Unbelievably Good – Strange but True Mid-Grade Reads

Tweens and teens love dipping into the world of fantasy. The more quirky the premise, the more unbelievable the outcomes, the better. These middle grade novels serve up a mind-bending mixture of almost too-whacky-to-believe storylines showcasing time travel, ghosts and gigantic invisible felines. Strange but delightfully, true.

Frankie Fish and the Sonic Suitcase by Peter Helliar and Lesley Vamos

A forever morphing, triple paced collision of Doctor Who meets Top Gear is one way of describing Pete Helliar’s first foray into writing for kids. His enthusiastic use of wacky, over the top metaphors is a touch extravagant at times but oh, do they provoke some face-wrinkling chuckles.

Francis (aka Frankie) Fish’s race against time back into time has all the hallmarks of a mega time travelling adventure with one difference; he is making the journey in desperation to preserve the existence of the Fish family line of which he may or may not still be a part of (it all depends on the battery!). And he’s doing it with his very grumpy, slightly geriatric, grandfather.

Continue reading Unbelievably Good – Strange but True Mid-Grade Reads

Review: Night Swimming by Steph Bowe

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Night Swimming by Steph Bowe was a piece of adorkable cuteness! It’s such a good example why Aussie YA is absolutely the best and so entirely special. I’ve loved Steph Bowe’s previous books (Girl Saves Boy and All This Could End) and I’m so glad she’s back writing again with this one! It has goat puns, quirky humour, dry wit, book lover appreciation, and features a super cute gay romance. Plus it’s set in a small dusty Australian town where everyone knows everyone’s business. Oh. And there’s crop circles. Because of course.

The story centres around Kirby, who is one of the only two teens in the town. Her best-friend-by-default is Clancy Lee, son of the local Chinese restaurant owners. They have the most hilarious witty dialogue of ever and I can’t get enough of it! Kirby is working as a carpenter apprentice and fast approaching the doomed decision of What Do I Do With My Life.

Kirby is also such a fabulously relatable protagonist! She has a great sense of humour and she is very obsessed with books. Although she claims she has a “book buying problem” which is obviously nonsense because when is buying books a problem? It’s a lifestyle, Kirby, you’re fine. When the new girl Iris comes into town, Kirby can’t work up the courage to admit she likes her. The adorkable awkwardness is equal parts hilarious and definitely relatable. Plus Kirby is a huge fan of chips and I mean…who isn’t.

The plot isn’t super faced paced, but it’s full of interesting happenings. Someone’s making plot circles in the local fields (aliens?!) and Clancy is putting on a musical for the sole reason to impress the new girl, Iris. There’s flood warnings coming and goats eating everyone’s shoes and is Kirby’s mum secretly dating the local Greek grocery store assistant?!

There is a love triangle, but it’s not a super angsty one. When Iris arrives, both Kirby and Clancy immediately fall in love with her…but it’s Kirby who actually tries to befriend her while Clancy maintains a more dreamy idea of Iris’ imagined perfection. Iris is part New Zelander and part Indian and is the daughter of a new restaurant owner, bound to give Clancy’s family a bit of friendly competition. She’s also definitely hiding the reason they moved out and Kirby is definitely curious about that. But I appreciated how the romance was “Friendship to Lovers” because I think it makes it so much stronger and sweeter!

OTHER THINGS TO LOVE

  • beautiful but horrible puns
  • small dusty country Aussie town
  • Kirby was fat and while she fretted over it occasionally she was also okay wiher her body and sent great messages of self-love
  • the romance was basically ADORKABLE with Kirby spending 5 hours sending a text that says “sure”
  • bookworm appreciation
  • a pet goat named Stanley who will eat your shoes and soul
  • Aussie slang which is my favourite
  • Kirby’s grandpa features in the story
  • excellent diversity representation

I fully adored this book! I laughed out loud and ate it faster than a goat with a tasty stolen slipper. Steph Bowe is a master storyteller and I was engaged the entire time with the quirky and fabulous writing style. It summarises the awkward and awesome that is the life of a teenager and the tale is poignant as well as downright fun.

Review: Things I Should Have Known by Claire LaZebnik

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Things I Should Have Known by Claire LaZebnik is simply an excellent novel. It’s all about friendship, love, sibling relationships, and Autism. And also it’s quite decidedly about the realisation that ice cream outings are the key part to living a happy life. (Ice cream is important, okay? Remember that always.) I’m endlessly pleased that it had such a lovely representation of Autism! The author has an ASD child and you can really tell she knows and understands the complexity of the spectrum. Plus it’s actually a positive view of Autism which was so refreshing. I just can’t praise this book enough!

The story is by the point of view of Chloe, who is neurotypical, and she has an older sister named Ivy who has Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Chloe could be viewed as a typical “queen bee”, who has the perfect boyfriend, is popular at school, and is blonde and beautiful. But shallowness? #Nope. She cares about her sister, about feminism, about thinking for herself. And when she notices that Ivy seems to be wishing to find someone to love, Chloe embarks on a mission to try and find Ivy a boyfriend.

I loved Chloe and Ivy’s relationship! Chloe is 17 and Ivy is nearly 21, but Chloe functions in more of the “big sister” role, with Ivy’s Autism making her struggle with communication and relating to people. Ivy doesn’t express emotions/feelings easily and she’s not independent, with her parents (sadly) not doing much to help her in that respect. I think it was perfectly fine that Ivy was staying quietly at home, but I also loved that Chloe was intent on making sure Ivy got to experience other aspects of life — if she wanted them. But I won’t deny the parents were pretty problematic and nearly neglectful. Not in a malicious way, just in a “this is too hard, what do we do with Ivy” so while they cared and loved her 100% of the time, they didn’t attempt to help her with life. So be warned: there’s plenty of ableism in this book. From Chloe’s friends making ableist comments to people treating Autism like a disease that needs curing. But the book tackles the issues head on and address them, which is just so needed.

I also liked the contrast of the sisters with the two brothers, David and his brother, Ethan, who also has Autism. While David and Chloe are rather nemesis at school, Chloe unknowingly sets up a date between Ethan and Ivy. So David and Chloe (being carers of their siblings in the date outings) end up spending a lot of time together. It is a fabulous show of a slow-build friendship between them! And as David stopped being an acidic lemon drop and Chloe stopped being so judgemental, I really started to ship them! They were adorable. And can we just say character development for both of them was A+!? Because it absolutely was!

The representation of ASD was also magnificently done. Ivy and Ethan were so sweet and I loved that the book showed so many positive sides of Autism! It also underlined how complex the spectrum is, with individuals having such different capabilities, thoughts, and expressions. Ivy and Ethan were both intelligent and loving.

“You know, if we were pushing our siblings in wheelchairs, people would be nice to them and to us. They’d be like, Oh, the poor handicapped people and their wonderful siblings! Let’s hold doors for them! But Ivy and Ethan…they basically look like everyone else, with just these tiny differences in how they behave and move. And that bugs people. They don’t know what to do with that. It’s like people have a place in their brain for normal, and they have a place in their brain for something obviously wrong, but they can’t deal with something just a little bit different. And it makes them uncomfortable. And when people are uncomfortable, they act like jerks.”

And see that quote? The book is just stuffed with incredible thought provoking and accurate realisations like this. I’m so glad it exists! I definitely recommend this one! The characters are absolutely cute and complex and relatable and the dialogue was one of my most favourite things. There’s banter and wit, and also ice cream outings and a lot of coffee. It underlined the message that Autism isn’t brokenness or bad and showed that everyone is capable of and needs love.

Doodles and Drafts – Jess Black Paws for Thought

Jess Black, author of the new Little Paws series joins us at the draft table today to share her inspiration behind these heartwarming story lines. Puppies, chewed shoes and big responsibilities are all part of training a guide dog puppy. The Little Paws series has them all plus buckets of cute puppy appeal to boot. Here’s what Jess has to say:

Writing the Little Paws series was a very positive experience for me. The story lines are fun, there’s plenty of puppy mischief, it’s a family friendly story line but most importantly the kids in the stories are in charge and at the forefront of the story.

Of course, what’s at the heart of the stories is bringing a gorgeous little puppy into your home and committing to raising it on behalf of guide Dogs. This meant that the series involved my spending lots of time with puppies in training with Guide Dogs Australia, understanding what it takes to be a Guide Dog and the impact that having a dog has on the life of a client. This added depth and meaning to writing the stories.

Continue reading Doodles and Drafts – Jess Black Paws for Thought

Review: The Inexplicable Logic of My Life by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

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The Inexplicable Logic of My Life by Benjamin Alire Sáenz was a beautiful story of family and friendship and tacos. Plus just look at that cover! It is beyond gorgeous and just promises such good things of this book. Listen to the cover. Heed it. I also utterly adored Sáenz’s other book, Aristotle And Dante Discover The Secrets of the Universe, so I’m really glad his latest novel lived up to my expectations!

The story is about Sal and his last year of highschool. It’s a quiet story and it focuses on relationships and characters that end up seeming so real, you wouldn’t be surprised if you met them on the street. It’s about loss and love and also about prejudice and discovering who you are and what you’re meant to do. Sal’s white and has been adopted by his loving Mexican gay father, and he’s never wanted for any other family. But he does have questions. And he realises how intensely loved he is as his best friend Sam loses her mother and he has to support her through a rough time. It’s a precious story and full of humour and relatable thoughts that all teens have. Also the amount of tacos is glorious and you will be hungry after reading it. Be ye warned.

“But, see, it’s not where I come from that matters — it’s where I’m going.”

I was actually really impressed that it had no romance! Sal is best friends with Sam, but they stay that way: best friends. It was sweet and precious and a much needed reminder that girls and guys can be just friends. It’s equally important to remember that not everyone meets the love of their life in highschool!

I really loved Sal and Sam’s friendship. They make fun of each other and joke around and protect each other fiercely. Sam is pretty judgemental at the start and often says things that hurt Sal without realising it. Her character development is A+ as she matures.

I appreciated the glorious representation of so much diversity too. It’s set in Mexico and almost the entire cast are people of colour, with many featuring LGBT characters too.

Sal’s father is also one of the most perfect parents a YA book has ever seen! He really loves and cares for his son and is a huge influence in his life. He basically ends up adopting Sam too, and if he finds a kid who is down and out…he plays Rescue Father. He teaches the kids what it is to be a good person, and I loved this aspect of the story so much.

Dad always said that there was nothing wrong with crying and that if people did more of it, well then, the world would be a better place.

The Inexplicable Logic of My Life was a fantastically amazing story and I couldn’t love it more! It features positive parent role models, emphasizes the importance of friendship and acceptance, and talks about breaking stereotypes and being unapologetically yourself. It tackles serious topics like racism, death, fear, and feeling lost. And I think it’s intensely relatable, especially the part where Sal got sick and missed out on Thanksgiving dinner and was very disappointed. #relatable The friendship levels were pure golden and the writing was everything. A book I definitely recommend!

Birds, Animals and Seasons in the CBCA Early Childhood Short List

The 2017 CBCA Early Childhood Short List features animals (as always), with two picture books specifically about birds. Two books are about farms and one is set on a Northern Territory camp. Family remains an evergreen theme and humour is the core of some of the books.

Go Home, Cheeky Animals! written by Johanna Bell, illustrated by Dion Beasley (A&U)

This funny story is the stand-alone sequel to Too Many Cheeky Dogs. The book is sponsored by the NT Government and has an engaging narrative with a cyclic structure based on the seasons and changing weather. Animals are the highlight, though. At first, too many cheeky dogs keep the other animals away. Then the rains bring a gang of goats, the sweaty season brings a ‘drove of donkeys’, cool winds bring a herd of horses and drought brings a bunch of buffaloes and caravan of camels. But when it storms, ‘all the cheeky animals go crazy’. And the cheeky dogs do nothing to stop them, for a while …

Illustrator, Dion Beasley is a 24-year-old Indigenous man with muscular dystrophy. He is also deaf so he and author, Johanna Bell, collaborate using Skype and sign language. He has a naïve drawing style with plenty of humour, such as how he shows when something happens to Grandpa’s pants, and when goats drive. The endpapers give an overview of all the animals. Children could practise counting animals throughout the book and the Too Many Cheeky Dogs website includes a child-friendly activity of making wrapping paper with cheeky dogs.

Family is important to this story and includes Dad, Mum, Grandpa, Uncle, Aunty, brother, sister, but no Grandma. Nannie Loves fills this gap.

 

Nannie Loves by Kylie Dunstan (Working Title Press)

Nannie lives on a cosy and inviting farm, with ‘rolling hills, a muddy creek and lots of paddocks, green in winter, brown in summer’. It is a quintessential Australian setting and makes us want to walk into the story. The scenes are contained to provide an appropriate focused framework for young readers; there is repetition of the words, ‘Nannie loves …’ to help beginning readers; and there are some wordless pages.

Nannie collects her mail wearing her gumboots. She loves her letters, her animals, her garden and her family. She laughs with her family who help her work around the farm. She loves them and she loves the young narrator. This book has a gentle humour, such as when Nannie watches for Grandpa in one of his many checked shirts.

Kylie Dunstan has used paper collage, gouache and pencil.

The greens of Nannie’s farm change to browns of a drought-stricken farm in All I Want for Christmas is Rain.

All I Want for Christmas is Rain written by Cori Brooke, illustrated by Megan Forward (New Frontier Publishing)

This story begins clearly with an illustrated bird’s eye overview of a dry farm. In the rhyming text, the protagonist, Jane, asks Santa for help with her family’s threatened property, ‘My mission was clear – I had hatched a great plan: I would ask for help from the great bearded man.’

Santa seems to fulfil her wish and there is a particularly evocative picture of the family dancing in the rain and mud on Christmas Day.

Children could extend their experience of this story by reading some other Australian Christmas stories such as Glenda Millard and Stephen Michael King’s Applesauce and the Christmas Miracle and Colin Buchanan‘s books, or by painting an Australian farm scene using mud.

In contrast, The Snow Wombat is set in a very different part of Australian.

The Snow Wombat written by Susannah Chambers, illustrated by Mark Jackson (A & U)

Showing a wombat’s life in the snow is an original idea for a picture book. Like some of the other useful endpapers in books described here, these endpapers are a highlight and show a map of the wombat’s movements and haunts.

Every sentence begins with the word ‘snow’, and many begin with the phrase ‘snow on …’, which is helpful for beginning readers. The repetitive, simple text becomes even more predictive, encouraging young children to say or ‘read’ the rhyming word.

After reading the book, children could make wombat footprints in ‘snow’ using baking powder and conditioner or shaving cream. Tracks of some of the other animals in the book could also be made by indenting the ‘snow’ with fingers or sticks.

In a different illustrative style, cartoon seagull, Chip, follows with a funny story.

Chip by Kylie Howarth (Five Mile Press)

Chip loves eating chips – fat, skinny, soggy, sandy, crunchy, spicy chilli-dipped chips – even though he doesn’t feel well afterwards. This is a tale about healthy eating in the guise of a hilarious story about Chip and the length he goes to eat when people are banned from feeding the gulls.

The illustrations include newspaper collage (apt because it’s used for wrapping fish and chips; a newspaper article also features). My favourite illustration shows Chip with a noodle box on his head and noodles streaming out like hair.

Another bird protagonist in the Short List is Gary.

Gary by Leila Rudge (Walker Books Australia)

 

Gary is a racing pigeon who can’t fly but dreams of adventure. He works on his scrapbook of travel mementos on race days when he’s left alone in the loft, even though he’s never travelled. When he lost his balance one night, he fell into the travel basket and was carried far from home to the city. Of course the racing pigeons flew home, but Gary was left by himself. Fortunately he had his scrapbook of travel mementos and was able to plot his way back to the loft.

This is a very appealing story of overcoming obstacles or disability and of flourishing in different surroundings. New situations can be frightening for children and Gary demonstrates courage and ingenuity, which could help young readers.

The illustrations are created using mixed media and, again, in this book we find interesting endpapers.

After reading the story, children could use found objects and mixed media to create their own scrapbook about travel.

Alex Ratt & Stinky Street Stories

Hi Alex Ratt, could you tell us about yourself and your alter-ego? 

That’s a very existential question! I have to decide which is me and which is the alter ego…Well, I was Frances Watts first, so let’s start with her—I mean me.

I have written twenty-two books, ranging from picture books (including Kisses for Daddy and Parsley Rabbit’s Book about Books, illustrated by David Legge, and Goodnight, Mice!, illustrated by Judy Watson) to historical novels for young adults (most recently The Peony Lantern, set in nineteenth-century Japan). And then there’s my less fragrant alter ego, Alex Ratt. I thought being someone completely different would allow me the freedom to write something completely different—hence Alex Ratt. (Also, Alex Ratt has a big bushy false moustache and Frances doesn’t. And who wouldn’t jump at an excuse to wear a false moustache?!)

Who is Jules Faber? 

Jules Faber, I’m delighted to say, has a much more straightforward identity: he is Jules Faber! He is also an extremely talented cartoonist and illustrator, well known for his work on Ahn Do’s Weirdo series and David Warner’s The Kaboom Kid series.

How important are the illustrations in this book?

The illustrations are integral. The Stinky Street Stories (Pan Macmillan Australia) should feel welcoming and accessible to all kinds of readers, whether they are confident readers or not, and the illustrations do so much to convey the humour that is inherent in the text. One thing I particularly loved about working with Jules on this book is his spirit of adventure. Whatever wacky image I can dream up, he is prepared to draw. A sculpture of a rocket ship made entirely of carrots? No problem!

What type of comedy do you write?

Despite the word ‘stinky’ in the title, I don’t actually see the humour in The Stinky Street Stories as focusing on the gross. To me, the real humour is in the absurdity of situations and images. And the challenge is to take the absurdity and, within the bounds of the story, make it logical.

How do you get your readers to laugh out loud (as I did about some carrots and a pumpkin head)?

I’m glad you liked those bits—that’s exactly what I mean about the humour being absurd rather than gross. That’s where I find those laugh-out-loud moments: in unexpected juxtapositions, in ideas pushed to ridiculous extremes, in characters who treat these hilarious scenarios seriously.

Brian is a very funny character. Could you tell us about him, his sister Brenda, and any other characters?

Brian (‘call me Brain—everyone does’) has a somewhat overinflated sense of his own intellectual prowess, which is why he is able to meet absurdity with seriousness. His friend Nerf is the perfect sidekick, being just ever so slightly dafter—but loyal and good-hearted. The real brain of the family is Brian’s sister Brenda. And in his heart, Brian knows it to be so, and calls on her in moments of crisis.

What is your favourite scene in The Stinky Street Stories? 

You picked it yourself: the pumpkin heads. Because within that particular story, ‘The Ripe and Rotten Reek’, it not only makes perfect sense for Brian and Nerf to be running across a field with pumpkins on their heads, it is a positively brilliant plan!

Who do you hope reads this book?

Everyone! By which I mean boys and girls. I had a lot of fun turning gender stereotypes on their heads. The (anti)heroes might be boys, but the girls have a strong, smart, sassy presence. And, as I said above, I hope the book is enjoyed by confident readers and reluctant readers—we (by which I mean the whole village that makes a book: the author and illustrator and publisher and editor and designer) were determined to make it a book that had something to offer every kind of kid and every kind of reader.

What’s next in Stinky Street?

The second in the series, 2 Stinky, will be published in August. There are smelly sewers, pongy penguins…and a house of (stinky) horrors!

What other humour have you written? 

All my books have humour in them—it’s just the way I’m wired—but the first overtly humorous books were those of the Ernie & Maud series, featuring trainee superhero Ernie Eggers and his trainee sidekick: a sheep called Maud. More recently I have contributed stories to two humorous anthologies, Laugh Your Head Off and Laugh Your Head Off Again.

How many aliases do you have?

Oh dear…You’re on to me, aren’t you?! The truth is, Alex Ratt is not my only pen name. Frances Watts is a pen name too. (Yes, my pen name has a pen name.) My real name is Ali Lavau, and I am a very serious book editor who hardly ever wears a false moustache to work.

Thanks very much, Alex, Frances, Ali …

Thank YOU! (I loved these questions.)

And – here is a video about the book! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wORzbpzfTzs&feature=youtu.be

5 Amazing YA Russian Fantasy Books

Reading is obviously the best thing ever for a myriad of reasons, but one thing I particularly love about it is: the ability to travel without leaving your comfy reading nook. So what could be better than nestling down with some books inspired by other countries, mythologies and cultures? I particularly adore epic fantasy with Russian influences! Russia is such an amazing country, with a complex and interesting history. Just add in a bit of magic. A dollop of teenage heroes saving the day. A smidge of adventure. And you’re sure to have a novel that will win admiration!

Today I’m listing 5 amazing Young Adult fantasy books with Russian influences!


 

SHADOW AND BONE

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This is one of my most favourite epic fantasy series ever! And for a bonus? It’s set in the country of Ravka which has decidedly glorious Russian influences. It’s all about the Grisha, who are magicians employed by the throne, and they’re separated into warriors or scientists or artists or healers. The story follows Alina who’s just discovered she is a Grisha and is being trained for battle.

It has action and adventure and several darkly villainous characters you might accidentally fall in love with while they do evil to do “good” in their opinions.

 

EGG AND SPOON

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This is by the famous author of the novel Wicked! It gloriously mixes many Russian folklores into this complex tale centring about Baba Yaga, the infamous witch. It stars a very poor girl, Elena, who’s starving, and accidentally gets caught up with a noble family on a train and swaps places with their rich daughter. In an effort to see the Tsar and help her brother who’s been stolen off to war, Elena tries to play the part of rich noble…and fails spectacularly. While Eketerina is off having perilous adventures enlisting the devious with Baba Yaga to help her get home.

Baba Yaga’s sass is basically the greatest thing you’ll ever read. It’s quite a long and slow novel, but so worth it for the magical and creative tale!

 

VASSA IN THE NIGHT

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This one is a little different to the others, because while it is still fantasy, it’s modern fantasy! It’s set in present-day-Brooklyn in the USA where the city suddenly is losing daylight. The nights are getting longer and it’s a bit of a problem. It also features a convenience store with the fearsome Babs Yagg who owns it and also cuts off shoplifter’s heads and displays them in the windows. A girl named Vassa and her magical doll end up tricked into Babs Yagg’s servitude. But leaving alive will be an interesting challenge.

This book is absolutely bizarre! In the best possible way! It captures the heart of so many vibrant folk tales, gives them a modern twist, and adds in magical realism elements that will thrill and disturb.

 

THE WOLF WILDER

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This is a gorgeously written tale about a girl who raises wolves in the woods with her mother. It’s popular for the rich to keep wolves as pets, but when they tire of them, the wolves get “released” into the wild…only to die because they can’t take care of themselves. Feo trains them to be wild again. Only when the army comes to call and disturbs her life, she ends up begin swept up in the revolution instead. This book is really beautiful and features lovely illustrations!

 

THE CROWN’S GAME

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BUY HERE

This is a historical based Russian fantasy, set in the time of the Tsars. But just add in a little magic, okay? It features two enchanters, Nikolai and Vika, who must compete in a challenge to become the Tsar’s own enchanter. And there can only be one. With the stakes so high it’s impossible to put the book down! The magic is beautiful and imaginative and features the two enchanters creating amazing and incredible things as they try to display who’s more powerful while avoiding falling in love. It also features a rambunctious prince and the casual destruction of everything you love.

And even better: The sequel and stunning conclusion, The Crown’s Fate, is coming out in May! So this is a perfect time to start this series.

Dealing with Dilemmas – School Holiday Reads Sorted

The first round of school holidays is upon us. Kid induced dilemmas are rife. How do you deal with them? Whip out one of these chuckle-creating reads and indulge in ten minutes or more of togetherness time, is how. These picture books are guaranteed to make molehills out of mountains.

Busting! By Aaron Blabey

Lou’s dilemma matches my own on an almost hourly basis. But what is Lou to do when the queue to the loo is so long. Anyone with a weak bladder like me or toddlers with the inexplicable ability to ignore the call of nature until the last absolute possible minute will adore this ode to toilet queues. Busting! is all those desperate dashes through the supermarket, late night dreams of locked toilet stalls and screaming brakes on the motorway for verge-side emergencies rolled into rollicking rhyme and goofy pictures. Just brilliant. Potty humour has never read so well.

Suitable for potty training youngsters from three years and up.

Scholastic Press March 2017

I Don’t Want Curly Hair by Laura Ellen Anderson Continue reading Dealing with Dilemmas – School Holiday Reads Sorted

Review: Vicious Circle by C.J. Box

It all begins when when Dave Farkus — longtime troublemaker and unlikely partner in many of Joe Pickett’s inadvertent escapades — phones Joe from Stockman’s Bar to say he’s overheard a conversation about Joe and his family. He’s cut off before he can provide any concrete information, but the implication is clear: the Pickett clan’s a target. And when Farkus turns up dead — brutally executed by unknown assailants — Joe know something is amiss. He quickly ties it together — presumably at least — when he discovers Dallas Cates, the disgraced rodeo star who ran off with Joe’s daughter April, dumped her out of his truck, and ended up in the prison, has just been released, and is out for vengeance after the deaths of his father and two brothers. But is everything really as open-and-shut as that scenario suggests?

Vicious Circle will resonate most for those who are keenly aware of the two families’ fraught history; readers who’ve been waiting for the final showdown for a couple of books now, knowing it would be vicious and bloody. There isn’t much new here — this is the C.J. Box formula perfected — but the Joe Pickett series is one that hasn’t surpassed its use-by date, and still provides plenty of action and excitement.

Review: Lucky Few by Kathryn Ormsbee

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Lucky Few by Kathryn Ormsbee was such an adorable and pleasant surprise! I picked it up when I heard it was about homeschoolers, and since I spent most of my school life doing just that…I was super keen to see how homeschooling would be portrayed in this book. It can be a controversial topic, with people only seeing the negatives. But what school system isn’t flawed?? If homeschooling works for you = it’s excellent! I absolutely appreciated how beautiful this book was in its representation of homeschooling. It was funny and nerdy and completely dorky at times and managed to be heart-wrenchingly poignant on top of that. Because, you know…all the good books like to hurt you.

The story centres around the perspective of Stevie who discovers a “dead” boy in her neighbours yard. Except he’s not dead, just faking it. They slowly become friends and Stevie joins in Max’s quest to fake his death 23 times. For him, it’s closure after he had a near fatal accident. Although there might be more to his story than he’s letting on. Together with Stevie’s BFF, Sanger, the three get into hair-raising schemes that often end in near true tragedy.

I really loved the representation of diversity in this book! Not only does Stevie homeschool, but she also has Type 1 Diabetes which affects her life all the time, including a near death experience in her childhood that haunts her. Sanger also has two mothers and there’s diversity of skin colour as well. I also love how the minority aspects fit into the story and weren’t just fluttering around in the background. They affected their lives and were beautifully represented.

The characters were absolutely my favourite part! They seemed utterly real. And maybe it was a homeschooler aspect helping me to relate, but I also just adored the intelligent, nerdy, sassy, and deep thinking that went down in this novel. I think any teen could relate to these three fantastic friends! Their banter is absolutely on point and I found myself cracking up multiple times. Plus any book that features a strong female friendship gets the thumbs up from me. Stevie and Sanger do not let silly things come between their deep bond. “Sisters before misters” as they say.

The romance between Stevie and Max was absolutely adorable. I also appreciated the fact that the romance was only a small aspect of the story. It was firstly about (a) friendship, (b) Stevie sticking up for her activist believes; (c) talking very brutally honestly and openly about death, fears, and phobias; and (d) discussions on judging others and how that affects everyone. But still absolutely shipped Max and Stevie though! They were so cute and awkward and their romance was slow-burn and winning.

The writing was also totally addictive! I didn’t want to stop reading! Although it did move along a little slower than the average book I gnaw through, but perhaps this is because I was savouring every line and often had to stop and laugh my head off. As you do for excellent tomes.

Lucky Few is definitely a must read! It will appeal to homeschoolers and non-homeschoolers alike, with the dorky and relatable characters and the humour and the slightly dark death-pranks that forge strong bonds between the three and also cause them all to nearly really die on occasion. It was morbid and sassy and clever. It also shows that homeschoolers are “normal” people, who also fail tests and watch show reruns and eat tacos and fake their deaths. Absolutely normal.

Meet Brigid Kemmerer, author of Letters to the Lost

Thanks for talking to Boomerang Books, Brigid. I greatly admired your new novel Letters to the Lost (Bloomsbury).

Where are you based and how are you involved in the YA lit community?

 I live near Annapolis, Maryland, which is pretty close to Washington, DC. I’m an active member of the YA community, both online and in person, and I’ve met so many amazing authors, booksellers, and book bloggers since Storm was first published in 2012.

Could you tell us about your other books? 

I’m the author of the Elementals Series, published by Allen & Unwin in Australia. This series follows the four Merrick brothers, four orphaned guys who can secretly control the elements of earth, air, fire, and water.

How is your new novel Letters to the Lost different from your earlier books?

Letters to the Lost is my first contemporary YA novel, while the Elementals books have a paranormal element. Despite the change, all of my books always follow complex relationships between people, so I’ve been told that my paranormal novels read like contemporaries with special powers thrown in the mix. 

Why have you chosen the names Juliet and Declan Murphy for your major characters?

I just love the names. Sometimes I struggle to find the perfect names for my characters, but these two came to me right off the bat.

How important is letter writing to them? (Is it important to you also?)

Letter writing is very important to Juliet, because she would write letters to her mom while she was alive, and she continues the tradition by leaving letters on her mother’s gravestone. I don’t write many physical letters myself, but I love writing to people. My closest friend and I almost exclusively communicate by email and text message! 

Rev, Declan’s friend, is an intriguing character. Why does he have a ‘rock solid’ faith even after his father’s abuse?

I love Rev! I don’t want to give too much away about his story or his motivations because his book, More Than We Can Tell, will be out March 2018, but his faith is very important to him, and he struggles with whether his faith is appropriate, considering what he went through with his father.

I was interested in the idea that one photo could aspire to telling a whole story. What role does photography play in the story?

Photography plays a huge role in the story, especially since Juliet’s mother was a photojournalist, and at one point, Juliet wanted to follow in her own footsteps. I was partially inspired by how we’ve all grown so dependent on social media, and how we’ve started judging people based on the limited amount we see—which is also what those people have chosen to share. People are so much deeper than just what a photograph reveals. And that works in all ways: both positive and negative.

You give a strong portrayal of mothers (even though they are very different from each other). How did you flesh out these women?

Thank you! I find people fascinating, and I try to flesh out all of my characters. As a mother myself, I wanted to show how mothers (and fathers) aren’t infallible, and we’re all just doing the best we can. Sometimes the best we can isn’t the “best” at all, but life is messy and complicated and we’re all just trying to get through it. One of the most profound moments of young adulthood is realizing that the adults around you are just as capable of screw-ups as teenagers are, and realizing that maturity isn’t about not messing up, it’s about messing up and how we move on from it.  

Your adult mentors such as Mrs Hillard and Frank are powerful. What are their roles?

A lot of YA novels operate in a vacuum where there’s little adult involvement (which is fine!) but it was important for me to show that adults can be allies, and that it’s okay to seek input and advice from adults as well as teen peers.

Your characters with bad reputations are treated worse than other people. Could you comment on this?

In many ways, society has turned to public shaming again and again, especially thanks to social media. Certain people always seem to be fair game, especially if they’re deemed to deserve it. At our core, we’re all people. No one is intrinsically good or bad.

Declan believes in fate but also free will. How is that possible?

I actually think this is more of a debate he has with himself throughout the book, whether everything is fated or whether he has the ability to pull himself off the path he seems destined to travel.

Have any responses from your readers particularly resonated with you?

Yes! It means so much that readers seem to be loving Juliet and Declan and their stories. I’m particularly excited by how many people have been asking for Rev’s story, so I’m glad it’s already written.

What other books have left a deep impression on you? 

I recently finished reading An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir, and I absolutely loved it. Also The Boy Most Likely To by Huntley Fitzpatrick. I’m really eager to read Honestly Ben by Bill Konigsberg, which releases next week, because I absolutely loved Openly Straight, and this is the sequel.

All the best with Letters to the Lost, Brigid, and thanks very much.

CBCA 2017 Picture Books

Congratulations to all the authors, illustrators and publishers who have been shortlisted for this year’s Children’s Book Council of Australia (CBCA) awards.

I am very fortunate to have copies of the following picture books, with thanks to the publishers, and have written a short exposé of most here.

My Brother written and illustrated by Dee Huxley, character creation and illustration by Oliver Huxley and design by Tiffany Huxley (Working Title Press)

This is a stunning, moving picture book about loss and grief, grief shared by the three creators due to the death of a loved one. The written text is minimal and carefully placed on each page. Vignettes of a small donkey lead the viewer through most of the text. Graphite pencil creates a monochromatic effect for most of the book, becoming warm, yellow-suffused watercolour towards the end.

Teacher Notes are available at the publisher’s website.

One Photo written by Ross Watkins, illustrated by Liz Anelli (Penguin Random House Australia)

One Photo is a touching look at the effects of early onset dementia on a family. Dad comes home with a camera to record his memories and help him remember things. Liz Anelli is growing in power with her illustrations, here using sensitive, child-appealing drawing of the photos as well as of the family.

Mechanica: a beginner’s field guide by Lance Balchin (The Five Mile Press, Bonnier Publishing Australia)

Mechanica is a magnificent, innovative pseudo-scientific study of mechanical (mainly winged) insects and other creatures. It reminds me of Gary Crew’s The Lost Diamonds of Killiecrankie and James Gurney’s Dinotopia in the way that a character embarks on a fictional enterprise in a factual, imaginative style. The book champions the protection of our world and its living creatures and is distinctive because of its fine technical/inventive drawings. The sequel, Aquatica, is on the way. Author-illustrator Lance Balchin, has proved to be a popular presenter at festivals and other events.

The Patchwork Bike written by Maxine Beneba Clarke, illustrated by Van T Rudd (Hachette Australia)

Maxine Beneba Clarke is currently one of Australia’s most exciting authors. She also tells the story of a patchwork bike in one of her books for adults and it is interesting to compare it with this sensory, lively version for young children. The illustrations are by street artist Van T Rudd and they are exceptional in their use of media such as corrugated cardboard and smears of paint to show movement. (I will be writing more about Maxine Beneba Clarke’s work in a future post.)

 

Out is written by Angela May George and illustrated by Owen Swan (Scholastic Press)

It is a simple refugee / asylum seeker – ‘but that’s not my name’ – story for young readers told from the point of view of a girl. The agonising trip by boat is not glossed over but is told at an appropriate level. The pencil illustrations also make it accessible for the young.

Congratulations also to Bob Graham (Walker Books Australia) for Home in the Rain. I’ll write about this picture book next week. 

Love Ever After – Picture Book Reviews

If all you need is love, added with delicacy, beauty and tenderness, then these two gorgeous new titles from the home of New Frontier Publishing are for you. A classic fairy tale and a global sensation, both possessing the ability to melt your heart.

Happily Ever After: Beauty and the Beast, is another beautiful book in New Frontier’s (Alex Field) series of classic tales with a twist. The story of a young woman, regretfully sacrificed by her father to an unrelenting Beast, has been told with reverence and endearment. It also enlightens girls with a sense of power, evincing Beauty’s strength and courage in facing her fears and standing up for her rights. The story further relays a message of trust and loyalty as the relationship between the unlikely pair evolves. And finally, the ultimate commitment is made when Beauty agrees to live forever with the Beast and he is transformed into a prince. A true display of unconditional love.

Helene Magisson has unequivocally supported this sweet tale with her soft-paletted, fluid and gentle illustrations. She has created magnificent atmosphere with the muted tones of blues and oranges, beautifully depicting both the contrasts between Beauty and the Beast as well as their tendency to naturally complement each other. The subtle symbolism of the caged butterflies, eventually trading places with the wicked fairy, is clever, and most intriguing for its astute readers.

Happily Ever After: Beauty and the Beast has a modern edge whilst retaining the charming essence of the classic. A keepsake treasure for any princess-loving youngster, and especially perfect timing with all the current ‘Beauty’ hype!

I Love You, written by Xiao Mao and illustrated by Tang Yun is a special picture book specifically about three special, little words. It has a universal appeal that any preschool-aged child, around the globe, can relate to. It is fun-loving, pure, reassuring and irresistibly adorable.

‘I love’ how this book encourages a sense of humanity and togetherness, where we can all, including the animals, live in a world of peace and fondness towards one another and our environment. When the tall-necked Ms Giraffe writes words in five different languages on the board at school, Little Badger takes a particularly keen interest. As it turns out, each phrase translates into the same meaning: I Love You. With her best Chinese, Italian, French, German and Spanish, and English, Little Badger professes her love for everything around her, including Mum and Dad. ‘Ti amo, little tree.’ ‘Te quiero, pretty flowers.’ ‘Wo ai ni, cloud.’ ‘Ich liebe dich, rice.’ ‘Je t’aime, underpants.’ Once she is fluent she can finally rest. Now Mum and Dad can practise, too!

Wonderfully dense, textured paintings fill the pages with natural, warming tones, perfectly suiting this wholesome, meaningful story of love, appreciation and cultural integration. There is also a sense of cheekiness and humour that certainly reflects the age of the readers and the engagement when learning something new.

If any book can send good, loving vibes your way, it’s I Love You. It provides opportunities to explore dialect in one’s own community and beyond, and reinforces that universal bond between children and their carers. So let’s celebrate our world’s rich diversity, and affections, one language at a time!

New Frontier Publishing, 2017.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Review: This Is Our Story by Ashley Elston

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This Is Our Story by Ashley Elston was an amazingly intriguing murder mystery. I didn’t want to put it down! It’s set in a small town where controversies are often hushed up, but this time a teen who aspires to be a lawyer is determined to get to the truth of what happened when five boys when hunting and only four came back. And that premise entirely captivated and intrigued me! There’s nothing like a bit o’ murder amongst friends and a teen girl who is going to see through the lies and bring justice. I am a fan.

Basically the story takes off with Kate’s boss taking on this case of a “hunting accident”…although he’s suspicious that it’s murder. Due to failing health, he has Kate doing a lot of the footwork to gather evidence and get to the bottom of which of the 4 boys shot their friend, Grant. Was it an accident? Was it on purpose? Kate’s life is further complicated by the fact she had a secret friendship with Grant…and now he’s dead. She wants justice for him and sees the other 4 boys involved as rich, entitled, and cruel fiends. Or are they?

I’m really pleased it featured quite a lot of the lawyer/case working side of the tale! Usually that’s the part that’s brushed over in the YA crime novels I tend to find…so it was great to get a behind-the-scenes glimpse of that part of the case solving. All the attorney storylines felt really realistic and intriguing!

Kate was a very winning protagonist too. Although she did make a lot of dumb decisions, including getting involved with one of the boys when she’s explicitly told not to talk to them. Obviously that’s going to happen and obviously that’s going to go badly. But despite the slight clicheness of that aspect, I still enjoyed it! I liked getting to know the boys, even though they all seemed pretty evil. I also enjoyed the fact there was no instalove, but actual developed friendships and relationships. Such a relief! And on top of that, Kate actually had a really epic female friend, so the book was winning for positive girl relationships too.

I, of course, was very interested to know the killer. There are four boys alive and despite their jerky behaviour, they all have complex layers that Kate has to unwind to figure out what they’re hiding. I would’ve liked to got to know the boys deeper?? But the mysteriousness of them did keep the “but whodunnit” aspect of the story fresh and full of pressure. One of the boys anonymously narrates every second chapter, too, providing us with clues to try and figure it out. I loved that! Just let me get my Sherlock Holmes hat.

The writing was engaging although on the slower side. But if I couldn’t stop reading, that makes it a solid win right?? It made sure to include lots of details and also frequents trips to eat fast food because lawyers don’t sleep apparently. Seems legit.

In summary: This Is Our Story is an engaging murder mystery that leaves you freaking out till the last page. You won’t get answers until the last minute and then you’ll be thrilled how it all comes together. It’s full of surprises and plot twists, with a cosy setting that is more sinister than it seems, and a protagonist you can’t help but root for!

Double Dipping – Unleashing Imagination

A well-known writer for kids once stated, ‘Imagination is simply Image – Nation’ meaning, you fill your ideas well from all the images pooled from your life experiences, the world around you, and your impressions of it. That is what really constitutes imagination. However it occurs, unleashing it is the penultimate fun part. Here are two imaginative new picture books that do not hold back.

The Leaky Story by Devon Sillett and Anil Tortop

There is a veritable shipload of things to like about this rollicking tale of adventure and mayhem set incongruously within the confines of the Blossburn’s family lounge room. Sillett’s surreal tale about a book with a mind of its own explodes with mirth and mystery the kind of which pre-schoolers love to wallow in. It’s not just wallowing that they can indulge in either. There is enough onematapedic dropping and plopping, sploshing and splashing to have little ones dashing for their gumboots.

Continue reading Double Dipping – Unleashing Imagination

YA Books About Artists

There are countless types of art, but one of my favourites is definitely drawing and painting. And since I’m entirely hopeless at both of those, I like to live vicariously through fictional characters who are actually awesome at wielding a paintbrush. Then I can pretend not to feel so bad about my stick-figures.

Today I have a list of Young Adult books that involve art! So either you can relate or realise how extremely untalented you are. You’re so welcome for this list!


I’LL GIVE YOU THE SUN BY JANDY NELSON

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PURCHASE HERE

This is one of my all time favourite books because the book feels like a piece of art itself! The visuals are fairly dripping off the page in the form of two siblings who excel in different types of art.

Jude is a sculptor and Noah is all about charcoals and paints. It’s actually the kind of story that will make your heart beat somewhat tragically because of the pain they go through trying to figure out their futures and the fear of not being good enough to get into an art school. It’s just so beautifully written you’ll want to eat your copy. Wise suggestion: buy both editions. Eating problem solved.

 

THE INCREDIBLE ADVENTURES OF CINNAMON GIRL BY MELISSA KEIL

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This is set in a small Australian town and features Alba who isn’t sure whether to stay with her family’s bakery or leave to pursue art school in the big city. She draws! And, as if life couldn’t get any better: she draws superhero comics. Exciting nerd alert!

The story is filled with delicious cakes (which makes me happy but also very unfortunately hungry) and two lovers in denial of their feelings and a sleeping country town being jolted awake by the announcement that the end of the world is nigh and this town is the only safe place. Apparently. There are more than a few skeptics. It’s such a fantastic #LoveOzYA coming of age story that I couldn’t put it down!

 

SPLINTERED BY A.G. HOWARD

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If you need arty books with a dash of fantastical magic — this one is for you. It’s a Wonderland retelling that centres around the original Alice’s descendant: Alyssa. She gets caught up with a dark and twisted version of Wonderland that involves a dashing and manipulative moth named Morpheus and a childhood best friend trying to get her home.

Alyssa’s preferred art style is paintings and 3D collages and she veers towards the dark and macabre. So imagine skewered butterflies and fake blood and you’ve got a good idea of what her style is. Lovely. It fits the darkly magical tone of the book completely!

 

NIGHT OWLS BY JENN BENNETT

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This is a contemporary story about two different types of artists: Beatrix is an anatomy artist and draws corpses for medical reasons. She hopes to get into an excellent medical art school, but her parent is exactly supportive of this extremely dark career path she plans on. Jack, on the other hand, is a graffiti artist…not that he’s admitting it. The two meet on a bus and their adventure starts from there!

It’s such a cute and fun story, so well written, with wit and humour and a few gut punching moments. It also goes by the title The Anatomical Shape Of A Heart which is quite fantastic. The story is full of secrets, skeletons in the closet, and two people who are so different trying to align worlds.

Agent Nomad and Skye Melki-Wegner

Skye Melki-Wegner‘s new series is ‘Agent Nomad’  (Penguin Random House Australia).    

Thanks for speaking to Boomerang Blog, Skye.

Where are you based and how are you involved in the Australian children’s and YA literary community?

I’m based in Melbourne. I write fantasy/ adventure novels for young readers (and the young at heart). I also regularly visit schools and teach writing workshops. It’s such a joy to work with students and to encourage their creativity.

Your writing has a singular, imaginative style. It’s also thrilling and unexpected.

I really loved your stand-alone novel, The Hush, and reviewed it for the Weekend Australian here.

How do you think your creative brain works differently from the brains of other people?

Thanks Joy, that means a lot to me.

I’ve always had an urge to tell stories and to ‘make believe’. My parents have countless videos from my early childhood, full of me babbling about fairies or dragons or making up alternative endings to fairy tales.

Having said that, I believe everyone has the potential to be creative. When we are children, all it takes is a plastic toy or a pile of sand to craft a wildly imaginative universe from scratch.

Many people lose touch with their childhood creativity as they grow older. However, I think the potential for wild imagination still lurks within all of us, whether we are authors or accountants! All we need is a chance to express it.

Have you had any particularly memorable feedback about The Hush?

I recently received an email from a young reader who used The Hush as inspiration when playing her various musical instruments. She said that she liked to pretend she was conjuring sorcery through her music, just like the characters in The Hush.

I loved this idea, since it reminded me of my own childhood. When I was a kid, I used to pretend to be various literary characters to inspire myself during daily tasks. (When we did fitness tests in PE, I secretly pretended I was training for a quidditch match!)

It was incredibly touching to hear that my own book could have a similar effect for a reader.

After such a powerful novel, why are you now writing a series?

In a fantasy novel, it often takes a while to establish how the magic and society function. This can sometimes take up a significant chunk of the book. By writing a series, I can cover most of this ‘world building’ in the first book. Then, in later installments, I get to have fun exploring the characters and world more deeply.

I also love the fun of plotting out a series in advance and hiding secret clues about future titles. In the Agent Nomad series, there are moments in Book One and Two with hidden significance that won’t be revealed until later… but of course, my lips are sealed!

Could you tell us about The Eleventh Hour, the first in the Agent Nomad series?

It’s about spies and sorcery — and unlike my previous books, it’s set in the modern world.

The protagonist is a 15-year-old called Natalie. When the book begins, she’s an ordinary Aussie teenager, worried about homework and Maths tests.

One night, however, it all changes. A pair of deadly strangers invade Natalie’s home and she barely escapes with her life. In the aftermath, she is recruited by a sorcerous spy agency called HELIX.

As a HELIX cadet, Natalie must train to use her own magical abilities. She adopts the codename ‘Nomad’ and prepares to fight against a cabal of ruthless sorcerers called the Inductors.

Before her training is complete, however, Nomad and her fellow cadets are sent to London, risking their lives to thwart a ruthless Inductor plot before time runs out.

Could you describe each of the three main protagonists, Nomad, Riff and Phoenix, in a phrase or sentence?

 Nomad is an artist and a born traveller, who yearns for adventure and to explore the world.

Riff is a jokester with a love of fun, food and rock music – but he also has real talent and a deep love for his friends and family.

Phoenix is a talented fighter, who hides the trauma of her past behind the façade of an emotionless warrior.

I liked both the Australian and London settings. How do you create a sense of place without excessive description?

I think a few carefully chosen sensory details can be more effective than overloaded paragraphs of description.

In the school assembly scene, for example, I needed to describe an Aussie high school gym on a scorching February day. I snuck in snippets of sensory detail: the stink of sweat and cheap perfume sprays, the buzz of a blowfly, the whispering students and glaring teachers etc.

A few of these little details should be enough. If they’re strategically placed throughout a scene, they should prompt the reader to subconsciously fill in the rest of the setting with their own experience and memories.

The pace moves quickly. What’s a favourite scene or ‘inventiveness’ you’ve created?

For personal reasons, I’m quite fond of the chase scene on the train into Melbourne. I’ve spent countless hours sitting on Melbourne’s public transport, daydreaming about magic and excitement. It was fun to incorporate a mundane location like Caulfield Station into a fantasy book. I felt a bit cheeky doing it, actually!

(In reality, I associate Caulfield Station with travelling to university exams. Not quite as thrilling as a magical chase scene!)

Your writing style is a highlight. How would you describe it?

It varies a bit from book to book. In Agent Nomad, I’m speaking through Natalie (a teenage first person narrator). It’s an interesting balancing act to weave in descriptive detail without losing the flavour of her narrative voice.

Danika, my narrator in Chasing the Valley, has a slightly different voice. She’s more cynical and hardened at the start of the series, so her style of self-expression is different. Also, since she’s from a fictional dystopian world, she narrates with different vocabulary and colloquialisms.

By contrast, The Hush is written in third person. I had fun incorporating fancier descriptions (and more complex figurative language) into this book, since I didn’t have to worry about a first person narrator’s style or vocabulary!

Science or magic? Magic or science?

Science in the real world, magic in fiction.

What have you enjoyed reading recently?

In SFF, I’ve really enjoyed Illuminae and Gemina by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff – it’s such a brilliant idea to write SciFi in an epistolary format.

In contemporary YA, I’ve recently loved A Shadow’s Breath by Nicole Hayes and Black by Fleur Ferris.

Are you writing something else at the moment? If so, could you tell us about it?

I must confess I’m writing too many things! Needless to say, they’re all fantasy projects. Every time I finish a manuscript, a new idea starts itching at me… and before I know it, I’m halfway through another one! Oops.

All the best with ‘Agent Nomad’, Skye. It should create a unique niche in the market.

Thanks so much, Joy!

Review – Home of the Cuckoo Clock

‘There’s a sad sort of clanging from the clock in the hall and the bells in the steeple too. And up in the nursery, an absurd little bird is popping up to say, “Cuckoo, cuckoo!”’

So marks the passing of time as decreed by Rodgers and Hammerstein. Time, we often complain about its restraints and resist its ravages but to ignore it completely results in chaos. At least it does for the village of Schoenwald in Home of the Cuckoo Clock.

Home of the Cuckoo Clock is Robert Favretto’s first venture into the picture book world, one he makes with considerable assuredness and aptitude along with illustrator, David Eustace. Together they navigate the difficult yet supreme landscape of telling stories in pictures against the stunning backdrop of Germany’s Black Forest region.

Schoenwald is caught in a peculiar metaphysical time warp, in other words, frozen in time. It’s not a bad thing ignoring the passing of time however complete deprivation of any time keeping results in some devastating situations for the villagers: children are late for school, the shops do not open on time, and cows are not milked. The problem? No clocks.

Continue reading Review – Home of the Cuckoo Clock

Review: We Are Still Tornadoes by Michael Kun and Susan Mullen

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We Are Still Tornadoes by Michael Kun and Susan Mullen was such a delightful surprise for me! I had basically no expectations going in, because I’d seen my bookworm friends reading it but not a lot of buzz or hype. Yet, it turned out to be spectacular?!? I adored it. And it sealed the deal of Pure Awesome by being in letter format, which reminded me of one of my favourite books ever: The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Excuse me, I’m having all kinds of feelings about this book. It was sad and funny and emotional all at once and I’m so glad I spontaneously tried this one!

Basically the story is about two childhood best friends, Cath and Scott, who have just finished highschool and are now facing the terrifying prospect of being adults. It’s set in the ’80s! Cath is off to college and Scott is working in his dad’s clothing store due to basically flunking highschool. He puts together a band but is really struggling with self-worth. Cath is enjoying college but having quite a bad string of boyfriends and also trying to cope with her parents breaking up due to an affair. They both send regular letters to each other about lives and feelings and hopes and dreams. Sometimes they letters go very badly with Scott never taking anything seriously and Cath being super sensitive. But their friendship just keeps growing until — is it something mooooore?!? We must know.

As I mentioned, I particularly enjoyed the letter format! The story had so much voice and each letter was full of Cath or Scott’s personality. I felt like we were all BFF after only a few pages. And anyone who can make mere letters full of emotion and feeling is clearly a writing wizard. Plus it was really encouraging to read about two teens keeping up a long distance friendship!

Scott and Cath were also fantastic to read about. Scott was my favourite, being an absolute adorakble idiot, who tended to make self-depreciating jokes and always underestimate himself. I adored his character development and how he learned that life wasn’t just your highschool test score and, no, flunking highschool does not have to ruin your life. Plus the fact that he was secretly searching for more felt very poignant and understandable. Any teen finishing higschool asks the questions Scott is floundering with. #Relatable

Cath’s college experience was a bit more alien to me, since the book was set in America. And I often got frustrated at how Cath automatically assumed everything was about her and ended up offended a lot. But in the end? She was so sweet and the way the friendship developed into romance with Scott was absolutely adorable. I also liked how she learned to stop judging people on face value and made some epic girl-power friends in her class.

Obviously the “what do we do now that highschool is over” theme is ALWAYS going to be applicable. Even if this is set in the ’80s! (Ancient history, obviously, har har…hush now.)

The humour was also absolutely on point. It mixed sass and witty banter with pure dorkiness that just had me laughing out loud as I devoured the pages. Cath often complained that Scott’s letters made her crack up in class…and, same, sister…same.

I also was surprised at how emotional the story got! There’s a plot twist that had me sniffling, because I honestly expected it to just be a light/happy contemporary. But no. It had depth and feelings too, so be prepared to have your little heart punched a few times. Which is absolutely excellent.

I definitely think We Are Still Tornadoes is a must-read! It’s completely underrated! It’s relatable and funny and poignant and tackles some difficult topics head-on. And a book that makes me laugh is always going to get an A+ from me.

Especially for Boys

I know that some people prefer not to have gender labels about books. Regardless, the three following books will be enjoyed by boys, and will no doubt also appeal to a wide readership.

The Grand Genius Summer of Henry Hoobler by Lisa Shanahan (Allen & Unwin)

Lisa Shanahan wrote one of my all-time favourite YA novels, My Big Birkett (published 2006). I have loved talking about it over the years: laughing out loud at the animals that ‘mate for life’ and rattling off the many meals that Raven De Head could make with mince; admiring the correlation with Shakespeare’s The Tempest and adoring the two main characters, Gemma and Raven. It was shortlisted for the CBCA.

Lisa Shanahan has also written picture books, which include Bear and Chook, Bear and Chook by the Sea and Daddy’s Having a Horse (all illustrated by Emma Quay); Big Pet Day (illustrated by Gus Gordon); and Sleep Tight, My Honey (illustrated by Wayne Harris). Many of these have received awards.

Her new novel, The Grand Genius Summer of Henry Hoobler, is best for mid primary-age readers – it’s rare to find a high quality Australian stand-alone novel for this age-group. It is set during a quintessential Australian beach camping holiday. Henry is ‘Mr Worst Case Scenario’. He worries about the adventures and feats (particularly by bike) that most book characters would embrace. The author is perceptive and empathetic in how she addresses Henry’s concerns. The writing and characterisation is impeccable for the intended age group.

Harry Kruize, Born to Lose by Paul Collins (Ford St Publishing)

Another Australian author is Paul Collins, who established Ford St Publishing and has specialised in writing speculative fiction. He has also edited two well-received anthologies, including Rich and Rare.

My favourite of his books was The Dog King, which has been inexplicably out of print for years until now. The author has taken the wonderful essence of The Dog King, added to it, and re-formed it as Harry Kruize, Born to Lose. The core story is about 13-year-old Harry, nicknamed ‘Hobbit’ because of his height, who is bullied by THE BRICK (there are lots of capitals and bolded strategic words in this new version). The beauty and wonder of the tale is the relationship between Harry and the old tramp, Jack Ellis, who moves into the shed behind Harry’s mother’s boarding house. He tells Harry tales about dogs. Some of them seem familiar … The denouement is as breathtaking as when I first read it.

The Light That Gets Lost by Natasha Carthew (Bloomsbury)

The Light That Gets Lost is an accessible, well-written novel for older readers from the UK. 15-year-old Trey deliberately gets himself incarcerated so that he can avenge his family. ‘Camp’ life is tough and he is focused on finding his parents’ killer, who he believes is one of the adults working at Camp Kernow. Sinister secrets are uncovered as Trey draws close to his target.

Two Australians Shortlisted for the CILIP Carnegie Medal

No surprises that Australian YA literature is up there with world’s best. The prestigious UK 2017 CILIP Carnegie Medal shortlist has just been announced and two Australians have been included: Glenda Millard for The Stars at Oktober Bend (Allen & Unwin) and Zana Fraillon for The Bone Sparrow (Hachette). The writing in both these YA novels is sublime.

The Carnegie Medal is awarded for writing and the Kate Greenaway Medal for illustration.

I reviewed The Stars at Oktober Bend for the Weekend Australian . A memorable scene is of beautiful, damaged Alice Nightingale perched ‘on the roof of her house at Oktober Bend, “like a carving on an old-fashioned ship, sailing through the stars”. She is throwing fragments of a poem into the night.’ Her new friend, Manny, is a former boy soldier.

I also reviewed The Bone Sparrow, about young Subhi in an Australian detention centre, in another Weekend Australian YA column, describing it as a ‘universal refugee tale’ and an ‘exalted, flawless book’. They were both in my top 6 YA books for 2016 and both are currently CBCA Notables (the Children’s Book Council of Australia’s long list). The Bone Sparrow was also shortlisted for the 2016 Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize.

It does sound as though Mal Peet and Meg Rosoff are favourites to win the Carnegie. I haven’t yet been able to finish reading Beck, which Meg Rosoff completed after Mal Peet’s untimely death. The pedophilia scenes are so confronting I fear the images won’t be erased. Mal Peet was a raconteur. I chaired a wonderful session at the Sydney Writers Festival with him and Ursula Dubosarsky, whose new novel, The Blue Cat, will be published soon. I was fortunate to have an entertaining lunch with Meg Rosoff and a colleague when working in Brisbane. She is a spectacular, unconventional writer. The other international shortlisted authors (and illustrators) are also stars. Fingers crossed for our Australian writers, of course though.

Other Australians to have won the Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medals are Ivan Southall with Josh (our only Carnegie winner so far and that was in 1971- but we have won other major international awards since then), Bob Graham for Jethro Byrde Fairy Child, Freya Blackwood for Harry and Hopper (written by Margaret Wild) and Gregory Rogers for Way Home (written by Libby Hathorn). I believe Levi Pinfold (Black Dog) lives in Australia. A number of other Australian illustrators, including Jeannie Baker, have been shortlisted for the Greenaway.

See the complete shortlists from the official website below.

SHORTLISTS FOR 2017 CILIP CARNEGIE AND KATE GREENAWAY MEDALS ANNOUNCED

  • Children’s Laureate Chris Riddell could win record-breaking fourth Kate Greenaway Medal in 60th anniversary year
  • Dieter Braun’s Wild Animals of the North, shortlisted for the Kate Greenaway Medal, is first ever book in translation to feature on either shortlist
  • Mal Peet’s final novel Beck, co-authored by Meg Rosoff, could posthumously win the 80th anniversary Carnegie

www.ckg.org.uk / #CKG17 / #bestchildrensbooks

Today (Thursday 16th March), the shortlists for the 2017 CILIP Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medals, the UK’s oldest and most prestigious book awards for children and young people, are revealed.

The Kate Greenaway Medal, which celebrates illustration in children’s books, sees award-winning writer and illustrator Chris Riddell, the Children’s Laureate, in the running to win an unprecedented fourth Kate Greenaway Medal just a year after his hat-trick in 2016. Riddell is joined by another potential record-breaker in the form of Dieter Braun’s Wild Animals of the North. Originally published in German, this is the first ever translated title to make the Kate Greenaway shortlist following the Medals opening up to translated works in English in 2015. They are joined by former Kate Greenaway Medal winners Emily Gravett, William Grill and Jim Kay and first-time Kate Greenaway-shortlisted authors Francesca Sanna, Brian Selznick and Lane Smith.

The Carnegie Medal, which celebrates outstanding writing for children and young people, sees a range of YA and Middle Grade books make the shortlist. Mal Peet’s final novel Beck, co-authored by Meg Rosoff, could be the second book to win the Medal posthumously, following Siobhan Dowd’s Bog Child in 2009. Peet and Rosoff are joined on the list by fellow former Carnegie Medal winners Frank Cottrell Boyce and Philip Reeve, previously shortlisted author Ruta Sepetys, debut authors Lauren Wolk and Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock and first-time Carnegie-shortlisted authors Zana Fraillon, Glenda Millard and Lauren Wolk.

The 2017 shortlists are:

The CILIP Carnegie Medal 2017 shortlist (alphabetically by author surname):

  1. Sputnik’s Guide to Life on Earthby Frank Cottrell Boyce (Pan Macmillan)
  2. The Bone Sparrowby Zana Fraillon (Orion Children’s Books)
  3. The Smell of Other People’s Housesby Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock (Faber & Faber)
  4. The Stars at Oktober Bendby Glenda Millard (Old Barn Books)
  5. Railheadby Philip Reeve (Oxford University Press)
  6. Beckby Mal Peet with Meg Rosoff (Walker Books)
  7. Salt to the Seaby Ruta Sepetys (Puffin)
  8. Wolf Hollowby Lauren Wolk (Corgi)

The CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal 2017 shortlist (alphabetically by illustrator surname):

  1. Wild Animals of the Northillustrated and written by Dieter Braun (Flying Eye Books)
  2. TIDYillustrated and written by Emily Gravett (Two Hoots)
  3. The Wolves of Currumpawillustrated and written by William Grill (Flying Eye Books)
  4. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stoneillustrated by Jim Kay, written by J.K. Rowling (Bloomsbury)
  5. A Great Big Cuddleillustrated by Chris Riddell and written by Michael Rosen (Walker Books)
  6. The Journeyillustrated and written by Francesca Sanna (Flying Eye Books)
  7. The Marvelsillustrated and written by Brian Selznick (Scholastic)
  8. There is a Tribe of Kidsillustrated and written by Lane Smith (Two Hoots)

Hooray for Lucy Cousins!

Lucy Cousins is much-loved, highly acclaimed international author-illustrator best known for her beloved Maisy series. She is also creator to Peck Peck Peck, and Hooray for Fish! And there is always much excitement when her new releases are revealed, even if they are simply new editions of the old. Go wild for Cousins’ latest books! They will keep your little ones entertained for hours.

Hooray for Birds! is the extravagantly captivating sequel to Hooray for Fish! Not only is there an immediate hook with endpapers containing a wonderfully colourful menagerie of beaks a-squawking and wings a-flapping, but then read the opening line: “Can you imagine… You’re a busy bird?”. Well, can you imagine?! Those little minds will be racing, hearts fluttering and arms ready to soar! Reading and acting this book out with my four year old has been a pure joy, every time!

With the most vibrant, solid colours, enlarged bold text and a patterned array of bird species engaging every page in this large format book, it’s no wonder Hooray for Birds! is an absolute winner with young children. Its rollicking rhyming text almost literally escalates its readers to new heights, effortlessly inspiring them to perform in a fun-filled mimicking and imaginative role-play experience. Included are shouts of “cock-a-doodle-doo!”, there are hopping birds, pecking birds, ones with tall necks. There are parrots that talk, starlings that swoop, fly-catching birds, and ones that lay eggs. The list goes on with a cascade of onomatopoeia and lively action words, enough to make one exhausted as we reach a suitable ending when it’s time to say goodnight.

What a fantastically playful book with the massive potential for teaching and learning moments on the study of bird names, habitats and characteristics. Highly recommended, jubilant fun for all preschool aged children.

Maisy Goes Swimming was originally published in 1990, but here today we have a magnificently interactive new edition that is perfect for children from age three.

Your child may be a confident swimmer, or completely new to the experience. Either way, this book can be adopted as a familiar reference or as a simple introduction, both encouraging independence. Maisy is preparing for her visit to the pool, and with the reader’s help, she can dress appropriately for the occasion. The ideal size board book for small, busy hands, Maisy Goes Swimming is brimming with tactile goodness to entertain again and again. Large bold text in colours that match the clothing item of attention help little ones identify the correlation between word and picture. And most likely after just one adult read-aloud they will be able to ‘read’ it all themselves. From a wintery outfit of jacket, hat, scarf, gloves and boots, slowly but surely flaps are lifted, strings are pulled, parts are slid up or down and folds are opened. Watch out for the rudey-nudey Maisy when her layers are all off! Quickly slide that recognisable striped swim suit on and take Maisy for a swim.

The sturdy and high quality pages provide great comfort in knowing that for a book that your children will never get tired of, Maisy Goes Swimming is sure to be a classic for another 25+ years!

Maisy Goes to the Bookshop is still as relevant today as it was all those years ago. And we’re all for encouraging a love of books, right?!

When Maisy enters the bookshop with teddy in tow, she is delightfully greeted with an abundance of colourful books filling the shelves. Immediately both Maisy and the reader are confronted with a very real circumstance in the need to make decisions. Which book will she choose to buy? Exploring the range from bears, to fish, trucks and art, it is the book about birds that catches her eye…it’s a book to share with her friend Tallulah. Some books are factual, and some can spark one’s imagination. This concept is neatly woven into the story as Maisy and her friends at the bookshop discover topics that fill their minds with wonder and excitement, and a bit of humour too. After storytime and a bite to nibble, Maisy makes her purchase and delivers her present to its new owner for a fun shared reading afternoon.

Making clear the benefits and many ways to enjoy books, Cousins’ text and illustrations prove equally as enthusiastic and simple. Maisy Goes to the Bookshop is obviously a pleasurable reading experience about a pleasurable experience with books! For book-loving children from age three.

Walker Books, 2017.

The ANZAC Tree by Christina Booth

Christina Booth is a talented author and illustrator. She began her career illustrating books written by Colin Thiele, Max Fatchen and Christobel Mattingley and then graduated to creating her own picture books, which include Purinina – A Devil’s Tale and Kip. Kip won a CBCA Honour award.

We have a fine backlist of picture books about the ANZACS and my review of some top titles in recent years appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald/The Age http://m.smh.com.au/entertaining-kids/parenting-and-childrens-books/gallipoli-books-for-children-open-an-enlightening-window-on-the-reality-of-war-20150420-1mmcfl.html .

Christina Booth has added to the canon by writing and illustrating The ANZAC Tree (Scholastic Australia) ready for this year’s ANZAC Day.

The ANZAC Tree is set on a farm in Tasmania and traces generations of soldiers from the one family. Phillip, the young narrator at the beginning of the story, likes to climb the big hill and look out at forever. His older brothers each planted a tree on the hill before they left for the Great War. Phillip waters the trees. Roy’s survives but Percy’s tree is dying, foreshadowing his fate.

The narration quickly changes from Phillip to Kenneth, who is Roy’s nephew. Kenneth farewells his father (probably Phillip as an adult), who is going away to fight Mr Hitler. When the family don’t hear from him, Kenneth waits under Uncle Roy’s tree.

In the next section it is implied that Kenneth is the soldier fighting with Uncle Joe in Korea. His daughter, Sophie, takes over the narrative. The psychedelic Sixties follow and Emily witnesses her brother Kevin being drafted to fight in Vietnam. He later has a Vietnamese girlfriend and watches the sunset under Roy’s big pine tree rather than attending the ANZAC parade. Then Chris sees his cousin Jenny go to fight in Iraq and Jack skypes his father in Afghanistan. The story culminates with family members united once again under the pine tree planted by great-great-grandfather Roy a hundred years earlier, appreciating that war isn’t something to be proud of, but being brave enough to fight in them to protect other people is.

Children will enjoy the challenge of deciphering the family relationships and following the recurring symbol of the tree in this powerful, soulful story inspired by real people and events. The illustrations, including the drawings of photos, extend the narrative. The structure is sophisticated but executed skilfully and seamlessly in words and pictures. The ANZAC Tree is a commemoration of one family’s fallen, and is also an excellent picture book for primary schools to use to observe ANZAC Day.

Getting Serious About Series – Junior Novels for Little Misses

When it comes to captivating reads that snag interest and capture long-term readership, serial stories take the cake. Relatable incidents, swift moving plot lines and plenty of reasons to hang out with characters who become as close as real life friends all add up to serious series appeal. This winning combination works just as well for readers new to chapter books, too. Here are a few junior novels for younger children, chapter books if you will that are sure to tantalise.

Ginger Green Playdate Queen by Kim Kane and Jon Davis

Ginger Green is a foxy little minx in her first years of primary school. The thing she is most adept at this age is throwing playdates. Her winsome and extrovert personality allows her to make friends easily although not every person she tries to befriend has similar virtues.

Continue reading Getting Serious About Series – Junior Novels for Little Misses

Review: Gemina by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

PURCHASE HERE

After the amazing phenomenal experience that was reading Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff, I was obviously desperate to get my clammy paws on the sequel. I get nervous reading sequels, because what if it doesn’t live up to the incredibleness that was the first book?!? But Gemina was an absolutely mind-blowing book. It had gut-punching plot twists, blood and bullets, and that gorgeous and complicated visual formatting we know and love from this series.

And I think it probably has left many readers screaming into the void in pain and agony while waiting for the finale. I just have this hunch.

Gemina begins with two new characters from those in the first book. This time we have Nik and Hanna. Their relationship is love-and-war as Nik has an insurmountable crush on Hanna, but she, as the captain of the station’s daughter, is dating a respectable officer. Nik is son of cutthroat Mafia organisation that sells drugs (which Hanna buys covertly) so you can imagine that getting them together is not going to be easy. Since the story takes off outlining what’s happening at the Heimdall Jump Station while the journey in Illuminae is still going on, we get to see the evil Baytech company infiltrating the station and trying to take it down. Except they didn’t count on Nik and Hanna being a lot better at fighting then their given credit for.

I was worried I wouldn’t love these new characters as much as I adored Kady and Ezra from Illuminae…but I shouldn’t have been concerned! Hanna and Nik were fantastic and complex and dynamic. One of my favourite things about Hanna was how she drew quirky things in her journal, liked fashion, and did things like draw hearts around her and her boyfriend’s name…but then she was also skilled at physical combat training and military strategy. She was absolutely full of badass surprises.

PURCHASE HERE

Nik was equally wonderful, with a dash of tragic bad-boy on the side. As part of the Mafia, it’s dubious as to exactly what illegal activities he’s been involved with. Which does create some questions. And tensions. He’s about 90% sass and 10% sadness, which he covers with sass, and his crush on Hanna was equal parts adorable and pathetic. This is unrequited love at it’s finest. I also loved Nik because when something bad happened, he reacted like any normal teen would. He’s not bullet proof and he’s emotional.

And bad things happen to everyone all the time, so this book is, in a word: stressful.

The plot has a similar set up to the first book: two teens have to save a lot of people on a dire countdown. This time we have psycho soldiers from Baytech sneaking about and trying to utilize the wormhole for their own dark needs. There are freaky monsters in the vents and clever guerrilla warfare tactics.  Nik and Hanna are trying to save people and also stop the jump-station from exploding as the wormhole collapses. There’s clever traps, traitors, child computer geniuses, Mafia families, an irritating pop song, explosions, murder, and plenty of sass.

The plot twists are also my favourite part! This series never fails to blow my mind with the genius creativity. Although be ye warned: the cliffhanger is not kind.

And of course I must mention the art! This series is done in a very unique type of formatting, which involves pages of art, interestingly done typography, transcripts, interviews, and amazing galactic explosions across the page. The added affect of art by NYT bestselling author, Marie Lu, was also incredible and so cute. I would also thoroughly recommend the audiobook as it’s dramatised and features many actors and sound effects that makes it feel like a movie in your head!

Gemina was everything a sequel should be. It was exciting and terrifying and had my heart pounding several times wondering who’d make it out alive. The kill-count is high and the nerves are exploding. It’s not your traditional sci-fi story, which I think makes it the best kind.

8 books set in cemeteries

There’s something eerie yet somewhat peaceful about cemeteries, and the untold tales of those resting there for eternity. And if you’re a taphophile – someone who takes an interest in cemeteries, funerals, tombstones, or memory of past lives – you’ll agree with me. I’ve always enjoyed books set in cemeteries so I’ve compiled a list for like-minded readers.


8 Books Set in Cemeteries


  1. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman is a fantasy novel for children about a young boy who escapes the night his family is murdered in their home. He wanders up the street and eventually into a graveyard. The ghosts in the graveyard discuss his predicament and agree to raise the young boy as their own. That’s how the life of Nobody Owens (Bod for short) begins. The Graveyard Book has won a tonne of awards, including the Newbery Medal and Carnegie Medal.
  2. Pet Sematary by Stephen King is a horror novel known to many readers. A horror story that only Stephen King could write, it’s about a young family and an ancient Indian burial ground. It’s also been made into a film. No more needs to be said.
  3. Pure by Andrew Miller is an historical fiction novel set amidst Les Innocents, the oldest cemetery in Paris. In 1875, the cemetery has been closed to burials for 5 years because it’s overflowing with 2 million corpses and emitting a foul stench.
    Jean-Baptiste Baratte is employed by the Minister to demolish the cemetery and relocate the human remains outside the city of Paris. We witness his struggle with the dark task of disturbing the final resting place of thousands of Parisian occupants. The descriptions of the cemetery and surrounds (including church, charnel houses and graveyards) were deeply evocative of this grisly yet soulful place.
  4. Falling Angels by Tracy Chevalier is an historical fiction novel set in Edwardian London between January 1901 to May 1910 with many of the scenes taking place in Highgate cemetery. Told from the perspective of different characters, the novel covers the journey of two girls from different families.
    The chapters are narrated in the first person by several of the main characters (including my favourite character, the gravedigger’s son). It includes themes of mourning, mourning etiquette, class and the suffragette movement.


    While I enjoyed reading the above, I have plenty more in this genre to look forward to, including:

  5. Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger, is set in and around Highgate Cemetery and is a novel / ghost story about twin sisters, love and identity, secrets and sisterhood.
  6. Necropolis: London and Its Dead by Catharine Arnold has been on my TBR pile forever. It’s a non fiction look at London’s dead through the lens of archaeology, architecture and anecdotes. London is filled with the remains of previous eras – pagan, Roman, medieval and Victorian and I look forward to learning more as soon as I can get to it.
  7. The Restorer by Amanda Stevens is a paranormal novel about Amelia Gray – a cemetery restorer who sees ghosts – and is the first of six in the Graveyard Queen series.
  8. Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders is a new release historical fiction novel about Abraham Lincoln and his grief at the death of his son. It is said that Lincoln was so grief-stricken over the loss of his beloved son, he visited the family crypt several times to hold his body. Lincoln in the Bardo takes place in a single night.

    I hope you’ve enjoyed this collection of books set in cemeteries. What have you read or hope to read in the future?

Review: Allegedly by Tiffany D. Jackson

PURCHASE HERE

Allegedly by Tiffany D. Jackson is one of the most amazing and mind-twisting thrillers you’ll read this year! It’s thoroughly messed up — in the best possible way for a thriller. I was hooked on every word of the novel as it unfolds the story of a 9-year-old girl who allegedly killed a baby. It’s also heavily inspired by a true story (although I don’t believe this is based on the story) which makes it all the more chilling. Psychopaths have to start somewhere, don’t they? And there’s such a thing as a child psychopath.

Or, in this book’s case….is there? Did she do it?

The story follows Mary Addison who’s been in jail since she was 9 and, at 16, is is now released. She’s living in a group home from hell, filled with nasty vicious girls who make her life miserable for fun, and overseen by a malicious and negligent guardian who is content to let the girls abuse each other so long as no one gets murdered. Mary has no rights. She has no future. She has no hope. And she says she never killed that baby.

Her life because more complicated when, while working in a community service job, she meets a boy named Ted whom she loves incredibly much and they accidentally get pregnant. Now Mary is faced with the realisation that she’s never going to be allowed to keep her baby, no matter what she says or does. Not unless she can clear her name.

So the story follows her digging up the case again, even though she’s tired and beaten and despondent. She’s trying to get her SAT score so she can get into college and better herself. But only a million and two obstacles stand in her way, which makes for a completely harrowing tale because you can’t help but root for Mary to succeed — even if, all the while, you’re wondering what really happened that night the baby died.

The writing is absolutely incredible! It’s poignant and rich and so real that you can’t help but feel you’re living the story instead of just reading words off a page. I could scarcely believe it was a debut with the sheer skill of the word-wielding here!

And, as all good thrillers, this one never gives you all the information. Mary is an unreliable narrator, but then so is absolutely everyone. This story excels in the plot twists. You never see them coming! It makes you question the world and the justice system and humanity.

I will say it’s a very hard book to read for the sheer darkness of the tale. It’s heavily spattered with abuse too, of course, from flashbacks to Mary’s childhood where she was sexually and physically abused to all the cruelty happening to her in the present day. Living in the group home literally means she fears for her and her baby’s life. And as a convicted-murderer and a black woman, she faces terrible racism and abuse at every turn for that too. The book doesn’t shy away from giving you a really brutal view of Mary’s life.

I absolutely recommend this book! It is a beautiful display of talented storytelling and excellent writing and a captivating story of brutality and mystery. It talks very fiercely about how judgemental people can be and whether people deserve forgiveness. Even when I finished reading it, I couldn’t put it down after that mind blowing ending. Wow, dude, wow.

For the Love of Dogs – Picture Book Reviews

A little while ago I dedicated a review article to man’s best friend. Today I have another brilliant collection of dog stories that highlight their boundless vivacity, loyalty and dedication, not to mention their occasional misdemeanours, that truly make our pets so loveable.

The 12th Dog, Charlotte Calder (author), Tom Jellett (illus.), Lothian Children’s Books, Jan 2017.

To adoring cricket fans, and of course dog lovers: this one’s for you! Oh, and you have the added bonus of the eye-popping, crowd-pleasing illustrations by the legendary Tom Jellett!

Combining his three favourite c’s; chewing, chasing and catching, Arlo the dog loves to play cricket. Except he never gives the ball back. Struggling to play for the team, Arlo is sentenced to the pavilion (the kennel) by the children as the 12th dog. But he makes a come-back to form. Skilfully integrating cricket terminology into an everyday, Aussie backyard scene sees Arlo score the winning run and he is crowned the best fielder in the street… but is he?

Brilliantly characteristic of ball-loving dog behaviour in an exciting pitch of teamwork and sportsmanship, The 12th Dog marvellously bowls out humour, cricket knowledge and a beaut Aussie flavour. Any fan from age four will be cheering for more. Howzat!?

Gus Dog goes to work, Rachel Flynn (author), Craig Smith (illus.), Working Title Press, Jan 2017.

This book both melted my heart and had me laughing out loud. What a gorgeous representation of a loyal working dog, with a big personality. The narrative and the illustrations both reflect these aspects beautifully. Gus Dog goes to work is uncannily relatable and articulately universal, even if the setting is in rural Australia.

Tom the farmer belongs to Gus Dog, and together, they have the perfect formula for a good working relationship – A mixture of special, ‘formulated’ breakfast with the commonality of an understood language. One day Gus awakes to the disappearance of Tom, and so off he sets on his explorative journey to find him. Using his natural doggy instincts, Gus sniffs and looks and listens and chases and rounds up and rolls in everything he comes across, only the townsfolk are highly unimpressed with his antics. He doesn’t understand everything, but drawing on some of his human-word-knowledge, he knows what ‘getoutovit’ means. Gus also recognises ‘goodboy’ and ‘gohome’, which are music to his ears when he’s finally reunited with Tom.

With fluid pencil work combined with digital painting, Craig Smith has sensationally captured the energy, wit and idiosyncrasies of this working dog and the special bond with his owner. The narrative has elements of a mocking humour matched with a visceral innocence, which superbly depicts the dog’s point of view.

Loyalty, friendship and communication between man and dog faultlessly combine in this funny and loveable story. Gus Dog goes to work will be received with pleasure, compassion and relatability by its preschool readers.

Blue the Builder’s Dog, Jen Storer (author), Andrew Joyner (illus.), Penguin Random House, Aug 2016.

In another tale of a working dog with a mind of his own, Blue the Builder’s Dog is delectably sweet and fiercely passionate in all matters on the building site. Jen Storer brings her quirky and charming sense of humour to this reflective and encouraging story, as does the awesome Andrew Joyner with his lively, retro-feel illustrations, representative of independence and being strong-willed.

Blue is dedicated to his job. He guards the tools, signs the concrete slabs, inspects the works (often) and keeps stickybeak cats away. He is friends with everyone on the team. Except Blue wants more. He wants to be able to go up high, wear a hard hat, and most of all, a home of his own. Living in the shed is no place for a Working Dog. So, with great building plans in mind, Blue quits his job and embarks on his own grand endeavour. His creation is nothing short of remarkable (for a dog), but it seems this kennel is short of stability, particularly in a big storm. Realising his shortcomings, Blue makes amends with his builder and the team. And there is another new and improved design too.

Blue the Builder’s Dog is an animated story of teamwork and having a voice. It shows a determined character who makes a clear statement about the importance of marking one’s territory, so to speak! Humorous with cleverly portrayed themes and insights that children from age four will adore.

My Dog Dash, Nicky Greenberg (author, illus.), Allen & Unwin, Apr 2016.

If you haven’t read this story then I’m not going to spoil it for you. But let’s just say that this dog has no problem coming out of his shell. On first read, I found this so surprising I had to do a double-take! The title, My Dog Dash, may be ‘misleading’, but demonstrates perfectly how easily something, or someone may be misjudged by preconceived notions.

Despite Dash’s inattentive meanderings, misreading of social cues and favouring for homely disorder, the girl narrator is passionate about the wellbeing of her beloved pet, even when others don’t understand. She is dedicated to training him, walking him and cleaning up after him. When Dash disappears one night, the girl is naturally devastated (however not to any dismay by her parents, by the looks on their faces). In a most satisfying ending, there is one more shocking surprise. You’ll have to read it to find out!

I love the rawness of this story; from the sacrifice of standing up for a misunderstood friend, to the natural, earthy tones and mixture of pencil sketching and textured paints in Greenberg’s illustrations.

My Dog Dash is a quirky, comical take on what is considered ‘normal’ puppy behaviour. Friendship and responsibility are at the heart of this sweet tale for preschool children. Remember, don’t judge a pet by its covering!

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Astonishing Picture Book Reads – Part 2

More picture books to make you smile squint and ponder.

Hello! Illustrated by Tony Flowers

Hello is a simple enough salutation, right. That opening phrase designed to introduce, calm, and unite two or more people. But what if those parties can’t speak the same language? Hello! is a visual and linguistic opportunity for primary aged children to meet 12 other Australian children with different cultural backgrounds and experience their different languages and customs. Many of them also speak English, which makes this introduction a breeze for readers and their carers to float through.

Each child introduces itself; Hua’s family for example comes from China. She speaks Chinese and then launches into the appropriate greetings, discusses some of her favourite foods and covers the numbers one to ten before signing off. These brief four page encounters encourage children to meet more and more people and practise more and more languages without feeling overwhelmed by the newness of it all.

Not only are we treated to new words and their characters and or alphabets, but also Flowers’ bright illustrations which take us on a fun, colourful tour of cuisines, games and traditions. This is a glorious global version of Australia: Illustrated if you like (with emphasis on cultures most prevalent in Australia). Hello! is just as engaging and equally as useful.

NLA 2016 Continue reading Astonishing Picture Book Reads – Part 2

‘Design Thinking’ and Matt Stanton

Author, illustrator and former designer at HarperCollins, Matt Stanton, opened our eyes to ‘design thinking’ and strategy in writing and publishing books at yesterday’s ‘Between the Covers’ seminar in Sydney about children’s books and publishing.

Matt is the creator of two very successful series for young readers. The first is aimed at 6-year-old boys. It is unashamedly commercial and doesn’t even try to win literary awards. It is illustrated by Tim Miller and began with There is a Monster Under My Bed who Farts.

His second series creates a funny and interactive experience for young children and their parents or carers. The first book in the ‘Books That Drive Kids Crazy!’ series is the very popular, This is a Ball and is a collaboration between Matt and his teacher wife, Beck. Now parents, Matt and Beck are ‘learning how to re-enter the space of play’ and what better than using a book to do so! The second in this series is Did You Take the B From My –ook? and The Red Book, with its bold purple cover, is on the way. 

His third series ‘Funny Kid’ will be launched around the world this year. It is aimed at middle grade readers.

Matt focuses on the ‘who’, the reader, rather than on what he personally may want to write about (although maybe these are the same thing). I found this stance fascinating and very different from the many authors who I have interviewed at writers’ festivals and elsewhere. In my experience, authors generally speak about the story that they have to tell, regardless of who it’s for. An example is John Boyne and his masterpiece The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, which has found its own audience. Matt is surprised that more authors don’t target their readerships more strategically. I believe that there is probably a place for both approaches.

Matt makes it easy for buyers and browsers to find his books on bookshelves. He uses block colours such as blue, green or purple on his covers. He recognises that yellow is the strongest colour in the spectrum and will feature this on the spines of his upcoming ‘Funny Kid’ series. The book covers in this series will all feature an enormous face to distinguish them from other funny series aimed at middle grade who show smaller characters. Our brains will also register that these faces are looking at us in bookstores and libraries, drawing our attention.

Matt’s website includes a virtual ‘Stretch Your Imagination’ book tour. He also has a YouTube channel that is very popular with his young readers.

Matt reminded us that we’re in a golden age of children’s publishing in Australia. In 2016, children’s and young adult book sales took 44% of the total book market in volume. In 2016, 9 of our 10 top authors wrote children’s/YA. Last year, 9 million more children’s/YA books were sold than in 2005.

Thanks to keynote speaker, Matt, the Australian Publishers Association, host Allen & Unwin and Fiona Stager and her team for organising this very informative event.

Review – Digby and the Yodelayhee… Who? by Renee Price

Digby and the Yodelayhee…Who?, Renee Price (author), Anil Tortop (illus.), Create It Kids, March 2017.

Strumming up a musical storm in a delicious brimful of plonks, plinks and twangs is the energetic page-turner; Digby and the Yodelayhee…Who?. Sequel to the adventurous antics of Digby’s Moon Mission, here is a seamless transition from the moonlight to the limelight.

And just like its predecessor, the themes of teamwork, curiosity and problem solving, and the teachable concepts of measurement (telling time and noise levels) are included and presented in a whole new and refreshing melodic tone.

Price’s musical background is showcased in full spotlight, incorporating not only different instruments and their sounds but also in the way the narrative has been pitched. She has written this story with a tuneful arrangement, harmonising between rhyme and prose, just like the verses of a song. Clever!

Anil Tortop’s mixed-media illustrations once again bring life, colour, vibrancy and a discernible swag to the pages, composing the opportunity for a hand-clapping, toe-tapping, bottom-wriggling romp for its audience. And to add further to the liveliness of this book, Digby and the Yodelayhee… Who? is accompanied with swinging song notes and QR code for ‘Digby’s Jam’; a lyrical composition by Renee Price (and family) herself!

Digby is perplexed by the mystery of a ‘super-duper noise’. So he sets out on yet another mission to find a conclusion. It takes five hours of careful auditory processing, watching each of his trusty friends explore a different instrument at different hours of the day. Stanley strums on his guitar at half-past one, Sophie toots on her kazoo at half-past two. Finally at half-past six the noise-o-meter makes a much-needed appearance, and when it rings out a ‘Thunderous!’ sound the gang know just where to look. With their newly acquired yodelling prowess in tow, the group enjoy a noisy jam… but there’s another unexplained sound to settle!

Euphoniously delightful as a read aloud experience, visually dynamic, encouragingly active, humorous and imaginative, Digby and the Yodelayhee… Who? will lead its preschool audience on a most exhilarating journey of resounding goodness.

For more information on this innovative and talented creator, please read my interview with Renee Price on Digby and the Yodelayhee… Who? here and through the Digby Fixit interactive website here.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

YA Books About Missing People

Thrillers come in all manner of delightful shapes and sizes — including a penchant for featuring stories about missing or kidnapped or vanished people. This is always equally frightening and enthralling because this is could happen to anyone, which makes the thriller all the more terrifying. Plus a well written missing-persons-thriller will definitely keep you guessing and on the edge of your seat as you wonder which way the mystery will spin.

Today I’m going to be listing some Young Adult thrillers that feature missing people and will, quite hopefully, freak you out like a good book should. Enjoy!


THE STRANGER GAME

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This is the story of Nico who’s older sister Sarah was missing for four years…but now she’s back. Or is she? There are things that don’t match up with the new-Sarah and she has amnesia and PTSD so everyone is walking on eggshells around her. Nico also knows more than she’s telling which makes the book endlessly twisted with unreliable narrators and questions popping out of your ears.

I basically couldn’t put this one down UNTIL I KNEW and while it does require a bit of suspension of disbelief, it’ll definitely keep you wondering about that fateful day Sarah disappeared. It also, blissfully, features a non-romantic story line (which is unusual for YA books) and focuses on the thriller aspects and the sisters’ relationship dynamics…however messed up they are.

 

THE EDGE OF EVERYTHING

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This book is just out into the world! It’s a paranormal story set during a fearsome blizzard that has Zoe running for her life — only to be saved by a soul-catching-bounty-hunter-hot-supernatural-boy who is from hell and doesn’t deserve it. The story ties in with her father who went missing when he was caving several years ago. Zoe’s always had questions and now she might get answers. If she and the mysterious boy X can figure out how to free him of his terrifying bonds.

The book mixes quite a dark storyline with a lot of lighter humour. Zoe is a rather hyberbolic mess who will protect her little brother fiercely buuuut also instagram the paranormal soul-snatcher in her spare time. As you do.

 

THE LEAVING

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This is an absolutely intriguing tale of six children who went missing one day…but now they’re back and have no memories of their missing years. They’re all teens now and trying to fit back into their families. People don’t quite trust where they’ve been and there are theories from aliens to one of the kids is lying. Also: one boy never came back. So QUESTIONS.

It has a bit of a sci-fi twist to it and also features an artistic angle with using creative text formatting to convey more emotions and feeling of the story. I was totally in love with that aspect of it!

 

THE LAST GOOD DAY OF THE YEAR

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This is set back in the ’60s, when Sam watched a stranger kidnap her baby sister from her bed. Only a kid herself, Sam didn’t know what to do — and now her lack of action haunts her. No one’s ever found the toddler’s remains and they can’t help but hope she might be out there somewhere. But as the family return to their old home — where the toddler was taken — it can’t help but stir the mystery back up and reopen old wounds and old cases.

This is a very sad story, written in a reflective memoir like tone. It’s narrated by Sam but it’s not really about Sam — instead it focuses on the convoluted family and neighbour dynamics that maybe are a little more sinister than they seem.

 

 

Julie Hunt, the imagination behind KidGlovz

When reading a book by Julie Hunt I feel like I’m entering into an uncanny world, where imagination seeps into the interstices of reality. Julie is the author of The Coat (illustrated by Ron Brooks), which won CBCA picture book of the year in 2013.

Her other major books are Precious Little (illustrated by Gaye Chapman), the Little Else series (illustrated by Beth Norling) and KidGlovz, which features in this interview. These books are published by Allen & Unwin.

Quality graphic novels for children are extremely rare and should be cherished. KidGlovz, written by Julie Hunt and illustrated by Dale Newman over four years, is an outstanding example of the form. It won the 2016 Queensland Literary Award and Dale was shortlisted for the 2016 Crichton Award as a debut book illustrator. Although sophisticated, reluctant readers also enjoy it.

The title of KidGlovz derives from the saying, ‘handle with kid gloves’. The protagonist, KidGlovz is a talented, fragile boy who is being raised for profit rather than nurtured. With insufficient food and while virtually a prisoner in his room, he is visited by tightrope walker, Shoestring, who frees him from avaricious guardian Dr Spin, exposing him instead to an external world of danger and adventure.

I met Julie at the State Theatre Café in Hobart last week. It seemed like a fitting, although subconscious, choice by Julie because KidGlovz begins as a theatre performance by the young precocious pianist. Fittingly, the Hobart theatre and café also adjoins a bookshop.

This was the perfect time for an interview because Julie has just had the go-ahead from her publisher Allen & Unwin (great supporters of the graphic novel) for Shoestring, the companion book to KidGlovz. Julie actually wrote it as a sequel soon after completing KidGlovz. It’s now less a sequel than a discrete work even though the characters of KidGlovz and, of course, Shoestring reappear and Julie is rewriting it so that it will become an illustrated, rather than ‘graphic’ novel. She is translating potential visual images and jokes into words but there will still be 100 pictures.

Shoestring will be published in 2018 and a third book will then be in the pipeline, featuring Sylvie Quickfingers, a stolen child prodigy who has a cameo at the end of KidGlovz.

Even though writing is ‘arduous and difficult’, Julie is ‘only interested if the work excites me’. When I asked Julie if her editor and publisher need to restrain her creative brain with its original perspective and perhaps prevent her from straying too far into a wondrous strangeness, she replied that they are formative, ‘They encourage me to go further’.

Julie’s picture book The Coat has been greatly acclaimed. Its illustrator, Ron Brooks, happens to live across the river from Julie, but The Coat was not a collaborative work – Ron illustrated Julie’s story after she wrote it.

Julie’s subconscious seems to be continuously at work, with the gloves being a recurring motif in both The Coat and KidGlovz. She’s often ‘not aware of this stuff till a bit later.’

Music is another motif rising throughout Julie’s books such as Song For a Scarlet Runner, winner of the inaugural Readings Children’s Book Prize and shortlisted for multiple prestigious awards. Julie studied the trumpet and sang Bulgarian folk music, which took her to ‘another realm’ and showcased her ‘larger than life self’ when she was on stage.

Secondary characters such as Splitworld Sam from KidGlovz and Siltman from Song For a Scarlet Runner are both otherworldly figures. Names, such as in Julie’s junior series Little Else, illustrated by Beth Norling, are important to Julie. She knows she’s not on the right track if she doesn’t have the right names for her characters.

It was a pleasure to meet this extremely talented author. Julie is a delightful person, with a generous  smile and laugh. As a writer, Julie feels like the tightrope walker in the famous postcard by Quint Buccholz. She steps out and ‘hopes for the best’.

Fantasy and Adventure – Novel Escapes

 

The golden age of reading begins when youngsters develop their reading confidence around the age of seven or so, and extends into their early teens where suspension of belief is still strong and stories featuring fantasy and adventure rate robustly on the their reading radars.

It is no wonder then that junior and middle grade novels are in such high demand. These three are definitely worth adding to your list.

Trouble and the New Kid by Cate Whittle and Stephen Michael King

Trouble first flew into Georgia’s life early last year. He stole their home inadvertently absconding with her baby brother, Godfrey. Since then, he’s barely been able to stay on the good side of the behaviour books, after run-ins with Mrs Jones and her cat, Tibbles in The Missing Cat. Now, Trouble is back in all his glorious dragon-green unruliness in, Trouble and the New Kid.

Continue reading Fantasy and Adventure – Novel Escapes

The Fix-It Man by Dimity Powell and Nicky Johnston

From our very own Boomerang Books blogger / word smith extraordinaire, Dimity Powell, together with the divinely talented illustrator, Nicky Johnston, we have a very special feature here today! I have had the utmost pleasure in reviewing their gorgeous new book, The Fix-It Man, and in finding out more about their collaboration. Enjoy!

Review:

Poignant, perfectly pitched and picture perfect. The Fix-It Man is a story that so effectively and sensitively captures the heartache and love between a little girl and her father when dealing with loss. Dimity Powell’s words are paced at a gentle rhythm that allow its readers space to breathe and take in the deeper meaning at the heart of the tale. The illustrations by Nicky Johnston encapsulate adversity and strength with their unmistakable emotive intensity.

A little girl has complete faith in her dad to fix anything. “It’s what dads do.” Whether it’s super gluing kites, mending the dog’s kennel or piecing shattered teapots back together, Dad is at the heart of turning bad days into good. But even her dependable, handy father can’t fix Mama. And there is nothing more shattering than that moment. That wordless moment of grief in the slimmest of moonlight that father and daughter lay wrapped up in Mama’s quilt, sure to be the first of many sleepless nights. Hearts break and cracks widen, but with a little bit of optimism and a whole lot of love, they know they can fix things together.

Superbly narrated and delicately illustrated, The Fix-It Man is a reassuring story that gently addresses the themes of love, life and loss in a thoughtful way. Being able to embrace life and cope with death at the same time shows great resilience. And for readers from age four in similar circumstances, this book offers an invaluable sense of hope and comfort.

EK Books, March 2017.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Join us now for the interview:

Congratulations on the release of your newest picture book, The Fix-It Man!

DP: Thanks, Romi. Dancing on clouds happy about it.

Dimity, this is your debut in the picture book arena! Where did the foundation for this story come from?

DP: Like many story ideas of mine, it evolved from a real life incident, which developed into a thought, which led to a question, which resulted in a small movie inside my head. The hard part was extracting the best bits and shaping them into a picture book text. I love the belief small children have in their parents, that they can fix anything and everything. I wanted to explore the reaction of a child when this belief is challenged, when their fixer suddenly needs fixing, too.

How did you find the whole publishing process with EK Books? How much input did you have with Nicky’s illustrations?

DP: A veritable dream. Likewise, Nicky is a dream to work with. She is dedicated and meticulous and included me in just about every step of the process from rough drafts to finals. This was something I had not expected so it was a joy to correspond with her and give feedback on the images as they developed. There was never any real need to clarify the relationship between her images and my text; Nicky just seemed to know what was going on in my head. There was however, a lot of discussion between us and our publisher about the various nuances and symbols; all the tiny details used throughout the visual narrative. It was a real team effort.

What do you like about Nicky’s style? How do you feel her illustrations have complemented your text?

DP: Everything! Nicky’s current style is perfectly suited to this story and exactly the way I envisaged this family to be. The emotion projected in Nicky’s images is poignantly powerful.

Nicky’s illustrations more than just complement the story. They add a level of subtly and sensitivity without ever being maudlin. Her soft colour palette and homogeneous characters invite readers into the very heart and soul of the story: we could be that family.

Nicky, what drew you to Dimity’s story when you first read it? Did you feel a connection with the text? Did the images naturally appear in your mind or was it a process that developed over time?

NJ: As soon as I read Dim’s manuscript, I connected to it immediately. Visuals started filling my head, I sketched them all into my sketchbook (pages of them!) it was quite overwhelming actually.

The story is beautifully written, every word, every pause and every page break is a deliberate choice to ensure the flow of the story is not only read, but felt.

The illustrated scenes, the characters, the subtle visual sub stories came to me with immense ease. I worked on the first concept roughs almost obsessively. The entire developmental process from roughs to producing the final artworks filled me with pure joy.

Dimity and Nicky, you seem like a terrific team with an organic relationship, which certainly resonates through the book. How did you feel about the collaboration with one another along the journey? Were there any hiccups or surprises you can share with us?

DP: Extremely grateful and satisfied in the most fulfilling way. From the very first sample spread I saw, I knew my words were in good hands. Nicky’s ability to ‘get’ my intentions is uncanny. I think the way she is able to extract exactly how I picture the characters and scenes out of my head and capture them in watercolour (without any consultation) is true genius and just a little bit spooky. The biggest surprise for me was that everything progressed so fluidly and enjoyably.

NJ: I am amazed with the personal connection Dim and I have, given we have only ever met in person twice! I think our minds, visions and emotions are aligned in quite an authentic way. I am pleased the illustrations and the text combination demonstrates this unitedness too.

This was my first time working with EK Books and I really loved the team approach that was given to the entire project. It was fabulous to be able to bounce around my ideas and rough sketches with everyone to be sure we would create the book to the highest standard.

What has been the most rewarding part of creating this book so far?

DP: When I got the call from my publisher with the green light good news. It had been a long hard slog to get to that point so that call was a massive relief. I may have shed a few tears. Holding it (The Fix-It Man) in my hands for the first time was also a bit momentous. Oh and watching the visual landscape of my story come to life with each of Nicky’s illustrations. I still find that part of storytelling inexplicably rewarding; watching your words come alive is pure magic. Sorry to carry on but I feel very rewarded!

NJ: Seeing the illustrations and the text together for the first time was pretty special. And to be called a ‘Dream Team’ topped it off for me!

It was quite a lengthy process from beginning to end, and like all things that take time, the wait has been worth it.

DP: The dream team…still sets me aglow.

Thank you both so much for participating in this mini interview!! 🙂 xx

NJ: What great questions, thank you for having us share our collection journey of creating The Fix It Man!

DP: It’s been a pleasure, Romi. Thanks J

Purchase The Fix-It Man.

The Fix-It Man will be launched in both Brisbane and Melbourne! Check the flyers for details.

 

The Blog Burst party continues at the following websites. Check them out!

Kids’ Book Review

Creative Kids’ Tales

Dee White

GumbootsPearlz

Visit Dimity Powell at her website, and Nicky Johnston at her website.

Please enjoy one last special show, courtesy of Nicky Johnston!

Review: Queens of Geek by Jen Wilde

PURCHASE HERE

Queens of Geek by Jen Wilde is an absolutely adorable story about the fangirl life and being happy being yourself. It’s absolutely adorkable and definitely not to be missed. I also didn’t realise it was by an Australian author when I picked it up, so that just entirely made my day! Although it is set in the USA, but the two protagonists are Australian. And what could be better than reading a cute fluffy story about two best friends off to a ComicCon type of event to live their dreams of nerdom and to find love?

This book calls to you, it does. Just look at it and all that calling.

The story centres around Charley who’s a sudden star from an Aussie indie film, and how she’s at SupaCon to do press. She brings her BFF’s Taylor (who has Autism) and Jamie (who is Latino) and together they go into 100% GEEK MODE and have the time of their lives. There are famous authors to meet, movie stars to flail over, competitions to enter, anxiety to be tackled, crushes to be confessed, and the realisation that you should be unapologetically yourself at all times. Which is such a beautiful message!

The book is really rather short, but manages to pack a lot of fun dialogue and relatable scenes in. I’m not generally one to rush after fluffy contemporaries, but this was definitely a light and one! It did border on making the characters so perfect, however, that they could’ve practically sprouted angel wings and frolicked about in halos. But I’ll forgive it because these were kids I looked up to! Even if they felt a bit idealistic in the way they were written.

If you’re a fangirl, also, you’re going to love all the fandom references! It mentions Marvel comics and the TV show Supernatural. They mention the Vampire Diaries and Felicia Day, too! And it’s so centred around youtube and tumblr, which Charlie and Taylor are updating constantly. Taylor is also heavily obsessed with a fantasy series, which was made up for the show, but it easily had an “insert fandom of choice here” feel to it which made it very relatable! They were doing cosplays and book signings and film previews and zombie mazes. Basically your little nerd heart will explode with wish to go to this magical SupaCon.

I loved the inclusion of diversity too! Taylor has Autism, and it was so refreshing to see love for ASD girls here because they are overlooked so much in literature. Taylor’s ASD traits (including severe anxiety, very intense obsession interests, and struggle with change) all felt completely realistic and well represented! Also Charley is bisexual and Asian and their other friend, Jamie, is Latino.

And of course there is romance…and it’s super cute! Charley has had a crush on a youtube star, Alyssa, forever….and finally gets her chance to see if it’ll work. But she’s also recovering from a messy public breakup with a costar so putting her emotions out there is NOT easy for her. And Taylor has had a crush on her best friend, Jamie, for years…but she hates the thought of their friendship dynamic changing. And she doesn’t know how to romance. How doth one romance. So her reluctance to act on her feelings is complicating things immensely. I thought the romance was a sweet and lovely touch, and didn’t drown out the rest of the plot.

Queens of Geek is, in summary, EXTREMELY GEEKY. It made me smile with all the fangirl appreciation and the cute dialogue and fantastically winning characters! I wish they’d been a little less “perfect”, however,  but the fun storyline over a quick 3-day period definitely made up for it. I also appreciated the Aussie references and how it represented minorities that definitely need their voices heard. If you’re looking for a fun story: HERE IT IS.

Animal Antics – Part 2

Well the animals still have it. This week we encounter more of their anthropomorphic antics between the covers of a veritable zooful of picture books.

Our Dog Benji by Pete Carter and James Henderson

Although cute and compact, this picture book features the large and lovely antics of Benji, a robust Labrador looking pooch whose insatiable appetite for anything and everything becomes a catalyst of encouragement for one fussy eater.

Our Dog Benji is an animated account of a day in the life of Benji as told by his young owner. Henderson’s duotone illustrations rate highly for their detail, style, and humour illustrating Carter’s understanding of dogs well and their avaricious ways. This handy little book subtly supports the notion of eating well and exploring more food options for fussy eaters.

EK Books February 2017

Monsieur Chat by Jedda Robaard

This little picture book is oozing with charm and the exact sort of intimacy that young readers adore; they are privy to the outcome even if the story’s characters are not. Monsieur Chat is a cuter than cute little ginger puss living among the city roof tops of a French city.

Continue reading Animal Antics – Part 2

Reviews – Pickle and Bree’s Guide to Good Deeds Books 3 and 4

The gorgeous Pickle and Bree’s Guide to Good Deeds series (by author Alison Reynolds and illustrator Mikki Butterley) continues from where it left off from The Birthday Party Cake and The Decorating Disaster (see previous interview). With another two exciting books on exploring social etiquette and positive behaviour now available, we can hardly contain ourselves! Here they are:

Gently reinforcing the value of kindness, The Playground Meanies is a delightfully explorative story into managing challenging social situations in the playground. The Reynolds and Butterley team once again draw us in with their engaging script and expressive illustrations that truly allow readers to connect with these relatable characters.

It is a common occurrence for preschoolers to experience some level of bullying, even at their young age. Knowing what is appropriate behaviour, whether the instigator or recipient, can sometimes be confusing and definitely emotionally confronting. Alison Reynolds approaches this concept beautifully with her easy-to-follow and humorous narrative, and empowering ‘guide to good deeds’ notes that tie it all together.

When Pickle and the sensitive Jason are teased about their big feet by two little bears at the playground, it is Bree who shows maturity and wisdom, reminding her friends not to stoop to their ‘mean’ level. But Pickle, being loyal yet impulsive, sympathises with Jason’s sadness, and protests his vexation. And the result of his boisterous actions causes a roll-on effect. Getting along with the meanies may seem like a slippery slide to manoeuvre, but Pickle and Jason do well to compose themselves and be kind, with an effective result.

The Playground Meanies opens doors for plenty of discussion and role play, teaching children about positive actions in a sensitive, safe and playful manner.

In The Big Snow Adventure, Pickle and Bree hit the ski slopes a-sliding with aplomb. In this action-packed escapade of tobogganing-chaos, skiiing-turbulence and snowballing-frenzies, the heedless pair need reminding to respect the rules.

It’s all too easy to be unaware of invading people’s space or neglecting to check their feelings when you’re in your own world of fun and competition. That’s certainly what happened to Pickle and Bree during their trip to the snow. All the excitement of ski lifts and ploughing down the mountain makes them forget about listening to and following instructions and respecting the given boundaries. Disowned by their friends following the path of snow-covered destruction eventually leads Pickle and Bree to realise their foolhardy ways, and an exhiliranting ending to the day is had by all.

I love the consistency between books; the gentle and humorous storylines that play out like a real life scene, the strongly defined characters and the adorable multi-textured illustrations that make these books so full of charm and authenticity.

The Big Snow Adventure and The Playground Meanies are both delightfully engaging ‘lessons’ in friendship, respect, compassion and morality. Admirably empowering children from age four to harness a peaceful world, one step at a time.

Five Mile Press, February 2017.

Alison Reynolds recently completed her blog tour for her Pickle and Bree series. See her post with Dimity here and the books’ development here.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

5 YA Books On My To-Be-Read Pile (And Why You Want Them Too!)

Buying new shiny books is obviously one of the greatest delights a bookworm can have. Because first of all, we bookworms have voracious appetites and need to be fed regularly. And who doesn’t like receiving parcels in the mail!? Particularly when it’s books?! I highly suggest skipping a few coffees and putting aside some money to buy yourself a delightful new Young Adult book. But what should you get? Ah, the golden question. Here, sit tight, get some popcorn, and I’ll list 5 books I’ve bought this year that should definitely be on your To-Be-Read Pile too.


CARAVAL BY STEPHANIE GRABER

PURCHASE HERE
PURCHASE HERE

This book is not only absolutely gorgeous, but it also comes in two editions that are nearly impossible to choose between. I ended up with the one on the left, but I tell you: it was a hard choice.

The story is about a magical circus and stars Scarlett who wants to see the circus preform before she’s forced into an unwanted arranged marriage. She gets caught up in the mystery and intrigue when her friend gets kidnapped, only be assured it’s all a performance and a game. Or is it? (Cue ominous music.)

It sounds lush and fantastical and definitely the kind of story I need in my life.

 

CARVE THE MARK BY VERONICA ROTH

PURCHASE HERE

Finally we have a new book from the NYT bestselling author of the Divergent trilogy! I am definitely keen to see her take on a new genre of hardcore sci-fi and build a new world with this gorgeous looking novel.

It’s set in a galaxy where people have gifts and powers that dictate how they’re treated and who they can control. Two teens have to reset the power balance in the world which sounds just about as easy as using froot loops as a hat. So GOOD LUCK TO THEM. And I’m really excited by the idea of superpowers and other galaxies and a sharp, stabby girl, and a peaceful, quiet boy duo.

 

A QUIET KIND OF THUNDER BY SARA BARNARD

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This is a change from my usual hardcore fantasy tastes, but I’m a huge lover of diverse fiction and couldn’t wait to get my hands on this new book that features a girl with Selective Mutism and a Deaf boy! I’ve heard many people say it’s super sweet and informative and tells a story that’s going to wrap around your heart until you fall in love with it. Here, here! I’m ready for that! Plus it’s always nice to have a chance from all these stabby fantasy novels, right?

 

ALLEGEDLY BY TIFFANY D. JACKSON

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This is another contemporary (mixed with crime thriller) about a 9-year-old girl who allegedly murdered a baby. What happened to her after she got out of jail? That’s where the story picks up and it promises a mind twisting and gut wrenching story of a girl who says she’s been falsely accused.

Mary is also pregnant from a boy she loves but has to keep a secret because she’s under strict surveillance at her foster home. but she’s terrified she wont’ be able to keep her own baby, with what she went to prison for and all. So the book is about her trying to clear her name!

 

HEARTSTONE BY ELLE KATHARINE WHITE

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All we need to know about this one is: DRAGONS. Who doesn’t love dragons?!? And I’m always excited to see an epic looking edition coming out! This one is also rumoured to be a Pride and Prejudice retelling in a world of magical creatures like gryphons, direwolves, banshees and…of course, dragons.

When the blurb says “They say a Rider in possession of a good blade must be in want of a monster to slay-and Merybourne Manor has plenty of monsters” I know I am going to need this kind of novel in my life. Battles! Action! Intrigue! Quests! Swords! And a handsome and sassy dragonrider love interest to top it all off? I’m sure this is going to be a dragonishly good time. I can’t wait to get started!