Review: Goodbye Days by Jeff Zentner

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Goodbye Days by Jeff Zentner is a super emotional book about grief and guilt. I expected my heart to be beaten about since last year I read Zentner’s debut, The Serpent King, and wow was that emotionally devastating and incredible. Goodbye Days has the same level of intensity! It’s like being left out in the rain with a bucket to catch your tears…and honestly it can be hard to read at times because it was so raw. But a book that really makes you feel things?! You know that is an excellent story!

The book follows the tragic story of Carver whose 3 friends have just died instantly in a horrific car accident. And the last thing the driver was doing? Reading a text that Carver had just sent. The guilt is heavy on Carver, resulting in severe anxiety attacks and devastation. He’s absolutely hated by most of his friends’ families. But the grandmother of one of his dead friends asks Carver to help her have a “goodbye day” for closure, and he agrees…and it unravels more to the story.

The heartbreak levels for the reader are EXTREMELY HIGH HERE. The writing is so incredible that you not only ache for Carver, you ache with Carver. Just the knowledge that his text “could” have been the reason his friends died is a crippling fact lodged in your mind and you can’t help but see all sides to the story. The writing is so strong though, and I felt such righteous indignation that Carver was going through this and suffering so much when he’s not the only one to blame. (C’mon, his friend picked up the phone too.) Plus I think the book really perfectly balanced adding in jokes and quips and lighter scenes, without severing the heaviness of the storyline, but not making the book one huge bucket of depressing tales.

I really felt for all the characters. Sometimes it’s hard to care when a book starts off with a large portion of the cast already dead. You don’t really get a chance to know them, right?! But there are tons of flash-backs that help you really connect to Carver’s friends. And it’s so hard to read these happy memories, knowing what goes down. I did find the flashbacks a little unsatisfying when they didn’t focus equally on all the boys, though. It would’ve been nice to have equal backstory for them!

SMALL LIST OF OTHER THINGS TO LOVE:

  • Carver’s big sister, Georgia, is the best and SO loving and supportive! I always adore epic sibling relationships in books.
  • It has a REALLY positive portrayal of therapy and mental health plans, and actually goes into detail about anxiety therapy.
  • It doesn’t cure anything with romance.
  • The representation of anxiety is stunningly accurate and well crafted.
  • Honestly it was just so so well written I couldn’t put it down.
  • It was full of tension, as well as fun and lighter scenes!
  • There was so much food I nearly ate my book.

 

Goodbye Days is definitely a heartbreaking and beautiful book! It balances darkness with hope and it was thoroughly heart-wrenching. Definitely a book to read if you’re not sure if you have a heart, because this will find it for you. It’s a story that deals with unfairness and rage and the complexities of grief. It was quite unsettling and upsetting for me, and I couldn’t wait to see the outcome. Carver was a fantastic narrator who was totally easy to relate to and root for. I definitely think Jeff Zentner is a master storyteller and I can’t wait to read basically everything he ever writes of ever.

Anything But Catastrophic – Picture Books about Cats

Cat lovers! You won’t find disaster here. In fact, far from it. These following cat books are brilliant enough to stretch your imaginations, tickle your sweet spots and scratch at your curiosity. And they all so precisely capture the little nuances that make cats, cats.

In this sequel to The Cat Wants Custard by dynamic duo, P. Crumble and Lucinda Gifford, The Cat Wants Cuddles delights us with humorous cat antics and extreme mood swings. Whether being notoriously independent, totally ambivalent or attention-deprived, Kevin is a typical tomcat.

Surly facial expressions and skittish body language emphasise the stubborn and scornful retaliation Kevin assigns to his owner’s requests for a cuddle. Managing to escape the torturous grip of patting hands, and with absolutely no regard for his flatmate, Dog, Kevin finally finds some peace and quiet. That is until a wave of jealousy rushes over him and he commands dominance over Dog for his former lap-position… but that doesn’t last long!

This book is decidedly potent with its bold, primary-based colours and energetic qualities that exude passion and wit, especially those lime-green, telling eyes. The Cat Wants Cuddles is a book that preschoolers will be snatching, cradling and squeezing with both paws.

Scholastic Australia, May 2017.

The Catawampus Cat is full of personality and individuality, and utter charm. Jason Carter Eaton writes a thoughtful and witty tale that inspires his readers to consider the world from a different perspective. Gus Gordon’s mixed media illustrations are characteristically charismatic and ooze with a sway of retro style and a hint of contemporary flair. The characters are flawlessly represented to match their quirky names and traits that Eaton so brilliantly describes.

When the catawampus, aka diagonally-angled, cat enters the town on a Tuesday morning, one by one each of the villagers see things from another point of view. Because of the askew-walking feline, lost possessions are found, relationships rekindled, creativity is sparked and new challenges are triumphed – all with thanks to the power of the tilt. Soon the whole town is lopsided, and they even mark the first Tuesday of the new year as “Catawampus Cat Day” in his honour. But all the cat wants is to be unique, so he sets off… ‘straight’ out of town!

Eccentric, memorable and thought-provoking with the most loveable and endearing character. The Catawampus Cat will be the new favourite for preschool and early years children…it’s ours!

Penguin Random House, April 2017.

Doodle Cat is back, but this time Doodle Cat is Bored. At first this drives him out of his mind, but then he finds a crayon. Experimenting with it as a soup spoon, a spade, a dance partner finally leads the cat to discover it is in fact for doodling… But he already knew that, right? Demonstrating his creative, imaginative, and sometimes crude mind through the use of the crayon is a tiring feat for the red, graphic squiggle that is Doodle Cat. And with one final engagement, he asks the audience, “What will you draw?”

Kat Patrick writes this story with bounce, energy and vitality. The sentences are simple to create an interactive yet highly amusing report from the view of the cat. Lauren Marriott’s illustrations reflect this beautifully. Her choice of fire engine red perfectly assigns Doodle Cat his prominence on the mostly plain white backgrounds. She has also introduced the front cover’s lemon yellow, which features sporadically within the pages, too.

Young children will certainly be ‘drawn’ to both the simplicity of the book but also the scope of curiosity and artistic opportunities it reinforces. Doodle Cat is Bored is bursting with ideas to quell those boredom blues.

Scribble, May 2017.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Review: The Force by Don Winslow

I can still remember the first time I read Don Winslow. I had been given a copy of The Power of the Dog as a birthday present with the caveat “wait until you read this”. I was instantly blown away. My first thought was “who is this guy”. After devouring the book I got my hands on everything of his I could read (Warning: there is another Don Winslow who writes erotica, not the same author). I read into how he wrote The Power of the Dog and how close to the truth his novel was and how dangerous his research became. But on top of all this meticulous research was a novel that was entertaining, tragically infused and told with a style unlike anything I had read before. Winslow returned to the same heights with The Cartel but he has outdone himself with his new novel The Force.

Denny Malone is a hero cop in the NYPD. He is the self-declared King of Manhattan North. He heads a task force that fights gun and drug violence directly on the frontlines. Malone works in a world of violence and corruption and he does whatever it takes to defend his patch of New York City. But 18 years of bending the rules has taken its strain and many of those rules have snapped. In fact there’s not many rules Malone hasn’t broken now and he’s about to cross the one rule he never dreamed he’d cross. But Malone doesn’t have a choice. He’s burned all his choices long ago.

Winslow wrote two epics of the War on Drugs and has now written the first true epic cop novel. As always Winslow doesn’t mince the truth. We are not manipulated into liking Denny Malone or thinking that he’s really a good guy underneath. Both Malone and the reader know the good cop inside Malone died a long time ago. But what Winslow demonstrates is the different levels of bad guy, at all levels and on the both sides of the law. Everyone has a price to get what they want and everyone is paying a price in the hope they get paid for another. And the more they pay the more desperate they are to get paid, until there can only be one conclusion.

Don Winslow has written an explosive epic that doesn’t slow down one millisecond from it’s opening prologue through to the very last page. A story equally as shocking in the corruption it shows as the lengths people go to preserve it. A crime classic from an absolute master of the genre.

Buy the book here…

Double Dipping – Meaningful Mindfulness

Mindfulness feels like the new catch cry. Its sudden appearance on school curricula and in children’s literature gives one the sense it’s a new concept but of course this is not one hundred per cent accurate. It’s more of a case of nudging empathy and caring within our next generations into a more prominent light, one that is accessible to them. Literature is one such way to improve accessibility and these two examples show how cleverly it can be done.

Ella Saw the Tree by Robert Vescio and Cheri Hughes

Picture books on mindfulness abound. This picture book by Big Sky Publishing is particularly special because of its gentle quality and strong connection with the everyday child. There is no overt preaching to relay the suggestion to pause for thought and take time to look around and notice the world. Hughes illustrations glow. Vescio’s narrative flows with an easy grace, reflecting the soul of this story, to remain calm and thoughtful.

Ella loves her backyard and fills her days playing in it but she overlooks the most obvious things at times, like the giant tree in the corner of her garden until one day, as the wind showers her with the tree’s falling leaves, she gets the impression it is crying. Despite reassurance to the contrary from her mother and Ella’s attempts to stem the downpour of falling leaves, nothing can alter nature.

Ella’s mother then teaches her daughter to see things in a different light by learning to sit still, observe, feel and ultimately recognise and appreciate all the many splendours, whether large or minuscule of the world. And this allows Ella to enjoy her world much, much more.

Ella Saw the Tree is a beautiful picture book to share, to keep and refer back to when needed. Whilst it focuses on an individual’s discovery of self-awareness, the implication that we should be more observant and empathetic towards our friends is also present amongst the swirling leaves of Ella’s tree.

Read Romi’s in-depth review of Ella Saw the Tree, here. For more insight into the story behind this story, read my interview with author, Robert Vescio, here.

Big Sky Publishing 2017

Too Many Friends by Katheryn Apel

This lilting junior novel is so on point with readers in this age bracket (6 – 8 years), it’s alarming. Apel reaches deep into the playground psyche of Grade 2s and extracts genuine emotion with the feather touch of verse.

The dilemma of having too many friends and those friends not all liking each other truly does germinate in the junior school years, quickly sprouting into an all-encompassing crisis, at least it can in the eyes of a seven year old. It’s a problem that often continues throughout the primary years as children’s social webs widen and become entangled by their developing emotions.

This eloquent verse novel more than ably addresses this social predicament from the point of view of Tahnee, whose pond of playmates is full to overflowing. How she works on retaining her bonds with friends she already has whilst inviting others she wants to befriend is skin-tingling touching and will no doubt strike a chord with many other children her age.

This third verse novel by Apel has a slightly younger, more playful feel about it than the previous, Bully on the Bus and On Track, which again suits the topic well. Tahnee is a warm, likeable character who epitosmises the concept of a mindful child. She shares her friendship woes with us in a series of short, elegant chapters that almost feel like standalone poems, perfect for readers to spend time with by themselves or as a sensitive shared reading experience.

Too Many Friends positively celebrates mindfulness and friendship for lower primary aged readers, demonstrating the power and beauty of these two concepts through the discerning use of verse. Highly recommended.

UQP May 2017

#byaustralianbuyaustralian

Begin, End, Begin: a #LoveOzYA anthology

I interviewed Danielle Binks, editor of Begin, End, Begin: a #LoveOzYA anthology of Australian YA short stories (HarperCollins)

Where are you based and what is your current role, Danielle?

I live in Melbourne, and currently I wear many hats … I’m a young adult and middle grade literary agent with Jacinta di Mase Management. I’m a writer, editor and book blogger – and most recently I edited and contributed to the HarperCollins book Begin, End, Begin: A #LoveOzYA Anthology.

How did something you’ve done in the past help you get this position?

From about the ages of 14–21 I wrote a lot of FanFiction. “FanFic”, if you don’t know, is fiction about characters or settings from an original work of fiction, created by fans of that work rather than by its creator.

I wrote a lot of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Dawson’s Creek and Twilight fanfic – just because I loved it, and imagining worlds beyond the end of a television season or the last page in a book got my creative synapses firing.

And actually, when I applied for the university course that set me on this path of books – RMIT’s Creative Writing and Editing program – I didn’t have any of my own creative writing to submit for consideration, so I sent through one of my Buffy fanfic pieces. And I got in.

I honestly don’t know that I’d be here today if I hadn’t found a sustaining creative-outlet in FanFiction.

Gabrielle Tozer

How involved are you in Australia’s enthusiastic YA community?

Very. I’ve had my own personal book review blog – Alpha Reader – since 2009 that I still contribute to today. When I started my book blog, I called it “my solo book club” and I just read the books that I wanted to – which just so happened to be a lot of what I’ve always read and gravitated towards – romance and YA. I’d always write these long, rambling and impassioned reviews of YA books, and eventually that led to me being invited to write about youth literature for the Kill Your Darlings online journal, for about 2 years. I always tried to give YA, and Aussie YA especially, the respect and consideration I didn’t think it was getting from mainstream arts media.

Then in 2015 the #LoveOzYA grassroots movement kicked of and I became a proud supporter of that conversation – until I was eventually elected to help form the inaugural and official #LoveOzYA committee, championing Australian YA.

Ellie Marnie

It’s fantastic that females are writing brilliant Oz YA. Even in the recent past there were outcries about lack of female writers being shortlisted for the Older Reader (YA) category in the CBCA, for example, but this year all 6 shortlisted books are by women. I know there are a few around, and you’ve included two in your book, but where have the males gone?

I think it’s all pretty subjective, really – and balances out in the end.

If you look at younger children’s books in Australia (junior fiction and the 8-12 middle grade readership), that category has mostly been male-dominated, and for a long time. The likes of Paul Jennings, Morris Gleitzman, Shaun Tan, Jack Heath, Tristan Bancks, John Flanagan, Andy Griffiths, Oliver Phommavanh…

Michael Pryor

Australia and international YA also has no problem spotlighting fine male authors – Markus Zusak, Jay Kristoff, John Marsden, Patrick Ness, John Green, James Dashner, Rick Riordan, David Levithan, Ransom Riggs, Jay Asher … I think the guys are doing okay.

The fact that the #LoveOzYA Anthology doesn’t have more male writers came down to availability – we did query others, but timelines and deadlines didn’t match up, in the end … but we got two of the finest writers – period! – in Will Kostakis and Michael Pryor.

Will Kostakis

And what we prioritised more was a diversification of story and genres, as opposed to genders.

Could you tell us about Begin, End, Begin, the anthology of Australian YA short stories you’ve edited?

#LoveOzYA was a hashtag that sparked a conversation that created a movement that led to this book … the #LoveOzYA hashtag was created in response to the onslaught of American blockbuster YA that was dominating our bookshelves. And the idea to create an Anthology riffing on that hashtag and grassroots movement was just about showing people all there is to love about Australian YA – and giving us a way to crack open the conversation about supporting local stories and authors.

At the end of the day I think the hashtag, movement and book are all about encouraging Aussie teens to read Australian stories – so they grow into adults who seek out their national literature, and keep our books community alive and thriving.

How was this title selected?

The theme we gave each of the authors to write to was “firsts”. But writing about “firsts” inevitably leads the mind to think about “lasts”. And we found that this second recurring theme emerged in just about all the stories being written – every beginning was an ending too – and we loved that, we wanted to pay tribute to that.

Jaclyn Moriarty

What genres have you included? Was this deliberate, or an outcome of what the authors wrote?

We wanted a big enough theme that all of these eclectic authors could write across multiple genres and really showcase the fact that “Australian stories” are not just set in the outback or small coastal towns …but that Australian stories are ghost stories. And space stories. And anything-else we want them to be! It was very deliberate.

How did you select which authors to invite to contribute to Begin, End, Begin – or did they twist your arm?

Well, when I started approaching authors it was all a very hush-hush secret and embargoed project … but myself and Harper Collins publisher, Chren Byng, started by writing separate lists of – maybe? – 30 authors we’d love to work with. Then we came together and picked out where we had crossovers in our wish-list, and from there it was a matter of going down the line and asking everyone if they were available and would they like to be apart of this amazing project?

I will say that since the Anthology came out, I’ve had a few Aussie YA authors approach me and let it be known that *if* there’s a second, they’d love to be involved.

So. Watch this space.

What brief/guidelines did you give the contributors?

The theme of “Firsts” and a ten thousand-word limit. And that the story had to be original. Then it was a matter of letting their imaginations run wild …

Was there any author you wanted and couldn’t get – and could maybe include in another book? Or an author you want for the future? 

Lili Wilkinson

Yes. And yes. But I won’t say who, because they may be someone I’d like to approach for Anthology No. 2 and I’d quite like any future line-up to be a surprise. But I’ve been asking readers which Aussie authors they’d like to see appear in any future Anthology … and writing down those suggestions too.

There’s definitely a list I’m holding onto.

What have you learned about any of these authors?

I’ve learned that I was absolutely right to have been fans of all of them before embarking on this project … because every single one just astounded me with their generosity and story.

My advice is; don’t just meet your idols – but work with them. See what magic happens.

Who wrote the most unexpected story? Why? 

Danielle Binks

Oh my gosh, – me! I was the unexpected emerging voice in the Anthology, with my story ‘Last Night at the Mount Solemn Observatory’ and there were times when I thought I would be too crippled by self-doubt and imposter syndrome to get it done … but I did and I’m proud of it. And a bit surprised, to be honest.

Mine is a story about a little sister, saying goodbye to her Deaf big brother on his last night in their small town. It’s inspired by my own family, partly – and when I initially spoke about it with our Harper Collins editor, she told me that she loved the idea because she’s CODA (a child of Deaf adults). So we both spent a lot of time getting it right and focusing especially on the rhythms, beauty and rapidity AusLan (Australian sign-language). So I’m proud and surprised by what I accomplished.

Amie Kaufman

Did anyone surprise you by submitting their work early?

I don’t think so? … Amie Kaufman surprised me by being a day late, only because she was getting her friend (who works at NASA!) to read over her story and give some feedback on the logistics and feasibility of her outer-space setting.

I wasn’t upset in the least; I thought it was SO COOL!

And I’d still quite like to get a “NASA-certified” sticker on the front cover because of it. HA!

How did you sequence the stories?

My publisher, Chren, put is so perfectly when she said choosing the sequence would be like putting together the perfect mix-tape. I took that advice and made sure there was a balance of genres (so sci-fi, followed by contemporary, followed by surrealism, followed by contemporary) just to hit those different peaks. And also that long and short stories were side-by-side, so readers wouldn’t get two 10K stories in a row, and become a little weary with lengths.

Was much editing involved throughout? If so, what type of edits?

There was a bit of editing … structural edits for each story, talking out things like character-development and whether or not the story was hitting the right marks at the right times (trickier to do when you have a shorter word-count, and not the length of a novel to ease into dramatic climaxes or subtle denouments). But everyone got there in the end. And there was certainly nobody who needed more editing than anyone else (myself included!)

Alice Pung RoselliPhotography

What do you hope for OZ YA in the near future?

I certainly don’t think that Australian YA is perfect. I think it needs to be more diverse and inclusive, to honestly portray Australia back to its teen readers.

But that being said – I don’t think the representation in Australian YA will get better by us ignoring our national youth literature. I think it will improve by us investing in it, and that’s certainly the route I’m taking.

I’m now a literary agent, and I’ve made no secret of the fact that I’m actively seeking and prioritising “Own Voices” stories (a term coined by American YA author Corinne Duyvis, to identify books about marginalised protagonists written by authors who share that same identity.)

And I’m really proud of the fact that the first YA manuscript I sold was a sci-fi, eco-thriller called ‘Borderland’ – written by a debut Indigenous writer and poet, Graham Akhurst (coming out with Hachette, in 2018).

Melissa Keil

I take it as a huge honour, opportunity and responsibility that I’m now in a position to have a say in the Aussie YA of the future … and for my little corner of the books world, I’m going to do all I can to make sure all Australian stories get told, and that as many Aussie teens as possible see themselves in those stories.

Because teenagers who fall in love with their national youth literature, will one day grow up to be adult readers who seek out Australian stories. And everyone has a story worth telling.

Thanks for answering these questions and for all your work in promoting Oz YA literature, Danielle, and all the best with Begin, End, Begin and your other endeavours.

Thank you, thank you, thank you

Review: Royal Bastards by Andrew Shvarts

BUY HERE

Royal Bastards by Andrew Shvarts was one of my most anticipated reads for 2017 and it absolutely did not disappoint. It’s full to bursting with sassy dialogue, bloody action scenes, and the most complex and amazing characters of ever. There’s so much love-and-hate relationships that just kept me flipping pages as fast as my eyeballs could gobble the words. And when I finished? I sit in anxious anticipation for hopeful future sequels. Please. I beg. I have needs here.

It follows the story of Tilla, who’s a bastard of a great lord who may or may not be brewing a rebellion. Tilla’s more into sneaking about with her half-brother the stableboy, exploring tunnels, and getting into mischief, so war is not her concern. Until she eats dinner with the visiting crown princess and accidentally saves her life from a murder attempt. Then they’re on the run with a group of unlikely local bastards who don’t get along all that well. But they miiiight just need to change that if they want to survive.

Honestly, the sass levels were what won my heart. When a book starts with two siblings bantering amiably about the snobby royalty, I know I’m in for a winning story.

The cast was quite large, but everyone was interesting and complex. They all had personalities and backstories, complexities and fears and venerabilities. And we’re not introduced to them all in a heap, so that was helpful. I can barely even pick a favourite! I adored our narrator, Tilla, who is (quite frankly) badass. She’s equal parts awkward and fierce, and she’ll do anything for her friends. Her half-brother, Jax, is a big dork and I couldn’t help but fall in love with him too! Their sibling relationship is THE BOMB and they’re so there for each other (also there to make fun of each other, but ya know…sibling love). Miles is the nerdy bookworm who gets understimated when he really really shouldn’t be. Zell is a warrior from the clans and totally Closed Off And Emotionless™ but secretly a big squish. And lastly Lyriana is the wizard princess who will nuture plants to grow and also smite her enemies really viciously if they mess with those she loves.

I loved the plot with the threats of wars, the betraying parents, the teens growing into weapons and strengths while they traverse through the forest in order to save the princess. (Although let’s be real here: the princess saves herself in this one.) The book gets gritty, which I wholly appreciated, because what’s an epic fantasy without high stakes and wild action scenes of blood and stabbing?!? I LOVED THIS.

I also really loved the writing style, which was abnormally modern for an epic fantasy. It was consistently modern though (with the characters using phrases like “badass” and “sucks” etc) so it didn’t feel out of place or jarring. And it made me connect to the story far more, because the jokes were ones I’m familiar with.

Overall, it was fun and exciting and kept the sakes high! Do NOT think your favourites will be safe! I think Tilla is one of the best, most winning YA protagonists of 2017, with her badassery and her sassery. It combines stabbing with explosions and powerful magicians, and adds in characters who fairly leap off the page with their shenanigans. I’m such a fan.

Remind Me How This Ends by Gabrielle Tozer

Where are you based, Gabrielle, and how are you involved in the YA literary community?

I’ve lived in Sydney for 11 years, went to university in Canberra and grew up in Wagga Wagga. It’s no secret the YA community in Australia is filled with passionate, supportive and hardworking authors, readers, bloggers, bookstagrammers, vloggers, educators, booksellers, librarians, publicists, editors, publishers etc, and I’m thrilled to be a part of it. Writing novels is so solitary and I’m an extrovert – well, most of the time – so I adore the wider community from a social and professional aspect, including participation in festivals, launches, catch-ups, book clubs, Twitter live chats, writing sprints, the list goes on.

You seem to be very active on social media. How does this help (or not help) your work? 

I have a love-hate relationship with social media, especially Twitter. I made a horrifying discovery the other day: I have written almost 46,000 tweets since joining in October 2009 (I won’t tell you how many novels I could’ve written with that number of words but it’s in the double digits). I’m quite all or nothing in everything I do in life so I’ll often have to block myself from social for blocks of time using apps like Freedom or SelfControl – but a large majority of the Australian writing community is online now so I can’t see myself quitting anytime soon! On the upside, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook connect me with other writers, book lovers and pop culture addicts, which has been a joy – I’ve taken many online friendships to the real world, especially in recent years. Believe it or not, it can also be a wonderful source of motivation; I often invite other writers to join me for #500in30 writing sprints on Twitter, where we strive to write 500 words in half an hour, so it can be fruitful. Sometimes.

What does your title, Remind Me How This Ends (HarperCollins), refer to? Which came first, your title, the story or something else?

My novel Remind Me How This Ends is about two characters who don’t know what’s next after high school – and the title refers to decision-fatigue, being stuck at the crossroads and feeling like you missed the memo on getting your life together. My own feelings of uncertainty, grief and heartache came first with this novel, closely followed by the lead characters and storyline. The title came well after I’d finished the first few drafts. My husband, who is my first reader, and I had Adele’s latest album blasting at home one day and he suggested the title ‘Remind Me How This Ends’ to me after listening to the lyrics of her song ‘All I Ask’. I knew it was perfect. (Later that day we realised the lyric ‘remind me how this ends’ was a mondegreen – a misheard lyric – and Adele’s real lyric was ‘it matters how it ends’.)

What is the significance of the cover?
Like the title, Remind Me How This Ends’ cover plays into uncertainty and endings – happy or otherwise.The daisy petals represent that classic idea of ‘They love me, they love not’… but you’ll have to read the novel to find out more!

How does this novel differ from your earlier books? 
Remind Me How This Is Ends is a very personal novel. My heart is smeared on every page of this one. I loved entertaining readers with Josie’s shenanigans in The Intern and Faking It, but I wanted to challenge myself to write something real that connected on an emotional level, even if it hurt. Reading it now, I can see I wasn’t in a great headspace during the drafting process – my characters’ pain is my pain – but the wonderful thing about writing is you can unpack your feelings on the page. I’m proud of this one, mainly because I wasn’t always confident that I’d be able to finish it, so it’s extra special to hold a copy in my hands.

Could you introduce us to the major characters?
Milo and Layla are 18-year-old family friends and former next-door neighbours who haven’t seen each other for five years – not since Layla’s mum died in shocking circumstances when they were 13 and her grieving father whisked her away from their small town of Durnan in the middle of the night. Now, Layla is back – showing up at Milo’s family’s bookstore of all places – and things are even more complicated between them. These two friends are lost, so very lost, but in extremely different ways. Milo’s girlfriend and mates have fled Durnan for jobs and university but he’s stayed behind so feels suffocated by his overbearing parents and indecision. Layla’s spent five years pushing away the memory of her mum, but being back in town with Milo triggers the past in a way she never expected…

Is there a character you would like to write more about?
Maybe Milo’s obnoxious older brother Trent. He was so much fun to write. I’ve met many ‘Trents’ during my time living in Wagga and Canberra – his voice was so clear to me during the drafting process.

Could you describe Milo’s family’s bookshop? How would you change it if you owned it?
The Little Bookshop is quaint, sleepy and, like many of the people and places in Durnan, a little unappreciated – mainly because his father is too busy chasing after another dream! Milo and Trent, who both work shifts at the shop, also don’t treat it with the care it deserves either because they’re too self-absorbed with their own lives. If I owned The Little Bookshop, I would change it in many ways – I’d connect with the Durnan community, add storytime sessions for parents and children, and hire staff who are passionate about books!

Characters remember the picture book, The Very Hungry Caterpillar. What other books from your childhood left an impression? 
So many! My parents are former teachers so my childhood was filled with gorgeous stories – and their passion for reading is a big reason why I dedicated my debut picture book Peas and Quiet to them. I still have Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge, There’s A Hippopotamus On Our Rooftop Eating Cake, Possum Magic, Wombat Stew, Picasso The Green Tree Frog and Edward the Emu on my bookshelf – and the collection hasn’t stopped growing.

What books are you reading at the moment (or recently)?
I’ve recently finished A.S.King’s Still Life With Tornado, Pip Harry’s forthcoming Because of You, Claire Christian’s forthcoming Beautiful Mess and Catherine Deveny’s Use Your Words. Next on the TBR pile is Madonna King’s Being 14, Maxine Beneba Clarke’s The Hate Race, and Eliza Henry-Jones’ Ache.

Thanks Gabrielle.

It was my pleasure!

My Life as a Hashtag, interview with Gabrielle Williams

I was very disappointed to miss hearing you at the Sydney Writers’ Festival, Gabrielle. What did you talk about and what did you particularly enjoy about your sessions?

 I’m disappointed I missed out on meeting you too, Joy. It was a crazy-busy week, and we obviously both had full dance-cards! As for my Festival talk: I have a theory about teenage audiences –10% of them love writing, and really want to be there. 20% are readers, so they’re happy to be there as well – that means 30% of the room are ‘interested’. 40% are pleased to be missing out on classwork, and if they enjoy the talk that’s a bonus. I put them in the ‘open’ category. That leaves 30% of the room at various degrees of active resistance to listening to what I have to say. I figure I’ve already got the ‘interested’ top 30%. The ‘open’ 40% can be persuaded. But it’s those tough nuts in the bottom 30% – the ones who don’t want to be there – who I want to crack. So my talk is directed at them. I talk about what I was like when I was at school (bad), and I read out extracts of my year 11 report (very bad), which generally sends a gasp through the room. I then explain that I’m a professional liar these days because I’m paid to make up stories, but I add that they shouldn’t judge me too harshly because actually, everyone lies. The fun part is when I ask them to put their hand up if they’ve told a lie that morning, and most of the room puts up their hand (including teachers). I then explain that lying isn’t always bad, because it utilises a particular type of thinking called ‘divergent thinking’ which is important for creativity. I take them through a technique I use called Nine Squares – which is divergent thinking made easy – and explain how they can use it for good (coming up with ideas), instead of evil (telling lies). One of the things that I particularly loved about my sessions at the Festival was when teachers came up to me afterwards and said they’re now going to incorporate Nine Squares into their classroom lessons. And when a group of boys walked up to me and said they thought writing sucked, but they’d each bought a copy of my book for me to sign anyway. Well, that right there felt like success to me.

What a great turn around with those students, Gabrielle! Where are you based and how are you involved in the YA literary community?

I’m a Melbourne girl, and work a couple of days a week at Readings books in Malvern. I’m lucky enough to have made a fantastic group of friends in the Melbourne YA writing community who I’ve met through talking at Festivals and school visits  – Fiona Wood, Cath Crowley, Emily Gale, Nova Weetman, Kim Kane, Bec Lim, Chrissie Keighery, and Simmone Howell are all people I catch up with regularly. I’ve also become great friends with some Sydney writers (again through Festivals) and catch up with Kirsty Eagar, Melina Marchetta, and Will Kostakis whenever I’m in their neck of the woods.

I’ve really enjoyed the originality of your novels, Gabrielle. Could you give our readers a brief overview of each?

That’s gorgeous of you to say so, Joy. Thanks. My first YA book was ‘Beatle Meets Destiny’ which was about a superstitious boy called Beatle, who meets a girl called Destiny in unusual circumstances, and wonders whether she’s ‘the one’ – only problem being that Beatle already has a girlfriend. My next book was, ‘The Reluctant Hallelujah’, a crazy road-trip type adventure between a group of 5 teenagers who have never met each other, but who have to drive (unlicensed) from Melbourne to Sydney in order to deliver the body of Jesus Christ to his next ‘safe house’. Some people were put off reading it because they thought it would be thrusting religion down their throat – it wasn’t. It wasn’t about religion at all (despite the fact that Jesus Christ Himself featured as one of the characters). In fact, it was an exploration of the themes of trust and selflessness, and I loved writing it because I felt like it was such an original concept. My third book was called ‘The Guy The Girl The Artist and His EX’. It follows four characters (again, who don’t know each other) who are all impacted on by the real-life theft of Picasso’s ‘Weeping Woman’ from the National Gallery of Victoria by the Australian Cultural Terrorists in 1986. My newest book is called, ‘My Life as a Hashtag’. It centres on a girl called MC who feels like everything is going wrong in her world, so she vents anonymously against one of her best friends on-line, only to watch, powerless, as her rant goes world-wide viral a few weeks later.

As with your other titles, I greatly admire My life as a hashtag (Allen & Unwin). How does this differ from your other books?  

‘My Life as a Hashtag’ is a much more linear novel. It’s ‘straighter’. It’s told from the perspective of looking back over the past year, running straight through from beginning to end, whereas with all my other books I’ve always liked playing with structure. I wanted to have a more tried-and-true structure for MLAAH, because there were a number of important issues I wanted to explore, and I felt like a linear structure would help give clarity to the concepts I was wanting to examine.

What issues did you raise in the novel?

There are a number of themes I wanted to look at: the issue of social media and how teens negotiate it; family break-ups; the identity of self; the politics of boys in female friendships; on-line trolling; the fact that once you post something on-line, you have no control over what people do with it; sibling relationships; ‘blocking’ and being ‘blocked’; and watching a party unfold on social media, when you’re not invited.

How did you create such a strong feeling of dread?

Creating a strong sense of dread was one of the ‘balances’ we worked hard to get right. I say ‘we’ because my editor and publisher were instrumental in pushing me to go further, and pulling me back when I went too far. I wanted there to be a sense of dread, but I also wanted a lightness throughout the book, otherwise the story would have been too grim. The sense of dread is created partly by telling the story from the perspective of the narrator looking back over the past year, which gives the reader the sense that something momentous has happened which the narrator is now reflecting back over.

This novel is very current, especially about social media. How do you know what teens are saying/doing?

The irony of me writing a book where social media is one of the major focuses, is that I’m not on Facebook, I’ve only recently started getting the hang of Twitter, and I’m still nervous about posting photos on Instagram. So technically, I don’t know what I’m talking about! However, as it turned out, my lack of knowledge ended up being to my advantage, because I didn’t make any assumptions about how teenagers use social media. Instead, I interviewed a number of them about how they approach it, the politics of posting, and how they deal with it emotionally. One of the things that I found interesting was the fact that they engage with it differently from even twenty somethings, creating something of a ‘generation gap’ between teens and people who are only a few years older. With respect to the teenagers I interviewed, I was astonished by some of the things they revealed to me (to the point where some them didn’t want to be thanked in the Acknowledgements – they’d rather remain anonymous). Through my research, I learnt about a thing called the secret Tumblr diary, which parents definitely don’t know about, and even friends aren’t privy to. If a teenager has a secret Tumblr diary, it’s the place they go to find a safe (and secret) community with others who are struggling with, say, their sexuality, body image, gender or friendship issues. I found the concept of the secret Tumblr diary both alarming and comforting. Alarming, because if, for example, they’re anorexic or bulimic, there are girls (overwhelming this is a girl issue) called Ana (pro-anorexia) or Mia (pro-bulimia) who give tips on how to purge (vomit) effectively. But comforting because this is where they go to speak to likeminded individuals if they aren’t sure if they’re gay, or trans, or are trying to reconcile other confusing feelings or issues inside their head.

What tips have you learned about successfully using social media while researching and writing this novel?

I learnt that if you want to get the optimum ‘likes’ on Instagram, you have to time your posts for when everyone is most likely to be on-line. Generally a Sunday afternoon is a good time. Definitely NOT a Saturday night.

Have you ever started any trending posts?

No. I think a trending post would be quite difficult to manufacture, and the stuff that goes viral is so random, it’s almost impossible to pick.

What does the cover represent? 

I adore the cover and think Debra Billson did an outstanding job. It’s a photo from an Instagram post, taken the night MC and one of her best friends Anouk have a massive falling out over a boy called Jed. The title and my name are written in a font which has graduated colouring, mirroring the logo of Instagram. It’s so funny to watch adults pick up my book and ask me what the cover represents, whereas teenagers pick it up and instantly recognise it as Instagram.

MC and her friends are studying Jasper Jones and Harvest in English. Why did you choose these two books?

‘Jasper Jones’ by Craig Silvey is a current school text that has as one of its themes the idea of rumour and innuendo and assumption of guilt. ‘Harvest’ by Jim Crace is set back in the middle ages when stocks in the village square were a form of punishment. Both books – even though they’re both set in an earlier time – have parallels with today’s internet culture: the public shaming, innuendo and rumour, where society makes judgments on people without having the full facts – often without even caring what the real facts are. So long as someone can be the scapegoat, everyone’s happy.

What books are you reading at the moment (or recently)?

I’m one of the judges for the Readings Prize for Adult Literature, so I’ve been reading plenty of new Australian fiction lately. Some of the ones I’ve personally loved (which may or may not make it onto the long or short list) are, ‘Skylarking’ by Kate Mildenhall, ‘The Lost Pages’ by Marija Pericic, ‘To the Sea’ by Christine Dibley, ‘From the Wreck’ by Jane Rawson and ‘The Good People’ by Hannah Kent. So much great Australian fiction at the moment – we’re really experiencing a heyday. The other book I really want to read is, ‘Lincoln in the Bardo’ by George Saunders which I’ve heard amazing things about.

I loved Skylarking and The Good People but you’ve given me even more books I must read, Gabrielle.

Thank you for your very generous answers, Gabrielle, and wishing you great success with My life as a hashtag and your other books.

Review: Song Of The Current by Sarah Tolcser

BUY HERE

Song Of The Current by Sarah Tolcser absolutely caught my heart with its levels of epic swashbuckling. I’m always on the look out for delicious pirate books, and this doesn’t disappoint! Also add in a dash of love/hate romance, smuggling, dark power that does not sleep, badass female captains, personified water gods, a small mention of a water drakon, and delicious amounts of fried fishfingers — and you have ourself a most spectacular novel. I can’t love this one enough!

The story centres around Caro Oresteia who is-first mate to her father, a wherry captain. They sail the rivers (and have a small side-business of smuggling) and they get called upon to deliver a secret box. When Caro’s dad gets thrown in jail, she has to sail her ship alone and deliver the box. Except a pirate attack drives her to check out this sinister cargo — and the contents change everything.

I will also emphatically rave over the world building. Most of the book takes place on rivers, and I could just feel the murky depths and the jungles and the wherries catching the right tides as they slink up and down jungle infested rivers. I could see it all! It was perfect and brilliant. #aesthetic Plus it actually had a unique and interesting magic system and an intoxicatingly vicious political aspect going on. I didn’t get confused or overwhelmed. Details were sparse but pointed.

Caro was an AMAZING protagonist! She’s stubborn and feisty and loyal and brave. She’s in love with the water and her boat, and when her dad gets thrown into jail for not smuggling something super top secret and suspicious for the royalty? CARO DOES IT. She gets a letter of the marque and becomes a privateer. Also she will stab you in the eye if you insult her ship.

The romance was just the best, with the love-to-hate trope done to perfection. Caro getting entangled with an important and stuffily vain boy who needs her help. Their banter is exceptional. Mostly because they hate each other. I ship these two. Markos is forever my favourite. He dresses nicely, he has no idea what anything does on a ship (#relatable), and he is badass when he’s finished being vain.

The plot was engaging the whole time! Although all the sea/ship explanations lost me. However it did make the book feel real. There as plenty of sailing and gunshots and sneaking around like skulking pirates.

My only dislikes? Not much! I was just disappointed I guessed all the plot twists and the stakes never felt really high enough for me to be worried for the characters.

This is a completely murky and beautiful tale of rivers and pirates, of smugglers and guns, of sea gods and monsters. It was beautifully and engagingly written with characters I fell totally in love with! I adored how much it empowered women and gave us the badass female pirates we’ve all been longing for. There’s explosions and deathly sword fights and stolen ships and an engaging plot. What more could we want?!

Sharing the CBCA Picture Books with Children

I described this year’s CBCA picture books in a previous post but promised to also write about Bob Graham’s Home in the Rain, which I have done here.

I’ve also added some ways of sharing the shortlisted picture books with children at home or school in case it helps with Book Week activities.

Home in the Rain  is written and illustrated by Bob Graham (Walker Books Australia)

A mother and daughter, Francie, are driving home from Grandma’s in heavy rain. The illustrations suggest that they are possibly African-Australian. The mother is pregnant with a baby sister for Francie. They stop en route to have a picnic in the car.

While driving, Francie uses her finger to write names on the foggy windows.

Children could:

Spell words with their fingers using different media, e.g. play-dough, sand, polystyrene balls, or fingerpainting with paint.

Alternatively, if the weather is cold, they could blow on windows to make steam and then write words or names.

This picture book is also appropriate for very young readers, partly because of the interest generated by the animals shown outside the car, such as the baby rabbit diving for cover, the hunting kestrel, and a seagull eating chips.

Children could make cork creatures of the animals shown in the book and hide them around the library, classroom or home.

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

After reading Out, read other refugee stories such as Teacup, Ziba Came on a Boat, My Two Blankets, The Treasure Box and Little Refugee.

Music/Dance The girl dances at school to different music.

The teacher, parent or carer could play music from cultures represented by refugees in Australia and children could dance to this music.

English The child’s mother has English lessons.

Children could learn a few words from languages spoken by refugees in Australia.

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

Children could emulate the structure and changing colour of the illustrations in the book by folding a piece of paper to form a left and right hand side. On the left side they could draw or paint in monochrome colours to represent sorrow and grief. Then, beside this on the right hand side, they could illustrate using warm colours to represent happiness and hope.

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

At home, children could take photos of family and important things.

Then they could select one best photo of people or something that is important for them to remember.

Print the photo at home if possible, or digitally send to school ready for printing.

Form and display a class montage with one photo from each child.

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

The Mechanica website enables children to make their own creatures https://www.mechanica.com.au/

Alternatively, construct 3-D winged creatures similar to those on the endpapers using found and made materials, such as foil.

Children could also make up their own 2-D creature in the style of those in the book. Present these on a double-page using the format of the book, where there is both an illustration and a written description.

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

Make a large bike as a class. If possible, make it big enough to sit on.

Try to use materials shown in the book:

Bent bucket seat,               handlebar branches

Bashed tin can handles,      wood cut wheels

Flag from flour sack,           small pot bell

Painted on lights,                bark numberplate

Paint Movement Practise the technique of smearing paint to show movement.

Never Bored – Board Books for Babies

Little books for little hands to grasp. Big world concepts for small minds to soak up. Board books are often baby’s first introduction to the relationship between sound and words and pictures. They also represent a delightful extension of love between parent and child as their worlds widen. These next few board books ensure these shared reading experiences are both entertaining and memorable.

At the Zoo I See by Joshua Button and Robyn Wells

This is the first in the Young Art board book series by young Indigenous Australian artists. Home grown and little hand worthy, it is a brief but merry parade of animals you might find at the Zoo. Some you’d have to look hard for, like the ‘prowling quoll’ and ‘queenly cassowary’ chicks, others are more immediate and recognisable like the ‘surprised lion.’

Button’s stripped bare text is spot on for toddlers and two year olds but includes some jolly adjectives to keep little minds tuned in and turning. I love Wells’ painted and ink illustrations – expression plus! Collect them all for your 0 – 4 year-olds.

Magabala Books February 2017

The Thank You Dish by Trace Balla

Meal times at our place are often a mixed plate of dedicated eating, distracted concentration and animated conversation. The Thank You Dish draws on these around-table -scenarios as one family sits down to enjoy their meal.

Continue reading Never Bored – Board Books for Babies

CBCA Older Readers Short List: Waer, Yellow & Frankie

There were three debut authors shortlisted in the 2017 CBCA Older Readers category, signalling the new talent being unearthed in Australian YA. Unlike some short lists in the past, all the authors are female this year, representing the number of females writing YA.

Overview

Most of the novels are contemporary realism, although Waer is speculative fiction and Yellow has elements of spec fiction.

Many of the characters come from working class backgrounds and some are dealing with deep anger, particularly in Frankie and One Would Think the Deep.

Parents are missing, dead or substance-abusers in virtually all the books. Children are missing in Frankie, Yellow, Words in Deep Blue (where Cal drowned) and Waer (where Kemp is missing). Beach/water settings are prevalent and music features in Frankie and One Would Think the Deep.

The predominance of the colours blue and yellow on the covers reflect the colour schemes published in 2016, very different from the black dystopian and supernatural covers of the past.

In this post, I will focus on the three novels by debut authors because I’ve written about the other books previously.

Waer by Meg Caddy (Text Publishing)

Waer is a werewolf tale, told as an intricate fantasy.

There are three narrators: Kaebha, a torturer, Lycaea and Lowell, who takes his pagan religion seriously, lives in a valley and finds Lycaea almost drowned. When soldiers destroy the valley dwellings, Lowell and Lycaea escape with some others. Archetypes from fantasy such as the journey, battles and hidden identity surface.

War and the displacement of Lowell and others form some parallels with current refugees, ‘To them we’re not people’.

Readers who enjoy Waer should love Megan Whalen Turner’s exceptional series which begins with The Thief. She has a new one out, Thick as Thieves.

Yellow by Megan Jacobson (Penguin Random House Aust)

Yellow is a very well written story about 14-year-old Kirra. Her surfie father named her after Kirra Beach, but calls her ‘Yellow’ because of her yellow eyes. Yellow often suggests cowardice but this girl is brave.

The story is set near Byron Bay. Kirra’s father has left the family and her mother has become a drunk. In graphic scenes, Kirra forces her to detox. The words of the popular girls scratch her inside but she decides to fight back. ‘People only have the power to make you feel small if you let them.’ Her relationship with kind Noah seems promising but she wrecks it by getting drunk at his party.

Yellow becomes a ghost story when Kirra causes a dog to drown and then talks to a ghost boy in a disconnected phone box. She tries to catch his murderer, putting herself at risk.

Kirra’s English teacher and the local librarian recommend Lord of the Flies, To Kill a Mockingbird, Catcher in the Rye and The Bell Jar. All books worth pursuing…

Issues of forgiveness arise here and in Frankie.

Frankie by Shivaun Plozza (Penguin Random House Aust)

Frankie is Italian and funny. She was abandoned by her mother and thinks she ‘deserve[s] to fail’. Her younger half-brother, Xavier, who seems to be a thief, finds her and gives her a longed-for Joy Division album. In this book, musician Ian Curtis killed himself like Jeff Buckley did in One Would Think the Deep, but both their music lives on.

Frankie is set around Smith St, Collingwood (where Robert Newton’s Mr Romanov’s Garden in the Sky and some of his historical novels were also set).

The dialogue in Frankie is smart, with a streetwise voice. The scene where Frankie follows Nate with his ‘blue gaze’ to a ‘fence’s’ house, is chillingly intimidating. When Xavier disappears, the contrast between the lack of energy put into his disappearance compared with that of rich boy Harrison Finnick-Hyde is explored.

There are numerous descriptions of graffiti throughout the novel. Readers could perhaps create their own ‘Small Street Interruptions’ based on Michael Pederson’s website ‘Outside’ http://miguelmarquezoutside.com/.

Pederson leaves quirky temporary artwork (such as roping off a dandelion with a sign, ‘do not touch’ like in an art gallery) in laneways, backstreets and buildings to surprise and encourage people to slow down, be in the moment and recognise surroundings. He attaches them with Blu-tak and removable tape.

The other three shortlisted books are:

Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley (Pan Macmillan Aust) which recently won the Indie YA award.

Readers can explore a related Virtual Letter Library http://loveozya.com.au/love/the-letter-library/ .

One Would Think the Deep by Claire Zorn (UQP) was recently shortlisted for the NSW Premier’s Ethel Turner award.

Music helps but doesn’t heal protagonist Sam’s residual rage and grief. There is a playlist at the end of the book featuring Jeff Buckley’s Loser, So Real and Grace and Split Enz’s I Got You (which Jennifer Niven also uses in All the Bright Places).

The Bone Sparrow by Zana Fraillon (Hachette Aust) recently won the ABIA award for older children, was shortlisted for the Guardian Children’s Book award and is currently shortlisted for the CILIP Carnegie medal.

Zana Fraillon’s next novel, The Ones That Disappeared, about child trafficking, will be published this month.

Kate DiCamillo & Sally Rippin

Kate DiCamillo is a particularly appealing author. Her novels for children are highly popular and some – Because of Winn Dixie, The Tale of Despereaux and Bink and Gollie – have been made into movies

I heard her speak with best-selling Australian writer, Sally Rippin, famous for Billie B Brown, and whose Polly and Buster series has just been released, at the Wheeler Centre in Melbourne this month. The event was sold out, with people standing.

Kate’s latest novel is Raymie Nightingale, a gem of a tale in which Raymie hopes to gain her father’s interest by winning a beauty contest. This story is ‘the absolutely true story of my heart’, confessed Kate, whose father had also left their family. Family photos show Kate, her brother and mother but her father is missing. Until Raymie Nightingale, Kate had created fictional fathers in her books, writing instead about missing mothers, in a kind of reverse reality from her own life. Until this book, Kate had only written herself obliquely into her stories.

As a child, she was ‘terrified, shy and worried but was astonishingly good at making friends. That’s what saved me – I could connect’. She loved to read, ‘Books were the most magical thing in the world. I didn’t think humans had anything to do with it… Reading was how I made sense of the world – the doorway in. I’m most in my body when reading a book!’ She now pretends to be an extrovert.

When a child asked if she reads or writes more, Kate responded, ‘Reading is pleasurable. Writing is difficult for me.’ Quoting Dorothy Parker, she retorted, ‘I hate writing. I love having written’ and then added, ‘I’m so much happier writing. That’s not to say I’m happy writing.’ Kate experiences the voice of failure at about 9am in the morning so she tries to write before then and uses ‘that editing voice’ only after 9am. She keeps a journal while travelling and returns to it when writing later. ‘So much of writing is subconscious’. Writing hasn’t become any easier: ‘All you know is you’ve written a novel before but don’t know if you can write this novel.’ She overcomes this by regarding each piece of writing as a draft.

Kate often writes about animal characters, such as the mouse in The Tale of Despereaux and the squirrel, Ulysses, in Flora and Ulysses. Kate loves the word ‘capacious’ and uses the phrase ‘God’s capacious hands’ in Flora and Ulysses to describe Flora’s father’s heart. Kate also hopes to be ‘capacious of heart’.  She certainly does seem to have won many Australian hearts during her tour here.

Some of Kate’s other novels are The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, The Tiger Rising and The Magician’s Elephant. Her wonderful Christmas picture book is Great Joy.

Some of Sally’s other children’s books are Angel Creek, Chenxi and the Foreigner and the picture book, The Rainbirds.

 

 

 

 

 

YA Books Told In Love Letters, Notes, and Emails

Books tell amazing stories in all sorts of formats. Sometimes they use prose or poetry, illustrations or photographs. And today? We need to talk about books told in love letters, notes, and emails! Because writing is arguably the best way to learn about someone. It’s often easier to confess a secret or be venerable on paper and these books underline that fact!

If you’re looking for a book featuring letters? LOOK NO FURTHER. I have you covered.


LETTERS TO THE LOST BY BRIGID KEMMERER

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This is an absolutely beautiful, but bittersweet, tale of two teens who are dealing with extreme levels of grief. They begin writing to each other on accident. Juliet leaves letters at her mother’s gravestone and one day Declan, who’s working in the graveyard on community service, picks one up and writes back. They begin first an angry communication and then develop friendship through grief and confessions. It’s a relief to both of them to talk anonymously to someone who understands. But as they realise they also know each other in real life, they are worried the other won’t like the “real” them. It’s an absolutely poignant story of heartbreak and being judgemental of people who’s stories you don’t know.

 

 

SIMON VS THE HOMO SAPIENS AGENDA BY BECKY ALBERTALLI

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Simon has met the most amazing boy online and lives for their frequent email exchanges. Except one day he forgets to log out of the school computer and a bully discovers his emails. He blackmails Simon — threatening to out Simon as being gay. And Simon isn’t ready for that yet.

It’s a super, super cute story featuring two boys emailing back and forth. The story isn’t wholly told in messages, though, so you get to follow Simon in his everyday life of friends, awkward first love, Harry Potter obsession, drama class, and Oreo appreciation. It’s about being true to yourself and it’s the most heartwarming and special story!

 

ILLUMINAE BY JAY KRISTOFF AND AMIE KAUFMAN

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This is a sci-fi action story told solely in emails, messages, reports, and photos! It’s absolutely brilliantly formatted and the visuals totally take the book to the next level of special. The story is basically about a rogue company destroying a planet and the survivors end up on a damaged ship floating through space. The enemy is closing in and they’re trying to get the ship’s Artificial Intelligence up and active to fight for them. Except there’s also a virus sweeping through the refugees. And the AI is possibly planning to wipe out all threats — which could very well be the people it’s supposed to protect.

You will most likely be clinging to your seat through reading this with heart pounding. The action doesn’t stop and the plot twists are phenomenal.

 

WE ARE STILL TORNADOES BY MICHAEL KUN AND SUSAN MULLEN

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This is a story of two teens after high school: Cath has headed off to college and Scott is stuck working in his family story after he bombed his highschool finales. They’ve been best friends all their lives, so they write avidly to each other as they explore the world of just-becoming-adults. The letters are packed with so much complexity and meaning and even though the entire book is just told in epistolary format, you get to know the characters so well. And you can’t help rooting for them to stop living in denial of their feelings for each other and to follow their dreams and live the kind of life they hunger for.

Jennifer Niven in Australia

American YA writer, Jennifer Niven has been wowing fans up and down Australia’s east coast from the Sydney Writers’ Festival, to Brisbane, then Reading Matters in Melbourne, then Adelaide and further afield.

It is no wonder she is greatly loved. She seems to care for everyone she meets and gives equal weight to answering the questions and concerns of all her readers. She has transformed the difficulties and joys she has experienced in her own life into becoming a brave, ‘honest and responsible’ writer, speaking for those who may not have a voice. She doesn’t like conflict but has become an advocate after writing her first YA story about a boy she loved who suffered from mental illness in All the Bright Places. She poignantly recalls, ‘I lost him to suicide’ and about how she wrote about this relationship and experience ‘as honestly as I could … Pieces of me are in each of my books’. Jennifer has since received thousands of messages about how All the Bright Places has, in some way, saved people’s lives.

Jennifer reiterates that everyone deserves to be seen and heard and inscribes some people’s books: ‘You are wanted’. ‘Life can be dark but there are always bright places everywhere.’

I was thrilled to be invited to lunch in Sydney with Jennifer and a small group of informed young bloggers. Jennifer was charming; a lady who listens and engages. She was very generous with her time; asked us all to sign her copy of All the Bright Places (a lovely, original idea) and showed us a sneak peak of the photo of the young actor who will be playing lead character, Finch, in the movie of All the Bright Places.

When I asked at lunch how she gets into the writing zone as quickly as possible, she explained the importance of music and playlists, including Split Enz’s song, I Got You (her playlists are online). Lyrics are ‘also all about words’, but in a different form.

Even though Jennifer is generous with her words in conversation, she is happy to listen to others rather than dominate the conversation; conversely when writing, she writes more than she needs before paring back the words.

Unfortunately, she’s not able to write while on tour but, despite this, jumped at the chance to come to Australia, agreeing even before she was given the dates.

Jennifer concluded one of her sessions at Reading Matters by sharing her and her author mother’s writing advice: ‘let yourself cry (or laugh or feel); check it in the bus locker (put distractions away so you can focus on writing); and write the kind of story you want to read.’

Thanks to Penguin RandomHouse Australia for the incredible opportunity to meet Jennifer.

Further links:

Jennifer recommends Germ online magazine

Follow Jennifer

My brief review of Holding Up the Universe for Boomerang blog

My review of Holding Up the Universe for the Weekend Australian

Natalie Haynes, Randa Abdel-Fattah & Yassmin Abdel-Magied at the SWF

As part of this year’s Sydney Writers’ Festival Student Sessions, I was fortunate to host a couple of sessions with British stand-up comedian Natalie Haynes and facilitate one with Randa Abdel-Fattah and Yassmin Abdel-Magied.

Natalie Haynes

Natalie became one of the most popular presenters at the festival. She’s probably better described as a performer, though, because she brings ancient history and the ancient mythic world alive and into the present for her audiences.

She reworks stories for her own purposes, drawing on her expertise in the ancient world and on making it relevant today. She stands out because she can share her knowledge on stage, screen and in her books in a rivetting way.

Natalie is a classicist and a comedian, an unusual combination. She used to be a stand-up comic, but retired when she realised she preferred tragedy to comedy. Her quick wit and incredible knowledge enabled her to effortlessly command the stage.

Natalie’s new novel The Children of Jocasta was published in May. It’s a re-telling of the Oedipus/Jocasta/Antigone tale and will make you fascinated by mythic history (if you’re not already). An earlier book, The Ancient Guide to Modern Life explores philosophers such as Plato, Ovid and Agrippina the Younger.

Natalie Haynes

Randa Abdel-Fattah & Yassmin Abdel-Magied

In our session about ‘Mono or Multi-cultured’ at the Wharf, Randa Abdel-Fattah, who examines issue of racism, multiculturalism and human rights in Australia through her novels and essays, explored what contemporary multiculturalism and racism look like in Australia today with activist and author Yassmin Abdel-Magied.

Randa has written Does My Head Look Big in This?, When Michael Met Mina and other novels, particularly for young adults, as well as essays. When Michael Met Mina is an important story because it gives both Michael’s view – a popular guy coming from a racist family – and Mina’s – an intelligent young woman whose family was killed by the Taliban in Afghanistan, forcing her and her mother to flee by boat. The novel airs many issues and opinions – true and false – such as people saying that ‘potential terrorists are hiding among boat people’ and people who want to be able to say, ‘Merry Christmas’ without offending anyone; to some darker-skinned girls feeling they have to use skin-whitening creams and others being intimidated and vilified. The novel gives diverse viewpoints. It’s great to read because we are exposed to different perspectives and then make up our own minds. It shows the power of literature to create understanding and empathy.

Randa has also been a lawyer and has a PhD in Islamophobia in Australia.

Yassmin is well known through her media appearances and I’ve learned from reading her memoir, Yassmin’s Story (which she wrote recently while in her 20s) that she loved reading Enid Blyton and her favourite character was, as you might expect, George; she deliberately created slang at school; she channels Beyonce in time of need; she loves sharing stories on stage and she learned in debating that she can argue any side of an argument!

Yassmin also won Young Queenslander of the Year in 2015; as a teenager co-founded Youth Without Borders; is an engineer; worked on a rig and loves cars.

I cannot do these intelligent and articulate authors justice in their explanation of structural racism and other issues here. I do suggest reading their books and online articles to gain a greater understanding of, particularly, racism in Australia.Image may contain: 3 people, people smiling, people sitting

 

Chook Doolan is Back

Award-winning author James Roy and talented illustrator Lucinda Gifford are back with another four sensational books in the popular series for junior readers, Chook Doolan. It is a witty and warm-hearted series suited to sensitive young souls navigating their way through challenging feelings of uncertainty and apprehension.

I reviewed two previous titles here (#3 and #4), outlining these creators’ ability to capture the heart, emotion and relatability sublimely to fit their emergent reader audience. Supportive language structures, short chapters and engaging illustrations allow children from age five to achieve success whilst absorbing every moral and humorous fibre of life within the pages.

Early primary-aged readers will relish the joy and culture shining from the pages in Let’s Do Diwali (#5). Venturing into unknown territory with a tradition he doesn’t know and a crowded event is a daunting prospect for timid Chook – aptly nicknamed for his tendency to scare easily.
When paired with the quietly-spoken Praj on a school task, Chook is presented with the opportunity to learn about Diwali. He is, however, apprehensive about attending the Hindu festival of lights, and subsequently performing well on the class talk. But by embracing the spirit of the culture by wearing a kurta, trying the Indian cuisine and engaging the happy crowd, Chook’s feelings of fear dissolve into excitement. He even feels confident at school to deliver his speech about the ‘awesome’ time he had at the Diwali festival.
This is a valuable story about understanding and welcoming other traditions, and overcoming feelings of anxiety with clearly accessible and supportive practices. Let’s Do Diwali is a jubilant celebration to revisit frequently!

On the Road (#6) is about a family trip to Aunty Liz’s home in Mount Frederick. Chook is unsure about spending time with his younger twin girl cousins. He worries about other things, too, like leaving his pets behind, and having to spend three hours in the car with his taunting older brother, Ricky. Luckily, Chook finds a mutual connection with one of the girls, Evie, through his favourite activity of chess.
This book provides a gentle encouragement that shows serendipitous moments can arise in a safe and supportive environment. A little bit of courage to interact with new or unfamiliar people can lead to some wonderful relationships.

In Un-Happy Camper (#7), Simon Henry Doolan; or Chook, expresses a range of emotions from anxiety to frustration to acceptance and relief. Finding out that his class will be attending a school camp, Chook is no more than unenthusiastic. Snakes and getting homesick are not his cup of tea. All he needs is a few gentle pushes from his mum to convince him that it will be alright. This sensitive, persuasive approach and positive attitude helps Chook through his anguish, and he thoroughly enjoys the school camp…even though they didn’t really go anywhere!
The focus on Chook’s feelings throughout his psychological journey is written effectively to help readers understand their own, sometimes mixed, emotions, and finding ways to ease those discomforts. At the same time the story is injected with humour and intuitively sharp black and white illustrations.

In Up and Away (#8), Chook has been given a school assignment to explore a job he might like to pursue as an adult. Naturally, he is drawn to the job of his father – a pilot. But, there are things about being a pilot that are scary, such as visiting new places and meeting new people. In a cleverly fun way, Chook’s dad teaches him a little about the structure and physics of a plane, which is somewhat reassuring. Whilst waiting for his dad in the Club Lounge, Chook is granted an opportunity to quash his own fears, and impart his knowledge, to help another in need.
This book beautifully showcases the fact that ‘ knowledge is power’, and stepping out of your comfort zone leads to a sense of empowerment and personal growth. Once again, relevant, entertaining and encouraging, young readers will delight in this gratifying story of developing independence.

The Chook Doolan series for junior readers, and in particular young boys developing their literacy skills, is absolutely addictive. These stories of overcoming internal struggles and developing self-confidence are highly relatable, uncomplicated and transparent, as well as pleasantly engaging. Five to eight year olds will definitely be clucking for more!

Author James Roy

Illustrator Lucinda Gifford

Walker Books Australia, June 2017.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Review: Lady Midnight by Cassandra Clare

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Lady Midnight by Cassandra Clare is a stunningly engaging starter for a new Shadowhunter series! It is a follow-up of Clare’s previous The Mortal Instruments and The Infernal Devices series, but good news? You can actually read this without having read a single Clare book before! It’s a great intro into the world of nephilim, werewolves, faeries, vampires, and demons. And it did not disappoint at all!

The story follows Emma Carstairs, a training Shadowhunter who’s parents died in an unsolved murder mystery. While the Clave has ruled their deaths as just part of the war, Emma knows it was murder — and she’s determined to find answers and have revenge. Emma is also struggling with feelings for her best friend, her Parabati, whom she’s forbidden by Shadowhunter law to have a relationship with. And as if life isn’t complex enough, the murder mystery ends up involving faeries and it’s illegal for Emma to investigate with them. She has so many laws to try and sneak around if she’s going to get her revenge.

I absolutely adored how incredibly full and rich the story was. It has everything a book should have: humour, witty quips, a murder mystery case, magic, mayhem, pancakes, diverse characters, and an engaging plot that will leave you breathless by the end.

The writing just hooked me in from the first page. It manages to fill in any newbies to the series on Shadowhunter law and culture without giving tiresome info dumps. Plus it mixes levity with the darker storyline and the banter is just so spot on and perfect I couldn’t help but laugh.

“You’re too skinny,” she said as brightly as she could. “Too much coffee, not enough pancakes.”
“I hope they put that on my tombstone.”

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The characters stole my heart with their complexities and just how relatable they were. Emma and Julian are the stars of the story and their denial of their feelings for each other is so insufferably cute. So much angst. So much heartbreak. Emma is the main narrator, but I loved that we also got peeks into Julian’s conflicted mind. Emma has a “LET’S SMITE THE THING” attitude while Julian is more thoughtful and silently dangerous. And their banter and sass was perfect.

“Why did you pull the arrow out?” she demanded…
Jule’s breath was coming in harsh pants. “Because when someone — shoots you with an arrow –” he gasps, “your immediate response is not — ‘thanks for the arrow, I think I’ll keep it for a while’.”
“Good to know your sense of humour is still intact.”

It also has quite a large cast of characters since there are 5 Blackthorn children. Julian is only 17, but also a parent to his 4 younger siblings. I adored how each of the kids just leapt off the page with personality and I never got them confused. I’m particularly impressed at the inclusion of Ty, who is pretty clearly Autistic, and how the story incorporated themes of disability, accepting differences, and empowerment.

Lady Midnight is quite possibly my new favourite Shadowhunter book! (And that’s saying something, since I’m thoroughly obsessed with everything Cassandra Clare pens.) The plot was engaging and suspenseful, the banter kept me giggling through my pain as the tension and problems piled insurmountably high. I rooted for Emma’s revenge and Julian to keep his family together. And I absolutely hope these two get together, law or not. The book has such strong themes of family, friendship, and the meaning of actual true and real love. It’s stunning and clever and the sequel needs to be in my hands.

 

NSW Premier’s Literary Awards & SWF Indigenous Voices

As always, the Sydney Writers’ Festival in May was an amazing week.

The NSW Premier’s Literary Awards were announced on the Monday night and I was thrilled to meet the Patricia Wrightson (children’s book) winner for the surrealist mystery Iris and the Tiger, Leanne Hall (who I interviewed for the blog here), photographed below with shortlisted Tamsin Janu and shortlisted Ethel Turner YA author Lili Wilkinson.

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The winner of the Kenneth Slessor Poetry award was Peter Boyle for the inimical Ghostspeaking, an intriguing mystery of finely woven stories and poems. The richly constructed characters are brought to life with interlaced poems. It evokes Borges’ Labyrinths with the brush strokes and ideas of artist William Robinson and the clear bold outlines and strokes of Matisse.

Congratulations to James Roy (who I interviewed for the blog here ) and Noël Zihabamwe, whose One Thousand Hills won the Ethel Turner award and all the other shortlisted and winning authors, including overall winner, Leah Purcell for The Drover’s Wife play script.

At the SWF, I was privileged to be in conversation with Dr Anita Heiss and Witi Ihimaera for the ‘Indigenous Voices’ sessions at the Wharf in Walsh Bay and at Parramatta Riverside Theatres. It was great to have the opportunity to discuss Anita’s new The Race for Reconciliation, a novel for children that celebrates Aboriginal hero Cathy Freeman and shares truths that many Australian children don’t know about stolen children, National Sorry Day and other aspects of Aboriginal recent history.

Anita has also shown Aboriginal women in contemporary Australian literature in new and important ways such as in Barbed Wire & Cherry Blossoms. This compares the WW2 Prisoner of War camp near Cowra in central NSW when Japanese soldiers broke out, with the local Wiradjuri people who also virtually lived under prison conditions – and had less food than the Japanese prisoners.

Also in this session was revered Maori writer Witi Ihimaera. He was the first Maori author to have both a novel and short stories published. In his memoir, Maori Boy, Witi uses a unique and powerful spiral thread structure. He also uses myths in his work.

Witi is well known for his book and movie from the book, Whale Rider and also now, Mahana. At times he wished he was brought up more in Maori traditions and he wasn’t great at the haka. But he was destined to do another kind of haka.

Anita and Witi made a fine team enlightening us about indigenous voices.

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Changing Feelings – Picture books about change

Last week, Romi Sharp reviewed some heart melting picture books that promote helping to heal. You can view them, here. The inclusion of emotionally resilient building narrative in picture book format is a subject close to my heart, even more so after my recent return from Singapore’s Asian Festival of Children’s Content where I presented a seminar on Biblio-therapy and its usefulness in children’s literature. These next few picture books eloquently and artfully address the need to embrace feelings and increase a young child’s ability to cope better with change. Have a look for yourself.

Through the Gate by Sally Fawcett

Fawcett’s latest picture book epitomises the essence of change so succinctly, even I, a great resister, felt gladden and reassured. From the magnetising front cover, achingly decrepit and hopeful at the same time, to the dramatic transformation of the end pages, Through the Gate is a visually striking and emotionally memorable look at affecting and accepting change.

Continue reading Changing Feelings – Picture books about change

Review: When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon

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When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon is definitely one of the cutest books I’ve had the pleasure of reading in 2017. It’s totally nerdy and full of adorkable socially awkward characters and so much delicious food. It features the absolute best romance that I couldn’t help but ship!

The story follows both Dimple and Rishi’s storylines as they head off to a program to develop an app — and discover their parents have set them up for an arranged marriage. Well, Rishi knew. And he assumed Dimple was on board. Their first meeting ends up with Dimple throwing an iced coffee in Rishi’s face and running away. #Awkward But the two end up becoming tentative friends (although future marriage is STRICTLY not on, in Dimple’s opinion) and team up to enter this app competition. It’s 6 weeks of design and discussion and development…with the two realising they maybe do have feelings for each other after all. Which is exactly the opposite of what Dimple wanted.

My favourite thing was how both Dimple and Rishi were huge nerds! Dimple is into coding and computers and Rishi is (in denial though) a huge comic book artist. Aren’t they the perfect pair!? And to top it off, they were written so complexly with so many dimensions that I couldn’t help but feel totally sucked in by the story and dissolved into their vibrant and emotional world. Their character arcs were just amazing and relatable! And the book isn’t just about two teens coding an app — they eat delicious food (like, so so much…you will get hungry reading this) and there is intense gelato appreciation; plus the end up dancing in a contest which is rather hysterical; and there may or may not be an adorable star-gazing scene.

I also really liked how it was a positive story about arranged marriage for Indian cultures! Generally I see it portrayed as very negative, so it’s nice to get this perspective. Plus both sets of parents were lovely, kind, and wanted the best for their children. It’s always refreshing to see parents in YA books not casted as the villains. Plus it was full of rich Indian culture, which I totally loved being immersed in. Dimple is pretty adamant about being a “normal American” but Rishi is fiercely proud of his Indian heritage and his comics feature Indian folklore. He’s proud of where he came from and he doesn’t want to lose touch with that, which was wonderful to read about.

I really loved their voices and the fact it was written in 3rd person! That’s my favourite perspective and it really connected me to the story instantly. I’m also glad it split up to tell both perspectives, because they really both were precious cinnamon rolls and I loved every chapter!

I thoroughly enjoyed When Dimple Met Rishi and it was full of squishy happiness and true appreciation for nerds of all kinds. The geek levels were intensely awesome, with a science-interested girl and an art-interested boy. The writing had me hooked on every chapter and I truly cared for the characters. All the praise for this adorable and sweet story!

Picture Books to Help and Heal

When you’re feeling a little lost, a little broken, or need a helping hand, what better way to lift you up than with a few beautiful, encouraging books with a whole heap of sentiment and warmth. Here are a few newbies you’ll want to hold close to your heart.

The Whirlpool, Emily Larkin (author), Helene Magisson (illus.), Wombat Books, May 2017.

When one moment shifts into another, without warning, and your world suddenly seems like a foreign place. This emotional whirlpool, as it is described; can pluck you from a place of familiarity and warmth then spin you round until you’re left confused and displaced. The Whirlpool considerately and sensitively addresses this sentiment without needing a definite cause; there doesn’t have to be some traumatic event for us to experience those ‘bad’ or isolated days. Because we all know happiness, sadness, loneliness and love, and here they are expressed beautifully through the eyes of a young polar bear cub.

Emily Larkin’s words are poetic-like. In their very being they stir up emotions in your soul. The simple sentences are sharp and carefully crafted for dramatic impact. Helene Magisson’s breathtaking illustrations almost literally wrap you up in this sensational vortex. Specifically defining moments are highlighted through her choice of visual layout and colour. Vast scenes define both feelings of joy and desolation, and focal sequences display proudness and a tiring endurance. And with Helene’s characteristically alluring charm and symbolic nuances, the significance of the yellow scarf cleverly ties the changing moods and atmospheric conditions altogether.

The Whirlpool is, funnily enough, a gentle and hopeful tale, reassuring its primary school aged readers that experiencing a range of feelings and challenges in their life can be helpful in navigating their individual journeys. This is explained further by helpful notes at the back of the book. So, take a step back and watch a snippet of real life flash before you- this book is insightful, sincere and stunningly beautiful.

Nanna’s Button Tin, Dianne Wolfer (author), Heather Potter (illus.), Walker Books, June 2017.

The sentimentality of a little piece of plastic, primarily used to hold material together, may mean little to some, but for others, buttons hold a lifetime of memories. Nanna’s Button Tin is brimming with warm and fuzzy goodness, of special intergenerational bonds and precious reminders of the past.

For a little girl, Nanna’s button tin holds the key to healing her Teddy’s much-needed amending. And she has the added comfort of being fulfilled with stories of love as she searches for the perfect round, brown button for Teddy’s eye. The tiny yellow button reminds Nanna of the day the little girl was born. The bear-shaped button was worn on her birthday jumper when she was three. The sparkly green one signifies the connection between her grandparents. Whilst the silver angel button helped bring her back to health when she was sick. With Teddy finally fixed, the button tin and all its contents are replaced on the shelf for another day of memorable moments.

With heartfelt dialogue between the characters, and superbly detailed, realistic and warm illustrations, Nanna’s Button Tin contains a pile of love and a beautifully familiar homely feel. This book will be adored, shared and reflected upon by its preschool-aged audience, and their grandparents, many times over. Certainly one to replenish all the warmth in your heart.

Ava’s Spectacular Spectacles, Alice Rex (author), Angela Perrini (illus.), New Frontier Publishing, June 2017.

Another story told through the eyes of a child is Ava’s Spectacular Spectacles. And what a vision she has! Initially, though, Ava is self conscious about her glasses and won’t wear them in class. But with Mrs Cook’s bright and imaginative attitude, things have never looked the same. Presenting a page from various fairy tales to Ava, much like watching an oversized movie screen, the teacher explains how glasses would have helped the characters avoid their problems in the story. Featuring Little Red Riding Hood, Hansel and Gretel, Humpty Dumpty and more, Ava soon realises that in order to perceive the world clearly, she will need to ‘see’ the world clearly.

I love the enthusiasm and energy throughout the text, inviting readers and listeners to join in and ponder these sentiments. There is that subtle coercion that adults attempt to convince children of what is best, but the tale is written so playfully and creatively that it just feels like pure entertainment. The illustrations are equally jovial, colourful and expressive, and particularly visually large and easy-on-the-eye to suit its purpose.

Ava’s Spectacular Spectacles is fantastically fun, full of familiar fairy tale delights. It is perfect for children from age four, and especially providing a shining light for those with vision impairments to feel confident and secure.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

YA Wintery Reads To Curl Up With

As Australia descends into the pit of despair wintertime, it’s a great excuse to curl up with a book and a delicious hot drink and lose oneself in a fictional world! And if you happen to like to coordinate the weather with your current read then I have good news for you! Today I’m listing some wintery-themed YA books that will be perfect for snuggling up with.

Winter is coming. Be prepared. Stockpile books.


SHIVER BY MAGGIE STEIFVATER

This is like my go-to winter series because it’s mostly set in a snowy foresty town in the USA and the weather is so palpable you genuinely feel cold reading it! It’s about werewolves who are human in summer and wolves in winter, which I think is a fabulous twist. It’s also for sure one of my favourite series!

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THE IMPOSTOR QUEEN BY SARAH FINE

This one is like the YA book dark and sinister version of Frozen! It features a queen who should have magical element wielding powers to protect her kingdom but yet…she doesn’t??? She ends up running away and finding a boy who controls ice and snow. The book has such a chilling setting and it’s all snowy mountains and traipsing through ice fields. Also it’s excellent.

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THE EDGE OF EVERYTHING BY JEFF GILES

It’s set in the aftermath of a huge blizzard that leaves a girl and her little brother rather trapped in a strange cabin with an even stranger boy who appears to be some sort of death reaper. It turns out that the boy, X, is here to fetch the souls of evil people and hate for them is destroying his life…even if he is actually a really soft and kind person. But vengeance must come…right? The whole book has a really cold vibe with all the snow and blizzards!

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THE SMELL OF OTHER PEOPEL’S HOUSES BY BONNIE-SUE HITCHCOCK

This one is set in Alaska! So get ready for snow and months of darkness. It’s also a really emotional and poignant tale of 4 different teens’ lives and how they all interweave and join. From a boy running away from home to a girl stuck on a fishing ship when she wants to dance ballet. The writing is simple and really packs a punch. And there is pie. I don’t know about you, but I’m of the opinion that all books should include excellent mentions of delicious pie.

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SNOW LIKE ASHES BY SARA

Surprise! This one includes SNOW. (Which is stunningly new information that you didn’t guess from the tittle, I’m sure.) This is an epic fantasy set in a world were the seasons are actually countries! Meira is a refugee from the war-torn country of Winter and all she wants to do is protect her BFF, the future king, and restore the kingdom of Winter to its past glory. There’s lots of dark magic out to make everyone’s lives miserable and some completely stunning plot twists that might unhinge your jaw. Plus it’s perfectly and delicious cold to read about an entire country that’s known for its winter!  You’ll need a hot chocolate to get through this one for sure.

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Review: New Boy by Tracy Chevalier

9781781090329New Boy is Tracy Chevalier’s contribution to the Hogarth Shakespeare series which aims to re-interpret some of Shakespeare’s more popular works. So far the series has included retellings from bestselling authors Jeanette Winterson, Anne Tyler, Margaret Atwood and Ian McEwan. I have been thoroughly enjoying this series and I have been particularly looking forward to Tracy’s reinterpretation of Othello.

It is Washington DC during the 1970’s. Tracy transports us back into Primary school – year 6 to be exact. That awkward time when you are on the cusp of growing out of the friendships and alliances that have sustained you through your younger years. Fumbling attempts at relationships cause extra tensions and alliances are forged and broken with ease.

Osei Kokote is the new kid in school. It is not the first time he has been in this position. As a Diplomat’s son he has changed school regularly and feels like experience has given him a good grasp of how to survive the first day at a new school. He is also quite adept at dealing with being the only black kid in a predominantly white environment.

Dee Benedetti is the teacher’s pet. A good girl and rule-follower who is generally liked by her classmates and the school as a whole. Drawn to the new boy, she makes the brave and startling decision to befriend him unknowingly upsetting the chain of power in the playground and setting off a series of events that will end in disaster. As the children manipulate, use and betray each other over the course of the school day the tension grows drawing the adults, who should be immune, into the web as well.

Tracy Chevalier’s decision to place the drama of Othello ín a schoolyard is pure genius. The compounding of racing hormones, changing power dynamics and racism is a potent mix. I was completely drawn into the drama and taken straight back to the playground. To take a story so well known and make it so new, horrifying and powerful is an accomplishment. Even though I was prepared for things to not end well, New Boy left me shocked and gasping. This is going to be one of my top 5 books this year and I think New Boy easily outshines the other titles in the Hogarth Series.

Buy the book here…

Wally Turns 30! – New Editions

What a fantastical blast from the past! Those cherished days of pouring over Where’s Wally? scenes for hours on end, in search for that inconspicuously eminent character, and his friends, we all know and love so dearly. Allow your children the same pleasure with these marvellous 30th Anniversary Edition and brand new collector pocket books that will be sure to spin heads, strain eyes and tire fingers to their hearts’ delight.

The classic, world-wide phenomenon, Where’s Wally? (30th Anniversary, Feb 2017) by Martin Handford, is celebrating 30 years of magical, wondrous, time- and space-travelling zeal that, no doubt, is still burning strong to this day. With its large-face, portrait format, Wally-Spotters can partner up and share the scrutiny together. It is the observer’s mission to find five intrepid travellers; Wally, Woof (but all you can see is his tail), Wenda, Wizard Whitebeard and Odlaw, plus their precious items in every scene. But that’s not all! There are another 25 Wally-watchers and an extensive checklist of people, creatures and objects to be found, too!

Each scene is presented with a postcard from Wally addressed to us, the Wally fans, providing a snippet of his endeavours in that particular destination. All set with his walking stick and a bulky load in tow, Wally wonders through busy and colourful places. From a crowded town, to a packed beach, a snowy mountain, a groovy campsite, jostling train station, a manic airport, a mass of runners at the sports stadium, a jiving museum, the swarming sea, a bustling safari park, jam-packed department store, and a lively fairground. (Plus a bonus scene!)

Along with your keen sense of observation, you’ll also delight in the humorous and quirky details found in every picture. The vibrant illustrations teem with life and personality, every tiny character with their own hilarious story to tell. No wonder Where’s Wally? will forever be a global classic! A must-have for every home and school.

The Where’s Wally? The Totally Essential Travel Collection (June 2017) is certainly the fun adventure that never ends! Including seven of the classics in one travel-sized book, littered with colouring in postcards and adorned with gold foiled stripes, this will be your trusty travel companion wherever the destination. The handy elastic close is a clever way to return to your place, and fold-out checklists enable easy accessibility as you search and turn through each wondrous location.

If I were to choose my favourite edition I would have to say The Wonder Book definitely packs a punch with its uniform colour selections for each scene and its pages that are filled to the brink with the most minuscule of detail. And if you’re up for a real challenge try visiting The Land of Woofs! It’s a cracker!

The Where’s Wally? Colouring Collection (May 2017) is an absolute spectacular of Wally-related searches, games, jokes and creative tasks, all in black and white! Whilst colouring, doodling and sketching your way through the pages, astute observers also have the added task of locating Wally, his friends, his special lost paint pot, and other precious possessions. Plenty more hidden objects are compiled in the checklists, and the enormous lift-out poster creates even more colouring, searching and time-consuming goodness.

With heaps of inspiring, creative and thought-provoking activities, this travel-sized handbook with elastic close is an energetic bundle of joy (and a calming force at the same time!).

The great thing about this series is that they cater for every age group, starting with simple perusal to the more complex exploration. But there is no doubt, this is imagination, entertainment and brain-training at their best!

Walker Books Ltd., Walker Books Australia.

Review: The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli

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The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli is a special squish of an adorable story. It just ticks all the right boxes for what YA contemporary is longing after. It’s cute and fun and manages to weave in the awkwardness of teenagerdom (shh that’s totally a word) with the epically beautiful and special parts about growing up and finding out who you are and, of course, falling in love.

The story centres around Molly who is a sufferer of many, many unrequited crushes. Then her twin sister, Cassie, meets the most amazing girl and Molly truly starts to realise what she’s missing. But she’s conscious that she’s not particularly “cool” and that she’s fat (which she worries people will judge her for), and that she doesn’t want to fall for someone who isn’t going to treat her well. Molly is all into Pinterest arts and baking and hanging out with her super cool friends. Then she meets two boys: Will, who is like the most adorable hipster boy who seems to really truly like her…maybe more than “like”, and then there’s also Reid, who Molly works with who’s a ginormous nerd and wears Lord of the Rings tee-shirts and is unconventional and dorky. But he’s not really Molly’s type. But is Will either?

It’s truly a story about falling in love for the first time, but also about growing up and feeling left behind by your peers if you’re not “keeping up” enough.

I adored how diverse it was, with at least 50%, if not more, of the cast stars queer characters of different ethnicities.

The writing is, of course, brilliant and totally addictive! Seriously I could never look away from the page. It’s just captivating and beautifully written and it felt so real and relatable with the tone and dialogue. Becky Albertalli just knows how to write books that make you feel like you’re living inside them.

The characters were definitely the best part! They were relatable and dorky at times and completely realistic. I did struggle to connect to Molly, though, with her 30+ unrequited crushes. That’s a lot of people to fall in love with, okay?! She doesn’t really ACT on them, though, so the book isn’t full of breakups and angst. I still loved Molly for her who she felt everyone was growing up around her and she was stagnating. The book puts forth the question of “am I keeping up?” and then slaps it down because there isn’t a timeline to do things! Molly can be 16 and not have kissed anyone and that doesn’t make her weird or broken. I think this book captured just how overwhelming growing up can be. Also it was super cute to see how into Pinterest arts and crafts Molly was! When she was planning her mothers’ weddings Pinterest-style?! OH YES AND YES.

There were so many beautiful messages too. I love how Molly’s mums talked about there not being “a specific age” to reach milestones and achieve things. And of course it underlined that love is love no matter what. And even though Molly had anxiety and was shy, she never was forced to become someone else.

Also the romance was freaking adorable. It had the potential to be an angsty love-triangle, but it wasn’t!

The Upside of Unrequited is a glorious, sweet, happy and feels-good book that will truly make you smile! The writing is captivating, the characters are relatable, and there are so many chocolate mini-eggs that you will find yourself having a serious craving and probably gnawing on your copy of the book. So be wise: read it + eat chocolate simultaneously. The story is full of poignant messages and sweet plot twists and is a definite must read!

Amazing YA Mothers You Definitely Want To Read About

Good parent influences in Young Adult books can be as rare as finding a unicorn. However they do exist! And when we find them, life is glorious! I love reading about epic fictional women who inspire and also delight. In honour of Mother’s Day today, I’d like to present a list of some really wonderful mothers in YA books. These are also underrated fictional mothers (because we all know we already love Molly Weasley) so hopefully you find some new glorious books to add to your to-be-read pile!


RADIO SILENCE BY ALICE OSEMAN

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Not only is Radio Silence a complete geek-fest, it features a mother-daughter relationship that is just so gloriously wonderful and special. Frances has been raised by a single mum who’s really busy with work, but is still always there for her daughter. And when Frances runs into trouble with friends, her mum is totally volunteers to step in and help out. Better yet? Frances actually lets her.

It’s really important, I believe, to have books where parents are the antagonists and are shown supporting their teens and helping them through super difficult times. #precious

 

THE HATE U GIVE BY ANGIE THOMAS

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This has been one of the most famous YA books of 2017, which is excellent, because it thoroughly deserves the hype and love! It’s about the #BlackLivesMatter movement and features Starr, who has watched the murder of two of her friends. It’s heartbreaking and heartwarming….aaaaand Starr has an amazing set of parents!

Not only are her parents strong and wise, they’re super involved in their kids’ lives. Starr’s mum spends time with her and encourages Starr to be the best she can be in all things. Also Starr’s parents are super in love and that’s just so adorable to read about. Starr says her parents are her OTP and if that isn’t the best thing then what is.

 

THE UPSIDE OF UNREQUITED BY BECKY ALBERTALLI

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This is a super cute tale about romance, love, and family, from the point of view of Molly, who is a rather anxious teen who is obsessed with Pinterest crafts and delicious things like mini chocolate eggs. Basically she is the best kind of person. I really love and adored her two mums!

Not only are they raising a splendidly kind and loving person (hello, Molly!) but they’re super sweet and loving to each other. And they listen to their kids. And they’re hardworking women multitasking jobs, teenagers, and a baby. Like, woah, just hats off right here.

 

THE SERPENT KING BY JEFF ZENTNER

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This is actually from the point-of-view of three teens: Dylan, Trevor and Lydia. Unfortunately only Lydia’s parents are awesome (Dylan and Trevor break my heart with how callous their parents can be, unfortunately) but the contrast of Lydia’s folks is beautifully written. So much adoration here. SO MUCH. Her mum and dad not only support her, they joke around with her and make their house a welcome and loving place. You can see the affect it has on Lydia too, with her being confident about her life and career and knowing she can come to them for emotional support. The best kind of parents.

 

Book Week: the CBCA Eve Pownall Books, Part 2

Fabish: the horse that braved a bushfire

By Neridah McMullin, illustrated by Andrew McLean   Allen & Unwin

Another amazing animal in the Eve Pownall shortlisted books is the horse, Fabish. He was an old horse who rescued the yearlings from the terrible Black Saturday bushfire. The trainer rescued the finest race horses but couldn’t look after them all so he set Fabish free with the yearlings. He discovered every single one safe after the decimating fire but didn’t know where Fabian had taken them.

Picture book form is an apt medium for this true story. Important Australian illustrator, Andrew McLean, is an expert in painting our countryside and animals and Neridah McMullin has crystallised the events into a riveting tale.

Primary-age children could no doubt imagine where the horses may have found safety. They could write and draw their possible experiences.

These creators have published other very worthwhile books, such as McLean’s A Year on Our Farm and Bob the Railway Dog and McMullin’s Kick it to Me and KnockAbout Cricket.

William Bligh: a stormy story of tempestuous time

By Michael Sedunary, illustrated by Bern Emmerichs Berbay Publishing

This tale begins in 1808, 20 years after the First Fleet, when soldiers arrest Governor Bligh. It then retrospectively tells the account of the Mutiny on the Bounty before returning to Bligh’s attempts to quell both the Rum Rebellion and John Macarthur.

Michael Sedunary’s writing is picturesque and colourful; personalising Bligh’s life and endeavours.

Bern Emmerichs’ illustrations are intricate and patterned.

Surprisingly, blogging and social media appear in this book. Bligh’s log (now kept in Sydney’s Mitchell Library) relates blogging to the gossip, printed pamphlets and handbills of the period. Macarthur’s ‘tweets’ against Bligh are viewed as the social media of the time.

The first Australian political cartoon (adapted here) shows Bligh dragged from under his bed by Major Johnston’s men. Propaganda is explained and readers are asked to think about how ‘simple slogans and labels are meant to stop us thinking any further about things.’

More surprises appear when readers are asked to consider who is the hero or villain – Cook or Bligh? (Cook ordered many more floggings than Bligh.)

Other books in the series are What’s Your Story? and The Unlikely Story of Bennelong and Phillip.

 Enormous congratulations to Berbay Publishing for its Bologna Award.

 The Gigantic Book of Genes

By Lorna Hendry   Wild Dog Books

This is a glossy science publication with high quality photos. It includes seamless explanations of genes and genetics with apt examples for children to understand.

It has incredible information, such as ‘If you took all the DNA in your body, unwound it and stretched it out into a single strand, it would reach all the way to Pluto and back.’

Readers are asked: which has more genes: a grape or a human? (the answer is on page 32)

We are reminded that tongue-rolling and widow’s peaks are genetic.

No doubt every reader will be amazed when they clasp their hands to see if their left or right thumb is on top. (page 59) Try it!

And genetically all humans have 99.9% of identical DNA. We are almost exactly the same.

Book Week: the CBCA Eve Pownall Books, Part 1

The Eve Pownall Information Books this year span the ABC, animals and history.

They highlight several small, independent publishers, who should be congratulated on their excellent publications.

Spellbound: Making Pictures with the ABC

By Maree Coote    Melbournestyle Books

Spellbound also won a 2017 Bologna Ragazzi Award. It’s a large, sumptuous hardcover in three parts: architecture, animals and people, and features typography (letter art) where images are created from letters that spell their names.

Young children could find the letters in the illustrations. Older readers could appreciate the typographic poetry (shape poetry) where the meaning of the text is enhanced visually.

I spoke to the creator, Maree, on the day before she flew to Bologna to receive her award, who explained that she has restricted herself to using existing fonts.

There are three levels of difficulty within the book’s examples: 1. any letters that inspire a picture can be used 2. only use letters of the correct spelling of the subject’s name 3. only use correct spelling and only 1 font per letter (see page 3).

This book helps understanding of Visual Literacy. (See page 3 for line and shape, and page 63 for patterns.)

Children could use Macs, or equivalent, to create their own letter art.

There is even a mini tutorial on how to create animals using only letters.

 A-Z of Endangered Animals

Words and Illustrations by Jennifer Cossins       Red Parka Press

The Introduction explains how the high animal extinction rate is due largely to humans, and also introduced species such as rabbits and foxes, in Australia.

Everyone can help by reusing and recycling, keeping beaches clean and not wasting water.

The book is well-designed; it’s clean and clear.

It is structured with one animal representing each letter of the alphabet.

Information on the left-hand page includes conservation (e.g. endangered or vulnerable) status; current population; description of the animal and where it lives; and an interesting fact such as no two tigers have the same striped pattern, and eastern gorillas use basic tools to gather food.

Each animal is illustrated on the opposite page.

Primary-aged children could focus on Australian endangered animals and present information using the same format, possibly to make a class book.

Amazing Animals of Australia’s National Parks

By Gina M. Newton    National Library of Australia

Like A-Z Endangered Animals, Amazing Animals of Australia’s National Parks shows which species are endangered, vulnerable or threatened (their conservation status).

Every state and territory is included, so readers may be able to visit one.

The structure is organised by environments and habitats such as woodlands and grasslands (the Bush), wetlands and waterways, arid zones and coast, oceans and islands.

Each habitat has a double page, followed by one page each for selected animals.

Read this book to discover more about our wildlife and how to care for the environment

There are high-quality photos, interesting ‘fast facts’ and a glossary.

I will write about the 3 other Eve Pownall shortlisted books in another post.

Love and Life – Picture Books for Mums

Looking for beautiful books that capture your heart with themes of comfort, joy, encouragement, living life and nurturing this Mother’s Day? Here are a few that possess these qualities, and more, ensuring you’re bursting with love and light on your special day.

My Meerkat Mum, Ruth Paul (author, illus.), Scholastic Australia, April 2017.

Meerkats. Utterly adorable. Quirky. Funny. Eccentric. Fiercely protective and loyal. It doesn’t take much to fall in love with them, and here is a sharp-witted, sweet tale that you will fall in love with, too.

Single words and short, punchy sentences establish the pace for the quick and tenacious characteristics of these feisty little creatures. “Up. Stretch. Left. Right. Sleepy Mum. Morning light.” The illustrations favour the same theatrics with their humorous assortment of snapshots showcasing the meerkats in each and every action. It is Mum’s duty to prepare her three pups for the busy day ahead. Ensuring they are meticulously groomed from every angle, they are ready to set out from their burrow for a lesson in hunting. But their work is not without misadventure as the young meerkats encounter a lick of danger. Luckily Meerkat Mum is there to assert her authority, security and comfort…as all good mums do!

Ruth Paul has captured the heart of motherhood through her cheeky, vivacious story of possibly one of the cutest animals in existence. My Meerkat Mum is a delightful read for mums and bubs to share, highlighting the love and ultimate dedication of a Mum who’s work is never complete. A book that preschoolers will simply adore.

Old Pig, Margaret Wild (author), Ron Brooks (illus.), Allen & Unwin, Jan 2017.

Written and illustrated by the legendary creators that are Margaret Wild and Ron Brooks, this heart rending classic remains as moving as since it was first published 20 years ago. The comfort in knowing you’re taken care of long after a loved one has gone brings peace and warmth even to the most broken of hearts. This story of living, giving, optimism, appreciation and infinite love will move you to tears whilst shining a beacon of light and hope in the places you need it most.

It has been only Old Pig and Granddaughter for a long time. They are an inseparable pair, a tremendous team that work well together, but most importantly, enjoy each other’s company. As quickly as we’ve fallen for this loving duo, we are shaken with a harsh reality that Old Pig is gravely ill. And Granddaughter is left to deal with her sudden sense of loneliness, alone. But Old Pig has some final affairs to prepare. Besides the bills, Old Pig gives Granddaughter the gift of peace and a sensational love for the world around her. “Do you see how the light glitters on the leaves?” “Do you see how the clouds gather like gossips in the sky?” And Granddaughter gives her own final gift too…tissues, please!

This story that deals with life and letting go has been written by Margaret Wild with the most beautiful, sincere language in a spiritually uplifting and gentle manner. It emanates with an aura of goodness; that generosity, solicitude and serenity can fulfil one’s happiness. Brooks’ use of light and shade and autumn tones encapsulate the ride of emotions as well as capturing the beauty of a world infused with promise.

Old Pig is a delicate look at loss in a story so filled with love. It is a reassuring book for early primary years children, and in particular those who have lost, or are especially close to, a grandparent.

Under the Love Umbrella, Davina Bell (author), Allison Colpoys (illus.), Scribble, Feb 2017.

No matter where one is, physically, emotionally or spiritually, they can take comfort in knowing that they are deeply and truly loved. Under the Love Umbrella is a charming analogy and reminder for our children that they always have the security of our love despite their fears, mistakes, insecurities, and even their misdemeanours.

Gorgeously poetic in its rhyming stance, Davina Bell uses sweet and mesmerising language to steal our hearts. A variety of everyday situations are captured, and are constantly brought back to the soothing words, “…love umbrella.” Whether they are experiencing unfair play, or feeling shy, moving house and strange new things, or bad dreams and big worries, the children can rely on feeling safe, considered and loved. Although it cannot be seen, love can be felt, even a long, long way away.

The simple colour palette with pops of neon orange is in similar style to this duo’s previous title, The Underwater Fancy-Dress Parade. Colpoys effectively attracts readers with her joyous and warm images, encapsulating a diverse population of family types and cultural backgrounds.

Under the Love Umbrella is an encouraging, reassuring and light-hearted story filled with warmth for any parent to share with their young ones. It includes several themes that offer valuable discussion points, including the final question, “Who’s under your love umbrella?”.

Stay safe, warm and protected this Mother’s Day! Snuggle up with a good book and a loved one. X

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

5 Books About Twins

I love books about twins so much I thought I’d put together a list of some of my favourites.

  1. Flowers in the Attic by Virginia Andrews
    This was the book that started my love affair with twins in literature and is the story of 4 young children locked in an attic by their Grandmother. Their father has died and the children are living in their gothic grandparent’s house waiting for the Mother to successfully acquire some money from her strict Grandfather who detests the children. Gradually their mother visits less often and the children are largely left to their own devices. This is a classic YA novel with gothic undertones and themes of greed and betrayal.
  2. The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
    This book is in my Top 10 favourite books of all time. Vida Winter is a successful author and has decided to tell her life story now that she’s dying. She’s given many interviews over the course of her life, but each time she tells a different story. This time she’s serious about revealing the dark truth about her past and Margaret Lea has agreed to be her biographer. But it won’t be easy.
    The novel makes countless delicious references to stories, books and reading and I revelled in the language.
    Here’s a sample from the book: “Do they sense it, these dead writers, when their books are read? Does a pinprick of light appear in their darkness? Is their soul stirred by the feather touch of another mind reading theirs? I do hope so.
    Naturally the plot includes twins and the wonderfully haunted Angelfield House forms the backdrop of the novel in a charming and menacing way. In addition to being a brilliant book, The Thirteenth Tale is also major BBC film starring Vanessa Redgrave and Sophie Turner (Game of Thrones).
  3. Beside Myself by Ann Morgan
    Beside Myself is a psychological thriller and suspenseful read looking at themes of identity and mental illness. Twin sisters Helen (domineering) and Ellie (submissive) play a game one afternoon to swap identities, but Ellie won’t change back. What happens next is an ever growing divide between the sisters and the subsequent decline of one of them. As the consequences of the game last a lifetime, I couldn’t help but wonder what I would have done in Helen’s situation
  4. A Dark Dividing by Sarah Rayne
    Continuing the suspense theme, A Dark Dividing is about conjoined twins born 100 years apart and how they’re connected. Alternating between the past and the present, and across 3 different periods, the novel reveals a number of shocking secrets as it progresses.
    Author Sarah Rayne loves to include a creepy building at the centre of her books and this time it was the suitably scary Mortmain House. Originally used as a workhouse for men and women who would otherwise die of starvation, the living conditions at the house were horrendous. Children abandoned at birth or born to families unable to care for them all ended up here and suffered terrible treatment as a consequence.
    As the title suggests, A Dark Dividing is a dark read and I enjoyed finding out how all the characters were connected.
  5. The Distant Hours by Kate Morton
    Another gothic novel featuring twins in a creepy estate is historical fiction novel The Distant Hours by Kate Morton. Edie is a book publisher and when her mother receives a long lost letter originally posted in 1941 from Milderhurst Castle, her curiosity is piqued. Her mother is secretive about her past, but Edie finds out she was billeted at the castle for a short time during the war.
    Edie visits the crumbling castle and meets the three elderly sisters residing there. Twins Percy and Saffy live together with their younger sister Juniper and the reasons they each chose to stay at the castle after the war and why they never married or had children inform the plot. Something happened to bond the sisters together for life and it was a thrill to discover. The characters love to read, write and tell stories, and all shared a love of books. The reference to the library in the castle made me weak at the knees.

I hope you enjoyed this list, but I’ve just noticed that almost all the twins in my list are female. I can’t even think of a novel with male twins, can you? Further reading: The Ice Twins by SK Tremayne and The Silent Twin by Caroline Mitchell.

Review: Willful Machines by Tim Floreen

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I was so surprised and delighted by Willful Machines by Tim Floreen! I saw a friend recommend it and say it was underrated — and they were 100% right. It’s so emotional, complex, and relatable and entirely underrated! Although it does have an ending that is rather destined to set you biting your nails and crying desperately for a sequel. But that’s the kind of reaction a good book should give, right?!?

The story is set in the not-so-distant future and centres around the president’s son who goes to an elite boarding school. And he’s not doing very well at all. His mental health is declining with the grief and anxiety of losing his mother, and the effort of keeping his sexuality hidden from his very conservative father. He throws himself into building robots — even though robots are the reason his mother is dead and the world is in an uproar. There’s a robot computer virus, named Charlotte, who seems intent on destroying people. And it’s possible that her next target is the president’s own son, Lee.

I love how it was set in a world that is very similar to ours, but just with a little more tech. Like really clever robots. Dude, I need a clever robot to go search for my continually missing left socks. There are cleaning droids and mechanical creatures that just may or may not be manipulated into evil. #exciting

The topic of “choices” comes up a lot, and I really appreciated this discussion. Lee firmly believed you can’t choose aspects of yourself, which is so true and so important to say! You can’t choose your sexuality. You can’t choose to be depressed or not. There are a lot of misconceived notions that those are choices, so I loved how the book delved into the matter. It was also intensely interesting how it talked about being predisposed to make a choice. (Like if your culture likes a certain type of food, won’t you? And if your parents have a certain belief system, won’t you be more likely to adopt it?) And doesn’t that make humans similar to programmed machines at times? It was an interesting discussion and I appreciated how the book made me think.

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The characters were also adorable and tragic creatures. Lee was amazing! I adored him! Being the son of the president is hard enough (with constant bodyguards eliminating craved-for privacy) but he’s also antisocial, a complete nerd, and very very anxious. He’s also very firmly in denial of being gay, in case his father finds out. I loved his character development and how relatable and dorky he was!

The romance is equally adorable. When Lee meets Nico, he’s captivated by this loud-laughing, Shakespeare-quoting, Chilean, perfectly handsome boy who eats anything and everything and will sneak out at midnight to throw sparklers down a cave in a mountain. I can’t even with how cute they were together.

The writing is excellent and I flew through the book in a few hours! It keeps you rooted to the page, perfectly weaving together Lee’s personal life at school and the robot crises of the world, and the conspiracy theories against the president and his son. It’s more of a boarding-school-story than a hair-raising action adventure, and I think that’s why I loved it so much. It focuses on emotional writing and character development. And then it leaves you clutching your paperback and breathing fast at the end as everything goes perfectly dreadfully wrong.

Willful Machines is splendidly cute, heartfelt, and bittersweet. It has characters to root for, mysteries to solve, and an open ending that’ll leave you thinking. It didn’t shy away from tough topics and I felt the diversity was excellent and perfectly represented. I loved the creepy old-fashioned school setting and the slightly sinister robot undertone.

The Magic of Music – musicality in picture books

Deploy music to tell a story and joy results. You need only to think about your favourite song to understand this. Unite the magic of music with the unique creation of a picture book story and the result is something very special indeed. These next few picture books combine a passion for music and story and the exceptional ability of both to bring people together. They’re also a whole concert-full of fun.

The Great Zoo Hullabaloo! By Mark Carthew and Anil Tortop

Not only is the word hullabaloo an absolute hoot to roll off your tongue, it implies mayhem of the most exuberant manic kind. This is exactly what The Great Zoo Hullabaloo! delivers.

Lively, liberating adventure is what Jack and Jess encounter one morning upon entering a zoo that is ‘strangely deserted.’ Even the new roo seems to have bunked. Unable to find a single real-life occupant, they begin a quest to track down the missing residents with little more than a trail of feathers, footprints, and poos, aka scats, to guide them.

Their bush tracking efforts eventually lead them to a party to end all parties. Every animal is hooting and tooting, and hopping and bopping a right hullabaloo! There’s cake, a surprise appearance and enough revelry to fill a pirate ship. For whom is this euphonious shindig, though? Well, you will have to come to the party yourself to find that out.

Tunefully rhythmic and exploding with joviality, this is classic Carthew and Tortop. Great musical verse (with a lovely reference to the Silvery Moon) and animated illustrations make The Great Zoo Hullabaloo! worth getting vocal about! Make sure you read Romi Sharp’s full rhapsodic review, here.

New Frontier Publishing May 2017

Baby Band by Diane Jackson Hill and Giuseppe Poli

Life for the residents of Level 8 in their apartment block is rather subdued and unexciting. They coexist placidly with very little interaction despite their close proximity, so artfully portrayed in the very first pages by Poli. Then one day, The Baby arrives. And, as babies are wont to do, that changes everything.

Baby’s persistent refusal to sleep wears his mother to distraction. His cries are heard and felt by each resident of Level 8, again shown by Poli’s brilliant vignettes that provide telling glimpses into the lives of Baby’s neighbours.

Then, Baby’s chance discovery of the pots and pans cupboard sets off another chain of cacophonous chaos. Each clamorous clang, squeak, squawk and stomp, vibrates throughout Level 8 and awakens a melodious joy in all who dwell there. Slowly, each of the residents is drawn to the rooftop to rejoice in all things musical, with one noticeable difference. They are celebrating, together. But, can you guess what happened to Baby amidst all this musical mayhem?

Hill has composed her palpable passion for music into an elegantly told tale that truly does rise ones soul an octave higher. Poli’s illustrations resonate charm with very few brush strokes. The linear use of images and variation of perspectives, rather like notes on a musical stave, sweeps the reader along the corridors of Level 8, in and out of the apartments and finally to their common park area, which the residents now utilise to play together in their newly formed Baby Band.

Baby Band is a symphonic story pre-schoolers will love having read to them, incongruously gentle in appearance and sound yet magnificently entertaining. This story elicits plenty of opportunity for musical interaction and discussion about all manner of instruments, pots and pans notwithstanding. I adored the cleverness of it all and the irony of young children being able to find solace and slumber in sound. Bravo!

New Frontier Publishing March 2017

The Bear and the Piano by David Litchfield

Sometimes, finding yourself only occurs because of some other serendipitous discovery. This is what happens to a young bear cub one day after he happens upon a piano in the middle of his forest home. At first, the sound Bear is able to procure from the piano is so awful, he abandons it but after several seasons not only does he mature so too does his ability to produce beautiful sounds from this strange thing.

Playing the piano transports Bear far beyond the wooded boundaries of his forest and fills his heart with melodious joy. Night after night, crowds gather around bear and his piano entranced by the magic he evokes from its ivory keys, until one night Bear is given an opportunity he is unable to say no to, to see the world and share his music with it. And so, he leaves his home and friends behind.

Bear’s tale of yearning for brighter lights and attempting to make better of himself is not unique but Litchfield’s personification of a bear embarking on a journey of self-discovery is both touching and purposeful. Bear’s successful debut in the big lonely city and then consequent tug to return to his old friends and home draws the reader in with cinematic magnitude. When he does return to the forest, he is deeply dismayed to find no one and nothing as he left them. He worries his desertion has made them angry or worse that they have forgotten him. However, he is mistaken as the heart-melting ending reveals.

The Bear and the Piano is a picture book that quietly moves you to the core as an operatic aria would. Bear is tragic yet infinitely loveable. His desire to share his love (of music) and taste the bittersweet reality of his dreams is one many of us may harbour and thus relate to easily. It is easy to like and admire his courage and equally as easy to feel his heartache and despair in spite of his successes. It can be lonely at the top. Luckily, for Bear, and us being at the top is not the be all and end all.

This book is an arresting mixture of loud and strong – forte piano as it were and is beautifully supported by Litchfield’s sumptuous illustrations. A pleasure for lower to upper primary students.

Frances Lincoln Children’s Books Quarto Group UK March 2017

 

 

Ideas for Book Week – CBCA Younger Readers, Part 3: Dragonfly Song & A Most Magical Girl

Now that the CBCA Short List has been announced, it’s time to start preparing for Children’s Book Week in August, when the winners are also announced.

This is my third post about Book of the Year: Younger Readers and I have already posted about Picture Books and books for Early Childhood. Teachers, librarians and parents may be interested in sharing these books with young readers. I have included a range of activity ideas.

Dragonfly Song by Wendy Orr  Allen & Unwin

Dragonfly Song dances far back into historical fiction – to the Bronze Age in Crete where King Minos, the Bull King, demands an annual tribute of 13-year-old boys and girls. Aissa, named after the dragonfly, is born with extra thumbs and her father defies the gods by cutting them off. When he dies, the wise-woman takes the baby to a farm but her life there is destroyed and she becomes a ‘mute’ servant and then a bull dancer. Aissa summarises her life as a poem on pages 376-7.

The writing is a mixture of prose and poetry and these both extend the narrative. There is recurring dragonfly imagery and snakes are a potent motif. This is a crossover novel for younger and older readers. Could some read it as a literary Hunger Games?

Writing Children could write in the styles of both the prose and poetry.

Sculpture They could google images of sculptures of Theseus and the Minotaur (on which part of Dragonfly Song is based), or use the cover illustration, and twist thin, coated wire to replicate the human and other figure in action (science: force and gravity).

Dragonfly Jewellery Children could represent the dragonfly symbolism by threading coloured beads, particularly blue, onto wire to make brooches or other jewellery.

A Most Magical Girl by Karen Foxlee  Allen & Unwin

Karen Foxlee continues the speculative fiction with A Most Magical Girl, a fantasy for 9-12-year-old girls (in particular) about Annabel Grey who is sent to live with her witch great-aunts in their magic shop in London. These women can bewitch broomsticks or make a potion to turn someone into a wolf.  At first Annabel doesn’t believe in magic, even though she can see visions in puddles, but she is enlisted into a quest to prevent Dark Magic and evil Mr Angel and his shadowlings and resurrection machine from overtaking London.

Kitty, the wild betwister (someone who goes between ‘this world and that world’), frequents Highgate cemetery and other crannies and is also full of magic. She is able to create a ‘heart-light’. Readers could contrast these two girls, as well as smelly, eye-twinkling troll Hafwen who longs to see the stars.

When Annabel and Kitty are sent ‘Under London’, they encounter trolls and a dragon. A map is somehow drawn onto Annabel’s skin. Children could read the descriptions about the map and use them to illustrate the visible skin of a paper figure or mannequin.

The girls must find the Morever or White Wand to save the people of London. As well as a rite of passage and story about friendship, A Most Magical Girl portrays the battle between dark and light.

Each chapter begins with an extract from Miss Finch’s Little Blue Book (1855) about manners for young ladies. These loosely correlate with the plot. Readers could write a brief alternate plot line to correspond with all or some of these extracts.

The UK setting is interesting because, until recently, Karen Foxlee seems to have been better known and appreciated in the UK and US than in her homeland. Hopefully this is changing. A Most Magical Girl is a very well imagined and constructed middle grade novel.

A Most Magical Girl is a beautiful hardback publication and is a great companion novel to Ophelia and the Marvellous BoyOlder readers should explore Karen Foxlee’s YA novel, The Midnight Dress. It is an exquisitely written, wondrous tale.

I will also write about the shortlisted books for Older Readers and the excellent Eve Pownall information books in upcoming posts.

Review: American War by Omar El Akkad

nullThis amazing book took me completely by surprise. When I read that it was about a second American Civil war my immediate first thought was Trump. My second thought was another dystopian novel but Omar El Akkad’s novel defied all my expectations and is a strong contender for one of the books of 2017.

What makes this novel so profound is Omar El Akkad’s ability to tell a deeply personal story about a huge, cataclysmic event at the same time as weaving a story that is relevant to our society today despite being set in a future 75 years from now. El Akkad’s novel works on so many different levels and has so many different layers that as a reader you get completely lost in the time and history the novel creates.

The novel’s second American Civil War breaks out when the US Federal Government bans the use of fossil fuels. Southern States rebel against the North and war quickly follows. America, North and South, then unleashes its political, economic and military war machine against itself. Drones, biological warfare, political indoctrination, enhanced interrogation, rendition which inevitably leads to terrorism, suicide bombings and other extreme acts of desperation as the war escalates and then ebbs and flows between atrocities.

The story focuses upon the Chestnut family, following them over the course of twenty years. They are from Louisiana, living on the banks of the Mississippi ‘Sea’. When the war reaches them they are forced to flee to a refugee camp. Despite the war being construed as North vs South, Blue vs Ref the Chestnut family begin to learn it is more nuanced than just two sides. And the children of the Chestnut family, who a growing up in this war, a forced to pick a side. A choice that will have irreconcilable consequences.

What makes this novel so powerful is how recognizable events and their reactions are. From drones haunting clear blue skies to the idealistic being recruited to blow themselves up in crowded squares. From how quickly each side dehumanizes the other to the extremes each side goes to in the name of ‘the right’ and ‘the just’. The heart of the story is Sarat Chestnut who will break your heart as hard as hers is broken. There are echoes of Katniss Everdeen and The Hunger Games but the context is much closer to home. This is a novel of sublime scope and passionate precision. It is a warning and a requiem. This is one of the best books you will read this year.

Buy the book here…

CBCA 2017 Younger Readers, Part 2: Mrs Whitlam & Within These Walls

Mrs Whitlam by Bruce Pascoe  Magabala Books

Bunurong man from Victoria, Bruce Pascoe also wrote Fog a Dox, which won a YA Prime Minister’s Literary Award and Seahorse. Like Seahorse, Mrs Whitlam centres around an Aboriginal family, without emphasising Aboriginal issues. Pascoe here portrays well-functioning, happy, ‘normal’ families. He also won 2016 Book of the Year for the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards for his adult book, Dark Emu. I’ve interviewed the author for Boomerang Blog here.

In Mrs Whitlam, Marnie is surprised to inherit a Clydesdale horse called Mrs Maggie Whitlam after its young owner dies. The horse is named after the wife of the former Prime Minister who, as Marnie’s mother states, ‘Did a fair bit for black people too!’ The tale explores suffering at an appropriate level for young readers, introduces us to a very appealing girl who is brave but sometimes made to feel inferior, and culminates in an exciting rescue.

After finishing the short novel, children could re-read descriptions of the horse, research Clydesdales and then make an ‘assemblage’ (a 3D collage originating from Picasso’s cubist constructions). They could make the rough sculpture by using ‘found objects’ such as wire, cardboard and wool or twine.

Within These Walls by Robyn Bavati  Scholastic Australia 

Extreme suffering is evident in this well-written holocaust tale set in Warsaw, Poland during WW2. It is mainly placed in history just before Morris Gleitzman’s novel, Soon, another graphic account of violence against children and adults.

Within These Walls is not just another holocaust story. It is particularly interesting and engaging and reveals a depth of knowledge and research based on true events, especially in the sealed ghetto. The details such as Miri’s mother wearing a wig and baking challah create verisimilitude. The family reads the Biblical book of Esther and the Passover account of the Jews’ Exodus from Egypt, replacing slavery with freedom. Both books are pertinent to the story told here. Family is critical to Miri but, tragically, she loses her parents and siblings one by one.

We experience Miri’s life in the city, the open and closed ghetto and in a dark cellar. The novel begins with her time in the cellar and it is used to foreshadow some of Miri’s darkest times.

Even though Within These Walls is shortlisted for younger readers, parents and schools may wish to examine the contents before giving to all children.

The author also wrote Dancing in the Dark, which has a Jewish focus as well.

Review – Ella Saw The Tree by Robert Vescio

Ella Saw The Tree, Robert Vescio (author), Cheri Hughes (illus.), Big Sky Publishing, May 2017.

The value of mindfulness is not to be underestimated. For reasons of improving one’s stress levels, resilience, empathy, curiosity, decision making skills and self-awareness, practicing mindfulness is beneficial for positive wellbeing and mental health. In his latest book, Ella Saw The Tree, Robert Vescio addresses these themes with thoughtful consideration. Here is a story that joyfully taps into children’s innately inquiring minds. It reminds them that slowing down, focusing on the inner self, and appreciating their environment will offer them surprising discoveries and a sense of calm.

Ella is a free-spirit by nature. She has a keen imagination when it comes to pretend play. But as her mind is constantly brimming with fantasy and busy pursuits, it is the first time she notices the shedding tree in her backyard. A conversation with her mother helps Ella realise the tree’s natural cycle, the beauty of her surroundings, and the power of living in the moment. She becomes attune to her emotions, breathing and senses, finally allowing herself to respect life’s tranquil moments.

Vescio’s elegant and sensatory language is beautifully articulated to connect readers with the aspects of mindfulness highlighted in the story. His words are delicate and carefully chosen, and pleasantly supported by the luscious illustrations by Cheri Hughes. The images emanate a feeling of warmth, soul and attention. Synonymous to the reflective nature of the book, Hughes has chosen to contrast the fluidity of the subtle background watercolours with the prominence of the vivacious character, as well as including varying viewpoints.

Ella Saw The Tree is a warm, entertaining and important story that invites children, and adults alike, to opt in to the skilful technique of being ‘at one with oneself’ and with nature. I love that this book prompts us to celebrate the simplicity, beauty and surprises of life that induce the most happiness.

Read Dimity’s guest post with Robert Vescio from his blog tour.

#By AustralianBuyAustralian

5 YA Books With Jaw-Dropping Plot Twists

Books with amazing plot twists are arguably the best kind. Who doesn’t want to have their mind totally spun in dizzying circles after a thrilling plot reveal?! It makes the book stand out! It makes you sit in awe of the author! It also makes you distrust everyone evermore, but pfft, that’s just a minorly inconvenient side-effect.

Today I’m listing 5 Young Adult books that have simply superb plot twists and reveals! I won’t be giving spoilers, but obviously you need to get your clammy paws on these books ASAP and have your mind blown. Thank me later.


DANGEROUS GIRLS

BUY HERE
BUY HERE

Not only is this book perfectly thrilling, the ending will absolutely bend your mind. It’s about a group of teenagers who go for the perfect holiday on the island of Aruba…but not all of them come back. There’s a murder. There’s pretty damning evidence that Anna, a quiet a studious girl, killed her best friend, Elise.

I really loved how the story was mostly told by Anna’s perspective, as she went through the harrowing ordeal of trials and court cases and listening to TV reporters and the world in general tear her apart and condemn her — but it also had news clips to add extra perspective. There’s a huge cast of characters (SUSPECTS!!) and this was the first YA thriller that ended with my brain screaming. As a good thriller should.

 

THE SACRED LIES OF MINNOW BLY

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This story centres around Minnow Bly, who’s grown up part of a cult with limited contact with the outside world. But when the cult leader is murdered and their homes burned down, Minnow is the one they have in custody. She knows things. She is not talking about them. She also has no hands due to some macabre punishment from the cult…

Oh this book was really harrowing. It’s impossible not to have your heart break for Minnow and the suffering she’s been through. It also is a slight twist on the fairy tale, The Girl With No Hands, and I loved that spin!

 

WHITE CAT

BUY HERE
BUY HERE

How about a thriller with paranormal aspects?! This one is set in a world where you can curse someone with a touch, and everyone wears gloves to prevent being manipulated. Cassel’s family are basically crime laws, and yes he wants out and is getting himself through an elite private school to get away…but he’s haunted by his family’s dark work and also the question of what really did happen to his best childhood friend, Lila? Who really killed her?

I loved how it mixed a highschool contemporary setting with the Mafia aspects and also magic. Every book should have magic! Dangerous magic all round!

 

ALLEGEDLY

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This is one of my all time favourite books because I’m still not over the jaw-dropping ending! It’s the story of Mary who, at 7 years old, was accused of murdering a baby. Now she’s 16 and out of prison and trying to make a life for herself after discovering she is now pregnant. She wants to keep her baby, go to uni, get her charges cleared because she swears she didn’t do it. But then who did?

This book was sad and brutal to read but absolutely captivating! It’s impossible to put down and your heart will just break for Mary as she’s abused and mistreated at every turn. I’m still reeling over the ending reveal!

 

THE LEAVING

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6 children were kidnapped one day and then, years later, only 5 are returned. And to make the mystery even more complex, none of the returning teenagers remember a single thing about their time away. The story flips from several of the kids perspectives and also to the sister of the one kid who never came back. They all want to know what happened to these kidnapped kids and the town is getting rapidly suspicious that someone isn’t telling the truth.

I particularly loved the raw and emotional writing in this one and the book’s tendency to use unique formatting to tell the story. Sometimes the font will explode into huge letters or the sentences will fall to pieces and run off the page. I think it’s such a great visual experience of the kids’ PTSD as they try to cope with no memories and being reunited with suspicious families.

 

CBCA 2017 Younger Readers, Part 1: Captain Jimmy Cook & Rockhopping

The Younger Readers CBCA Short List has a well-balanced selection of books; there’s something for all primary school age groups. I know the awards are judged on literary merit, but this is a helpful and positive by-product.

I’ve written about these 6 books in three Parts for the blog.

As well as a plot run-down and mention of anything that stands out, I’ve incorporated some activities that children could do with these books at school or home.

Boys, in particular, will be very keen to read these first two books.

Captain Jimmy Cook Discovers Third Grade 

By Kate Temple & Jol Temple, illustrated by John Foye  Allen & Unwin

Jimmy is thrilled to share a name with Captain James Cook but not so keen to write a diary, like the explorer. When he reads that Cook kept a ‘log’, he becomes far more interested. Like Jimmy, children could keep a short log about their daily activities, especially at school, and include one or more illustrations in the naïve style of the book.

The book is funny. When Jimmy dresses up as Cook for History Week he uses powder and hair cream to create Cook’s curls but the cream leaves him with bald spots. He takes his fake arm to Bed, Bath and Cables and loses it in the Kids’ Ball Pit.

When he realises that Cook was killed by the Hawaiians, Jimmy resolves to continue his explorations. He eats cereal to try to win a competition to Hawaii, feeds his baby sister an orange thinking she has scurvy and inadvertently terrorises a guest speaker. He starts an Explorers’ Society (but no girls are allowed) and the members use a formula of ‘Sir + Street Name + Fridge’ brand to invent their names, such as ‘Sir Clanville Fisher-Paykel’. Children could also try finding their own explorer names using this method.

Jimmy discovers lots of information from Google, such as what ‘fermented’ is, and uses an ancestry site to find out about his descendants. Children could also use the internet to learn about their past family.

Devotees can read more in Captain Jimmy Cook Discovers: X Marks the Spot, which is equally good.

Rockhopping by Trace Balla  Allen & Unwin 

This companion graphic novel to the award-winning Rivertime is set in Gariwerd (the Grampians). It tells the second story of Clancy and Uncle Egg, whilst respectfully including and acknowledging the Jardwadjali, Djab Wurrung and other Aboriginal peoples, as they try to find the source of the Glenelg River. Nephew and uncle also encounter native wildlife and plants and, of course, get lost along the way.

Read this book in conjunction with the Eve Pownall shortlisted, Amazing Animals of Australia’s National Parks. Teacher notes are available at the publishers’ website. Also read My Place by Nadia Wheatley and Donna Rawlins to highlight the section where Clancy imagines the history of the lake and who could have lived there (page 71).

Children could use the panels when Clancy is falling down the cliff, on pages 32-39, to create their own mini-graphic novel or animation of something that could go wrong in the wilderness.

Review: The Boy on the Bridge by M. R. Carey

nullThe Girl With All The Gifts is one of the best zombie novels in recent years. It totally blew me away while at the same time turned the zombie genre completely on it’s head. There were so many elements to the novel I loved but I was curious how M.R. Carey was going to return to the world he created and tore down.

The Boy on the Bridge is more a prequel than a sequel, set ten years before the events of The Girl With All The Gifts and ten years after what has become known as “The Breakdown”. The story centers upon a scientific mission which is headed north into Scotland to explore what has happened to the rest of Britain following the collapse of London, England and the rest of the world.

A band of four soldiers, four scientists and an incredibly intelligent teenage boy have set out in a converted tank/mobile laboratory called the Rosalind Franklin. Their mission is to explore the countryside and take samples of the infection that has all but wiped out humanity to discover any anomalies in the hope of finding a possible cure. But what they find is contingent on what they have brought with them. And the cure they are hoping to find might not be for the disease they were looking to cure.

All the elements I loved about the first book are here again in spades. Carey has set everything firming in a scientific universe. There is nothing supernatural about the zombies, or hungries as they are known, that are taking over the world. This means there is hope that there is something scientific in which to combat the disease. Carey also cleverly constructs this novel so new readers and old fans can enjoy it alike. Carey provides just enough information for those who read The Girl With All The Gifts and all its twists while keeping surprises for those who want to start here first.

Carey also meticulously builds the tension on a number of fronts. Firstly the claustrophobic nature of life inside Rosie, as she affectionately is known. To this he adds numerous secrets members of Rosie’s crew are keeping from one another and even themselves. This gets ratcheted up through the discovery of some unknown hostiles that has massive ramifications for their mission. A mission which then has to try and get home.

I couldn’t get enough of this book and literally want to turn around and read The Girl With All The Gifts again. (If only you could see the movie in Australia!) I never expected a sequel the first time around and definitely not one this good. I will even go out on a limb and declare this book even better than the first one! Which I didn’t think was remotely possible. Forget The Walking Dead, M.R. Carey’s series is streets ahead on every level.

Buy the Book here…