Review: Leah On The Offbeat by Becky Albertalli

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

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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?

A ‘Hole’ Lot of Curiosity – Picture Book Reviews

Sometimes curiosity can land you in trouble. But it is the being brave part that will ultimately lead to triumph. These few picture books show children that exploration is a healthy thing to help overcome fear or uncertainty. And they are a ‘hole’ lot of fun, too!
Be sure to also check out Dimity’s great list of Picture Books that Celebrate Overcoming Doubts.

The Hole, Kerry Brown (author), Lucia Masciullo (illus.), ABC Books, April 2018.

Squirrel starts the line up of dangling animals overly curious about a long-drop hole that lies in the middle of the track. Teetering on the edge of total panic about the presumed formidable, black-holed monster within, Squirrel cries out for help, only to drag Ostrich and three chattering monkeys into the lightly-suspended quandary. A brave and clever field mouse makes the call, ensuing a deep suspension of baited breath amongst characters and readers alike. Luckily, the ‘monster’ isn’t interested in animals for tea.

Brown’s delightful rhyming couplets come with a sensory feast of emotive and visual language to fill you with empathy, wonder, and even a few giggles. The illustrations by Lucia Masciullo are whimsical and witty in the face of perceived danger. The Hole is beautifully alluring, brilliantly enlightening and wonderfully heartwarming for children from age three.

The Hole Story, Kelly Canby (author, illus.), Fremantle Press, February 2018.

I love the play on reality and literal meanings behind this story of rehoming a lost hole. Charlie doesn’t realise that picking up a hole and putting it in his pocket, and backpack, are the worst places to have a hole. So he boldly sets off to find it a new owner. Young readers will already be amused at the thought, ‘you can’t pick up a hole!’, and now they are left to wonder who would want it and how it could possibly be useful. Well, Charlie greets a whole lot of people who are clearly NOT interested in the hole, such as the arachnid and reptile store owner, the boat builder, the seamstress, gardener, and doughnut maker. So, who is?

Canby’s energetic, sharp and unconventional narrative paired with her cartoonish, fluid illustrations complete the story that allow children to open their minds to the absurd, and also assess some very real and practical concepts. The Hole Story makes for great discussion and learning opportunities, as well as a fun and wacky adventure of finding a place to belong.

Scaredy Cat, Heather Gallagher (author), Anil Tortop (illus.), New Frontier Publishing, May 2018.

Curiosity did not get the cat, in this case, because Scaredy Cat, as the name suggests, is too scared to face even the meekest of things. A little girl’s four-legged friend shies away from sight in every scene, only to reveal its white, fluffy paws and tail in a terrified, obscure stupor. Gallagher’s delectable repetitive rhyme cajoles us along chasing poor Scaredy Cat through bees, towering trees and Granny’s super-duper sneeze. Hoses, wandering noses and costumed kids, striking poses. Each verse beginning with, ‘Have you seen my Scaredy Cat? He’s afraid of this and afraid of that!’, eventually leads us to the climax where a proud, flexing little girl claims her gallantry and saves the day. Now the girl has revealed her true and brave identity, will Scaredy Cat?

With Tortop’s ever-gorgeous, enticing and infectious artwork charging with colour and energy, it would be no surprise if Scaredy Cat is chosen to play his hiding game over and over again. Preschoolers will adore this romping tale of friendship, bravery, pets and love.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Review: The Smoke Thieves by Sally Green

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The Smoke Thieves by Sally Green is a collision of plots and wars, princesses and thieves. It’s set in a complex world that takes it’s time to set the scene, build the countries, and totally immerse you in this world of Brigant and Calidor. It also features five narrators, all teens, who somehow end up with the fate of the world in their somewhat dubious control. I am a huge fan of Sally Green’s previous Half Bad books so I was wild with excitement to try these. Full warning: This is a very different style and tone, so don’t get in expecting it to be like Half Bad! We’ve left paranormal behind and journeyed into epic fantasy and complex politics. I do think the Half Bad books suited me better, but I can definitely say it’s exciting to see authors exploring and flexing their skills in new genres.

The Smoke Thieves follows 5 people: a princess, a traitor, a soldier, a hunter, and a thief. Their stories all complexly entwine at the end, but in the beginning we’re met with Princess Catherine who’s treated horribly by her father and forced to watch an execution before she’s shunted off to an arranged marriage. But she’s in love with her guard, Ambrose, who’s affection for her will end in his death. In the enemy’s country, a servant named March comes from a forgotten and annihilated country and wants revenge, so he helps kidnap the kleptomaniac Edyon who is also the king’s bastard and estranged son. Unfortunately Edyon is winsome and lovely and March can’t help falling for him. And lastly there is Tash: demon hunter who captures smoke out of demons and sells it on the black market. But is the smoke, supposedly a “cheap thrill”, all that it seems?

The world building is a stand-out of lusciousness and detail. There’s a ton of countries mentioned and everything is woven and connected and so it felt deep, a  world of luscious dimension! We don’t often get such detail in worlds in epic fantasy in YA, so this was a treat. I like how it had culture for the different countries too.

The narrators are often the downtrodden underdogs. Which did make them easy to root for! I struggled the most reading Catherine’s chapters, as her heinous father literally thinks women are commodities, and women in court are forced to learn sign-language to communicate because the men don’t like them speaking. But even so, Catherine had a beautiful character arc and ended up in a position of quietly taking power away from her enemies. Go Catherine! And Tash’s chapters of being a grubby demon-thieving orphan were particularly amazing too. I also love how we have everything from escaped soldiers to angry and rebellious slaves.

A quick look at the narrators?! In detail we have:

  • Catherine: She’s a princess, doomed to an arrange marriage and viewed as property. She’s demurely spicy and I did honest love seeing her arc.
  • Ambrose: He’s the guard in love with Catherine and very loyal/valiant.
  • March: He’s a slave to a prince in a different country and so hateful of his captors and jumps at the chance to side with the rebellion and kidnap his king’s lost bastard son.
  • Edoyn: An actual human wreck on legs, kleptomaniac and smooth little ratbag thing, that you kind of fall in love with even though he would probably hurt himself with a spoon. I loved his chapters and his voice and how he flirts so incessantly with March who has no idea what it is to be loved.
  • Tash: A 13-year-old demon hunter who is a piece of work and will stab anything and loves pretty shoes.

The Smoke Thieves is a methodical and detailed fantasy adventure that winds so many storylines together at the end. It’s not fast-paced but it is always interesting and I think all the characters being so complex and developed made it addictive to continue reading! Definitely a great read!

Incredible Journeys – Picture Books That Show Us The Way

Picture books have an incredible ability to not only reflect life but also reveal new and previously unknown aspects of it. For children, nearly everything they are experiencing is new and unknown, which is why these next few picture books are so incredibly useful for showing them the way. This selection features incredible journeys made by humans, animals, spirit and much more. Venture into a journey of enlightenment with them.

Migration: Incredible Animal Journeys by Mike Unwin and Jenni Desmond

This superbly presented hardback picture book features 48 pages of astonishing animal journeys. Complete with easy to use contents page and a world map that depicts the actual trips each animal makes, this stunning collection is a must have on any classroom shelf.

Unwin prompts readers to imagine themselves as a baby swallow who, after just leaving its nest in England now must contemplate a flight over 10 000 kilometres away to Africa. Awarded travel and wildlife writer, Unwin then describes the migratory long-distance journeys of 20 different animals; why they make the effort and how they survive the trek. Some you’ll recognise like the monarch butterfly or the magnificent wandering albatross but did you know that the globe skimmer dragonfly performs a round-the-world trip of over 10 000 kms, as well?

Sumptuously illustrated by Jenni Desmond, Migration takes us across the planet, through its skies and over its oceans in the footsteps, wings and fins of some of the world’s truly greatest travellers. This is one literacy odyssey you and anyone five years and above must experience.

Bloomsbury Children June 2018

Waves by Donna Rawlins Heather Potter and Mark Jackson

Waves is another visually arresting, historical picture book that presents in similar ways to Rawlins’ well-loved picture book with Nadia Wheatley, My Place. Following a time line commencing some 50 000 years before to the present day, Rawlins takes us across the seas with various children and their families as they embark on journeys of emigration, redemption, hope and escape. Each child shares a brief snapshot of their on board experience through captivating vignettes of narrative, allowing their stories to come alive. Their situations are not always pleasant indeed most are laced with tragedy and hardship, but for those who survive their trip across the waves, the destination is often a kind of salvation.

Rawlins includes descriptions at the end of the book about each of the fictional characters, their cultural origins and suggested reasons for setting off into the unknown in the first place. She points out that if you are not an Indigenous Australian, then members of your family must have made a journey across the waves to arrive at this island called Australia at some point in time. This really does give one pause for thought and invites energetic discussion between young people and their family members about heritage and ancestry, not to mention the issues of immigration and asylum seekers.

Thoughtfully illustrated by Potter and Jackson, Waves acknowledges the journeys of those who come across the sea in search of a better existence in a supremely considered and engaging way. Recommended for readers five years and over.

Black Dog Books imprint of Walker Books June 2018

Let’s Go ABC! Things That Go, From A to Z by Rhonda Gowler Greene and Daniel Kirk

For those who prefer their travel infused with a bit more levity, cast your eyes on this fanciful non-fiction title. This contemporary A B C picture book dedicates a page to each letter along with accompanying verse and the most eye-stunning illustrations. Transportation has never been portrayed with such enthusiasm or detail. Animals from around the world ride, skate, vroom, sail, drag and float their way through the alphabet with non-stop vigour. I never even knew there were 26 modes of transport. Greene carries us across water, air, through ice and snow, by track and wheels with ease and planeloads of interest.  Kirk cleverly includes a zoo-full of animals whose names share the same letter as the letter featured in each popping illustration. Kids from the age of two and above will no doubt have hours of fun hunting these down and matching them up – as I did! Top marks.

Bloomsbury Children June 2018

Spirit by Cherri Ryan and Christina Booth

Sometimes not every journey takes us where we expect. Things happen, plans change. How do you cope when that happens? This is something very small children often struggle to accept. How they acknowledge these mental explorations of change and resignation is crucial in determining how they develop tolerance and empathy.

Spirit by debut author, Cherri Ryan, imbues a sense of determination within readers through the actions of a small child. This girl constructs a toy ship she names, Spirit and launches her in her backyard pond. Spirit’s maiden voyage is successful and the girl rejoices, dreaming of expeditions further afield or seas, as it were. Before each journey, the girl lovingly tends Spirit, oiling her decks; carefully trimming her sails, certain of her abilities to triumph every watery endeavour, each more challenging than the last, until one day, Spirit encounters rough seas, loses her way and capsizes.

This book tenderly captures the essence of childhood hope and the expectations built around it. It explores the notions of anticipating outcomes beyond our control, but remaining stalwart enough in spirit to find ways around life’s obstacles. The delicate correlative objective between the girl’s boat and her own will to succeed gently pulls readers along an emotional journey of exultation, despair, and finally celebration.  Booth’s sensitive depiction of Spirit’s creator is both timely and thought-provoking. Her heart-warming illustrations add another dimension of lucidity and movement to this tale, which nurtures the notion of never giving up and remaining true to your spirit. Symbolic sublimity for 4 – 8 year olds.

Black Dog Books imprint of Walker Books July 2018

Visiting You: A Journey of Love by Rebecka Sharpe Shelberg and Andrea Edmonds

No life itinerary would be complete without a journey of love. I reviewed this one earlier this year and recommend it as a rich way of exploring feelings, perceptions and relationships. Here’s a snippet of my former review. You can read the full review, here.

This story, celebrating the immense power of love, possesses an enigmatic quality that hums throughout the book from beginning to end.

Shelberg’s thoughtful poetic narrative balances beautifully with Edmonds’ poignant watercolour vignettes and spreads. The gentle balance of colour and emotion reveal memories and the child’s growing understanding that he need not fear strangers who appear gruff and scruffy, different and intimidating. That beneath the obvious differences of a person, there often dwells a story worth sharing and a reason to love. This is a mighty concept to grasp in our modern day world of stranger danger and our first world tendency to look the other way for fear of becoming too involved. The commendable thing about this tale is that it does not encourage reckless, unchecked interaction with strangers – the child is always within his mother’s supervision – but rather it promotes a phenomenal sense of humanity, of not judging a book by its cover and … of caring.

As Ian MacLaren once said, “Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be Kind. Always.”

I love the message of … connecting with ourselves through others. Of cultivating empathy; a mindset we should all aspire. Visiting You encapsulates this mindset exceptionally well. Full marks.

EK Books March 2018

 

 

 

 

 

2018 CBCA Shortlisted Books for Older Readers: ‘Take Three Girls’, ‘The Secret Science of Magic’ & ‘Because of You’

The remaining CBCA shortlisted books for Older Readers are Take Three Girls by Cath Crowley, Simmone Howell and Fiona Wood; The Secret Science of Magic by Melissa Keil and Because of You by Pip Harry.

– some ideas on sharing them with readers –

Take Three Girls by Cath Crowley, Simmone Howell and Fiona Wood (Pan Macmillan)

Take Three Girls has been shortlisted for the Indies awards; and longlisted for the ABIAs & Inkies awards.

I reviewed it for the Weekend Australian and interviewed the authors for  the blog here.

More information on this and the other shortlisted books will be available soon on an online CBCA platform.

Ideas for the English Classroom

Four types of writing are used in the novel 1. Writing in the voice of each protagonist 2. Wellness Journal entries (italics) (Students could analyse differences in voice from both these types of writing) 3. Wellness Worksheets 4. PSST – the source of cyber bullying

Wellness Journals give further insight into the three protagonists as they describe how they’re feeling; as well as what they think about the other girls. This gives another perspective. Read a selection of these entries.

Students write three journal entries from the point of view of Iris, Clem’s twin sister, or another character.

Wellness Worksheets Complete one of these e.g. self-esteem scale, page 147; Lou Reed’s song Perfect Day page 218; letter to future self, page 428.

Read other novels by these authors.

The Secret Science of Magic by Melissa Keil (Hardie Grant Egmont)

The Secret Science of Magic was longlisted for the Indies awards. I reviewed it for the Weekend Australian.

This novel has an equally strong male and female voice.

Ideas for the Classroom or Library

Magic Joshua is a magician who is trying to grain Sophia’s attention. Sleight of hand and, particularly, timing are the magician’s most important tools.

Students could try to replicate some of Joshua’s magic tricks in reality or using technology.

  • Playing-card optical illusions, pages 30, 40
  • Igniting a paper rose, page 82
  • Showing a Doctor Who Christmas special on a vintage movie projector, page 110

These tricks culminate in an illusion at school, where Joshua makes the school disappear.

Use Plotagraph (which creates a moving image from a single still graphic image) in Adobe Photoshop or other tools to demonstrate this or another magic trick.

Drama  Sophia is forced to take Drama. The class studies All’s Well that Ends Well, page 74 – a prescient play title for this novel. Read the play.

Read other novels by Melissa Keil: Life in Outer Space and The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl

Because of You by Pip Harry (UQP)

I interviewed Pip Harry for the blog here.

Several places are mentioned to show that this novel is set in Sydney, including ‘Sydney eats’, page 106, a group that feed the homeless. Meredith also helps them by running a Street Library, pages 69,121,222.

Meredith believes: ‘Books can save anyone. If they’re the right ones.’ page 164

Ideas for the Classroom or Library

Poems for each other Nola gives a poem to Tiny and vice versa. Read Nola’s poem for Tiny, page 97, and Tiny’s poem for Nola, page 133. In pairs, students write poems to give each other.

Writing Group The writing group at the homeless shelter tries the following activities, which students could do also.

  • Writing a group story using the Dada, Surrealist technique where each person writes a line and passes it on to the next person to write the next line to see where the story goes, page 108.
  • Use a ‘real-life media story you pick out to start your own story … Write it as a sequel, action adventure, poem, dialogue’, page 110. Only allow 20 minutes max.
  • Open Mic Night: Eddie performs his poem ‘Clean’ about his father’s death, pages 171,177. Students could write and perform their work, including poems, at an open mic night or similar event. (Read The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo about a girl who writes heartfelt poetry and performs at a poetry slam.) 

Read other novels by Pip Harry.

2018 CBCA Shortlisted Books for Older Readers: ‘Ballad for a Mad Girl’ & ‘Mallee Boys’

The fact that all of this year’s CBCA shortlisted Older Reader novels are written by women reflects who is currently writing Australian YA. As a consequence, many of the novels have female protagonists, including Vikki Wakefield’s Ballad for a Mad Girl. However, debut novelist Charlie Archbold (who is female) has written Mallee Boys, a novel that epitomises masculinity.

-about the books and some ideas on sharing them with young readers –

 Ballad for a Mad Girl by Vikki Wakefield (Text Publishing)

Ballad for a Mad Girl has been longlisted for a Gold Inky Award—(Australian titles) and shortlisted for the Adelaide Festival Awards for Literature: Young Adult category and the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards: The Ethel Turner Prize for Young People’s Literature in 2018.

I reviewed it for the Weekend Australian.

It is Vikki Wakefield’s fourth novel, a gothic Australian thriller, a murder ballad and lament in prose. It explores the effect of grief and loss on Grace, who is trying to mask her vulnerability.  

It walks a tightrope – literally and psychologically as it balances the genres of contemporary realism with elements from the supernatural ghost tale.

Grace is the “mad girl” of the title but her madness springs perhaps from her struggle with anger and grief rather than mental illness; although the barriers may be permeable.

At times the writing is crystalline to show the shattered mirror-pricks of Grace’s rage; as well as sharp images of birds: living swallows butted against tiny bird sketches. Grace’s elusive childhood “dandelion” dreams as well as echoes from a past generation are sculpted into an aching ballad of melancholy and terror. The past and present also ultimately lay the path to a “bright and unbreakable” future with some signs of hope and grace. 

Film An early scene where extreme prankster, Grace Foley, freezes at the pipe challenge crossing over the quarry at night is a pivotal scene in Ballad of a Mad Girl. It sets the confronting, haunting tone.

In small groups, students film a re-enactment of Noah, private school poster boy, breaking Grace’s record as he crosses the pipe over the quarry and then Grace crossing after him and freezing when she is distracted by thoughts of Hannah Holt – rumoured to have been killed by William Dean and buried in the gully below. Headlights are dimmed and stones are thrown.

Film Grace’s friends and the onlookers in their private and public-school factions.

Use different camera angles, particularly to give the illusion of the pipe over a height. NB don’t use a pipe high above the ground.

Film an establishing shot; the camera can scan characters and show close-ups of their facial expressions.

Use filters to create a night-time setting and lights to emulate the headlights. Show them dimming when Grace crosses. Include sound effects.

Ballad Students could write a ballad or murder ballad (lyrics that tell the story of a murder).

Read other novels by Vikki Wakefield.

Mallee Boys by Charlie Archbold (Wakefield Press)

Not many readers seemed to be aware of this book until it was CBCA shortlisted. Feedback has since been very favourable.

It is set in the Murray Mallee area of South Australia and told by two brothers. Sandy is fifteen and a good student although dreamy. In an early scene, slapstick and terror merge when he’s almost drowned by a swollen dead cow. His older brother Red has left school and seems suited to life on the farm with his dog, Ringer. He is suffering from guilt, believing he contributed to the death of their mother.

Masculinity is explored with sensitivity and credibility, particularly relationships between father and sons. The author writes with warmth and humour and shows that rural men can be gentle and compassionate.

Mallee men/Mallee wood Mallee men are described as mallee wood. They are ‘men from any time … like stumpy mallee trees: nuggetty and resilient. A heritage of hard work’ (page 100)

Rhopalic Verse After reading about Mallee males, students write rhopalic verse to explore their characteristics of strength and endurance with mallee wood. In rhopalic verse, each word in a line has 1 more syllable than in the prior word e.g. ‘to avert dangerous situations’. The poem could be quite short, perhaps 5 lines, each with 4 words per line. (This is guide only.)

Country & City podcast Differences between life in the country and city are mentioned in the novel: e.g. in the country old and young mix. In the city ‘people stick to their age bracket’, page 119; in the country – people make inventions, page 124.

Students could use a microphone and smart phone to make a 1-episode podcast about the differences between country and city.

2018 CBCA Shortlisted Books for Younger & Older Readers by Bren MacDibble/Cally Black

Bren MacDibble/Cally Black has blasted onto the Australian literary scene for youth with How to Bee for younger readers and In the Dark Spaces for YA. She is a fresh, authoritative talent; writing outside the mould.

-about the books and some ideas on sharing them with young readers –

by Bren MacDibble (Allen & Unwin)

How to Bee won the Patricia Wrightson Prize – NSW Premier’s Literary Awards & was shortlisted for the Griffith University Children’s Book Award (Qld) and Children’s Literature Award – Adelaide Festival Awards. Read a synopsis and the NSWPLA judges’ report here.

The novel circles around the importance of bees, children and community. The title is a pun with a double meaning. Some of the characters’ names reflect the almost-idyllic country setting where the story begins: Peony, Magnolia, Applejoy, Pomegranate …

The writing is sensory where it describes white cockatoos, fruit, a ‘face puckered like a burr on a tree trunk’ and Peony’s flawed Ma as a lemon, ‘You think it’s gotta be good coz it’s so big and has perfect skin but when you cut it in half you find out its skin is so thick there’s just a tiny bit of pulp inside and that it just ain’t got enough juice to go around’.

Students could write about other characters or people in their own families, describing them as fruit in lyrical style.

Themes & Issues

  • Domestic violence, making this novel most appropriate for mature, older children.
  • Wealth, deriving not from money but from loving people and family and living in community – a concern also of In the Dark Spaces
  • Hive/bees/pollination – another concern of In the Dark Spaces

Pollination/Bees/Honey is a potent theme.

Students could view the Behind the News (ABC TV) episode about the threat to bees in Australia http://www.abc.net.au/btn/story/s4291976.htm

There are also related teacher notes about bees http://www.abc.net.au/btn/resources/teacher/episode/20140729-beeproblems.pdf

Families or schools could investigate setting up a bee hive, particularly with native stingless bees. Compare the taste of commercially and local, unrefined and unheated honey.

Cycles There are a range of cycles within the tale: ‘the farm’s full of circles. Bees, flowers, fruit … all overlapping circles.’; seasons, places (from which characters leave and return); and a death is replaced by a new baby.

Concrete Poetry: Circle Shape Poem Children could write a Circle Shape poem about one of these or another cycle, where each line has an extra word, then decreases to make a circle shape.

In the Dark Spaces by Cally Black (Hardie Grant Egmont)

In the Dark Spaces has been longlisted for the Inkies award, highly commended by the Victorian Premiers Literary Prize, won an Aurealis Award, has been shortlisted for the Ditmars and shortlisted for the Ethel Turner Prize in the NSW Premiers Awards,

It is a sci-fi thriller/ hostage drama set in future space. Tamara lives in hiding on one of the intergalactic freighters. These are named after songs e.g. Lucy in the Sky, Jolene, My Sharona and Delilah. Her freighter is attacked by Crowpeople/Garuwa and she is kidnapped after witnessing mass murder because she is able to communicate with the Crowpeople. Through Tamara, we learn to understand the Crowpeople, who only take the resources they need to nurture the hives in their ships, which in return feed the inhabitants. Unlike humans who sell excess for profit.

Cally Black’s voice here is original  – raw, strong and captivating.

Dinkus When I interviewed eminent Australia author Isobelle Carmody recently, I was excited to learn about the ‘dinkus’.

The simplest way to indicate a section break within a chapter is to leave a blank space between paragraphs, but designers often prefer to use a symbol or glyph. These are often three horizontally placed asterisks but asterisks can be replaced with other symbols.

Crowpeople in In the Dark Spaces have three ‘shiny talons’ (page 41) sticking out from their boots. This symbol is used as a dinkus in the novel e.g. on pages 183,270.

Students find the talon dinkus in In the Dark Spaces, and then look for symbols or glyphs in other novels.

https://www.grammarly.com/blog/eight-uncommon-typography-and-punctuation-marks/

http://books.google.co.uk/books?…

Lightgraff Art (or lightgraffiti) is drawing or writing with light. It combines photography and calligraphy. It can be a live performance or recorded on video or time-lapse photographic stills. It is often used to embellish settings by highlighting or enhancing elements of the scene with colour, line, shape or script (using light).

Examples can be seen by searching online for ‘lightgraff images’.

An example of lightgraff art in Australia is by Karim Jabbari. http://www.theaustralian.com.au/arts/review/art-initiative-form-nurtures-culture-and-creativity-in-wa/news-story/db06452f0d39222bd246062a9c22e0f1

In small groups, students create lightgraff art based on a scene or setting in the novel, In the Dark Spaces. These could include

‘weapon-fire snaps and sizzles the ceiling and walls’, page 44; ‘a blast cracks the air’, page 46; bolts of light’, page 295- (rockets); and other battle scenes.

The following suggestions could stimulate or scaffold students’ ideas:

  • Light sources (such as a torch, lamp, lantern or spotlight) can be used to highlight features against a dark setting.
  • Silhouettes of characters could be juxtaposed against light-embellished settings.
  • Gunfire could be represented as light in lines or flashes (if appropriate).
  • Words could be drawn with light (possibly using sparklers or a torch). These words could represent themes from the novel such as ‘space battles’, ‘hive’, ‘protection’, ‘greed’ and ‘Crowpeople’.

2018 CBCA Shortlisted Books for Younger Readers: ‘The Elephant’ & ‘The Grand, Genius Summer of Henry Hoobler’

Peter Carnavas and Lisa Shanahan have been shortlisted for The Elephant and The Grand, Genius Summer of Henry Hoobler in the 2018 CBCA Book of the Year: Younger Readers category.

 –about the books and some ideas on sharing them with young readers –

The Elephant by Peter Carnavas (UQP)

The Elephant has also been shortlisted for the Patricia Wrightson Prize – NSW Premier’s Literary Awards. Read a synopsis and the judge’s report here. It is Peter Carnavas’s first novel, after an impressive output of picture books, and he has illustrated it with black and white line drawings.

Tree & Paper Planes Like Martine Murray’s two shortlisted books, a tree is a symbol here. It is Olive’s ‘thinking spot’. Her grandfather cares for her since her mother has died and her father become incapacitated by grief. Grandad makes and flies paper planes with her. Children could make coloured paper planes, write positive messages onto them e.g. ‘You have a wonderful laugh’ and tie them to a jacaranda (or other) tree to emulate some of the events in the story (see pages 125,142).

Other Symbols in the novel are the elephant, tortoise and the dog. 

Elephant The elephant is the major symbol. Olive’s mother had made a clay elephant which is now broken.

Soap carving Children could make a soap carving of an elephant: Materials coloured and/or patterned rectangular soaps (note descriptions on page 138), scrapers & peelers can be safe for child use e.g. plastic knife, potato peeler, paper clip, teaspoon, pencil, paper. Method Trace around the soap onto paper. Draw and cut out the elephant on paper. Trace around the shape onto the soap. Cut away excess soap with plastic knife. Cut away more with paperclip. Etch details and texture with pencil. ‘MetKids’ have a useful video. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y17RweezGi8

Typewriter (page 38) Grandad typed poems for Olive’s mother. Students choose or write poems and type them using a typewriter.

School Olive’s school is celebrating its 100-year anniversary, so the students are studying old things. Children could show and talk about old things that are important to them

Side by Side song. Grandad and Olive love this song. Children could also listen to it and sing along.

Read Also read the Kingdom of Silk series by Glenda Millard, Stephen Michael King picture books and Peter Carnavas’s own picture books.

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

The Grand, Genius Summer of Henry Hoobler won the Griffith University Children’s Book Award (Qld). I interviewed Lisa Shanahan about the novel for the bog here. Read the QLA judges’ report here.

Drawing Worry Henry is a worrier and describes worry as a ‘big round grey tumbleweed of dust, with skinny black-and-white-striped legs poking out of and red boots’, pages 10-11. Children could draw their own visual interpretation of worry.

The Beach using Green Screen Technology

The beach is the setting of many Australian holidays and is integral to this story.

Children could create freeze frames of characters superimposed over a green screen beach setting.

Freeze Frames

Students select a character e.g. Henry, his two siblings or his new friend, Cassie. Choose three scenes where they appear in the book.

Make a freeze frame to show their action or mood in each scene. A useful resource is ‘Drama resource’ https://dramaresource.com/freeze-frames/

Green Screen Superimpose students in their freeze frame poses onto virtual backgrounds or animated digital backdrops of the beach.

Equipment: iPad (a 1-stop movie-making device), green screen (could be made of green fabric or paper), lighting, tripod (opt), Veescope, Green Screen Pro or other apps for background videos, iMovie or equivalent. A useful resource is

https://lovetoteach87.com/2016/11/13/using-green-screen-in-the-classroom/

Parents are important in the novel. Henry’s parents have different personalities. His mother is an introvert – understanding with some anxiety. His father is an extrovert – exuberant (page 47), with a big, wild love (page 141).

If completing the activity about the beach (above) at school, include the children’s parents by giving them the opportunity to upload the beach film using the ‘Seesaw’ app or equivalent.

Review: An Enchantment Of Ravens by Margaret Rogerson

BUY HERE

An Enchantment of Ravens by Margaret Rogerson is an absolutely delightful wild adventure of fae and scheming and art. I admit to being wholly in love with the scheming aspect of this plot and how you never quite know what’s coming. Add that to gorgeous writing, some laugh-out-loud banter, the whimsical and dangerous beauty of a fae world — and you have an incredible book.

The story follows Isobel, an artist hired by vain faeries to paint their portraits. In return, she gets paid in enchantments (like chickens who always lay eggs, or a house that can never be attacked) and her life is quite good with two little sisters and a loving guardian and some amicable, if not still dangerous, fae customers. Then the Autumn Prince turns up for his portrait and Isobel finds herself smitten and does the unthinkable: she paints the human emotion she sees in his eyes. For a fae, who are otherworldly and pride themselves on this, she’s committed and abomination and Rook angrily declares he’ll put her on trial. But as the two tumble headfirst into the fae world, they’re met with rotting magical creatures and courts of decrepit and deceitful beings, and hunters who just won’t stop — and maybe the two can help each other more than they think.

This particular fae world focuses on courts that are based on all the seasons! It was whimsical and gorgeous and we get to explore the Spring court mostly, but the Autumn Court and Summer Court are mentioned too. Isobel’s human world, the town of Whimsy, is caught up in an eternal summer and on her deathly adventure with Rook, she also visitsthe Spring Courts which were rotting from the inside out. I love how this gave us types of faeries who can’t feel human emotions. They’re so vapid and silly, but deeply miserable and complex.

Isobel was a winning narrator from the second she steps onto the page. She was realistic, with very relatable reactions to things! Not to mention the story actually took the time to give us a road-trip that wasn’t all daisies and flowers! Everyone ended up smelling and dirty and hungry, and the realism just made the book more heartwarming. Her love and addiction to art was also amazing to read and she has a knife-sharp sense of humour and refuses to let the faeries play their wily tricks on her.

Rook, the autumn prince, was also a thorough delight. He is actually the vainest thing, which was so hilarious. He’s a warrior, knight and prince and yet completely becomes undone with clothes he doesn’t like or the strange peculiarities of humans. (They need to sleep and eat??? He gets so confused.) Isobel totally messes with him at times too and it’s adorable. I also loved how earnest and sweet he was. Here is a prince who could be so wicked, but he was respectful and kind…and very full of himself. Ha!

The romance was an interesting exploration of lust vs love. When Isobel meets Rook to paint his portrait, she “falls in love with him”. But she doesn’t really. She has a fluttering crush on this otherworldly gorgeous boy…and she realises this. Obviously after they’re thrown into a whirlwind journey together of monsters and the Wild Hunt and rotting castles and evil kings, and they save each other and get to know each other — they do truly fall in love. And they were so winning together, with their snarky banter but inability to let the other suffer.

The artist flair of the book also made the writing just exquisite. Isobel’s love for her craft bleeds from the page. And her perspective of the world turns everything into a gorgeous huge canvas.  The writing is so visual and dimensional, you don’t just read faerieland, you fall face-first into it and get entranced by the magic.

An Enchantment Of Ravens is a whimsically gorgeous tale, with vicious undertones and schemes to twist your senses upside down. It’s not to be missed.

Be Brave – Picture Books that Celebrate Overcoming Doubts

Being brave, is less about being courageous and more about ignoring your fear because you simply cannot afford to waste any more time on it. Overcoming doubts and anxieties is something children face every day. Picture books like these encourage a heightened awareness of one’s own feelings and capabilities and in doing so banish fears and promote determination.

Where’s Bear? by Sarah Elliott Smyth and Nicky Johnston

Sophie represents a whole playground of children who spiral into anguish after they lose a precious toy, or in their eyes, a stalwart playmate. When Bear goes missing, Sophie embarks on an apprehension-filled journey in search of him that will have little ones perched on the edge of their seats. Thankfully, the cute ending reunites and delights. Johnston’s winsome illustrations elevate this heart-warming story of facing your fears and tenacity to the next level. Utterly endearing, this story will warm the cockles of your heart and encourage very young children to ‘never stop hoping’.

Empowering Resources February 2018

Continue reading Be Brave – Picture Books that Celebrate Overcoming Doubts

2018 CBCA Shortlisted Books for Younger Readers by Martine Murray

Martine Murray has been shortlisted for two of her books in the 2018 CBCA Book of the Year: Younger Readers category.

– about the books and some ideas on sharing them with young readers –

Henrietta & the Perfect Night

by Martine Murray(A&U)

Henrietta is a big thinker. She’s a great go-getter, determined, adventurous, endearing and exuberant. She has a strong young voice. Yet she’s shy.

The book is well designed and is illustrated by the author.

It contains short stories – which are quite sequential but stand alone.

In the stories Henrietta’s mother is pregnant; she starts school; has a sleep over; stars in the school play; and awaits the birth of her new sibling. Henrietta pretends to be a spy; does ‘rescues’ e.g. a bee and the other new girl, Olive; and she stands up for ‘small things’.

She is patient; truthful; a good friend; and kind like Joey in Marsh & Me

A tree features here, also in Marsh & Me and in the companion novel Molly & Pim & the Millions of Stars.

Henrietta and Olive peg Olive’s brother’s pyjamas in the tree. Children could cut and decorate paper pyjamas, perhaps using a template provided by a teacher or parent, and peg these onto a tree branch standing in a pot.

Seasons are addressed as Henrietta waits for the baby and the tree shows how the seasons change.

The class play is about Noah’s Ark. Read about Noah’s ark from a children’s Bible or other book. The children could then perform a play – a number of scripts are available online if you search for plays, puppet plays or skits about Noah’s Ark. If possible, include a bat in the performance because Henrietta had a role as bat – ‘special and mysterious and different from regular animals. Which is a bit like me.’ (page 66)

Previous Henrietta stories are being republished in a 3 in 1 volume.

Marsh and Me by Martine Murray (Text Publishing)

I’ve not long finished reading Marsh and Me (Text Publishing), and couldn’t wait to write about it. It is a beautifully written, dense and imaginative work brimming with thoughtful and important ideas.

Joey believes that he is a nice, ordinary boy who wants to skip puberty. He doesn’t like the word ‘puberty’, thinking it ‘slightly pushy’ but he does like the word ‘luminous’. He’s shy and sensitive, a ‘noticer of feelings’ and has one friend, Digby, who likes science.

When Joey climbs the hill one day he finds someone occupying the treehouse. Marsh is a ‘wild girl’ and the ‘Queen of Small Things’. She has secrets and tells the story of the Plains of Khazar which may be history, fairy tale or folklore. She sings to Joey and the first note ‘rings like a golden bell’.

Even though Joey doesn’t always like Marsh, he is intrigued and concerned for her and realises that he must reveal more of himself in order to make friends and deepen relationships. The novel soars when they create music together using voice and guitar. Both characters are profoundly drawn.

Poems Joey’s mother sticks poems on the fridge. One is by Rumi.

Children could take excerpts from other Rumi poems or poems by other poets that they like or remind them of Marsh and Me and display them.

An example is from Rumi’s I Am Wind, You are Fire:

Oh, if a tree could wander
and move with foot and wings!
It would not suffer the axe blows
and not the pain of saws!

Nature Play Both Joey and Marsh love spending time in nature, particularly in the treehouse in the peppercorn tree. They listen to bird calls and other sounds and plant an acorn.

It seems that many children today don’t have the time or opportunity to play in natural environments, especially where there are trees. Parents or teachers could provide unstructured (or structured) opportunities for children (including primary aged children for whom this book is written) to improve their emotional, mental and physical health by spending time in the natural world. They could build treehouses, climb trees, watch the clouds and shadows, record natural sounds or plant a seed found in the local habitat.

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-04-07/sharman-free-range-kids-could-become-healthier,-happier-adults/7306740

Reading Both Marsh and Me and Martine Murray’s companion book Molly and Pim and the Millions of Stars feature a tree. Another lovely link between the two novels is the character of Pim Wilder. (I reviewed Molly and Pim here.)

After reading Marsh and Me, it could be worth reading or re-reading Glenda Millard’s ‘Kingdom of Silk’ series, another thought-provoking yet tender and sensory exploration of childhood. All these literary works bring magic into the real world.

 

 

2018 CBCA Shortlisted Books for Younger Readers & The Shop at Hoopers Bend

The shortlisted books for the CBCA Book of the Year: Younger Readers is a very strong list. Some have already won or been shortlisted for other literary awards. Shortlisting in the CBCA awards is prestigious, increases awareness of each book and dramatically impacts sales.

The long lead time between the announcement of the shortlist and the winners and honour books in August’s Book Week provides a wonderful opportunity to explore these books.

I will look at the 30 shortlisted titles in a series of blog posts.

The Younger Reader books are:

The Elephant by Peter Carnavas (UQP) Also shortlisted for the Patricia Wrightson Prize – NSW Premier’s Literary Awards

How to Bee by Bren MacDibble (A&U) Also winner of the Patricia Wrightson Prize – NSW Premier’s Literary Awards & shortlisted for the Children’s Literature Award – Adelaide Festival Awards

Henrietta and the Perfect Night by Martine Murray (A&U)

Marsh and Me by Martine Murray (Text Publishing)

The Shop at Hooper’s Bend by Emily Rodda (HarperCollins)

The Grand, Genius Summer of Henry Hoobler by Lisa Shanahan (A&U) Also winner of the Griffith University Children’s Book Award

It is interesting to note that Martine Murray has been shortlisted twice in this category. Lisa Shanahan has also been shortlisted twice. Her other book Hark, it’s Me, Ruby Lee! is shortlisted in Book of the Year: Early Childhood.

There are four novels and one book of short stories shortlisted in this category.

The first I’ll look at is

The Shop at Hoopers Bend by Emily Rodda (HarperCollins Australia)

-about the novel and some ideas on sharing it with young readers-

Jonquil’s parents died when she was a baby. She’s now eleven and in the care of Aunt Pam who farms her out to boarding school and camps. She leaves the train unexpectedly at Hoopers Bend and is befriended by Pirate, a white and black dog. Jonquil is drawn to the shop at Hoopers Bend and Bailey, the older lady who has inherited it. Jonquil spins a tale and stays on, helping Bailey rent out the shop to different businesses for a short time. The shop exudes an ‘everyday’ magic.

I interviewed Emily Rodda about The Shop at Hoopers Bend and her writing for Boomerang Books Blog last year. I described it as ‘a transcendent tale that made me cry both times I’ve read it but also lifted my heart’:
https://blog.boomerangbooks.com.au/emily-rodda-shop-hoopers-bend/2017/08

Jonquils The protagonist’s name is Jonquil (shortened to Quil) and Emily Rodda chose this name deliberately because they’re unobtrusive with a ‘delicate beauty’ to suit a ‘reserved and sensitive’ character.

Plant jonquils. To compare these with other bulbs – daffodils, snowdrops and others could be planted as well.

Match these flowers with different personality and character types.

Stardust Quil invents a game, Stardust. She believes that all things, including people, contain the dust of long-dead stars and thinks that people whose stardust composition match closely have an instant affinity with each other. Conversely, people with very different stardust are unlikely to be friends.

Palaris – are people like Quil & Bailey; Aginoth – practical and confident; Broon – cheery but boring’ Kell – prickly but interesting; Derba – calm and reliable with no sense of humour …

After reading the novel, children could look more closely at the star names and corresponding personalities. They could use these names to categorise book characters from the shortlisted novels or other books (and maybe even themselves). As a group, they could compile results into a Stardust chart.

Bookplate Bookplates are an artform. Show children different bookplates. Examine the designs including space for name and possible date. Children design their own bookplates onto a sticky label (not post-it notes but labels that resemble bookplates from good stationers) to reflect themselves and their reading taste.

Intimidating Books on my Bookshelf

I have a few intimidating books on my bookshelf and I can’t be the only one. Sometimes it can be the size of the tome, the genre, the author or specific concerns about a book or series. Today I thought I’d share the most intimidating books on my TBR pile with you.

An author I’d like to read but have been too intimidated to try: is Haruki Murakami. I just don’t know where to start and whether I’ll understand his magical realism.

A book I haven’t read because I’m worried I won’t enjoy it is: Prince Lestat and the Realms of Atlantis. It’s the latest book in the Vampire Chronicles and while Anne Rice is a favourite author, I’m terrified I won’t enjoy this. I hated the previous book Prince Lestat (find out why here) and I’m worried in case this isn’t much better.

The classic I’m most intimidated to read is: Macbeth by William Shakespeare. It’s intimidating for obvious reasons, it’s a play and it’s Shakespeare!

A book I haven’t read because it’s kind of embarrassing: I have two books in this category. Perv by Jesse Bering and My Secret Garden by Nancy Friday. Less said the better?

The series I’m most intimidated to start is: A Song of Ice and Fire (Game of Thrones) by George R.R. Martin. I love the TV series and I’m worried I won’t be able to keep up with the mammoth cast of characters and complex sub-plots in the books. The series is very long and currently comprises: A Game of Thrones, A Clash of Kings, A Storm of Swords, A Feast for Crows, A Dance with Dragons, The Winds of Winter (forthcoming) and A Dream of Spring (forthcoming).

A series I haven’t finished that haunts me is: The Dark Tower series by Stephen King. Stephen King is one of my favourite authors and I know The Dark Tower series is his ‘Opus’ but I just couldn’t get into it.  I read The Gunslinger (#1) and The Drawing of the Three (#2) but haven’t progressed any further; despite owning the entire series. I’m a completionist so this bothers me quite a bit.

The most intimidating book in my TBR pile is: The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas. I have the Penguin Clothbound Edition and it comes in at more than 1200 pages which is intimidating enough as is. An adventure novel written in the 1840s it’s translated from French and I just haven’t picked it up yet.

What books do you find intimidating? Have you read any of the above? Let me know in the comments below.

Review: To Kill A Kingdom by Alexandra Christo

BUY HERE

To Kill A Kingdom by Alexandra Christo is the swashbuckly and deliciously dark pirate adventure we’ve all been waiting for. It’s got hints of a Little Mermaid retelling, with more nods to the original Hans Christian Anderson tale than Disney ever did. This is full of sirens who eat princes’ hearts and enchantments and runaway royalty and enough snark and banter to have you smirking in your seat.

The story follows two narrators: Lira, a siren who eats princes’ hearts and whose wicked mother is getting between her and the throne. And also Elian, who’s very opposed to his royal heritage and wants to be a pirate, riding the world of the murderous sirens that claim so many innocent lives each year. Their stories entwine when Lira is cursed to wear human legs until she can prove her loyalty to her people…and the perfect way to do that would be to kill Elian. Except Elian is on a quest to find a way to stop the siren queen forever and when he rescues a “mysterious” girl lost at sea — he has no idea who he’s truly making alliances with.

The characters just stole the seawater for this one! The dual narration is perfect balanced, with each character stealing the show as soon as they’re on page. He’s hunting her and she’s hunting him, which is obviously the recipe for a perfect romance. This is enemies-to-lovers at its finest! It wasn’t rushed or awkward. It was seriously such perfect fun to see them go from distrust to distant admiration to snarking at each other to “accidentally” “saving” each other’s lives. Lira’s denial of having feelings for him (hey, she’s a wretched evil siren, remember?!) was completely adorable. I also loved how they both had soft sides, even though they’re warriors here to fight in the seas. Lira is super sweet and protective of her little siren cousin. Elian is quite soft and kind to his crew, despite being a “pirate”. And his sass and banter levels were off the charts.

I also loved how it portrayed the sea! It fully makes you fall in love with it. I mean, yes the sea in this book is full of murderous dangers, like sirens and mermaids and monsters, but the vivid and lust descriptions made me understand why Elian couldn’t leave the sea to claim his birthright of the throne. The lure was there! I could see the gorgeous settings, taste the salty sea, and absolutely lose myself in the world. There’s actually quite a lot of world to explore, and even though the book is small, it takes you a variety of places with excellent world building. There are kingdoms and mountains and palaces with cursed queens. I found the description was perfectly balanced — not info dumps, but enough information to set you up in this diverse and intriguing world.

I particularly appreciated the amount of banter! It kept me smiling the whole time as Elian and Lira sparred words and gradually fell for each other. The secondary characters also had their quips too!

“If the necklace is that precious,” I say, “we should have just killed Tallis to get it.”
“You can’t just kill everyone you don’t like.”
“I know that. Otherwise you’d be dead already.”

To Kill A Kingdom is a lush and vicious book that will lose you in its winsome adventures of death and curses, love and magic. It was perfectly written and exquisitely told, face-paced and entrancing!

Pampered Pooches – Four Inspiring Dog Picture Books

In honour of the new Duchess of Sussex’s affection for all things canine, today we snuggle up with four memorable picture books featuring the pooches we love to pamper. These stories focus on dogs as companions and the glorious relationships we share with them.

Dogasaurus by Lucinda Gifford

Author illustrator Lucinda Gifford’s combination of dogs and dinosaurs was never going to fail – both infatuate kids. Dogasaurus is a high giggle scoring story about Molly who lives ‘on a small, peaceful farm’. Life trickles along merrily until the day Molly ventures into the neighbouring Mysterious Ancient Forest and being a typical adventure inspired child, brings home something she ought not to have. When her newfound treasure hatches into Rex, a cute baby dino, she is delighted to have a pet of her own and dotes on him from morning to night. Only trouble is, Rex soon outgrows the farm and develops a mysterious yearning for the Ancient Forest.

Continue reading Pampered Pooches – Four Inspiring Dog Picture Books

Review: Ace of Shades by Amanda Foody

BUY HERE

Ace of Shades by Amanda Foody was a delightfully twisty tale of murder, magic and mayhem and I couldn’t put it down! I feel like I’ve definitely found a new all-time favourite! This book is an ode to schemes and cons, full of street lords and mysteries and the addictive love of playing a game where the stakes are: win or die. You won’t be able to stop yourself falling in love with these characters or not accidentally toppling into the City of Sin to stay.

It follows the journey of Enne Salta, who’s enter the City of Sin to find her missing mother. She’s a prim girl from a proper finishing school and tumbles head-first into this tumultuous world of casinos and street lords and backalley fights and the kind of magic where you can bet your soul in a card game and play to win or die. She meets a very young street lord named Levi Glaisyer, who’s in deep trouble from a con scheme gone wrong, and together their lives entwine as they look to find Enne’s mother and Levi hopes the reward payout will stop him dying. Except Levi’s enemies are tightening his noose fast, and despite his flashy smile and smooth card skills, they’re not playing around anymore.

It mixes magic and con artists to perfection. I see a lot of comparisons with this to Six of Crows, and yes! It works! But also this isn’t a heist book. It’s about con schemes and card games.

The world building was so detailed and exquisite, utterly flawless. It’s set in city with a 1920s vibe, so it’s all gangsters and casinos and grubby crime kids running around. But with MAGIC. Now it took me a while to get the hang of what the orbs/volts were, but I caught up. But everyone basically has talents, or two, and it’s just super cool how it’s a whole world of magicked people and how they use that. And how it affects everything. It’s impossible not to get caught up in the City of Sin and I couldn’t look away. Plus the writing is so visual and delicious that you can really see the whole thing.

BUY HERE

The characters totally stole the show too, with their fantastic and complex personalities, plus detailed and heart-wrenching character arcs. I’m absolutely smitten with both Levi and Enne. Usually with dual-narrating books I have a favourite: but not this time. They were both a fantastically stunning mix of conniving and softhearted sweethearts. Their stories entwine so beautifully, with them using each other but then needing each other…and then a longing for more sparking between them. The book’s set over 10 days and romance is definitely not the focus, and I really loved how their relationship played out.

Levi was an absolutely precious masterpiece, a crime lord who’s gang is failing because he’s neck-deep in debt for a scheme he didn’t even want to run. He’s cursed to work for one of the biggest crime families, but what does he want? He wants to get to the top of his own game. He’s a card dealer and super smooth…but also absolutely adores his gang and is very loyal and sweet.

Enne Salta was also a fantastic delight, and her character development just swept me off my feet. She starts off as a “proper lady” but quickly develops into someone who’s witty, ruthless, and quite cunning (while still being gloriously polite!) and basically, by a few chapters in, she was an accidental badass.

I also just loved the writing and pacing. The writing just sweeps you up and the pacing of the book was also amazing, always luring you in deeper to the complicated plot that unwinds disasters for our favourite narrators. The plot is full of twists and turns, the foreshadowing is excellent, and it sets the scenes so well: murder card games, con schemes gone wrong, cabarets, magic and mayhem and murder, casinos and card games and gangsta hats and cherries and lush hotels and absolutely disastrous curses.

I can’t recommend Ace of Shades enough! It was everything I wanted and more, plus it included mountains of respectful and lovely diversity rep, and balanced characters you can’t help but fall in love with, plus a plot that will turn you inside out. High stakes. Magic. Wicked city schemes. Villains who never stop. And antiheroes leading the way. A fantastic adventure not to be missed!

Flights of Fantasy – Imaginative Picture Books

Perhaps one of the most fulfilling perks of writing for kids is the time spent flitting around in my imagination. It’s a weird, boundless place, which allows me to harness old memories and reinvigorate them into wondrous dreams-come-true. These next few picture books are glorious examples of tapping into imaginative flights of fantasy and exploring the possibilities.

Young MacDonald by Giuseppe Poli

When I was a kid, I trussed up my trusty bicycle with the dog’s lead so that I had my very own ‘horse’ to ride around the backyard. I jumped my Malvern Star-steed in Gymkhanas, rode for days through dusty paddocks and occasionally found a hut high in the Snowy Mountains to hunker down in and ride out a storm. A remarkable amount of miles covered for a 12-year-old.

Young MacDonald, son of the much loved, Old Mac, is no different. We first meet Young Mac after he gets his own little red bike. To the familiar refrain of this well-known nursery rhyme, Young Mac goes a ting-a-linging everywhere on his bike. Encounters with a variety of vibrant characters on the farm, slowly transform his bike into a bike-digger-pirate-ship-chopper-sub-rocket that fills his day with ‘fantastical adventure’ (albeit no ponies but there you go).

Continue reading Flights of Fantasy – Imaginative Picture Books

Review: Tiffany Sly Lives Here Now by Dana L. Davis

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TIFFANY SLY LIVES HERE NOW by Dana L. Davis is an incredible book that’s absolutely ladened with complex emotions and a story so filled with tension that it’s impossible to put down. This book made me very angry at times, but also I’m intensely impressed with it. I absolutely loved Tiffany like nothing else!! I raged at the bad and cheered for the good.

The story follows Tiffany Sly who’s going to live with her estranged dad after her mum died. She’s never met him in all her 16 years and, worse, didn’t even know he existed. But to complicate things, a man turns up at her front door also claiming to be her dad…and Tiffany is terribly confused. This other guy seems super nice and he definitely was dating her mum at the right time, but she’s on her way to live with the Stones and change is really eating her up inside. She has 7 days before it all collides. And when her new family turns out to be super strict and somewhat awful, she wonders if maybe the option of a different dad is a good thing?

When Tiffany moves in with the Stones, she doesn’t actually know she also has four new sisters. So it’s like, boom, she gets hit with an instant family. Her dad is an absolute jerk though, hiding in this “holier than thou” attitude but he’s controlling and terrible. He makes me so angry! He’s borderline abusive under the guise of being a “good strict parent” and will definitely have you raging. He hasn’t even met Tiffany for 5 minutes before he’s throwing rules at her and Tiffany is so not having this. My levels of frustration were extremely high and I will say trigger warning for abuse to an autistic toddler under the guise of disciplining her. It was pretty awful but just there to underline how poisonous it can be when you don’t listen or care.

However there is intense levels of character development, and I was really impressed with how it was all handled by the end!

Can I say how much I loved Tiffany!? She has anxiety and OCD and I just so felt for her, and also thought the mental health was written excellently and respectfully. There’s so much heart on every page! Tiffany just bursts off the page with her love of rock ‘n’ roll (she also plays guitar) and her cleverness, complexities, and also wants and wishes. She’s grieving but also trying to make it work with this family that horrifies her a lot. But she also kind of likes her new sisters! Wants a nice dad! She doesn’t get crushed and crumpled by the superstrictness, but it definitely torments her the entire time.

It also discusses religion and beliefs very deeply. There’s a lot of discussion about Jehovah’s Witnesses and also the kind of belief system where you are your own god. Books are about expanding your horizons, so it was interesting.

The writing absolutely kept me captivated! Perfect pacing and I never wanted to look away. Plus it just kept the emotional tension up so high. I felt engaged the whole time.

TIFFANY SLY LIVES HERE NOW is definitely the kind of contemporary that’s going to stay with you! It’s an emotional explosion, always interesting, and with characters you want to know more about!

The Adversary

Trigger warning: The book this blog features is contains distressing subject matter, so may not be suitable for all readers.

About two years ago, I had the misfortune to be very, very peripherally affected by the real-life playing out of a most bat-insane story—one that involved a guy I vaguely knew having spent 15 years pretending to study medicine and practise as a doctor.

Without going into details—in part because the story’s so bizarre that I could not do it justice and in part because I don’t think it’s my story to tell—what I will say is that I and everyone else who knows the story has spent the better part of the past two years grappling with the ins and outs of it and basically going: What the hell?

So I was online and ordering The Adversary: A True Story of Monstrous Deception quick sticks after a friend recommended it. The story, which is of a man who spent 18 years pretending to study medicine and practise as a doctor before murdering his wife, their two children, and his parents, as well as attempting to murder his mistress, was notorious in France but largely passed me by in Australia. Until now.

While I don’t for a moment suggest the two tales have much in common other than faking medical careers, I was keen to see if someone else had been able to resolve the questions that remain unresolved (or even unanswered) in my own life: What prompts someone to fake doctory? And how on earth do they manage the logistics?

The how and the why clearly drive the book, as author Emmanuel Carrere parallels aspects of his own life with Jean-Claude Romand’s, at least in part to try to compare and contrast and ultimately understand Romand’s actions. For instance, the book’s opening paragraph reads startlingly matter-of-factly:

On the Saturday morning of January 9, 1993, while Jean-Claude Romand was killing his wife and children, I was with mine in a parent–teacher meeting at the school attended by Gabriel, our eldest son. Then we went to have lunch with my parents, as Jean-Claude Romand did with his, whom he killed after their meal …

Reading this book was more than a little eerie, as what may seem like an objectively interesting tale felt for me like deja vous as Carrere steps readers through the reaction to finding out that nothing about Romand was as it appeared:

Everyone was wondering: How could we have lived beside this man for so long without suspecting a thing? Everyone tried to remember a moment when some suspicion, some moment that might have led to some suspicion, had almost crossed their minds.

Romand’s life was ultimately a house of cards, but it seems no one had had their suspicions raised sufficiently to warrant investigating: Romand claimed he worked at the World Health Organization, but a simple phone call after the murders revealed there was no such person employed there. Romand wasn’t listed on the global list of physicians and had never graduated medical school, and so on, and so on—the details, once finally investigated, didn’t hold up.

While I was hooked enough to look forward to reading snippets of The Adversary before going to bed, I felt rising sadness as I approached its end. Carrere’s short tale is undeniably absorbing—so much so it was named a New York Times ‘Notable Book’)—but ultimately reflects my own frustrating findings: No one can truly know anyone else, and the kind of person who will fake being a doctor for decades is arguably not someone of whom you can make sense.

So while I was disappointed that the book wasn’t able to provide the answers I was after, I did really appreciate that it gave us some. At the very least, I got a sense of the logistics of maintaining and funding such a lie for so long. And I got a fuller sense of a man who could too easily be painted as two-dimensionally evil.

Whether you were or weren’t familiar with the 1993 murders, The Adversary is a fascinating read. At a mere 191 pages of easy-to-digest writing, it’s the kind of book you can quickly finish but that will remain front of mind for some time.

Beautiful Books for the Beauties in Your Life

Mums, Grandmas, Sisters, Aunties or any other special person in your life, all deserve a show of gratitude and love. Mother’s Day is a day to reinforce those bonds, to share memorable moments, or simply just to connect with those who make a difference. Dimity has already covered some ‘marvellous’ picture books here, so I’ll reinforce these beauties, and add more of my own treasures to the list.

The Dream Bird is an absolutely exquisite visual and imaginative treat that takes its readers on a fanciful flight from a state of playful awakening to the cosy slumber of dreamland. Such a memorable and warming story by picture book expert, Aleesah Darlison, mesmerisingly illustrated by talented newcomer, Emma Middleton. I love that it is Gran who, despite the other family members’ efforts, is the comforting soul of this story that helps young George to fall asleep. And the soft shading and infused deep reds and maroons are just the perfect choice to represent a mature and tender sophistication. When Gran begins her tale of the graceful Dream Bird, a snowy scene transports us to a wondrous land of majestic snow leopards, kingdoms made of lollies and treasures hidden amongst magical mermaids. Then a peaceful George conjures his own favourite dream as a loving Gran sings and leaves him with a gentle kiss. The Dream Bird is an idyllic symbol of beauty, warmth, whimsy and unconditional affection that children from age three will need as part of their daily bedtime routine.

Wombat Books, April 2018.

A gorgeous book for wonderful mums is Marvellous Mummy, written and illustrated for the first time together by husband and wife team, Katie and Giuseppe Poli. In this tender and playful story, mummy elephant takes on many personas and behaviours that are highly relatable for young children to recognise with their own mums. From sneaky and quiet to noisy and loud, friendly to grumpy, skilful and brave, caring, snuggly and most importantly, perfect (in her sometimes unperfect way). A joyful book shared between mother and daughter of many adventures and everyday routines, with bright and airy, energetic and gentle illustrations. At the same time, Katie’s short phrasing and regular use of absorbing verbs compel interaction and repeat reads. Marvellous Mummy is a marvellous reminder of just how strong, special and versatile our mummies really are.

New Frontier Publishing, May 2018.

Another absolutely glorious collaborative creation is The Silver Sea by the young people at The Royal Children’s Hospital, their teachers and the masterful and much-loved Alison Lester and Jane Godwin. This book is such a treasure filled with glimmering magic amidst a palette of silky words and images in a sea of spectacularness. The team, together with the unwell children, have created a marvel of colourful ocean pictures with creatures that make the pages come alive. The poetic narrative leads us with two characters – a mother-like figure and her child – into a shimmering world of waves, splashing with dolphins and seals, flying with sharks and leafy sea dragons, further into the deep with a whole underwater aquarium until they reach the pale morning sky. The Silver Sea, curious, imaginative and enriching, developed out of such inspirational foresight, and with profits returning to the RCH it is a must-have to cherish in any home, school or hospital.

Affirm Press, February 2018.

This one’s to share with the wild, spirited granny in your life! You’ll never have to have another ordinary day after you’ve read Grandma Z. Debut picture book author-illustrator Daniel Gray-Barnett brings life to town when Grandma Z rolls in on her motorbike. Albert is celebrating his birthday, except it’s not much of a celebration with his ordinary, boring parents living a life of ho-hum and melancholy blandness. But when his grander-than-life grandmother in her bold, blue coat enters the scene, the pair enjoy a day of adventurous, curious, daring, imaginative and exotic goodness, conjuring up all of Albert’s favourite things. The narrative suitably ties in with the plot with its quirky and unpredictable phrasing. Equally, with a Scribble-flavouring in an Allison Colpoys style, the illustrations make a bold statement with their neon blue and orange and black line tri-colour palette and retro look drawings. Grandma Z encourages a thrilling realisation that life is what you make of it, not only on your birthday, or Mother’s Day, but every day.

Scribble, February 2018.

Another special lady in your life may be your sister. Perhaps you’d like to send her affirmations of appreciation and love for all the things she does for you. In this adorable picture book by Joanna Young, My Sister represents laughter, teamwork, care and the ultimate friendship. Sisters from age two will adore the sweet, heartwarming illustrations in calming watercolour tones and tidy visual appeal dedicating one image to each question of ‘Who…’ ‘Who is the one who sits next to you… grows up with you… and is always on your side?’ The sisters in the story show a story of their own with their cute, amusing and oh-so-sweet little antics. My Sister is a book of pure joy and love, that surely mums with daughters would delight in sharing together this Mother’s Day.

New Frontier Publishing, February 2018.

Happy Mother’s Day!

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

YA Books With Knives And Swords On The Cover

Now we all know they say “don’t judge a book by its cover”…but honestly, who doesn’t!? Plus covers tend to give us a great idea of what the book is about, which is helpful if you’re looking for a swashbuckling pirate adventure or a cute fluffy romance with, preferably, plenty of ice cream and cuteness. So today we’re going to amiably judge some covers on YA books that feature knives and swords! It’s very popular and honestly makes for a stunning visual. And will these books deliver the tales of adventure and war that we’re longing for?! One must just read them all and find out. (Excellent life plan. Do please go for it.)


YA COVERS FEATURING SWORDS AND KNIVES

The Knife Of Never Letting Gobuy here

This is a fantastic YA staple, really, as it just celebrated it’s 10th anniversary! It’s a sci-fi story starring a boy who can’t kill and a girl not from this planet. It’s one of those heartbreaking ones so the knife is A+ of a visual for how your feels are going to be stabbed. I also love how it features a world where all your thoughts can be heard! Talk about freeeaky.

 

Markswomanbuy here

This is a very brand new book with a southeast Asian setting, featuring Kyra who’s a novice of a religious group who bring justice to the clans. Their knives are actually a bit sentient and tell them things, which is fascinating! Everything goes wrong for Kyra, though, when her leader is murdered, so she steals the knife and takes off to find justice.

 

To Kill A Kingdombuy here

This just came out this May (!) which is super exciting and I can attest to how stunning a book this is! Now I realise the squid thing is holding the sword at this point, but believe me: this contains pirates and princes, sirens and sea witches. It’s a fantastic dark Little Mermaid retelling about a prince who wants to kill a siren and a siren who accidentally falls for him. Hate-to-love at its finest!

 

Furybornbuy here

This is an epic fantasy about murderous angels and vicious queens. It’s told in two parts about two women, a hundred centuries apart, and how their lives not only connect but really rely on each other to tell the tale! A queen and an assassin! With unheard of powers and strengths.

 

Lady Midnightbuy here

Can’t help but mention a Cassandra Clare book in the infamous Shadowhunter world! Her latest series is a whirlwind of adventure and dark magic, featuring Emma who wants to find her parents’ murderer and Julian, sole carer of his younger siblings and desperate to keep them altogether when the Clave wants to rip them apart. As they dig into the murder mystery though, things get out of hand very fast with secrets coming out that no one should ever know. Also features a swoon-worthy forbidden romance!

 

Bring Me Their Heartsbuy here

A purely fantastic tale of a witch’s monster, called a “Heartless”, who has no choice but to serve her mistress. Zera longs for her freedom and will do anything to get it, even when her mistress sends her to kill the crown prince and take his heart, in order to control the upcoming war. Zera, part monster with a hunger for raw organs, has no qualms doing this…until she accidentally might be falling for the prince. It’s a fairy tale gone wrong and deliciously captivating!

Forest for the Trees & Poetic Threads SWF18

I attended two standout sessions at the Sydney Writers’ Festival this year. Forest for the Trees is run by Writing NSW (until recently NSW Writers’ Centre) and Poetic Threads by Red Room Poetry (in conjunction with the Art Gallery of NSW).

‘Forest for the Trees’ is an annual seminar run primarily for writers but valuable for others in the industry. It’s a one-day forum held at the State Library.

Julie Koh

Julie Koh gave an enlightening keynote titled ‘My Path Through the Forest’. Some of her short stories sound like my favourite books – experimental literary fiction with magic realism and speculative elements. She recommends that emerging and other writers attend festivals, courses and literary social events, use social media and subscribe to professional organisations such as Australian Society of Authors. “The longer I’m in the literary world, the more I realise it’s about connections”. She acknowledged that authors are often introverts (who generate energy from being alone) and should balance their time with others and their book publicity with time alone writing and re-energising.

Julie quoted The Sound of Music: “When the Lord closes a door, somewhere he opens a window” as a reminder to “scatter seeds everywhere” to find opportunities to promote work, only ask once and keep trying something new re publicity. Her published books are Portable Curiosities and Capital Misfits. She’s currently writing the libretto for an opera and, with Ryan O’Neill, Jane Rawson and others, is part of the exciting, audacious writing collective Kanganoulipo.

In ‘Staying on the Path’, Charlotte Wood (whose The Natural Way of Things I have written about a number of times on the blog) explained that she must “follow the energy” – have curiosity and interest in the work she’s writing itself; and, to maintain longevity in the industry, have tenacity and perseverance and behave professionally by treating everyone with respect and with humility.

In the session ‘Going Further Afield’, Kirsty Melville from US-based Andrews McMeel Publishing (who publish Rupi Kaur’s Milk and Honey and other books of poetry) told us that poetry is generated by the political environment and “people are looking to the arts to express their creative selves.” She has recently signed three emerging Australian poets, Gemma Troy, Courtney Peppernell and Beau Taplin.

Candy Royalle, Scotty Wings & Mirrah

The highlight of the festival was ‘Poetic Threads’, three poetic performances inspired by ‘The Lady and the Unicorn’ medieval tapestries. It was curated

Mirrah after performing at Poetic Threads

by Red Room Poetry and held at the Art Gallery of NSW. Electrifying, sublime performance by Mirrah, Scotty Wings as Monkey and Candy Royalle took us to a heightened, magical place. Seek out their work.

 

Kim Scott, Bram Presser & winners of 2018 NSW Premier’s Literary Awards

Tamsin Janu – dual shortlisting for ‘Blossom’ & ‘Figgy Takes the City’

It’s an exciting literary week in Sydney, beginning with the announcement of the winners of the prestigious NSW Premier’s Literary Awards at the State Library.

I was honoured to judge overall Book of the Year, as well as the Patricia Wrightson children’s book category.

Taboo by Kim Scott won both the Indigenous Writers’ Prize as well as Book of the Year. This is the third consecutive year that an Aboriginal writer has won Book of the Year, with Leah Purcell winning with her play script, The Drover’s Wife last year and Bruce Pascoe with Dark Emu in 2016.

Taboo (Picador Australia) is an exceptional work: dense, skilfully composed and darkly lyrical with some mystical elements. It traces the reunion of people affected by a horrific past massacre in a Peace Park. Teenager Tilly is the daughter of deceased patriarch Jim. Her backstory is confronting,  intimating she has been treated like a dog. Twins Gerald and Gerrard may be her allies or threats. Multiple characters are introduced effectively and some unlikeable characters are rendered with affection and understanding.

Symbols of the curlew and other birds are powerful and I particularly appreciated the representation of words from the ‘ancient language’. They are alluded to but not shared on the page. Some can even animate objects. As Wilfred says, “Words, see. It’s language brings things properly alive. Got power of their own, words.”

Another multi-awarded title is Bram Presser’s The Book of Dirt (Text Publishing). It won the UTS Glenda Adams Award for New Writing, the Christina Stead Prize for Fiction and the People’s Choice Award. It is a holocaust novel which reads like non-fiction and includes transcripts of the author’s letters and replies with black and white photos. Ideas about the Museum of the Extinct Race, The Story of The Book of Dirt and images of dirt as the clay Golem’s heart will endure.

A clay Golem figure, Riverman, is also a feature of Zana Fraillon’s Ethel Turner Prize Young Adult winning book, The Ones That Disappeared (Hachette Australia). This is a salutary warning about child trafficking and slavery in Australia and elsewhere told in sensory language, with a sometimes-magic realism style. (I reviewed it for the Weekend Australian here.)

The winner of the Kenneth Slessor Prize for Poetry is Argosy by Bella Li (Vagabond Press). This is an exciting combination of words and exquisite, thought-provoking colour collage in evolving styles.

Congratulations to these and the other winners, as well as the creators of the shortlisted titles and thanks to the State Library of NSW, the coordinator of the awards.

Here is the link to the winning books and shortlists.

http://www.sl.nsw.gov.au/about-library-awards/nsw-premiers-literary-awards 

Peter Carnavas shortlisted for ‘The Elephant’

Link to my comments on the two youth shortlists

Review: Anger Is a Gift by Mark Oshiro

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Anger is a Gift by Mark Oshiro is an incredibly powerful and needed book. It’s also so completely applicable for 2018, the kind of book everyone needs to read because these things are happening right now. And I think this book does an excellent job at bringing awareness to #BlackLivesMatter but also encouraging kids who are going through this. It’s also so well written with amazing characters and it just sucks you right in so you’re there, experiencing this horribly unfair and frightening world of police brutality and racism…and also strong friendships and love.

This is Moss’ story, about how his father was murdered by a police officer and Moss has had to live with the anxiety, the grief, and the life-changing fear that comes with that. There was no justice for his father and Moss is just struggling to stay afloat while he battles terrible panic attacks and also a school that’s (quite literally) falling apart around him due to terrible funding. When Moss and his friends decided to do something about their school — starting with a peaceful walk-out protest — things escalate wildly. The kids get hit with unspeakable brutality, like random and rough locker and body searches + a horrible metal detector + and police stalking on campus to intimidate them in the halls. It’s hard enough to get up in the morning let alone fight this, but Moss can’t sit back this time. And even when things turn nightmarish with friends and loved ones getting brutalised, Moss puts his anger to use and fights.

Moss was such an amazing narrator! It’s written from a super personal 3rd person perspective and you really get into Moss’ head for his journey. He starts off this super anxious kid with panic attacks and he shuts down if he sees a cop. He can’t imagine a life where he won’t be ruined like this, but he also has a super supportive mum and friends. He also meets a super-cute-boy on the subway who he might have some serious feelings for. If he can trust himself to express them. But things are spiralling at school and you just ache for Moss as he watches his friends’ brutalised and knows that he could very well be next.

Also just seeing the school falling apart around them was so devastating. These kids just want to learn and do their best, but how do they stand a chance when their textbooks are photocopied and colleges overlook them instantly for submissions. And the police violence on campus was insane and mindblowing.

This book is about horrible things happening to good people and it will make your heart pound with how unfair it is.

I particularly enjoyed the close-knit relationships this book featured! Moss and his mum are so so close! It’s the sweetest thing ever, plus she supports him through his anxiety and has no qualms at all about him being gay. She supports him and Javier immediately (and absolutely teases him too, like good family should when their son catches a cutie’s eye). Moss also has a huge expanse of friends at school, and I loved the diversity of their group. There was representation from nonbinary, immigrant, black and brown kids, and also disabilities and queer kids.

Moss and Javier are also just too cute for words! You’ll absolutely ship them in a matter of seconds. They fit so well together and want to understand each other, not change each other. Plus Javier is a dork and Moss is super anxious and this is the quality kind of couple you want to read about.

It doesn’t hold back from the heartbreak either. Because this book is nothing if not showing you the non-sugar-coated version of parts of the world people often want to overlook. It does balance uplifting hope with devastation and heartbreak, though, but ohhhh if my heart wasn’t in a puddle half the time.

Don’t miss Anger Is A Gift, alright!? It’s an excellently written masterpiece that should sit right alongside books like The Hate U Give and Dear Martin! I’m glad books like this exist and hope it is another spark that will help change the world.

Double Dipping – Middle Grade Novels that Defy Belief

Novelists use the art of suspension of disbelief in an attempt to encourage readers to surrender logic and sacrifice realism for the sake of enjoyment. Children are naturally more susceptible to stories that defy belief purely because their imaginative acceptance is less eroded than ours is. What I admire about these two middle grade novels is their easy ability to captivate the imagination and suspend disbelief, pressuring readers to levels of discomfiture whilst retraining a sense of irrefutable realism. At the end of both, you walk away loving the characters just a little bit more and happily consider risking life, limb and sanity to walk with them all over again.

The Endsister by Penni Russon

Words flow like silken cream from Russon’s pen in this entrancing tale of ghosts, family disintegration and returning to ones roots. Told in alternating points of view from each family member and a couple of resident ghosts, this story heaves readers from the gumtree-clad hills of Australia to the history-rich, leafy suburbs of inner London with mysterious charm and grace.

Continue reading Double Dipping – Middle Grade Novels that Defy Belief

Review: Tyler Johnson Was Here by Jay Coles

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Tyler Johnson Was Here by Jay Coles is such a heart-wrenching (and important) read. It definitely hits hard and it’s such a vital book for everyone to be reading, especially in this day and age, where police brutality and racism are huge topics in the USA. It’s the type of story that needs to be told again and again until the world changes. Possibly stock up on some tissues and chocolate before you start though.

The story follows Marvin Johnson, who’s brother Tyler goes missing after a fateful party that neither of them would usually attend. Marvin is ruined with worry for his brother, who’d been pulling away in the weeks earlier and not sharing everything with his twin like he used to. And when the cops aren’t interested in helping much, Marvin takes the search into his own hands. With police brutality being a terrifying theme in his life, Marvin fears for the worst…and then a video is leaked online showing his brother being murdered by a cop. Tyler isn’t missing: he’s dead. And no one cares about justice unless Marvin fights tooth and nail for it.

The book focuses on police brutality, but it also delves into the “everyday” parts of racism in the USA. I cannot comprehend how it would be to live like these black teens have to live. When Marvin is going to a protest his mother literally says don’t have anything in your pockets, not even a phone, so he can’t be mistaken for being armed. And another time, Marvin and his friends are nearly arrested for buying food at a store, just because they’re black and the clerk thought they might shoplift. Being Australian, this is mind-boggling to me and a good eye-opener for what life is like for other people. I felt the devastation on every page of this book about kids who don’t deserve this blatant racism. You can really feel the author’s heart and emotions in the writing.

It does mix hope with the sadness though. I’m glad that’s in there. I can imagine this book will be so important to so many, and it’s important that it has room to cry and be angry and be encouraged. It also features a boy, Marvin, who is not afraid to cry and will be emotional…and that’s such a good dialogue to open up in YA too!

The story features so many other great things! There’s a cast of interesting and complex characters, including Marvin’s friends and a girl he meets, Faith, who helps him try to find Tyler and sticks with him when things grow dark. Marvin is also trying to get into a good college while all this is happening, and there’s a lot of talk about mental health and grief and learning to move through sadness and not lay down and give up.

Tyler Johnson Was Here is definitely the book that will leave you thinking, which is exactly what books are supposed to do. Start discussions and spark fires in people! This is a book with a tumultuous and heartbreaking journey, told in a raw and emotional voice.

In Harmony with Maura Pierlot

Author and playwright Maura Pierlot is no stranger to success with her most recent awards boosting her literary status beyond expectations. Last year she received high accolations, being announced Winner of the Charlotte Waring Barton Award and the CBCA Aspiring Writers Mentorship Program 2017 with HarperCollins. Maura went on to complete her winning Fellowship for two weeks in March at the Katharine Susannah Prichard Writers’ Centre in WA to develop her script, Leaving into a full length play. And most recently, her debut picture book, The Trouble in Tune Town, (illustrated by Sophie Norsa) received Joint Winner for Best Children’s Illustrated E-Book in the Independent Publishers Awards (IPPY). How thrilling! So today, Maura is here to discuss her writing life and the launch of The Trouble in Tune Town.

What do you enjoy about writing for children as opposed to your young adult and playwright work?

On some level, I find it more challenging to write for children than I do for young adults or for the stage. I have a tendency to overthink things – probably all those years of philosophy training – and writing for children forces me to tell a story simply – just an idea stripped back, pure, presented in a way that engages and excites … preferably in less than 500 words. I think that’s very difficult to do well.

Your picture book, The Trouble in Tune Town, is a lively, colourful and encouraging story with some impulsive music notes and a young girl practising persistence and self-belief whilst practising her instruments. What do you hope for readers to gain from their literary experience with Meg and her musical notes?

​I hope young readers appreciate the magic and wonder of music, seeing it as a source of joy, not one of stress or obligation. I hope they accept the challenge of learning new songs in a balanced way – doing the best they can, knowing that it’s not a race, and remembering to have fun along the way. I hope they learn to dig deep and persevere because sometimes in life it’s just too easy to give up. Rather than strive for perfection, I hope kids are never afraid to try new things, or to make mistakes, and learn to pick themselves back up when things don’t go to plan. That’s where the real growth comes from.

What has the response been like so far from the audience of The Trouble in Tune Town? What kind of public appearances have you made to share your book?

​The response to the book has been overwhelmingly positive. Readers of all ages seem to identify with the story and the message, which is heartening. It’s been a big hit in families with music-playing children, also with grandmothers and aunties who seem to think it’s the perfect gift.

Until now, due to other commitments, I’ve only been able to do a few school visits. The book took a while to produce, particularly the early sketches, because we all saw the potential of the book and wanted to work hard to make sure we did it justice. Unfortunately, when the book was finally released, I had to head overseas for a family illness and, by the time I returned, it was too late to schedule a launch before the Christmas holidays. I have always had my heart set on a launch at the National Library of Australia but there was no availability for several months, hence the 6 May launch date, somewhat ironically during the Canberra International Music Festival.

I’ve sold quite a few books at local markets. And two local businesses have purchased large quantities to include in gift hampers for their clients, so there’s been a nice follow-on effect from that. The book is available for sale online, but I haven’t done a lot of publicity to drive traffic to my websites. I’m a late starter to social media – I think I was Amish in another life – so I need to learn how to use those tools effectively to spread the word.

Last year you were named the winner of the CBCA Aspiring Writers Mentorship Program. Congratulations! What was your process in applying for this and how has the win affected your writing life?

​I’ve been working on my young adult novel, Freefalling, on and off for about four to five years. On the strength of an early draft, I was selected for HARDCOPY, the inaugural (fiction) professional development program run by the ACT Writers’ Centre. The next year I was shortlisted for a Varuna Publisher Introduction Program, then in late 2016 I was named Runner Up for the NSW Writers’ Centre Varuna Fellowship (both for Freefalling). I was pleased with the attention the manuscript was receiving, but slightly frustrated that I hadn’t found an agent or publisher. I did get quite a few ‘nice’ rejection letters. One agent told me she loved the story 95%, but in today’s harsh commercial climate she really had to love it 100%. Virtually all last year, I went on a hunt for the missing 5% and one day, the answer came to me so clearly that I was amazed I hadn’t stumbled upon it sooner.

I was in the process of reworking the manuscript when applications opened for the CBCA Aspiring Writers Mentorship Program so I submitted my current version, which has subsequently undergone further revision. I was thrilled to be named the winner of the AWMP 2017. The award told me I was on the right track, and that message couldn’t have come at a better time. The mentorship involves spending time with HarperCollins staff (in editing, marketing and publishing). I’m currently talking to the publisher about how my mentorship will work, and I’m pleased that there is interest in customising an approach based on what my manuscript needs at this point in time. It’s too early to know the precise mentorship details, or the outcome, but I have no doubt that the process will be worthwhile, and that my manuscript will be much stronger as a result.

Looks promising! Congratulations again, and look forward to all the exciting news coming from your end!

To follow the blog tour and go in the draw to win a hard copy of The Trouble in Tune Town please visit here.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Keep Calm and Embrace Challenges – Picture Book Reviews

For young children, and their parents, keeping calm is an important skill, particularly in noisy, excitable and sometimes stressful situations. Learning new exercises, growing independence and changes in family dynamics are some examples of times where patience and acceptance are absolutely essential. Here are a few picture books that demonstrate the skill in embracing challenges and remaining positive. And this goes for bubs and their mums! These books also highlight the important roles of our engaged, busy, guiding, and patient (!) mums and other special persons. Lovely books to share on Mother’s Day, and everyday to master those routines!

It doesn’t get more relaxing than a yoga session for little bodies and little friends! Yoga Babies by UK’s TV and radio presenter, Fearne Cotton, is a delectably pacifying experience that encourages strong and healthy minds and bodies for all ages. Sheena Dempsey perfectly demonstrates the art of movement, position and vitality when it comes to the illustrations. And the combination of words and pictures beautifully promotes audience participation with their variety of active role modelling guides.

We meet many yoga babies and their diverse families throughout this romping, rhythmic, straightforward text that connect to one another with a series of poses. Each spread is different with a culmination of family-friendly settings and pets, which help to demonstrate the given skill. For example, a dog accompanies Rex as he makes the ‘downward dog’, two mice appear with Tom and Sam’s dormouse pose, and Emily stands tall and straight like a tree in her garden. By having adults feature alongside the babies, the book encourages their initiation for a fun, calming family activity, as written in the forward message.

Colourful, cheeky and soothing, Yoga Babies is a refreshing and engaging delight of a book that children from age two will be pro-’posing’ become an habitual routine.

New Frontier Publishing, February 2018.

“In a little pink house on the edge of the town lived a baby who made some unusual sounds.” This is the opening line of Alison Lester’s rollicking, bumptious story, The Very Noisy Baby. A cacophony of sound effects proceed in this lively narrative with a tiny bub and her enormous voice box!

Coco the zoo keeper is looking for her escaped tiger, and when she hears a GROWL! coming from the little pink house she assumes it’s there. “No”, says the mother. “We just have a very noisy baby.” A hilarious string of animal onomatopoeia follows as more people search for their missing pets, only to discover it is in fact the very noisy baby. The layout of illustrations is perfect with vignettes of the house and the scouting people (Alison, as Frances the farmer, and her dog Bigsy, appear in there, too!) on one side, and a dedicated page to the small baby on the next. Lester then showcases her much-adored watercolour and line artwork as full spreads when all the people come together to find the lost creatures. And there they appear, just as our little noisy baby calls them out one by one.

Brimming with lyrical repetition, animal sounds, active encouragement and plenty of jovial humour, little ones from age two will be giggling throughout and getting carried away with the surprises jumping out at them. The Very Noisy Baby is the perfect read aloud that also reinforces the themes of working together, animals and families in the most eye-pleasing, positive and captivating way.

Affirm Press, November 2017.

Wittingly taken from the popular song / game, ‘Skip to My Lou’, this title is just as naughty and delightfully fun. Skip to the Loo! A Potty Book is a whimsical play on words that rhyme and a learning skill that all toddlers achieve, all in a lively game to the potty. With bouncy text by Sally Lloyd-Jones, and the iconic style of illustrations by Guess How Much I Love You’s Anita Jeram, this little board book couldn’t get much cuter.

A group of forest friends are attending a party, with Bunny in the lead to find his potty. A subsequent line-up of animal attendees join in, each one with a personable character of its own. We’ve got a lonely dodo, a smiling frog on tiptoe, a ballerina elephant, Lord and Lady Huff-Puff, a naughty big fat monster, plus more. Each line ends in a rhyme to ‘loo’, with some gorgeously inventive terms like ‘Wibbly Woo’ and ‘stinkaroo’ to add to the leisure. Their destination expels a highly amusing tone with everyone on their assortment of different shaped and sized potties (’POO! POO! POO!’), and there’s even another little encouraging surprise on the last page.

Skip to the Loo! is the ideal book for toddlers to hold, sit with and read whilst gracing the little throne in comfort and calmness, reassurance and joy. A life-saver for weary mums!

Walker Books UK, Feb 2018.

Monster Baby by Sarah Dyer captures a little piece of a young child’s thoughts and feelings when a new baby enters his or her world. All the trepidation, jealousy and sometimes disappointments that can exist when focused attention and family dynamics change. This young, orange, horned monster has plenty of questions running through his mind as he narrates the story in first person. Dyer cleverly weaves in a child’s perspective as her character attempts to grasp the concepts of Mum’s growing belly, why she rests so much, eats too healthy but doesn’t get any thinner, and can’t pick him up anymore. But there are positive aspects, too, like seeing the baby on the ultrasound and the excited anticipation of its arrival. The confusion continues when monster baby is born, like why the boy needs to be quiet when the newborn can make a lot of noise. Eventually, he adapts and grows to love his baby brother, as most older siblings do.

Dyer’s characters, whilst monsters, are nothing but gentle and friendly creatures, illustrated with uncomplicated line drawings and added textural and collage media for warmth and familiarity.

Highly relatable and witty, Monster Baby is perfect for preschoolers as an encouraging book on being open with their questions and feelings yet seeing the positive side to adapting to change. Perfect also for mums expecting bub number two!

Otter-Barry Books, April 2017.

Happy Mother’s Day!

Mummies are Marvellous – Mother’s Day Picture Book Reviews

Mother. The person who mothers you, nurtures you, Band-Aids your grazed knees and kisses you to sleep at night; the person who is always there to listen to you, has cuddles to spare, and tugs you back in line when things go askew deserves every ounce of recognition and celebration we can muster. These next few picture books do just that and more. Sit down with your mother, child, or grandchild this Mother’s Day with one of these touching picture books.

Marvellous Mummy by Katie Poli and Giuseppe Poli

Discovering the creative picture book chemistry of a new picture book team is akin to embarking on an exciting new adventure for me. When the team is a husband and wife collaboration, the intrigue doubles. Marvellous Mummy is the first creation of Katie and Giuseppe Poli and manages to tick many of my ideal picture book boxes. It’s bright and breezy in appearance, possesses narrative that is succinct and able to endure the rigors of repeated reading and evokes warmth and identifiable situations that even very small children can recognise and love.

The narrator’s mummy, represented as a capable, caring and sometimes feisty she-elephant, is many things, just like real-life mummies. She is silly and fun and goofy at times. She is not beyond being rambunctious and playful, sneaky and knowing and sometimes grumpy and grouchy, either. However, she is always kind and loving and of course, the best mummy of all because she is yours. Katie’s repeating phraseology and use of strong verbs to emphasise this mummy’s characteristics and engagement with her offspring provide the opportunity for little readers to interact and anticipate her qualities. This prompts them to recognise the same qualities in their own mothers, perhaps encouraging them to search for more.

Giuseppe’s illustrations are playfully exuberant. Each page is awash in pretty pastels creating a soft, gentle mood that is both childlike in appearance yet focuses powerfully on mama elephant and her child. Mummies are not perfect every minute of the day nor are they invincible but they are strong and beautiful and capable in every conceivable way in the eyes of their young children. Marvellous Mummy portrays this simple concept well. A delight to share with pre-schoolers and to remind all those mummies out there how special they are.

New Frontier Publishing May 2018

Continue reading Mummies are Marvellous – Mother’s Day Picture Book Reviews

Review: I Have Lost My Way by Gayle Forman

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I Have Lost My Way is the latest book by the famed Gayle Forman and it definitely doesn’t disappoint! It features her typical “set in 1-day” timeline as well as packing an emotional punch full of angst, change and emotion. It’s the kind of book you chew through in one day but keep thinking about it for a long time after.

The book follows 3 narrators: Freya (a singer who’s lost her voice) and Harun (a closeted quiet boy who’s broken his boyfriend’s heart) and Nathaniel (neglected and disillusioned with the disappointing world after an accident). The book follows them as they all meet in New York City, actually…they meet because Freya tumbles off a foot-bridge and lands on Nathaniel’s head, gives him a concussion, and then ropes a nearby Haran into helping them to hospital. Harun recognises the famed-Freya-singer and wonders if hanging around with her will somehow get him his boyfriend (who loves her music) back. And Nathaniel feels all his paths in life have folded to a close…and then he meets these two strangers who help him and stick with him, even when they could’ve left.

I loved Forman’s previous books, If I Stay and Where She Went, so I was super excited for this new one. I Have Lost My Way tugged at those heart strings and also incorporated such a complex and interesting cast and plot into such a small amount of space!

I really liked how the “told over one day” plot was handled. It was short and powerful and I got so so attached to these characters after just seeing them over one day! However the romance in these 1-day stories always does feel a bit rushed…although I liked that Nathaniel and Freya weren’t spouting any “destiny” lines…they just liked each other and were keen to see where it would go. It was instalove but not cliche! And they were so cute!

It’s written so their backstory comes in 1st person chapters, but the bulk of the book (set in the present day) is written in 3rd. I liked this unique formatting and storytelling style and I think it worked well for the book. I thought Harun’s narrative didn’t slot so easily with the others, but he was still such a winning character and I was just as invested in his life.

BUY HERE

A quick glance at the characters?!

  • FREYA: She’s a rising-star singer who suddenly can’t sing. It could be medical?Or nerves? But she just stops being able to sing and she’s contracted by an austere man she can’t disappoint and she’s scared people will forget about her if she never sings again. Fame only lasts if you’re giving to your audience after all. She feels so lost with all of this and the pressure is crushing her.  She’s also biracial/Ethiopian and her culture plays into her music loves a lot.
  • HARUN: He’s very gay and very closeted being from a strict Muslim family that he loves dearly and doesn’t want to disappoint. A lot of his narrative is wrestling with what he knows to be good and true vs what he knows his parents would do if they found out. He has an amazing black boyfriend, James…but who doesn’t want to be Harun’s shameful secret anymore. Then Harun agrees to do something his family wants that is…not good for him. And things with him and James turn sideways really fast. When the book begins he’s just broken his boyfriend’s heart and is totally lost and alone.
  • NATHANIEL: He is the most mysterious of the bunch and grew up really secluded and neglected with a father who was very childish and never took proper care of him. As a kid, Nathaniel found that exciting…as an older teen? He feels overlooked, unwanted, and forgotten. He ends up in New York City after a tragic home event and he feels like his world is collapsing around him. He’s very depressed and finding Freya and Harun kick-starts him out of a downward spiral. He’s also so very soft and kind and also starving so they spend a lot of the book feeding him. As they should.

It’s definitely got the emotional edge I’ve come to expect from Forman books! I was super caught up in the story and just wanted to know if something (or anything!) would work out for these characters who were so lost and also stuck in their own mire of aloneness.

I Have Lost My Way is an amazing story that takes a lot of twists you won’t expect. It deals with grief and loneliness and isolation and how important it is to confide your struggles with people you love and trust.

WIN copies of PERFECT WORLD and BEAST WORLD

Perfect World and Beast World are the first two books in my new series, OTHER WORLDS. Aimed at children eight and up, they are about kids who find mysterious keys that open doorways into other worlds – thrilling adventures follow. For more info, check out my previous blog post. But now, here’s your chance to win a signed copy of one of these books…

How? Simply send an email with “OTHER WORLDS comp” in the subject line to [email protected]

The giveaway closes at 5pm (Melb time) on Friday 27 April 2018, after which I will randomly draw two winners, each of whom will get one signed book.

You must be an Australian resident with an Australian postal address to enter, and you can only enter once.

The winner will be contacted by email, as well as being listed in the comments section of this post. No correspondence on the matter will be entered into. Got that? Good! Now… go and enter.  🙂

And while you’re waiting to win, check out the official OTHER WORLDS website.

Catch ya later, George

Through the doorway to OTHER WORDS

A perfect world full of identical clones. Steampunk London inhabited by well-dressed, talking animals. Robots and humans fighting a war in virtual reality. A seemingly ordinary world threatened by a mysterious darkness. To discover these worlds, all you need is a key to open a doorway. This is the setup for my new series of sci-fi/fantasy books for kids – OTHER WORLDS.

I’ve been a long-time fan of portal fiction – stories that, through the use of a portal, transport ordinary people into extraordinary worlds. These worlds are sometimes similar to our own, with key points of divergence, sometime bizarrely different. Books like CS Lewis’s Narnia series or His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman, and television shows like Sliders, have taken audiences on splendid adventures between worlds. Now, finally, I get the chance to play with portals and other worlds.

The first two books in the OTHER WORLDS series, Perfect World and Beast World, were released in March this year. The next two books, Game World and Dark World, will be published at the end of May. If these four books do well enough, then there is the potential for further books in the series.

So what goes in to writing a kids’ series like this? There is a lot of thought and planning, beyond the actual plot.

The biggest consideration was what actually constitutes a series? The books in my previous series You Choose, were linked by format rather than the story. Each book had a completely different plot, covering a range of different genres, about completely different characters. What made the books a series, is that they were all interactive and written in second person (like the old Choose Your Own Adventure novels and the Pick-a-path books). I enjoyed the freedom of playing with different genres and having individual stories, and I wanted to retain some of this freedom for the new series.

This time around, I wanted a story link… but not too much. Not all kids are going to be interested in reading every book in a series. For this reason, I wanted to give each book the ability to be read on its own and still be understood. I also wanted to give each book an individual feel. So I decided that each one would feature a new set of characters and a completely different world. Perfect World is straight science fiction with a serious message about our own world. Beast World is steampunk fantasy. Game World is adventure sci-fi. Dark World mixes science fiction and fantasy with a dash of horror. But every story begins with a kid finding a key that opens a doorway into another world. So there is a pattern to the books, which gives the sense of being part of a greater whole, but individual stories so that each book can be read on its own.

But I wanted a little more to link the books… to provide some sort of reward for those readers who did read all the books. So in each one there is an epilogue, separate from the main story, to tantalise readers with a mystery that doesn’t get solved until the fourth book.

It was important for me to write a series that would appeal to both girls and boys. In addition to making sure there was a balance of male and female characters in each book, I decided to alternate the gender of the main POV character from book to book; with the secondary character being the opposite gender. So each book has a prominent boy character and a prominent girl character. This also ensured that there were both male and female characters on each cover.

While I was aiming for these books to be thrilling adventure stories, I also wanted some depth. I wanted to touch on subjects that were meaningful to me. The importance of individuality and diversity, and the need to be who you really are, are themes that run through these stories, sometimes in the background, sometimes a little more overtly. There are also themes of co-operation, of not judging others and of the importance of ethics in science.

Most importantly, I wanted these books to be fast-paced and fun, and perhaps a little bit quirky. I’m an odd person. My mind is constantly whirling with bizarre ideas and idiosyncratic images. I like putting these into my books. So… Reject clones living in a massive pile of trash called The Dumping Ground. A vegetarian tiger plotting treason. A robot boy who’s forgotten that he’s a robot. A zombie struggling to learn how to make a good cup of coffee. These are just some of the weird things you’ll find in the OTHER WORLDS books.

And if you happen to be a Doctor Who fan (I happen to be a HUGE fan)… there is a hidden reference in each one of the books. 🙂

I think I’ve put more of my interests, more of my hopes and beliefs, more of myself into this series than anything else I’ve ever written. I’m hoping that readers will enjoy reading them as much as I enjoyed writing them.

Catch ya later, George

PS. Keep an eye on the Boomerang Books Blog for your chance to win signed copies of Perfect World and Beast World.