Animals at Work – Picture Book Reviews

Kids are all too quick to grow up these days, but yet to realise the complexities and oftentimes, inequalities, that go with grown-up responsibilities. Sure, life in the playground can be tough, too. No doubt there will be times they feel under-valued, misunderstood or lonely. Whilst these references may seem quite grim, the following ‘adult-work-life’ picture books paint these dark hues to meet a bright and hopeful light at the end of the tunnel.

Ok. It will be called… Next award-winning picture book of the year. Phenomenal artist. Phenomenal storyteller. Shaun Tan wins over the masses with his latest picture book, Cicada. Considering its haunting themes, this book has a definite star-quality appeal that is sure to set a glow in every reader’s heart.

You heard it… ‘Tok Tok Tok!’. Time marches on for hard-working cicada. Seventeen years. Stuck behind his computer desk hidden amongst a concrete jungle of office carrels – hardly noticed, immensely unappreciated. Treated as sub-human, despite the fact he is not human at all. But honestly, his pay is docked for being forced to use the bathroom twelve blocks away! Work life for cicada is dire with no thanks, no living support (he lives in an office wallspace), colleague abuse and eventually a retrenchment with a figurative kick in the butt.

Seventeen years imprisoned in this grey, lifeless cell of despair. There’s nothing left… but to transform. And all you can do is laugh! Tok Tok Tok!

Cicada breathes intense concepts and colourless imagery that is far from dull, mixed together with sharp language spoken in a broken English. However, it embodies a fiery life within that speaks universally to humans about the power of self-worth, about courage and respect. An impressive, evocative picture book for older readers (5-9 years).

Lothian Children’s Books, June 2018.

Work life at Baggage Handlers United is pretty fun for Marvin. He loves the routine of putting things on and taking things off. He has friends that work there, too. But what happens when his ‘friends’ start laughing at his expense? Missing Marvin is a meaningful and sensitive story about the hurtful effects practical jokes can have when taken too far.

Sue deGennaro beautifully captures the heart and soul of this story through her gentle, multi-faceted illustrations and leading language that carefully directs readers to ponder the emotions being explored. When Barry, Shelly and Ivan set up what they think are amusing shenanigans, it is upon closer inspection that we see the heartrenching damage done to Marvin. “… he wonders if a joke is only a joke when everyone is laughing.” All too often, people (at work or at school) go about their day ‘pretending’ they are okay. And all too often, ‘the signs’ go unnoticed. Learning strategies to avoid emotional and physical isolation are nicely handled here when Marvin decides to come out of hiding (after succumbing to his bed) and open up to his friends about his feelings.

All it takes is a conversation. Missing Marvin brings about a light-hearted simplicity on the cusp of complex issues related to bullying and depression. Presented in a sweet and satisfying way, this book will help preschool-aged children find compassion, sensitivity and courage when needed most.

Scholastic, April 2018.

With a gorgeous setting based on the Greek islands of Andros and Mykonos, who wouldn’t love to live and work there? Originally from Greece, author illustrator Elena Topouzoglou paints a charming picture of friendship emerging out of loneliness.

In Mr Pegg’s Post, a little girl, Anna, longs for interaction from the outside world beyond her lighthouse home. The only visitor is Mr Pegg – the pelican postman. One stormy night, from the darkness Mr Pegg comes thumping into her life, serendipitously changing the world as she knows it. The ability to work effectively can be difficult when faced with a crippling injury. However, Anna’s eagerness to help deliver letters by boat serves them well in his recovery and her social connections. Anna receives more than just letters now. She has friendships, and a job!

The soothing blue wash of the water represents a beautiful link between the isolation of the lighthouse and the community spirit of the mainland. Mr Pegg’s Posts delivers a message of support, appreciation and value to the hearts of children from age three.

New Frontier Publishing, July 2018.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Review: The Tattooist of Auschwitz

The first words on the first page of The Tattooist of Auschwitz read that the book ‘has the quality of a dark fairytale’. Indeed, it does. Journalist and foreign correspondent Hugh Riminton’s quote continues: ‘[The Tattooist] is both simple and epic, shot through with compassion and love, but inescapably under the shadow of the most devouring monsters our civilisation has known.’

Not much more needs to be said about the book, other than that it should be read, for Riminton’s statements both sum up my sentiments and do so more eloquently than I ever could. And while I inhaled the eminently readable The Tattooist in one three-hour sitting when it first came out, it’s taken me some time to get round to writing this blog post about it—the subject matter was so stellar and so moving I needed some time to gather my thoughts.

For anyone who is still unfamiliar with the book, which has been a bestseller since its launch and which has undergone multiple reprints, it is a fictionalised account of a non-fiction story: that of concentration camp prisoners Lale (pronounced ‘Lah-lay’) and Gita (Ghee-ta) Sokolov.

The prologue begins with Slovakian Jewish prisoner Lale tattooing the number 34902 on Gita, the woman who was to become the love of his life, in Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1942. Conflicted about his role in inflicting pain on his fellow prisoners, but also aware that he must do whatever he can to survive, Lale finds that his tattooist role provides him safe passage around the concentration camps and extra rations, both of which he leverages to help himself and others. Deftly woven throughout, and offsetting the horror, is Lale and Gita’s love story.

‘To save one is to save the world’ is a phrase uttered in, and that aptly captures the tales contained within, The Tattooist. The book was originally conceived as a screenplay, with author Heather Morris capturing Lale’s story through interviews and penning drafts that eventually became a novel. Morris spoke wonderfully eloquently about the book and the interviewing and writing process on Conversations with Richard Fidler. I highly recommend listening to that interview in tandem with reading the book.

The Tattooist is invaluable because we have little true insight into what it was like to actually live—well, exist—inside those concentration camps. And there are moments that continue to haunt me. For instance, Lale regularly encountered the infamous doctor Josef Mengele, who prowled the tattooing line, looking for victims, and who has since been revealed to have committed all manner of heinous medical research on prisoners.

Likewise, the prisoners were forced to play out a macabre game of football against the guards, while ash from the perpetually running crematoria rained down on them. Lale later had to walk into the crematorium to identify a prisoner by their tattoo, only to be cruelly jibed by the SS officer in charge of him: ‘I bet you’re the only Jew who ever walked into an oven and then walked back out of it.’

‘Are you sure you’re not a cat?’ the same SS officer asks Lale at one time because he survived so many moments that would otherwise mean certain death. It’s a thought that had crossed my mind too, because although the tale is incredibly compelling, just occasionally I couldn’t quite fathom how Lale had survived when so many others hadn’t. Undoubtedly, his ability to speak multiple languages and his charisma were contributing factors.

Still, some questions remain for me: What happened to the tattooist who preceded Lale and who gave him his chance? And Aron, who saved him from Typhus? And was Lale not terrified having the SS know Gita was his girlfriend? Surely they’d have used that to torture him? Perhaps one day, with others having read the book and recognised overlaps with their own or their relatives’ stories, those questions will be answered.

Side note: While I would unhesitatingly recommend The Tattooist to anyone and everyone and stump up a case for why it should be on school and university reading lists, my one wish is that the book was non-fiction rather than fiction. Hazarding a guess, I’d say the author and publisher elected to couch it as fiction to cover themselves for any facts they couldn’t definitively verify—of which there were likely many given that so few people who could attest to their veracity are still alive. But still: The Tattooist is essentially a retelling of one man’s recollection of actual events, however surreal they may seem, and it jars slightly for me to have the tale fictionalised.

Regardless, my hope is that The Tattooist not only succeeds as a novel, but also as the film Morris and Lale originally envisaged it to be: with Brad Pitt playing Lale and Natalie Portman playing Gita.

Review: What If It’s Us by Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera

PREORDER HERE

What If It’s Us by Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera is basically the ultimate contemporary collaboration I’ve been waiting for! Being a huge fan of both these author’s previous books meant I absolutely couldn’t wait to read their combined project. Albertalli’s Simon Vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda and Leah On The Offbeat are hilarious and super cute, while Silvera’s History Is All You Left Me and They Both Die At The End were meaningful and emotional. So what would What If It’s Us bring!? I’m definitely pleased to say that it was full of hope and laughter, devastation and awkwardness, and the kind of banter that has you smiling for days.

The story is about Arthur and Ben who have an unlikely meeting in a post office and…probably will never see each other again, right? They connected, but they’re in New York, so it’s not exactly a place you’ll run into a stranger twice. But they both can’t stop thinking about the interaction and it leads them to seek each other out. After a ton of near-misses while balancing their own hectic lives (Ben is suffering through a lonely summer school after his ex cheated on him and somehow managed to get all their combined friends. While Arthur is doing an internship while thinking his parents might split up). And then — they connect again thanks to a coffee shop, a sign, and a lot of desperate hope. Their dates are super cute and super awkward and nothing about their relationship is going smoothly at all…so does this mean they’re not meant to be? Or are they going to be each other’s everything?

One thing I quite enjoyed was how it explored New York from a touristy perspective because I, as an Aussie, was really interested in “seeing” the sites! Arthur was an adorable tourist and I loved how excited he was about being in this city for the summer.

The boys were definitely the highlight of the book! They both take turns narrating (and if you know the authors, it’s pretty easy to guess who is writing which character). They contrasted in so many ways: Arthur being rich and headed for a fancy college vs Ben being poor and failing school. Arthur being outgoing and bubbly vs Ben being reserved and cautious. Arthur being nervous about his first romance vs Ben being skeptical after just having his heart broken. The combination of them was so fantastic and heartwarming, seeing them open up for each other and learn to love the other’s differences.

It is a bit of a quirky “find a needle in a haystack” story as they meet briefly in a postoffice and then have to refind each other again. I loved all the “near misses” because, as a reader, we’re screaming for them to no no! Wait! Two more seconds and you would’ve met again! It’s definitely a book that keeps you glued to the pages wondering if this is going to work between them.

I also loved the levels of diversity in the story! Obviously it’s a gay teen romance, but also Ben is Puerto Rican and Arthur has ADHD. Ben’s discussions about his family and what it truly means to be Puerto Rican were great and very important.

There are plenty of amazing things to be said about friendship too. About how friendships change and grow over the years and how hard that is. It’s absolutely devastating to lose friends, and I think it’s something that needs to be addressed in YA because most teens go through this!

It’s also so funny! I loved the subtle references from the authors to their older books, and I snorted over the quick-fire banter and the ridiculous dorkiness. The writing is also super addictive and easy to devour. I found myself completely unable to put it down.

WHAT IF IT’S US is such a cute and fun book! It’s the perfect summery read, full of awkward moments and absolutely golden magical moments while two boys fall in love through endless mishaps, mistakes, and messy moments. It’s the kind of story you can’t help but root for and turn every page desperate to find out what happens to Ben and Arthur and their summer in New York.

Under the Lights and in the Dark

In Under the Lights and in the Dark, sports writer Gwendolyn Oxenham notes how women’s sport is the antithesis of American sportwriter Gary Smith’s answer to the ‘if you could trade places with any athlete’ question. ‘I probably wouldn’t,’ he famously said. ‘For the most part, they’ve had to whittle down their lives so much to excel at something that their possibility for personal growth is compromised.’

Female footballers (soccer players), however, have to work, study, and generally juggle many, many, many commitments outside football. If anything, their personal growth accelerates.

Under the Lights spotlights some of the challenges women have had—and continue to have—to overcome in order to play football. As she notes in the book’s opening pages: ‘Dozens of players across the world shared their stories and their time. Whether from Liverpool or Lagos, Tokyo or Kabul, Kingston or Paris, here’s one thing that was always true: at an early age, they found the game and held on, driven neither by money nor fame—only the desire to be great. Here are their stories.’

Featuring a mix of well known and periphery players, and grouping tales under some key themes such as low or even non-existent salary, homelessness, and motherhood, Oxenham exposes some of the issues women face simply to play the sport they love.

One of the most striking is the bizarre and terrifyingly powerless experience of playing in Russia, where the team may or may not be run by, and acting as a money-laundering cover for, the mafia. Under these dubious conditions, the players are beholden to a coach and manager who forces them to take ‘vitamins’, both orally and via injections, that one player, on returning to the US and undergoing medical tests, determines to be anabolic steroids.

Another obstacle Oxenham exposes is the decades-long consequences of women’s football being banned in Brazil from 1941 until 1979 courtesy of a law that stated that ‘women will not be allowed to practi[s]e sports [that] are incompatible to their feminine nature.’

Women can now in theory legally play football in Brazil, Oxenham notes, but they’re being prevented from playing by other means. Santos, for example, was until a few years ago the best women’s football team. Was, because the club cut the entire team in 2012 in order to stump up cash to keep male footballer Neymar (AKA he of the ridiculous rolling that inspired countless 2018 World Cup mockery and memes) by paying him one million reals (US$558,000) a month. He was later sold overseas anyway. How Neymar can live with himself allowing the women’s team to be cut for him, I cannot conceive.

Motherhood is another theme Oxenham explores—specifically, how, just as in office-based workplaces, pregnancy and motherhood hampers or more often ends women’s football careers. Of the 24 teams and 552 women who competed at the 2015 Women’s World Cup, Oxenham writes, only 11 players were known to be mothers. Most of the national teams have no mothers, due to cost, commitment, the absence of maternity policies, and an all-round lack of support.

But Oxenham also highlights some of women’s football’s triumphs. Portland and its women’s team the Thorns, for example, are the town and the team that shows the rest of the world how women’s football and women’s football support should be. One of the iconic banners its avid supporters have painted is a quote from The Little Prince: ‘It is the time you have wasted for your rose that makes your rose so important’. Where ‘wasted’ can be read as ‘done it for the love of the game’.

About women’s football, but also about much more pervasive issues that affect women in society more widely, Under the Lights and in the Dark is yet another invaluable documentation of the issues women face and the progress they are making. With any luck and a lot of hard work, in the future female footballers will soon just be under the lights.

2018 CBCA Shortlisted Early Childhood Books #2: Boy, I’m Australian Too & Rodney Loses It

Since the CBCA shortlist was announced I have been blogging about the 2018 shortlisted books and am now concluding with the Early Childhood books (in two parts). You may find some of the ideas across the posts helpful for Book Week this month.

Boy by Phil Cummings, illustrated by Shane Devries (Scholastic Australia)

Boy is a morality tale about conflict and misunderstanding; understanding & communicating. It covers issues of deforestation, fighting and living in harmony and peace.

The trees on the mountain are destroyed by a powerful dragon, which illustratively evolves from threatening to cute during the tale.

People are blaming others and fighting. Boy can’t hear the fighting but perhaps he can understand the situation better than anyone because of his hearing loss.

Might the boy be unnamed because the book is aimed at all boys or for all children?

The digital illustrations are an unusual colour palette of mauve, brown and blue tones.

The endpapers could be copied and used for the card game ‘Happy Families’.

The cover is tactile, with the word ‘BOY’ written in sand. Boy communicates by drawing pictures in sand. Children could write an important question in the sand (sandpit or sandtray) e.g. ‘Why are you fighting?’ alongside a picture.

Children could further develop awareness and affirmation of the hearing impaired. This could include learning some Auslan and also saying ‘Thank you’ ‘with dancing hands’ like Boy does.

I’m Australian Too by Mem Fox, illustrated by Ronojoy Ghosh (Scholastic)

Children could look at the endpapers to see how the children at the start become adults by the end. They could draw themselves as a child and then as an adult, imagining a possible future.

Onset and rime in the rhyming text include ‘day/stay’ ‘small/all’ ‘yet/vet’ ‘far/star’ and ‘strife/life’ (others are more difficult for very young children).

Many countries are represented in the book e.g. Syria, China, Afghanistan and Italy.

The refrain, ‘How about you?’ could be answered by readers and they could also suggest which countries are not represented; which Australian capital cities and other places are mentioned and what are some missing Australian places?

Children could show or make flags for countries represented by students in the class or school.

The story settles into a rhythmic security to precede a chilling page:

Sadly, I’m a refugee –

I’m not Australian yet.

But if your country lets me in,

I’d love to be a vet.

Australia’s refugee situation is political, and far more complex that this, but I’m Australian Too will no doubt influence children’s attitudes towards refugees.

 Rodney Loses It! by Michael Gerard Bauer, illustrated by Chrissie Krebs (Omnibus Books)

The title has a double meaning and the book is humorous in words and pictures.

It’s unusual that readers are able to see the missing pen and other objects, a mark of slapstick. Rodney Loses It! is slapstick in book form.

The illustrative style is cartoon-like; lively, bright and shows active body language.

The writing shows good word choice and maintains a successful rhythm.

Children could compare the endpapers, which are different.

Rodney loves drawing but loses his favourite pen, Penny.

The illustrations show the pen and other missing items.

The message or moral is that we can love doing things but not get around to them because of distractions.

In the story, Rodney could have used other colours but he was fixated on one pen and one colour so he missed out on doing what he loved.

 Children could draw pictures like Rodney’s or make Rodney using play dough and LED lights for his eyes or pen.

ABC Science: The Surfing Scientist

http://www.abc.net.au/science/articles/2012/05/30/3513709.htm

The Notorious RBG (x 2)

‘What are you doing taking a seat that could be occupied by a man?’ was the question put to Ruth Bader Ginsburg (RBG)—lawyer, feminist, supreme court judge, icon, ‘rockstar’, and just about the closest thing we have to a superhero—when she was just one of nine women in a law class of over 500 men.

The question—arguably rhetorical—reflects the sentiment RBG has not only encountered but triumphed over throughout her entire career.

And in contrast to the usual fate of older women, RBG is these days not being dismissed or overlooked, but is instead ‘winning the internet’. In fact, this 84-year-old feminist, who this month celebrated 25 years as a US Supreme Court judge, has become something of a liberal hero for those of us desperately seeking someone to believe in in the face of Trump-led chaos.

For those unfamiliar with RBG—or the ‘Notorious RBG’ as she’s come to be known thanks to a Tumblr set up in her honour that gives a nod to 80s rapper Notorious BIG—there is now a documentary and a book that unpack and celebrate her story.

RBG, playing in cinemas around Australia now, and The Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, which comes in both an adult and young adult version to inspire people of all ages, provide insight into a remarkable woman who has, through quietly setting about doing her job as a lawyer, literally changed the course of history for women, particularly.

Softly spoken and never one to raise her voice in anger, RBG has overcome obstacles that would defeat most others. Apart from having to prove she deserved to be at law school, she excelled at her own studies. She also helped her husband excel at his while he was suffering from cancer, organising his friends to take notes in classes and typing up his notes and assignments. This was on top of doing her own study and caring for the couple’s young child. Only to find upon graduating that no law firm would hire her purely on the basis of her gender.

When RBG quotes Sarah Grimke, a kind of RBG of centuries past, in the documentary, I felt a tear-forming, chest-swelling mix of emotions: ‘I ask no favours for my sex … All I ask of our brethren is that they will take their feet from off our necks.’

That sentiment imbues RBG’s career, throughout which she has patiently and systematically set about trying to change discriminatory state and federal laws. These include the legal ability for:

  • husbands, considered masters of their communities, to decide where their families lived without women having any input
  • employers to fire women for being pregnant
  • banks to require a husband to give permission for their wife to have a credit card.

Which makes her accomplishments sound straightforward when they were anything but. ‘I did see myself as a kind of kindergarten teacher in those days,’ RBG says of having to explain some very straightforward legal concepts to men who could not conceive of anything being wrong with them.

And her work ethic was and is clearly extraordinary. A common theme of RBG’s and her late husband Marty’s marriage was that Marty would often have to coax her home—she would otherwise work late into the night. Likewise that he did the bulk of the cooking because this seemingly infallible woman is a self-professed and professed by others terrible cook. (I was relieved to discover this because: a) I’m a terrible cook too; b) it showed me that despite her impressiveness, RBG is also relateably human.)

When RBG was just one of two women appointed to the Supreme Court, she actually had to devise new cloak collar options because the existing collars catered to men’s shirts only. It was a practical logistical requirement, but now her ‘I dissent’ collar is iconic.

The ideal number of women on the Supreme Court, she believes, when asked the question, is ‘nine.’ It’s a statement that prompts laughter, including from me, until she aptly points out that there have, until she and another were appointed, been nine men.

Which makes you realise that even if you consider yourself a feminist, there are cultural and systemic ‘norms’ RBG not only sees but figures out how to tackle and that the rest of us need to pay attention to.

Suffice to say, the documentary is must-watch and the book must-read. For fear of spoiling the surprise, those in my immediate circle will be getting copies of the book for Christmas.

Books About Lists

If you’re a list maker like I am, or just enjoy a well curated list, here are some books about lists you might enjoy.


The Book of Lists: The Original Compendium of Curious Information by David Wallechinsky
This is a fascinating non-fiction collection of trivia and interesting stories broken down into the following chapters: People; Movies; The Arts; Food and Health; Animals; Work and Money; Sex, Love and Marriage; Crime; War, Politics and World Affairs; Travel; Literature; Words; Sports; Death; and Miscellaneous.

Here are some of my favourite lists from the book:

  • 8 Memorable Lines Erroneously Attributed To Film Stars
  • 10 Famous Insomniacs
  • The Cat Came Back: 9 Cats Who Travelled Long Distances To Return Home
  • 15 Famous People Who Worked In Bed
  • 11 Most Unusual Objects Sold on eBay
  • 29 Words Rarely Used In Their Positive Form
  • 16 Famous Events That Happened In The Bathtub

The Book of Lists contains a wide variety of interesting tidbits and obscure trivia and is bound to make you laugh.


The List of My Desires by Gregoire Delacourt
Written by Grégoire Delacourt and translated from French, The List of My Desires is set in a provincial town in France. Jocelyne is the middle-aged mother of two adult children and runs her own dressmaking shop and faces a turning point in her life when she wins $18M in the lottery.

The unexpected windfall forces her to reflect on what she really wants in life so she writes a list of her desires, hence the title. This is a lovely contemporary fiction novel and when Jocelyne re-writes the list at the end, it’s quite interesting to see what’s changed.


Lists of Note bShaun Usher
This book contains lists from a variety of people, ranging from Leonardo da Vinci, Charles Darwin, Roald Dahl and Marilyn Monroe to 9th Century monks. The book contains 125 lists with brief descriptions for each, including:

  • A shopping list written by two 9th-century Tibetan monks
  • The 19 year-old Isaac Newton’s list of the 57 sins he’d already committed
  • 29-year-old Marilyn Monroe’s inspirational set of New Year’s resolutions
  • Einstein’s punitive list of conditions imposed on his first wife (this needs to be read to be believed).

    This is a great read for list lovers.


Getting Shit Done List Ledger by Calligraphuck
Finally, if you want some stationery in which to write your own lists, you can’t go wrong with the Getting Shit Done List Ledger by Calligraphuck.


It would be remiss of me not to mention Schindler’s List by Thomas Keneally and there are an infinite number of Bucket List books available for every kind of reader.

Are you a list maker? Do you have any recommendations?

Review: More Than We Can Tell by Brigid Kemmerer

BUY NOW

More Than We Can Tell by Brigid Kemmerer is such an emotional and heartfelt read! It’s a companion story to Letters To The Lost, but this one spins out about the protagonist in that book’s best friend: Rev Fletcher. You don’t need to have read the first book to enjoy this one either! But I highly recommend it because it’s also incredible and possibly one of my all time favourites. I was so excited to dive into this companion book. Expectations were high and I ended up totally emotionally engaged with my heart beating so fast from that wild ending.

The story follows Rev and Emma as their lives are slowly crumbling to pieces around them. Rev was rescued from his abusive father 10 years ago and adopted by loving parents (who also foster other at-risk children still). But he’s getting letters from his abusive father…and he doesn’t know how to deal. He’s ashamed for being scared and for wanting to possibly meet his father again. But keeping the secret is destroying him and giving him violently terrifying flashbacks. And when his parents foster another vulnerable and wild young teen — it just amps up Rev’s memories of being in such a terrifying place 10 years ago. Then we have Emma, who’s a gamer with parents who pay no attention to her and she’s getting harassed online. She wants to take care of it herself, because her mother doesn’t care and her father (also a game designer) hasn’t got the time of day for her although he pretends to. Then as things between her parents start to get precarious and the cyber-bullying reaches a more terrifying level, Emma meets Rev behind a church and they start to talk. But their lives and friendships are in heartbreaking positions if they refuse to tell what’s really going on.

I loved being back in this world and so enjoyed Rev’s narration! (Finding out his true name was amazing.) Rev’s life is HUGELY stressful and he’s ashamed of how scared he is. AKA, he hides it. It’s heartbreaking that he did this, even when surrounded by people who love and support him unconditionally…but he’s been trained from his abusive father to expect hurt, and hate, and punishment. And even 10 years free of that, he hasn’t shaken the affects. The book really explores and addresses his PTSD and anxiety. I absolutely love how his adoptive-parents were so loving and involved in his life. Even when Rev cut them out, they made sure he knew they were there, ready and waiting and loving, to talk when he was ready. He does a lot of growth in this book too, remembering that he’s loved. Gaining control over himself again. Letting people in and not being ashamed.

Emma’s narration is focused a lot on how girls are treated in the gamer world. She gets harassed and attacked just for her gender and it’s so horrible what she has to go through alone. She also feels she’s probably being “weak” for being so upset about it, so she doesn’t tell anyone. It was hard seeing her lash out irrationally and horribly to her friends, even the ones who were undyingly supportive of her and there when she needed them. But it was also understandable seeing how much she craved positive interaction but her parents gave her none and continually put their needs before hers. My heart definitely ached for her!

Rev’s parents also start fostering a new boy, Matthew, who is pretty messed up and refuses to open up to anyone. He triggers a lot of flashbacks for Rev, which will definitely make you tear up, but discovering Matthew’s backstory and then watching him grow as a character too was amazing.

The book really delves into themes of being wanted, trying to control who you turn out to be and to change it if you don’t like it, and how accepting help is not weakness. All such important things to cover!

More Than We Can Tell is definitely a heartfelt book full of raw emotion and aching themes. It’s very emotional and the ending is so stressful and will leave you clutching the pages and turning so fast to see how it all plays out.

Under the Sea, Under the Sea – Picture Book Reviews

With all the latest talk on plastic pollution and contamination in our oceans and waterways, it seems fitting to bring further awareness and appreciation for our beautiful marine and plant life to light. These following picture books not only give us the colourful scoop on the abundance of amazing life under the sea, but also the incentive and empowerment to protect them in the best ways we can.

Somewhere in the Reef, an ideallic scene of freedom and serenity – just the way it should be. Following the classic rhyme, ‘Over in the Meadow’, Marcello Pennacchio sings up a swirling wave of sea animal counting fun. A host of gorgeous ocean creatures splash vividly about the pages, brought realistically to life by artist Danny Snell.

Starting with a mother dolphin and her little calf one along the Great Barrier Reef, daubs and splashes of movement ‘leap’ from one page to the next. With another verb, ‘wiggle’, we encounter two little sea snakes jiggling amongst the blue. Consistently, action meets numbers as the rhythm of verse and marine life treat us to an underwater spectacle in the crisp and clear waters of the lagoons and reefs.

Somewhere in the Reef is a playful and joyful experience to sing along to and recognise the importance of conservation of these beautiful creatures. Swimmingly good fun for preschool-aged children.

Scholastic, March 2018.

Another underwater counting parade propelled by poetry and learning potential is Jasper Juggles Jellyfish by Ben Long and David Cornish. With a title bound for alliteration activity, text tossed with rhyme and numbers flicked here, there and everywhere, you’re all set for a jovial, educational experience.

Set at the bottom of the ocean with textures reflective of the sun glimpsing through the water on creatures so adorably cute, Jasper the octopus drags himself off to school. A less-than-confident Jasper struggles with his counting abilities, but juggling is no problem. One friendly jellyfish encourages a strategy that Jasper can surely handle – “it’s best to start with one.” And with that, adding jellyfish to tossing tentacles means Jasper’s counting problem is solved with a total of twelve (3 jellyfish per every 2 arms).

Jasper Juggles Jellyfish would be a juggle between a simple adding-on strategy for preschoolers and more advanced problem solving for junior primary aged children. Nevertheless, an exuberant story about confidence and different ways of learning that children will be bouncing to read again.

Ford Street Publishing, July 2018.

In Ori’s Clean-Up, Anne Helen Donnelly provides all the right tools for an entertaining and environmentally-focused reading experience for early years children. Teamwork and meticulous organisation are highlighted in a war on waste, as we know it, where Ori the octopus and his friends find systematic ways to manage the rubbish in their underwater home.

Repetitive language and clear, vivid and friendly cartoons assist in delivering the message of cleanliness and working together. Terms and images specific to recycling, re-using, composting and donating are scattered throughout to reinforce this awareness and utilisation in everyday life.

Ori’s Clean-Up is brilliantly simple, accessible and universal to help affect change for the good of our planet.

Anne Helen Donnelly, July 2018.

Next, we are delving deep into a procedural text of the imaginary kind! But first, note the shiny, shimmering cover that is sure to lure in any young child with a penchant for mermaids. How to Catch a Mermaid is a cool and snappy rhyming tale  from a series written and illustrated by the New York Times bestselling team, Adam Wallace and Andy Elkerton.

With the persistence, creativity and audacity of a young whippersnapper, a little girl and her buddies make several attempts at ensnaring the pretty mermaid at the depths of the ocean. Trap after trap, their scheme fails. But who will help them out when they are themselves trapped by some nasty, yellow-eyed sharks?

Witty, bold and lively, How to Catch a Mermaid is one your little ones will want to snatch up as quick as they can! For ages four and up.

Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, June 2018.

Jarvis is a talanted international author-illustrator with books including Poles Apart, Alan’s Big, Scary Teeth and Mrs Mole, I’m Home! Continuing our underwater theme, Tropical Terry serves up a flashy, fishy tray of mesmerising goodness to feast your eyes on. Eyes, not mouths! 😉

Swishyness and swooshyness of colourful tropical fish swirl in flurries in Coral Reef City. And then there was Terry. Living the simple, plain-coloured life with his best sea friends isn’t enough when the fancy fish constantly parade their fanciful snobbiness. So, Terry transforms himself. And forgets his friends. Until there is danger. How will he escape?

Being yourself always reaps the best rewards. Tropical Terry casts an important net on playing to one’s strengths and embracing your individuality. A plain and simple message in an underwater forest of colour and spirit. Ages 3+.

Walker Books UK, June 2018.

Reluctant Heroes – Junior Novels That Conquer Doubt

Being the leader of the pack is not a role everyone relishes, especially if you are that shy kid who never kicks a goal or that odd sounding, looking kid whose school lunches never quite fit the norm. However it is often the most reluctant heroes that make the biggest impact and save the day. Being at odds with yourself and your perceived persona is the theme of these books, so beautifully summarised in their paradoxical titles. What I love about these two authors is their inherent ability to commentate messages of significant social weight with supreme wit and humor. It’s like feeding kids sausage rolls made of brussel sprouts.

Natural Born Leader Loser by Oliver Phommavanh

Raymond is stuck in a school with a reputation grubbier than a two-year-old’s left hand and choked with bullies. The best way he knows of fighting these realities is not to fight at all. Raymond is king of fading into the background especially when it comes to his friendship with best mate, Zain Afrani.

Zain is a soccer nut and self-confessed extrovert whom has a deep affinity for Raymond. He likes to flash his brash approach to bullying about much to the consternation of Raymond who happily gives up the spotlight to Zain whenever he’s around. Constant self-depreciation just about convinces Raymond that he’ll never amount to anything of much significance, which he is sort of all right with until their new principal blows his social-circumvention cover by appointing him as one of the new school prefects.

Raymond is as shocked as the rest of the school but reluctantly assumes the role along with a kooky cast of radically differing kids. Under the calm, consistent leadership of Raymond, this eclectic team not only manages to drag Barryjong Primary School out of its bad-rep quagmire by winning the hearts and minds of the students and faculty alike but while doing so, raises enough money for new air conditioners for every classroom.

Continue reading Reluctant Heroes – Junior Novels That Conquer Doubt

Review: Your Destination Is On The Left by Laura Spieller

BUY HERE

Your Destination Is On The Left by Laura Spieller was a pretty heartwarming story about artists and the fear of failure. Which I think is SO relatable to any teen (or older!) artist who’s struggling to know if they’re good enough or faking it. I really loved that aspect, especially all the “starving artist woe” storylines were are, let’s be real…big mood at all times.

The story follows Dessa who’s family is part of a nomadic caravan crew and they’re constantly travelling the USA in search of experiences and the chance to feel alive. They hate the idea of being tied down and it’s taboo to talk about…which makes life super awkward for Dessa who absolutely dreams of going to college for art. And staying put. She loves her family and she’s (secretly) madly in love with Cy, a boy in their caravan crew. But she can’t just give up her dream…can she? Then she lands an internship with a successful artist and the nomad crew agree to spend a few weeks in one place while she completes it. And while it’s the opposite of smooth sailing, with Dessa getting super stuck with her work because all the colleges rejected her and now she’s scared she’s a terrible artist, she begins to realise that life is full of cross roads. And she’s going to have to make some huge decisions.

It’s quite a fast book but still manages to touch on deeper things. The family’s aren’t particularly wealthy, which I appreciated since a lot of books feature people with no issues with money. And I liked how it definitely talked about how artists are often super underpaid.

I loved the epic multiple female friendships that were just on point the whole book! Dessa totally connects to her artist mentor who she’s doing the internship with and I love how they go from “prickly” to “valuing each other”. SO good. Also Dessa randomly meets a girl named Taryn on a bus, and after a sneaky night out (which Dessa was so not supposed to go on), they become such solid and epic friends who keep in contact. I love how they clicked and their chemistry was a lot of fun!

The romance is a bumpy ride, with Dessa having a total crush on Cy…but knowing he loves travelling and she hates it. There’s a lot of tension there with two people who feel so deeply for each other, but ultimately have very different goals. Should one of them give up everything?

The art factor was also gorgeous! I LOVED all the visuals and it totally reminded me of Starfish and I’ll Give You The Sun. It was a visual feast.

The book also encouraged artists to work from the heart. To stop panicking about how it’s scary to be vulnerable on page and stay safe. Take risks. Don’t let your fear block you. This is such an important and motivating message and it was brought across so well!

Your Destination Is On The Left is definitely a story about crossroads. It’s about fear of failure and the joy of creating and following your dreams, even though the repercussions might be steep.

Interview with T.S. Hawken, author of If Kisses Cured Cancer

Author T.S. Hawken

Tim Hawken is the West Australian author of New Adult novel If Kisses Cured Cancer published earlier this year. Thanks for joining us for an interview at Boomerang Books Tim.


Can you describe your book If Kisses Cured Cancer in one sentence?
A funny yet serious book about the importance of connecting with those around you (and not being afraid to go skinny dipping in the forest).

What inspired you to write If Kisses Cured Cancer?
It was a combination of a few things, but the big one was my wife being diagnosed with a malignant brain tumour. The process was obviously awful, but there were lots of strangely funny and golden moments sprinkled in that journey. I wanted to create a fiction book that reflected those ups and downs, and would do the subject justice yet not be depressing or overly fluffy.

If you could meet any writer who would it be and what would you want to know?
Neil Gaiman. The guy is amazing at every form of writing – short stories, novels, comics, TV. He’s unbelievably great and deliciously odd. I’ve read about his writing process and general approach to life, so would probably just prefer to chat about magic, telling the truth through lies, and working with Terry Pratchett.

Bedside table reading for T.S. Hawken

How do you organise your personal library?
You mean the pile of books that are precariously stacked on my bedside table? They’re generally organized by date of purchase. I do have a shelf of books I’ve read and loved in my office for reference as well. They’re loosely arranged by genre and then grouped by author.

What book is on your bedside table right now?
In no particular order, there’s: A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman, The Dalai Lama’s Cat by David Michie, The Barefoot Investor by Scott Pape, Fromelles and Pozieres by Peter FitzSimons, Lost Gods by Brom, The Great Stories of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle, Bound by Alan Baxter, The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler, and Primary Mathematics by Penelope Serow, Rosemary Callingham and Tracey Muir. My Kindle is also there, which has a few hundred titles stored in it too.

What was the last truly great book that you read?
I actually had to go to my Goodreads page as a refresher to make sure I wasn’t just putting the greatest book I’ve read on here (which by the way is Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie, closely followed by the Harry Potter series, closely followed by True History of the Kelly Gang by Peter Carey). The last book I gave a full 5 staggering stars to was Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut. Total genius.

What’s the best book you’ve read so far in 2018?
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman. Wow, what a book. It’s like a dark version of The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion and so, so much more satisfying. Massive recommend.

I agree with you about Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, I read it last month and adored it. What’s your secret reading pleasure?
Fantasy and sci-fi books. Shhhh. I love these genres so much I had to make a rule that every second book I read has to be something else. I feel like broadening your reading habits is a sure way of finding gold you might not otherwise have come across.

What’s next? What would you like to tell your readers?
Next is planning out a new story idea I have that will remain mum until it’s actually a reality. There will be another book next year but what that is, you’ll have to wait and see. To follow any news, sign up to my newsletter at timhawken.com. You’ll also get some special content about If Kisses Cured Cancer you won’t find anywhere else.

Applauding Individuality – Picture Books that Celebrate Being Different

Young children don’t always notice differences in people, at least not in the passively aggressive way some adults are inclined to do. Sadly, the recognition of characteristics dissimilar to their own either physical or behavioural is largely a mindset learned from their environment. Picture books like these do a tremendous job of challenging erroneous mindsets and applauding individuality. They are charming and direct, yet subtle and entertaining enough to read repeatedly.

Along Came A Different by Tom McLaughlin

Dramatically different (pardon the pun) from anything else McLaughlin has produced before, this avant-garde picture book cleverly combines colour recognition (with emphasis on the primary colours), geometry and social acceptance all in one neat entertaining package. Several groups of differents converge into one community space but despise one another because reds, blues and yellows just don’t match. Rules are established and boundaries are enforced. Life is tense and restrictive. Until one day, quite unexpectedly, a really different different comes along, radically altering their perceptions and igniting a massive appreciation of how being different is actually better. Friendship prevails and happiness blooms.

This story told in few words and bold striking characters, relays a simple premise of live and let love. It suggests to children that you can be any shape, size, or colour and still have a voice. You can like any type of music and have friends who love oranges even if you do not. You are unique and therefore amazing. It’s that simple. A modern day classic that welcomes differences and embraces change. Magnificent. Timely. Recommended.

Bloomsbury Children’s Books May 2018

My Storee by Paul Russell and Aska

Australian NAPLAN advocates turn away now for this tremendous picture book blithely ignores language conventions and unapologetically dismisses sticklers for rules. I love how it also challenges every spell check on the planet.

Derived from the author’s own experience with dyslexia, My Storee is a beautifully refreshing expose of encouraging creativity for creativity’s sake by forsaking the bounds of perfect spelling and correctness; paradigms that can severely road block learning and advancement for a person afflicted with dyslexia.

A young boy is a master storyteller but is afraid to let his dragons loose at school for fear of grammatical reprimand. That is until a teacher with extreme foresight, long hair and very loud shirts breezes into his life and gives him permission to be who he is and shine. Thank you Mr Watson.

Full marks for this book, which screams thinking outside of the box, applauds alternative teaching approaches and champions creative verve to the nth degree. I love it, every word and every ridiculously bold bright illustration. Viva la Mr Watsons, wherever you are out there. We need more like you. My Storee is concrete reinforcement of embracing who you are and all that you have, or have not, with verve and positivity.

EK Books August 2018

Continue reading Applauding Individuality – Picture Books that Celebrate Being Different

2018 CBCA Shortlisted Early Childhood Books #1: Hark, It’s Me, Ruby Lee!,The Second Sky & The Very Noisy Baby

I have been posting about the CBCA 2018 shortlisted books and am now concluding with the Early Childhood books (in two parts). You may find some of the ideas across the posts helpful for Book Week in August.

Hark, It’s Me, Ruby Lee!

by Lisa Shanahan, illustrated by Binny (Lothian/Hachette)

This picture book is imaginative and exciting. It is also humorous, for example the teacher’s funny but apt name – “Mrs Majestic-Jones”; Ruby Lee is the best at announcing “Hark, it’s me, Ruby Lee!” – an unusual gift; and tactful George Papadopoulos even suggests that Ruby Lee be quiet and still but then she even loses him.

Ruby Lee loves helping. Young readers could compare and contrast her with helpful Debra-Jo in the Little Lunch TV series and books.

The letters ‘P‘ and ‘H’ could be taught or reinforced. Ruby Lee loves pockets, peaches, puddles and polka dots. (P)

She loves humming and hopping and handstands at night. (H)

Vocabulary is interesting and extending, e.g. hark, intrepid, valiant, ingenious.

The illustrations are in a cartoon manga style where the heads are large in proportion to bodies and the eyes are big and exaggerated. Children could view online how-to-draw tutorials and construct their own characters in this style. They could colour them using the colours in the book.

Children could act out some of the things Ruby Lee does; collect things she loves and invent fictitious creatures like she does.

The Second Sky

by Patrick Guest, illustrated by Jonathon Bentley (Little Hare)

Gilbert the penguin falls into another world (almost like into a rabbit hole) – the ocean. He must find where’s he comfortable, at home and can fly.

It is a fictional narrative but also an accessible information book, particularly about penguins, without being forced. It utilises many verbs and active language: waddled, flapped, waddled and flapped; slipped, tripped, stumbled; slipping Spinning Stumbling Tumbling; tumbled, bubbled and sank.

The book’s message is that everyone is different and everyone must find their own strengths.

Before reading, children could suggest what a second sky might be.

Children could make a model of Gilbert and possibly one that moves using rubber bands.

Or they could animate Gilbert using a resource such as ‘Comic Creator’ http://www.readwritethink.org/classroom-resources/student-interactives/comic-creator-30021.html

The Very Noisy Baby by Alison Lester (Affirm Press)

This is a clever, funny book for babies and those who read to them. It is carefully structured in 2 parts: firstly, where the animals are reported lost; and then when they reappear in the park.

The book begins with observations of baby noises, which people mistake for animal noises. There are carefully placed visual clues that prompt the baby to make an appropriate noise e.g. stripy sleep suit, on rocking horse.

Animals and their sounds could be taught and reinforced using the book and also ‘Wild Animal Sounds’ YouTube – useful because the animal name is written https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b8OT061uxyM

Other books by Alison Lester could be read, particularly Noni the Pony and My Dog Bigsy (a dog like Bigsy also appears in The Very Noisy Baby).

Doodles and Drafts – Rebecca Lim and The Relic of the Blue Dragon

Less than a week ago, notable Aussie author / illustrator and prodigious writer for children, Rebecca Lim, release her latest action-packed middle grade series, Children of the Dragon. Book One: The Relic of the Blue Dragon promises magic, mystery and martial arts and I know for one already has young primary aged readers perched avidly on the edge of their seats.

Today we welcome Rebecca to the draft table to share a bit more about what drives her to write what she does and reveal her motivation behind Relic.

Continue reading Doodles and Drafts – Rebecca Lim and The Relic of the Blue Dragon

Review: Carry the Ocean by Heidi Cullinan

BUY HERE

Carry The Ocean by Heidi Cullinan is one of those hidden gem stories that I’m so glad I stumbled upon! It’s about the struggle between highschool and college, especially when you’re trying to manage a disability or mental illness. It contrasts two boys, Jeremey and Emmet, one with anxiety and depression and one with autism, and how they meet and their lives become entwined.

Jeremey is at the end of his rope with severe depression while his family’s pushing him towards college and getting a job. Emmet, the boy next door, is a high-functioning autistic who’s extremely smart, has a fantastic job, has just started college and — has a huge crush on Jeremey. Trouble is: He knows if he approaches Jeremey, he’ll scare him off, since Emmet can be seriously direct and a little awkward with social skills. But as he works up the courage to talk to Jeremey, he realises maybe Jeremey needs him more than he thought. His illness is going untreated, while Emmet has an incredible support network, and as things in Jeremey’s life take a dark turn, Emmet wonders if there isn’t a way to help them both.

This was such a sweet and quietly empowering book! It was really refreshing to read a disability book where the tone was respectful and the aim of the book wasn’t to cure or scorn disabilities, but to talk about coping mechanisms and build up self-confidence. And also dash a huge helping of absolute cuteness into it, which I couldn’t help but love!

It does talk seriously about the dark sides of untreated mental illness. I appreciate that it wasn’t just a “downward spiral” story though. We see Jeremey go down, with his depression slowly eating away at his life, but we also see him start to rebuild himself. It’s a book about depression, but the story isn’t solely depressing. This is a really good dialogue to open up!

It’s dual narrated by both Jeremey and Emmet. They are both super sweet, with Jeremy being an absolute cinnamon puff and Emmet being so intelligent and dynamic with his knowledge. Emmet is super intense and highly attuned to feelings, and while I did think he strayed into autism “stereotype” grounds on occasion, overall I felt he was a really good representation of what life on the spectrum can look like. (Although everyone with autism is different!) I also loved how their relationship was both slow and fast, with them discovering they have major crushes on each other…but learning to support and communicate properly as well. It also had a great contrast of their parents, where Emmet’s parents were supportive and caring and Jeremey’s were in denial that anything was even wrong.

Carry The Ocean is an equal parts dark and sweet book, with plenty of hopeful messages woven amongst a beautiful story. It’s wholesome but it’s also sad, and it talks about self-acceptance, and also how hard it can be to get up everyday when you have a severe mental illness. Seeing the world through both Emmet and Jeremey’s perspectives was amazing, complex and eye-opening. They’re flawed but relatable and the story will definitely pull at the heartstrings!

Big Cats and Small Cats – Picture Book Reviews

No doubt, cats have attitude – aka ‘cattitude’. They may tend to be arrogant, vicious or just plain naughty. But if you really think about it, they are in fact, loveable and soft-at-heart. The following few kitty-inspired picture books take a look at the different personalities of our feline friends.

The gentlest of the lot, Maya and Cat is evocative, heartwarming and heavenly. Caroline Magerl transcends beyond beauty with her poetic language and mesmerisingly enchanting illustrations in amongst a gripping tale of friendship, responsibility and trust.

The fine line and watercolour paintings in a style so charismatic aptly portray the dramatic moodiness and intense atmosphere of a lost cat drenched with rain and anguish. It is with her determination and good will that Maya searches for its rightful owners. Long, yellow scarf blazing behind her, Maya eventually follows Cat’s nose to an unexpected fate; where a long, yellow windsock atop a rocky boat leads Cat home and Maya a treasured reward.

Intriguing, beguiling and warming for the cockles of your heart, this loveable tale between Maya and Cat will be welcomed into your home with an outpouring of love and affection many times over. Beautiful for ages four and up.

Walker Books, August 2018.

Another cat to love, despite its size and demeanour. In It’s Hard to Love a Tiger by Anna Pignataro, a little girl knows all the difficulties associated with owning a tiger for a pet. The rhyming couplets and adorably hilarious illustrations actually make this story so endearing, that it’s hard not to love it at all. So much glorious detail hidden in the pictures demonstrate the very effect a roaring, growling tiger makes on a crowded street, when brushing his teeth, and feeding him sticky treats in a pastry store. The tiger carries on with his inappropriate gestures and anti-social behaviours that would make any small child cringe. But guess what? There’s plenty of love to go around.

I love the premise that renders It’s Hard to Love a Tiger so relatable for young children. The tiger could be a toddler or a kitten, both of which can be frustrating but oh-so charming and forgiveable at the same time. The text includes enlarged, bold words that literally leap out in a fashion to encourage terrific talking points. Deceptively loveable for children from age three.

Scholastic, June 2018.

Here you’ll find a most arrogant cat. A cat with only one thought. A narrow mind and a rumbling stomach. Cat Spies Mouse is a simple yet ingenious tale about the power of lateral thinking, tolerance and, well, copping a comeuppance.

Rina A. Foti writes a humorous dialogue with minimal text facilitating a curiosity for the nuances of our behaviours and encouraging challenge for streams of closed thought. In this case, Cat wants to eat Mouse because “that’s the way it is.” Cat is not open to Mouse’s positive suggestion for a possible friendship, and his stubbornness certainly lands him in a dark place.

The illustrations by Dave Atze create high impact with their bold and animated energy, brilliantly offsetting the wittiness of the tale and the deeper meaning of the underlying philosophy. Cat Spies Mouse would empower its early years readers to question the ‘why’s’ in life and how much of those can or cannot be controlled.

Big Sky Publishing, July 2018.

Another take on the trustworthiness of the stereotypical fierce character is this whimsical story featuring one big cat, a hat and an umbrella. The masterful Polly Dunbar nails the humour, the energy, the interactivity, all with a very important message to preschool-aged children – beware of deceptions and don’t fall for trickery. Trust your gut, and not that of a sneaky lion.

A Lion is a Lion sweeps us up in a rhyming romp of linguistic and aural goodness, questioning the real character of a ferocious lion. “Is a lion still a lion… if he skips down the street singing, “Hoobie-doobie-doo”?” Poshly dressed in hat and coat, the lion visits two young children and delights them with all the charm and savviness in the world. He treats them to a dance in their living room and requests a polite bite to eat… until the fiery redness of the pages emerge, and so does the true nature of the lion. It is pleasing to see that the children have just as much spunk and verve to show him who’s boss!

Splattered with spirit, fast-paced and funny, A Lion is a Lion is a charming delight with a big message (and a big appetite).

Walker Books UK, February 2018.

Did you love The Cat Wants Custard and The Cat Wants Cuddles? Of course you did! To jog your memory you can read my review here. The third instalment in this series with the wonderfully precocious feline fiend is The Cat Wants Kittens. What a surprise! Kevin is back with more grumbling ferocity than ever. He’s super unimpressed with the couple of balls of adorable fluff that invade his space, but we expected that, right?

Yet to be released but most anticipated. I would expect no less than brilliance once again from the dynamic duo, P. Crumble and Lucinda Gifford.

Pre-order your copy here.

Scholastic, August 2018.

Review: Mirage by Somaiya Daud

BUY HERE

Mirage by Somaiya Daud is a gorgeously lush story of rebels and body-doubles, inspired by the author’s Moroccan heritage and set amongst the stars. I actually didn’t realise it was sci-fi when I picked it up, but I was so excited and enthralled when I realised we were not only getting Moroccan-based culture and traditions — but also droids and tech and spaceships! I definitely hope this is the first of many books like this!

The story is told by Amani, who is a dreamer and poet on a small moon in a smaller village. She’s just turned eighteen and is receiving her special tattoo that marks her as an adult, when horror strikes. The traditional ceremony is interrupted by droids who scan all the girls’ faces but only take one: Amani. She’s whisked away into space, kidnapped by the brutal Vathek regime, and brought before their cruel and nasty princess…whose face has a startling resemblance to Amani’s. It turns out Amani is going to be used as a body-double. If there’s some place too dangerous for the princess to be, Amani will step in. Her life will be at constant risk, but failure to comply means her family’s death. She feels hopeless and trapped, tortured by Princess Maram, and lonely so far away from home. But her new life is full of glittering privileged and Amani learns to walk like a queen, be around the gorgeous prince she’s “supposed” to marry, and also accidental stumble on the hint of a rebellion and she could, quite possibly, stoke those flames…

What really stood out to me was the incredible world-building! It was perfect in every way, rich and luscious, weaving in myths and customs along with descriptions of their clothes and food! I loved the brief beginning chapters in Amani’s home village, where she’s preparing for her ceremony. And her respect and admiration for her family, plus her love of all things magical and poetic, was so sweet.

The contrast of going to the viciously lavish imperial courts was also so well done! When Amani gets there, and learns to live as Princess Maram, she has so much change and development. I did want a little more from the girls’ relationship, but it ended up being sparse as Amani would get whisked off to play body-double and didn’t actually spend much time with Maram. The two are such contrast though! Maram is snarky vinegar and Amani has such a sugar soul…although she’s determined, clever, and not about to be walked over. It’s nice to see soft, feminine protagonists, who are still strong and complex!

The plot follows a lot of being whisked around the courts and deception and quiet scheming. I did think there’d be more assassin attempts?! But the ones that were in there were chilling! There’s plenty of politics and pain and betrayal.

Mirage is definitely a story to look out for! It’s absolutely gorgeous world building will sweep you right off your feet, and you’ll soon become entranced in this world of gorgeous gowns and royal balls, while wars and conquering rage in the background, and a girl just tries to stay alive and decide if what she’s willing to risk for her people.

Beyond The Backyards – Nature Non-Fiction Picture Books

Picture books enable children to escape and experience worlds quite unlike their own. Non-fiction narrative picture books enhance those journeys even further. The following collection entices young readers to gaze skyward, creep through leaf litter and explore worlds in and beyond their backyards.

Backyard by Ananda Braxton-Smith & Lizzy Newcomb

Backyard is as it says; a whimsical exploration of a normal suburban backyard, that on closer inspection is anything but normal. ‘Sweet-tooth bats’ flit about the dusky evening sky, tawny frogmouths sit ‘as still as wood’. There is tiny movement everywhere and for one ‘sleep-moony child and star-eyed dog watching’, the world comes alive despite their close proximity to the city.

Visually sumptuous and satisfying, this picture book encourages mindfulness and evokes calm and imaginative thought. Captivating language coupled with sensory illustrations on every page will have youngsters revisiting this celebration of creatures great and small again and again.

Black Dog Books August 2018

Continue reading Beyond The Backyards – Nature Non-Fiction Picture Books

CBCA 2018 Shortlisted Picture Books #2 – Florette, The Great Rabbit Chase, Swan Lake, Ten Pound Pom

Florette written & illustrated by Anna Walker (Penguin Random House Australia)

Mae moves to a new home, an apartment. She is sick of all the packing boxes but draws on many of them, particularly drawing daisies. She misses gathering things for her treasure jar. After going to the park, she finds a forest inside a florist but it is closed. A ‘stalk of green [is] peeping through a gap … a piece of forest’. It becomes a treasure for her jar. She goes on to grow a plant for her new (shared) garden.

Themes include moving home; making new friends; the importance of greenery, trees, gardens; and natural and built environments.

Children could compare and contrast the endpapers (there are different creatures in each).

They could consider the meaning of Florette and related words such as florist and forest.

Garden They could make a terrarium or a green wall – a vertical garden or area covered in ivy or vines, dotted with flowers including daisies, model toadstools, other foliage and small model or toy creatures e.g. rabbit, turtle, bird, ladybird.

Children could do some of what Mae does:

  • Decorate treasure jars and find precious items to fill them, perhaps a plant like Mae’s
  • Chalk drawings on asphalt or cardboard boxes
  • Set up a picnic
  • Use pebbles to make daisies

Mae’s movements could lead to making a story map – on paper, cardboard, or using an app.

Other books by Anna Walker include Today we have no Plans, Go Go & the Silver Shoes, Peggy, Starting School and Mr Huff.

The Great Rabbit Chase by Freya Blackwood (Scholastic Australia)

Mum went to buy gumboots but she returned with a rabbit called Gumboots. His attributes are described positively at the start but the illustrations show otherwise

This is a cumulative tale with people joining in like in Pamela Allen’s Alexander’s Outing. There’s even a nod to the fountain of that book.

Humour Examples of humour include Gumboots who doesn’t stop to chat with anyone while escaping; the mother chasing him in towel; and the illustrations that sometimes tell a different story.

Illustrations Media: watercolour, pencil and oil paint

Freya Blackwood uses her signature spotted clothes and domestic details e.g. an ironing board. Red is used as a ‘splash’ colour and there is a worm’s eye view of the underground tunnel.

Themes community; simple outdoor pleasures; friends (even for rabbits); and how rabbits multiply.

Setting  The creek scene is a peaceful interlude, a moment in time, shown by a bird’s eye view. ‘Mrs Finkel’s forehead uncrinkles’ there. The trees are described as a simile: ‘They are like giants with their long legs stuck in the ground.’

The endpapers of this picture book are like a board game, which children could play on.

Children could look at a doll’s house where the front wall is removed. They could make a cutaway diagram (where some of surface is removed to look inside) showing the inside of the house and tunnel (as in the last double page spread). Or they could make a model inside a shoebox lying on its side.

Swan Lake by Anne Spudvilas (A&U)

This tale is taken from the ballad of Swan Lake, a tragic love story of a princess transformed into a swan by an evil sorcerer. The women are swans by day and humans by night. The princess plans to meet the prince at midnight at the ball. The sorcerer’s daughter is disguised as the Swan Queen and the prince chooses her as his bride.

The book is described as passion, betrayal and heartbreak in the Murray-Darling. Children may be able to identify the region from images of the area and the book.

The book is structured/played in III Acts, like the ballet. The written text is followed by pages of illustrations.

Children could listen to some of the ballet music e.g. Tchaikovsky’s Swan Theme; Saint-Saens’ The Dying Swan.

Ballet in pictures They could view some of the ballet.

Visual Literacy  The colours are mainly monochromic, with red as a splash (feature) colour.

Camera angles show some variety:  from underneath – red queen; from above – fleeing girl.

There are close-ups of the swan face and neck; black bird of prey.

Texture Children could emulate the texture through printmaking using leaves and sticks.

They could animate the transformation of swans to women using https://goanimate4schools.com/public_index or other animation programs or apps.

Books by Anne Spudvilas include The Peasant Prince and The Race

Ten Pound Pom written by Carole Wilkinson, illustrated by Liz Anelli (Walker Books)

This picture book is Carole Wilkinson’s memoir of immigrating from Britain to Australia as part of the Assisted Passage Migration Scheme, so it could also be regarded as an information book. Detail is shown to give verisimilitude.

Migration Carole Wilkinson packed her 101 glass animals and even tried to pack soil to take to Australia. Imagining they are migrating, children could be asked what treasured possessions they would take.

Compare/contrast Children could compare and contrast migration in the 1950s and 1960s with other ways of migrating to Australia in the past and present. They could use Popplet (a mind mapping tool http://popplet.com/ ) to organise their ideas.

Poem Carole Wilkinson wrote a poem about her empty house. Children could write a similar poem, including their circumstances and their emotions if leaving home.

Illustrator Liz Anelli says: ‘So much of her (Carole Wilkinson’s) tale rung true with my own journey and made it a delight to delve into. I loved researching details for the cruise ship they travelled on and especially enjoyed being able to ‘dress’ the characters in Anelli fabrics, sourced from my grandparents’ photo album.’

Some of her illustrations pay homage to John Brack’s paintings in style & colour and some of her other books are One Photo and Desert Lake.

CBCA 2018 Shortlisted Picture Books #1 – Mopoke & A Walk in the Bush

Mopoke by Philip Bunting (Omnibus Books)

Mopoke is structured using black and white alternating pages. The pages are well composed with the mopoke carefully positioned on each. The style is static, with a picture of mopoke in different poses. This style can also be seen in Sandcastle by the author/illustrator; and the Crichton shortlisted, I Just Ate My Friend by Heidi McKinnon.

Humour appears throughout Mopoke e.g. ‘This is a wombat.’

The book can also be dark e.g. ‘Nopoke’, where both pages are black.

Children could perform the text as a performance poem (see the work of Sollie Raphael, teen Oz Slam Poetry champion, who has a book, Limelight).

Safe styrofoam printing (like lino cuts) Children could select one of the mopoke pictures or design their own to make a printing tool. They could cut the rim off a styrofoam plate; etch the mopoke shape using a blunt pencil, pen or stick; etch some texture; add paint; place the paper on top and press.

Poster Making The bold, striking illustrations reflect current trends in graphic design so children could make a poster of a mopoke in this style.

‘Educational Technology & Mobile Learning’ –

‘The best 8 tools to make posters for your classroom’ https://www.educatorstechnology.com/2013/02/the-best-10-tools-to-create-postersfor.html or use Glogster.

A Walk in the Bush by Gwyn Perkins (Affirm Press)

There’s an interesting relationship between Grandad and (possum-like but actual cat) Iggy. Iggy doesn’t want to emulate Grandad; he seems more aware, while Grandad often seems oblivious to what they see in the bush.

The author/illustrator has a detailed eye for natural bush sights and sounds such as plants, animals and birds and silhouettes and shadows are executed in a light colour. The style is reminiscent of Roland Harvey.

The bushland setting is an integral part of A Walk in the Bush. To enable children to experience this, teachers or parents could find an area where there is some bush. It may be part of a State Forest, nearby bushland or a bushy area within a local park or the school playground.

Sensory Wheel Students look, listen and use other senses to note the sounds, sights and other features of the bush e.g. eucalyptus leaves to crush and scribbly marks on trees. They could record sights, sounds, smells, feel/touch, taste (where safe) on a sensory wheel.

Children could create literary texts by selecting one of the senses to focus on. They write a brief sensory description of the bush using language generated from their experiences in the bush.

They could write this description onto a piece of paperbark (if accessible without causing damage to trees) or onto recycled paper or wrapping or scrapbooking paper that emulates the colour, content or texture of the description. (NB paperbark is also available from some kitchen suppliers)

Soundscape While in the bush, could listen to and identify bush sounds.

They create then a soundscape by listing five of the sounds and recording these. The free recording tool Audacity could be downloaded to create soundscapes http://www.audacityteam.org/download/.

Review: The Art Of Escaping by Erin Callahan

BUY HERE

The Art of Escaping by Erin Callahan is a captivating and actually super stressful story about a teenage girl who’s obsessed with escapology. Bring out references to Houdini! It’s actually a topic I’ve never read about in YA before, so I was extra keen to try this one out and loved how it wove in everyday highschool angst, friendship group complications, secret keeping, and (of course) a hobby that requires you to be straightjacketed and handcuffed and thrown in a pool.

Lovely hobby.

The story follows Mattie who is determined to find the daughter of a late escape artist and be taught the art of escapology. This is a little complicated by her new mentor being super cranky and barely leaving the house…and also Mattie’s desperate need for no one she knows to EVER see her performing. Until a boy from school comes to one of her shows. Cue horror. But when they talk, the boy, Will, swears he won’t tell and offers a secret to Mattie so they can be sure neither will break. Will, school jock and sweetheart of one of the most popular girls ever…is gay. Will and Mattie soon fall into an easy friendship, where Will helps Mattie with her act, and also discovers things that he loves doing (like costume design) while Mattie thinks of ways to kickstart her brother out of his stalled life. They both want to find ways to be more than just boring and lifeless numbers in the world. And maybe death-defying act will help them escape their troubles — until those troubles catch up.

I did love the strong emphasis on friendship here! The two main characters aren’t a couple and while they both crush on other people irregularly through the book, it’s such a small part of the story. So nearly romance-free. It also ends up with an epic friendship group of a bunch of misfits from Mattie (who literally nearly drowns in chains and lockpicks for fun) and Will (closeted and anxious and lying to his girlfriend and unsure how to fix the messes he’s made) and Stella (super nerd girl who’s an ex-homeschooler) and Frankie (child genius who skipped two grades and literally no one talks to him). They were a great and dynamic group! Plus there were plenty of secondary characters who all felt fleshed out and interesting.

The scenes where Mattie’s learning how to pick locks are definitely amazing. There’s a twist on the “old cranky mentor” trope, with it being a young cranky (possibly agoraphobic) Japanese mentor, whose mother was the famous escape artist, but died in an unrelated accident many years ago. She unwillingly trains Mattie, but I did love their friendship, with the banter and insults flung around. I did not learn how to pick a lock though. Sad for me.

The story itself isn’t long, so the pace is pretty great! We follow Mattie (and the few chapters narrated by Will) as they manage school and college applications and also try to figure out how to keep their messy secrets from their families.

The Art of Escaping is definitely one to look out for! It really focuses on finding your passion and interests in life, trusting your friends, and picking death-defying careers because what’s a little adrenaline rush now and then, hmm?

Eleni Hale & ‘Stone Girl’ – Australian YA

Thanks for speaking with Boomerang Books, Eleni.

You’re most welcome and thanks so much for having me.

What is your background and where are you based?

I’m based in Melbourne. I lived in Greece as a child but came to Australia as a non-English speaking migrant at around eight years old.

My work background is mostly journalism. I was a reporter at various newspapers (five years at the Herald Sun) and then a communications strategist for the union movement for five years. Since having kids I have had to take a step back from that sort of high-octane work.

How involved in the YA literary community are you?

I first became aware of the LoveOZYA community through author Nicole Hayes. I was a member of her writing group and as my manuscript progressed she spoke to me about where she thought it might fit and how wonderful and supportive people were.

I love reading YA, especially Australian YA, and following other writer’s journey on social media. I’ve found the LoveOZYA community inspiring and vibrant. I love being a part of it. There’s a real effort to support each other and this makes the sometimes insecure life of a writer easier. We celebrate each other’s wins and commiserate with difficulties.

Stone Girl (Penguin Random House) is a searing, unforgettable story. Could you tell us about the protagonist Sophie and the symbol of a ‘stone girl’?

As I write my second novel I realize that I’m interested in the triggers and experiences in life that change as. What needs to happen to transform a person from one thing to another? As a journalist, reporting straight news, I would be stunned by the things people did and wonder how they grew from a kid into this adult. What forms their decision making and choices?

Stone Girl follows Sophie’s life from 12 to 16 years old as she becomes someone society typically judges, despises and ultimately dismisses. The persona of Stone Girl is her survival mechanism in a world where there’s no one to rely upon but herself. Sophie soon comprehends her place and makes a number of decisions about who and how she must be in response. It’s about resilience. She toughens up, she becomes Stone Girl, and this is both positive and negative.

Hardening herself, especially against adults, serves to both protect her and isolate her because stony self-preservation cuts both ways. She doesn’t trust anyone. Doesn’t ask for help even though she often desperately needs it. Her Stone Girl persona is what she uses to hide her vulnerability. When she lifts her chin against the world then she can shut out the things that have happened to her. She uses her anger to protect her. But in the end, it’s what she does with the Stone Girl facade that makes this a story of redemption.

Most of us have a mask we wear in order to fit in and protect ourselves. It just happens that Sophie has to wear hers 24 hours a day.

Could you tell us about some significant other characters?

Gwen is one of my favourites. Girlfriends have been the backbone to my life. They’ve saved me many times over, from my sister to the besties I’ve known over the years. I love the closeness and trust that grows between some women. The friendships in the homes Sophie moves through are formed as fast as they must be abandoned but in Gwen, Sophie finds a true ally. It’s a friendship that underscores everything else. It doesn’t just disappear because there’s a love interest.

I think of it like an old western when there’s a shoot-out and friends protect themselves by standing back to back. Gwen and Sophie bond in the knowledge that, despite appearances, adults actually have no idea what they’re doing.

Spiral came to me when I was at the Varuna’s Writer’s House. I knew Sophie needed someone, possibly a love interest, but I couldn’t figure out who would be strong enough break through to her.

Then, as I strolled through Katoomba, Spiral’s form became clear. I saw what he looked like, his motivations and that, like Sophie, in a world of broken promises, he too needed someone to trust.

Writing about Spiral was fun, especially at first. He’s gorgeous! A fiery and enigmatic character that I was drawn to completely – his name serving as prophesy.

I’ve always loved books with gritty honest characters that both shock and charm and I try to write this way.

How did you create such authentic experiences in the homes Sophie had to live in and her spiral into such terrible situations? 

Eleni Hale

This is fictional novel but I have borrowed heavily from my time as a teen growing up in group homes.

I tried to write the real story but felt unable to. Fiction freed me up and images and events appeared quite clearly to me; the rooms, the feelings, the flavor of being of being someone who lived that way. I put myself easily into Sophie’s shoes.

When I lived in the homes there were many younger kids and I’ve thought about them so often since. Sophie is how I imagined one life.

You’ve made drug-taking very appealing at times, e.g. chapter 22? How did you weigh up the risk of including this?

The truth is that before drugs destroy you, they feel good. That’s the trick. That’s why people keep taking them. If I pretended they were terrible all the way though then this would not be the realistic trajectory of addiction. It could be dismissed and then this would not be a true cautionary tale. Protectionism is not helpful for most teens, especially when you consider the type of world we live in right now.

How important is Sophie’s racial background to the story?

Her racial background and her estrangement from her Greek family contribute to her feeling of dislocation. She doesn’t belong there. She has no family here. She must let go of the past and carve her own way through the world.

Like Sophie, I grew up in Greece and left family behind. My Greek heritage and the memories of leaving my first home have significantly contributed to who I am today and I found it quite cathartic to include this in Sophie’s life.

What does she learn about family and others?

When she first goes into the homes Sophie is hopeful that she will once again find family, either with a social worker or with her Baba. However this is not to be. Sophie soon understands that in a world where the only constant is change, she can only rely on herself.

With the kids in the homes there’s a unique bond that makes them a kind of family – albeit temporary.

Could you explain what turned her situation around towards the end of the novel – and why have you chosen this form of redemption?

The fight to survive that carried Sophie through is her saving grace. I actually didn’t know how it was going to end until three or four drafts in. I just kept thinking, this is not the story of a victim. And finally I realized what had to happen.

Kids in care, people with addictions and the homeless are either viewed with pity or fear and I wanted to show how we should never underestimate anyone. People are amazing! They want to survive and many can achieve much given a chance.

You thank God in the Acknowledgements. Why have you done this?

Doing something you love, answering a calling to the self, which is what writing feels like to me, can mean many sacrifices in other areas of life. Financial, physical, mental; you turn yourself inside out. I found myself praying more. Especially after writing I feel quite close to ‘God’. This isn’t in a religious way but more a universal spiritual one.

Who would you particularly like to see read your novel?

Everyone. I need to fund my next novel.

But seriously, I guess if I was choosing readers based on getting the message across then I’d hope people from the world that deals with kids like these. Social workers, kids in care, etc.

I’ve also loved the responses I’ve received from those who are surprised about this world. I would like there to be a common understanding about the fact that hundreds, if not thousands of kids live this way right now in Australia. A public conversation about kids in care could finally bring change to this difficult, misunderstood and largely ignored section of Australian society. That, for me, would be a dream come true. I’d love to know that others wouldn’t feel the way I did when I was living in government care in the early 1990s.

Have you already had any memorable responses from readers to Stone Girl?

A redit post my husband put up went viral and I was shocked and amazed by the response. Social workers, lawyers, ex homes and foster kids from around the world commented and it solidified what I had always suspected. Despite the fact we don’t often acknowledge the plight of kids without parents, the situation matters to many. It’s a private pain. Or a job they really care about. Or they don’t know how to help someone… Some of them contacted me after reading Stone Girl, sending quite heartfelt messages. As an author, this is the best feeling in the world.

Putting aside the issue of kids in care, I wrote this book because gritty subjects, love at ‘the edge of a cliff’, characters living dangerously is what I find interesting to read. I’ve been floored by the generous reviews so far, especially those where people say they couldn’t stop reading. The number one reason for writing a fictional book has to be entertainment, doesn’t it?

This was the first review I received and I remember the relief I felt. Rob at Lamont Books really got what Stone Girl was about.

Wow! This is a must read novel for older teens, but a word of caution – it is definitely a YA title aimed at teens 15 years and older.

It took me back to my school days reading Go Ask Alice, which I found totally confronting, but at the same time an educational and inspirational cautionary tale. Stone Girl is certainly that as it takes us on Sophie’s downhill journey through institutional care as a ward of the state from when she is 12 until she is 16.

It is written with a real understanding and depth of character, as it is inspired by the real life experiences of the debut author, journalist Eleni Hale. Many dark topics are covered including death, poverty, heartbreak and substance dependence. But shining through the story is identity, survival, resilience and ultimately a coming of age empowerment.

I will not give the story away but suffice to say you cannot help but be swept along by the incredible Sophie, as the world continues serving up crap to her. She often stumbles and is so very nearly broken, but we continue to hold out hope for her throughout the story.

Stone Girl will change the way you look at the homeless, and hopefully enlighten young minds as to the plight of wards of the state.

This is a brilliant debut, but as it does contain extreme language, mature themes and substance abuse, it is suited to older teens, 15 years and up.

How can we protect young people and help if we encounter someone in a situation like Sophie’s or someone at risk?

From memory and for reasons I can’t really explain, kids in care seemed to be treated differently, like no-hopers. I don’t know if it was the way we dressed or looked. Maybe we were too loud or other times we seemed too quiet and uncommunicative. I just know that people changed towards you once they knew you were a kid who lived like that. From cops, to teachers, to people on the street, I was often hyper-aware of being a ‘lesser other’.

So in terms of talking to them in an encounter, simply show respect even if you don’t understand them, hold your judgment before you really know them (perhaps after as well) and don’t assume the worst.

Also important is to support the organizations set up to help them such as the ‘Make It 21’ campaign that seeks to extend support from 18 years old to 21. This could lessen the shocking number of government kids who end up homeless, drug addicted and/or mentally ill.

It’s really hard to get through to someone like Sophie once they hardened up. They guard strictly against pity and judgment. The communication channels are nearly closed. Improving their experiences in the ‘system’ is obviously an important way to avoid their slide into the margins of society.

I don’t have all the answers for this – I don’t think anyone does – but talking about it publically is a good start. Don’t let their lives be our society’s dirty secret any longer. Let their issues matter the same way that other’s kid’s problems are discussed regularly in public forums.

What are you writing now?

I’m writing the sequel to Stone Girl. What happens after you leave the home system and your support is cut off? What will Sophie do now that she is out in the world and responsible for herself in every way? She has no family and must scrape together the money she needs to live. Where will this new fight for survival lead her?

It’s as gritty as Stone Girl.

What are you enjoying reading?

I find myself alternating between adult and YA books. I recently read Ballad for a Mad Girl by Vikki Wakefield which I loved. Then I read Richard Flanagan’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North which was disturbingly brilliant. But Mirandi Stanton’s The Fish Girl is the best book (novella) I’ve read so far this year.

 Is there anything else you’d like to mention?

Thank you

Thanks very much, Eleni.

Review: Fawkes by Nadine Brandes

BUY HERE

Fawkes by Nadine Brandes was one of my highly anticipated release for this! I was absolutely not disappointed! It was full of darkness, magic, assassination plots, and really creative and unique twists on the infamous Guy Fawkes. Because yes! This is a historical retelling. But with magic. I also didn’t know much about the origin of Guy Fawkes, but I know the author did a lot of research (um, except the magic part didn’t happen in London at that time…well, I mean, maybe it did. Who can say for sure). This was such a lusciously detailed reimagining of London and I could wait to see how the story would unfold.

Thomas Fawkes lives in 17th century London, where the world is ruled by two opposing forces of magicians, and if he doesn’t get his mask and join one side…he’ll have no way to cure the plague turning his face to stone. His father, Guy Fawkes, was supposed to turn up to his school’s ceremony and gift his sone a mask, but the man (who Thomas barely knows anyway) never shows up. Thomas isn’t interested in dying of this illness, so he goes in search of his father. And then he discovers Guy Fawkes deep in the midst of organising the assassination of King James. The two opposing magician clans, the Keepers versus the Igniters, are destroying this world with their war, but it’s said if the Keepers kill the Igniters — it’ll stop the plague. Thomas has no choice but to help…right? They need 36 barrels of gunpowder and no betrayals.

Remember, remember, the fifth of November,
The Gunpowder treason and plot;
I know of no reason why the Gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot!
Guy Fawkes, Guy Fawkes, ’twas his intent
To blow up the King adn the Parliment;
Threescore barrels of powder below,
Poor old England to overthrow.
By God’s providence he was catch’d,
With a dark lantern and a burning match.

The story is narrated by 16 year old Thomas Fawkes, who is hopelessly honourable. He is like the ultimate beautiful “I shall do my duty!” son and I loved him. All the gentlemanly pledges and goodness! He’s literally dying of the plague, blind in one eye, but he’s still very particular about honour and his sword and being treated like a true man. He’s completely ostracised because of his plague infection, and he does his best to hide it. I liked how it twisted the London Black Plague by making it this magic-infected-illness that slowly turned you to stone.

really felt for Thomas and his confusion about whether to join his father or oppose murder. It was definitely a tug of loyalties and you really feel it as Thomas tries to decide!

The magic system was also awesome! It’s based on masks and colours! Basically you’re either a Keeper (controlling one magic at a time) or an Igniter (balancing multiple and lead by the voice of the White Light) and everyone wears a mask which helps link them to controlling the colours in things. So if your power is Brown, then you’ll control dirt and earth easily. I thought it was pretty clever and original!

There are also plenty of father and son drama issues. But of course. There’s nothing like an assassination plot that’s complicated by awkward fathers and sons who hate not being taken seriously.

I also really enjoyed the secondary cast, but particularly Emma! She’s a badass girl from Thomas’ school who constantly hides behind a mask (why?! Most everyone else takes theirs off sometimes!) and in the end she and Thomas accidentally end up working together — him trying to get information from the lord she’s staying with to use against the king, and her having Thomas as a servant guiding her through London while she tries to get hired as an artist. Their relationship is NOT smooth, which is always a lot of fun! Bring on the slowburn.

I loved the intense array of elements in the story too. From gunpowder and conspiracies, to disguises and miracles and plagues. There’s discussions on race and I felt the opposing magicians were a bit of a twist on the religious unrest in England at that time. Ultimately Fawkes is one you want to be looking out for! It’s available for preorder now and out in August!

Review: The Unpredictability Of Being Human by Linni Ingemundsen

buy here

The Unpredictability Of Being Human by Linni Ingemundsen is beautiful tale told in forthright prose about an undiagnosed autistic girl living in Norway and realising her “normal” family is actually hiding a lot of upside-down secrets. It’s such a bittersweet book that’s definitely here to tug on your heartstrings. The unique perspective of Malin is so heartwarming as it is heartbreaking as she just tries to fit in and…fails. This is definitely the kind of book you want to pick up, as it’s full of heart, complex characters, and some twists that will leave your heart aching.

Malin is 14 years old when the story takes off, and tells her perspective in diary format. She also starts off doing an assignment that asks what she would do if she were God for the day. She chooses fixing the perfect bag of popcorn, because if God hasn’t fixed the world already, then maybe she’s not supposed to either? Her life is pretty normal, in her opinion, with a mum who drinks a lot (but it’s good for her heart) and a dad who never stops yelling and her older brother who ignores her or is super mean. But also probably hiding something, as she soon finds out. And after her mother goes way for a while on a mysterious “business trip”, Malin’s world starts to fall apart. she can’t seem to keep friends at school without making unforgivable social blunders, she keeps getting physically hurt, and her beloved cousin Magnus isn’t always  there to point her in the right direction. And the boy she likes? Well it’s possible she’s done something to make him hate her too. Why is life so utterly and unfathomably impossible?

Malin’s narration was definitely my favourite part of the book! She’s sweet and endearing and narrates in a really straight forward way. She’s so meticulous about the time and in love with her super advanced watch. While it’s not mentioned she’s autistic on the page (although confirmed by sources), she has so many accurate habits of an autistic individual and it’s refreshing to see her exist outside of stereotypes and be dimensional and complex. She’s surrounded by people, but so lonely, and always falls in with the weird kids at school…until they leave her too. Trying to keep up with the popular (probably evil) girl, Frida, is hard enough, but Malin keeps being lured into doing regrettable things while the girls laugh at her. You really ache for Malin and then cheer when she finds people who do care about her: like her amazing cousin Magnus.

The book is definitely about family over romance. Malin doesn’t pick up on the undercurrents happening inside her family, like how her older brother isn’t in school anymore or her mother’s drinking problem. But it affects her hugely and the uncertainty is really hard on her mental health. I did like the little hint of her crush on Reuben and she does a lot of googling about kissing…for “just in case”.

The narration is quite simplistic, but I think it captures the story and heart of it so well! It’s not flowery, so it just pulls you right in and since the book is so short, you end up devouring page after page.

The Unpredictability of Being Human is a fantastic book that will warm and break your heart in equal measures. It doesn’t have a wild plot, and it’s more a little peek through the window into Norway, where Malin is moving from child to teen and trying to understand things that will never make perfect sense: like the unfairness of suffering, of love, of betrayal and loss.

Kate Simpson Shares her Story on Finding Granny

 Finding Granny is a touching and heartwarming story about a young girl dealing with her Granny’s stroke, yet underneath the surface it so much more about the emotional impact it has on every character in the book, and even those behind the scenes. Granny’s convalescence is beautifully captured through the uplifting illustrations and the playful tone in which the story is told. The words were artfully written by debut author, Kate Simpson; mum, writer, engineer and podcaster, who joins us as a part of her blog tour to talk about her journey thus far. Thanks, Kate! 🙂

Thanks for talking with us, Kate, and congratulations on your debut picture book, Finding Granny!
Can you tell us a bit about your background and how you came to be a children’s writer?

I didn’t always dream of being a writer. I always loved books and thought it must be amazing to be an author, but it simply didn’t occur to me that this was something I could do. I felt like writing was something for people with ideas, and I didn’t have them.

When my children were born, I took maternity leave with each, and then worked part time. With less happening at work, I started looking for something more to challenge me intellectually and creatively. Because my own children were so young, I was reading mountains of wonderful picture books and somehow, something just clicked and I thought that perhaps writing for children could be the thing I was looking for. And it was.

What does having Finding Granny published mean to you? How do you hope it will touch its readers?

It’s incredibly exciting to have a book published and to be able to see it and touch it and read it to my children. Like many writers, I’ve been chipping away at this over a number of years and it’s such a thrill to see the fruits of my labour in physical form.

In terms of how it might touch its readers, I feel like it’s the type of book that may find a different place in each reader’s heart depending on their own experience. A family touched by stroke or by another illness or disability might get different things out of Finding Granny than a family with different experiences. But I hope that the love between Edie and Granny really shines through for everyone and that the emotion of the story rings true.

Do you have any personal experience with art therapy? How much research did you need to undertake in developing your story, combining the emotional and physical impact a stroke has on a person, and how art therapy can aid in their recovery?

I don’t have any experience of art therapy. In fact, in my first draft of Finding Granny, Granny underwent physiotherapy rather than art therapy. But I just couldn’t find a way to bring out Granny’s playfulness in that setting in the way that I wanted. I don’t remember how the idea of art therapy came to me, but I remember doing a quick Google search and finding a news article from the UK about an art therapy group for stroke survivors that was holding an exhibition. From there, it just clicked.

I did do a little bit more research after that. There’s not a great deal of detail in my book, but I wanted to be sure I wasn’t including any glaring factual errors. It was also interesting to read people’s personal stories of creating art after stroke. Some were already artists, who needed to re-learn their skill with their non-dominant hand after the dominant hand was affected by stroke. Others had never had any experience of art before beginning art therapy after stroke. I came across a few news articles and blog posts that included photos of the art work created, and I was blown away.

As a first time author, how did you find the publishing process with EK Books? Were there any surprises or challenges along the way?

I really didn’t know a huge amount about the process going in. The few things I’d gathered from conferences and friends were that it would be slow and that I would be involved very little. Largely, I suppose that was true. There were certainly gaps of many months where I heard nothing at all. But I was pleasantly surprised to find that my publisher at EK Books did consult me on the choice of illustrator and that I was given the opportunity to comment on the roughs. As for the waiting, it seems like that’s just part of every stage of the publishing journey. It’s excruciating, but it can’t be avoided.

Gwynneth Jones is obviously a talented illustrator, absolutely capturing the heart, joy and love in Finding Granny. What was it like collaborating with her, and what do you love most about the way she has portrayed your sensitive story?

What’s not to love about Gwynne’s illustrations? I remember in the early days, my publisher emailed me some rough pencil sketches that Gwynne had done of Granny and Edie, and I was just over the moon. She has really brought the characters to life and I just can’t imagine them any way other than as she has drawn them. That’s definitely the thing I love most about her work.

In some ways collaboration seems a strange word to use for the process of creating a picture book. Of course, in the end the words and text work together to create the reader’s experience of the book, but as the book is created we really work largely alone. I created the text before Gwynne was involved at all, and most of her work was done independently of me as well. The publisher did give me the opportunity to comment on the roughs, and I made a couple of comments, but I don’t remember asking for any substantial changes (Gwynne may remember it differently!).

Do you have a favourite memory with one of your grandparents?

Many! My maternal grandmother lived with us for much of my childhood, and I remember her fretting over us climbing trees and jumping over rocks. My sister and I took positive delight in terrorising her with our exploits, but now that I have kids of my own, I can absolutely understand where she was coming from!

You’re one of the trio in the popular podcast for kids, One More Page. Has there been a stand out moment, or piece of advice from a guest that changed you or your thinking, or reinforced what you do as a children’s writer/presenter?

I think the biggest thing I’ve taken away from the podcast is how incredibly supportive the children’s book community is. We’ve had organisations like the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators going out of their way to promote what we’re doing, and established authors and large publishers really getting on board to be part of our interviews and our Kids’ Capers segment. And then of course there’s the constant cheer squad of emerging writers, teachers, librarians and general book lovers who listen to the show and share it on social media, tell their friends and send us messages via our website. It’s such a delight to be a part of such a wonderful community.

Anything else of excitement you’d like to add?

Everything seems a little bit exciting at the moment. I’m doing my best to remember it all so that I can feed off that in the moments when I’m alone in my lounge room tearing my hair out over my latest manuscript. I have another couple of picture books coming out over the next two years, and I also have some ideas for some middle grade novels that I’m keen to get started on. I’m really hoping to build this little spark of success into a career.

Thanks so much for the interview, Kate! Congratulations again on your new release, Finding Granny, and enjoy the rest of your book blog tour!

Join the tour here. 🙂

Find ‘Finding Granny’ in Dimity’s reviews here.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

CBCA 2018 Shortlisted EVE POWNALL Information Books #2

I’ve already blogged about the CBCA shortlisted Younger and Older Reader books.

In two parts, I’ll now look at the Eve Pownall Information Books.

Amazing Australians and their Flying Machines by Prue and Kerry Mason, illustrated by Tom Jellett (Walker Books)

This book is structured chronologically with a focus on inventors and aviators we’ve heard of including Lawrence Hargrave, Nancy Bird, Charles Kingsford Smith, Rev John Flynn of the Flying Dr Service; and those we may not have heard of such as Dr William Bland (who appeared before Hargrave) in the 1850s.

The structure and writing styles provide variety: words in the aviators’ voices; 3 Amazing Facts about most aviators; and ‘Did You Know?’ columns. The book acknowledges difficulties for women in the past who wished to fly.

Some interesting information from the book:

George Taylor In 1909 he flew a glider from Narrabeen, NSW. His wife Florence also flew, tucking her long skirts into her bloomers. At age ten Taylor wrote an essay, ‘The Future of Flying Machines in Australia’. He was a cartoonist and suffered from epilepsy.

Bert Hinkler In 1921 he flew the nine hours from Sydney to Bundaberg wearing a suit and tie. His RAF flying instructor was Cpt W.E. Johns, who wrote the Biggles books.

Like Lawrence Hargrave, children could make box kites. The ‘e-how’ website could be helpful. It suggests using dowel, bendy straws and a plastic/vinyl tablecloth. https://www.ehow.com/how_4882168_make-box-kites.html Alternatively they could make gliders or paper planes.

M is for Mutiny! History by Alphabet by John Dickson, illustrated by Bern Emmerichs (Berbay Publishing)

Structured as an alphabet book, this book is set during British colonisation of Australia but also explores ongoing preoccupations such as L is for land rights.

The M is for Mutiny section could be linked with another book in this series, William Bligh: a stormy story of tempestuous times. Children could discuss why this letter has been selected for the book’s title and suggest alternatives from the book. 

I is for Island could lead to reading the graphic novel, The Mostly True Story of Matthew and Trim by Cassandra Golds and Stephen Axelson.

Decorative Patterning is used for sections such as J is for Jail and N is for Nurture. Children could select an alternative description for one of the letters e.g. C is for Convicts (instead of Cook) and create decorative patterning in Bern Emmerichs’ style.

Left & Right by Lorna Hendry (Wild Dog Books)

Like last year’s shortlisted book by this author, Gigantic Book of Genes, this is a glossy science publication with high quality photos. It includes seamless explanations of left and right with clear examples for children to understand.

It includes a clever idea where children hold their hands out in front and touch their thumbs. Their left hand forms an L shape (helping them remember which hand is left).

The author recognises that it is easy to mix up left and right and looks at situations where right may connote good and left signify weak or bad. For example, in Albania it has been a crime to be left-handed.

It features symmetry, spirals, clockwise and anticlockwise, and the compass.

The author includes incredible information, such as ‘Nearly all kangaroos are left-handed… Parrots use their left feet to pick up food.’ ‘Female cats tend to be right-handed, and male cats … left’. And when driving, island nations tend to drive on the left-hand side of the road.

 

 

CBCA 2018 Shortlisted EVE POWNALL Information Books

I’ve already blogged about the CBCA shortlisted Younger and Older Reader books. In two parts, I’ll now look at the Eve Pownall Information Books.

Do Not Lick This Book by Idan Ben-Barak, illustrated by Julian Frost (Allen & Unwin)

Min is a microbe. She is small. Very small. In fact, so small that you’d need to look through a microscope to see her.

I know from comments by a young family that this tactile, interactive book about microbiology has great appeal. The title is provocative – tempting and almost urging children to lick the book. Min the microbe guides the reader through the informative content, which is well designed with bright comic style illustrations and high-quality photographs. The information is clever, irreverent and quirky. It probably reflects the creators – a team consisting of writer Idan (quiet loud thoughts), Julian (who likes comics and toast) and Linnea, the scientist.

Children could consider, ‘Where will you take Min tomorrow?’ Like the book, they could take Min on a journey using a mix of photographic backgrounds, cartoon characters and written text.

Hygiene is taught and encouraged using reverse psychology. Teachers and parents may use the book to reinforce good hygiene (without losing the text’s inherent appeal).

Koala by Claire Saxby, illustrated by Julie Vivas (Walker Books)

Koala is most appropriate for the very young. It traces the experiences of a young koala achieving independence.

The writing is both literary and factual: providing parallel texts which are particularly useful for children who prefer one style over the other and to expose readers to both forms. The illustrations are distinctive for their rounded lines and shapes.

Children could make finger puppets using the following free template http://www.makefilmplay.com/kids-crafts/how-to-make-this-koala-finger-puppet-with-a-free-template/ or cut rounded shapes from felt (and sew and stuff) to make a koala. They could use these to re-enact the koala’s movements.

Koala is part of Walker Books’ excellent ‘Nature Storybooks’ series. Others include Claire Saxby’s Big Red Kangaroo, Emu and Dingo; and Sue Whiting’s Platypus. This could also be a good opportunity to introduce the classic Blinky Bill by Dorothy Wall.

The Big Book of Antarctica by Charles Hope (Wild Dog Books)

This is another big, glossy production from Wild Dog Books. The photos are exceptional. There is minimal written text and key words are shown in large coloured font.

Antarctica is studied in the Australian curriculum and this book covers explorers, scientists, transport, ice, plants (moss, algae, plankton), and much about animals and birds, e.g. giant petrels who vomit on anything they think is a threat (page 37). Climate change and global warming also feature (page 60)

Ice is looked at on page 22. There are many experiments about ice in other books and online to extend this subject.

Children may also be interested in looking at Antarctica in real time via web cams http://www.antarctica.gov.au/webcams

YA Books With Crowns On the Cover

Look we all secretly like to sing the Lion King lyrics, “Oh I just can’t wait to be kiiiing” when no one is listening. Because it would be very nice to wear a crown. Agreed? Agreed. Until we accidentally inherit one, however, we can make do by admiring gorgeous crowns on YA book covers. And also reading the books so we’re not just judging books by their covers. (Although that’s kind of fun, I’m not going to lie.)

You can also find my post of a list of YA books with Knives and Swords on the covers too!


ASH PRINCESS by Laura Sebastian

BUY HERE

Honestly this cover is super flawless, with it’s gorgeous dusky colour scheme and that crown that is so entrancing and yet is a symbol of oppression and devastation. Theo’s nation has been conquered by an evil tyrant, and now she’s a tortured captive princess in her own castle — and on special occasion she’s forced to wear this crown of ashes that makes a horrible mess over her face and clothes to remind everyone she’s worth nothing. But secretly? She’s planning assassinations and rebellions.

 

THE CRUEL PRINCE by Holly Black

BUY HERE

This is only one of my favourite reads of this year, but the faerie queen herself: author Holly Black! This is about backstabbing royals and cunning plots and a prince who is poisonous…and also a little bit tragic.

Our heroine, Jude, is a mere human in the vicious and gorgeously deadly faerie world…and the crown might be up for the taking.

 

FURYBORN by Claire Legrand

BUY HERE

This is about two women’s lives, but it’s set milleniums apart, which is a twist I hadn’t read before! It features one girl, an assassin who’s past might not be as boring as she imagined.

And a queen, who made a deal with an angel and has to prove herself through terrifying life-threatening trials to prove her powers are under her control. Or are they?

 

THREE DARK CROWNS by Kendare Blake

BUY HERE

And of course we can’t forget this one! The story of triplet sisters who have been raised differently and separately until they’re 16 and will make the fight for the crown. One is raised by a poisonous, cunning household of poisons and snakes. Another in the forests, who can control beasts and minds. And another who has the elements under her thumb with a simple wish. But what if they don’t all want to be enemies?

 

STARS ABOVE by Marissa Meyer

BUY HERE

A quick swap from the normal fantasies over to this sci-fi! It’s actually a short-story collection from the Lunar Chronicles world to give you that last taste of Cinder & Co before the series ends! And the cover is just gorgeous and gives us a hint of what’s going to happen to the now-returned Princess Selene and where the ex-Princess Winter will end up. Plus it just is such a fairy-tale cover! With the crown on a pillow, like a glass slipper waiting for it’s chosen one.

YA Books That Feature Sisters (Part 2)

Books featuring sisters are so important and totally winning! They can also remind you why you long for a sister or why, if you already have real-life sisters, that fictional siblings are usually way cooler. Or way more prone to starting the apocalypse. Who can say! It’s always exciting to find out.

A little while ago, I did a list of YA Books That Feature Sisters, but since there are so many epic ones, I’ve decided to add to it!


TIFFANY SLY LIVES HERE NOW by 

buy here

Tiffany is reeling after the death of her mother when her estranged father agrees to take her in — and turns out he has 4 daughters already. This is pretty intense for Tiffany to firstly lose her mother who she loved so much and then suddenly become insta part of a very strictly religious and big family. Things are anything but smooth, with her new dad turning out to be super controlling and her sisters ranging from annoying to mean. Except the sister-bonds that form as the story progresses are so good! And I loved how this book focused on family.

 

CARAVAL by Stephanie Garber

BUY HERE

This is one of the best books of ever, full of a magical game that you have to be careful not to be totally sucked in and entranced by. Scarlett escapes her abusive father and travels to play the game of Caraval…except she’s also looking for her lost little sister, Tella, who might’ve bet too much into this game and be in serious trouble. Not only does it feature sisters who’ll do anything for each other, the plot is so twisty. You can lose days of your life in exchange for a dress and the master of the game could be anyone…even the boy you might be falling for?

 

TO ALL THE BOYS I’VE LOVED BEFORE by Jenny Han

BUY HERE

It’s always a good time to cheer over this old favourite because the finale came out last year and this year, we’re getting a Netflix movie adaption! Also this features the three Song sisters, narrated by Lara Jean, and she has a snarky little sister Kitty and a very rule-orientated strict older sister, Margot. They are all super close, but that doesn’t mean they all agree. And I love how the sisters are pivotal to the plot, while Lara Jean accidentally has all her (private, aka: no one can read these) letters sent to her childhood crushes.

 

THE CRUEL PRINCE by Holly Black

BUY HERE

Nothing like a fae and knights and sword story to get your heart beating faster! Jude and her twin sister are swept into the faeries realms after their parents are murdered by a fae, but he decides to take them in and raise them…which obviously is going to create a huge tension when your new dad is your old dad’s murderer. Plus the world is full of backstabbing and poisonous fey plots and intrigue and Jude is doing her best not just to keep up, but to succeed her. She wants to be a knight. And if that means teaming up with the nasty Prince Cardan…maybe she just might do it.

 

Summer Bird Blue by Akemi Dawn Bowman

BUY HERE

This is a pretty hard-hitting story about two sisters who are super close…until one of them dies in a car crash. Then Rumi is sent to Hawaii with her aunt while her mother spends some time grieving alone, which absolutely devastates Rumi as now is when she needs her mother the most. She really struggles in Hawaii, hating everything and scared she’ll lose the ability to create music like she did with her sister. It features the most adorkable boy next door, gorgeous scenery, pineapples and surfing, an ace-spec queer protagonist, friendship and healing.

Duck, Duck, Penguin?! Bird Inspired Picture Books

Laughter, mishaps, laughing at mishaps; these are the grist of good picture books. Throw in a few feathered birds, the odd duck and a penguin or two and you have the makings of hours of picture book fun pre-schoolers and avian lovers everywhere are sure to get in a flap about.

The Penguins Are Coming! By Meg McKinlay and Mark Jackson

McKinlay’s predilection for waddling birds works a treat in this re-release paperback about an exciting new addition down at the zoo. Every animal is a-twitter and a-flutter because the penguins are coming only trouble is no one is exactly certain what a penguin is. Supremely illustrated pages depict each animal’s supposition of these new-comers, each description becoming more implausible and exaggerated than the last until even our accepted idea of a penguin is altered from boring little black and white bird to Hawaiian shirt wearing, pizza gobbling, party animal. The Zookeeper tries to set the record straight, supplying his charges and readers with sensible genuine penguin facts only to be ultimately comically upstaged. Oceans of fun and colour with plenty of apt facts and enough animal imagery to fill a real life zoo.

Walker Books Australia 2018

Continue reading Duck, Duck, Penguin?! Bird Inspired Picture Books

Review: Leah On The Offbeat by Becky Albertalli

BUY HERE

Leah On The Offbeat by Becky Albertalli is a complex story featuring messy teens facing the end of highschool and their worlds changing (for the good or bad). It’s a follow-up to the absolutely famous Simon Vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda! And you get to be back with the old Simon gang in Creekwood high (although now we know who the infamous “Blue” is that Simon was in love with in the first book). It was bittersweet reading this because this is the end of this little universe Albertalli created. And I’m going to miss this epic friend squad so much.

The story is narrated by Leah this time, and she’s a really introverted and sarcastic girl who keeps everyone at a distance because she’s scared to love too deeply. Simon is her ultimate BFF, but lately things haven’t been the same in their friendship group. Leah hasn’t told anyone she’s bisexual. She’s not ashamed, she just…doesn’t know how to say it. And she has (and has always) a mega crush on one of the girls in their friend group, who’s dating a guy…so that seems doomed. Leah doesn’t want to say goodbye when highschool ends. She doesn’t want her mum to remarry. She doesn’t want to risk putting her self out there, like with her art, or drumming, or emotions. And she always feels on the outside since she’s fat (and loves her body) and isn’t rich like all her friends. As her friend group tenses up with some fights and breakups and secrets, Leah has to figure out whether to fight them — or fight for them.

While it’s super cute and lovely, it’s not a “sweet” book! Leah is a pretty brash person and isn’t afraid to be herself. And she has people take or leave her: unforgiving and hard (totally Slytherin) and it takes a lot to win her trust. She’s pretty relatable though, because moving on is very hard, especially after high school. She’s also super arty and I loved seeing her explore her interests there.

The storyline also explores sexuality and coming out, which is a common theme in Albertalli’s books. Leah’s coming out is very different to Simon’s, which I think is great because it shows there’s no “one way” to be part of the LGBTQIA community, whether you’re closeted (for your choosing or for safety or because you’re not ready) or whether you’re out and how you choose to display that. I think these storylines are super important and can be really empowering! Leah, however, definitely does mess up with how she treats other members of the queer community. It’s sad and hard to read that part, but this book isn’t about perfect characters. It’s flawed and Leah is flawed (although I do firmly think the story needed to have her apologise more than she did).

Leah On The Offbeat is part coming-of-age, part coming-out, and part the end-of-an-era. It’s very character driven with a soft-toned plot, and there are so many moments to absolutely crack up laughing over. It features flawed characters and tough decisions and that terrifying in-between time of finishing high school and looking toward college and wondering if it’s the right time to chase the person you love.

Misconstrued Mishaps – Picture Books about Communication

Language and social cues can often be tricky to identify when the intention or motivation is not clear or masks a double meaning. Assumptions can also very easily lead to misunderstandings, so communication and an open mind are key. These two picture books so astutely point out our human errors in the most hilarious and relatable ways. Must reads!

Duck!, Meg McKinlay (author), Nathaniel Eckstrom (illus.), Walker Books, July 2018.

When small does not mean insignificant. When honesty must not be ignored. When puns should never be misconstrued. Duck! A story of a farmyard disaster in the name of ego…and a bruised one at that!

Masterful duo Meg McKinlay and Nathaniel Eckstrom bring this double entendre to light in their hilarious tale of mindless, obnoxious beasts and a noble Duck. A small green and brown duck heeds a hefty warning to his larger fellow farm mates – with a bold shout, “Duck!” Totally oblivious to his intentions, and the oncoming disaster flying through the air (a clever ploy to get readers joining in on the action!), the animals believe they are being named ‘Duck’, but of course they think they’re better than that. ‘“Duck?” The cow frowned. Dont’ be ridiculous! You are a duck and he is a horse and I am a cow. You see – you have funny webbed feet and I have these fine cloven hooves…”’ Becoming increasingly frustrated at their inability to understand, plus their constant insults, Duck has one final crack but to no avail. And when everyone finally realises their mistake, including Duck, well, it’s too late.

Duck! is a perfect example of the importance of communication, of how easily a simple word can be misunderstood, but also of the impact of character judgement and narcissism. McKinlay’s narrative is lively, haughty and amusing – aptly supported by Eckstrom’s earthy colour palette and smug-looking characters.

A brilliant read aloud for engaging preschool children with plenty of learning and discussion opportunities. This book will definitely get their attention!

Square, Mac Barnett (author), Jon Klassen (illus.), Walker Books, May 2018.

You know you’re in for a treat when it comes to this infallible author – illustrator duo. Plus, with the success of the first in the trilogy, Triangle, there’s no doubt that Square will be equally enticing.

Barnett and Klassen once again hit the nail on the head with their keen eyes of observation for human blunders. Imagine the surprise Square faced when told by Circle that he was a genius! A complicated communication mess of assumption, on Circle’s part, and Square’s withholding of the truth lands him in his own mess of a job trying to perfect a block sculpture of Circle. But he simply pushes blocks, not shapes them. He is not a genius. The universe must work in mysterious ways because somehow, Square pulls it off. Perhaps he might withhold the truth for a little while longer!

This tale of an accidental genius is just genius! The combination of expressive language, slick sepia-toned palette and simplicity of shapes, with the added bonus of thought-provoking humour works so brilliantly to give a reading experience that appeals to all ages. The books in this series are collector’s items that will shape a young generation into well-rounded, level-headed human beings.

Review: Boy Swallows Universe by Trent Dalton

9781460753897.jpg

Your end is a dead blue wren.

There are truly great books that come out every year. Some years a great book breaks your heart. Another year a great book is so profound you can’t stop thinking about it. And another year a great book is so much fun you can’t stop reading it and talking about it. And once every so often a truly great book does all of those things and becomes your new benchmark for what a great book really is. Boy Swallows Universe is one of those books.

Set in 1980s Brisbane the story centres on 13-year-old Eli and his mute older brother August. Eli’s dad is out of the picture, his mother is a recovering heroin addict and his step father is small time drug dealer.(Oh and his babysitter is an infamous jailbreaking ex-con.) Eli must navigate the cards the world has dealt him as he tries to figure out his place in the universe. As his world starts to become more serious Eli must step up and face the secrets, the lies and the truths that surround him as he struggles to figure out what makes a good man amongst all the chaos.

From the opening page I knew I had a very special book in my hands. Trent Dalton’s writing slaps you awake instantly and by the time you realize what is going on his main character, Eli Bell, has stolen your heart and you are off on a ride you have no idea where it is going, how it will get there or why. All you do know is that you will follow Eli Bell anywhere. My instant reaction to the book was somewhere in between the first time I read Craig Silvey’s Jasper Jones and Andrew McGahan’s Praise. But that comparison does justice to neither party because Trent Dalton has written an Australian novel unlike any other. It is a novel full of adventure, humour and good times. It is a story full of tragedy, sadness and loss. And it is a book full of dreams, hope and a dash of magic.

This is a coming-of-age story that will knock your socks off and more. An addictive read that will give you withdrawals when you put it down. A true Australian classic you will read again and again.

Buy the book here…

Review: Running With Lions by Julian Winters

BUY HERE

Running With Lions by Julian Winters is a super cute romance that celebrates diversity and gay identities. It’s also super sporty which isn’t something I come across a lot in YA, so it was cool reading about a team learning how to be close and work together like a family, but also still working out how they fit together and relate. The team is about acceptance: no matter how you are or who you love. And it was so nice to read about! There’s tension and there’s mistakes and there’s devastation…but it’s ultimately an actual happy book with plenty of cute moments and some great messages.

The story follows Sebastian Hughes as he sets off for soccer camp and discovers he’s been lumped with his once-childhood-best-friend, Emir Shah. Trouble is, they’re not friends anymore. Emir is cold and indifferent and Sebastian doesn’t really know what went wrong between them. All he knows is that this is his last year of highschool to try and make the Lions team great, possibly land the captain position, and also figure out what comes next for him after he graduations. Pressure is building as everyone expects him to be the “good kid”, the one who keeps them all together and in line. No one even knows Sebastian is bi and he has trouble saying out loud to himself. Sebastian is left to try and fit Emir into the team, make him a better soccer player, and also try to patch things between them…except maybe he doesn’t just want to be friends with Emir this time. Maybe Sebastian wants a lot more.

One of the biggest themes in this book is: acceptance and respect. I love how it talks about both, not just wanting people to approve of your relationship with whoever you love, but also respecting you no matter what. It’s pretty cool that the coach of the Lions built the team to be, almost, a refuge for kids who struggled to fit in other places because of their identities. The team also features teens of different nationalities and religions. Emir, the love interest, is English-Pakistani and religious. (He also seems to have a bit of social anxiety.) Everyone comes from different backgrounds, with different hurdles to face, and they definitely don’t always get along — but they try.

There’s plenty of soccer scenes in the book, but it’s balanced with lots of dialogue and the good ol’ setting of a bunch of teens at summer camp. So wow yes do they get up to some mischief. If you’re not particularly sporty, you’d still enjoy this for the characters!

Sebastian was a bit of a “good guy” but he definitely isn’t bland! He’s struggling so much with wondering what the future holds and also internalised fear that coming out will change what people think of him. His relationship with Emir moves pretty quickly, but since they were childhood friends, you definitely feel the connection fast. I also loved that it explored Emir’s backstory too. How he’s working hard at soccer to please his dad but he isn’t sure this is him. The book has a lot to say on following your heart.

Running With Lions is a really fun, summery read with a powerful message and plenty of banter!

The Colours of Jane Godwin – Picture Book Reviews

Jane Godwin is one of Australia’s much-loved authors with over twenty books for children, many being awarded prestigious acclamations. Absolute favourites include Starting School, Little Cat and the Big Red Bus, The Silver Sea (reviewed recently), What Do You Wish For? and Our Australian Girl series. To say she has a colourful list of titles under her belt is an understatement! Today I’ll be sharing two of her latest colour-inspired picture books, Red House Blue House Green House Tree House! and Go Go and the Silver Shoes.

A perfect explosion of fun and colour can be found in this first book for young readers to follow a tiny mouse across a vast array of places, objects and animals. That’s if they can spot it! Red House Blue House Green House Tree House presents its audience with a jolly rhyming lilt about colours whilst also sneakily integrating a range of concepts in counting, sorting, sizes, and science. Godwin cleverly portrays a world that is both new and familiar, exciting readers along the way with her invitations for interaction. The illustrations by Jane Reiseger are brilliantly vibrant, fluid and oh-so child friendly with their wash and loose line technique and cheeky little scuttering mouse! From a number of coloured petals in the garden bed to floppy rabbit ears, a plate of fruit, tiny darting silver fish and one gigantic whale.

So many questions to ponder and giggles to be had, leaving a lasting impression and so many reasons to revisit Red House Blue House Green House Tree House over and over again. Rich, energetic fun and stimulation to engage emotional connections for children from age two.

Affirm Press, April 2018.

Another gorgeous collaboration between Jane Godwin and Anna Walker, this time in Go Go and the Silver Shoes. As her name suggests, Go Go is always on the go-go as an active and independent young girl. Destined to be a trail blaizer of the fashion world, Go Go is creative when it comes to re-fashioning her bigger brothers’ hand-me-downs. And it doesn’t matter what anyone, aka Annabelle, thinks! But one day she is allowed to choose the most beautiful silver, sparkly shoes. Naturally, they go-go everywhere on family adventures, until, one of them is swiftly gone-gone. Godwin masterfully tinkers with Go Go’s approaches to her lost-shoe conundrum as she deals with different pieces of advice and opinions. Go Go has both a mature and self confident side to her personality whilst also just being a kid, as perfectly rendered in Anna Walker’s illustrations. The beautifully subdued colour-palette with pops of red, in Walker’s characteristically phenomenal paint, cut and collage style, aptly portrays the sensible, independent yet playful lead character. And those silver, sparkly shoes! Certainly putting a gleam in every little girl’s eye! There is also this clever parallel storyline interwoven between the pages, adding yet another dimension of interest as to the outcome of the missing shoe. Brilliant!

Go Go and the Silver Shoes is a story that is meant to be! The universe may work in mysteriously wonderful ways, but it would certainly be expected that any child from age four will just fall in love with this one.

Penguin, February 2018.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Excellently Exciting New 2018 YA Releases!

One of my biggest bookworm weakness is, unsurprisingly, the lure of newly published books! I love seeing what’s just hit the shelves and reading the newbies as soon as I can. Plus when so many other people are devouring the new releases, it turns the world into one giant book club, which is downright awesome. So just in case you haven’t been keeping up with some of the new books to hit the shelves: here, let me help you.

(This doesn’t really help your to-be-read pile or your wallet, but pfft. Life is too short not to try and read all the books of ever.)


LEGENDARY (Caraval #2) by Stephanie Graber

BUY HERE

This is such a highly anticipated sequel and it’s finally in our hands! I’m pleased to say I’ve already devoured this one and it is magical and intoxicatingly beautifully written.

The sequel picks up minutes after Caraval ends and follows Tella’s point-of-view as she plays another (more dangerous, alluring, and vicious) game of Caraval in order to unmask the villain (or hero?) Legend and also save her missing mother from a fate worse than death.

 

THUNDERHEAD (Sycthe #2) by Neal Shusterman

BUY HERE

Although this has been out overseas for a while, Thunderhead is just gracing our shelves in Australia! So so excited for this sequel to the NYT selling Scythe story, which is about a dystopian world were there is no death unless you’re “gleaned” at random by a Scythe.

But corruption has stirred the ranks and two new apprentices, Citra and Rowan are about to be caught horribly in the middle.

 

 

A THOUSAND PERFECT NOTES by CG Drews

BUY HERE

Look I’m being a bit cheeky here, but this is actually my book! I can’t help but add it to the list though so forgive the deviousness here! But hey this is a #LoveOZYA novel about a boy forced to play piano by his mother whose own career failed…but his failure to find perfection ends in violence.

I mean, moving aside the fact that I am horribly biased here, it’s made a lovely little splash as it’s entered the book world and it will hopefully make you laugh and cry…or both.

 

SUMMER OF SALT by Katrina Leno

BUY HERE

This is one of my most favourite authors (!!) and her latest book is set on an aesthetically windswept isle where a family of (maybe) witches are facing some sinister changes. Georgina and her twin sister are about to leave for college, but the leaving is quite hard, especially when the family’s magic is under scrutiny and Georgina herself seems like she’ll never get powers of her own. Then something happens to her sister and the story takes a darker twist. It’s part contemporary and part adorable romance between Georgina and the amazing Prue, and it’s part commentary on some social issues that are so relevant to today.

 

LIFELIKE by Jay Kristoff

BUY HERE

Jay Kristoff is such a big name amongst Aussie authors and well deserved! His Illuminae and Nevernight books are amongst some of my top favourites and now we get a new rabid robotic dystopian adventure, that’s part Mad Max and part scientists playing god.

It has powerful and snarky female friendships, not to mention gorgeous but deadly robots, rogue hunter preachers, persnickety AIs and an adventure that goes from wild to wilder.

The Greatness of Grandparents – Picture Books that Celebrate Generations

For children fortunate enough to grow up with grandparents the bonds they create can be intense and everlasting. Should something happen to their beloved grandparent(s), accepting that change whether through loss, illness or disability may be difficult to cope with. This handful of picture books celebrates the many golden moments grandparents provide invariably enriching their grandchildren’s lives whilst also gently exploring ways to cope with the inevitable experience of change.

Loss of a Grandparent

Ocean Meets Sky by The Fan Brothers

This is another glorious picture book by the gifted North American duo, Terry and Eric Fan.  Ocean Meets Sky is a sumptuously articulated story about a small boy’s way of remembering his grandfather and dealing with his passing. Suffused with heart-hugging illustrations, the simple narration, which centres on a young boy searching for his grandfather aboard a boat he built himself, escorts readers to the moon and back, cultivating hope and collecting wonderment along the way. The hardback version, embossed with gilt images, comes with a gorgeous, eye-catching dust cover which is almost reason enough to open it and venture in. Collectable and memorable, full points for this magical and reassuring reading experience.

Continue reading The Greatness of Grandparents – Picture Books that Celebrate Generations

Review: Ash Princess by Laura Sebastian

BUY HERE

Ash Princess by Laura Sebastian is a tale of darkness, oppression, and princesses who won’t be beaten down. It’s more of a political fantasy than a swords-clashing-and-people-screaming one, and I found it very captivating and full of schemers and careful plots. It features a captured country, a princess humiliated and tortured every day by her enemies as a trophy, and the complexities of needing to make a statement by killing a prince…but unfortunately falling for that prince at the same time. And isn’t that cover just stunning?!

The story follows Theodosia, who’s been a captive in her own castle after enemies torn her country apart, killed her mother, and proceeded to being a vicious reign. Theo is mocked at court, whipped for her people’s transgressions if they dare try to rebel, and given a crown of ash during festivities so everyone remembers she’s worth nothing.  She’s now sixteen and desperate. And after they force her to kill the rebel who’s also her father…Theo is ready to plan ways to fight back. She is a pawn, but that doesn’t mean she can’t be a weapon in the dark — especially with the help of a childhood friend, pirates, and her downtrodden people.

The world building was the standout! It actually takes time to show us languages and cultures and built this complex world of oppression and lush beauty. I felt really drawn into the world after only a few chapters. Plus it had a lot of fantastic details so everything seemed super vivid!

The contrast of the opulent life vs the horror the conquerors deal out was so well written. Theo’s people are little more than slaves while she is a  trophy, tortured daily for the crimes of her people but kept alive despite the horror she has to go through. She’s like lavished in pretty dresses and wears pretty makeup and goes to banquets and has books. Her “best friend” is one the daughter of a very powerful dude and she’s all pretty and light and flippant. To the court, Theo pretends to be satisfied with her life as a caged bird. But then in the background, we see the horror and torment the conquerors throw at their enslaved people. There are murders and brutal labour and anyone who even looks like they might be plotting something is executed. The contrast was vicious and vivid.

BUY HERE

The magic is elemental style, but they channel it through gems which I thought was a nice deviation from the norm!

Theo herself was a character you quickly feel sorry for and root for her to get out. She’s scared to plot for her freedom, of course, but desperate to prove herself as still loyal to her people after having to fake being submissive to the enemy for 10 years. She wants to kill the evil king, but what if she has to take down people she cares about who are in the way? Like her flippant friend or the handsome prince who seems just as upset by his father’s horrific rule as Theo is? There’s lots of moral dilemmas and stretched loyalties which makes for a stressful (in a good way!) read.

It is dark, but not super so on page. The darkness is more in the backstory and eluded to, although it’s still powerful.

Ash Princess has such a stunning setting and a lot of potential as a series starter. The ending is loaded with threads to explore and questions to answer, so you’ll be desperate for book 2!

What Makes A Good Ending in a Book?

For some readers, a satisfying book ending is knowing everything turned out well for the characters. For others it’s having the mystery solved and all the loose ends neatly tied up. Some readers love a happy ending and others – like me – hate it when the guy gets the girl in the end. It can be exciting when the villain gets away or a novel ends in a cliffhanger, knowing a sequel is in the works. I don’t usually enjoy ambiguous endings, but appreciate some readers like to imagine for themselves what happened to the characters. Here are my thoughts on some great book endings.


Glancing at my bookshelves, Stoner by John Williams has one of the most standout memorable endings for me. It is a sorrowful ending, but this melancholic novel slowly built to this point and it was so exceptionally written that it literally took my breath away. I hugged the book to my chest when I finished reading it and the final scene is still with me years and years later.


The Messenger by Markus Zusak has a unique meta fiction kind of ending that has stayed with me long after reading it. Exploring themes of why we’re here and how we can make a difference, The Messenger is a moving – yet funny – novel that carries a powerful and important message. When I finished reading it, I was left in absolute awe at the meta ending and had to seek out fellow readers and their thoughts on the book. Don’t you just love when that happens?


Missing by Melanie Casey is the third novel in the Cass Lehman series set in Adelaide. It had such an unexpected ending I was left flabbergasted and positively hanging out for the next in the series. It wasn’t a cliffhanger in the strictest sense, however it was a character development that I didn’t see coming and desperately want to explore in the next novel.
I’m going to have to wait awhile though with the author taking a break from the series, but you can bet I’ll be keeping an eye out for the next in the series.


Reading the end of Cloudstreet by Tim Winton broke my heart but also made my soul soar with the release and bittersweet joy of the character Fish. Despite wanting to stay with the characters beyond the ending of the book, the event that closed the book really was the perfect ending. It brought the story full circle and I’ll always remember the ending with a combination of sorrow and joy.


What kind of book endings do you enjoy? Do you have any memorable endings?