of that terrorist attack. Shirin is sixteen and sick of being stereotyped and mistreated. She wears hijab and comes from a Persian background and is constantly moving around as her father gets job raises. Shirin is just tired…so so tired, of how casually cruel and dismissive of understanding people can be. She’s even been attacked outright on the streets so she’s built emotional walls around herself. Just get through the hellishness that is school. Listen to music. Ignore everything. Even though she has a tiny pleasant outlet through breakdancing with her brother, life quite honestly sucks…until she can’t brush off one boy: Ocean James. He sees her as a person and is determined to be kind. He wants to know her and this terrifies Shirin. Someone is going to get very very hurt, aren’t they?

The book was flawless and incredible, although I do admit I missed Mafi’s whimsical style I’d grown to love from her previous books. This was a straight-forward tone, with Shirin being very no-nonsense. But it’s also awesome to see authors conquer a wide variety of styles.

Shirin herself is prickly and snarky, and you ache as she aches. After everything she’s been through, even attacks on the street and all the bullying at school, she’s withdrawn and has rock solid walls up. She is a burnt marshmallow and I loved her immediately. Seeing what her life was like was so sobering. She’s abused for wearing hijab and treated like trash, and people have zero respect for her quiet and peaceful religion. She definitely showed signs of a lot of depression. She is just surviving. That’s it.

…and then she discovers both:
➸ breakdancing! she and her brother Navid start a club with 3 of his friends and this is wholesome badass dancing goodness
➸ Ocean James, a boy who is quiet and soft and awkward and has a desperate crush on her and makes mistakes but wants to learn to do better. Also he has really pretty eyes. Shirin tries not to notice or care about that…but she totally does.

Seeing Shirin having to work through her terror of being hurt (and eventually she worries about Ocean getting hurt) as their story unravels and spirals from a crush to deep feelings for each other, was heartwarming and also heartbreaking. These two kids just want to get to know each other better…but they have so much to overcome.

A Very Large Expanse of Sea is so well written. It’s powerful and poignant and it has such an important message to give both Muslim teens going through what Shirin is, and non-Muslim teens so they can start to understand and learn. It balances fun and uplifting moments (with the breakdancing and epic sibling bond) with heartbreaking ones where you’re livid with rage of the injustices. Definitely a book that’s not to be missed.

Revisiting The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

The Hitch Hikers sci-fi comedy franchise (for want of a better word) by Douglas Adams is instantly recognisable and much loved. Beginning as a radio series in 1978, it has gone on to become books, further radios series, a television series and a film. My relationship with it is somewhat patchy.

“The ships hung in the sky in much the same way that bricks don’t.”

As a kid, I only ever caught a couple of the radio eps. I liked them. They were weird and different. When the television series came out in 1981, I watched and loved it. I then read the first couple of books. I remember loving the first but being a little disappointed with the second… and never getting around to the rest. I certainly didn’t care for the 2005 film.

I had always meant to catch up with the rest of the books. So I recently decided to reread the first two and then, at long last, read the rest.

The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was published in 1979. It holds up so very well. Truly deserving of the title modern classic. The humour is spot on, the plot is great and the quirky cast of characters are a joy. I really do think it is the perfect blend of comedy and science fiction. There are so many bonkers, out-there concepts… from the translating Babel Fish to the Infinite Improbability Drive used to power the Heart of Gold spaceship. And Adams’s commentary on the human condition, religion, politics, everything, is also pretty spot on.

“And then, one Thursday, nearly two thousand years after one man had been nailed to a tree for saying how great it would be to be nice to people for a change, one girl sitting on her own in a small café in Rickmansworth suddenly realised what it was that had been going wrong all this time, and she finally knew how the world could be made a good and happy place. This time it was right, it would work, and no one would have to get nailed to anything.”

The Restaurant at the End of the Universe was published in 1980. Although I enjoyed it, I found it far inferior to the first book. The humour felt less inventive and a little bit tired. The plot and characters still managed to carry me through, but with less of the page-turning intensity of the first.

Life, the Universe and Everything was published in 1982. This is… well… there’s no nice way to say it. It’s a steaming pile of crap! The plot is confused and almost unfollowable. The humour is forced… so badly forced. It was a real slog making it through this book… so much so, that I couldn’t bring myself to read any more in the series.

But if you do want to read the others, they are…

There is another book, And Another Thing… (2009), but it was written by Eoin Colfer, of Artemis Fowl fame.

I own the first four books in an omnibus edition, The Hitch Hiker’s Guide of the Galaxy: A Trilogy in Four Parts, which was published 1986. Even though I’m unlikely to ever read that fourth instalment, I will treasure this lovely hardcover edition. When Adams toured Australia to promote his book, Last Chance to See, back in the late 80s, I heard him speak at a literary lunch and was lucky enough to get him to autograph my copy.

Does anyone out there like book 3? Does anyone out there think that books 4 and 5 are worth reading? I’m open to being persuaded.

Catch ya later, George

Guest Post Review: The Dam

 

 

 

 

Anastasia Gonis has been reviewing books for over twenty years. Her reviews and interviews have appeared in Bookseller & Publisher, Good Reading magazine, Australian Book Review, The Age, The Herald Sun, AllWrite, and many other publications. Anastasia currently writes both articles and reviews and is a revered reviewer for Kids’ Book Review. She loves all books, in particular children’s books which for her, contain beauty and joy between the covers. Today, I’m beyond thrilled to welcome her as a guest reviewer of, The Dam by David Almond and Levi Pinfold.

The Dam is at once haunting, heart breaking, exhilarating and exquisitely simple, portraying so much emotion, you’ll want to weep with the beauty of it all. Here’s, Anastasia’s review:

I am filled with awe each time I view any of Levi Pinfold’s illustrations. There is a haunting beauty about them that makes you catch your breath at his ability to create such magnificent work that can easily be taken for an exhibition of canvases in an art gallery. And that’s what you see when you turn the second page, a series of images; canvases on display.

You sigh at the sight of various sized birds – a few flying, others squatting in grass; tall wild grass, a tiny flower in the palm of a weathered hand, an eagle in flight, some blossomed wildflowers, a fox looking into the wilderness, two sheep with one grazing the other looking away, a man with a girl carrying a fiddle, a close-up of the girl’s face side-on, and one of the man’s in the same position.

They are looking at what is and what will be washed away. Because the dam is almost finished. Turn the page and more canvases are on display. They are accompanied by the memories they are connected to that the man and girl recall; of the things that were but will be no more.
Here is where you will break down from sadness as the girl plays her fiddle and farewells the building that conjures up the memories, while the father, tall and stoic, stands beneath the door frame. Their memories like ghosts, dance around them.

They go from house to empty house, filling them with music, fiddling their memories, and watching them turn into mists that float away. When they have finished, out of the valley they walked.
The dam is complete. Everything is covered with water. Within the water the music stays. It is in everything and in them. Permanent. It makes them sing and dance. That can never be washed away.

David Almond is one of the most versatile and talented writers of our generation. His body of work and writing style is most impressive. It claws at you and makes you feel things deeply. Themes address what progress steals from people, and how they cope with loss and change. These flow through the book like the dam that carried it all away.

This is a work of art both textually and visually. I doubt that anyone picking up this book will leave without it, and clutched to their heart.

 Title: The Dam

Author: David Almond

Illustrator: Levi Pinfold

Publisher: Walker Books

Publication Date: September 2018 $24.99

Format: Hardcover

 ISBN: 9781406304879

For ages: 5+

Type: Children’s Picture book

Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

 

Review: Forget Me Not by Ellie Terry

BUY HERE

Forget Me Not by Ellie Terry is such a sweet and heartfelt story and you will definitely not regret picking it up. It’s about friendship and the anxiety of a life constantly on the move, and it features a girl with Tourette’s syndrome based on the author’s own experiences. Which can I just say is so important for literature?! We know we’re getting an accurate glimpse at what life is like with Tourette’s, plus you can feel the emotion and love poured onto every page.

Calliope is constantly moving house…and moving her body too. She has Tourette’ Syndrome which is defined by uncontrollable tics, some that are easy to hide and others that are loud and draw attention. At 12-years-old, what she wants most is a steady life, a good friend, and for no one to make fun of her. Not too much to ask right? While she and her mother move into a new town, Calli is determined to hide her TS from the kids at school and to finally fit in. This doesn’t…go as planned. She can’t even seem to connect to her neighbour, Jinsong, who seems to like her but won’t spend time with her when they’re not in secret. All Calli wants is to be accepted. So should she be hiding her tics or talking about them?

“Wouldn’t talking about something make it better understood?”

The story told mostly in verse! Which I quite adored and didn’t know that would be the style…so it was a pleasant surprise. The unique poetry formatting and the beautiful but simple language was so easy to feel engaged with. You get to be deep in Calli’s perspective and feel her anxiety as it pours out of her lyrical writing. The verse is also easy to read and definitely a great intro for middle-grade readers.

It’s also dual narrated by Calli and Jinsong. Calli’s mother is constantly on the move, going from one boyfriend to the next, and Calli’s anxiety is at an all time high. She pulls out her hair and has strange rituals and that’s not even mentioning the tics that follow her (and often hurt). Anxiety only sets them off, but she has to hide to fit in, right?? In the new house, her neighbour is Jinsong…who seems super nice. But when Calli tries to make friends with him outside of their homes, he avoids her. Because he’s scared of being labelled and teased too if he hangs out with the “freak”. I think this brings a lot of attention to the inner battles a lot of kids face when deciding whether to befriend the outcast. It was very hard to feel for Jinsong in his chapters though, when he spent so long leaving Calli to suffer because he was too scared to reach out to her. But I do think the book properly caught the struggle to be 12 and undecided on what path you’re choosing: self-preservation or love and help.

The author so deeply unpacked the need to talk about disabilities. To shatter stigmas around Tourette’s. In the author’s note, she even mentions that, just like the scene she wrote for Calli, a doctor told her not to tell people about her TS. Because it’s misunderstood and people would just judge her for it. It took the author a long time to realise this was bad advice, and how are people ever going to accept differences if they aren’t taught about them? Reading Calli’s experiences was so amazing too. I just loved her SO much and can’t even imagine the anxiety she went through.

If Forget Me Not isn’t on your TBR pile…you should definitely fix that. It’s a joyous shout to the sky about how being different is not bad, and it’s a loving gift to the neurodiverse kids of the world who want friends and to be accepted.

Review: The Brightsiders by Jen Wilde

BUY HERE

The Brightsiders by Jen Wilde is a story about fame and misfortune, queer identities, and being true to yourself even when it’s terrifying. I really loved the author’s previous book, Queens of Geek, and how that one was an incredible geek-loving story featuring autistic and Australian characters from an Aussie author of our own! The Brightsiders definitely had a different feel, but if you like Wilde’s work, this is very much worth picking up still. (Although it is set firmly in America this time! Although the gang from Queens of Geek make a cameo which I thought was fun.)

The story follows Emmy King, a celebrity drummer with the rock band The Brightsiders. They’re trio of Alfie, Ryan and Emmy all exploded into fame fairly overnight and they’re still teens, trying to keep their heads above water and grapple with this intense fame, as well as make the music that they love. Emmy comes from a toxic partying family and unfortunately, when things get stressful, that’s where she slides back to. When the story opens, she’s been underage drinking and ends up in a minor accident, which the paparazzi and media gobble up like golden gossip: look at this teen celebrity falling apart. Emmy is determined to get her life back on track and she has an epic support network of friends…but she also has plenty of toxic people she needs to learn how to deal with. And as she starts slowly falling for one of her band mates (baaad idea) she has to ask if this is love or is she avoiding her own fears and anxieties?

Books centring around music, especially famous musicians, are always intensely interesting to me! It reminded me of Open Road Summer and I Was Born For This immediately, with teens making messy mistakes…but now in such public view that it has huge repercussions for their careers. Emmy is a very earnest character and you quickly feel for her as she feels smothered by the media, haunted by her awful parents, and just wants to please people and have them like her. People Pleasing does nooot go well for her in this one.

It also explores the difference between toxic vs healthy relationships and friendships. This is such a good topic to unpack, because every teen faces that horrible decisions of not knowing whether to keep people in your life (you’re used to them, grown up with them, maybe even in love with them) or break away and take care of your own mental health. I loved Emmy’s gang, wither her team mates Ryan and Alfie being intensely supportive of her, and also her best friend Chloe, showing up to smack her back into reality. The book is totally friendship-centric. And very very queer! Almost every character identifies somewhere on the lgbtqia+ spectrum, and I couldn’t be happier. It’s really nice also reading books with a genderqueer love interest!

The Brightsiders is really a story about healing and friendship, with a forbidden and intense romance on the side. It feels more upper-YA with all the teens having finished school and now working their gigs without parents (or avoiding awful parents). And it’s so refreshing to read a book so unapologetically proud of its rainbow pride!

Great Gift Ideas # 5 – Non-Fiction That Takes You Places

So you want to give something meaningful and useful and entertaining this Christmas. Well, have a look at these incredible Non-Fiction kids’ books that not only take you places but also inform, comfort, enlighten and above all keep the kids occupied while you sort out the eggnog! Enjoy.

Welcome: A Mo Willems Guide For New Arrivals by Mo Willems

This is the penultimate new-baby book for new parents. Presented as a robust board book with luxuriantly thick pages, this will endure baby’s first year and beyond. It even comes with an embedded mirror so baby can actually see what all the fuss is about. Willems’ inimitable comic touch graces each page in this direct narrative to baby outlining all the highlights, expectations and regrettable conditions that they and their new family might encounter. It reads a bit like an instruction manual and partially like a charter for a new employee. Every word is gold. This is truly one to share as a parent, a gift giving family member and then again as a parent with your growing child. Supremely clever, witty and super super cute (in a non-cutesy way),  I cannot recommend this highly enough for new parents and new humans.

Walker Books 2018

Continue reading Great Gift Ideas # 5 – Non-Fiction That Takes You Places

‘The Restless Girls’, a classic, reimagined fairy tale

“Not far from where you’re sitting right now, there exists a country called Kalia… The shore shimmers gold, the land opens like an emerald quilt, and the Kalian mountains rise up as giants to greet the sky.”

The wondrous land of Kalia and its twelve princesses come from the imagination of Jessie Burton, who wrote The Miniaturist and The Muse for adults. The Restless Girls (Bloomsbury Children’s Books) is a re-imagined fairy tale inspired by The Twelve Dancing Princesses about girls who circumvent their powerless state. It is told in sumptuous picture book form and is a perfect Christmas gift.

Award-winning artist Angela Barrett has illustrated another fairy tale, The Most Wonderful Thing in the World (written by Vivian French) as well as The Night Before Christmas (written by Clement C. Moore), Rockinghorse Land, The Orchard Book of Stories from the Ballet (written by Geraldine McCaughrean) and the awarded Can It Be True? (written by Susan Hill), a retelling of the Nativity story. She enhances Jessie Burton’s story of The Restless Girls with her whimsical, enigmatic illustrations.

The twelve princesses are introduced in The Restless Girls in order of birth: Frida is clever, ambitious and wants to fly a plane; Polina could read the stars; Lorna is kind and wise; Ariosta paints; Chessa sings; Bellina speaks five languages; Vita is happy and has a quick wit; Mariella is gifted with numbers; Delilah has green fingers; Flora is always reading; Emelia wants to be a vet and Agnes wants to be a writer.

When their mother, Queen Laurelia, dies in her racing car, King Alberto (who didn’t grow up with any females and so doesn’t understand them) curtails their artistic and other pursuits because he wants his daughters to stop thinking and prepare to be housewives. They wilt when he locks them in a small room with no distractions apart from their imaginations, their stories and a portrait of their mother. One day this picture is tilted and the princesses discover a door with a staircase behind it.

Music and light lead them across an underground lagoon and forests of silver, gold and diamonds. They discover something even more amazing and beautiful inside a tree when a sheet of vines and diamonds falls to the ground.

The princesses meet a range of animals including a fox, a peacock with a leather book and a lioness. The girls are “brave, resourceful, clever and kind” but their worn-out shoes enrage the king.

The classic style and beautiful fairy tale form makes The Restless Girls a timeless, empowering, gift. 

(It is also available in a deluxe, slipcase edition.)

My Top 2018 Young Adult Releases!

I both love and hate the end of the year when all the “top favourite” lists of books roll out. Because choosing is hard. How does one choose?! I’ve read 200 books this year and narrowing down my favourites feels a bit like choosing between my kids. However! I’m doing a top 5 recommendation list anyway (I suffer valiantly) and these are all published in 2018. Highly recommend them for your Christmas wishlists!


1. THE CRUEL PRINCE by Holly Black

BUY HERE

I’ve been a massive fan of hers for years (since I discovered The Darkest Part of the Forest and proceeded to read her enormous collection of backlist titles) and was so excited to get a book set in faerie that also promised schemes and stabbing. And it delivered.

Jude is the kind of unapologetic antiheroine I crave reading about, and her relationship with Cardan is full of schemes and twists. It’s an entrancing and viciously dangerous book and I can’t wait for the sequel!

 

2. KEEPER OF THE BEES by Megan Kassel

BUY HERE

This was a bit of a “surprise” favourite, because I honestly went in expecting a good read (I’d enjoyed this book’s predecessor Blackbirds of The Gallows!)…instead I got something that totally broke my heart AND remade it! It’s technically a sequel, but can be read as a standalone.

It’s about cursed boys and girls struggling with mental illness, antiheroes who didn’t choose to be this way, and unbreakable tight-knit friendships. It totally captivated me!

 

3. MUSE OF NIGHTMARES by Laini Taylor

BUY HERE

Another sequel (this one needs to be read after Strange the Dreamer!) but oh oh wasn’t it incredible?! Sequels strike terror into me (what if they can’t live up to the first book!?) but this one was gorgeous and captivating and so clever.

I loved how it expanded the world, answered questions, and spun more magic.

I’m in awe of Laini Taylor’s imagination!

 

4. ANGER IS A GIFT by Mark Oshiro

BUY HERE

This is such a gut-wrenching story, by an #ownvoices author, who talks about what it’s like to be black and go to a highschool that couldn’t care less about its students. It’s about murder and violence, it’s about anxiety and grief, it’s about first love and unbreakable friendship bonds. It totally wins your heart over, while being brutally realistic. Moss is the narrator and he’s truly relatable and winning, as well as someone your heart breaks for, as he struggles with really bad anxiety after his father was murdered. I love reading about teens who refuse to be crushed by society though, and so hope this gets the claim and recognition it deserves over the whole world!

 

5. ACE OF SHADES by Amanda Foody

BUY HERE

AHH. This was such a clever and amazingly intoxicating adventure featuring a con artist and a girl running away from finishing school. It is delightfully badass and tricky and has a complex magic system I really enjoyed getting lost in. I also am a total sucker for the secretly-soft-con-artist types. And Enne’s character development (from shy wallflower to incredible stabby go-getter) was so fantastic to read. It has the very slightest tastes of romance, but I also loved how it focused on friendship instead. The WORLD too. Oh wow! It’s one you can get lost in. Totally can’t wait for the sequel next year!

Black Cockatoo & Blakwork

Magabala Books are going from strength to strength. They are perhaps most well-known at the moment for publishing Bruce Pascoe’s books for adults and children such as Dark Emu, Mrs Whitlam and Fog a Dox but Magabala has a strong backlist across age-groups and genres with great new books coming all the time.

Two new titles are standouts.

Black Cockatoo is of comparable quality to Bruce Pascoe’s writing for young people. It is written by Jaru and Kija man Carl Merrison and Hakea Hustler, illustrated by Dub Leffler (Once There Was a Boy and Sorry Day). It is a memorable story about an Aboriginal family living in the Kimberley.

Thirteen-year-old “Mia, her skin unblemished, radiated optimism and hope.” Mia loves her Country but sometimes wants more. Her grandmother tells her that she lives in both worlds. “You will be strong both ways.”

Although she is a spirited character she must show respect to her older brother. However fifteen-year-old Jy’s anger ripples “under his scarred skin”. He disrespects the family’s past and is killing birds, including Mia’s totem the dirrarn. Mia protects the injured bird for as long as she can.

Education is valued by the family and language, particularly used for bird names, is included.

Both Black Cockatoo and Blakwork are insightful, confronting literary works.

Blakwork by Gomeroi woman, poet Alison Whittaker (Lemons in the Chicken Wire) spans genres. It is poetry, memoir, critique, fiction and satire for adults or mature young adults.

‘a love like Dorothea’s’ is a reinterpretation of Dorothea Mackellar’s ‘I Love a Sunburnt Country’ and is positioned sidewards on the page. “I love a sunburnt country. That is mine but not for me.”

‘outskirts’ is a chilling tale about a woman who worked in an abattoir and ‘killwork’ is non-fiction set in the same place. ‘vote’ addresses refugees and intermarriage where “blakness” is “a code embedded in your bones – it didn’t bleed through you, it constituted you, so there was no letting out.”

‘tinker tailor’ is a satire about Blacktown in Western Sydney. There are different stories behind the naming of Blacktown such as, “‘They call this place Blacktown because it was given to two Aboriginal men.’  Seemed weird to me that the whole continent wasn’t Blacktown.” The National Centre for Indigenous Excellence in Redfern on Gadigal land is considered in ‘futures. excellence’: “For people so put out on the fringes, we blaks love the centre”. In ‘the last project’ a note on the Centre says “We’re coming back, daught. There’s work to do.”

‘bathe’ is set at Maroubra Baths. “This is a poem about not suffering.”

‘The History of Sexuality Volume III’ is a poem about desire: “two blak women [who] love each other”.

Language is used in ‘’palimpsest’ and there is some superb writing in ‘rework’. “Pull over here, watch some spinning nightly fights reach across a highway’s ribs. At the Kamiloroi Highway’s spine two signs rise and speak and re-speak…”

Blakwork has just been shortlisted for the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards. Both it and Black Cockatoo are strong, significant works.

Kids’ Holiday Reads that Make Great Gifts

Books are the gift that just keep on giving, aren’t they?! They’re worth so much more than the latest toy that lasts a whole five minutes. Here’s a small roundup of some great books for kids that make for beautiful gifts and can be shared over the festive season and well into the holidays.

Picture Books

All the Ways to be Smart, Davina Bell (author), Allison Colpoys (illus.), Scribble, October 2018.

This is the fourth time this superlative duo have come together, following the successes of The Underwater Fancy-Dress Parade , Captain Starfish and Under the Love Umbrella. Bell and Colpoys will be winning awards once again with this stunning picture book that is so intelligent in its own way. For all children wondering what their kind of smart is, this energetic rhyming guide reinforces a confidence that there is certainly more than one. From artistic endeavours to scientific explorations, using your imagination to skills in building, retaining important facts to showing compassion and empathy are all but a few. Coordination and music abilities, polite manners, ‘feeling scared but taking chances.’ The list is endless and these book creators have absolutely nailed it with their verve, humour, versatility and diversity. The language rolls off the tongue to perfection, whilst the neon colours draw your eye just the way an artist should. All the Ways to be Smart – adding much brightness to any child’s mind – in more ways than one.

What Do You Wish For?, Jane Godwin (author), Anna Walker (illus.), Penguin Random House, October 2018 (Paperback).

What Do You Wish For? puts a smile on every face and a glow in every heart. It’s that all kinds of fuzzy warmth, peace and togetherness that Christmas time really represents. Godwin’s intention for this book is for readers to understand that this time of year is, and should be, one of gratitude. The combination of her inspiring, tender words, and Anna Walker’s beautifully dreamy, intricate illustrations, is simply divine. There is an excited buzz in the air every Christmas. Ruby and her friends always put on a special show in the park, and write a wish to hang on the tree. But Ruby’s wish is too big to write on a little piece of paper. Her wish is of spirit; it’s made of smells of baking, candlelight amongst the dark, wonderful surprises and quality family time. But most of all, her Christmas wish is one of complete serenity, and a warm sparkle in the sky. What Do You Wish For? is the most magical treasure for any young reader and their family to cherish this Christmas.

It’s Not a Scribble to Me, Kate Ritchie (author), Jedda Robaard (illus.), Penguin Random House, 2018.

I always love books that encourage exploration of the imagination. In this one, it’s the walls, floors and windows that get to discover what the bear child is conjuring up in his mind – much to his family’s dismay. The little bear speaks a lyrical tongue as to what his crayon and pen scribbles represent. A red Santa makes an appearance above the fireplace, a green frog on the toilet, a black witch inspired by broomsticks, a blue frothy sea and yellow splotchy bumbley bees. It’s amazing what each colour of the rainbow can be turned into, and where they happen to turn up! But somehow, this cheeky bear is able to win over the family with his colourful, magical, whimsical, wonderful charm. A beautifully alluring, absolutely sweet, vivacious and child-centred book in its words and pictures. It’s Not a Scribble to Me is ideal for children from age three as a facilitator of self-expression, creativity and boundless possibilities.

Australia Illustrated (2nd Ed.), Tania McCartney (Author, illus.), EK Books, October 2018.

I absolutely adored this book when it was first released back in 2016. Now I (we all) get to relive the magic once again with this much anticipated 2nd edition recently re-published. Australia Illustrated is a visual festive celebration, the ultimate pictorial encyclopaedia of our beautiful land. Tania McCartney’s expansive array of detail and design, even if only a snippet, takes us on a wonderful journey around the country exploring major attractions to pockets of hidden gems we may have otherwise missed. My kids loved traveling around Australia; spotting familiarities, discovering new mysteries of the unknown, and giggling along at the cute and quirky nuances. Vivacious watercolours and a mix of media showcase the well-known to the unique. From the BIG and beautiful Queensland Mango and Big Banana in Coffs Harbour, the diverse native animals, bush tucker, sports, slang and weather, and a taste of idiosyncrasies from State to State. A gloriously scrumptious edition to pore over with the kids at home or away.

And another exquisite book from Tania McCartney that is a piece of art in itself is Mamie. Published by HarperCollins, November 2018. With her large, round gumnut eyes and angelic face, Mamie shares her story of adapting to change, fairies, pixies, elves and friendship. Celebrating the life of renowned and much-loved Australian icon – author and illustrator, May Gibbs of the Snugglepot and Cuddlepie fame, McCartney takes readers on a historical yet imaginative journey. She gently and expertly showcases the exceptional creativity, inspiration and achievements of Gibbs absolutely beautifully and with bunches of natural charm. Mamie is sure to win hearts abound, just as she has done over the past 100 years.

Chapter Books

The First Adventures of Princess Peony, Nette Hilton (author), Lucinda Gifford (illus.), Walker Books, 2018.

The attitude and tenacity of The Little Princess mixed with a quintessentially unique dialect like Lola (Charlie and Lola) together brings about this charming new face to the bookish world, Princess Peony. Partner that with the perfectly scruffy tomboy/girl-looking character in grey tones with pops of hot pink and you’ve got yourself a popular new series for girls (and boys) in the junior reader market. Princess Peony, the name which must be reminded to the audience every now and then, begins her fairy tale in front of her house, erm, Castle with her dog, no, Dragon; Totts. Her mission: to be Obeyed. But things take a wrong turn and her story is interrupted by Prince Morgan the Troll (aka, her big brother). Attempts to outsmart each other lead to some pretty hilarious events and a new mission to avoid child-eating bears. The text and pictures work brilliantly together providing plenty of visual literacy opportunities for readers to laugh about. And there is a remarkably True Princess Information and Quiz Sheet for all Princesses in Waiting to absolutely study and swear by. Just gorgeous! I will be buying The First Adventures of Princess Peony for my nearly six year old and all her friends!

The Tales of Mr Walker; a hotel dog with a nose for adventure, Jess Black (author), Sara Acton (illus.), Penguin Random House, 2018.

The Tales of Mr Walker is inspired by a real-life Labrador named Mr Walker who is a Guide Dog Ambassador and helper at the Park Hyatt Melbourne. This is an adorable book containing four enchanting stories about life working at the grandest hotel in town. Targeted at independent readers from age eight, we are delighted with the adventures this canine companion takes us on, viewed from the dog’s perspective. ‘Tracy must like parks as much as I do’. With his Guide Dog training behind him, Mr Walker is very well disciplined and loyal. But naturally, he has certain things on his mind, such as chasing balls, and food. Romp along on the fun adventures with Mr Walker. He doesn’t disappoint. Fluid and bright illustrations bounce in and around the text. The cover is appropriately high-end with its linen bound spine and gold trimmings. Royalties going to Guide Dogs Victoria is just another excuse to pick up this book as a gift for someone you love, and someone who loves dogs.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

Even more great gift ideas for kids can be found at Boomerang Books here.

Amnesia Fiction

Amnesia fiction generally contains a character suffering from some form of memory loss, or memory loss forms part of the storyline. It’s such a common plot device I thought it was worth exploring. Here are seven amnesia fiction novels you might enjoy.


We Were Liars by E. Lockhart
We Were Liars is about a group of four friends who called themselves The Liars. Cady (Cadence), Mirren, Johnny and Gat are best friends and they spend every summer holidaying on a private island off the coast of Massachusetts. During Cady’s fifteenth summer she suffers a traumatic brain injury but unfortunately she can’t remember what happened. Two years later she returns to the island in an attempt to try and remember what happened.

We Were Liars is full of mystery, secrets, lies and a twist at the end.

Before I Go to Sleep by S.J. Watson
Every time Christine goes to sleep she loses all of her memories. A consequence of a traumatic brain injury years earlier, her brain erases everything overnight and when she wakes, she has no idea who she is.  Christine must find out what happened but soon learns she can’t trust anybody.

Before I Go to Sleep is now a film starring Nicole Kidman and Colin Firth.

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
Rachel catches the same train into London each day and enjoys imagining the lives of those living in the houses she travels past. The train waits at the same signal light each day and she pays particular attention to one of the houses. One day Rachel sees something that will set an entire chain of events rolling as she inserts herself into the lives of those she’s been watching.

Rachel is an alcoholic and her memory is patchy as a result of black outs and alcohol abuse. This makes her an unreliable narrator. Or does it?

Still Alice by Lisa Genova
Amnesia in fiction isn’t always attributed to an accident, injury or trauma. In Still Alice by Lisa Genova, the protagonist Alice is fifty years old and a cognitive psychology professor at Harvard. She’s an expert in linguistics, married with three adult children and learning to deal with early onset Alzheimer’s disease.

Still Alice is about family dynamics and the sense of self. It’s also been adapted to the big screen starring Julianne Moore as Alice.

The Maze Runner by James Dashner
When Thomas arrives on a lift surrounded by a gang of boys, all he can remember is his name. He finds himself in a walled glade which forms part of a mysterious yet brutal stone maze. Thomas doesn’t want to settle down to life in the glade and insists on searching the maze.

Prepared to risk his life to escape the maze, what Thomas finds will irrevocably change the lives of everyone in the glade.

What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty
Alice ‘comes to’ in a gym, and instead of being 29 and pregnant with her first child, she finds 10 years have passed. She’s now 39 years old with three kids and in the middle of a divorce. She also has a strained relationship with her sister.

Alice tries to work out what happened to her life. How did her life become like this and how did she lose 10 years of her life?

The Bourne Identity by Robert Ludlum
First in a series, the star of The Bourne Identity is Jason Bourne who hardly needs an introduction. Played by Matt Damon in the movie franchise, Jason suffers from amnesia and can’t remember his former life. Was he an assassin? Why are people trying to kill him? This is a thrilling action-packed series following Jason’s journey to the truth about himself.


Do you enjoy amnesia fiction? Have you read any of these books? If you have others you’d like to recommend, please let me know in the comments below.

An Untold, Unforgettable Story: ‘Everything I’ve Never Said’ by Samantha Wheeler

We’ve spoken previously on the blog, Samantha, particularly about your environmental, conservation stories for younger readers, such as Wombat Warriors

Thanks for joining us again to talk about Everything I’ve Never Said, an original, affecting and unforgettable work.

Thank you, and my pleasure.

There’s deservedly a big buzz about this novel. It’s for middle readers – what age group is that?

We’re finding the novel appeals to anyone from 9 to 109! It’s found in book stores and libraries on the ’middle reader’ shelves as it is published for that age, but it is suitable for anyone in upper primary to tweens, young adults and adults alike.

How is this book different from your other works?

My other stories each features a species of vulnerable Australian wildlife, and a young person trying to save them. Written for 7-10 year olds, they’re completely fictional adventure stories, (although based on real animal issues), plot driven and very animal focussed. My new story is based very much on my own family’s experience of living with a young person with a disability and the story is more character focussed. The plot allows a unique insight into a moment in time in a family’s life, and as such, probably appeals to a wider reading age and is a more emotional, heartfelt story.

Could you tell us about the major characters in Everything I’ve Never Said?

Everything I’ve Never Said is about a fictional character, Ava, an eleven year old with Rett syndrome who can’t talk or use her hands to communicate. Based on my own daughter, Charlotte, who suffers with Rett, the fictional Ava lives with her nearly fourteen year old sister, Nic, and her mum and dad, but struggles to tell them what she wants and how she’s feeling. Through Ava’s inner voice, the reader hears what she wants to say, even when her parents and sister don’t understand her. It takes the arrival of her new carer, Kieran for the family to work out a way to help her.

How do you show the authentic relationship between protagonist Ava and her older sister Nic?

My eldest daughter, Beth, helped me a lot with the relationship between the two girls. Despite having raised my daughters, and watching them grow up together, I found it hard capture their relationship on paper. Like many siblings, it’s not all hugs and love – there’s rivalry and jealousy, but when the chips are down, true love is exposed. It was important to me to accurately show how Nic would respond to her sister in various situations. I didn’t want to show  the typical eye rolling teenager. For example, when I asked Beth what Nic would say when Mum wanted to put Ava in respite, she very quickly replied, ‘She’d say no, Ava would hate that!’ This wasn’t the reaction I expected. I thought Beth would think Nic would love time without her annoying sibling, rather than consider her sister’s feelings.

Why did you write the book as fiction rather than non-fiction?

Ava’s voice was very powerful when I began writing, but having never heard my own daughter speak, I could only imagine what was going on inside her head. Right from the start, I had to use poetic licence to interpret what was happening for Ava, which meant the book naturally became a work of fiction. Many of the raw, difficult experiences in the book are based on true events, for example, being placed on hold for hours with Centrelink, Ava having a melt down in the hospital, the embarrassment of Nic and the exhaustion of Mum, but there were some things about our life I wasn’t ready to share.

Ava starts at Rosie’s Cottage, a respite home. In your experience, how accessible and worthwhile is respite care for those with a disability?

We’ve always struggled with respite. Having a non-verbal child means they can’t tell you if everything is as it should be when they stay somewhere else overnight. Also, because our daughter is so physically fragile, the other clients were often not a good match. She’d be knocked over, or just left sitting on a couch all weekend. If it is a good service, respite can be very worthwhile as it gives the person a chance to make their own friends and have experiences they would never have with their own family.  For example, we’ve never taken Charlotte to Dreamworld, but she’s been with respite. We currently don’t have a safe, enjoyable overnight respite place for our daughter, so we pay carers to care for her one-on-one in our home, so she feels safe and protected when we’re not there. 

How helpful is art for young people like Ava?

Art can be incredibly soothing. In the story, Ava’s colours in her paintings to reflect her mood, and I think my own daughter would do the same. But more than that, the art teachers and music teachers we’ve encountered with Charlotte seem to have a way of bringing out the best in their students. Perhaps it’s accessing that other side of the brain? I’ve got a feeling that would be the same for people with or without disabilities. Art and music are very therapeutic.

Many people don’t treat those with a disability well, e.g. substitute teacher Wendy. What is something you would like people to know about how to treat someone with Rett syndrome?

I often ask people to consider Stephen Hawkins. Bent and twisted in his wheelchair, how would we ever know what he had to say if he couldn’t use a speech device? So, I try and tell people not to judge a book by its cover. People with Rett syndrome and any disability are just like us. They may not be able to communicate, they may look a bit different, but talking to them like any other person, smiling, and asking how their day is going, will make them feel less isolated and more included as part of the community. Empathy is so important.

What parallel have you created between Ava’s life and what happens to her father?

In the story, Ava’s dad falls unexpectedly ill in Ava’s presence. This creates a situation where Ava feels her lack of communication more keenly than ever. She can’t help him, or even call for help. I see this in my own daughter when she tries so hard to say something; her eyes shine and her lips make the shape of a word, but no words comes out. It’s incredibly hard. Creating a situation where Dad can’t communicate for a while gives him a true understanding of what it’s like for Ava, and helps the family advocate more strongly to find a way to help her.

How has your family reacted to the story?

My husband was surprised at first, saying, ‘Is that what you really think is going on inside Charlotte’s head?’ He said the book has helped him understand her more and make more of an effort to try and understand her subtle ways of communicating. Both daughters, Charlotte and Beth, are very proud of the book, with Charlotte grinning all through the recent book launch, and any time I talk about it.

Your books have received recognition in many awards. Which has meant the most to you and why?

Recognition from your peers is so important. I’m incredibly proud and grateful for any award nomination as we have so many talented authors in Australia. I think, in particular, when my first book, Smooch & Rose was voted in the Readings Top 5, and shortlisted for the Qld Literary Awards, it really help me believe I should keep writing. More recently, winning the Environmental Award for Wombat Warriors was pretty fantastic!

What do you hope for Everything I’ve Never Said?

I hope my story will shed some light on people living without a voice. People who can’t speak up, whether they have a disability, or are shy or too scared to say what they think, need to know we do care about what they have to say. I also hoped people with Rett or other disabilities, families, siblings, carers, friends would feel less alone. We’re in this together, and while it might not be ‘Italy’, it’s a very special type of ‘Holland’ where, even with its ups and downs, we live lives full of unexpected treasures.

Thank you so much for giving us even more insight into Rett syndrome and living with disability, Samantha. It has been a privilege.

Thank you, thanks for the opportunity!

(Everything I’ve Never Said is published by University of Qld Press)

Picture Books for Christmas that Make Your Heart Sing

Looking for Christmas book gifts that aren’t necessarily festive-themed? Want beautiful stories of the heart that are perfect to share at a time of love, hope and togetherness? Here’s a little mix of brand new picture books that make your heart sing just as much as carollers on your doorstep.

Marvin and Marigold: A Stormy Night, Mark Carthew (author), Simon Prescott (illus.), New Frontier Publishing, October 2018.

Last year Marvin and Marigold did celebrate Christmas in A Christmas Surprise. This year they are exploring themes of friendship, kindness and overcoming fears when things get a little shaky. Being afraid on a wildly rainy night is a feeling many preschool-aged children know all too well. However, Carthew expertly leaves readers unrattled by this overbearing storm with plenty of reassurance and a loving message of the importance of family – very much inclusive of our beloved pets. Written with gentle rhyming couplets and sprinkled with humour, A Stormy Night takes the intensity of the swirling thunderclaps down a notch and rather reinforces the warmth of having one another and their grandparents to feel safe and sound. The final page further leaves a satisfying surprise to add to the warm and fluffies! A nice one to share with family these holidays.

Wisp; A Story of Hope, Zana Fraillon (author), Grahame Baker-Smith (illus.), Lothian Children’s Books, August 2018.

A stunningly told and illustrated book that literally sends shivers running through your spine. Beginning with a world of people alone, poor and desperate, to guiding us with an aura of ambience to a place of memory, promise and hope. Wisp is an exceptional story of a young refugee finding a whispering light that is passed around to elders, returning the glint in their eye of a life that ‘once’ was. The tales they tell swell with uplifting memories, music and magic that quells the dullness they have come to know. The illustrations are simply breathtaking. Vast landscapes where shadows meet sparks of glow and colour. For a child of primary school age to read this book, Wisp provides them with a deeper understanding of war and a beautiful impression of the power of hopes, dreams and optimism for the future. Particularly relevant at this time of year.

The Christmas Choir: Silent Night, Lara Hawthorne (illus.), Lincoln Children’s Books, September 2018.

A beautiful rendition of the traditional Christmas carol – Silent Night – adorned with paintings reminiscent of a child-friendly style of Biblical graphics. Bold blocks of colour are draped over camel-riding shepherds, kings, virgin mother and child, with dark backdrops glittering with sparkling stars. The classic song spreads throughout this tale of the calm and beautiful holy night in which Jesus was born, and is also written in full verse at the finale. A background story about the song’s original composition in 1818 in Oberndorf bei Salzburg, Austria is also provided – funnily enough written in hast by Catholic curate, Joseph Mohr on Christmas Eve because of a problem with the church organ caused by mice. Reading (and singing) Silent Night to your children is a lovely way to teach them about the faith and also gain further insights into the meaning of the world famous and beloved carol.

The Aussie ABC Christmas, Nancy Bevington (illus.), New Frontier Publishing, October 2018.

Now here’s one with a mix of the traditional and the modern, but totally classic Aussie! The Aussie ABC Christmas will make your heart swell with pride for our true-blue Australian customs, natives and way of life. Bevington has done a brilliant job culminating all the quirks and nuances of our nation with Christmas through her adorable, humorous and clever illustrations across the alphabet. An Akubra-wearing Angel, a red bucket-topped ‘sandman’ on the Beach, Kissing Koalas under the mistletoe, Anzac biscuits and Milk for Santa and plenty more. Not to mention nods to the good ol’ Hills Hoist used as an Ornament, and famous landmarks like the Opera House as a resting place for the Reindeer. This is how to make your Aussie Christmas a celebration to splash out on! So much fun for children from age three.

Find even more fantastic Christmas book gifts via Dimity Powell’s roundups and the Boomerang Books gift guide for children here.

Merry Christmas!

Great Gift Ideas # 3 Crazy Christmas Books

Before you race out to spend a fortune on the latest toy this Christmas, check out these crazy Christmas books. They are more fun than a box of crayons and can be enjoyed individually or with a loved one. How’s that for value. And there is enough Christmas spirit in each one to jingle your Christmas bells well into the new year! Enjoy the roundup.

A Miniature Christmas Anthology edited by Beattie Alvarez

Each year the good folk at Christmas Press present an entertaining seasonal anthology for kids. This year, A Miniature Christmas explores the, you guessed it, miniature worlds of all things tiny from genies, mice, elves, fuchsia fairies, even app characters! Several well -known authors and illustrators share their short stories alongside new names in the children’s literary world, each crafting tales that intrigue, entertain and make you ponder. For example:

The Funactor by Oliver Phommavanh is a clever observation of our 21st obsession with apps.

Goblin Christmas by Ian Irvine combines urban social issues with fantasy that has a touch of Harry Potter mystic about it.

George the Genie by Dianne Bates has all the form, plot and cheeky wisdom of a classic fairytale whilst Small Creatures by Rebecca Fung is just plain good fun.

The stories are short enough to share with your child each night on the countdown to Christmas, with special drawings to enhance the magic of each tale. This collection would make a jolly Christmas stocking addition for young primary aged readers.

Christmas Press November 2018

Macca’s Christmas Crackers by Matt Cosgrove

For me, this is the best of the Macca instalments by far. Funny, fast paced and full of Christmas cheer coupled with a warming message about the true spirit of Christmas, this seasonal romp with Macca the Alpaca reminds us that the best Christmases need not cost anything but love, friendship and goodwill. A cheerful lesson for kids (that is not the slightest bit preachy or forced) and a timely reminder for us big kids to slow down and regain seasonal perspective. Aztec bright and brilliant!

Koala Books, Scholastic October 2018

Continue reading Great Gift Ideas # 3 Crazy Christmas Books

A Touch of Spirit: Talking with Teena Raffa-Mulligan and Who Dresses God?

Today we’re joined by the remarkable Teena Raffa-Mulligan, author to a number of children’s titles including picture books, junior fiction and middle grade novels, as well as romantic reads for the adults. Always possessing a love of the imagination, magic, excitement and adventure, Teena has produced such engaging titles like Friends, True Blue Amigos, Mad Dad for Sale, amongst others, and her latest re-release edition of Who Dresses God? The latter is a gentle and touching story inspired by her daughter’s spiritual exploration of the practicalities of the higher being, that is, God. When years ago as a young child, this divine little soul sought philosophical insights into how God can hear, see and speak, how He transcends yet blends into everything, everywhere, without any physical connection. This is a tender and loving rhyming picture book that opens the gateways to enlightened discussion amongst families with preschoolers and beyond, and is particularly delightful to share around this holy time of year. And here’s Teena to share more with us…

Teena, you have had a long relationship with writing coming from a background in journalism. How did your path lead you to become a children’s author, and what do you love about the world of children’s books?

I knew from an early age that I wanted to be a writer. Books opened a door into the wonderful world of imagination for me and from the time I learnt to read my head was filled with story ideas of my own. The journalism came about by accident rather than intention. In high school when the vocational guidance officer suggested I become a journalist I dismissed the idea as I thought it would be far too boring to write news stories.

My ambition was to be a ‘real’ writer and I had dreams of living a Bohemian life in Paris and writing serious literary novels. However a good looking surfer came onto scene and instead I married and we bought a home and started a family. I’ve always loved books, so I read to our baby son from the time he was a few months old. That’s when I decided I wanted to write for children. I knew nothing about the publishing industry and it was long before computers and the Internet, so it was a learning journey. I received some lovely feedback about my ‘beautiful writing’ and ‘engaging characters’ but all my early manuscripts were rejected by multiple publishers.

That’s when I decided it would be easier to get freelance articles published than children’s books – and it was. Editors bought my stories, requested more and I soon found myself doing – and enjoying – the job I’d dismissed as ‘boring’ in my teens when local papers came on the scene. General reporting and feature writing evolved into sub-editing and editing and I learnt some invaluable skills that I was able to use in my creative writing.

I never lost my dream of becoming a published author, so continued to write, submit and learn everything I could about writing for children. In time the acceptances began to come in. I love the world of children’s books because imagination is unlimited and possibilities abound. It’s a world of magic, wonder, excitement and adventure and the kid in me revels in having the chance to explore it through writing and reading.

You’ve written a mix of articles, short stories, poetry, picture books, juvenile fiction and adult titles. Do you have a genre you feel most comfortable with? What do you find are the most common themes or influences in your writing?

I’m happiest writing for younger readers, and that can be a poem, short story, picture book or chapter book. I’m a bit of a butterfly so staying focused on a novel is a bit of a challenge for me. Many of my stories have themes of belonging, family and friendship, though I don’t set out with that in mind. Essentially, I look on the brighter side of life and my stories invariably have a lightness and optimism about them.

You have recently re-released your gentle and loving story, ‘Who Dresses God?’, originally published in 2012. What can you tell us about this book and what is your aim for readers sharing it with family members, particularly around this time of the year?

The book was inspired by my younger daughter, who asked me that question as a child after a conversation with my mum. We weren’t a religious family so the question came out of the blue for me. I answered it the best I could, we had an interesting discussion and I didn’t give the subject any further thought until a few days later when my writers’ brain clicked into gear. I didn’t consciously set out to write a picture book. It was one of those ‘gifts’ that turn up from time to time in a writing life; a story, poem or scene from a larger work that arrives without warning and the only effort on the author’s part is to commit the words to the page or screen.

I hope the story will start a discussion between children and their family members and encourage young people to think about the world we share and whether there is more to it than there appears to be.

What kinds of strategies, discussions or activities would you suggest for parents and educators to engage in following the reading of ‘Who Dresses God?’?

These two awareness exercises are simple for young children to do:

1. Close your eyes. What do you see? How does it feel? Cover your ears with your hands. What can you hear? How does that feel? Close your lips and cover your mouth. Try to speak. Does it work? How does it feel when you can’t use your mouth and tongue to speak?
2. Go outdoors to a nature area such as the park, bushland or seashore. Stand perfectly still and look around you. What do you see? Listen. What do you hear? Can you feel anything? Then go through the same process, only this time with closed eyes and blocked ears. How much of the world around you are you aware of when you do this? NB. This can also be done in a suburban shopping centre or city street; also while travelling in a car, bus or train.

Here’s one for older children:
Imagine you have the amazing power to create your own world and everything in it. How would it look and how would things work? Write a description or draw a picture of your world.

You and illustrator, Veronica Rooke, have not only collaborated on the development of this and several other books, but also conduct school presentations together. What has it been like working with her on these projects?

I met Veronica when I was working for a local newspaper and she was producing a weekly cartoon strip for the publication, so our friendship goes way back. Our paths used to cross from time to time and I knew she was a talented artist but our creative collaborations didn’t start until she moved into the street where I live about 12 years ago. I was looking for someone to illustrate the new edition of my stranger danger picture book and saw her jogging in the street so stopped to ask if she’d be interested. As it turned out, she’d recently made an employment change and the timing was right.

I was impressed with the way Veronica worked, because I had no idea how to brief an artist. I simply handed over the manuscript and said, “See what you come up with. I’d like it to be bright and colourful with cartoony characters.” She asked the right questions, produced wonderful illustrations, designed the book and organised it to be print ready for the printer.

I still take the same approach when I commission Veronica to create illustrations or book covers, though occasionally I will suggest a particular style or mood. I was thrilled when Serenity Press commissioned her to illustrate my picture book, Friends, and encouraged a collaborative approach, because we work so well together. I give her space to interpret my stories artistically and she is always willing to make changes if there’s something I feel isn’t right.
As for dual presentations, it’s great for a writer to have an artist in the room. We take turns to show how we work, interact with each other and the students, and while I’m talking, Veronica can add pictures to my words in the background. We’ve also put together a joint workshop presentation that gives young people the chance to make their own picture book.

Fun Question: If you could dress God, what would you choose for Him to wear?

Hmm. This one’s tricky! Because God isn’t like you and me, I’d dress Him in a rainbow, a symphony of birdsong and the gentle caress of a spring breeze.

What does Christmas time look like for you and your family? What are your favourite festive traditions?

We always have a family get together at our house in the evening for our children and their families. The meal is buffet style, with contributions from everyone: a selection of salads, sliced chicken and turkey, vegan and vegetarian options, trifle and fruit salad for dessert. Every year I make the chocolate snowballs and chocolate fudge my mother-in-law used to make, and the bean salad and nut meat pasties that my mum made at Christmas.

After the meal there’s gift giving, followed by a walk to the beach just over the hill and a cricket game in the cul-de-sac opposite our house. I love that our family can be together at this time.

For many years there was another tradition on Christmas Day, and that was a visit to the Italian family home in Fremantle. It began in my childhood and long after my grandmother died my bachelor uncle continued to hold open house there. My father’s side of the family would all turn up at various times, gather around the enormous table that filled the big kitchen and catch up on all the news. Sadly, after my uncle died eight years ago the house was sold and that tradition is no more. I miss it.

Anything else of excitement you’d like to add? News? Upcoming projects? TBR pile?

I have a new picture book in production and scheduled for release by Daisy Lane Publishing in mid-2019. When the Moon is a Smile is about the special times a small girl spends with her dad, who no longer lives with them. I’m thrilled to be working with publisher Jennifer Sharp, who spent a week exploring London with me last year after we both attended the Serenity Press writers’ retreat at Crom Castle in Ireland. I also can’t wait to see what illustrator Amy Calautti comes up with for the illustrations.

Thank you very much for your time, Teena! It’s been wonderful learning more about you! 🙂

It’s been a pleasure chatting with you. You asked some great questions and the dressing God one put me on the spot!

Visit Teena Raffa-Mulligan at her website, and on her blog tour for Who Dresses God? here.

Sea Song Publications

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Review: The Last Namsara by Kristen Ciccarelli

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The Last Namsara by Kristen Ciccarelli is so epically captivating that I’m mad at myself for not reading it sooner! It was deliciously good. It promised dragons and wicked magic and outcast princesses turned into hunters to redeem themselves. And it not only delivered, it excited me with the complex world and characters you can’t help but love despite their prickly disposition to stabbing things.

The story follows Asha, a scorned daughter of the king, turned into a dragon slayer to protect her people — since she’s the reason dragons attacked and killed so many of them so long ago. She wears the weight of her terrible sins, and does everything she can to please her father. But this also means she’s about to be married to a boy who’s grown into a cruel soldier. Her father does offer her a way out of the arrangement though: find the First Dragon, Kozu, and kill him and bring his head and heart to the king to pay the price for Asha’s wickedness. But in order to lure him out, she’ll have to tell stories. And telling stories is not only forbidden — it’s what threw Asha into this terrifying doom in the first place.

I am just so here for dragon stories. I always get worried they won’t live up to expectations, but this does so splendidly! Asha is a dragon slayer to start with, hunting dragons because they’re represent the Old Ways (which her father is outlawing) and they’re also dangerous to the people. Asha has a complicated relationship with dragons, because as a child she used to tell them stories and that’s what started this horror, when they turned and attacked her. She’s horribly scarred and wears armour made from their skin — but they used to be her friends. I loved how this was explored and the twists in the relationships. (So don’t fear! It’s not all dragon slaying. We love on some dragons too.)

The cast is quite varied, complex, and excellent. Asha is the sole narrator, but we also get very close to her brother (Dax) and her illegitimate slave cousin (Safire)…and of course met her horrible cruel hearted betrothed (Jarek). It would’ve been nice to have gotten to know Safire better, but Dax was loveable with his anxious inability to be a “proper” dark hearted dragon king. And I HATED Jarek.

And of course we can’t forget the one who steals Asha’s cold, fierce heart: Torwin. I absolutely adored their relationship. If you’re looking for an incredible slowburn romance = this is it! They’re so tentative at first, with Asha so locked in her shell of being hated and despised, that she can’t even fathom someone truly loving her. And Torwin is also a slave, forbidden to touch Asha, but he’s not scared to risk everything. They have a relationship of saving each other, seeing each other’s lives horribly risk, mending each other’s lash wounds or dragon wounds. It’s tentative and sweet, and your heart will melt with Asha’s as she realises maybe she can love. But not only that: maybe she deserves to love and be loved.

It’s easy to be captivated by the world too! It has a dust and desert vibe, with lots of lore woven through the book in the form of quick stories of their past. It made the world seem vast, to have the backstory legends too, and I loved the details in their clothing and customs. They also have stories that have power. If you tell a story, you can summon a dragon, and it’s outlawed, along with all the Old Ways. There’s a great deal of magic here, but not magical-wielding people. The plot is definitely on the slower side, and the book is hefty, but the characters are so entrancing it’s hard to look away.

This is definitely a book about defying society’s expectations. I loved that about it, because it’s such an important message! It’s fiercely about love and hate, how they can be powerful and destroy…or powerful and rebuild you. Asha is the badass and terrifying dragon queen we have all been longing to hear about.

The Things That Will Not Stand and other goodies for Christmas by Michael Gerard Bauer

Thanks for speaking with Boomerang Books, Michael. You have an incredible, and awarded, body of work for children and young adults.

I remember first reading The Running Man as a proof copy and knowing that this was an Australian classic; literally falling off my chair with laughter when I read Don’t Call Me Ishmael; and judging the Qld Literary Awards when Just a Dog won best children’s book.

Could you please tell us about these and some of your other books?

I often get asked at school visits which of my books is my favourite. Of course, a bit like choosing between your children, it’s probably an impossible question to answer. I’m happy to say that I love and am proud of everything I’ve written and each book has something that makes it special for me. I would never have the nerve to send them off to my publisher if that wasn’t the case.

The Running Man of course will always be special to me. It made me a published author, won the CBCA Book of the Year and changed my life in ways that I’d only ever dreamed about. It also says some things that are important to me – like how we often judge and label people and put them in a convenient box, without really knowing them or seeing the human being behind the label. I was writing it back in the early 2000s when the issue of refugees was very much in the news and they were being demonised by some. Sadly not much has changed.

Some people might think it strange, but of all the things I’ve written, I’m probably most proud of the Ishmael trilogy. I’d happily be judged as a writer just on the basis of those three books. I love the mix of comedy with more serious moments and the way the characters grow and develop and reveal different aspects of themselves as the series unfolds. I’m also pleased with how the series ends and that ultimately it’s all about the saving power of love and friendship. It was a sad day for me when I wrote the final scene and said goodbye to characters I loved. I have a special place in my heart for readers who take the time to follow the journey of Ishmael and his friends all the way from year nine through to graduation. Some of the loveliest emails I’ve received are about these books.

I loved writing Just a Dog. I enjoyed the challenge of trying to write a powerful story in the simple language of a young boy. It took quite a few drafts to get there but I was really pleased with the way it turned out. A number of Corey’s and Mr Mosely’s stories were based on childhood memories of dogs I grew up with. The response to this book has been overwhelmingly positive and beautiful but because of the serious and ‘more adult’ issues it also touches on, it’s had a bit of a polarising effect on readers. One lady said after reading the book that it was going ‘straight in the fire’! I remember when I submitted it, my publisher asked me who I thought the story was for. My answer was, ‘I’m not sure. Maybe it’s just for me.’

Like I said at the start, I could give reasons why each of my books is special to me – but don’t worry I won’t do that! However I have to mention what a joy it was to work on the Eric Vale and Secret Agent Derek ‘Danger’ Dale series with my beautiful (and genius!) son Joe. (AND you can check out Joe and wife Rita’s ARTSPEAR ENTERTAINMENT YouTube channel to see for yourself why this super-talented couple have 1 MILLION subscribers.)

Where are you based and what’s your background in children’s and YA literature?

I’m based in Brisbane. I’ve lived most of my life in the suburb of Ashgrove which was the setting for The Running Man. We now live in the bordering suburb. Look how far I’ve come!

I was a secondary school teacher of English and Economics for quite a few years and dreamed of being a writer. I had what amounted to a quadruple major in English Literature from Qld Uni but my awareness and depth of knowledge of children’s and YA literature was quite limited until I got a job at Marist Ashgrove (the school St Daniel’s is based on in the Ishmael books). The wonderful English co-ordinator there who interviewed me and who was ultimately responsible for me getting the job, said I needed to know more about what young people were reading. She handed me a stack of YA and middle grade novels to read over the Christmas holidays. It opened my eyes to a whole new world of stories.

How are you involved in this community at the moment?

I’m very fortunate living in Brisbane as we have a very vibrant, active and enthusiastic writing and illustrating community. It’s a large and supportive group and I’m often in contact with other local writers and illustrators through book launches and other literary function and events. My involvement comes about mainly via such organisations as the Queensland Writers Centre, ASA, Book Links and the local branch of the CBCA. I’m also a member of the May Gibbs Children’s Literature Trust where I’m on the selection committee for their Fellowships and Residencies.

Could you please tell us about your new novel, The Things That Will Not Stand?

Well if you insist! The Things That Will Not Stand is a YA novel set over just nine or so hours at a University Open Day for senior school students. It is told in the first person, present tense by a year eleven boy called Sebastian, who is attending the day with his best friend (and perhaps mentor) Tolly. Sebastian is a bit of a lost soul as well as a romantic and when he has a brief encounter with the ‘perfect girl’ he can’t help himself hoping and dreaming that they might make a connection and his day will pan out like some feel-good, rom-com movie. Instead, he meets Frida – the ‘wrong’ girl – and his and Tolly’s day takes a very different and much more unpredictable, turn.

It’s a story about two teenagers who are both hurting and damaged in their own way. It’s about the stories they tell, the secrets they keep and the courage and faith it takes to share their real selves. The novel is a mix of comedy and drama because as Sebastian says about life, ‘It’s never just one type of thing … It’s all over the place. One minute it’s tears. Next minute it’s laughter. Then, just when you think you’re headed for a happy ending, the monsters turn up.’ I hope readers enjoy spending the day with Frida and Sebastian and Tolly. I certainly did.

How important is an opening scene and how did you write it here?

An opening scene is crucial. First impressions count, as they say. I think a good opening scene feels like the curtains are suddenly drawn back and you find yourself as the reader in the centre of someone else’s world. A world that hopefully draws you in and hangs on. TTTWNS opens with Sebastian standing in a cinema foyer staring at a set of big sliding doors, hoping and praying that soon they will glide open and the girl of his dreams will walk through. I chose to start here because it’s a dramatic and pivotal moment that could go either way. It also a scene that reveals a lot about Sebastian’s character and personality.

How does Sebastian represent a “Very Ordinary Guy”?

This is Sebastian’s description of himself and it reflects the doubts and lack of confidence a lot of young people – both male and female – have about themselves, especially when they compare themselves to others around them and (unfairly) to larger than life celebrities. In that way he is an ordinary teenager because like most teenagers, he doesn’t see or appreciate the extraordinary and admirable qualities he actually does have. But I’d like to think that readers will see them.

Frida has a sharp wit. How did you form her dialogue?

I enjoy writing dialogue and I loved creating the exchanges between Frida and the boys. I can’t explain the process of writing the dialogue or where the ideas come from. I think knowing the character well and seeing them as real people helps. Because of Frida’s connection to Frida Kahlo I imagined her as someone who was creative, fiery, intelligent and strong-willed but also with a sense of fun and humour and compassion. I tried to channel that. Writing for me is often like picturing a scene in my head and watching it like film and then trying to capture in words what I see and hear.

I think everyone loves humour but it’s so difficult to write. It’s something you do well! How do you pull it off?

I often get asked how I come up with the jokes and humour in books like the Ishmael series and the Eric Vale series. I can never answer those questions. I sometimes do workshops on writing humour and talk about how the key to all humour is ‘surprise’ or the ‘unexpected’ and how you can apply this to creating surprising and unexpected characters, situations, storylines and language use. But I must admit that I don’t have a conscious process I go through or a formula in my mind when I’m writing comedy. I just try to think of things that I find funny. Pathetic explanation, I know! I was never extroverted or a ‘class clown’ at school, but I could always make my friends laugh. I think it helps that I’ve loved comedy and have devoured funny movies, TV shows, cartoons and books ever since I was a little kid. One of the strengths I think I have as a creator of stories, it is that I often see connections and links between things. Perhaps being able to see surprising and unexpected connections between words and ideas and situations, helps with producing humour and witty dialogue.

What is the significance of the movie Casablanca and other movies in the novel?

Like The Big Lebowski, Casablanca is one of my favourite films. Best dialogue ever. It’s significant in the novel because as a love story it stands in contrast and challenges Sebastian’s happy ending rom-com fantasies. The final scene of Casablanca shows that love is not a selfish thing, that sometimes it involves pain and sacrifice. After watching the film together, Frida comments jokingly that Sebastian is nothing like Bogart’s character Rick in the film. I like to think that by the end of the novel she might not be so sure.

How are Sebastian and his mate Tolly actually not Ordinary Guys, but superheroes?

Aren’t most superheroes ordinary people most of the time until those crucial moments when they are called on to reveal their alter-ego? Sebastian and Tolly don’t have superhero costumes but they do have those moments when they reveal who they are through their words or actions – such as when Tolly takes on Frida’s tormentor in the lecture theatre. But they’re not your classic superheroes. If they do possess any ‘superpowers’ it’s just their essential decency and empathy.

The Things That Will Not Stand is an engaging read that, at first, conceals scars and depths in the character’s lives. How do you unpeel these layers?

Every time you have a character in a scene they are revealing something of themselves – how they act, their appearance and mannerisms, the words and images they choose to use, how they react to other characters, other situations and ideas, their thoughts and feelings and attitudes – all of these things and more help readers’ build up an understanding and appreciation of a character.  Even if the character is trying to hide or disguise who they are, their real nature can be shown to seep through.

Sometimes in TTTWNS hidden layers are exposed when cracks and inconsistencies appear in a character’s story.  More importantly, layers are peeled back when trust grows between the characters – when they feel brave enough to place some of their secret pain and hurt in someone else’s hands. The various events of the day provide the opportunities for the trust and connection between Sebastian and Frida to grow and strengthen.

What is the significance of the title?

The title is a line from the movie The Big Lebowski – a big favourite of mine. The main character in the film, The Dude (Jeff Bridges) says at one point, ‘This aggression must not stand, man.’ In the book the statement ‘It will not stand’ is used by Sebastian and Tolly as a declaration of intent, a call to action against some perceived wrong or injustice or any unacceptable situation. A bit like how recently all those amazing school kids around Australia saw the lack of commitment by our country’s leaders in dealing with Climate Change and took to the streets. To my mind, that was a big ‘It will not stand’ moment. I could well imagine Sebastian and Frida being there, with Tolly leading the way.

What are you writing next?

There might be a sequel to Rodney Loses It. I hope so anyway. Winning the CBCA award this year as well as the Speech Pathology of Australia award and sharing that success with the amazing Chrissie Krebs has been such a great thrill. I’m pottering around with some ideas and verses at the moment, but I won’t submit anything to my publishers unless I think it’s up to the standard of the first book.

The main thing I will be writing next year is a serious YA novel (my first completely serious book since The Running Man). I was very fortunate recently to receive a Queensland Writers Fellowship to support this project. The working title of the book is Gaps and Silences. Like The Running Man, it will be set in Ashgrove, but further in the past. There might also be some slight connections between the two stories. Haven’t quite worked that out yet. There’s still a lot of pieces of the jigsaw puzzle of find and assemble before I get a clear idea of the full picture.

Anything else you’d like to mention?

I have a blog/webpage at michaelgerardbauer.com and I’m on Facebook at Michael Gerard Bauer Author, Twitter @m_g_bauer and Instagram at mgbauerpics.

Thank you, Michael, for your generous and insightful responses. 

Michael writes across age-groups – so seek out his works for Christmas gifts. I highly recommend The Things That Will Not Stand for teen readers.

(Books published by Scholastic Australia)

Prime Minister’s Literary Awards 2018

It was a great privilege to attend the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards in Canberra yesterday. I was on the judging panel of the Children’s and Young Adult categories and we were thrilled with both our shortlisted and winning books.

It was wonderful to see the value that Prime Minister Scott Morrison placed on Australian literature in his speech, citing David Malouf’s Johnno, for instance, and the importance of children’s books.

All of our Children’s shortlisted authors and illustrators attended as well as a number of our YA authors. It was such a treat to speak with Lisa Shanahan and Binny Talib, creators of the highly engaging and layered Hark, It’s Me, Ruby Lee! (Hachette); and Sarah Brennan and the legendary Jane Tanner (Drac and the Gremlin, The Fisherman and the Theefyspray, Isabella’s Bedroom and There’s a Sea in My Bedroom) – creators of Storm Whale (Allen & Unwin); and the winners of this category – some of children’s lit loveliest and most talented people – Glenda Millard and Stephen Michael King for the stunning Pea Pod Lullaby (Allen & Unwin). This is a lyrical directive to everyone to care for refugees and anyone needing help.

 

Scholastic Australia was very well represented, with a table full of shortlisted authors and illustrators hosted by publisher Clare Halifax. Beautiful picture book Feathers was written by the ever-smiling Phil Cummings (Ride, Ricardo, Ride!, Bridie’s Boots,  Boy, Newspaper Hats) and illustrated by Phil Lesnie (Once a Shepherd).

 

 

Rising star Tamsin Janu was again awarded for her Figgy series set in Ghana. This time for Figgy Takes the CityHer novel Blossom, about a girl who looks after an alien, was also entered and she has another original work due to be published next year.

 

In the YA category, Bruce Whatley’s extraordinary graphic novel, Ruben, was shortlisted. Bruce was accompanied by his exuberant wife, Rosie Smith (My Mum’s the Best).

And Scholastic published the winning YA work: the delightful Richard Yaxley’s originally-constructed holocaust novel, This is My Song.

Authors don’t know in advance if they have won so it was an emotional time for all as the winning books were announced.

I also loved catching up with some of the poets, such as eminent writer Judith Beveridge; genre-crossing Adam Aitken, shortlisted for Archipelago (Vagabond Press); and Brian Castro who won with Blindness and Rage: A Phantasmagoria (Giramondo) and appropriately read a poem-speech. His prose work, The Bath Fugues, is a personal favourite.

Gerald Murnane, winner of the fiction category for Border Districts (another winner for Giramondo) is known as a recluse. He tried hard to get to Canberra but just couldn’t manage the distance. It is great to see his work recognised further with this prestigious award.

The ceremony was a very special and memorable event. Sincere thanks to the awards committee.

The complete list of winners, shortlisted books and judge reports can be found at the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards website.

Greats Gift Ideas # 2 -Tweens and Teens

They may think they’re too old for Christmas but thrust one of these great reads into their Christmas stockings this year and your tweens and teens will love your forever, or at least have something incredible to tie them over until the turkey is ready. Here are some recent must-read middle grade and young adult fiction titles that make ideal gifts this season. There are literally dozens more, some featured already as full reviews this year. Check them out, here. Alternatively, visit the Boomerang Books Christmas gift books list for more literary inspiration.

His Name Was Walter by Emily Rodda

Historic, mysterious and crawling with supernatural scare. This is a consuming story within a story of love, embezzled fortunes and trust and old mysteries. Rodda enchants with her ability to knit the past with the present and overlay it all with a good old fashioned fairy-tale that lances kids’ hearts with imagination. Highly recommended late night reading for tweens and lovers of twisted fairy tales.

HarperCollins Children’s Books August 2018

Continue reading Greats Gift Ideas # 2 -Tweens and Teens

Furthermore and Whichwood by Tahereh Mafi

If I ever crave gorgeous worlds and perfectly delicious writing, I always take myself over to a Tahereh Mafi book. She just has such a way with words! It makes you feel like you’re in the story, due to the sensory elements and the magical creativity. I’ve always loved her YA Shatter Me series, so I was very keen to try her children’s duology, Furthermore and Whichwood. To say they are an exquisite delight is an understatement! I thought I’d give you a little introduction to both books because you absolutely need them in your life. (True, now.)

Also technically Whichwood is a sequel, but can be read on its own!

FURTHERMORE

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We tumble into the world of Ferenwood which is a cosy small town where magic is colour and when one turns twelve, they Surrender their chief magical talent and are given a quest to help others. But Alice has this one problem: she is colourless. She’s so so pale and milky white and, since her father took a ruler and disappeared one day, she’s been entirely alone. Books giving us oddball and misfit protagonists isn’t anything new, but Alice is so winning. I love this trope and I think it’s so endearing because it’s so easy to feel like the “odd” one out. And Alice is delightfully firm in her opinions, disagreeable to those who are mean to her, and extremely passionate. She’s not always “nice” and she’s not perfect, which makes her even more loveable.

The adventure takes off when she and Oliver (aka her childhood nemesis) end up thrown together to find Alice’s father. They have to travel to Furthermore, which is also a magical land, governed by ridiculous and impossible rules. And if you mess up? Well people will eat you. No pressure for sure.

It has everything you want in a story! Magic! Adventure! Unlikely friendships where they bicker and also save each other! And the writing is this entrancing delight, where every word is weighed in colour and smells and Alice eats flowers and Oliver tells lies and everything goes horribly wrong before it goes right.

WHICHWOOD

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Now we trot over to Whichwood and you will absolutely fall in love with this one and it’s frosty setting and sharp lemony protagonist named Laylee. She washes the bodies of the dead and, with her magical Mordeshoor abilities, sends them on to a restful afterlife. Grim? I think yes. But somehow it’s macabre and gorgeous, with Laylee eating sugared snowflakes and every description making your heart glow with wonder at this strange world where a little girl is forced into such a dark job (but she secretly loves it). She’s all alone after her mother died and her father wandered off, driven to madness from his grief.

And she’s dying. Laylee is turning silver from overwork in a thankless job since the people of Whichood barely pay her — in money or respect. What they don’t know though, is that if Laylee doesn’t do her job, the dead will get antsy and go find their own skins to try and relive again. They’ll unzip skins from the living and wear them instead.

What I adore about this one, is how dark it is — but it’s written in a hopeful and often whimsical way. Laylee’s ghosts are quaint and, yeah dead, but they actually love her. And Laylee is a fiercely gorgeous and sharp girl who’ll bite your hand off before accepting help. But a fingertip away from death…maybe she’ll accept the help from two strangers (named Oliver and Alice!) before she collapses and her dead go walking.

Brimming with Bounce: Interview with Robyn Osborne

Robyn Osborne is a children’s author and early childhood teacher from sunny Brisbane. She also happens to be a huge animal fanatic, with a particular love towards the canine variety. That’s why you’ll find dogs featuring in almost all of her books, including Dog Logic, award-winning My Dog Socks, and her latest bouncy tale, Bruno, the Boisterous Blue Dog from the Bush.

Today Robyn is here to discuss her writing adventures and to celebrate the release of Bruno; a book of busy alliteration and beaut Aussie slang, all bundled in a bold and bubbly tale of mateship and appreciating the simple life. Find Dimity’s bonzer review here.

Thanks for joining us, Robyn! 

Robyn, have you always been passionate about writing? How did your career path lead to becoming an author?

Like many authors, I was a keen reader from an early age and I was always going to become a writer when I grew up. My first publishing success came in my final year at high school when my angst ridden poem (I was a teenager) appeared in the yearbook. While university beckoned, I opted for a job in the public service, still dreaming of being a writer one day. Unfortunately, life got in the way, and it wasn’t until I became a teacher that I reignited my love of words and started to write in earnest. The release of my junior novel D.O.G. in 2005 was a huge confidence boost and I have gone on to have seven books published since then. At the beginning of 2018 I took a leap of faith and resigned from teaching to devote my time to writing, so after many, many years, my childhood dream has come true.

You’ve written a mix of short stories, picture books, junior fiction and young adult titles, many that have been influenced by your love of dogs. Do you have a genre you feel most comfortable with? Why are dog-themed stories such a strong influence in your writing?

There is no particular genre I prefer to focus on, but certainly my four legged furry friends are a common theme throughout most of my writing. As a self-confessed dogaphile, it seemed natural for me to incorporate them into my writing. I often wondered what went on in the heads of my two rescue dogs, Socks and Snowy. This pondering eventually led me to a couple of co-pawthored books. First up was the canine created and related Dog Logic: a pooch’s guide to dogs behaving badly (Big Sky Publishing, 2011). Dog Logic is a training book written from a dog’s perspective. I enjoyed the process of channelling my inner dog immensely, and in 2014 Snowy’s memoirs (Midget Bones’ Diary) were released. My latest two picture books (My Dog Socks & Bruno, the Boisterous Blue Dog from the Bush) were inspired by dogs I have known. The experts do say to write what you know, so I’m sure there are a few more dog stories to come.

You have won many accolades for your writing and books, including outstanding awards for My Dog Socks with the prestigious CBCA Notable Book 2018 and Speech Pathology Australia Book of the Year Shortlist Book 2018! Congratulations! How did you come to learn of these nominations? How did you feel, and how have these awards boosted your authorship status?

Thanks very much for your kind words. I have been thrilled with the continuing success of My Dog Socks. The CBCA Notable Book award came through via my publisher, Ford Street, as did the Speech Pathology Shortlist. It is hard to gauge what impact these awards have had on sales of the book, but I do love to see the stickers adorning the cover.

Your latest release, Bruno, the Boisterous Blue Dog from the Bush (Big Sky Publishing), challenges the tongue with its bouncy alliteration and embraces our national culture with its Aussie colloquialism. What teaching and learning experiences can you suggest for parents and educators of young readers? What is the most significant point you’d like children to understand from reading Bruno?

First and foremost, I want the book to be enjoyed. Teaching and learning experiences should flow on from what the children are interested in. If it is alliteration, have fun making up nonsense sentences using the letters from their names. Discussing the meaning of the slang terms could lead to exploring more of our wonderful Australian colloquialisms. There are free downloadable teaching notes for Bruno the Boisterous Blue Dog from the Bush available on the publisher’s website. I can vouch for their quality, as I wrote them!

Did Bruno go through many re-writes or did you have it nailed pretty quickly? How easy or challenging was it to include a book full of alliterated ‘b’ words? Are you a natural at the Aussie slang or was a dictionary on hand?

Combining my love of alliteration with a main character called Bruno Bright meant the rough draft went down quickly. Once I had this basic story, I tinkered with it over a number of years. My thesaurus and dictionary became invaluable for helping me find additional ‘b’ words and appropriate slang. The story was quite long, and when Big Sky Publishing said they were interested in the manuscript, I had the difficult job of cutting it down in size. Indeed, there were bountiful ‘b’ words that were banished from the book!

Fun Question: If you could describe yourself in only words beginning with ‘b’, what would that be?

‘Bright’ – it is my maiden name and my teacher’s enjoyed saying ‘Bright by name, bright by nature’. My husband suggested ‘boring’, as I do spend considerable time at the computer ignoring both my pets, i.e. him and the dog.

Anything else of excitement you’d like to add? News? Upcoming projects? TBR pile?

No book news, but I am very excited to be heading off to Tasmania very soon for three months. Jack the dog and writer’s muse extraordinaire will be accompanying me, along with my trusty laptop, so I am hoping to get some creative inspiration while taking in the delights of the Apple Isle.

Brilliant! Thanks very much, Robyn! It’s been a pleasure! 😊

You can visit Robyn Osborne at her website here, and on blog tour here.

Big Sky Publishing

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Review: Empress of All Seasons by Emiko Jean

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I was absolutely drawn into Empress of All Seasons by Emiko Jean from the moment I started chapter one. It presents such a lush and dimensional world, full of monsters and oppression and girls hiding their true forms. It’s also based on Japanese mythology, by an ownvoices author, and just getting lost in the legends, weapons, food and monster lore was fascinating and brilliant.

The story follows Mari who’s off to enter the contest of the seasons to win the prince’s hand. Except she’s actually a yokai, a supernatural monster, and it’s her nature to destroy. She’s been trained by her family for this exact moment — succeed in the trials of Winter, Spring, Autumn and Summer, and marry the prince before stealing his fortune and fleeing back to her family. But there are tangles in the plot, which Mari soon finds as she enters the palace. The prince, Taro, doesn’t even want the throne, and Mari discovers she’s been followed by her half-blood yokai friend, Akira, who is getting mixed up in people craving rebellion. And as much as Mari needs to help them, she also has to focus on just surviving the rooms of death with other contestants who will do anything to beat her.

The world building is a standout in this one. It takes time to show us the world, from the reclusive mountains where Mari originally lives, to the gorgeous and lush emperor’s places. There are four magic rooms, each built to reflect a season, and filled with deathly trials for the girls to compete in and I loved how creative and intriguing they were. Stakes were high. Girls were dying. It reminded me of The Hunger Games!

I also loved the twist of how it was the girls competing for the prince’s hand for once! It’s a nice twist on an old tale, and the whole concept was done fantastically from the fights to the secret rebellions to the prince who doesn’t fit in and Mari masquerading as human when she’s not.

We have three narrators to cover the whole tale: Mari, Taro and Akira. Mari was the standout for me, and I adored her right from the start. She’s not afraid to get bloody, but she’s still a really soft and sweet person. She’s an Animal Wife, a type of yōkai who basically woos men into marriage and then runs off with their fortune. She’s incredibly good with weapons and is also a strategist. She’s the complex and intriguing kind of character you can’t help but root for (especially when she sighs at the annoyingness of men) and I also liked that she enjoyed being feminine and carrying a sword. You go, girl, smash the stereotypes.

Taro is the emperor’s son and he’s into inventing things, not oppressing the monsters. He makes adorable mechanical birds and tries to just stay out of his snarky father’s way, but when he meets Mari, he starts to think getting married might not be horrible after all. (Mwahah he has no idea she’s a yokai herself.)

Akira was an intriguing narrator, with less space to tell his tale then then the others. He was scarred and quiet, a tortured monster who’s just trying to find his place in a world where he is half yokai and half human.  He does have a bit of an obsession with Mari, though she has no interest in him.

The plot is exciting and full of twists! No dull moments and you’ll honestly fly through the chapters.

Empress of All Seasons is a Japanese-inspired fantasy of monsters, murder and mayhem. It’s clever and exciting and if you have a heart that melts for tragic monsters and badass heroines? This is for you.

Meet Princess Peony this Christmas

Nette Hilton is a much-loved and rather wickedly humorous creator of books for children and young adults. She lives in northern NSW.

Her titles span the award-winning The Web, to picture books A Proper Little Lady, The Smallest Bilby and the Easter Tale and Little Platypus; junior novels Sprite Downberry, Star of the Show, Adventures of a Late-Night Swearer and the excellent, but disappointingly out-of-print, YA novel The Innocents.

Her latest book is The First Adventures of Princess Peony, illustrated by Lucinda Gifford and published by Walker Books Australia. Of all Nette’s books it is most like the evergreen A Proper Little Lady, illustrated by Cathy Wilcox. It is a little Dr Seuss-ish in size and style and could also be read alongside Babette Cole’s Princess Smartypants tales.

The First Adventures of Princess Peony is sub-titled ‘In which she could meet a bear. But doesn’t. But she still could.’ This adds intrigue to the tale because bears don’t feature at all as the story is set up. Instead we get to know the ‘dear little girl called Peony’ but it is Peony who is telling us that she is a ‘dear little’ girl. She is actually very bossy and one of her favourite things is ‘being obeyed!’. Peony is an unreliable narrator, full of personality, who addresses the reader at times.

 

The First Adventures of Princess Peony (copyright Nette Hilton & Lucinda Gifford)

Lucinda Gifford’s lively black, grey, white and pink illustrations tell another side to the story as well. Princess Peony tells us that she lives in a castle with her dragon Totts but the pictures show something else. She says that princesses ‘never lose their temper when things go wrong’ but the pictures show her looking far from serene.

She has trouble with Prince Morgan the Troll who is always interrupting, pats the Dragon under its wings and is building a bear trap. This is the catalyst for Princess Peony’s possible encounter with a bear. The illustrations again add to the humour with expressive eyes and partly hidden bears peering from the hedge. A chook also has a lively cameo.

This is a book to read multiple times. It is so engaging children will want to rush through it the first time but it is also a book to savour. The plotting, characterisation and humour are superb. It is a wonderful place for young readers to share and develop imagination and revel in pretend-play and role-play alongside Princess Peony. The First Adventures of Princess Peony is fun and exciting and has a most satisfying story arc. It is a triumph.

Great Gift Ideas – Entertaining Picture Books

There is no denying it – the countdown is on. We’ve got you covered for Christmas, though. Discover the fantastic array of kids’ stories between these covers. Every week until Christmas, I’ll be listing a selection of new releases and top-rate reads for children from pre-schoolers to new young adults. Here’s a swag of super entertaining picture books just right for sharing this summer.

The First Adventures of Princess Peony by Nette Hilton and Lucinda Gifford

I detest the colour pink and princesses who like to adorn themselves in it. However, I LOVED this supremely funny tale about a little girl named Peony who lives in a castle with her dragon, pink bits and all. Beautifully told from Peony’s unabashed point of view and illustrated with striking tri-coloured drawings, this is a joyful read about giant imaginations, dogs, family and princesses, of course. Highly recommended for pre-schoolers, early primary schoolers, emergent readers and those of us struggling to accept the little princess within. Watch out for following titles in this illustrated series.

Read Joy Lawn’s full review, here. It’s a corker.

Walker Books Australia October 2018

Continue reading Great Gift Ideas – Entertaining Picture Books

YA November Releases To Make Your Heart Beat Faster

It’s amazing how the year can be winding down, but our TBR can be winding up. It’s probably winding up to smack us in the face, too, for all the books we’re collecting but frantically have no time to read. Yet, though. The holidays are coming! So as we amble into the last month of the year, let me hinder help you out by reminding you of these fanatic YA new releases.

It’s ok to buy yourself a Christmas present. I am just saying.


GIRLS OF PAPER AND FIRE by Natasha Ngan

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Oh if this isn’t one of my most highly anticipated books this year! And it’s already been met with rave reviews and hit the NYT bestseller list too! It’s the story of a girl with golden eyes who is forced to be the king’s concubine…but she’s in love with another girl. It promises love! revenge! power! And honestly we are just here for #ownvoices authors, with diverse settings and lgbtqia lead characters. This one’s already in my possession and I can’t wait to dive in!

BRIDGE OF CLAY by Markus Zusak

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It’s definitely probable that you’ve heard of The Book Thief right? Well here’s Zusak’s latest book! This time it’s about the Dunbar brothers, who are a tumbled group of tragedy and trouble. Honestly the blurb doesn’t give us too much of an idea what this book is going to present, but I am excited, because the author has such a unique and beautiful way of telling stories. They never just stay on the page. They stay with you and make you ponder for months.

 

A VERY LARGE EXPANSE OF SEA by Tahereh Mafi

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Another from a famous and incredible author (who also brought us the infamous Shatter Me series!), except this one veers away from the magical and instead tells a contemporary story of a Shirin, who is 16 and loves music and break dancing and is very much over being stereotyped and hated for being a Muslim. The story is set a year after 9/11, so you can imagine the upheaval America is still in. Shirin is the kind of person who keeps her guard up, until she meets someone called Ocean, and things begin to change. I’m super excited for this because Mafi’s prose is always gorgeously magical, and this story promises to be personal and very poignant.

BENEATH THE CITADEL by Soria Destiny

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This entire cover speaks to my soul. It’s an epic fantasy that promises prophecies and magic, rebellions and rage, impossible odds and unlikely friendships.  We get a motley cast of four (Cassa, Alys, Evander and Newt). Cassa has sorted of inherited the rebellion from her parents, and is struggling to keep it going, while their world is ruled by an infallible prophecy that Cassa and her crew have to uncover. I am so excited to start this one! It also gloriously promises a cast of diverse ethnicities with asexual and bisexual characters, and I’ve heard it called similar to Six of Crows. So hey, I don’t know about you, but I’m sold.