Libby Gleeson’s Books in Review

With a multitude of Australian and international literary and service awards, and over 30 books written for children and young adults, Libby Gleeson AM has proven her commitment, talent and prestige in the children’s literature industry. Here we explore a few of her latest books for young readers; the most recent is the quintessential, ‘Mum Goes to Work’.  

mum-goes-to-workMum Goes to Work, Libby Gleeson (author), Leila Rudge (illus.), Walker Books, 2015.

Originally published in 1992, Mum Goes to Work is back in 2015. A story of the importance of mums and an awareness for the many hats they wear, including a view into the world of working mothers.
We are introduced to all the mums and their children as they congregate at the child care centre. The story continues with snippets into the busy days of each mum at work, and their child at care. Nadia’s mother is a student (of architecture, as seen in Leila Rudge‘s illustrations), and it is paintings of houses and building blocks that Nadia meticulously works on at child care. Laurence’s mother serves food and coffee in a cafe, whilst he makes a three-layer sand cake and lots of sand biscuits with his friend in the sandpit. We see mums as nurses, at-home mums, receptionists, retail assistants, office workers and teachers. Meanwhile, the children play with baby dolls, puzzles, construction, ride bikes and read books.
Libby Gleeson‘s text gives equal significance to the mother’s work as it does to the activities of the busy children. Leila Rudge’s illustrations perfectly suit the tender feel of the story, delivering a touch of humour and meaning to the words, and plenty of details to explore. Her gentle watercolour, pencil and collage pictures are gorgeously expressive and beautifully spread between the text.
Mum Goes to Work is a welcome insight into the daily lives of working mothers and children in child care. It’s a joyous story of identity and having a place in this big world. Readers can gain a greater appreciation for the commitment, sacrifices and pleasures that women achieve for their families. Equally, this resource allows mums wonderful opportunities to further bond and relate to their children. Fun, interactive and visually appealing; it’s a win-win for all!  

go-to-sleep-jessie--1Go To Sleep, Jessie!, Libby Gleeson (author), Freya Blackwood (illus.), Little Hare Books, 2014.

A little girl cannot sleep while her baby sister occupies the same bedroom…and screams. No amount of comfort and pats from Mum settle baby Jessie. No amount of sweet stories and lullabies from Dad settle Jessie. The girl is frustrated beyond words, but when Jessie is taken out and all is quiet, she still can’t sleep, and finally comes to realise the perfect solution… A little bit of sisterly love and affection goes a long way.
A really gentle and endearing story that delicately explores the struggles of sleep-time routines. I love Libby Gleeson‘s descriptions of the baby’s behaviour, paired with the raw emotions of the older sister. I also love Freya Blackwood‘s whimsical and dynamic images that show these feelings with vignettes and contrasting tones of orange and blue.
Go To Sleep, Jessie! will melt your heart. It is perfect as a bedtime story at the end of the day, and especially for children who understand the joys and angst of having a younger sibling.  

resized_9781743315279_224_297_FitSquareThe Cleo Stories: The Necklace and the Present, Libby Gleeson (author), Freya Blackwood (illus.), Allen & Unwin, 2014.

In two delightful chapters we meet a little girl named Cleo, who brilliantly solves some real life problems. In ‘The Necklace’, Cleo envies her friends as they show off their glamorous jewels, but all Cleo has to offer is a jumper she received at Christmas. Unable to wait until her birthday, Cleo takes the initiative to gather her resources and creates a beautiful, unique necklace on her own. The next chapter, ‘The Present’, sees Cleo desperate to give her mum a nice present for her upcoming birthday. She’s wracked her brains, emptied her piggy bank, and even got herself into a very sticky mess attempting to piece an old broken bowl back together. Finally, Cleo cleverly presents her mum with the best gift ever!  
Once again, this dynamic duo that is Libby Gleeson and Freya Blackwood have created a stunning book for young readers, with such a loveable and relatable character that is Cleo. Gleeson’s text is suited to both independent readers, as well as being an engaging read aloud story to those in the early stages of reading. And Blackwood’s illustrations are just gorgeous, soft yet complimentary of the energy and personality of the creative little girl.
The Cleo Stories is a charming short chapter book of a girl with resilience, ingenuity and flair. If she hasn’t already captured your heart, she will! I can’t wait to find out what she has planned in the next instalment of The Cleo Stories (Book Two coming out in 2015).  

banjo-and-ruby-red-1Banjo and Ruby Red, Libby Gleeson (author), Freya Blackwood (illus.), Little Hare Books, 2013.

Banjo the chook dog is very efficient when it comes to rounding the chickens… Except for Ruby Red. This obstinate chook would rather sit on the woodheap, staring at the sky. Then comes the day when Banjo discovers Ruby Red not on her pile, but rather flat on the ground with her eyes shut. Will his loyalty and commitment to his job see Banjo take on a new role? What becomes of this complex relationship between dog and chook?
A heartwrenching and warming tale all encompassed into one beautiful story of rivalry and friendship. Libby Gleeson‘s text is simple, yet compelling and evocative. Freya Blackwood‘s illustrations are equally expressive, fluid and powerful, creating both calm and chaos with her sketching, varied perspectives and earthy tones.
Banjo and Ruby Red won Honour Book in the CBCA Awards 2014, and deservingly comes highly recommended for anyone looking to engage in a touching, funny and energetic story.  

Love these books? How would you like to discover more about their remarkable author; Libby Gleeson? Stay tuned for a very special appearance on Boomerang Books! Coming soon!

Review – A Curry for Murray

A Curry for Murray It is no secret; I am a glutton for a great plate of nosh. I love looking at it. I love preparing it. I love sharing it. And, I love reading about it. This is why I could gobble up A Curry for Murray by sensational new picture book team, Kate Hunter and Lucia Masciullo again and again. It simply is delicious!

Murray, Maureen, and Molly are neighbours. One day, Murray has some bad news. And what does one do when neighbours are in need? Why, they cook for them, of course.

With all the spirit and zeal of a junior Master Chef, Molly cooks up a storm, beginning with a curry for Murray. Her repertoire quickly expands into a mouth-watering menu of kindness with dishes for her best friends, family, pets, and even royalty. Until one day, an accident forces Molly to hang up her apron and accept kindness in return from her neighbours.

Curry for Murray illo spreadA Curry for Murray is a veritable feast for the senses. Clever word play and some incongruous combinations of dishes, exotic locations and occupations, brilliantly blends the concepts of being kind unto others and exercising charity together while introducing young palettes to many varied styles of cuisine. It’s fantastic to see the Toad in the Hole represented alongside Singapore Noodles!

Kate HunterHunter’s luscious and eclectic narrative not only tickles the tastebuds with its cute rhyming rhythm but also takes readers on a gastronomic tour that far exceeds Molly’s neighbourhood. However, we all know, we eat with our eyes, so it’s little wonder that the utterly delectable illustrations of Lucia Masciullo will have you drooling all over the place.

Masciullo’s watercolour and pencilled drawings ingeniously breaks down each concoction into its core components. Children are able to identify each ingredient of the dish and may even be inspired to recreate it themselves. What better way to encourage clean, healthy living.

Lucia Masciullo 2Masciullo defines herself as a ‘visual explorer’. A Curry for Murray takes this description to the nth level of satisfaction for me. Details such as a scattering of herbs, pinches of cayenne pepper and pasta glistening with olive oil are inspired and leave me salivating for more.

Fun, thought provoking and sumptuous. A Curry for Murray is a picture book with three Michelin star appeal.

Consume your copy here!

UQP  April 2015



The Book Brief: The Very Best New Release Books in April


Each month we bring you the best new release books in our Book Brief.

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Fiction Books

A Place Called Winter by Patrick Gale

I have already read this book twice! An English Gentleman who has never worked a day in his life is exiled to a remote area of Canada to clear land and grow wheat. Why was he exiled? He leaves behind a wife and a daughter. He works hard and eventually is successful. He marries and has a great friendship with a local brother and sister. Why does he leave? We meet him in an asylum. Why is he there?  So many questions so many answers. Perfect! Chris

Blood On Snow by Jo Nesbo

Olav is a hitman for one of Oslo’s major kingpins. But he dreams of getting out of the life, and finding someone to settle down with. He thinks he’s found her. The only problem? She’s his next target. And she’s also his boss’s wife. Blood on Snow is a short, sharp and brutal piece of noir fiction, and unlike anything else Nesbo has written. Simon

A Reunion of Ghosts by Judith Claire Mitchell

This novel is the shared confessional of three sisters who have decided to kill themselves at the end of the 20th century, honouring the dark legacy that has haunted their extraordinary family for decades.  This is a magnificent tale of fate and partly a memoir of sisters unified by a singular burden, and above all a profound commentary on the events of the 20th century. Darkly funny and very good. Chris

The Lovers of Amherst by William Nicholson

A famous line of Emily Dickinson sums up this novel about her life. I’ve None to tell me to but thee. Who is the person she is telling everything to?  What was the truth about Emily Dickinson and her brother and his lover? A young woman is researching dairies and letters in the hope of writing a movie script. Her own life especially relationships mirror the Dickinson family. Love sex and secrets. William Nicholson brings all these together in a book that has to be made into a movie. Chris

The Defence by Steve Cavanagh

Steve Cavanagh’s debut novel, The Defence, mixes the tough guy dynamic of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher with the smarts of John Grisham’s legal dramas. Think Die Hard in a New York courthouse; a rocket-fast thriller layered with potential for a long-running series starring the con-man-turned-lawyer-turned-drunk Eddie Flynn. Simon

Leaving Berlin by Joseph Kanon

Berlin 1949, a city grappling with the future, a city grappling with the past. The past makes creates informers as people try to cover up what they did during the war. The future with the English, Russians and Germans create spies. A writer returns to Germany from living in America where he is not welcome during the McCarthy era. His ideals are shattered very quickly as soon as he arrives he wants to leave. Brecht too makes an appearance with his play Mother Courage. Spies and more spies. Wonderful. Chris

Falling In Love by Donna Leon

Many years after Brunetti cleared her name, opera superstar Flavia Petrelli has returned to the illustrious La Fenice to sing the lead in Tosca. When an anonymous admirer inundates her with bouquets of yellow roses – on stage, in her dressing room and even inside her locked apartment – it becomes clear that this fan has become a potentially dangerous stalker. Distraught, Flavia turns to an old friend for help.

Non-Fiction Books

Through The Wall by Anna Bligh

An uplifting memoir of resilience and strength from ex-Premier of Queensland, Anna Bligh. Writing with her trademark honesty, warmth and humour about the challenges that public and private life have thrown her, Anna reflects candidly – as a wife, mother, daughter, friend and political leader – on the lessons of leadership, resilience, community and family.

Mothers & Others

In this collection of fiction and non-fiction stories, Australia’s best women writers reflect on motherhood. Their stories tackle everything from the decision not to have children to the so-called battle between working and stay-at-home mums. From infertility and IVF, to step-parenting and adoption, to miscarriage and breastfeeding, child meltdowns and marriage breakdowns, the stories explore and celebrate the full gamut of the motherhood experience, and give a much needed voice to those who won’t ever be called ‘Mum’.

One Life by Kate Grenville

I have never read a biography so tender and so honest. One Life is an act of great imaginative sympathy, a daughter’s intimate account of the patterns in her mother’s life.  What a difficult thing to do. Nance was born  in 1912 and died in 2002. She lived through tremendous change and unheaval. It is a deeply moving homage by one of Australia’s finest writers. Read and be moved about one life lived the best way she could. Chris

Impressive by Kirstie Clements

How do you get your dream job? How do you shine once you have landed it? How do you ask for a pay rise? And, equally importantly, what do you wear to achieve all three? You may only have one shot at getting your stylish foot in the door of the so-called glamour industries. Impressive’s secrets will arm you for success.

The River Cottage Australia Cookbook by Paul West

Featuring recipes from the first three series of River Cottage Australia, this is the cookbook that will reveal the delicious dishes which Paul West has been creating on the farm. The book is divided into seven chapters and includes more than 120 recipes such as pumpkin scones, roasted octopus salad, baked salmon, spiced aubergine salad, pig on a spit, borlotti bean broth, raw courgette salad and warm curb cake with honey rhubarb.

Design with Colour and Style by Shaynna Blaze

Interior design expert Shaynna Blaze is passionate about helping people uncover their own personal interior style. In this book, she explores the intriguing, enticing elements of colour and style and explains how you can use them to transform your home. Using beautiful photographs and practical examples, Shaynna shows how colour affects a space and the mood of those living in it.

Childrens’ Picture Books

How Many Legs? by Kes Gray

How many legs would there be if a squid rode on a buffalo to visit for tea? Then add more four legged, two legged, and eight legged animals to join in the fun. Have you lost count? A fun, hilarious counting book that all the famly will enjoy. Jan 

Teacup by Rebecca Young

This is a beautiful picture book that is both a feast forthe eyes and the soul. A boy must find a new home, and with him across a wild sea journey he takes a bottle , a book anad a blanket….anad a tea cup full of earth from his old playfround. Beautiful and inspiring. Ian

Books for First Readers

Detective Gordon: The First Case by Ulf Nilsson

This is a charming gentle first reader from Sweden. Squirrel is all in a panic, her nuts have been stolen and she turns to Detective Gordon, the Chief of Police of the forrest. It’s best not to mention that he is the only policeman and  he spends  most of his day eating cakes . A wonderful book about friendship and learning that thieves will get their comeuppance. Ian

The Terrible Two by Jory John & Mac Barnett

Miles is starting a new school. At his old school he was THE pranskter master but he is about to meet his match at Yawnee Valley.  Made up of short chapters, wickedly funny cartoon and interesting vocabulary this is the perfect bridge from first chapter books to more serious reading. Ian

Books for Young Readers

The Apple Tart of Hope by Sarah Moore Fitzgerald

Oscar and Meg are best friends living next door to each other in Ireland.  When Meg’s family move to New Zealand, Paloma’s family move into their house. Paloma is controlling and sly and believes that “the only way to get ahead in life is to annihilate your rivals”. Oscar and Paloma seem to become friends but when Oscar goes missing it is only Meg and his brother Stevie who believe he is alive. Jan

Fizzlebert Stump and the Girl Who Lifted Quite Heavy Things by A.F. Harrold

Fizzlebert Stump,Fizz to his friends is a boy who loves being in the circus. He has just one (or So he thinks) major problem . He is the boy who puts his head in the lions mouth and his lion has done a bunk…. and the Circuses of Circuses is just around the corner and he need a new act fast !He has a brilliant idea but will it work ? Of course it doesn’t. Laugh out loud funny. Ian

Books for Young Adults

I’ll Be There by Holly Goldberg Sloan

Emily believes in destiny especially when her and Sam’s eyes meet across the church and there is an immediate connection. Sam and his little brother Riddle have spent their lives moving around with their unstable father. When Emily and Sam finally meet both Sam and Riddle enjoy the protection and fun that comes from being a family. However, when tragedy strikes they are not sure where they belong. Another gripping story from the author of Counting by 7’s. Jan

We All Looked Up by Tommy Wallach

What an unexpected delight! I was dubious about the possibility of another soulless apocalyptic story. We All Looked Up is certainly not that. It has plenty of depth, and is infused with a wonderful cast. Brilliant! Simon

Book Diets (Not Diet Books)

2832-popular_diet_booksThere has been a lot of controversy recently about different diet books out on the market and while eating healthy is very important we also mustn’t forget to feed out minds. So I’ve come up with a few Book Diets based on popular fad diet books:

  • The Fast Diet (aka The 5:2 Diet)

Now you can do this one two ways. Try and make time for reading 5 days a week and have 2 days off or try and make reading time 2 days a week and have 5 days off. I know what my preference would be.

  • The Paleo Diet

This diet is about getting back to basics. The pure form would be to read only books written on stone tablets but I’ve modified it to be a digital-free reading diet. Read only paper, no ereaders and no modern day tablet reading. Surprisingly this is suitable for children unlike it’s food counterpart.

  • The Atkins Diet

This diet is about lowering book carbs. So only short books in this one. Short stories are recommended otherwise stick to books under 250 pages.

  • The Dukan Diet

This diet is about increasing book protein. So only big tomes in this one. No books under 600 pages. This is about building your book reading muscles (and your arms too).

  • The Read Right for your Blood Type Diet

This diet (like many out there) has absolutely no scientific merit when it comes to reading.

– Type O readers – intense books. Keep your reading on the edge of your seat

– Type A readers – keep it fresh. New releases only. If a book is more than a month old it is off your reading list.

– Type B readers – high tolerance. Any book you start you must finish. No putting down after a couple of chapters. It is all or nothing for you.

– Type AB readers – this is a combination diet. New release only and not putting down after starting.

  • The 20/20 Diet

This diet is about making sure you read at least 20 different genres throughout the year. Try some fantasy or science fiction. Get some non-fiction into your reading diet with a biography or travel memoir. And of course don’t forget poetry.

  • No Sugar Diet

This is about getting rid of all things sweet from your reading. No romance, no happy endings. This is all about reading the real dark, depressing stuff.

  • GI Diet

This one is about reading some real slow burners. Be wary of those roller coaster rides focus on those books that slowly build the tension all the way to the end.

  • Balanced Diet

Of course the best reading diet is getting a good balance of the 5 book groups; Literary, Mystery, Biography, History and Children’s. And make sure you have your gender balance of authors right too otherwise it won’t be healthy reading.


What other book diets should there be?

Indie Book Awards 2015


BushLast night I was fortunate to attend the Indie Book Awards. It was a great evening, hosted by Hachette Australia in Sydney. These awards are organised by Leading Edge Books, who support independent bookshops (see more about them in last weekend’s AFR and in this interview with Galina Marinov). The shortlists and winners are voted by staff at Australia’s 170+ indie bookstores; widely read and discerning readers who have a strong sense of which books are the standouts and what readers should buy and appreciate.

The Indie Awards are also the first of Australia’s slew of literary awards for the year and a valuable predictor of what is going to appear on shortlists across the country. They have a strong record of picking winners in their seven-year history, including last year’s overall winner, The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan, which of course went on to win the Man Booker Prize and jointly win the Prime Minster’s Literary Awards. of the Fiction category, was Golden Boys by Sonya Hartnett (Penguin Australia), which I reviewed for the SunHerald. Sonya wasn’t able to attend because of house renovations but she sent a memorable thank-you speech that brought the parlous state under her house to life.

The Bush by Don Watson (Penguin Australia) beat a strong field in the Non-Fiction category, which included Helen Garner’s This House of Grief (Text), Where Song Began by Tim Low (Penguin) and Cadence by Emma Ayres (ABC Books HarperCollins), who graciously attended. Her book, with its strong music background, looks fascinating. The Bush also won the overall Book of the Year award.

Foreign Soil by Maxine Beneba Clarke (Hachette Australia) was the popular winner of the Debut Fiction. This was a strongly contested category, which included Emily Bitto’s The Strays (Affirm Press). (See my review here.)

The Children’s and YA shortlist spanned a picture book, Pig the Pug by Aaron Blabey (Scholastic); a YA novel, Laurinda by Alice Pung (Black Inc) (see my interview with Alice here) and two completely different novels for primary aged children, The 52-Storey Treehouse by Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton (Pan Macmillan) and Withering-by-Sea, the deserving winner by author-illustrator Judith Rossell (ABC Books, HarperCollins). (See my review here.)

A distinctive aspect of the evening was the announcement of the winners by booksellers from Sydney as well as interstate. This set the tone of the Indies as an award with special synergy and respect between authors, publishers and booksellers.

Withering by Sea

Katrina Germein Dances Up A Thunderstorm

photo-on-26-02-14-at-9-53-amKatrina Germein is a well-loved children’s best selling author and early childhood teacher. She has received Highly Commended and Notable Book Commendation awards in the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards and from the Children’s Book Council of Australia. Three of her books have also featured on the popular children’s programme, Play School.  Some of her titles include the acclaimed ‘Big Rain Coming’, the hilarious series, ‘My Dad Thinks He’s Funny’, ‘My Dad Still Thinks He’s Funny’ and ‘My Mum Says the Strangest Things’, as well as beauties like ‘Somebody’s House’ and ‘Littledog’.
Already a hit in our household, her latest book, with illustrations by Judy Watson, is a sheer whirlwind of energy; it’s  ‘Thunderstorm Dancing’.    

pages-from-thunderstorm-dancingA family day at the beach suddenly turns bleak, and a little girl makes a quick dash for cover. While the thunderstorm charges outside, it is inside where the riot is raging. The girl hides whilst her daddy and brothers whizz and howl like the wind, puff like the clouds and zap like the lightening. Poppy thumps as loud as the thunder, and Mummy is the pounding rain. It’s a romping, swinging and rumbling commotion…
Until Granny’s piano music shines a gleaming ray of sunlight. What could the little girl be once the storm has settled?

‘Thunderstorm Dancing’ is beautifully rhythmic, with the perfect blend of rollicking onomatopoeia. Every word takes the reader into each lively scene. You can’t help but feel the beat, and it will most certainly get you to your feet! Katrina Germein says as a child she enjoyed acting out stories through dance…
”I felt as though part of me was there again as I was writing ‘Thunderstorm Dancing’.
Her language is dynamic, and text perfectly placed to reflect the movement of the story and pictures. Judy Watson’s mixed media, including inks, washes, pencils and digital media, and varied perspectives create for a visual festivity on every page. She also cleverly utilises a mix of orange and blue colour tones that depict the vibes of chaos and calm.

This whole book is just breathtaking…literally. The sweeping illustrations by Judy Watson really pull us along for the ride, and Katrina’s text sings and dances off the page; getting us marching and stomping and clapping along. It has huge teaching and learning potential in the areas of the arts and environmental studies. ‘Thunderstorm Dancing’ is fast paced, delightful and energetic. Preschool children will be roaring for more.  
Allen & Unwin 2015.

I’m absolutely delighted to have had the opportunity to delve into Katrina Germein‘s writerly mind, and discover more about the wonderful ‘Thunderstorm Dancing’.

thunderstorm-dancing-cover-lores-1Congratulations on the release of your newest title, ‘Thunderstorm Dancing’! What was the inspiration behind this story?  
This story has been a long time becoming a book but the text was written in a frenzy over a couple of days. The rhythm grew in my head and verse by verse I scribbled down the pages as they came to me. I remember writing some of it at the service station and some of it on a café napkin. I’m not sure of the exact inspiration but as I wrote it, I was holding a memory of music classes at primary school. Our teacher, Mrs Vaughn, used to play the piano and call out a story while we romped around the room and danced our own actions.  

This book is such a fun, active story that is perfect for promoting dance and dramatic play. As a teacher, do you have any other great teaching and learning ideas for children to engage further with ‘Thunderstorm Dancing’?  
I’m glad you said that Romi because I do feel that it lends itself to creative expression and like I said, it played out like a performance in my mind as I drafted it. I think most teachers and students will be able to springboard into their own ideas. There are connections to creating music with household items and children could easily act out their own actions for each of the storm elements, or even choose music that they think represents the different pages.  

Clapping and body percussion is always fun. The children in this clip use basic percussion instruments to illustrate the weather with music. Rainbow ribbons and scarves would work well too.  It’s all about allowing the children to experiment and express themselves with music, art and drama. I guess I’m hoping that students can have fun with the language and rhyme, as well as appreciate the emotion of the story and engage with the sensory themes – maybe some messy art, like foamy storm clouds.  

Storms are a great way to get children talking too. Everyone has a storm story they can share through discussion or writing, drawing and other art. I’ve been collating art ideas on my pinterest board here. (And Judy Watson shares some of her original sketches here  

Family is another theme that could be explored.    

You’ve written ‘Thunderstorm Dancing’ in exuberant poetic prose, different to the jokes and funny phrases seen in ‘My Mum Says the Strangest Things’ and ‘My Dad Thinks He’s Funny’. Did you find one style more challenging than the other? Do you have a preferred style of writing?  
Different stories lend themselves to different styles. I enjoy experimenting with various approaches within the picture book genre. Thunderstorm Dancing is my third rhyming book and I love rhyme. I also like simple prose.  

dad-and-mitch-10-alt-1Judy Watson’s illustrations perfectly compliment the rollicking nature of the text. How did you find the collaborative process with her?  
Judy’s artwork is amazing. I have had so much fun seeing the story grow into a beautiful picture book.  

You’ve been paired with a number of amazing illustrators, including Tom Jellett, Bronwyn Bancroft and Judy Watson, amongst others. Have any of these artists really surprised you with how they’ve represented your words?  
No major surprises. You never know how an illustrator will approach a text and watching the illustrations materialize is all part of the fun. I guess there are little surprises along the way but I’ve never been completely flabbergasted or anything shocking like that.  

Somebody’s House’, ‘Littledog’ and ‘Big Rain Coming’ have all been featured on Play School. How did the producers approach you and what was your reaction to the news?  
Having books read on Play School is the absolute best. The show is well respected because it is created with children in mind – it’s about the kids. Early childhood professionals choose the books and consideration is given to what children will enjoy and engage with. So it’s about as good as an endorsement as any children’s author can hope for. (It also means people send you lovely exciting messages every time the episode is repeated and they catch it with their children.)  

What is it about writing stories for children that makes you happy?  
Writing makes me happy and I seem to write for children. I don’t know. It’s just what I do.  

What advice can you offer emerging writers wanting to succeed in producing great picture books?  
If you want to write picture books then your time is best spend reading and writing picture books. Read lots and lots of contemporary picture books (not the ones you remember from childhood). Read them out loud and read them to children if you can. I think you’re best off reading picture books themselves, rather than books and articles on how to write books – although sometimes that can be helpful too. Write and write and write. Be prepared to reflect and redraft. Not everything will work but the more you write the more chance you have of writing something great.  

What’s next for Katrina Germein? What can your fans look forward to seeing from you in the near future?  
(Fans! I’m not sure that I have any of them but thanks for suggesting that I do.) I have a few projects up my sleeve but I’m always reluctant to share too much unless I have the signed contract in my drawer and right now I don’t. I’ll be sure to post the news on Facebook when I can share. For now, I’m just excited about having a beautiful, new, book about to hit the shelves. Yay!  

Yay, indeed! Thank you so much for answering my questions, Katrina!  

Katrina Germein’s website is great for finding information on her books, writing tips, teaching notes and her blog:
Follow Katrina on Facebook, and view photos of her recent book launch:

Follow Katrina’s boards on Pinterest:

Review – One Step at a Time by Jane Jolly and Sally Heinrich

9780987380951Inspired by a true story, One Step at a Time exposes the unfortunate reality of the global landmine crisis through the prism of a friendship between a young boy and an elephant. Writer Jane Jolly and artist Sally Heinrich handle this subject with such deftness and clarity to ensure young readers grasp the predicament facing an estimated 70 countries around the world.

According to a 2003 edition of the Bulletin of the World Health Organization, over 110 million mines had been spread throughout the world in an estimated 70 countries in the preceding 65 years. These indiscriminate weapons cost around $1 to produce, but around $1,000 to find and destroy, and the vast majority of incidents occur in regions with limited resources and substandard medical infrastructures. These are man-made devices afflicting dastardly mortality rates. The landmine crisis is real, and needs to be talked about.

Of course, the information above is as an ethereal backdrop to the story rather than its focus. One Step at a Time is actually a very uplifting tale. It begins with Mali, a young elephant exploring the border of Thailand and Burma, merrily going about her day, until one misplaced footstep sets off a landmine. Sally Heinrich portrays the devastation of the blast with a powerful two-page spread of black smoke and an enormous BOOM! printed in fiery red. When the smoke clears, poor Mali is clearly injured; unable to stand, utterly helpless. All because she trod on a bad patch of grass.

Thankfully a young boy, Luk, finds Mali, and supports her during her long recovery. They’re kindred spirits: both are victims of landmines, and both are fitted with prosthetic legs. Luk explains to Mali the arduous physiotherapy involved when adjusting to walking with prosthesis, but ensures she’ll be able to do so, and very soon she’ll be able to carry on as before, gaily exploring the jungle. Only from now on, she’ll have a companion: young Luk.

Ultimately a story about friendship and about overcoming seemingly insurmountable obstacles, One Step at Time handles the subject of landmines with a soft touch. Working in wonderful harmony, Jolly and Heinrich have created an endearing tale for young readers that is both poignant and enlightening.  Children wanting to learn more will gain valuable insight from the page of facts at the book’s end, while there is plenty of information on the web about the inspiration for Mali, Mosha the elephant, who thrives with her prosthetic leg.

Simon McDonald

Buy the book here…

A hunting we will go – Easter basket fillers

It wouldn’t be Easter without a bit of a hunt. Whatever your predilection, chocolate eggs, fairies, time spent with loved ones; this small but sweet selection of Easter inspired treasures are perfect to pop into your Easter baskets this year.

For the very young bunnies:

Little Barry Bilby Little Barry Bilby by Colin Buchanan and Roland Harvey, including bonus CD for those inept at carrying a tune like me, starts us off. Modelled on Little Peter Rabbit, this Aussie version is chockers with charm and ‘bizzy, buzzy, bush bugs’. Barry Bilby and a cast of awesome Aussie characters are subjected to the typical insecticidal onslaught familiar to us all, especially those on their annual Easter camping trips. Mozzies, cicadas, bees, ticks and even a Bogong moth, harass our lovable cast until they find a better-than-Aeroguard solution to their ‘itchy-twitchy’ dilemma. Eye catching, sing-along fun.

Scholastic Australia March 2015

Beach HolidayOne of the latest in the Ella and Olivia series, Beach Holiday is great Easter-time-away reading for those weaning themselves onto their first chapter books. When Ella’s little sister, Olivia, gets lost on holiday, adventure follows. But can Ella save her and the day? Penned by Yvette Poshoglian and illustrated by Danielle McDonald.

Scholastic Australia January 2015

The very Cranky Bear PuppetsEaster Bunny is prone to leaving the odd stuffed likeness of himself behind on Easter morning, but why not leave instead a fluffy lamb, a curious moose, or even a cranky bear? Nick Bland’s classic, The Very Cranky Bear has been bonsai’ed into a divine little board book rendition of the nursery rhyme, Five in the Bed, with finger puppets! A sure bedtime, anytime crowd pleaser for under three-year-olds.

Scholastic Australia November 2014

For the maturing bunnies:

Those Pesky Rabbits Those Pesky Rabbits is the stunning picture book debut by author illustrator, Ciara Flood and another story that paints bears as slightly grumpy, inhospitable creatures that prefer to live on their own, just the way they want.

Bear is no exception so imagine how his forbearance is tested when a hoard of do-gooding rabbits set up camp, right next door.

They pester him with annoying requests and invitations until the full force of his impatience is unleashed. Fortunately, those pesky rabbits persist and their charity finally triggers a delightful change in Bear.

Pesky rabbits illos spreadHighly recommended for its attractive illustrations and messages of selfless kindness, community spirit, and perseverance.

Koala Books March 2015

Virgil and Owen Virgil and Owen tells the tale of burgeoning friendship in a slightly different light. As Easter values echo acceptance, new beginnings and understanding, so does Paulette Bogan’s picture book tale about Virgil, the penguin who finds a lost polar bear, Owen and immediately claims ownership of him. However, Owen has other ideas and divides his time between just about everyone else on the iceberg but Virgil. Slighted and alone, Virgil eventually learns that friendship is not merely about possession. A lovely example of tolerance and fair play.

Bloomsbury Children’s March 2015

For the bigger bunnies:

The Fairy who Wouldn't FlyWhat is Easter without a mad dash around the garden, seeking out hidden treasures: eggs, maybe even the odd fairy or two? Released last year, The Fairy Who Wouldn’t Fly retold by Bronwyn Davies, is a beautifully presented hardcover copy of Pixie O’Harris’s classic tale.

O’Harris’s exquisite illustrations adorn each page with the same tender beauty I find so captivating in May Gibbs’s work. Bush flora and fauna melt seamlessly together into fluttering, ethereal scenes.

Fairy NLA illoDavies’ retelling of the fairy who is banished to Woodn’t, a place where indignant creatures are exiled to for refusing to do as they should, takes a subtly different path from the original. Davies’ fairy assumes a more girl-power attitude, showing courage and thoughtfulness, which in turn encourages readers to embrace the possibilities of differences between them and nature more openly.

Valuable for confident readers aged six years and above or as a gorgeous shared bedtime read.

NLA May 2014

Like to save the best egg until last? I do.

Where's the Easter Bunny Where’s the Easter Bunny? by the perennial, Louis Shea is the ultimate Easter fun picture book. It’ll have your primary aged-bunnies engrossed for longer than it takes to hop down the bunny trail (and back up again), or in this case, the magic burrows.

Easter Bunny, aka EB, aka Uncle Bun, has got himself lost in the Magic Burrows. His young nieces and nephew head the rescue party, embarking on a zany mission to find him before the feckless bunny-hungry Foxy does. There’s not a minute to lose as Delivery time draws near.

This humorous ‘look and find’ romp through out-of-this-world places like Cloud Castle, Fairy Forest, and Mars Mine is brimming with joyous colour and delicious titbits about Easter egg creation. Perfect for consumption this Easter!

Scholastic Australia March 2015


Adam Wallace Is ‘Accidentally Awesome!’

996029_10151963055537069_1799375660_nYou may remember my ‘Awesome Author Interview with Adam Wallace’ from last year (if not, click the link!). Adam Wallace has had heaps of books published over the last 10 years, including the totally gross chapter book series ‘Better Out Than In’ and ‘Better Out Than In Number Twos’, the frightening ‘Pete McGee’ trilogy, the freshly-pressed ‘Random’, and picture books including ‘The Negatees’, ‘The Share-a-Not’ and ‘Mac O’Beasty’.
Well, he’s back again with some more ‘awesomeness’ and side-splitting comedy for us! Introducing his brand-spanking-new junior fiction chapter book (which is the first in the planned series, and of which he self published, by the way), ‘Accidentally Awesome!’  

accidentally+awesomeHave you ever done something so embarrassing that actually made you a hero? Have you ever hurtled down a hill on your bike, only to fortuitously crash into a handbag thief and save the day? What about setting off an airshow of false teeth in the old age home, only to have them miraculously reunited with open mouths? Well, Jackson Payne has done these things. But he didn’t mean to. He became totally awesome by accident.  

In Adam Wallace and James Hart’s ‘Accidentally Awesome’, young readers will relish every bit of Jackson’s highly entertaining, yet somewhat unbelievable, journey that sees him come full circle.    

With loads of slapstick comedy to have you bursting at the ribs, this story is not for the faint-hearted. Head butting crooks, rescuing half-frozen cats, and pleasing old, slobbering ladies give Jackson plenty of reason to want to quit fluking happy endings. But when he does, this causes more problems like blood noses, squashing innocent birds and allowing bank robbers to escape. Super evil villain doesn’t suit him either, so deciding to help people on purpose seems like the way to go. Jackson ropes the bank robber in to his genius plan; to use his ‘accidental awesomeness’ for stopping him from mugging Mr Popadopolus, the cupcake man. When his plan doesn’t exactly, well, go to plan, Nan is there to teach him some life lessons, in a roundabout, obtuse, confusing kind of way. The point: Be Yourself.  
Accidentally awesome pic2 After long thought, some rest and a giant sun cupcake literally visiting him in his dreams, Jackson finally realises that being lucky is something to appreciate and helping people is reward in itself. In a hilarious ending involving Jackson and the bank robber, and a whole big rhyming debate, he returns to true form of being his clumsy ‘accidentally awesome’ hero self once more, and saves the day.  

Adam Wallace’s language is clever, conversational and completely comical. His wit is sharp, with phrases like, ”If I tell the absolute no-lie stick a needle in my eye truth…” (Get it? Needle = Sharp!). And equally humorous and expressive are illustrator, James Hart’s energetic drawings that perfectly compliment the ludicrous situations in the story. ‘Accidentally Awesome!’ is highly recommended for kids from six years old who are looking for an engaging laugh-out-loud (LOL!) read.              
Krueger Wallace Press, 2015.

I just had to know a bit more, so I asked Adam a few questions…

Congratulations on the release of ‘Accidentally Awesome!’. How have you felt about your self publishing journey?
Well, it’s been a long one. The first book I ever published was a self-published book, way back in 2004. So it is like I have sort of gone full-circle now, going back to full self-publishing. Now though I have a chunk of experience to fall back on, and also a fan base I have built up over the years. So I am heading in with a stronger starting point, and hopefully that will be a bonus!  

What was your favourite part of the story to write?
There are two parts really. I loved writing the conversation between Jackson and his nan. Doing dialogue like that is really fun, especially making Jackson kinda dopey in it. But I also really liked writing the slapstick humour, trying to get across the physicality of what was happening and keeping it sharp and funny.

What has it been like to work with illustrator, James Hart?
He’s awesome, and not accidentally! James and I have wanted to work together for years now, and as soon as I was able to choose the illustrator, he was top of my list. He’s kind of a legend, and we had some great fun meeting and working out the stories.

What is your best ‘accidentally awesome’ moment of all time?
Oooooh, good question … now it needs a good answer! I think it was the time I tried to put money on 19 at the casino and the chip slipped onto 20 and I was too shy to let them know it was the wrong number but then 20 came up!!! Totally accidental, totally awesome!

Thanks heaps, Adam! That was ‘ORSM’! (Adam’s new way of spelling ‘awesome’!)             

Contact Adam Wallace and get a signed copy of his book at:
He’s on Facebook, too:

The Stella Prize

Maxine Beneba ClarkeA few days late and a few books read short, I’m getting round to getting my head around the Stella Prize shortlist. There are six books on the list, none of which I’ve read and only three authors I’ve heard of (Maxine Beneba Clarke, Christine Kenneally, and Ellen van Neervan):

If ever there were a reminder of why we need this prize, I’d say it’s that a female writer in Australia isn’t across these authors and books. And yes, I’m planning to familiarise myself with the works just as soon as I can. In fairness, I can say I heard van Neervan read an excerpt at the 2014 Brisbane Writers Festival.

Although I’m a bit rubbish at reading Australian female writers, I am incredibly impressed and grateful the Stella exists to give me (and everyone else) a nudge to rectify the issue. Named after one of Australia’s iconic female authors, Stella Maria ‘Miles’ Franklin, and established in 2013 in response to the dearth of female writers named in the Miles Franklin award, ironically, after an all-male shortlist was named.

Some of Australia’s top female writers decided enough was enough and set about forming their own prize to recognise the underrepresented, often overlooked female writers. The subsequently set up prize’s mission is to:

  • recognise and celebrate Australian women writers’ contributions to literature
  • introduce more readers to books written by women, thereby increasing sales for these books
  • provide role models and emerging female writers—school-aged and beyond
  • reward one writer a $50,000 prize—money that buys that writer some measure of financial independence and time (the undervalued yet necessary commodity for women) to focus on their writing.

The Invisible History of the Human RaceI’m impressed by the thought and extent to which the Stella has extended its reach and effect beyond one writer, one prize. First, it is open to both non-fiction and fiction books and writers. As the Stella website states:

Our judging terms are that the winning book be: excellent, original and engaging. By raising the profile of women writers, and celebrating their achievements, we hope to erode the self-perpetuating cycle of underrepresentation that confronts all women writers—not least non-fiction writers.


In recent years, the boundary between fiction and non-fiction has become more permeable. Indeed, women’s writing is often distinguished by a refusal to fall into categories. We want to celebrate this.

I’m a non-fiction writer whose work spans multiple fields and platforms and defies categorisation, much to my frustration when it comes to rigid (outdated) categorisation-requiring things such as grant applications. So I’m kind of impressed by this egalitarian, progressive approach to recognising and validating writing forms.

Then, in addition to running some school-based programs where writers, educators, and publishers run writing workshops for students (both boys and girls), PD for teachers and librarians, teaching resources, and talks, the organisation also collates the Stella Count.

Heat and LightThrough this, it tracks and compares and contrasts the number of books by men and women reviewed by men and women in major newspapers and literary magazines. No prizes for guessing we’re not yet at gender parity, but without important data to demonstrate this, we’ll never flag, acknowledge, and rectify the issue.

The 2015 prize-winner will be announced in April. Not having read any of the books—yet—I can’t hazard a guess which one will win, or even which one I’d like to win. But I’m looking forward to the announcement nonetheless and adding all the books to my to-be-read list in the meantime. If there’s one I should start with, feel free to let me know.

Review – James Munkers Super Freak

Lindsey LittleAuthor, Lindsey Little likes looking at things from great heights. Me too. It is how I choose my rugs, for one. Allowing yourself a chance to gain a different view of a situation or object can afford you a very different perspective of it. And having a different perspective can be very rewarding indeed. As I discovered when reading Little’s, debut YA novel, James Munkers Super Freak.

The slightly ominous cover, whilst indicative of the story, belies a strong and captivating narrative, which happily, I was reluctant to walk away from.

James MunkersJames Munkers is a weedy, non-descript, slightly whiny teenager tumbling along in a large blended family when suddenly out of the blue, he is forced to adapt to a new town, new school, and disturbingly new powers.

Turns out, James is intrinsically entwined in a plot to destroy the world. Desperate to assimilate as inconspicuously as he can into his new surroundings, he is instead thrust head first into a destiny he’d rather forget.

Disappearing fathers, alarming bright blue, havoc-wreaking critters, and inter-dimensional communication conundrums gives James repeated headaches and plenty of reasons to want to run and hide. Did I mention the local school thug who won’t let up on him and a headmaster who is keen to suck the life power out of him? Instead of cowering, he throws up a lot whilst slowly coming to turns with saving the world. As improbable as all that may sound and in spite of a few convenient plot quick fixes, Little peppers the narrative with plenty of believable sardonic humour and characters as vibrant and varied as those found in a certain school of witchcraft and wizardry.

James’s inherent nerve lies forever just inches beneath a veneer of teen sass and cynicism. Thankfully, Little’s (aka James’s) solid and convincing voice allows us plenty of glimpses at James’s vulnerability so that you really want to rally beside him along with his mate, Jem and an assortment of other all-for-one, one-for-all Guardians.

James Munkers Cover spreadFast-paced and witty, this punchy fantasy winds up well while leaving several big questions unanswered, thus paving the way for further James Munkers adventures.

Young teens (boys in particular) will have little trouble tuning into James Munkers’s ‘human-dimensional power’ trip.

IP Kidz April 2014

Shaun the Sheep Film Review

Shaun the SheepI’m a long-time fan of Aardman studios. I owned Wallace & Gromit DVDs, and Chicken Run: Hatching The Movie, an aesthetically rich behind-the-scenes Chicken Run coffee table book detailing the making of the film, remains one of my most treasured possessions.

Suffice to say, I was signing up to preview Shaun the Sheep film just as quick as my fingers would type. I even got up early on a Sunday morning to attend the preview.

So it’s fair to say my expectations for the film were probably high. Unreasonably high. However, Shaun the Sheep was, though fine, just fine. I wanted to like this film. I truly, hand-on-my-heart did. And I did like it plenty (not that the rest of this review will imply). I just really, really wanted a whole heap more.

The film was a big-screen iteration and extension of a Shaun the Sheep cartoon I’ve not seen (I’m afraid I’m not in the demographic of having kids, but my friends who have kids assure me Shaun the Sheep is a perennial hit).

It opens with stylised characteristically Aardman cartoon-driven home video (if you can imagine that—my description is vague because it feels slightly like a ‘something you have to see’ moment) with a farmer (whose name we never know, or that I simply missed—he’s later referred to as Mr X in the film), Shaun the sheep, his sheep mates, and a farm puppy called Bitzer, having a fantastic time. The young, rockstar-style farmer dotes on the animals, they love him in return, and farm life is bucolic and blissful.

It then cuts to years down the track, when everyone’s grown up and worn down by routine. The routine sequence is, incidentally, tops and made me smile, be stoked Aardman was back, and settle back into my seat. Repeating the morning wake-up rituals and daily farm jobs, but with subtle reworkings and speeding up each time, the sequence is masterful.

Long story short, the sheep attempt to shake up the routine and have some fun, which leads to chaos they spend the rest of the film trying to fix. That’s where things should have gotten interesting, but sadly actually didn’t. At least, not in the way I’d hoped. I’d argue the film chose the wrong path. But more about that later. The thing is, though there are pockets of trademark Aardman brilliance, overall the film feels a little slow and formulaic.

9781406357721I was trying to unpack why I liked but didn’t love the film with my friend and co-reviewer. We decided the stakes weren’t high enough, and we weren’t particularly attached to any of the characters, not least the one they were trying to rescue.

We’ve seen this kind of creatures concocting plans to overcome the issues of the human world before, including in Chicken Run and Wallace and Gromit. And those two films did it vastly better. There’s also a whole animal catcher storyline in Shaun the Sheep, which I’m sure I’ve seen done much more impressively in one of the Madagascar films…

The film I would have loved to see was a reinvisioning of Animal Farm, which it seems to hint at before diverging. I think it was a missed opportunity and the resulting story was less innovative than we’ve come to expect from Aardman. This is, after all, the team that usually blows our minds with its off-the-wall reimagining of the world.

I’m also unsure if it was just me, but I couldn’t always pick which character Shaun was from the assemblage of co-cast sheep. I’d argue it’s a considerable issue when you can’t discern the protagonist.

But I’m sounding incredibly down on the film, and I truly don’t mean to be. It’s not that Shaun the Sheep isn’t ok. It’s just that Wallace & Gromit and Chicken Run are so very, very much better.

There are some fantastic individual moments, including when the sheep fluff their hair vainly, then Shaun gets a terrible haircut from the farmer. Or when the rooster, whose crow marks the morning, tries to stay in shot to steal the limelight. Or when the sheep invade the house, only to have the pigs invade over the top of them. Both involve laugh-out-loud moments as the animals enact their take on human habits.

9781406359664The use of chalk drawing was great. As was a scene in a fancy restaurant. The latter induced quite a few we’ll-pay-that laughs. And, without giving too much away, my favourite parts of the film involved plays on counting sheep.

Interestingly, the film is entirely without dialogue, something I didn’t notice until long after the film. The absence of dialogue demonstrates the Aardman team’s skill in visual storytelling and also makes the film entirely more accessible for people of all ages, literacy levels, and languages.

Even better, there are some fun-looking film tie-in books (see images peppered throughout this blog and click on them to link through to their Boomerang Books pages) I wouldn’t mind getting my hands on.

So, despite my grumping, there was plenty to like. And, while Shaun the Sheep wasn’t a Chicken Run or Wallace & Gromit, it doesn’t mean it isn’t worth watching. It’s just not quite, as its predecessors did, hitting it out of the park.

Thanks to Think Tank Communications for the preview tix.

High School Reading List Wish List

The Hunger GamesI recently had a fairly robust mutual rant with a friend about how school reading lists desperately need an overhaul. As writers and editors, we’re huge readers. But most of our love for reading was formulated outside, and in spite, of the books we were forced to read at school.

Sure, there were some classics in there, and we’re glad to have read them somewhere along our book-devouring journey. But our point was—and is—school is a crucial time to introduce people to reading. Or turn them off it.

If you manage school reading lists manage the former, readers are going to find their way to all the slightly drier classics in their own time, driven by their voracious and inquisitiveness-piqued reading appetite. Isn’t it better to give them books that get them hooked in the first place?

Plus, those reading lists haven’t been revisited in decades. They’re long overdue for an update. We wouldn’t accept the status quo in other areas such as science if and when new, study-worthy information becomes available.

It’s uncanny timing then, that BuzzFeed came out with a list of 26 contemporary books people suggest should be taught in high school. (That or BuzzFeed is listening in on my conversations. Like Siri.)

Obvs, my friend and I took a keen interest in this list. Shaping up as the first book mentioned is The Book Thief, a book I’ll confess I read, but read late and only for product knowledge. I was working at Borders at the time and people who were largely non-readers seemed to be buying it by the truckload and raving about it vociferously.

Maybe I’m missing something, but though it’s beautifully written, I think it’s pretty slow. Especially at the start. It will remain an eternal mystery to me how non-voracious readers stuck with it long enough to see it through. And in such numbers. Any ideas? Still, the book’s a good suggestion, and a fantastic companion to/comparison text for something like The Diary of Anne Frank.

I Am MalalaNobel Peace Prize-winning Malala Yousafzai’s I Am Malala is on the list too. It’s an excellent choice because it’s timely and relevant to ongoing efforts to address some of the appalling and continuing efforts to prevent women from obtaining an education around the world.

It’s also an accessible, riveting, relatable read. Malala is both ordinary and extraordinary (as I’ve previously written here in my review). Better yet, it’s written in plain language and grapples with such issues as living overseas as a sort of outsider slash refugee. Much to unpack and relate to there.

The inclusion of The Handmaid’s Tale surprised and delighted me. It’s a dystopian book that I didn’t encounter until I read it as part of my writing course at university, but one that is arguably more relevant than even the time in which it was written. I’ve often thought about revisiting it if or when I have time, as I think there’s plenty I missed reading it the first time.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is one I’d forgotten about, but am glad others remembered. I have a cousin and an uncle who have autism. This book enabled me and many others to understand them more than I/we ever had before. I’m almost certain it smoothed my relatives’ paths in the world ever so slightly, and for that I’m incredibly grateful.

The Handmaid's TaleChimamanda Ngozi Adichi’s Half of a Yellow Sun makes an appearance on the list. I still—still!—haven’t gotten around to reading any of her work, although I perpetually plan to. This book’s going to be the first one off the rank just as soon as I get some time after uni’s over. In about a year. Watch this book-reviewing blog space.

The Hunger Games features at #21; Harry Potter at #26. I’d have bet they’d be jostling for #1. I mean, have you read anything YA as prescient and addictive in recent years?! And handily capturing people’s imagination and enhanced by blockbuster Hollywood films to compare with?! Not to mention the fact that once students are hooked, there’s more than one book for them to inhale, i.e. hook them on reading even more?!

The Secret Life of Bees sneaks on to the list too. I’ll not deny I’m a little puzzled. It’s a good book, with plenty in there about life and racism and nature and kindness, but not one I’d think to recommend to high school kids for reasons I can’t quite articulate. It certainly doesn’t do anything To Kill A Mockingbird does, but better.

Half of a Yellow SunI’m not sure what I’d recommend in its place, though. Or what list additions I’d suggest. I’m suffering from the classic blank-mindedness that comes from already being provided with a bunch of answers. Maybe The Fault in our Stars

Is there anything you can think of that the list’s missed?

Footballers’ Favourite Books

Artemis FowlThere’s this bizarre disconnect in my life where my work spans multiple, discrete fields, but the people who know me in a work sense tend to only know me in one field. For I write about social and environmental issues, football (soccer), and the arts and, for reasons both obvious and not, these worlds don’t often overlap.

I don’t, for example, think I have often managed to bring in football here.

Until now.

The Guardian just published a photo gallery of footballers’ favourite books. While some of the footballers’ selections could, without deeper examination, lead to quips about them not reading particularly grown-up books, it’s probably more a reflection of the audience they’re trying to encourage to read. That is, people struggling with literacy issues.

The Guardian article is part of a Premier League Reading Stars Online Challenge facilitated by the National Literacy Trust, an organisation that works to reduce the fact that one in six people in the UK struggle with low literacy. (The figures are likely similar in Australia.)

It does so by such actions as establishing literacy project in some of the UK’s lowest socioeconomic communities. Getting footballers—heroes—on board to encourage literacy is another step (and a powerful one at that, for who else to make reading look aspirational than your football heroes?).

It’s fitting, then, that none of the footballers are standing there touting (and putting people off with) something of the ilk of Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment. That’s a book I have to admit I’ve never gotten more than a few chapters in on either. Instead, we see a mix of adult and children’s books, most of them mass market and accessible. There were even a few in there that inspired me.

Artemis FowlAston Villa’s Shay Given, for instance, loves Artemis Fowl, a series I’ve read sporadically myself over the years, but never managed to get round to reading in full.

True story: I used to read snippets of Artemis Fowl books while eating my lunch in the stockroom out the back of a bookstore where I used to work. The Artemis Fowl books seemed to be housed near where I sat and, intrigued and also keen to improve my product knowledge, I one day started flicking through and was hooked. I began to look forward to those Artemis-filled escapes.

Arsenal’s Emiliano Martinez’s choice of fellow footballer Sergio Aguero’s biography is a good selection for inspiring people to read—a footballers’ biography is surely a great incentive and entry point to reading if you’re a football fan. So too are the selection of Harry Potters that appear in various footballers’ selections—lose yourself in Rowling’s imaginary world and, if necessary, supplement the books with the films and you’re at least part way on your way.

Former Australian goalkeeper and legend Mark Schwarzer—himself a children’s book author—chose Dr Seuss’ Green Eggs and Ham. I’d like to know why that Dr Seuss book specifically—I think I’d have nominated the entire suite.

Aguero biographyLiverpool’s Adam Lallana selected The Gruffalo, a book I feel is entirely remiss of me not to have yet read. I actually even have a friend and her young son who regularly perform the tale for family and friends, and I still haven’t managed to encounter the text.

Meanwhile, Swansea City’s Jonjo Shelvey’s went for The Gruffalo’s Child, which prompted me to be, like, there’s a sequel?!

I’ve never actually read Some Dogs Do, which was nominated by QPR’s Joey Barton, but the cover makes me think it’s fun and I should rectify that reading gap, stat. After the Gruffalo books, of course.

Leicester City’s Dean Hammond chose The Very Hungry Caterpillar, a book I have to say featured prominently in my early reading years and one I’ve noticed friends my age now having children buying for their own kids.

Finally, Newcastle United’s Siem De Jong and Stoke City’s Jonathan Walters voted for perennial favourite Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and The BFG, respectively. As with the Dr Seuss selections, I’m intrigued. If pressed, I’d probably have gone Matilda myself.

The GruffaloAll of which is to say that I’m getting something out of the footballers’-favourite-books campaign, even though I’m not its target. I have some mighty respect for the charity for the work they do and for the footballers for getting on board to promote literacy.

Seriously, if anyone can make reading seem less scary and more cool, it’s them. If it encourages even one person to get some help improving their literacy, it’ll be a win. I’d love to see something similar extended to the A-League and W-League…

Celebrating Mal Peet

Mal PeetMal Peet was a delight to read and meet. I can’t describe him as a YA author because he would loathe that description, refusing to see his writing pigeonholed into age categories. But clearly both young adults and adults appreciated his novels, and children his picture books.

He has left a legacy of memorable books (published by Walker Books) and is an author I collect, beginning with Keeper (2003), which won the Branford Boase Award in the UK and was shortlisted for the Deutscher Jungendliteraturpreis in Germany. Although I recall him saying that he never played the role of keeper/goalie in football, Mal created a vivid picture set against the backdrop of an imaginary South American jungle.Keeper

Tamar (2005) is one of his two books set around war and spying. It won the Carnegie medal and, like most of his novels, is for mature readers.

The Penalty (2006) and Exposure (2008) re-introduce journalist Paul Faustino, first met in Keeper. Exposure is a bold re-interpretation of Othello. It won the prestigious Guardian Award and was shortlisted for the Australian Inky Awards. This trilogy of sports novels achieves the distinction of having literary merit and also being interesting.

Life an Exploded DiagramLife: An Exploded Diagram (2011) is the partly biographical story of Clem who grew up in the 1960s in Norfolk, England. He outgrows his home, his parents and his place. He also outgrows his social status by falling for rich landowner’s daughter, Frankie.

At the same time that Clem is growing up, the Cold War, a time where the two superpowers, the USSR representing the Communist Eastern bloc and the USA, representing the Capitalist West, are playing a game of cat and mouse for high stakes – the safety or decimation of the world.

There are a number of explosions – actual and anticipated – while President John F Kennedy tries to stop his war chiefs from retaliating against the Russians and destroying Cuba.

When I first spoke about Life: An Exploded Diagram amongst other books, senior English teachers burned with curiosity. That was the book they wanted to talk about afterwards. I was incredibly fortunate to later chair Mal at the Sydney Writers’ Festival with the brilliant Ursula Dubosarsky. We explored rites of passage in the 1960s through Mal’s Exploded Diagram and Ursula’s The Golden Day. Mal described Ursula’s writing style as ‘elliptical economy’ and his own writing as ‘verbose’ but ‘generous’ may be a better description. He was a raconteur, sitting forward in delight at the questions and I treasure one email to me, which begins, I do so like using the phrase ‘Hello, Joy’. The opportunities are none too common.

Cloud Tea MonkeysMy favourite of Mal’s other books is Cloud Tea Monkeys, co-written with his wife, Elspeth Graham, illustrated by Juan Wijngaard and shortlisted for the Kate Greenaway Medal. It’s a poignant tale about a young girl who has to take her ill mother’s place working in the tea plantations.

Mal Peet was an ebullient, intellectually active and curious man. He wrote with a broad sweep, across WWII and the Cold War, the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Football World Cup – but still with intimacy by telling personal stories. He was an inimitable writer.


Helene Magisson’s Labour of Love: The Velveteen Rabbit

896-20150213142152-Cover_The-Velveteen-Rabbit_LR-1In a gorgeously remastered classic tale, just in time for Easter, is a story about the magic of love; The Velveteen Rabbit. With the original story (first published in 1922) by Margery Williams Bianco being untouched, this current version has an exquisite sense of charm about it thanks to its’ talented illustrator, Helene Magisson.  

Depth, emotion and beauty, with a touch of magic, all describe this story of a toy Rabbit brought into the loving arms of a young Boy. And these words also perfectly describe the divine artwork that so beautifully compliments this enchanting tale.
When once felt as inferior to the other toys, the Velveteen Rabbit is soon unsurpassable and never leaves the Boy’s side. In a touching moment between the Rabbit and the Skin Horse, as he discovers that to be truly loved is to be Real, Helene Magisson has magnificently represented this significance with her gentle, serene watercolour pictures as the characters converse under the pale moonlight. And equally whimsical are the sweet expressions and playful angles that Helene has created when the Rabbit’s little sawdust heart almost bursts with love once he is claimed as Real.
Magisson’s heartwrenching image of a teary, slumped and worn little bunny so effectively captures the intense emotion of a toy due to be burnt to rid the germs from the Boy’s scarlet fever. ”…of what use was it to be loved and lose one’s beauty and become Real if it all ended like this?”
thevelveteenrabbitfairyIn a heartwarming finale, the angelic nursery Fairy and the Rabbit fly across the shimmering, glowing sky to a place where Real is true, and his identity as a live rabbit affirmed. What a bittersweet ending when the Boy unknowingly recognises his long-lost cherished Rabbit; the very bunny that he had helped to become Real.
Throughout the book, Helene has used a consistent colour palette of soft, cool blues and greens, which act as a superb contrasting backdrop to the beige of the Rabbit’s fur, as well as honour the affectionate nature of the story. A timeless story of love, companionship and belonging, perfect as a gift for Easter for primary school aged children, and their parents.
New Frontier Publishing, March 2015.  

Entranced by the gorgeous illustrations in The Velveteen Rabbit, I wanted to learn a bit about the artist who created them. So, it is with great pleasure to introduce the talented Helene Magisson.  

Congratulations on the release of your first picture book, Helene! How did you celebrate The Velveteen Rabbit’s arrival?
I wanted this day to be very simple and be just with my family. Sharing it with my husband and children is this nice feeling when you have accomplished something that you love. I think it was a very serene day. But very important to mention here: we also shared a huge plate full of sushi.

Helene MagissonPlease tell us a bit about your illustrating journey. Did you always love to draw as a child?
For sure, I have always been very attracted to everything related to art. As far as I can remember, I think that I have always drawn! In my early career as an artist, I was a painting restorer and loved that job but there was no place for creativity. It is only when we settled down here in Australia 3 years ago, that I decided to be a children’s book illustrator. It was an old dream which I had never taken the opportunity to fulfil. So I tried, worked hard to move from art restoration to illustration and then one day, timidly, I attend the CYA conference. I was very surprised to get the first prize and to be offered my first contract with New Frontier to illustrate The Velveteen Rabbit. I could not imagine a better start.

What do you love about illustrating children’s books?
I love every step of that work from the research of the characters till the final colouring. The stories created for children can be so charming, surprising, touching. Discovering a children’s book is like a door opened to incredible worlds. And it is amazing to be a part of these worlds by illustrating them. When I first discover the story I will illustrate, there are so many images coming through my mind, it is a very exciting feeling, with no limit to the imagination. It is a work of passion and it makes me happy.

Were you familiar with The Velveteen Rabbit growing up? What do you love about this story?
I grew up in Kenya and I think it is there where I first read this story. But then I lost it a bit when my family went back to France. Unfortunately it is not a very well-known story in France (what a pity!). But it was also great to rediscover it as an adult, and then be able to understand its deeper and beautiful meaning. It is exactly what I love with that book: you just grow up with it. The kind of book you always keep with you.

The velveteen rabbit imageThe artwork in The Velveteen Rabbit is beautifully soft, elegant and whimsical. Do you have an image that was your favourite to work on? How did you decide on the cool colour palette, and what media did you use?
Thank you. I loved illustrating this beautiful dialogue between the horse and the Velveteen Rabbit. It is a strong part in the story. I wanted it to be serene and poetic. I could not imagine it without a huge full moon and tiny mosquitoes dancing in the air. And also, I enjoyed working on the lovely little face of the Velveteen Rabbit with tears in his eyes when he discovers the fairy. This particular moment is full of emotion and is very whimsical. I wanted the whole work to be very soft, no strong or “heavy” colour, and very harmonious not to disturb the flow and the gentleness of the text. Also the rabbit had to be brown as Margery Williams Bianco described it. So I wanted to create a soft contrast all around him in that cool colour palette. And watercolour is my favourite media and I think it perfectly fits the story.

What were the most challenging aspects of creating the illustrations for this book?
One of the most challenging part was this long dialogue between the 2 real rabbits and the Velveteen Rabbit. This dialogue spreads out through 5 pages. We needed to keep the action flowing and coherent but it also had to be dynamic, so I used different perspectives and close ups. Also I made the choice to show all the emotions of the Velveteen Rabbit but very subtly.  He is a toy, but I wanted to show him as a child can see him: alive, so with emotions but never too strong. As if we were hesitating… Is he real or not? That was challenging.

How long did the process take from start to finish?
The text is long (48 pages) so there are many illustrations (27) and many of them spread out on the next page to softly frame the text. They are also full of tiny details. So it took me 7 months from the sketching part till the last illustration.

How did you find your first publishing experience with New Frontier Publishing? Was it a very supportive, collaborative process?
It was fantastic to work with them. They gave me a lot of freedom in my creativity process which was very pleasant, and their feedback was always very inspirational to me. For some tricky parts, like the front cover, they were very supportive. I enjoyed every minute of this project. But most of all I am so grateful to New Frontier for giving me this great start.

What does your art space look like? Creative clutter or meticulously organised?
Oh! My God! Am I obliged to answer that question? Well…It is absolutely terribly messy and a huge mystery for my husband. It is like a miracle every day for him. Of course, there are 1000 brushes, paints, pencils, pieces of paper but also plenty of children’s book everywhere, photos of everything, cards with quotes I love, something like 100 cups of tea all around, and many blades of grass, pieces of wild flowers (the one I prefer and very often include in many of my illustrations), and even a small collection of feathers I find in my garden.

What are you currently working on? What can we all look forward to seeing from Helene Magisson in the near future?
I have just finished a lovely story, elegant with a touch of humour about a Prince who wants to marry a Princess, you know, this very delicate Princess? It will be released early next year. And I am also very excited about the next project, but still want to keep it secret!  

Thank you so much, Helene! It has been absolutely delightful getting to know more about you!

Contact Helene Magisson:

Review – How Long is a Piece of String? by Madeleine Meyer

Where do dogs wander to in the dark of night? How tall is a ladder to an exotic land? Will unusual creatures help guide you to your destination? How long is a piece of string? Don’t know the answers? Well, it’s all up to your imagination!  

how-long-is-a-piece-of-stringIn similarity to those that leave the stories up to the viewer’s interpretation, ‘How Long is a Piece of String?’ by Madeleine Meyer is another wordless book that guides the adventure through its’ pictures.

81+v1JCtv5LOf late, included in the list is ‘The Umbrella’ by Ingrid and Dieter Schubert; boasting stunning artwork of landscapes and imagery that take you on a visual adventure with a dog and an umbrella.
Book Island, March 2015.


51CPxCt64eL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_The first of Aaron Becker‘s in his wordless picture book series was ‘Journey’; a beautifully imaginative story about a girl finding herself almost lost in translation with only but a red crayon to proceed, as she daringly rescues a purple bird.
Candlewick, August 2013.


516h8CV6uYL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_And second in the trilogy is Aaron Becker’s ‘Quest’; which sees the return of the original characters, including the purple bird. The children draw their way through this captivating, yet perilous adventure in their quest to glory.
Candlewick, July 2014.  


Author and illustrator, Madeleine Meyer, is a sculptural and visual artist; who is now turning her passion for illustrating into books. With her quirky yet enchanting fine pen and ink hatching techniques, and minimal pops of colour on white backgrounds, there is plenty to peruse and get hypnotised with in ‘How Long is a Piece of String?’

How long is a piece of string imageA young boy awakes to the sound of his dog barking outside his window, and upon turning the page, we discover an enormous ball of string awaiting to be unraveled. Ready for the journey ahead, the boy sets off in search of his dog, clenching tightly to the red string that is his lifeline back to safety. He endures long, treacherous travels through mysterious cities, trudges over monumental expanses, and encounters curious and extraordinary beings, until at last he is reunited with his four-legged friend. A large flying fish charters the boy and his dog back across this unparalleled universe to home, and then it is time for bed.

‘How Long is a Piece of String?’ is a wondrous and fantastical depiction of what true companionship and dedication means. It literally outlines a whimsical world with the added ability to tug on your heart-strings, no matter how long. A ‘different’ book experience suitable for primary school aged children.  
Windy Hollow Books, 2014.

Review: Soil by Jamie Kornegay

9781444782936There is something about stories set in the American south, particularly those in and around the Mississippi. Whether they are classic American Southern Gothic, contemporary fiction, crime mystery or a combination the confluence of history, atmosphere and long-held beliefs makes for rich, dark, fertile storytelling. Jamie Kornegay digs into this tapestry with a debut about the environment, end-of-the-world paranoia and a family in break down.

Jay Mize is convinced the world is coming to a catastrophic end and that he must do something drastic to ensure his family’s future. He quits his job as an environmental scientist and moves his family out into the Mississippi flood basin to start a revolutionary farm. The story begins six months later with everything in ruins. Jay is practically bankrupt, his wife and son have left him and his farm and all his plans and ideas are literally underwater. As the flood waters recede Jay finds a body on his property. With his mild paranoia now full-blown delusional Jay decides he has to get rid of the body rather than report it and that’s when his troubles really start.

Peppered with a great cast of odd and unusual characters, including a bizarrely injured woodsman and a sex-addicted Sheriff’s Deputy, Korengay delivers a novel above and beyond the Coen Brothers comparisons. With just the right amount of wicked humour Korengay tells the story of a man driven to the brink, a brink only he can see coming, which he is determined to slip down.

Moving and affecting this book will suck you in from the opening pages. It will have you wincing and pleading, hoping and laughing and is a highly accomplished debut from a distinctive new voice in American fiction.

Buy the book here…

Review – This is Captain Cook

This is Captain CookHistory can be a hard pill to swallow. It’s easy to choke on a diet of dried up, dusty old facts about dried up, dusty old people. Trouble is, what those folk did in our not so distant pasts was often fascinating and ground-breaking and well worth exploring. So how do you find the right sweetener to tempt young people to try a nibble of the past? You dish it up as a school play, garnish it with luscious imagery, and call it a picture book, of course!

This is Captain Cook by Tania McCartney and Christina Booth, is exactly how I like my history served up and, as it turns out, how my Miss 9 likes it too. The fact that she was able to recognise that these adventurous events occurred, ‘way before you were born Mummy’ at the time when the First Fleet began arriving, indicated that this fact-based picture book struck accord with her and her current class room learning.

Tania Mc McCartney skilfully navigates the reader through a carefully considered chronology of James Cook’s life. Miss 9 was keen to point out that the opening act is clear and clever, introducing us to Cook’s beginnings and the start of the school play in which his life is being portrayed.

Christina Booth 2Rather like a one-take shoot on a film set, This is Captain Cook retains the same illustrative perspective throughout the book. The reader has (second) row seats in the audience and is thus privy to not only the terrific parallel visual narrative of the audience members, but of every action that takes place on stage too. You may think this would have the potential to dissolve into dreariness but it definitely does not thanks to McCartney’s spirited narrative and Booth’s charming drawings.

Captain Cook illo spreadIf Miss 9 had more thumbs, she would hoist them as high as a top sail because she enjoyed the lively comedy used to gently reveal Cook’s personality (as it may have been) and his penchant for shiny buttons rather than just focusing on his noteworthy exploits and achievements. She found the latter much easier to ingest because of the humanisation of his story. Sitting through another telling of the ‘show’ was not problem either although she is quick to add that perhaps a life at sea would not be for her as it seems Cook was never ever able to have a pet dog; at least not in this particular production! An ubiquitous chook and comical cast of other avian members however, make a delightful reoccurring appearance throughout the performance, earning a standing ovation from me too.

Captain Cook illo 2There is a raft of exquisite subtle details in this tale about one of the most accomplished mariners and adventurers of our time all served up with just the right amount of frivolity and wit guaranteed to keep youngsters 3 – 8 years old and beyond tucking in. And, just like eating a bowl of vegies in the guise of Spaghetti Bolognese, they will hardly even realise that it’s good for them.

Before you get to the utterly endearing end pages (Bok Bok!), walk through Cook’s Gallery to view some of the real pictures and maps sections of this story are based around. You are invited to discover more through links by the National Library of Australia who announces that this picture book is not so much about ‘the questionable outcomes of exploration and settlement for indigenous peoples’ rather a focus on ‘the life of Captain James Cook as a mariner, father and adventurer.’

With the help of one cheeky chook, and McCartney and Booth, I think this objective has been admirably achieved. Somebody give these chooks a bouquet of flowers. Brava!

NLA March 2015 Available here, now.

This review was kindly supplemented by Miss 9 Powell, who surprisingly now likes history.




Review: The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro

9780571315048This is only my second Kazuo Ishiguro book following on from Never Let Me Go. For me, coming off a novel about cloning, I had no expectations about where he would go next. Much has been made about this novel being a “departure” for Ishiguro but I would argue that he has gone back to something far more traditional.

This novel is seeped in myth and legend. Ogre’s are referred to and a strange spell seems to hang over the land. There are mysterious warriors and a renowned Knight of the Roundtable. There are superstitions and folklore to be obeyed and to be wary of. And there’s a journey a couple must embark upon…. (Psst…and there’s a dragon).

We meet the main characters of the novel, Axl and Beatrice, as they go about their daily lives in their village. The narration of the story is at first quite unsettling but you get used to it as the novel progresses. Events are told in a kind of immediate past tense. Rather than the traditional past tense of a story being told after a significant amount of time has lapsed everything is told almost in the direct afterwards of the events occurring.

I wouldn’t call this a fantasy novel, instead this is a novel about legends. The mythical creatures referred to are more often than not off page. Which means that their existences is always questionable. And when they do finally appear on the page there is still sufficient question marks around them.

When you get down to the nuts and bolts of this story it is the classic journey. A journey into a great unknown. A journey into memory and love. It is a post-Arthurian tale that is perfectly apt for this post-9/11 world where the peace and harmony has been built on tenuous foundations. Don’t get caught up in the debate about whether this is a departure or a fantasy. This is classic storytelling told by a complete master.

Buy the book here…

Alternate Aurealis Worlds

AfterworldCongratulations to those shortlisted for this year’s Aurealis speculative fiction awards. As a judge of the YA novels and short stories, I feel bereft for those whose fascinating works couldn’t be included. Hopefully some of these will appear on other shortlists.

Our best short story selections veer towards the upper end of the YA age group with

“In Hades”, Goldie Alexander (Celapene Press), a long-form poem

“Falling Leaves”, Liz Argall (Apex Magazine)

“The Fuller and the Bogle”, David Cornish (Tales from the Half-Continent, Omnibus Books), author of the Monster Blood Tattoo trilogy

“Vanilla”, Dirk Flinthart (Kaleidoscope, Twelfth Planet Press)

“Signature”, Faith Mudge (Kaleidoscope, Twelfth Planet Press).

It is significant that short fiction was mainly submitted in e-book form.

Our shortlist for best YA novel is:Afterworlds

The Astrologer’s Daughter, Rebecca Lim (Text Publishing)

Afterworld, Lynnette Lounsbury (Allen & Unwin)

The Cracks in the Kingdom, Jaclyn Moriarty (Pan Macmillan Australia)

Clariel, Garth Nix (Allen & Unwin)

The Haunting of Lily Frost, Nova Weetman (UQP)

Afterworlds, Scott Westerfeld (Penguin Books Australia)

It’s intriguing (and hopefully not too confusing) that two of the titles differ by only one letter: Lynnette Lounsbury’s Afterworld and Scott Westerfeld’s Afterworlds. Westerfeld has written some standout stories over the years, with my favourites being So Yesterday and the Uglies series. Lounsbury is a debut novelist. She is one of a number of Australian writers who grew up in Papua New Guinea – a talented group I would like to explore further one day. Westerfeld’s Afterworlds is a dual narrative, with one story set in teen author Darcy Patel’s real New York. Like Lounsbury’s well-devised, atmospheric Afterworld, his other narrative is set in an imagined spirit world.

Rebecca Lim’s The Astrologer’s Daughter is a freshly-written mystery set in the real world, with forays into astrology.

These three titles are for the upper end of YA and Garth Nix’s Clariel is also best for mature readers. I adored Nix’s Old Kingdom epic fantasy series and Clariel is a prequel set six hundred years before the birth of iconic Sabriel.

Cracks in the KingdomJaclyn Moriarty’s fantasy The Cracks in the Kingdom, Book Two in The Colours of Madeleine trilogy, is another dual narrative. Madeleine lives in the real world and Elliot lives in the richly imagined Kingdom of Cello.

And The Haunting of Lily Frost by Nova Weetman is a beautifully written ghost story set in an Australian country town.

The winners of the 2014 Aurealis Awards and the Convenors’ Award for Excellence will be announced at the Aurealis Awards ceremony, on Saturday 11 April at the University House, Canberra. Tickets are available and Margo Lanagan will be hosting in inimitable style.Haunting of Lily frost

Doodles and Drafts – Under the magnifying glass with R. A. Spratt

rachel sprattR. A. Spratt and I share a dubious childhood secret. We were both mad for Trixie Belden. I’m busting another secret; there’s a new super-youth-sleuth in town and she goes by the name of Friday Barnes. And now, I’m going a bit mad for her.

Friday Barnes Under SuspicianSpratt’s latest series of detective stories exploded onto the shelves of this generation’s mystery-hungry youth last July with, Friday Barnes Girl Detective. Friday continues to dazzle, in her trademark non-conspicuous way in the second of the series, Under Suspicion, released last month.

Friday Barnes is a complex high thinking, self-assured, crime-solving obsessed eleven-year-old whose powers of observation and logic are nothing short of mind blogging.

She assumes an almost orphan-like persona hailing from a large family of over-achieving scientists, but does not allow her intellectual lineage to hinder her career ambitions; to become an ace detective.

I adore the winning marriage of tongue-in-cheek comedy with surprise packed, interlinking mini mysteries. Spratt never shies away from using occasional highbrow language and concepts; instead, she flatters the reading prowess of her tween / teen audience and rewards them with intelligent character driven dialogue and seriously funny storylines.

You need not be a girl, a Trixie Belden nut, or even a ten-year-old to enjoy these books. I can’t wait to read the next one, Big Trouble. Friday Barnes has everything; snooty boarding school bullies, romance, crime and more intriguing characters and plot twists than you can focus a magnifying glass on.

Today I uncover some scintillating snippets about the award-winning author and comedy writer behind the Girl Detective, R. A. Spratt.

Welcome to the draft table R. A.Who is R. A. Spratt? Describe your writerly self.

I am the author of the ‘Friday Barnes’ and ‘Nanny Piggins’ series. I’m pretty much the cliché of what you would imagine an author to be like. I’m scruffy, I don’t get out much, I’m forgetful, and I spend a lot of time scowling at the floor while my brain is lost in thought. I can also get suddenly very enthusiastic about an idea and I use lots of dramatic hand gestures when I talk.

Tell us one thing about yourself we are not likely to find on a web site.

I don’t like wearing proper shoes. I’m more comfortable in ugg boots or crocs. Sometimes when I do school visits and I have to wear proper grown-up shoes, my feet get all claustrophobic and I can’t bear it, so I have to ask the audience if it’s alright if I take my shoes off.

What’s the most appealing aspect of writing for kids for you?

I can be sillier. I don’t have to deal with ‘adult themes’ most of which are horrible (violent) or icky (involve kissing, or worse).

Your work is filled with hilarious one-liners and sassy word play. How important is it for you to include comedy in your writing? Does it come naturally or is it something you consciously strive hard to achieve?

It’s not something I think about much. It’s just the way my brain works. I would certainly hate to write a serious book, or one of those heart-breakingly tragic ones. There is enough seriousness and heartbreak in real life. I like to focus on more important things – making readers giggle.

Friday BarnesWith her intellectual wit and dysfunctional academia background, Friday Barnes is an 11-year-old to be reckoned with. What was your motivation for creating such a memorable, vividly unique sleuthing character?

Friday is influenced by a lot of different fictional characters and real life people. I went to a selective high school and when I was eleven I knew a lot of super-bright dysfunctional eleven year olds.

I love the cliffhanger endings in each book. How do you conjure up so many complex mysteries and determine how they will fit into each book? Do you ever lose track and wish Friday was there to help you?

I get a sheet of cardboard, lay it on the coffee table in my office and draw a circle to represent the arc of the entire book. Next I draw a line across the top quarter to represent the act breaks, and then I start filling in plot points. I will often have a lot of plot points already worked out and written down on post-it notes. So the circle gets filled in with hand written notes and post-its until the whole sheet of cardboard is a dense mass of spidery hand writing. I don’t lose track of things but as the plot evolves, there are a lot of red herrings and clues that get woven through during the editing process. It can get complicated, especially if I cut a chapter out, I have to make sure that any clues or red herrings in that chapter are put in somewhere else.

Are we likely to see Friday remain at Highcrest Academy and progress to even higher realms of detective distinction in the same way Harry Potter grew and matured with his readers?

I’m not sure. I’m thinking she will go up into year 8 at the beginning of the 5th book, if there is a fifth book. I’ve got a lot of ideas for books 4 and 5 I guess we’ll have to wait and see how things pan out. Often times the characters seem to decide these things for themselves while you’re writing.Nancy Piggins

What’s on the draft table for R. A. Spratt?

I start writing Friday Barnes 4 next week. I’m finishing up writing a spec film script based on ‘The Adventures of Nanny Piggins’.

Just for fun question (there’s always one), if you were 11 again and had a choice of which school (fictional or otherwise) you could attend, where would you go and why?

I did not enjoy high school much at all. I’d rather not go back there. So if I were eleven again, I’d like to go right back in time to 1895 and be educated by a governess. Specifically Miss Prism, the governess from ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’. She was a silly woman who napped a lot and enjoyed romance novels. So she was much like me.

Thanks R. A. It’s been fun discovering you.

Dozens of lucky Queensland children will get a chance to meet Friday’s creator this month when she appears at one of SE Queensland’s biggest school literary festivals, the Somerset Celebration of Literature Festival. Be sure to bring along your silly sleuthing hats.

Random House Australia 2014 and 2015


The Book Brief: The Very Best New Release Books in March

book-brief-lowEach month we bring you the best new release books in our Book Brief.
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Fiction Books

Touch by Claire North

The premise alone of this book is enough to give you goosebumps. The main character, who we become to know as Kepler, is able to transfer their consciousness between bodies with only a touch. Kepler has lived for centuries. Changing bodies at will. Staying for a time in a life they find interesting, others only fleetingly. But now someone wants Kepler dead and they don’t care how many people they kill to achieve the task. This book is beyond genius and will be one of THE books of 2015. Jon

The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro

The Buried Giant begins as a couple set off across a troubled land of mist and rain in the hope of finding a son they have not seen in years. It is a novel about memory set in a post-Arthurian  period of myth and fantasy. Ishiguro is a master at drawing you into a story, just go with him and enjoy the journey. Chris

If I Fall, If I Die by Michael Christie

This is a heartfelt and wondrous debut lauded by Philipp Meyer as “astonishing”, introducing a supremely gifted and exciting new voice in fiction. This is a remarkable debut full of dazzling prose, unforgettable characters, and a poignant and heartfelt depiction of coming of age.

The Mirror World of Melody Black by Gavin Extence

I loved The Universe Versus Alex Wood, it was funny and clever. Mirror World  is about a young woman who is coping with a mental illness. She has high days and very low days. On her good days she is a brilliant writer, friend, wit and lover but on her down days she parties, spends and doesn’t stop. A novel that might help us understand the lives of others. I loved it. Chris

The Faithful Couple by A.D. Miller

Two friends, Adam and Neil meet when they are young and abroad. They are from different backgrounds but because they meet away from these constraints the friendship thrives. The constraints work loose though and they do something they will think about for the rest of their lives. Marriages, jobs, babies, in fact life rocks and unsettles this friendship especially that past action. Miller has written a novel of great moral complexity. He writes about a holiday in Europe as like a safari of violence. We don’t honour peace in the same way. This is what reading is all about. Chris

A Short History of Richard Kline

All his life, Richard Kline has been haunted by a sense that something is lacking. He envies the ease with which some people slip – seemingly unquestioningly – into contented suburban life or the pursuit of wealth. As he moves into middle age, Richard grows increasingly angry. But then a strange event awakens him to a different way of living. 

Resistance by John Birmingham

John Birmingham takes up where he left off at the end of Emergence. Dave is enjoying a well-earned rest while the rest of the world is coming to terms with the fact that monsters are now among us and wanting to re-subjugate their old food source. However human technologies are proving more than difficult, if not impossible, for them to overcome. New hordes of monsters soon start popping out all over the world and Dave quickly realizes that superpowers do not mean he is infallible. Jon

Soil by Jamie Kornegay

An idealistic environmental scientist moves his wife and young son off the grid, to a stretch of river bottom farmland in the Mississippi hills, hoping to position himself at the forefront of a revolution in agriculture. And so begins a journey into a maze of misperceptions and personal obsessions. By turns hilarious and darkly disturbing, this traces one man’s apocalypse to its epic showdown in the Mississippi mudflats.

Non-Fiction Books

Bad Behaviour by Rebecca Starford

Tells the story of a year in a boarding school, a time of friendship and joy, but also of shame and fear. It explores how those crucial experiences affected Rebecca as an adult and shaped her future relationships, and asks courageous questions about the nature of female friendship. Moving, wise and painfully honest, this extraordinary memoir shows how bad behaviour from childhood, in all its forms, can be so often and so easily repeated throughout our adult lives.

Being There by David Malouf

After exploring the idea of home, where and what it is in A First Place, what does it mean to be a writer and where writing begins in The Writing Life, David Malouf moves on to words and music and art and performance in Being There. This is an unmissable and stimulating collection of one man’s connection to the world of art, ideas and culture.

Going Paleo by Pete Evans

Going Paleo is the only book you’ll need to transform the way you eat – and change the way you look and feel – for good. This comprehensive and user-friendly guide shows you both why to go paleo and how to go paleo, with over 80 essential recipes to get you started.

So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson

In 2012, Jon Ronson’s online identity was stolen. Jon publicly confronted the imposters, a trio of academics who had created a Jon Ronson Twitter bot obsessed by unlikely food combinations and weird sex. At first, Jon was delighted to find strangers all over the world uniting to support him in his outrage. The wrongdoers were quickly shamed into stopping. But then things got out of hand. This encounter prompted Jon to explore the phenomenon of public shaming and what he discovered astonished him.

The Story of Australia’s People by Geoffrey Blainey

The vast, ancient land of Australia was settled in two main streams, far apart in time and origin. The first stream of immigrants came ashore some 50,000 years ago when the islands of Australia, Tasmania and New Guinea were one. The second began to arrive from Europe at the end of the eighteenth century. Each had to come to terms with the land they found, and each had to make sense of the other. It was not – and is still not – an easy relationship, and the story of Australia’s people is as complex as it is rich.

Flashpoints by George Friedman

Friedman zooms in on the region that has been the cultural hotbed of the world – Europe – and examines the most basic and fascinating building block of the region: culture. Analysing the fault lines that have existed for centuries – and which have led to two world wars and dozens more conflicts – Friedman walks us through the ‘flashpoints’ that are still smouldering beneath the surface and are on course to erupt again.

Childrens’ Picture Books

One Step At A Time by Jane Jolly

Luk and his grandmother live in Thailand where they drag timber in the forest with the help of Mali the elephant. Disaster strikes when Mail steps on a landmine and is injured. With blessings from the monks and a practical solution Mali is soon up on his feet again. With beautiful illustrations both tender and dramatic this story draws you to the problem of active landmines around the world. Jan 

This Is Captain Cook by Tania McCartney

This is a charming first introduction to Australian history. Join Miss Bates class as they put on the end of year play about the life of Captain Cook. Told in a humorous and assesable way this is a book parents will enjoy reading and children will enjoy learning with. Ian

Those Pesky Rabbits by Ciara Flood

Mr Bear has new neighbours and he is just not interested, that are way too cheerfully by a long measure! The Rabbits just want to be friends but bear just wants them to GO AWAY. Can the Rabbits melt his heart or will bear scare them away? A fun cute read. Ian

Books for First Readers

Violet Mackeral’s Formal Occasion by Anna Branford

The ever popular Violet returns in her eighth adventure . Mum needs cheering up, and Violet knows just what to do, put on a ” Formal” just for Mum.  As always is it her positive can do attitude that sees her  plans eventually come together. Ian

Books for Young Readers

Tombquest: Book of the Dead by Michael Northrop

Nothing can save Alex Sennefer’s life. That’s what all the doctors say, but his mother knows it’s not true. She knows that the Lost Spells of the Egyptian Book of the Dead can crack open a door to the afterlife and pull her son back from the brink. But when she uses the spells, five evil ancients – the Death Walkers – are also brought back to life. An ancient evil has been unleashed.

Worry Magic by Dawn McNiff

Courtney is a worrier – she worries about EVERYTHING! Then one day when Dad finds a pig in the lounge? and there is an argument Courtney starts to feel woozy. Courtney is sure her worry magic dreams are making everything better. Are they? Maybe she just needs to not worry so much. Jan

Books for Young Adults

All Fall Down by Ally Carter

Grace has just moved into Embassy Row to live with her grandfather, a powerful ambassador,  she hasn’t seen in three years. Grace is sure of three things – she is not crazy, she witnessed the murder of her mother and she is going to find the killer. She must be very careful though because one wrong move could cause catastrophe. Jan

The Door That Led To Where by Sally Gardner

AJ is 17 and just started his first job. Tidying up the store room he finds a key with his name on it. Determined to find what door it belongs to he opens it and find himself back in time, in the very real and grubby year 1830. A terrific read full of intrigue, murder and life changing decisions. Ian