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

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

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

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

Walker Books 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Top 2018 Young Adult Releases!

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


1. THE CRUEL PRINCE by Holly Black

BUY HERE

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

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

 

2. KEEPER OF THE BEES by Megan Kassel

BUY HERE

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

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

 

3. MUSE OF NIGHTMARES by Laini Taylor

BUY HERE

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

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

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

 

4. ANGER IS A GIFT by Mark Oshiro

BUY HERE

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

 

5. ACE OF SHADES by Amanda Foody

BUY HERE

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

Black Cockatoo & Blakwork

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

Two new titles are standouts.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kids’ Holiday Reads that Make Great Gifts

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

Picture Books

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter Books

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

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

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

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

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

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

Amnesia Fiction

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Thank you, and my pleasure.

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

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

How is this book different from your other works?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How helpful is art for young people like Ava?

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

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

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

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

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

How has your family reacted to the story?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you, thanks for the opportunity!

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

Picture Books for Christmas that Make Your Heart Sing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Merry Christmas!

Great Gift Ideas # 3 Crazy Christmas Books

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

A Miniature Christmas Anthology edited by Beattie Alvarez

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

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

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

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

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

Christmas Press November 2018

Macca’s Christmas Crackers by Matt Cosgrove

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

Koala Books, Scholastic October 2018

Continue reading Great Gift Ideas # 3 Crazy Christmas Books

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sea Song Publications

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Review: The Last Namsara by Kristen Ciccarelli

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How are you involved in this community at the moment?

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

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

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

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

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

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

How does Sebastian represent a “Very Ordinary Guy”?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is the significance of the title?

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

What are you writing next?

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

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

Anything else you’d like to mention?

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

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

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

(Books published by Scholastic Australia)

Prime Minister’s Literary Awards 2018

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Greats Gift Ideas # 2 -Tweens and Teens

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

His Name Was Walter by Emily Rodda

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

HarperCollins Children’s Books August 2018

Continue reading Greats Gift Ideas # 2 -Tweens and Teens

Furthermore and Whichwood by Tahereh Mafi

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

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

FURTHERMORE

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

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

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

WHICHWOOD

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

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

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

Brimming with Bounce: Interview with Robyn Osborne

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

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

Thanks for joining us, Robyn! 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Big Sky Publishing

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Review: Empress of All Seasons by Emiko Jean

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meet Princess Peony this Christmas

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Great Gift Ideas – Entertaining Picture Books

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

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

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

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

Walker Books Australia October 2018

Continue reading Great Gift Ideas – Entertaining Picture Books

YA November Releases To Make Your Heart Beat Faster

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

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


GIRLS OF PAPER AND FIRE by Natasha Ngan

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

BRIDGE OF CLAY by Markus Zusak

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

 

A VERY LARGE EXPANSE OF SEA by Tahereh Mafi

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

BENEATH THE CITADEL by Soria Destiny

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

Review: Real Food Kids Will Love – Great Gift Ideas

There is absolutely no need to panic this Christmas. Books make great gift ideas in case you didn’t already realise because just about every taste is satisfied between the covers of a book. Today’s, non-fiction title is a book that kids and adults alike will find an absolute treat. Cooking is a perennial, not to mention essential favourite pastime. Cookbooks make fine additions to any Christmas gift list with the dual bonus of practical functionality coupled with luscious beauty – I adore pouring over food photos for inspiration. Have a look at my new favourite…

Real Food Kids Will Love by Annabel Karmel

English author, food pioneer and mother of three, Annabel Karmel has added another title to her long list of enticing family-orientated cookery books. This one featuring ‘over 100 simple and delicious recipes for toddlers and up’ is a standout crowd pleaser. I am not normally overly enthused by cookbooks for kids, often finding the recipes too diluted or dumbed down and whilst straightforward enough for little chefs, woefully lacking in imagination and taste.

Real Food Kids Will Love is a truly delectable exception! And it delivers exactly what the title promises.

Continue reading Review: Real Food Kids Will Love – Great Gift Ideas

A Telling Future with Cameron Macintosh

Cameron Macintosh is the author of the exciting fantasy adventure series for future detectives in the making, steadily churning them out with number three being recently released. Having qualifications in Psychology and Professional Writing, and specialising in the educational publishing market for almost two decades, it is no wonder Macintosh knows exactly what makes an engaging and perfectly suited read for the junior to middle grade audience. With over 80 books released for the education field under his name, his break into trade publishing has been both rewarding and well-received.

The three Max Booth Future Sleuth books are a fun trip set 400 years into the future, including uncannily relatable characters (a history-buff youngster Max on the run with his robotic, yet loyal dog Oscar). They have demonstrated their keen interest in all things ‘ancient’ and ‘vintage’; sleuthing out the mysteries of objects from the past like a cassette tape in Tape Escape, photos on a mobile phone in Selfie Search, and an old postage stamp from 2019 in Stamp Safari. Macintosh has carefully weaved in suitable language, plenty of humour and suspenseful quests that will hook any tech-loving, sci-fi and mystery-hunting fans, with a clever enticement to finding out about artefacts and technology from the past. Imaginative, creative, the ability to emotionally connect, and so much relevant and important learning potential – the Max Booth series certainly tick all the boxes.

Big Sky Publishing

Cameron Macintosh is back for yet another amazing interview (here’s the last one) to discuss his books and writing life with us once again. 🙂

Coming from a background in writing for the education market, did you have teaching and learning purposes in mind when you started writing the Max Booth series?

Initially, I was trying to avoid any particular educational purpose beyond just getting kids reading – a major educational objective on its own. I just wanted the stories to be page-turners with lots of laughs along the way. But it didn’t take long before I realised they had their own educational potential – not in a didactic way, but in the possibilities they offered for classroom discussions about technology and sustainability, and a range of other issues. The stories deal with future people looking back at objects from our present day, so I figured pretty quickly that they’d offer teachers some interesting angles to discuss technological development, and the positives and negatives that go along with it.

How did you decide what kinds of technological developments to incorporate into the series?

I always intended the series to be episodic, so that any title could be plucked off a shelf and read without any prior knowledge of the characters or their world. I’m glad I chose this option, but it does mean that a little bit of world-building needs to be done in each book. Because of that, I haven’t pushed the technological changes too far, except for a few very big ones that don’t need too much explanation, including hover-vehicles, floating suburbs, robot companions, and the rarity of a few presently common things such as paper.

Who is the series aimed at?

As far as interest level goes, it’s aimed at readers around 7 to 10 years of age. I’ve tried to make the vocab manageable for less confident readers too, so I especially hope the series can be helpful in encouraging these readers to tackle longer texts. The Max Booth books are all around 12,500 words each.

How did you find the gap to write technology / futuristic-based junior fiction?

Before I fully drafted the first Max story, I did some research to see what future-based books were already out there in the marketplace. Although there was plenty of brilliant futuristic stuff, I couldn’t find anything that used the future as a lens to look back at our present day, so I figured I’d potentially found a bit of niche there.

The Max Booth Future Sleuth series makes a great point for readers to connect past and present technology with the possibilities of the future. What are the most significant aspects you’d like your audience to take away from the series?

I’d love readers to think about what a wondrous time we’re living in, with regards to the staggering pace of technological development. I’d also love them to consider the potential pitfalls of this development, in terms of environmental ramifications, and also in terms of the potential that technology holds to bring humanity closer together, or possibly divide us further.

I also really hope the series will spark lots of interesting discussions about technology between kids and their parents, grandparents and teachers – particularly about the way some items or ways of life have evolved over the last few generations, and others have remained pretty much the same. (Although, I don’t recommend describing pre-internet life to a school-aged person unless you want to feel extremely ancient!)

Do you think that setting stories in the future presents any disadvantages to a storyteller?

There’s always the risk of an emotional disconnect with the reader if you let the technological side of things take too much precedence. I’m constantly getting frustrated by sci-fi movies that are so clever and complicated that I lose any real empathy for the characters. And even though you have a lot of freedom in world-building in sci-fi, readers will still expect the world of the story to be believable, and to have its own logical consistency, so there’s a lot of balancing to be done along the way.

The Max Booth series is brilliantly and shrewdly illustrated by the talented Dave Atze. By Book 3, was there anything in particular you needed to collaborate on or did he basically have it all covered?

Dave’s incredible, isn’t he! We’re so lucky to have him on board – to have an illustrator who amplifies the pathos, action and humour is a massive privilege. It’s always very exciting to see how he interprets the illustration briefs, and to see what fun surprises he adds in. Dave had all of this stuff well and truly nailed in the first book (Tape Escape), so by book 3, it was really just a case of keeping out of his way!

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

Well, the wheels are currently turning to make Max Booth book 4 a reality. I’ve already seen the cover, which is always a big moment in the journey. As expected, it’s rather brilliant – thanks again to Dave, and the incredible team at Big Sky Publishing.

The TBR pile is getting out of hand but it’s not a bad problem to have! At the top of the pile is Ottilie Coulter and the Narroway Hunt by Rhiannon Williams, and Jane Doe and the Cradle of All Worlds by Jeremy Lachlan, and Markus Zusak’s Bridge of Clay (Aussie authors are really knocking it out of the park at the moment). Also, Joyce’s Ulysses has been sitting there for five years daring me to tackle it (I have a feeling it’ll be sitting there at least five more).

Thanks so much for your thoughtful responses, Cameron! It’s been a pleasure! 🙂

It’s been my great pleasure too. Thanks for such an interesting chat!

Cameron Macintosh can be found at his website, and on blog tour here.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

YA Books That Feature Brothers

There’s nothing quite like books about brothers who’ll die for each other or kill each other (depends on the day really)! And when it comes to books, I have a very soft place in my heart for stories that focus on sibling relations. Since I’ve done some some posts on YA Sister Books, it’s time to focus on the brotherly side.


INK AND BONE

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This is set an alternate reality where books are illegal and the Great Library rules everything. If knowledge is controlled, then freedom is gone, right?! It also follows a group of book lovers off to try the difficult entrance exams to work for the library…and Jess is joining in as a double-agent. His family are smugglers and although Jess kind of hates them and their cruelty, he’s loyal to his family. Also he freaking loves books. He wants to work at the library with them, even if the library is corrupt and evil. Anyway! He has a very tumultuous relationship with his twin brother Brendan, who is cunning to the core. They are the kind who will die for each other if they don’t murder each other first.

THESE GENTLE WOUNDS

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Here’s one to break your heart! This follows the story of Jordie who is slowly trying to piece his life back together after a horrific childhood that ended with him nearly dead. His anchor and soul is his half-brother Kevin and separated them would just about kill Jordie. And then his real father walks onto the scene and demands his son back. It’s the kind of story that unwinds soft characters and heartbreaking backstories along with the process of healing and learning to build yourself up as a person again. There are plenty of frustrated but loving brotherly moments and your cold dead heart will melt for this one.

 

TYLER JOHNSON WAS HERE

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This is such a powerful and gutwrenching story about two brothers who don’t really get along, but they’re still family. And then Tyler goes missing. It’s a horrible moment when things aren’t quite right in your relationship with a sibling when you should be close and you don’t even know what’s driving you apart. But then they’re gone. It’s an #ownvoices and #blacklivesmatter tale too and features complex characters, soft boys, and a plot that will have you clutching the pages and whispering, “wait wait no“. Also that cover?! It is everything.

 

WHITE CAT

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If you’re looking for double-crossing, backstabby brothers with magical powers and a crime family past? Look no further! This book is literally everything you want in life. Even if you didn’t know it yet, shh. It’s narrated by Cassel who’s at boarding school trying to be “normal” but considering he has a magical crime family, his best friend who he apparently murdered when he was a child, and his mother is in jail?? He’s not doing a great job of remaking himself as a “normal” person. And he’s also about to learn a very dark family secret which is going to screw up everything. Also Holly Black’s characters are just a pure delight. I can’t even explain how much I adore this series! It is beyond perfect!

7 Time Travel Books

Time travel in fiction is nothing new. The Time Machine by H. G. Wells was published in 1895 and has largely been credited for popularising the concept of time travel and coining the term ‘time machine’.

Since then, there have been a swag of time travel novels, including more recently The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger and the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon to name just a few.


My Favourite Time Travel Novel
My favourite time travel novel by far is 11.22.63 by Stephen King.
In 2011, an American teacher named Jake discovers he can travel back in time to 1958. After careful consideration and a few false starts, he sets out to prevent the assassination of JFK in 1963. 11.22.63 is meticulously researched and comfortably straddles the genres of science fiction and historical fiction. The consequences of time travel and changing the future are addressed through the characters and the ending was extremely satisfying.


Time Travel Books on my TBR
Like any reader, I’m always keen to discover a new favourite and I have two time travel novels I’m looking forward to reading.

The Psychology of Time Travel by Kate Mascarenhas
Four female scientists build a time machine in the 1960s however one of the group is banished after being adversely affected by their time travels. 50 years later, the business of time travel is booming and one of the group receives a message from the future. I understand this is a murder mystery featuring strong, intelligent women that examines the toll of time travel which always interests me.

Doomsday Book by Connie Willis 
In 2054, Kivrin is attending Oxford University where students can travel back in time to study a significant period in history. Having prepared for several years, Kivrin travels back to mid 1300s England despite her tutor’s misgivings about being a young woman travelling alone in the period. As luck would have it, she becomes stranded. The reason this is so high on my list is I want to know what happens next. How does she adapt to her circumstances, what does she make of the people, the culture, the lifestyle?


I can begin to imagine Kivrin’s experiences thanks to the brilliant insight available in The Time Traveller’s Guide to Medieval England by Ian Mortimer. A perfect book to read in Non Fiction November, this is ‘A Handbook for Visitors to the Fourteenth Century‘. It contains chapters on: the people, what to wear, what to eat and drink, health and hygiene, where to stay, what to do and more. This is a detailed and comprehensive guide to the period and location and one of my all time favourite reads.

What is your favourite time travel book?

YA Little Mermaid Retellings

If there’s something that never loses its delight, it has to be retellings of old classic stories! It’s quite a YA trend too (one I’m personally very pleased with) and it’s great to see how the old fairy tales can be twisted and reimagined and fit into new settings. Today I want to list some Little Mermaid retellings! It’s a popular tale to redo but the variations are so diverse and exciting. We are living for this.


THE SURFACE BREAKS by Louise O’Neill

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I adore this author’s works for her feminist messages told with beautiful and ethereal writing. Her version of the Little Mermaid follows a more traditional route, keeping to what Hans Christian Anderson invented, but she uses it as a vehicle to talk about the patriarchy and how poisonous it can be too. It follows the story of Gaia who dreams of going to the surface like her mother did before her and finding that boy she saved. There are little differences (her name isn’t Ariel! the boy isn’t a prince!) and it is a society critique, but it’s also a tragic and heartbreaking tale. And let’s face it, that cover is divine.

 

SEA WITCH by Sarah Henning

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Instead of focusing on the “Ariel” character…let’s talk about the “Ursula” character! The SEA WITCH. This version is fascinating because it’s the “backstory” to the Little Mermaid Tale we all know and love, although it doesn’t feature dark antiheroes. It features a kingdom where a fisherman’s daughter is best friends with a prince and their relationship sis getting strained as he need to attend to princely duties and she is crushing on his princely cousin (who’s not very trustworthy) and it’s not “proper” for a prince and a peasant to be close friends anyway. But Evie’s best friend Anna drowns and then, years later, a mermaid who looks just like her appears and needs to win the prince’s heart or she’ll die forever. Evie is desperate to rescue Anna, even if it’s not her old friend, but at what cost?! The twists in this book are epic and mind blowing! Whatever you think will happen…pfft, it’s still going to surprise you.

 

TO KILL A KINGDOM by Alexandra Christo

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This is actually a very vague retelling, more focusing on sirens (who like to eat princes) and princes (who don’t like to sit on thrones but would rather be a pirate). It’s absolutely hilarious and full of quests and sailing. Lira does lose her fins like the original Little Mermaid, but for her its a punishment from her octopi-looking mother until she kills Prince Elian, a notorious siren slayer. This is a much looser retelling but that just makes it more exciting because you have no idea where it’s headed. Lira and Elian are the perfect hate-to-love romance and her viciousness with his kindness makes for such a good read! It balances dark and bloody sirens with the quips and banter of a pirate crew so well, and the pace is just perfect. It’s the kind of book you don’t want to put down and then secretly wish there was a sequel for it.

Unforgettable Children’s Books

With so many memorable children’s books flooding our bookshelves, it’s easy to allow one title to melt imperceptibly into the next. This collection of stories however possesses qualities that make them virtually unforgettable. Embrace these haunting experiences that will linger with you long after the final page.

Parvana: A Graphic Novel by Deborah Ellis

This graphic novel rendition of Ellis’ acclaimed novel, The Breadwinner (US name of Parvana), moved me to tears. Emotionally charged and visually gratifying, this graphic novel ignites a need to know more and venture further.

I have not read The Breadwinner yet but was so enamoured by this portrayal of Parvana’s story that I am now compelled to do so. There is a movie rendition too although I may not have to see it. This sombre tale about a girl who disguises herself as a boy to make a living in the stricken city of Kabul to support her family and reconnect with her imprisoned father is so convincingly expressed through Elllis’ stirring narrative and dramatic artwork (from which this version was adapted) that it leaves nothing wanting apart from a desire for Parvana’s salvation.

The muted colour palette of dusty browns and ominous greys belie the hope that blossoms below the veneer of fear and repression. Orange flowers (the colour of hope) appear in many of the frames featuring Parvana and most strikingly, on the last page where they are seen springing from the crust of the desert. Parvana’s vibrant red blouse, the one she has never worn, representing hope and love, and a desire to be free of fear, is the catalyst for change.

Dramatic, poignant and inexplicably beautiful, like Afghanistan’s people, this story is itself complete and will appeal to many even those (children) who are unaware of the historic atrocities leading up to Parvana’s story. Especially useful for those resistant to learning about history and reading full scale novels.

Allen & Unwin Children’s Books January 2018

Continue reading Unforgettable Children’s Books

Liberty by Nikki McWatters

Thanks for speaking with Boomerang Books Blog, Nikki.

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

Thanks so much for reading Liberty, Joy, and for these wonderful questions … here goes.

I am based in Terrigal, just north of Sydney. I love being a part of the YA writing community and have made some dear friends. Currently a writer friend and I are putting together a Central Coast writers’ group to offer each other support and encouragement. It’s easy to feel isolated as a writer so community is important.

I was swept away by your new novel Liberty (University of Queensland Press). What else have you written?

I’ve written two memoirs and Liberty is the second of a series of three books in a loose trilogy called The Systir Saga. Hexenhaus was first released in 2016 and Liberty will be followed by Saga in 2019. The books can be read in any order or as stand-alone books but work well as companions or ‘sister’ books.

How did you select the three story strands and protagonists in Liberty? Could you give an outline of each?

I chose the historical characters of Betsy Gray and Jeanne Laisne after extensive searching for girls who could fit my agenda. They were chosen because they were strong and courageous, standing up and out in times of conflict and raising their voices for themselves and the women who came after them. History has overlooked women’s stories of valour in favour of ‘hero’ tales and I wanted to lift these girls’ stories from the footnotes and shine a spotlight on them. In Liberty, Frenchwoman Jeanne Laisne leads an army of women against a hostile invading force in the late 1400s; Irish Betsy Gray rides beside her brother and sweetheart in a rebellion against the English; and Fiona McKechnie marches for peace and freedom in the anti-war movement in the late sixties in Brisbane.

Which are based on historical figures?

Betsy and Jeanne were real historical characters while Fiona is a fictional composite of some of the strong women in my own life (grandmothers/mother/aunts).

How have you used romance in the stories?

There is romance in each of the stories but I made sure that none of my girls were defined by the men in their lives. Each broke with the traditions of their time. Arranged marriage was the norm in France at that time but Jeanne wanted to marry for love. Betsy was in no hurry to settle into butter-churning and domestic servitude and Fiona wanted to ‘be’ a lawyer as opposed to her father’s hope that she might ‘marry’ a lawyer.

How do you show female powerlessness and oppression in these tales?

During each of the eras, women faced significant powerlessness and oppression. Women were largely seen as property or ‘helpmates’ to their fathers and husbands. My three characters feel suffocated by this and seek to break those bonds and assert themselves as individuals.

How do you highlight the power and agency of women in the novel?

Power and agency were not on offer to my three girls; they had to wrest it for themselves with great strength and determination. Each took the harder path and refused to let society dictate who they were and what they were capable of. They had to break some old rules to make way for new ones.

Female bloodlines are shown, even leading back to Jeanne d’Arc/Joan of Arc. Why have you included these?

The female bloodline, written in the mysterious Systir Saga book, a matrilineal family tree that spanned many centuries, is the life-force of Liberty and the other books in the trilogy. While there are actual historical female figures in this book, including Joan of Arc, it really is symbolic of the global sisterhood – a force that runs beneath the surface of movements such as #metoo. We have the liberties we do today because of women like Betsy and Jeanne and Fiona who raised their voices, which allowed those that came after to raise theirs.

All three protagonists have missing mothers and none want to disappoint or dishonour their fathers. Why these missing mothers?

My characters have no mothers in their lives. This is interesting because I think being raised by fathers shaped the girls, to a certain extent, but all felt compelled to make their late mothers proud of them and they sought to right the wrongs that had taken their mothers from them too early. In Fiona’s case, she wanted to attend university because that had not been an option for her own mother.

How does Jeanne query the predestination of fate?

Jeanne does question the concept of predestination. Her fate was to be ‘sold off’ and married to a cruel man she did not love because the Captain of her town made decisions about her life and not even her father could prevent that. Jeanne, as a poor peasant girl, felt miserable about not being able to make her own life choices and so she seized her moments when they presented themselves and managed to change her destiny. This is true for all of us. No matter how trapped we feel, we always have choices.

Betsy’s heroine was Mary Ann McCracken. Who is yours?

I love that you ask who my heroine is. I have so many. I actually do a daily visualisation and have an imaginary council of strong women that includes Michelle Obama, Mary Shelley, Emily Brontë, Queen Elizabeth the First, Madonna, Oprah Winfrey and Malala Yousafzai. I know that sounds a bit wacky but it works for me.

Your novel title is ‘Liberty’. What liberty do you hope for?

I have a great desire for true liberty for women in our world. This would mean that women felt safe to walk at night; safe in their workplaces, schools and in their homes. Equal pay would be a reality and women would sit in equal measure in boardrooms, governments and in every walk of life. Women would be valued for themselves and respected for the great human beings they are.

What are you writing next?

I have just finished writing Saga, the third book where I introduce three new heroines. Hexenhaus has three women accused of witchcraft, Liberty has three warrior women and in Saga I have three young women who change the world through words.

Thanks very much Nikki and I greatly look forward to reading Saga.

Thanks Joy. I really loved your questions!

Nik x

The Stranger Beside Her

 

Some books you read because you’re interested in them. Some books you read because your bookclub prescribes them. And some books you read because both elements happily collide.

That was the case with crime writer Ann Rule’s The Stranger Beside Me, the multimillion-copy-selling book about serial killer Ted Bundy.

Truth be told, my knowledge of Bundy was limited—I wasn’t even certain on which continent he committed his crimes—so I embarked on The Stranger Beside Me with a relatively blank and open mind.

The Stranger Beside Me has an eerily unique perspective: author Rule, a cop turned crime writer, used to volunteer alongside Bundy at a suicide prevention line. Despite nearly two decades’ age difference, the two were firm friends—and friends long before Bundy became infamous. Rule had actually obtained a book contract to write about the mysterious serial killer plaguing her hometown who was, then unbeknownst to her, her friend Bundy.

The book sees Rule grapple with her dual roles as objective writer and subjective friend as she tries to determine if the person she knows could be capable of such heinous crimes. Crimes that involved—it was later determined—using guises of broken limbs to lure unsuspecting women into his car so he could rape, strangle, and brutally bash them. Crimes that often involved the victims’ bodies not being found for a very long time—if at all.

Charismatic and apparently caring, Bundy would walk Rule to her car at the end of her helpline shift and urge her to be careful as she headed home. In contrast, her detective friends would joke that they’d call 911 if she got mugged on her way out of the police station she’d visited for a story in the middle of the night.

And so goes Rule’s and Bundy’s relationship and Rule’s book: a nuanced insight into Bundy’s capacity to be both personable and a psychopath, and a reminder that all of us are capable of both great good and great evil.

The crimes detailed in The Stranger Beside Me are shocking and continue to stay with me—including one incident I won’t spoil but that suffice to say makes me afraid to go to the bathroom in the dark in the middle of the night.

And so they should be—Bundy’s crimes shouldn’t be sensationalised or excused.

But Rule also includes a solid amount of levity to give readers brief reprieves from the terrifying crimes. One year, for instance, Rule sent Bundy two birthday cards because, as she notes, Hallmark doesn’t issue cards that say both ‘happy birthday’ and ‘happy arraignment’.

And after Bundy escaped from incarceration just after one of his lawyers finished making arguments for why the death penalty should be off the table for Bundy, that lawyer wryly commented: ‘That’s the poorest show of faith in this argument that I’ve seen yet.’

Still, Rule is sensitive to Bundy’s victims and their families—is conscious that the flip side to his sensational, fascinating crimes are people and families whose lives have been irreparably shattered.

As she writes: ‘Because Ted murdered so many, many women, he did more than rob them of their lives. He robbed them of their specialness too. It is too easy, and too expedient, to present them as a list of names … All those bright, pretty, beloved young women became, of necessity, “Bundy victims”. And only Ted stayed in the spotlight.’

Bundy at one stage refers to himself as having a ‘disposition made of duck feathers’—indeed, the thing that’s striking about Bundy is his Teflon-like characteristics. If this book showed me anything, it’s that it’s astonishing just how little evidence police truly had on him and how few charges actually stuck.

Likewise, that Bundy had an astonishingly misplaced confidence in his own legal knowledge. He had just two years of law school under his belt, but often tried self-representing and, as a minimum, instructing lawyers on what and how they should argue his case. He fired so many lawyers during the various legal proceedings I found it difficult to keep up with who was who.

But when he expressed his frustration at his ‘inept’ representation, the judge commented mildly that all the lawyers had passed law school and the bar exam and that submitting to his instructions might be akin to submitting to surgery at the hands of someone who had just a year and a half of medical school study to their name.

Fortunately, some (however small) good came from Bundy’s crimes, not least the establishment of Violent Criminal Apprehension Program (VI-CAP), a centralised database that ensures law enforcement professionals share information and serial killers like Bundy (and the Golden State Killer I’ve written about previously) aren’t so easily able to operate in anonymity through isolation.

The book’s blurb states that Rule is the world’s number one crime writer, however such a thing is determined. While I can’t confess to have read any of her other books, of which there appear to be many, and while I think her unique relationship to Bundy is what sets this book apart from similar biographies or crime books, I will attest to its veracity: If there’s one Bundy book worth reading, it’s Rule’s.

Sharing the Spirit of Australia Remembers with Allison Paterson

Allison Paterson has always had a deep connection to Australian history and culture, and her writing reflects more than just research or fiction. Her picture books include Granny’s Place and Shearing Time; reminiscent of her childhood memories of growing up on a farm. Allison also immortalises her ancestory with her wartime, award-winning books, Anzac Sons; based on letters written on the Western Front.

Using her teacher-librarian status and forseeing a gap in the market, Allison has gone on to produce a new series for primary school students. The first of the nonfiction titles includes Australia Remembers: Anzac Day, Remembrance Day and War Memorials. This is an absolutely stunning documentation of colourful facts, phenomenal photographs – old and new, illustrative posters, quotes and glossary, all presented like a beautiful magazine with easy-to-digest and visually engaging chunks of information across twelve short chapters. The book covers topics and proposes readers consider commemoration and showing gratitude, what ANZAC and its spirit means, the importance of annual ceremonies and the significance of symbols and traditions. It also includes relevant hands-on learning activities to further deepen the readers’ understandings. Australia Remembers is an important resource that emanates with a sense of engaging the community spirit and extending the legacy of those we ought to always remember. A must-have for Remembrance Day and Anzac Day.

Allison Paterson discusses her writing life and tribute to her ancestors with us today!

How did you come to be a writer? How have you managed the shift from teacher-librarian to author and presenter?

Writing has always been in my life, but the decision to resign from an awesome job as a teacher-librarian to pursue writing as a career came only a couple of years ago. It all began with the publication of Anzac Sons – the story of my ancestors in WWI and a collection of hundreds of letters they wrote from the Western Front. I quite firmly believe that I wouldn’t be a full-time writer today if it had not been for my grandfather and his brothers – they were writers too!

The transition from being a teacher-librarian was not difficult. I’m very comfortable with author talks and workshops in schools. I love inspiring kids to write! Being prepared to diversify and look for opportunities, such as mentoring, editing and writing for magazines all helped the financial shift. The toughest things for me are marketing, and I’m slowly learning how to run a business! I also found that being available and saying ‘Yes!’ opens more doors as well, including doing some casual educational consultancy work with Big Sky Publishing.

You’ve written several non-fiction titles on the Anzac history for children and adults, as well as fictional picture books that tie memories together with a great Aussie flavour! Do you have a style or genre you feel most comfortable with? Why is the Australian culture such a strong influence in your writing?

I spend most of my time lurking around in the past so historical fiction and non-fiction are certainly my favoured writing genres and where I gravitate to in a book shop or library. I’m a very proud Australian. I love the people we have become and our awesome landscape. I feel very connected with the land and when I travel to the place where I grew up it always feels like going home. My place!

Australia Remembers: Anzac Day, Remembrance Day and War Memorials is a valuable resource for primary students to be able to connect with the traditions of Anzac Day and Remembrance Day, in essence, to keep the memories of war and its recipients forever alive and celebrated. What are the most significant points you’d like your readers to take away from this book? What do you hope it will achieve?

I hope that readers develop both an understanding and respect for the role that our armed services have in the development of our wonderful country and the way of life we enjoy today. It is designed to ensure that the next generation shares the history and traditions of our important commemorative occasions. I also hope it encourages children to find out about the experiences of their own ancestors.

There are bountiful resources available for teaching and learning about Australian war history. What are your favourite educational lessons or resources to suggest for parents and educators following the reading of Australia Remembers?

Australia Remembers has inbuilt activities and discussion starters and is supported by extensive teacher notes which are available on my website, or on the Teachers page at Big Sky Publishing. My favourite lessons can be found in the notes, but if there was one I would pick it would be to explore your local memorials. Find out about the service of those in your local community.

The next book in this marvellous series is Australia Remembers: Customs and Traditions of the Australian Defence Force. What can you share about your research for this title? How many more titles in the series have you got planned?

Australia Remembers: Customs and Traditions of the Australian Defence Force is underway and will be released in 2019. It explores the history of the Army, Navy and Air Force in Australia, along with the shared and specific customs and traditions which have developed, sometimes over centuries! It will be a terrific resource for answering the questions which arise around our commemorative services. The whole series plan is a work in progress and we have lots of ideas that we are exploring for future titles.

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

I’m very excited that my first YA novel will be released early in 2019 with Big Sky Publishing. We’ve just finished the edit and the cover is awesome! Follow After Me is about finding a lost part of yourself in the spirit, words and actions of those who came before. Its themes include family, Anzacs, the Australian landscape, rural life and the past! This time though there are two coming-of-age protagonists, one of today and one enduring the events of World War I. It is written in a parallel narrative that converges with the discovery of a collection of WWI letters and a growing sense of connection to place that cannot be ignored. Here’s a snippet from the blurb:

A war to end all wars, a tiny key and a rural Australian property that binds across the generations. Two young women living a century apart discover who they are and where their hearts belong.

Wow! Brilliant! Thanks so much, Allison, for your generous answers to our questions! All the best with your writing! 🙂

Visit Allison Paterson at her website, and on her Australia Remembers book blog tour here.

Big Sky Publishing

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Review: Furthermore by Tahereh Mafi

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Furthermore by Tahereh Mafi was such a spot of delightful whimsy and nonsense! It was so easy to get swept into this magical fantasy land where everyone devotes their life to magic and colour…except for one girl named Alice who was born without the colour that makes their world so special. The story felt like a little ode to Alice in Wonderland while still being it’s own different and exquisitely told tale. It also reminded me a lot of The Phantom Tollbooth which I was obsessed with as a kid, so this was a little throwback down memory lane for me too.

The story begins with Alice Alexis Queensmeadow who is desperately awaiting her twelfth birthday when she’ll receive her life’s quest. She’s had a rough go of it so far: with her dad taking a ruler and disappearing, her mum being exasperated with her all the time, brothers who don’t care about her, and a world who views her as a disappointment already simply because she was born looking like a washed out painting. Alice is also a rule breaker and dreamer, whimsical and stubborn, outspoken and determined. And when everything goes terribly wrong at her ceremony, she decides to strike out to find her father and return him home. But this means going to Furthermore where magic is colour but there are no rules (you could be eaten!) and also work with her mortal enemy: Oliver…who’s own life quest might just tie tightly to Alice’s whether they want it to or not.

There are beautiful themes of self-acceptance in here too! I always love books that champion messages of ” you are worthwhile as you are” and encourage kids to accept themselves and also others, differences and all. Alice really sticks out in her town, but she’s convinced if she covers herself with as much brightly coloured cloth as possible, she’ll fit in. She’s scared her magic is weak (since magic = colour) and she’s very lonely and isolated because of how she looks. The story isn’t about fixing Alice, it’s about changing Alice’s view of herself. I feel this is so important.

The story does have a slow meandering start, but this is crucial to set up Alice’s world. And it’s such a pretty world that you really wouldn’t mind spending forever in it. Then we enter Furthermore, which turns rules on their heads and where stealing magic isn’t taboo. Alice and Oliver stop in a ton of towns and each is more odd and delightful (and a little scary?!) than the last.

The writing felt like a taste of art itself! It’s so beautiful and magical. Everything is talked about in colours and tastes which turns the story into a sensory picnic. When Alice and Oliver are in the nonsense realms, we meet Time (who currently looks like a seven year old boy) and an origami fox and people who charge you for being alive by the minute. The writing weaves us this lush and exquisite scene that you can fall into because it feels so real.

And of course, seeing Alice and Oliver go from enemies-to-friends was lovely! It was a natural and easy progression (even if they started off with Oliver teasing her and Alice smacking him in the guts).

Basically Furthermore is for those of us who are into whimsy and wonder. It’s a starburst of rainbow in your mouth and you’ll enjoy every minute of this adventure with Alice who is complex and boisterous and determined the world will not flatten her for being different.

Kate DiCamillo & ‘Louisiana’s Way Home’

Kate DiCamillo has given us an inspiring legacy of novels for children, beginning with Because of Winn-Dixie in 2009.

I heard her in conversation with popular author Sally Rippin at Melbourne’s Wheeler Centre last year and blogged about it here. She spoke about her 2016 publication Raymie Nightingale, an unforgettable tale about three girls, Raymie, Beverly Tapinski and Louisiana Elefante, who enter a beauty pageant.

Louisiana is, of course, the star of DiCamillo’s new novel, Louisiana’s Way Home (Walker Books/Candlewick Press). Told in first person through Louisiana’s written account of what happened when her Granny whisked her away in the middle of the night, we experience her confusion and angst.

The family story begins when Louisiana’s magician great-grandfather sawed her great-grandmother in half and refused to put her back together again. Louisiana’s Granny believes that the day of reckoning has arrived and they must leave to confront the curse and face their destiny.

Louisiana frets about Archie her cat and doesn’t believe that Granny has left him in good hands. When they run out of gas on the Florida-Georgia state line we learn that Granny not just imposes on people but borrows or steals. Her desperate need of a dentist forces 12-year-old Louisiana to drive the car and find help.

They recuperate at the Good Night, Sleep Tight motel and, even though Granny absconds, Louisiana finds varying degrees of goodness in people’s hearts: in some hearts, many hearts and even most hearts. Bernice, the motel manager, is hostile and suspicious but others such as dental patient Carol Anne, give Louisiana cookies and the boy with the crow, Burke Allen, gets her peanuts from the vending machine and makes her bologna sandwiches. “He was the kind of person who, if you asked him for one of something, gave you two instead”.

Louisiana believes that she must rescue herself. Granny trained her to be resourceful and capitalise on her gifts, such as singing.

The tale of Pinocchio with his nose growing when he lies; the Blue Fairy who appears at the darkest times; and the singing cricket Pinocchio kills at the beginning of the story and who then reappears as a ghost, reflects some of the circumstances and emotions of Louisiana’s journey. This may be a tale of desperation and despair but Louisiana loves stars and sees beauty in the world. Like many of Kate DiCamillo’s works, hope and forgiveness prevail.

Mentors in Writing & Illustration: Liz Anelli & Sheryl Gwyther

Liz Anelli and Sheryl Gwyther will be sharing their knowledge and experience of writing and illustrating with aspiring children’s book creators and other interested people in an event organised by CBCA(NSW) this week, the Aspiring Writers Mentorship Program.

Liz Anelli has been achieving recognition for her distinctive illustrations. Her picture books include Desert Lake, written in Pamela Freeman’s assured text. It’s published as part of the Walker Books ‘Nature Storybook’ series and shows how Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre changes when the floods arrive using texture, pattern and colour. It has been shortlisted for several awards, including the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards and the Educational Publishing Awards.

Ten Pound Pom, written by Carole Wilkinson (Black Dog Books, Walker Books), is another well-designed book from the illustrated ‘Our Stories’ series. It is a Britain-to-Australia immigration story.  Liz Anelli has created authentic detail, even using fabrics from her family to fashion the clothing.

Maddie’s First Day, written by Penny Matthew and also published by Walker Books, looks at the evergreen subject of a child’s first day at school.

Grace and Katie written by Suzanne Merritt (EK Books) is a wonderful vehicle for Liz’s skills as she shows the differences between these twin sisters. One is creative and messy. The other is ordered and tidy. Their map-making is a triumph.

Liz Anneli’s website

Sheryl Gwyther is an incredible support to the Australian children’s literature world. I know Sheryl from my years living in Brisbane and she is a wonderful advocate of children’s book organisations and those who are part of them. She is an active member of SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators), an excellent organisation for children’s book creators.

Sheryl’s work appears in the School Magazine and elsewhere.

Her books include the engrossing Secrets of Eromanga (Lothian Books, Hachette) about Australian dinosaur fossils and Sweet Adversity (HarperCollins), a historical novel set in Australia during the Great Depression with Shakespearian and theatrical touches.

Sheryl Gwyther website

Both Liz Anelli and Sheryl Gwyther will be speaking tomorrow night (Thursday 8th November) at an event for aspiring writers at HarperCollins in Elizabeth St, Sydney. Full details and booking information are in the flyer below or follow the link.

HarperCollins keeps our Australian children’s book heritage alive by continuing to publish and promote the works of May Gibbs and Norman Lindsay.

They recently published Emily Rodda’s The House at Hooper’s Bend, a brilliant book, which has been shortlisted for several awards including the 2018 CBCA Children’s Book Awards and the Qld Literary Awards. It is followed by His Name Was Walter, which I look forward to reading.

My other recent favourite from HarperCollins is Jackie French’s Just a Girl. It’s one of the best books I’ve read this year.

 

 

 

 

 

Stories for the Soul – Picture Books that Tug the Heart – Part 2

Here are a few more stories with heart that encompass the three pillars of great picture books: to enlighten, educate and entertain.

Finn’s Feather by Rachel Noble and Zoey Abbott

It’s wrenching when something or someone you love is lost. No one knows this better than Rachel Noble who was inspired to write Finn’s Feather after the loss of her son, Hamish. However if you think this story is a maudlin narrative on grief and loss, think again.

Finn’s Feather embraces all the love and joy families share for one another. It is a sublime examination of the emotions of heartache, anguish and sorrow expressed through the eyes of a child, which makes it immediately relatable and real. When a parent carries the burden of grief, children often slump along beside them under the same weight but unsure of why they are even there. The way they might experience the loss (of a sibling) understandably has to be different from the despair their parents are experiencing. This is precisely what Finn is going through after he discovers a pristine white feather on his doorstep one morning.

Continue reading Stories for the Soul – Picture Books that Tug the Heart – Part 2

Belinda Murrell, Pippa’s Island & Other Treasures

Belinda Murrell is a much-loved author of children’s series fiction and time-slip and historical novels. Her series include ‘Pippa’s Island’, ‘Lulu Bell’, ‘The Sun Sword’ trilogy and ‘The Timeslip’ series. Her books are warm and rich with appealing characters and captivating storylines.

Thank you for speaking with Boomerang Blog, Belinda.

What is your background and where are you based?

I grew up on the North Shore of Sydney in a rambling old house full of books and animals. I studied media, writing and literature at Macquarie University and worked for many years as a travel journalist and corporate writer, before becoming a children’s author. Now I live with my family in a gorgeous old house, filled with books, overlooking the sea in Manly.

What led to your writing books for children?

About 14 years ago I started writing stories for my own three children, Nick, Emily and Lachlan. Some of these stories became The Sun Sword Trilogy, a fantasy adventure series which was published about 12 years ago. I’ve been writing for children of all ages ever since.

What else do you enjoy doing?

 My favourite things to do include walking my dog along the beach, riding my horse at my brother’s farm, skiing, reading books and travelling the world having lots of adventures with my family.  

What themes or issues appear across some of your books?

Finding your courage, being brave and kind, standing up for what you believe in, accepting people’s differences and the importance of family and friends are all themes which I explore in my books. Another issue which is very important to me is creating strong, inspirational female protagonists which girls can relate to. When my daughter was younger, I was disheartened by the number of children’s books which always had boys as the heroes. “You cannot be what you cannot see” and so I strive to create lots of different, interesting and aspirational female characters.

Could you tell us about your books, particularly your latest series, ‘Pippa’s Island’?

The Lulu Bell series is about Lulu and all her animal adventures, living in a vet hospital, inspired by my own childhood as the daughter of a vet. The 13 books have been hugely popular with younger readers, aged about 6 to 8.

My new series, Pippa’s Island is for readers about 8 to 10 years old, and includes five books about friendship, families and seaside adventures. Pippa and her family move halfway across the world to start a new life on gorgeous Kira Island, where Pippa’s mum has the crazy idea of buying a rundown old boatshed and turning it into a bookshop café. Pippa makes friends with Charlie, Cici and Meg, and they form a secret club, called The Sassy Sisters, which meets after school in the tower above the boatshed. Their motto is “Be Brave. Be Bold. And be full of happy spirit.”

For older readers, aged about 10 to 14, I have written a series of seven historical and time slip novels, such as The Ivory Rose, The Lost Sapphire and The Forgotten Pearleach with a modern-day story woven together with a long-forgotten mystery or family secret from the past.

What is Pippa dealing with in the new ‘Pippa’s Island’?

Pippa’s noisy family have been living crammed into a tiny caravan in her grandparents’ back garden and money has been super tight. Pippa’s can’t wait to move into their new apartment right above the Beach Shack café but the builders are taking forever! Pippa’s feeling frustrated until she comes up with a genius plan to make some pocket money: Pippa’s Perfect Pooch Pampering. With a lot of help from her best friends, Pippa starts her own dog walking business. Soon she has her hands full with adorable but pesky pups. What could possibly go wrong? Puppy Pandemonium!!

Which character has most surprised you in ‘Pippa’s Island’?

I absolutely fell in love with my main characters – Pippa and her best friends Charlie, Cici and Meg, who are all so different yet so caring of each other. Yet I also enjoyed discovering how some of my other characters developed over the series. Pippa’s arch rival is Olivia, who is good at everything, whether it’s winning the class academic prize, gymnastics or dancing. Olivia is popular and a natural leader but can be very competitive. At first, Olivia and Pippa seem like they will be friends, but when Pippa tops the class in a maths quiz, Olivia feels threatened and tries to exclude her. Over the course of the series, the girls have a prickly relationship but gradually they work out their differences and learn to appreciate each other.

The ‘Pippa’s Island’ books are full of delicious cupcakes. What is your favourite flavour?

Initially my favourite was Cici’s lemon cupcakes in book one, but then at a Pippa’s Island book launch, a gorgeous librarian baked dozens of divine strawberry cream cupcakes. They were heavenly, and of course starred in book 2!!

Who are your core readers? Where do you have the opportunity to meet them, and have any of their responses been particularly memorable?

My core readers are girls aged between 6 and 14 and it’s been lovely to see readers growing up reading my books, starting with Lulu Bell, then Pippa’s Island and then the time slip books. One of the greatest joys of being a children’s author is meeting kids who love my books at schools, libraries, bookshops and festivals. They get so excited! Every year I spend about four months visiting schools and book events all over the country. This year I’ll visit schools in Adelaide, Melbourne, Brisbane, Tasmania, all over Sydney as well as many regional areas.

The most memorable and humbling experiences have been hearing from readers, particularly of my time slip novels, who feel that my books have changed their lives. A year 12 student wrote a heartfelt letter to thank me for writing her favourite book, The Ivory Rose, that “she’d held so dear for so long”, that helped her decide what she wanted to do with her life. Another 18-year-old girl wrote to say that the adult she’d become and the values she treasured were inspired by my books that she’d read over and over. These letters are so beautiful and make me cry.

What is the value of series fiction, particularly in comparison with stand-alone works?

Kids love reading a whole series of books because they have the chance to really get to know the characters and see how those characters develop and change. It is also comforting for younger readers to know what to expect in a book – that they will love the setting, the style and the writing, so it’s much easier for them to become lost in the story. A series that you love can be completely addictive, whereas a stand-alone book, even a brilliant one is over too soon!

What have you enjoyed reading recently?

For my book club, I’ve just finished reading Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman, which I’ve been wanting to read for ages. It was fantastic – so funny, witty and moving. I absolutely loved The Peacock Summer by Hannah Richell, set in a crumbling old English mansion, about a modern-day character called Maggie, trying to discover the secrets of her grandmother’s mysterious past. Another historical book which I loved was The Juliet Code by Christine Wells, about Juliet Barnard, a British spy parachuted into France during World War 2, to help the French Resistance in occupied Paris and her turmoil in dealing with these experiences when the war is over.

What are you writing about now or next?

I have two completely different and new projects that I’m very excited about. The first is a middle-grade children’s fantasy novel set in a world inspired by Renaissance Italy. I’m in the early stages of writing the story and am heading to Tuscany in the New Year to explore tiny fortified hill towns, medieval towers and secret tunnels. The other project is very special – a book which I’m writing with my sister Kate Forsyth, to be published by the National Library of Australia. It is a biblio-memoir about growing up in a family of writers and the life of our great-great-great-great grandmother Charlotte Atkinson, who wrote the very first children’s book, published in Australia in 1841.

Thanks Belinda, and all the very best with your books.

Funny Books for Children

Children adore funny stories so thanks to the publishers who are commissioning them and authors who are writing them.

Penguin Random House Australia has recently published the brilliant Oliver Phommavanh’s new novel Natural Born Leader  Loser; Mr Bambuckle’s Remarkables Fight Back by Tim Harris, where the exploits of Mr Bambuckle and his class continue; and Total Quack Up!, an appealing anthology edited by Sally Rippin and Adrian Beck.

Pan Macmillan Australia has extended its popular comedy series with Laugh Your Head Off 4 Ever, illustrated by Andrea Innocent. Highlights here include Felice Arena’s ‘Dad Dancing’ about Hamish’s dad who dances cringeably at the end-of-year formal. Bully, Craig Dickson, films it on his phone until the music changes … Penny Tangey’s ‘Use Your Words’ is about the power of words and could also be used in schools to illustrate this in a fun way.  James Roy’s ‘Evil Genius’ is a clever comeuppance featuring jelly snakes. Lisa Shanahan has an alien tale in ‘Harriet’s Spacey Friend’. And Andy Griffiths’ ‘Runaway Pram’ has been published previously but is a superb slapstick piece. The bright yellow cover with contrasting pink makes this book stand out.

Another anthology is Total Quack Up! It’s edited by Sally Rippin, much-loved writer of ‘Polly and Buster’, ‘Billie B Brown’, ‘Hey Jack!’, awarded picture book The Rainbirds (with David Metzenthen) and stunning middle-grade novel Angel Creek; and Adrian Beck, author of the ‘Champion Charlies’ and ‘Kick it to Nick’ series. It’s illustrated by James Foley of My Dead Bunny fame. Deborah Abela uses the hills hoist to dramatic effect in ‘How to be a Superhero’. Tristan Bancks has a funny take on a football game in ‘The Pigs’. Jacqueline Harvey will scare anyone off pet sitting in ‘Pet Sit Pandemonium: Operation Snowball’. Using a clever play-on-words Sally Rippin shows what could happen to disobedient children in ‘Do Not Open’. The hilarious R.A. Spratt has another funny Nanny Piggins story in ‘Pigerella’. And Matt Stanton has a selfie-inspired cautionary tale in ‘What Hippopotamuses and Sharks Have in Common’. The only story published previously is Paul Jennings’ ‘A Mouthful’. It’s a very funny Dad tale.

Tim Harris’s ‘Mr Bambuckle’ stories (illustrated by James Hart) are incredibly popular. In Mr Bambuckle’s Remarkables Fight Back we meet his class of 15 students again. They get the better of horrible teachers and Scarlett has an original plan to get rid of the dire Miss Frost. Mr Bambuckle inspires creative ideas, such as asking students to think of “a ridiculous use for a cake” and “an imaginative way to enter the classroom”. As a bonus, books with illustrations are championed as a way of managing the terrible behaviour of a kindergarten buddy. It’s followed by Mr Bambuckle’s Remarkables Go Wild.

Raymond in Oliver Phommavanh’s Natural Born Leader  Loser is a memorable character to whom children will relate and cheer on. He is in Year 6 at apathetic Barryjong Primary.  Bullies run rife. New principal, Mr Humble who looks like a retired wrestler, wants to change the culture and selects four prefects: energetic soccer star Zain; forthright, hijab-wearing Randa; artistic Ally and Raymond who believes he’s a nobody. He doesn’t want to be in the spotlight but he does want to make the school better. As he challenges, and dares, himself he starts to make more difference than he could have imagined. The process is agonising at times but also full of fun, wildly creative ideas, jokes and wonderful emerging and changing friendships. I would love to see all children in primary school, including quiet achievers like Raymond, read this book. It could change negative cultures and transform the timid into confident leaders without spoiling their natural personalities.

Review: Satellite by Nick Lake

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Satellite by Nick Lake reads like a quietly soft contemporary…but set in space. I just loved this combination, and how unique it felt. It’s the perfect collision of sci-fi vs contemporary with a little dystopian dashed in as well. You probably have to suspend a bit of disbelief with the technical aspects of raising a baby in 0 gravity (but hey it is in the future!) but as someone who doesn’t know a lot about space anyway, it didn’t bother me. And I was totally entranced by the characters and the conspiracy theories! It’s speculative fiction at its greatest!

The story follows Leo who was born on Moon 2, a space station that orbits the earth every ninety minutes. He’s lived up here forever with twins, Libra and Orion, and they can’t go down to earth until they’re strong enough to endure the change (considering they’ve grown up in 0 gravity all their lives). Chances of surviving the descent are actually dubious since these three teens are living what no one has ever experienced: a life where they’ve never touched earth. But getting down to earth isn’t the only struggle they’ll face, with bodies ill equipped to handle gravity, and some darker secrets about their existence that they never guessed and Leo is finding hard to face.

One things that I really enjoyed was: the unique formatting! It took a bit to get used to, but then I got into the flow and it worked. It has very few capital letters (barring names) and it reads like text-speech, so basically: “i c u spinning around in 0 g in space.” At first I was like “grit teeth and bear this” but it actually leant a very specific voice to the story and makes you feel close to the characters.

Leo is the narrator and he is the softest boy, kind of a genius, and also quiet and intense. I mean, the kid’s grown up in a space shuttle, so he’s definitely different. He’s never never felt gravity. He adores science and he wants to be an astronaut…like his mother and also grandfather. although he has a super strained relationship with his mother. She’s colder than a refrozen ice cube, while his grandfather (an ex-astronaut and now farmer) is loving and can’t wait to meet him for the first time. His relationship with the twins is super sweet too! Orion and Libra are very close and they all function basically as siblings since they’re all each other has ever known — barring the people who’ve raised them and their occasional visits from their parents. (Most people can’t live in 0 gravity for long! So their parents hardly visit.) I also loved the fact that Leo was gay and it was just there. I wish more books would include diversity like this and stop acting like straight is the default! The story actually has very little romance in it though, since Leo was…well…distracted by not dying.

The plot is rife with conspiracy theories and questions. And the chapter ends like to throw you lines like “I thought everything was going to be fine…it wasn’t.” (Paraphrased, ha.) Which is, wow, thank you for that added STRESS. It’s quite a thick book, but you really whip through it fast just to find out the whys and hows of these kids born in space. And though it reads like a contemporary, there are quite a lot of science sections which were intense but very interesting.

Overall? I really enjoyed Satellite! I’d had it on my wishlist forever so finally reading it and having it live up to expectations was amazing! It is all teens and space and conspiracy theories and broken families and lies and secrets and stress! Such an inventive, heart-wrenching, and clever story too!

Leave Taking by Lorraine Marwood

Author-poet Lorraine Marwood won the Prime Minister’s Literary Award for Children’s Fiction in 2010 for Star Jumps. Her new verse novel Leave Taking (University of Qld Press) is just as good. Both are set on a farm and are for primary-aged readers.

Leave Taking refers to both the title and Toby’s experiences as he and his parents pack up their dairy farm and the belongings of Toby’s younger sister, Leah, who recently died from cancer. Of course, such weighty themes are sobering but grief is recognised and faced through the natural rhythms of Australian rural life, Toby’s steps around the property and loving memories of Leah’s tangible and intangible footprints.

The map of the farm on the front endpaper has changed by the end of the book as Toby revisits and labels special places: the machinery shed where both children scratched their initials in the concrete; the old red truck where Leah wrote pretend bus tickets during their last game there; and Memorial Hill where they buried pets and other animals and birds.

Toby camps at significant places on the property but is always close enough to the farmhouse to help with the cows or have a quick check in with his mother. He is also comforted by the company of his dog Trigger.

Leah was a gentle girl who loved stories and taking photos, shared jobs, delighted in April Fools’ jokes and left so many drawings that some will be taken to the new farm and the rest placed in the heart of the bonfire – which would have made her happy.

The writing is often sensory and poetic, beginning with a contrast between the light of the “faint silver of dawn” and the dark shadows outside Toby’s tent. The author sketches the natural world of magpies and native trees and gumnuts with evocative strokes. She uses figurative language to describe the huge milk vat purring “like a big-stomached cat” and personifies the bonfire as a dragon.

There is a supportive, although laid-back, sense of community and hope of new life with the imminent birth of a new baby as Toby maps his goodbye to his home and much-loved sister.

The cover illustrations and line drawings are by Peter Carnavas, who has just won the Griffith University Children’s Book Award in the Queensland Literary Awards. After creating a number of thoughtful picture books, Peter illustrated his first novel, The Elephant, a brilliantly executed study of a family’s grief and path to healing. I will always remember this outstanding novel when I see jacaranda trees in flower.

Setting the Scene with Rachel Nightingale

Rachel Le Rossignol, aka Rachel Nightingale, is the debut novelist of young adult fantasy fiction series, Tales of Tarya, including the first two in the trilogy – Harlequin’s Riddle and Columbine’s Tale. She also happens to be an award-winning playwright, with a musical she wrote set for the stage next year. Rachel has a background in theatre as well, which, when you bring all these creative elements together, you have the perfect blend for a magical series underpinning the gifts of artistry and storytelling and their boundless possibilities. The Tarya Trilogy is about the power of creativity and where it can take you, exploring the states of being within two different realms of another time. Rachel states, ‘it was inspired by a quote by Broadway actor Alan Cumming about that in-between place you discover just before you step onstage and enter a different world – a place where anything is possible…’ 

Rachel is here to discuss her writing journey and the culmination of her passions for the arts and storytelling in her books. Thanks Rachel!

How did you come to be a writer?

Little eight-year-old Rachel decided for me. Sometimes I want to go back in time and talk her out of it and other times I want to pick her up, swing her round and go ‘wheeeee!’. It’s a fun job but it has its tough moments. Of course, it took many years, lots of writing, two creative writing degrees and a lot of persistence to actually get to the point of being published.

Please tell us a bit about your fascinating background in performance, and how you feel this helps with your storytelling abilities.

I did my first theatre show when I was 17. I was in the chorus of Cinderella, and I was hooked. Over the years I’ve done just about everything possible, from acting to lighting, sound, direction and stage management. It all feeds into being about to create the atmosphere and reality of theatre in my books. Working for a number of years on the improvised ‘Murder on the Puffing Billy Express’ show was really important for bringing the players to life on the page, because the Commedia dell’Arte, the travelling players I’m writing about, do improvised shows. Understanding how improv works, and what it feels like to perform something and make it up on the spot, was really important. Plus improv stretches the creativity muscles, which is really helpful.

What kinds of books do you naturally draw inspiration from? Has your series been influenced by any of these titles or their authors?

I love all sorts of books, but if I’m particularly looking for inspiration I go back to Ray Bradbury’s short stories. He is a master of language, he understands the human condition so well, and the ideas in his stories are fascinating. I dream of being able to write like him. I think the book out there that is most like mine is The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern, since it’s about performers and magic, with a dash of romance, but Harlequin’s Riddle was written a long time before it was published so it wasn’t a source of inspiration.

Columbine’s Tale follows the gripping first title, Harlequin’s Riddle. What was your process in developing each title and subsequent series? Did you have your plots consciously mapped out beforehand?

The books have changed so much from my original conception, but I think by the time I’d finished Harlequin’s Riddle I was pretty clear on the overall story. After that it was just fine-tuning the details. Aside from Mina’s quest to find her brother, there’s a very strong element of mystery related to the travelling players that Mina has to solve, and to do that properly I needed to be able to put some things in the first book that would only make sense in the third book. So plotting rather than pantsing (flying by the seat of my pants) was definitely the way to go. It means readers can look for clues early on, which is something I always love in a book.

What does the artisan life, costumes and drama mean to you personally?

I would love nothing more than to have a gypsy caravan and travel around, visiting many different places and offering up my stories. I used to pretend I was a gypsy when I was a teenager to make the walk home from school more interesting. I’d picture what I was wearing, and how I would cook over an open fire when I got home. I wish I could spend all my time creating, not doing the shopping or the other mundane tasks of life.

What has your publishing experience with Odyssey Books been like for you? How have they supported you throughout the process?

It’s been a sharp learning curve – being a writer and being an author are two different things. The main difference is learning about marketing and social media. But Odyssey have been great – there are company manuals that are super-helpful for knowing how to approach that side of things. And my publisher has a brilliant strategy, which is that she puts new authors in touch with the Odyssey author community, so you suddenly have an amazingly supportive network who can help you negotiate the whole ‘being published’ thing.

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

I’m pretty excited at the moment that a musical I wrote is going to be debuted in Auckland next year. It’s a re-telling of Aristophane’s classical Greek play, The Birds but with funky Spanish rhythms and a lot of comedy. Bach Musica are going to stage a concert version, with a full orchestra, soloists and forty-person choir. I will be travelling over to New Zealand to see it. I can’t wait, but I’m terrified at the same time – such a public performance of my work!

Thank you so much for your time, Rachel! It’s been a pleasure getting to know more about you and your books.

Rachel and the Tarya Tales can be found at her website, and her book blog tour is taking place here.

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Review – Lenny’s Book of Everything

I remember when I was a pre-schooler, the day our World Book Encyclopedia and Childcraft How and Why Library sets arrived. They lived in their own custom-built bookshelf and went with us whenever we moved house. I was contemplating selling them this year to free up space or failing that, surrendering them to the compost heap. Now, after spending time with Lenny and Davey, I’m not so sure. Like their Burrell’s Build-It-At-Home Encyclopedia, each lettered volume holds countless childhood memories anchored in place by facts and figures now hopelessly out of date but somehow still completely valid. How does one discard their former life – a childhood of countless special moments and first-time discoveries – so decidedly?

Moreover, how does one describe Lenny’s story. Wrenching (you will need tissues – preferably 3 ply), soaring (pack your wings), absorbing (allow for a few sleepless nights spent page turning), tragic (get another box of nose-wipes just in case).

Lenny’s Book of Everything is a story with a heart as big as Phar Lap’s and gallops along at a pace that both rips you apart emotionally but is simultaneously restorative and mindful such is Karen Foxlee’s talent for powerful story telling. This story describes the relationship between Lenny, her younger brother who has a rare form of gigantism and their beleaguered mother. Theirs appears a drab ‘moon-rock’ coloured existence yet flashes of brilliance strike everywhere, everyday: their mother’s pink work uniform, the pigeons on their windowsill, Mrs Gaspar’s outrageous beehive, the ubiquitous letters from Martha Brent and of course, her regular dispatch of encyclopedic issues to them. All conspire to create warmth and hope and put the reader at ease while sweeping them ever closer to the inevitable conclusion.

Continue reading Review – Lenny’s Book of Everything

Not So Scary Picture Books for Halloween

Children love a splash of spook, a gash of ghoul and a dash of danger, but only if it’s laced with humour and courage. If you’re looking for some creepy crawlies, menacing monsters and terrifying trolls to give you the shivers this Halloween, then check out these wild picture books… don’t worry, they’re not actually so scary.

A Monster in my House is written by the internationally acclaimed comedians The Umbilical Brothers, so you know you’re in for an amusing feast rather than a nightmarish one. Their undeniably popular wit is clear with their multi-layered twists that pleasingly surprise. The first-person narration warns of the danger associated with having a different monster in each room of the house. However, upon inspecting the images, Berlin artist Johan Potma has done a brilliant job to capture a mix of the classic, old-style horror with a beautiful warmth and humour that just does the opposite of chilling. He neatly infuses newspaper collage with pencil sketching and oil paint in subdued browns, reds and greens with the loopiest of monster characters you’ve ever seen. And take note of the little mouse in each spread… it holds some very important clues! In a charming rhyming text, the suspense is thrilling, leading us to a conclusion that is totally unexpected.

A Monster in my House is a delightfully playful romp abound with some pretty cool characters that will simply warm your soul.

Penguin Random House, October 2018.

With a nod to the legendary We’re Going a Bear Hunt comes this exasperatingly satisfying Beware the Deep Dark Forest by Sue Whiting and Annie White. Sure, there are creepy bits, with carnivorous plants and venomous snakes and all. But that doesn’t stop Rosie from being the heroine in this suspenseful adventure tale. Braving it out through the sublimely detailed and juicy scenes, the young girl sets off to rescue her pup Tinky through terrifying obstacles, including a bristly wolf, a deep ravine, and an enormous hairy-bellied, muddy troll. But rather than shy away and run like the children did with a certain shiny-eyed, wet-nosed Bear in another story, Rosie stands tall and defiant proving her saviour qualities. Then she can squelch back through the deep and dark and muddy forest back home.

Beware the Deep Dark Forest captures just the right amount of creepiness with the rewarding inclusion of excitement and adventure and a strong female character determined to get her hands dirty and tackle the tough stuff. This is how you face your fears for children from age four.

Walker Books, October 2018.

Following the long-lasting success of The Wrong Book, Nick Bland has come out with this latest cracker, The Unscary Book. It follows a boy, Nicholas Ickle, suitably costumed in an alien / skeleton attire, attempting to introduce us to his ‘scary’ book. So, prepare to be frightened! However, each page turn sends readers into fits of giggles rather than a state of alarm. Poor Nicholas is more terrified at the nice-ness and bright-ness of what is revealed behind all his pre-prepared props. ‘But ice-cream isn’t scary, it’s delicious!’, he shouts. ‘I’m trying to scare people, not make them hungry!’. The brilliantly colourful and energetic (non-scary) book continues to amuse our young audience as Nicholas becomes more frustrated with things that are NOT spooky, terrifying, frightening, or horrifying. And just when you think he’s finally won, well, you’ll just have to read it to find out!

The Unscary Book has plenty of animation and visuals to pore over, as well as fantastic language and comprehension elements to explore. Comedic bliss that all went wrong in just the right way. No preschooler will un-love this one!

Scholastic, September 2018.

Not so much scary, but more like stinky! Which is actually helpful for scaring those unwanted pests away. Tohby Riddle has got this story spot-on with his knack for harnessing the powers of philosophy with humour and an understanding of human complexities – although in the form of bugs and critters. Here Comes Stinkbug! is completely captivating with its brilliantly simplistic plot and dry wit about the unpleasantness of a smelly Stinkbug. None of the other crawlies want to be around Stinkbug because, well, he stinks. They try to raise the matter with him, but that makes him worse. Until he tries to charm the others with a lot of effort. However, it seems Stinkbug has attracted the wrong sort… Maybe it’s best to just be yourself.

The aptly hued garden tones and textures combined with a mixture of typed narrative and handwritten speech bubbles elicit a nature that is both endearingly casual and candid. Here Comes Stinkbug! empowers readers to consider embracing who you are, playing to your strengths and being wary of those who might take advantage of you. Children from age four will find this book utterly and proposterously reeking with the sweetest kind of comedy, bugging their parents for more.

Allen and Unwin, September 2018.

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