Get Reading for School, Kids!

With school starting up for the year ahead, there may be many mixed feelings of trepidation, excitement and loneliness (and that’s just for the parents). But if your kids are going through some of these emotions, too, here are some fantastic resources to help children relate their own experiences to others and reassure them of things that may be causing anxiety.

snail-and-turtle-are-friends-293x300Developing Friendships
Snail and Turtle are Friends, Stephen Michael King (author / illus.) Scholastic Australia, 2014.

Snail and Turtle like to do lots of things together. They like to walk and run and read (as you can imagine, very slowly and quietly). Whilst they are good friends, Snail and Turtle recognise their differences in their habitats, diets and favourite activities. But they find common ground in their creative painting pursuits, ‘even though Snail likes swirls and Turtle likes shapes and blobs.’
A very sweet story of friendship and celebrating differences, with equally gorgeous bold, colourful and textured illustrations by author / illustrator Stephen Michael King.

jessica-s-boxPromoting Resilience
Jessica’s Box (Cerebral Palsy Alliance Edition), Peter Carnavas (author / illus.) New Frontier Publishing, 2014.

Jessica’s Box was originally pubished in 2008, winning awards including The Queensland Premier’s Literary Awards 2008, the CBCA Awards 2009, and Speech Pathology Australia Shortlist 2009. It is a story of starting in a new school and trying to make friends by showing off possessions. Jessica displays much resilience when her attempts initially fail, she eventually discovers that being herself is far more successful in the friend-making department. In 2014 a new edition has been released to include images of Jessica in a wheelchair. The storyline and sentiment remains unchanged; giving focus to the fact that many children are faced with challenges of trying to fit in, forming friendships, and being yourself, regardless of ability.
Read Dimity Powell‘s fascinating interview about Jessica’s Box with Peter Carnavas here. Also, Jessica’s Box will also be read on ABC4Kids’ Play School Friday 30th January at 9.30am.

9781925059038Packing Lunches
What’s In My Lunchbox?, Peter Carnavas (author), Kat Chadwick (illus.), New Frontier Publishing, 2015.

And brand new from Peter Carnavas is What’s In My Lunchbox?
What special goodies will you be packing in your child’s lunchbox? Sweet? Savoury? Healthy snacks? A little treat? All to be expected. Well, you can imagine this boy’s surprise when, after finding a not-so-appetising apple, the most bizarre things happen to emerge from his lunchbox.
‘Today in my lunchbox I happened to find…’ A sushi-offering fish? He doesn’t like fish. A chick-inhabiting egg? He doesn’t like eggs. A honey muffin-loving bear? He doesn’t like bears. A dinosaur, then his sister! How absurd! Perhaps that apple is more appetising than he originally thought!
A very funny repetitive story, perfect as a read-aloud, with equally rollicking, fun, retro-style illustrations. What’s In My Lunchbox? will have your kids in fits of giggles. It’s just delicious!

parachuteFacilitating Confidence
Parachute, Danny Parker (author), Matt Ottley (illus.), Little Hare Books, 2013.
CBCA Book of the Year Shortlist 2014.

I love this story about a boy who keeps a firm grasp on his security object; a parachute, with the most imaginative occurrences caused by his own fear. The perspectives portrayed by illustrator, Matt Ottley really take the reader into the scene and give that extra dimension to the emotion intended by Danny Parker. Toby feels safe with his parachute, even doing the ordinary daily routines. But when it comes to saving his cat, Henry, from a high tree house, Toby gradually puts his fears aside and inches towards becoming more confident until one day he manages to leave his parachute behind.
A simple storyline but with creatively juxtaposing and interesting scenes, Parachute is a fantastic book for little ones overcoming insecurities associated with learning new skills or becoming more independent.

hurry-up-alfie-1Getting into a Routine
Hurry Up Alfie, Anna Walker (author / illus.), Scholastic, 2014.

Alfie is plenty busy… too busy to get ready to go out. This fun-loving, easily-distracted and stubborn crocodile typically finds handstands more important than eating breakfast, as is chasing Steve McQueen the cat. And looking for undies unexpectedly leads to the discoveries of missing items and different ways to use your pyjamas. What else?! Alfie thinks he’s finally ready. It’s coming up to midday on the clock, and an ever-so-quickly-losing-patience-parent informs him that it is not an umbrella needed but rather some clothes! The battle to get dressed eventually ends when a compromise is made, and parent and child make their way out, but there’s sure to be a re-match when it is time to go home!
All too familiar are the daily joys of negotiating with an ‘independent’ child, and Anna Walker does it with so much warmth and humour. Her trademark illustrative style of watercolours, pencil, textured patterns and photo collages once again so perfectly compliment the gentle and whimsical storyline, as well as adding to the detail and movement, and making each scene so real.
Hurry Up Alfie is the perfect back-to-school book for young ones with the same autonomous attitude.

School Specific Books
first-dayFirst Day, Andrew Daddo (author), Jonathan Bentley (illus.), HarperCollins Publishers, 2013.

An adorable picture book about a girl and her mum preparing for her first day of school. Getting dressed, making new friends, learning new rules, and being brave. But who is the one with the most nerves?
First Day is a cute story with very sweet illustrations to match. Perfect for mums of first-time school goers.

Starting-School-Copy-2Starting School, Jane Godwin (author), Anna Walker (illus.), Penguin, 2013.

Meet Tim, Hannah, Sunita, Joe and Polly. They are starting school. Watch as they adapt in their new environment; meeting new friends, exploring the school grounds, eating routines, establishing rules and learning new subjects.
With plenty of good humour and beautiful, varied illustrations to discover exciting things, Starting School makes for a wonderful resource to introduce Preppies to the big world that is primary school.

my-first-day-at-schoolMy First Day at School, Meredith Costain (author), Michelle Mackintosh (illus.), Windy Hollow Books, 2013.

We are introduced to another four children – Ari, Amira, Zach and Zoe, who take us through some of the routines associated with adapting to school life. These include lining up, waiting your turn, visiting the toilet, what to do at bell times, a lesson on self-identity and class photos.
Cute illustrations with plenty to explore, My First Day at School is another fun book to help children with understanding various facets of beginning school.

And there are plenty more great books to help cope with the transition to school, but your school staff and fellow parents are also valuable in aiding with adapting to the big changes.
Wishing all new school parents and children the very best of luck with this exciting milestone in your lives! I’m in the same boat, so wish me luck, too!

The Indie Book Awards 2015 Shortlist Announcement

Get FREE shipping when you use the promo code indies15 at checkout

Every December 170+ independent Australian booksellers take stock of the year in books and nominate their favourite Australian titles for the Indie Book Awards shortlist. The shortlist falls into four categories – fiction, non-fiction, debut fiction and children’s and YA books.

The Indie Book Awards shortlists for 2015 are as follows:


When the Night Comes by Favel Parrett (Hachette Australia)

Amnesia by Peter Carey (Penguin Books Australia)

Golden Boys by Sonya Hartnett (Penguin Books Australia)

The Rosie Effect by Graeme Simsion (Text Publishing)



This House of Grief by Helen Garner (Text Publishing)

Bush by Don Watson (Penguin Books Australia)

Where Song Began by Tim Low (Penguin Books Australia)

Cadence by Emma Ayres (ABC Books, HarperCollins Publishers Australia)



The 52-Storey Treehouse by Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton (illus)(Pan Macmillan Australia)

Pig the Pug by Aaron Blabey (Scholastic Australia)

Withering By Sea by Judith Rossell (ABC Books, HarperCollins Publishers Australia)

Laurinda by Alice Pung (Black Inc. Publishing)



Lost & Found by Brooke Davis (Hachette Australia)

Foreign Soil by Maxine Beneba Clark (Hachette Australia)

The Strays by Emily Bitto (Affirm Press)

After Darkness by Christine Piper (Allen & Unwin)

LEB Indie Award shortlist Poster 2015_F SMALL. jpeg

Judges from the Leading Edge group of booksellers will select the Indie Book Award winner of each category and the Indie Book Awards overall winner is voted on by the Leading Edge group as a whole.

The Indie Book Awards category winners and the Indie Book Awards overall winner for 2015 will be announced at an event in the Sydney CBD on Wednesday 25 March.

The Indie’s, as they are affectionately known, are the first cab off the rank on the Australian literary awards calendar and have become an excellent early indicator of the books to watch in the coming awards season. As the Bafta’s are to the Golden Globes, and to the Oscars – so the Indie Book Awards are the Australian literary awards early herald. Presented annually since 2008, the previous overall winners of the Indie Book Awards are Breathe by Tim Winton (Penguin, 2008), Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey (Allen and Unwin, 2009), The Happiest Refugee by Anh Do (Allen and Unwin, 2010/2011), All That I Am by Anna Funder (Penguin, 2012) The Light between Oceans by M L Stedman (Vintage, 2013) and The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan (Vintage, 2014). Flanagan’s instant classic went on to win several other prestigious literary awards in Australia and ultimately the 2014 Man Booker prize which was presented to him in London.

“Good Australian writing needs good Australian bookshops to prosper. Without them Australian writers are one more endangered species whose bush has been bulldozed”
– Richard Flanagan

The independent bookshops of Australia are feisty and adaptive small businesses powered by creative entrepreneurial owner-operator personalities. They are savvy marketeers and early adapters, passionate readers and popular culture buffs. They keep abreast of their customers’ interests and values and trade on a system based on authenticity, loyalty and trust. Independent booksellers personally select the books they stock and hand-sell – therefore it is those books and those choices that ultimately keep business fluid, staff employed, orders arriving in and most importantly customers returning for more great reads and spot on recommendations. An independent bookseller will only hand-sell a title when the quality of the book merits that sale, so we can see the Indie Book Awards shortlist represents the very best Australian books brought to market in 2014 as selected by those who really know their stuff – it’s worth listening to them.

The independent bookselling landscape is in very good shape:

· The independent booksellers have in the past 5 years increased their market share by 50%
· In 2014 the independent booksellers market share of the total Australian market was just under 30%
· The total Australian book market was valued at $937million in 2014
All figures provided by the Leading Edge Group and Nielsen Bookscan

In Australia our army of independent booksellers represent the grassroots frontline of our society’s intellectual good health and cultural exchange. There is no author who does not wish to be championed by independent booksellers; so invested are they in the success of the book – from writers support groups, first draft to final, early buzz, online blogs, bookstore front window displays to in-store signing sessions.

“As a reader and now as a debut novelist, independent booksellers have been fellow literature lovers, astute advisers and fonts of knowledge on the subject of quality writing. When publicising After Darkness, the indie booksellers I met went above and beyond to promote it, taking the time to understand the book’s themes, get to know me and craft a personal approach. The book reviews, blogs and awards they facilitated have had a huge impact on creating interest in my work and, more importantly, building a community of Australian readers and writers”
Christine Piper author of After Darkness

“I was delighted and honoured to hear that Withering-by-Sea had been shortlisted for this award. The independent booksellers have been very supportive of me, and of other Australian writers and illustrators, and so this award is a very special one. Thank you for choosing my book”
Judith Rossell author of Withering-by-Sea

“I am so excited about this YA announcement. I’m very grateful to independent booksellers all over the country who’ve so enthusiastically supported Laurinda.”
Alice Pung author of Laurinda

“The thing about booksellers is that when they read a book, they must not merely read it; they must read it from the point of view of everyone in the world, any person at all who might arrive in their bookshop. It’s an incredible skill, and one I’ve often thought might make things a little better for ourselves, were we all to learn it: the ability to understand another’s version of the world. Their customers might say, ‘I’d like a book that doesn’t have any sad bits,’ or ‘I’d like book that has dinosaurs but is set in the year 3000,’ or ‘I’d like a book that has a red cover and was in your window seventy-five years ago,’ and the bookseller will gallantly put their hands on hips, smile politely, and reply, ‘Never fear, dear customer. We have the book for you. Trust me.’ And we do trust them, these superheroes of the book world, and so we should, because they know all there is to know about all books everywhere. And if they don’t, they know how to find out. As an Australian author, I’m beyond grateful to our Indie booksellers for being so passionate and fearless and creative in their support of Australian writing. As an Australian indie bookseller, I’m beyond proud of my industry for being so passionate and fearless and creative in their support of Australian writing. Thank you for deeming Lost & Found worthy of shortlisting in the Debut Fiction category at the 2015 Indie Book Awards, for the respect you give my work and those of my colleagues, and for building bridges between Australian writers and readers. Indie booksellers rule, and we wouldn’t be a country that reads—and writes—without them”
Brooke Davis author of Lost and Found

“Independent bookshops are my home, a sanctuary from a busy world – a place where I find all of my favourite books. I have had so much support from Indies all around the country and I feel incredibly grateful. Thank you”
Favel Parrett author of When the Night Comes

“To be nominated for a debut fiction Indie Award is a quite singular honour. To see Foreign Soil, the product of gruelling years of writing, research and emotional energy, so well received by the Australian independent bookstores I spent so many years browsing, buying, loitering and being inspired in as an emerging writer myself, seems nothing short of miraculous – particularly in a year which has seen so many strong Australian fiction debuts”
Maxine Beneba Clarke author of Foreign Soil

“I’m over the moon to be shortlisted for the Indie Book Awards. It’s particularly meaningful to me because the Indies are voted by Leading Edge booksellers themselves, who are among the most passionate supporters of books, and who know the industry so intimately. This is a real honour!”
Emily Bitto author of The Strays

“Independent bookshops are the lifeblood of our industry. Without the knowledge and passion of independent bookshop staff it’s hard to imagine how I would have come across many of the non-mainstream books that have fired my imagination and fuelled my creativity over the years. It’s also difficult to imagine how my own books would have fared without their enthusiasm and support”
Andy Griffiths author of The 52-Storey Treehouse

“We are thrilled that Emma’s book has been so warmly embraced by readers across Australia. Although ostensibly a memoir, Cadence is hard to pigeon-hole: there are many layers to her book and Emma weaves them together with skill and grace. It is an absolute triumph for a first-time author, and we are delighted that Cadence has been shortlisted in the Indie Book Awards”
Brigitta Doyle, Head of ABC Books, HarperCollins Publishers

Buy the shortlist titles here and get FREE shipping…

Review – WANTED! Ralfy Rabbit, Book Burglar

Wanted Ralfy Rabbit It is wise to start a new year on a positive note. Many begin with a resolution. A new book excites me. But how do you choose the perfect title that will not only entertain and enthral but also convince you to pick up another, again and again? Best to begin with a tale of intrigue, mystery, and devil-may-care with a convincing love story involving passion and redemption. Happily, I found such a (picture book) tale so began the New Year with Ralfy the Rabbit!

Ralfy has a touch of OCD. He likes making lists and is a bit of an over-sharer all because he harbours a passion that runs deeper than a need for carrots. Ralfy loves books. In fact, he can’t get enough of them.

And, as some obsessions are wont to become, Ralfy’s soon evolves into one of criminal dimensions. Ralfy can’t stop taking other people’s books in order to satisfy his need to read.

It appears Ralfy’s bibliophilic book thief existence is unstoppable until he meets Arthur, who also loves books and becomes more than a little agitated by the loss of his favourite title. Unable to curb his lust for books, Ralfy is finally nabbed by PC Puddle. At first, Arthur rejoices but then sympathises with the bookworm in Ralfy.

Emily MacKenzieHow can Arthur save Ralfy from imprisonment and cure his burglary tendencies without curtailing his lifelong love? Tune into author illustrator, Emily MacKenzie’s Wanted! Ralfy Rabbit, Book Burglar to find out.

MacKenzie’s bouncy picture book text and adorable crayon/watercolour illustrations give wonderful insight into the heart and soul of would-be criminal, Ralfy. Wanted! Ralfy Rabbit, demonstrates to young readers how two very different people can find unity because of a shared common passion and, in this case, become best (book) buddies.

I love how Wanted!… ultimately celebrates books and unashamedly encourages reading at every level, on almost every page. One can’t help but giggle at Ralfy’s’ expansive To Read, Read and Favourites Lists which include some time honoured literary masterpieces such as: A Hutch with a View, Warren Peas and The Hoppit.

the children who loved booksThe Bush Book ClubLike several other picture books before it, namely: The Children Who Loved Books, It’s a Book, Parsley Rabbit’s Book about Books, I Love You Book, and Bush Book Club, Wanted! Ralfy Rabbit, Book Burglar embraces the literal physicality of books and re-establishes the importance of the havens that show case them (libraries for instance) by subtly emphasising their significance in our world. Ultimately, a book about loving words and libraries and treasuring the worlds they harbour.

This one is definitely going on my Favourites List. Fantastic reading for 5 – 8 year olds and five out of five carrots from me!

Bloomsbury Publishing January 2015


Review: What We See When We Read by Peter Mendelsund

9780804171632I read this after listening the fabulous Bookrageous Podcast which read and discussed the book for their book club and then interviewed the author. It is a fascinating look at what is happening inside our minds when we read. The author, Peter Mendelsund, is a book designer for Knopf in the US but also has a background in music. He uses his knowledge of design, music and books to explore and to try and make sense of what happens when we read books.

The book itself is intricately designed. There is no way an ebook or other digital edition could do the way the book is presented justice and I highly recommend completely avoiding this book in any other form than print. The text is interspersed with illustrated examples and cues and the form and use of text is also important in conveying the processes reading has on our minds.

I never do this but I found myself marking numerous pages as I ploughed through this book and ended up reading the book in a day. We all have a sense of what we think happens when we read. For many people they describe it as like seeing the movie in their head and most of this book debunks this “myth”. Much of what prompts our imaginations when we read are not visual descriptions but instead other signifiers and traits that stimulate memories of familiar places, people and experiences. More often than not we fill in gaps that aren’t given to us on the page. However I did wonder if your life has had fewer experiences does this limit or diminish the effect a book can have on your imagination? Or is it the opposite? Are our imaginations more free if they are not limited by experience?

The book shows that reading provokes our minds and senses unlike any other medium. Different books (fiction, non-fiction) and different genres (mystery, literary) do this in many different ways. Peter Mendelsund likened this to travelling down a road. Some roads we fly down in our cars while others we walk down more slowly. Some roads (and therefore books) are designed to be travelled slowly and allow closer inspection and reflection. Some roads/books are designed to be quick and driven through at speed. Things rush past because the destination is more important than the surrounds. And some roads/books are both.

One of the things I began thinking about while reading this book was that it would form the basis of an interesting study on the differences between print books and ebooks and how readers interact with them. A lot has been made regarding the impact reading on tablets has on our eyes and brains but there is nothing I’m aware of that looks at whether there are any different mechanics in how we read print versus digital. Two examples Mendelsund uses in the book look at how our eyes and minds actually read ahead. I have occasionally caught myself doing this and have found myself unable to do this with an ebook because of single page layout and lag when “turning” a page. The other example is daydreaming while reading. I find I also do this while reading certain books but much more rarely if I am reading an ebook.

This book made me think a lot about my own reading and I can’t wait to look out for examples when I read my next novel. One of the great mysteries for me as a reader is what makes a book grab me and what makes me put a book down. The processes Mendelsund outlines in this book have given me a greater understanding of what is happening in my head when a book magically grabs me and what is not happening when I just can’t get into a book. I think this book would also give writers a fascinating insight into their craft and the reactions and mechanics words on a page stir up inside readers’ heads. The what and how a character or setting is described is just as important as how each is not described. That balance between the two is the magic, readers and writers alike, endlessly pursue.

Buy the book here…

I’m not loafing, I’m doing research

Is it too late to say – Happy New Year! I hope you’ve had a great start to the year.

I’ve been flat out working all summer. My friends and family would probably say otherwise, that I’ve been lazing around on holidays, that I’ve barely had my laptop open. But that’s just the point.

Paradise, NZI’ve been travelling, gazing out plane windows, eavesdropping at restaurants, chatting with strangers, watching movies, gathering characters, uncovering settings, and generally getting inspired. It’s called research. It’s a tough part of writing, but it has to get done. What can I say?

The Moth DiariesI’ve also consumed a lot of books. I read everything with a highlighter in one hand and an analytical eye, looking for ways to improve my own writing. That sometimes takes the fun out of reading, but I definitely appreciate a well-written book, more than I ever did.

I thoroughly enjoyed Rachel Klein’s menacing YA gothic tale – The Moth Diaries. It’s no ordinary teen vampire story. The tension is between the girls at an exclusive boarding school. The sixteen-year-old narrator records her thoughts – diary-style, as questions start to mount about the identity of new-girl, Ernessa, and her intentions towards the narrator’s best friend, Lucy. It’s a compelling and haunting read.

A toxic friendship is also at the heart of Rebecca James’ YA page-turner, Beautiful Malice. Beautiful MaliceThe book hooked me right from the first line – I didn’t go to Alice’s funeral, and kept me racing right to the end, as it flicked between three different time periods. The main thread focuses on the blossoming friendship between two girls in their final year of high school. But Katherine’s hopes of escaping her tragic past sour as her new friend Alice’s motives start to look sinister.

State of GraceMeanwhile, utopia is not quite what it seems in Hilary Badger’s debut YA novel, State of Grace. This clever story puts a group of teenagers in an earthly paradise, where everything and everyone is beautiful. But when Wren starts having visions of another life, she has to decide whether to investigate what lies beyond the idyllic garden or continue to live in perfect ignorance. An intriguing read.

Happy researching!


Julie Fison writes for children and young adults. Her books include the Hazard River adventure series for young readers, Choose Your Own Ever After, a pick-a-path series that lets the reader decide how the story goes, and Counterfeit Love for young adults.



Zac & Mia & Willow – YA for your soul

Here in SE Queensland, just before Christmas, an unusual thing happened. It began to rain. I’d almost forgotten the scent of a wet garden and the sensation of damp. It was perfect cosy reading weather.

Alas, the week before Christmas with a house full of family and several menus and trips away to plan for proved anything but conducive to curling up with a good book. Thus, I’ve had a short sabbatical from children’s texts over the holidays. However, one or two did manage to sneak in under the radar and just like Santa, they really delivered.

Counting by 7sCounting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan

I saved this read, as I save my favourite parts of a roast dinner (the spuds) till last; knowing once I’d tasted it, it would be gobbled down fast. And it was. Counting by 7s is the story of twelve-year old Willow Chance who lives in Bakersfield, California and comes home from school one day to the news that her parents have been killed in a car accident.

This slap-in-the-face realisation is based on a real life occurrence of American author Holly Goldberg Sloan, as are many of the references in this novel. Willow’s loss is tragic but it is merely one of the inspired background colours used by Sloan to paint her story.

What follows is a journey of soul searching and discovery, not always by Willow; she is too pragmatic for that sort of thing. It’s a story about accepting different viewpoints, of moving on and allowing unexpected change to help you find ‘connectedness’ in life.

Holly Goldsberg SloanWillow could read as a prickly, hard to love character. Conversely, it could be easy to over sympathise with her plight. However, Sloan’s intelligent narrative is completely free of mawkishness. Her characters shine with pristine clarity and likeability.

I cannot fault this sophisticated tween / teen novel. Artful, moving, witty, and intensely humble. Sure, I cried in parts, but do not expect to be swept away by sentimentality. Willow, the higher thinking, twice-orphaned ‘problem’ everyone grows to cherish simply doesn’t allow it. Instead, she becomes the unexpected catalyst that sparks relationships and lives back to life. An astoundingly clarifying look at the complicated world of human relationships and emotions. Uplifting indeed and possibly better than roast potatoes.

Scholastic Australia May 2014

Zac & Mia by A.J. Betts

This is another YA read I’ve been hording. Once you read it, you will understand why. It’s almost too good to consume; over within minutes of starting. In other words, unputdownable.

Zac & MiaZac and Mia is not just a novel for young readers although A. J. Betts does a magnificent job of harnessing teenage nuances. With such broad appeal, Betts confidently tackles the despairingly familiar topic of cancer in young people. Zac and Mia however is not a maudlin account of people affected by cancer. It is a marvellous tapestry of conflicting emotions, characters fuelled by fear and love, confronting moments of self-discovery, and above all hope. Love and despair parry with equally matched determination between teenagers Zac and Mia with a rawness that makes you weep and humour that maintains a smile on your face as the tears fall.

A J BettsSimilar to John Green’s, A Fault in our Stars which I’ve yet to read so cannot make a direct comparison to, Zac and Mia is too splendid for words and a marvellous example of pure undiluted Aussie talent with one of the most endearing endings I’ve read, ever. Eloquent, ballsy, poignant, and beautifully told. A must read.

Text Publishing Australia July 2013

True, YA novels take on the tough stuff, unashamedly ramming readers head on into topics and themes often fraught with complicated innuendo, evolving emotions, damaged personalities and questionable social situations, but with writers like these doling out these tales with such sensitivity and sincerity, one can’t help but feel beautifully satisfied.




If Hermione were the Main Character in Harry Potter

Harry PotterWhile this blog post doesn’t contain uncensored swearing or sexual references, it does refer to a website story that does (and a related topic that features some random what-the information). So if you’re easily offended, now might be the time to temporarily click away.

The sweary/sexual innuendo website story in question is BuzzFeed’s If Hermione Were The Main Character in ‘Harry Potter’. Because, frankly, she absolutely should have been. I mean, really. Who among us hasn’t been frustrated that she had to constantly play second fiddle to two friends who, though sweet enough, had nowhere near her smarts or nous?

This post is essentially a feminist reading of the book, with Hermione forced to fight the Patriarchy. But it’s much more genius than that. It enables us to envisage an alternate reality, where we readers see the story as it could and probably should have played out. Plus, there’s plenty of pathos and sass. Often all at once.

First instance as case in point: It shows Hermione’s parents being proud they have a witch for a daughter, then Hermione feeling forced to wipe their memories of her in order to protect them from the Voldemort return-inspired war. Below the images of this harrowing scene is a note below the image saying she shipped them off to Australia ‘where nothing dangerous ever happens’.

BuzzFeed is occasionally criticised for collating content rather than producing original work. In recent times, it’s expanded its repertoire and sophistication by creating works such as this Hermione tale slash meme. It’s bang on subject- and execution-wise for me. I love, love, love it.

In the Harry Potter reworking, Hermione, the girl who ‘literally gives zero f&#ks’ learns such things as the skill of ‘throwing shade’ (she threw some excellent shade over the course of the films and BuzzFeed does well to pick up on and run with it). The reworking also taps into the thing that while reading the books most drove me wild: ‘Without Hermione, The Boy Who Lived would be dead as sh%t’. About 10 times over, to be precise.

The tale says if social media had existed when Harry Potter was released, Hermione may have inspired the #BossWitch hashtag. I’d like to think she’s inspiring it now. (As a side note, BuzzFeed Books has obtained information that the 16 weirdest Harry Potter-related searches include that ‘Draco should never use tampons’. That search alone confounds my mind. If anyone has any suggestions for that search’s purpose, I’d like to know. No, really. It’s puzzling me. I did, however, like that people wondered if the sorting hat was a horcrux. Those who thought of that are super cleverer than me. I mean, imagine if that had come to play out?)

Truly, though, this story touches on some significant and timely cultural tropes about women and feminism. And pervasive, ingrained, often invisible sexism. And how we’re judged and boxed in even when we’re supposed to these days be considered equal. The ‘not all wizards’ and ‘destroy the joint’ references are eminently clever.

I won’t ruin the ending for you, but I will say it offers an alternative to the incredibly unrealistic Hermione and Ron ending JK Rowling gave us that continues to completely, utterly, aneurism-inducingly infuriate me. This ending made me fist-pumpingly proud.

So, although the story is significantly sweary, I’d highly recommend checking it out. It’s an important and insightful and inspiring re-imagining of Rowling’s tale.

Books of Australia – For Kids

January 26th marks the date in which Australians reflect upon our cultural history and celebrate the accomplishments since the first fleet landed on Sydney’s shores in 1788. Here are a select few picture books aimed at providing children with some background knowledge of our beautiful land, flora, fauna and multicultural diversity. There is plenty of scope for teaching and learning opportunities under the Australian curriculum, and respectful inclusions of Aboriginal traditions.  

9781921966248An Aussie Year; Twelve Months in the Life of Australian Kids, Tania McCartney (author), Tina Snerling (illus.), EK Books, 2013.  

What a joyous celebration of all things Australiana, all encompassed in one gorgeous book; An Aussie Year. From January through to December, with every season in between, from Melbourne to Sydney’s City to Surf and the Great Barrier Reef, we get a taste of Australian life for five young individual children of different cultural backgrounds. Ned, Zoe, Lily, Kirra and Matilda provide us with snippets of their typical ethnic traditions, seasonal activities, food, terminology and special events that occur throughout the year. From icy poles, cricket, swimming and Australia Day in January, to back-to-school, Valentine’s Day and Chinese New Year in February. April brings Easter, Anzac Day and the Antipodes Festival, and creepy-crawlies and Mother’s Day breakfast are common occurrences in May.
Tania McCartney’s Aussie culmination continues with plenty more fun and interesting experiences as told by the kids, beautifully capturing our wonderful multicultural nation. The pictures by Tina Snerling illustrate that diversity perfectly; they are colourful, creative, rich and varied in what they portray, and very sweet.
An Aussie Year is a wonderful learning resource for primary aged children, as well as an engaging and delightful book just to peruse and reflect upon for both young and old.  

9781921504402Jeremy, Chris Faille (author), Danny Snell (illus.), Working Title Press, 2013.  

One of the wonderful elements of Australia is our exotic and amazing wildlife. The king of the bush is no exception. In ‘Jeremy’, a heartwarming story is brought to reality with the events of a growing baby kookaburra over the course of several weeks. Starting out as an ugly, featherless chick, Jeremy is brought in by the family cat and cared for by its loving family. Descriptive language allows the reader to learn his behavioural traits and aesthetic characteristics. As the story develops, we also become familiar with his personality; as an endearing and cheeky little bird, who loves to watch television and spy the goldfish for lunch. Stumbles and crashes are all part of learning to fly. But once established, a final kiss goodbye sees Jeremy reunited with his kookaburra family as they fly away into the sunset together.
Based on a true story, ‘Jeremy’ is a beautifully written and engaging information story by author Chris Faille. Illustrator Danny Snell has provided equally soft and detailed acrylic paintings. Preschoolers will adore learning about the kookaburra’s development and fascinating facts, as seen in the endpapers, as well as showing them the need to care for defenceless creatures.  

9780763670757Big Red Kangaroo, Claire Saxby (author), Graham Byrne (illus.), Walker Books, 2013.  

Another native animal to Australia is the symbolic kangaroo, and in ‘Big Red Kangaroo’ by Claire Saxby (author of other Aussie themed books including Meet the Anzacs and Emu), the typical behaviours of these large marsupials is explored in both a storytale and informative format.
‘Red’ is surrounded by his mob, and at nightfall they bound off in search of grasses. Did you know that kangaroos sometimes regurgitate their food to help with digestion? The mob are met by other creatures looking for water in the middle of the dry season. But they cannot settle when other male kangaroos are nearby. Red is the male leader, but is soon challenged by another to take over his mob. A brief fight for dominance sees Red retain his role as king, and he takes his followers to the safe shelter amongst the trees.
A compelling account, written with sophisticated, descriptive language, and enlightening charcoal and digital media illustrations to match. Equipped with an index and plenty of information, ‘Big Red Kangaroo’ is the perfect learning tool for primary school aged children.  

9781922081322Calpepper’s Place, Trudie Trewin (author), Donna Gynell (illus.), Windy Hollow Books, 2014.  

In ‘Calpepper’s Place’ we are taken on a journey with a range of Australian animals around our beautiful continent. It is an adorable story of acceptance, and trying new adventures.
Calpepper is a camel who decides one day that trudging through the hot desert just isn’t exciting enough. He jumps aboard a bus named ‘Adventure Tours to the Unknown’, and in a trialing series of experiences, Calpepper discovers these places are not the places for him after all. Whooshing down chilly ski slopes, being trampled by an avalanche of shoes in the concrete jungle, and tumbling off a wave onto the beach shore are not camely sorts of places. Finally, a little ray of sunshine gives him the comfort he needed and he returns back to plod along with the camel train once again.
A rhythmic story with fun, varied text and expressive language, gorgeously fluid and whimsical watercolour illustrations, make ‘Calpepper’s Place’ a truly engaging way to explore our scenic country and appreciate your own special place to call home.  

9781922179760A is for Australia, Frané Lessac (author / illus.), Walker Books, 2015. (See also Midnight and Ned Kelly and the Green Sash). 

Described as a ”factastic tour of Australia” and a ”celebration of Australian people, places and culture.” Exactly that, Frané Lessac’s ‘A is for Australia’ is a colourful, informative and truly engaging book visiting various locations around our amazing country. With each letter of the alphabet, we are introduced to many of Australia’s fascinating and iconic landmarks, covering every state and territory. From our beautiful beaches, to the dry outback, busy major cities and temperate rainforests, this book provides ample opportunity to get to know more about geographical places and the flora, fauna, people and structures that can be found there. Riveting facts accompany each location, including indigenous and cultural history. For example, the Sydney Opera House, designed by Danish architect Jorn Utzon, took 16 years to build and opened in 1973.
There is plenty to experience with this bright, aesthetically pleasing and engrossing information book about our special continent. It is perfect for families to share (and create) their own memories and experiences, and for primary school children to utilise for their Australian studies.  

So, after travelling through the alphabet, the seasons and across Australia, you’ll be able to say, ‘I’ve been everywhere, man. Here, there, everywhere, man!’

Happy Australia Day, Australia!

Easy Vegan

Easy VeganWinner, winner chicken dinner is not perhaps the most appropriate response for a vegan to make to anything. And especially not in response to reviewing a vegan cookbook. But that’s the phrase that sprang to mind when I cracked open Sue Quinn’s Easy Vegan, which arrived as a review copy from Murdoch Books.

My other response was to get slightly teary, which I admit sounds slightly hyperbolic. But really, if the number of pages I post-it noted to come back to are any indication, Easy Vegan is onto something. (And yes, I’m sorry for the tree I wasted. If I’d known I was going to post-it note practically the entire book, I’d have held off.)

I’ve been vegetarian/vegan for over 25 years—far, far longer than I wasn’t. (Contrary to what this statement implies, being vegan isn’t the first thing I pronounce upon meeting people, but it’s invariably and necessarily revealed any time food enters the picture. Which is a lot given we all eat between three and five meals a day.)

But for people like me who lived this way before it was cool, which it increasingly seems to be, we largely found our ways in the dark. And still are. For in truth, a vegan lifestyle is always one of learning.

With increasing numbers of people adopting vegan lifestyles for health, animal welfare, or environmental reasons (or for the trifecta, as it is for me), I often get asked for recommendations about recipe books, blogs, and more to follow, and where to find general information. I end up sending them to an assortment of places, but none quite perfectly cover it all.

Could I have created the book I’m after? Probably not, for I am a notoriously awful cook. But Easy Vegan is the kind of book I would love to have produced if I’d had the talent and the know-how. It’s also the kind book I’d happily give to me, or to new and aspiring vegans (or ‘pre-vegans’ as I’ve heard the term used with much bemusement).

There are some important reasons why this book is good.

First, Quinn is a journalist and food writer with plenty of experience. She’s good at putting this kind of information together, striking the right balance between informative and appetising. Second, she doesn’t appear to be wholly vegan herself (or at least doesn’t declare it, which may be by design).

This means she’s coming at the lifestyle with fresh eyes, questions about what foundation information does she need to know to start out, and is skilled at conveying complex information in accessible terms. Importantly, she’s not too emotionally invested in the lifestyle to come at it with a preachy earnestness.

The introduction sets the tone, straight up saying that while veganism requires some planning, ‘it isn’t the quantum leap into alien eating territory’ many people think it to be. Veganism isn’t, Quinn writes, about deprivation.

‘How to be vegan’ and ‘How to begin’ follow the introduction. It’s a simple explanation of what veganism is and how to take your first steps into it. Then there are some fantastic illustrations meet infographics that outline the protein content of food and vegan celebrities. I knew many of them, but Brad Pitt? No idea he was vegan.

A shopping list follows that, with some simple definitions of common vegan ingredients. Even better? A flowchart that outlines how to veganise a recipe. That is, how to switch out eggs and dairy. Right about this point of reading the book, I may have gotten a little teary.

This book is brilliantly considered and beautifully designed. Props must go to the designer and editor who truly grasp the importance of communication design. From simple tips to how to make your own vegan milks, cheeses and ice cream (yes, there are such things as these and they are delicious) to pasta to vegetable stock to pastry to smoothies, Easy Vegan outlines how vegans do get to eat and enjoy the ‘usual’ things.

Then it gets into the meal recipes. First up is bircher muesli, something I used to adore and have never quite mastered vegan-style. Suffice to say, this is one of the initial recipes I’ll be roadtesting. Filled sweet potato skins will follow soon after, along with roast vegetable salads and stuffed artichokes and sweet potato ravioli and gnocchi and shepherd’s pie and vegetable crumble…

And vanilla cupcakes. I actually almost texted a friend when I got to reading this page about 11:30pm. Anyone who even peripherally knows me knows I am able to ingest superhuman amounts of cupcakes. But given I’m not a good cook, I always need to rely on someone else to bake them for me. Until now. Quinn’s pistachio cake and crème brulee also look mighty fine.

The book’s size is practical too. Not so large it really doubles as a coffee-table-meets-food-porn book, it’s small enough to, say, carry with you or peruse recipes in bed just before drifting off for the night. Quite simply, it’s a practical cookbook that’s truly designed to be used.

Importantly, it does what I bemoan so few vegan cookbooks do: It pairs every recipe with a full-page, Donna Hay-worthy here’s-what-it-should-look-like image. Additionally, every recipe is relatively simple. By that I mean no recipe contains 50 billion ingredients, 49 billion of which you can’t find in your local supermarket and instead have to scale a Himalayan mountain to glean from some sheer cliff face only frequented by desperate vegans and mountain goats.

Nor do the recipes include and intimidating amount of steps or require enormous cooking prowess. Simply laid out on a page with plenty of white space, the list of ingredients and recipes make even non-cooks like me feel motivated rather than intimidated.

Worth noting is that they’re the kinds of recipes you could happily serve up to pre-vegans without either having to explain the complex list of ingredients (see previous passage about gathering food alongside Himalayan mountain goats) or worrying about someone turning their nose up.

My one criticism of the book is its title. Though making a clear statement of what the book is about, it’s not content-rich enough to easily find. I’ve spent a lot of time working in bookshops throughout my uni times. I can attest that trying to search databases on vague cookbook titles for impatient, passive-aggressive customers who consider you an idiot for not being able to immediately find the book they’re talking about would not be aided by these search terms.

I couldn’t even quickly find it on the Boomerang Books site, and I had the title correct and knew what the cover looked like (something said passive-aggressive customers rarely do). Rather than sort through pages of similarly titled books, I then searched on the author. So if you’re looking for this book, I recommend you search ‘Sue Quinn’.

Still, title aside, I realise I’m gushing about this book. And we all know me to not be a gusher. It is, quite simply, most excellent and the only vegan cookbook I’ve encountered to date that I’d be happy to both use myself and recommend as a day-to-day cookbook. I mean, you know a cookbook’s good if it can excite a non-cook such as me to start planning out the recipes—plural—they are going to prepare. Double thumbs up.

By the book (AKA Infographics are most welcome)

Jack KerouacA well-timed, well-executed infographic is always welcome. An exquisitely designed one you didn’t know anyone needed and don’t know how anyone either dreamt up the idea or went on to execute it can sometimes make your day.

This was the case with the By the book: What age did the greatest authors publish their most famous works? (Props to those friends with most excellent taste who’ve brought this to my social media feed throughout the week.)

As someone who has no spatial awareness, I would neither dream up this infographic nor conceive of information needed to be displayed how and where. (I literally this week told someone painting an artwork for me I wasn’t sure what size the finished product needed to be, but ‘the width of an old fireplace’ might be ok. Goodness knows what size canvas they’ll end up painting based on that befuddling whichamawotsie.)

Thankfully someone did think of it and made it happen, because it’s brilliant and endlessly fascinating.

The site’s premise is impressively simple, inviting us to ‘explore the careers of some of the world’s most successful authors’ by clicking and sorting information by three options:

  • first published book
  • age at breakthrough book
  • number of books published.

9780099518471They’ve included other significant details, such as the year the authors died as well as an explanation of how they sourced and sorted their data.

I read the latter, but my brain doesn’t compute that kind of stuff, so instead I decided to take their word for it and get back to poring over the infographic itself. Suffice to say, they were reasonably rigorous in their sourcing of data.

Besides, the whole thing makes for fascinating observing and reading.

The youngest to publish breakout books are Jack Kerouac and Douglas Adams at 26 and 28, respectively. F Scott Fitzgerald was the round age of 30, while Charles Dickens and Charlotte Bronte were both 32. Dickens and Bronte surprised me. I thought they were young wunderkinds.

JK Rowling and Stephenie Meyer were both 33, something I have mixed emotions about (and not just because Meyer is on the list) because that’s the age I am now. I can’t imagine myself first, writing a book, second, getting it published, and third, having it become a frenzied popular culture item loved and loathed and spoofed in equal measure.

Aldous Huxley, Jane Austen, and Joseph Heller were 39 when they lobbed Brave New World, Pride and Prejudice, and Catch 22 into the readersphere and changed the world ever so slightly forever.

The infographic reminded me writing is a marathon. It requires you to play the long game, if you’ll allow me to mix my sporting metaphors. It also kind of gets you thinking how diminished the world would be without some of these incredible written works.

Catch 22Hearteningly (for me, at least) is that most of these writers didn’t have their breakthrough books until they’d been writing for a good while.

Though most of these authors were published prior to their breakout books, those earlier works were really their apprenticeship as they honed their craft and built their audience.

It’s a stark contrast to acting, which is a young person’s career. At least, it is for women, unless you’re Meryl Streep.

For twee as it may sound, if this infographic reminds me of anything apart from the fact a good infographic can never go astray, it means there’s no time limit for writers specifically, but all industries more generally, and you don’t have to be a writing prodigy to make an impression on the world.

Player Profile: Paula Hawkins, author of The Girl On The Train

paula-292x300Paula Hawkins, author of The Girl On The Train

Tell us about your latest creation:

The Girl on the Train is psychological thriller which examines the fine line between normality and the loss of control wrought by addiction. It’s all about how when you peel back the veneer of everyday life, you can find something really quite disturbing just underneath…

9780857522320Where are you from / where do you call home?:

I was born and brought up in Zimbabwe, but have lived in London since 1989.

When you were a kid, what did you want to become?  An author?:

I loved creative writing as a child, and I have always dreamed about writing a book, but my first career choice was journalism.

What do you consider to be your best work? Why?:

This one! This is the first novel I have written under my own name, and it’s the one I’ve been wanting to write.

Describe your writing environment to us – your writing room, desk, etc.; is it ordered or chaotic?:

I have a little office downstairs in my house. It’s crowded and chaotic: filled with books, papers, random junk and a treadmill…

When you’re not writing, who/what do you like to read?:

Kate Atkinson is my favourite author – her latest, A God in Ruins, is out this year and it is simply outstanding. I read a lot of psychological thrillers written by women – people like Harriet Lane, Louise Doughty, Cara Hoffman, Gillian Flynn and Tana French. I also love Donna Tartt, Cormac McCarthy and Sebastian Barry.

What was the defining book(s) of your childhood/schooling?:

Wuthering Heights and L’Etranger.

If you were a literary character, who would you be?:

I’d quite like to be Ursula Todd in Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life, a woman who gets to live her life over and over, trying to get it right

Apart from books, what do you do in your spare time (surprise us!)?:

I like watching football. Not sure if that’s surprising or not…

What is your favourite food and favourite drink?:

A really good rare steak and a very dry white wine.

Who is your hero? Why?:

I don’t think I have a hero. I have huge respect for people who devote themselves to serious and difficult work – medical professionals, for example – who get so little thanks from governments.

Crystal ball time – what is the biggest challenge for the future of books and reading?:

I think encouraging anyone to spend time reading books in an age of ever decreasing attention spans is going to become more and more difficult.


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Review: The Martini Shot by George Pelecanos

9781409151340This is George Pelecanos’s first collection of short stories and once again demonstrates his consummate class, not just as a crime writer, but a writer.

The title piece is the longest of the collection but Pelecanos saves it for last. The preceding stories are a blend of what makes Pelecanos great. Stories about the street, with all the grit, soul, flair and despair that lives there.

The standout piece is Chosen. A short story that originally appeared with the eBook of The Cut and is pretty much Spero Lucas’s origin story. The piece is about Spero’s adoptive parents and how he and his brothers came to be adopted. Pelecanos tells it from the father’s perspective and I have to admit to having a few tears in my eyes at the end of the story. There was no crime in this piece. It was just life; pure, simple and beautiful. And what Pelecanos manages to capture and convey so well in all of his writings.

The title story was a whole lot of fun. Set on a television production Pelecanos was able to weave in his experiences on shows like The Wire and Treme into a very cleverly plotted murder story. There were some great in-jokes as well as a couple of scathing portrayals but at the same time a story with heart.

This is a great showcase of George Pelecanos’s tremendous talents and I can’t wait for the next novel.

Buy the book here…

Review: Gun Street Girl by Adrian McKinty

9781846689819Sometimes a recurring crime character is brought back and the story feels forced or the attempt feels lame. But then there are those rare times when, despite the series being over, the character comes back and exceeds what has been done before. And that is exactly what Adrian McKinty has done with Sean Duffy.

In the last Sean Duffy book, In The Morning I’ll Be Gone, it appeared the series had finished with a bang. Adrian McKinty had flagged his intention to halt the Duffy books at three and had given us a more than satisfactory conclusion. Better to finish wanting more than for a fantastic character to get stale. However an idea came to McKinty for a book four but he still resisted until he dreamt how he would end that book and that was all he needed to give us book four in the Sean Duffy trilogy.

Not only has McKinty done it again in this book I think he has exceeded himself. The Sean Duffy trilogy was already something special and Gun Street Girl not only reaffirms that but makes it even better.

The year is 1985 and The Troubles are still in full, nasty swing in Belfast with the flames about to be fanned by the so-called Irish-Anglo Agreement. Sean Duffy is now and inspector and in charge of CID at Carrick RUC. When a local bookie and his wife a killed in what looks like a professional hit Duffy only takes a passing interest letting his detective sergeant take the lead and blood two new detectives. However when the case takes a nasty turn Duffy dives in up to his neck of course ruffling any (and all) feathers that get in his way. The bodies start piling up as Duffy quickly uncovers a plot well above his pay grade. But to crack this case he’s going to need someone to talk but the first thing they teach you in Northern Ireland is to never talk, especially to the RUC,  even when you’re supposed to be on the same side.

Full of McKinty’s wickedly black humour and brilliantly plotted this just maybe the best book in an exceptional series so far. Sean Duffy has come a long way from The Cold, Cold Ground but it is starting to leave its scars. I was reluctantly happy to see the series finish after three books but I think there is possibly a little more life in this awesome series to come. At least I hope so!

Buy the book here…

Show Books

Very Hungry CaterpillarIt’s holiday time so some shows based on outstanding children’s books are currently being performed in Sydney and surrounds, as well as in other cities around Australia.

A highlight is The Very Hungry Caterpillar (Penguin), a production created around four books by Eric Carle: The Very Hungry Caterpillar, of course, The Artist Who Painted a Blue Horse – my new favourite, The Very Lonely Firefly and Mister Seahorse. Literature is celebrated in the performance and the backdrop is an actual book with turning pages. The show will also be playing in Melbourne and Brisbane and will tour in 2016 if successful. Judging by the sell-out Sydney season, this will not be an issue.Blue Horse

Along with a couple of others, I am writing teacher notes about the play which will be available via a website linked to the show soon. This is a great opportunity to read and re-read Eric Carle’s stunning picture books. The production is excellent. The children (and adults) in the audience were besotted.

A second book-related show is The Gruffalo. This loved picture book by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler about a mouse in the woods has been playing around Australia.

GruffaloAs well as reading the book itself, this is an opportune time to read other books by this creative team, including The Gruffalo’s Child, Tiddler, The Snail and the Whale, Stick Man, Superworm and their most recent collaboration, The Scarecrows’ Wedding (Scholastic).

The Scarecrow’s Wedding is quite a sophisticated tale about a scarecrow couple, Betty O’Barley and Harry O’Hay who wish to marry but suave Reginald Rake interrupts their plans. It will also be enjoyed by Aaron Blabey’s legion of fans.Scarecrows Wedding

Another production inspired by a picture book is Kit Williams’ Masquerade. Unfortunately this 1978 book is only available second-hand. An enterprising publisher should re-publish it. Playwright Kate Mulvany was enthralled and comforted by this book when she was a child suffering from cancer. It is playing now at the Sydney Opera House and will be in Adelaide for the Festival and elsewhere, no doubt. I can’t wait to see it soon.

RabbitsGood luck getting tickets for The Rabbits Opera, based on the book by John Marsden and Shaun Tan (Lothian/Hachette Australia), with music composed by the brilliant Kate Miller-Heidke and libretto by Lally Katz. The Rabbits will play in Perth and Melbourne this year. Hopefully it travels further.

Where is Rusty? by Dutch author-illustrator, Sieb Postuma (Gecko Press) is about a curious young dog lost in a department store. It has aired overseas as theatre and television and is currently available as a picture book. Its themes of hiding, searching and safety are ideal for young explorers.

Another book recently published by exciting Gecko Press, although we perhaps don’t want to think about this subject quite yet, is I don’t want to go to school! by Stephanie Blake.I Don't Want to go to School

Boldly illustrated in bright colours and with some comic panels, this is a quirky, heart-warming story about starting school. And this diverts us to the many wonderful Australian and other books on this important topic, beginning with Starting School by Jane Godwin and Anna Walker (Viking/Penguin), the classic Starting School by the Ahlbergs and my evergreen favourite, First Day by Margaret Wild and Kim Gamble (Allen & Unwin).

First Day

The Golden Age where children are gold

Golden AgeIn lists of best recent books Joan London’s The Golden Age (Vintage/Random House Australia) has featured as stand-out Australian fiction, alongside Ceridwen Dovey’s  (Hamish Hamilton/Penguin) Only the Animals. I had already read Only the Animals and just had to read The Golden Age to see what the fuss is about.

Joan London has written a reflective narrative set mainly in 1954 about children who are recovering from polio in a Perth convalescent home. The sprawling house where they are cared for, the Golden Age, with its verandah, corridors and wards for Boys and Girls, is as powerful a building as Tim Winton’s house in Cloudstreet.Cloudstreet

The children almost seem to be on an educational holiday camp, with diverse company, activities and good food and care. Those who stayed for Christmas ‘seemed much happier than those who returned at bedtime, exhausted, silent, distant and alone’. The Golden Age becomes a microcosmic utopia or refuge – for a time – outside the children’s own often-difficult lives, an irony considering their precarious, damaged health and mobility.

The children tell their ‘onset’ and other stories: Elsa collapsed riding her bike home after tennis, Ann Lee needs to recover and walk after her failure to water the thirsting brumbies. Thirteen-year-old Frank Gold comes from a musical family, writes poetry and loves Elsa. His Hungarian migrant experience parallels that of some refugees whose arrival in Australia is almost as fraught as their past. Frank’s first Australian Christmas is spent in a polio hospital. And, like returned servicemen, the children often feel displaced when they go home.

Hanging GardenChild protagonists are powerful yet often unnoticed in literary fiction. They shine in Patrick White’s The Hanging Garden, Yann Martel’s Life of Pi and much of Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch (note the ‘gold’ in the title). The Golden Age continues this trend and it is also part of a cache of recent important novels about children which feature gold as a symbol and in their titles. These include Sonya Hartnett’s Golden Boys and Ursula Dubosarsky’s poignant YA novel, The Golden Day. Gold is clearly a powerful motif in literature and is intrinsically linked with children. Children are gold.Golden Day

Joan London’s other novels are Gilgamesh, which won the Age Book of the Year for Fiction in 2002 and was long-listed for both the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award and the Orange Prize and The Good Parents, which won the 2009 Christina Stead Prize for fiction. Her two awarded short story collections, Sister Ships and Letters to Constantine have been published in one volume, The New Dark Age.

New Dark Age

Books of Summer – For Kids

In Australia we’re in the midst of Summer, although here in Melbourne we’ve already had all four seasons in one, sometimes even in one day! A great way to familiarise children with all that the season encompasses is through engaging language experiences. That means providing children opportunities to see, do, touch, listen, read and think about different activities (going to outdoor places like the beach, pool, etc), and then talk, write and create about them.   
I’ll suggest a few fantastic picture books to get stuck into following your outdoor Summer adventures, as well as some fun learning tasks to enrich and reinforce what your child has discovered.  

rules-of-summerRules of Summer, Shaun Tan (author / illustrator), Lothian, 2013. CBCA Winner 2014, Queensland Literary Awards Winner 2014.

Wow. Just wow! Shaun Tan has brought a truly fantastical, mysterious and somewhat dark version of what Summer means to a pair of young brothers. Amazingly thought-provoking and surreal, with spectacular, Van-Gogh-like paintings, this book promotes analytical skills in deciphering its’ content; both the text and the images.
Exploring the complicated relationship between the boys, each spread states a new rule to obide by. But failing to comply results in harsh consequences, particularly for the younger brother. In the end the pair join forces in an imaginatively delightful celebration of summer fruits and a beautiful sunset. And after all the emotion, conflict, darkness and out-of-this-world imagery, there’s still room for a little chuckle as seen in the endpaper.
Suited to primary school aged children who will enjoy adding their own interpretation to the depth and meaning that Shaun Tan has conveyed.  

2015-01-07-15-06-02--1990215886Granny Grommet and Me, Dianne Wolfer (author), Karen Blair (illustrator), Walker Books, 2013, CBCA Shortlist 2014.

An enchanting book about a boy narrator who delights at the sea’s wonders, with his Granny and her elderly, grommet friends (a grommet is a young or beginner surfer). There is much humour in watching old ladies twisting, turning, zooming through dumpers and riding a curler wave to the shore! However, the boy feels nervous about what he doesn’t know, but Granny reassures and shows him safe and friendly things in the sea.
Lovely, gentle text by Wolfer, from the perspective of a child, beach safety tips, and fun, colourful paint and pencil drawings by Blair, make Granny Grommet and Me an engaging and reassuring story to be read many times over.  

noni-the-pony-goes-to-the-beachNoni the Pony Goes to the Beach, Alison Lester (author / illustrator), Allen & Unwin, 2014.

Following the original Noni the Pony, the loveable pony is back and ready to set off to the beach with her companions; Coco the cat and Dave the dog. As far as cats go, Coco prefers to be nonchalant and stay dry. But like any typical energetic dog, Dave bounds off through the waves to find a whale, only to become stranded in the middle of the ocean. In her true heroic, caring manner, Noni is there to fish him out and return to the safety of the shore.
With Alison Lester’s characteristically gorgeous, endearing illustrations, and gentle, rhythmic wording, Noni the Pony Goes to the Beach is a fun, positive tale of friendship and all things magical about visiting the beach.  

a-swim-in-the-sea-1A Swim in the Sea, Sue Whiting (author), Meredith Thomas (illustrator), Walker Books, 2013. Speech Pathology Australia Winner 2014.

A gorgeous story of an excitable young Bruno who can’t wait to experience the big blue sea for the first time. Wildly eager to dive right in, Bruno suddenly halters at the loud, thumping, pounding waves, which frighten him. As his family introduce him to other fun beach activities, like rockpools and sand cities, Bruno eventually discovers that the big blue sea is far from scary.
Sue Whiting’s text is beautifully descriptive and engaging. I love the way she talks about the sea; ”wobbling like a sparkly blue jelly”. And Meredith Thomas’ illustrations are equally expressive, bold and moving with bright, complimentary colours that almost literally wash over the pages.
A delightfully sunny story about first-time experiences at the beach, and facing one’s fears.  

seadogSeadog, Claire Saxby (author), Tom Jellett (illustrator), Random House Australia, 2013. Speech Pathology Australia Winner 2013.

An adorably funny story about a dog who is not like other working, well-trained dogs that fetch sticks, sit still then roll over and stay clean. Their dog is a Seadog, a run-and-scatter-gulls, crunch-and-munch, jump-and-chase Seadog. And although he is not a bath dog, there comes a time to sit-still-till-it’s-done, until…
With Jellett’s characteristically boisterous and comical illustrations, Seadog is a great read-aloud book perfect for little ones who enjoy romping with their dogs at the beach.  

9781925161168_ONASMALLISLAND_WEBOn a Small Island, Kyle Hughes-Odgers (author / illustrator), Fremantle Press, 2014.

‘On a small island, in a gigantic sea, lives Ari.’ Ari lives alone, collecting objects and watching the large ships pass by. One day a captain visits and tells Ari of the wonderful and intriguing people, buildings and exceptional artefacts of a great land on the horizon. Ari longs for a place like this and feels alone on his island. Until he has a brilliant, creative idea which eventually attracts the footsteps of many, and he is finally able to appreciate his surroundings and frequenting company.
Exotic, Mediterranean-style paintings, packed with mosaics, pattern and texture, artist and author Kyle Hughes-Odgers has created a magnificent flowing story exploring isolation, friendship, creativity and recycling that is both sophisticated and unique.  

With a few more weeks of Summer school holidays left, there’s plenty of time to head outdoors and enjoy the sunshine with your little ones (and furry ones, too!). Then find a cool, shady spot like Coco the cat for some relaxing summertime reading!  
And for some fun teaching and learning activities related to the Summer theme, head to

Review: Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

9780349134284This is an incredible exploration of grief, family and identity and the pressures of expectations that come from each.

The book opens with a death, one that nobody else knows about yet, the death of Lydia Lee; middle child of Marilyn and James and sister to older brother Nathan and younger sister Hannah. Lydia’s death and its aftermath exposes the cracks and fault lines in the family life and tenuous relationships of the Lee family. Feelings and incidents that have gone unspoken all come bubbling to the surface as each family member tries to come to terms with the circumstances of Lydia’s death and the parts of her life they didn’t know about.

Celeste Ng tells the story in an intricate chronology that mixes together past, present and even the future all in a non-linear fashion. While this could get easily confusing in her hands you are never lost. Instead you slowly gain an insight into each member of the Lee family, their experiences, hopes and dreams. How those have shaped them and influenced others around them.

James Lee is from a Chinese background and Marilyn is not. Their relationship in 1950s America has been controversial with Marilyn ostracized by her mother following their marriage. James is a professor of American History who has always strived to fit into the country his parents adopted. Marilyn was a gifted scientist who gave up her academic studies to start a family with James. Both these experiences have fed into what each of them expects of, and for, their children.

While this is ultimately a very sad story it is also a moving and insightful story about the weight of identity. How that weight is put on us by people around us and how that weight is passed down generations and how the best intentions can have tragic and unforeseen consequences.

Buy the book here…

Review – An Untamed State by Roxane Gay

9781472120151One of the most uncompromising, unflinching, page-turning books I have read in a long time. It is a harrowing story that forces you to confront and challenge many important issues; gender, poverty, race and class to list but a few.

Mireille is visiting her Haitian parents in Port-au-Prince with her American husband and baby son when their car is stopped and Mireille is kidnapped. Her kidnappers demand a ransom from her wealthy father who refuses to pay. What follows is thirteen days of horror and deprivation.

The novel is told in two distinct parts; before and after. During Mireille’s horrific ordeal we get flashbacks to her life before; her childhood growing up in America, the wealth her family enjoy and the story of how she met and fell in love with her husband. Interspersed with the flashbacks is Mirelle’s father and husband’s story as they come into conflict over what should be done to get Mireille back. And all the time Mireille must endure the torment of her captors.

Roxane Gay does not take a backward step throughout the novel. You are forced to confront, firstly what her captors do to her and what this means for Mireille afterwards. Mireille must change herself to survive, she must bury her humanity to somehow protect it. She is broken mentally and physically and must somehow find a way to put herself back together, if that is even possible, a recover what humanity she has left. Gay’s portrayal of the post traumatic stress Mireille suffers is as honest, raw and emotional as the trauma she experiences.

While what happens to Mireille is confronting Roxane Gay uses this to open your eyes to other aspects we should also confront. She challenges us as a reader to explore the way we think about gender, race and class. Gender is at the heart of the violence that is done to Mirielle but the cause is wealth and poverty with everyone’s perceptions clouded by race.

This a novel that will shock you, surprise you and make you rethink your view of the world and the people in it. It is exactly what all great fiction should do and does so with style, honesty and empathy. It will strike a nerve, it will make you angry and break your heart and is a novel you will never forget, and nor should you.

Buy the book here…

Christmas haul containing 4 classic novels

Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe book cover clothboundAs I pack away my Christmas tree for another year, I took stock today of my Christmas haul of books. I’m planning on reading more classics in 2015 and was fortunate enough to receive a few beautiful clothbound editions for Christmas. I hope you too were lucky enough to receive a book or two at Christmas time, here’s what I received (in alphabetical order by author surname):

Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe
Somehow I didn’t read Robinson Crusoe as a young adult, and it’s one of those books that is always referred to in passing. As I approach my 40s, I thought it was time to pick up Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe and this clothbound classic edition will make a wonderful addition to my bookshelf.

Frankenstein by Mary ShelleyFrankenstein Mary Shelley clothbound classic cover
I’ve read a few horror novels in my time as well as many science fiction books, but I’ve never read the classic Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. I love the story behind the book, in that Shelley wrote Frankenstein almost 100 years ago in 1817 at just 19 years of age. I’m really looking forward to reading this clothbound edition of Frankenstein this year (love the hearts on the cover) and discovering for myself the gothic and romantic elements within.

The Pearl by John Steinbeck
John Steinbeck was an American author and winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962, and is known for writing Grapes of Wrath (awarded the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1940), Of Mice And Men, and East of Eden, and I haven’t read any of them.Pearl John Steinbeck book cover

For some reason I find this author intimidating so I’ve decided to read The Pearl (a novella of less than 100 pages) as a gentle introduction to his writing. Have you read any Steinbeck? What do you recommend?

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
The plot in Oscar Wilde’s classic The Picture of Dorian Gray is known by many and I especially loved the portrayal in the recent TV Show Penny Dreadful. Just being aware of the premise of the book is no longer enough and I thought it was about time I read this classic for myself. It’ll be my first time reading any material by Oscar Wilde (I’m sure quotes don’t count) and I’m hoping The Picture of Dorian Gray lives up to the hype.Picture of Dorian Gray Oscar Wilde book cover

Have you read any of the classics above? Did you receive or give any books during the festive period? I gave a family member a copy of The Menzies Era by John Howard and another family member a handful of books by James Patterson.

Happy Reading in 2015.