Real Books to Read

I'm a Hungry Dinosaur‘Real’ books to read are sought after by those introducing young children to the exciting and vital world of reading. Many picture books are invaluable in opening children’s minds and imaginations to story but only a small number of these can actually also be read by readers at the earliest stages of reading for themselves (although don’t discount children’s memorisation of text as not being reading – they see it as such and it should be affirmed as a stepping stone).

These select ‘real’ books are examples of quality literature, appealing story and are easy enough to read.

Repetition of, generally, simple words is the key. There can be exceptions if some words are interesting enough though – and their meaning supported by the illustrations.

MaxsBear_BoardBook_CoverA series about a little boy called Max by Barbro Lindgren and Eva Eriksson (Gecko Press) has just been re-issued in board book form. These sturdy books are great for very young children to manhandle but can also be used to introduce reading. The three books in the series look at simple events in Max’s day and feature Max, his dog and his bear.

The simple, repetitive text in Max’s Bear begins:

Here is Max’s dog.

Here is Max.

Here is Max’s bear.

And continues:

Max kisses the bear.

Max licks the bear.

Max bites the bear.

Max throws the bear.

Children will enjoy the realistic humour.

Max’s Wagon re-introduces us to the characters and format and Max’s Bath humorously relates all the things that fall into Max’s bath.

Where is PimA step up, but still easy to read is Where is Pim? by Lena and Olof Landstrom (Gecko Press) about a dog who takes off with a toy. An adult could start reading this picture book aloud and encourage a child to join in when the text becomes very predictable:

Is that Pim?

No, that’s a bag.

Is that Pim?

No, that’s a can.

As with many other books, children will spontaneously often join in on subsequent readings – ‘reading’ along as well. To help the reading process, remember to point to the words when you’re reading picture books to young children when it suits – not if you’re getting in the way, though.

I'm a Dirty DinosaurRhythmic text is another aid to helping young children read. Janeen Brian and Ann James have just duplicated the success of I’m a Dirty Dinosaur (Puffin Books) – which James illustrated with clay from her dam and coloured pencils) in I’m a Hungry Dinosaur. Both these books have a rhythmic, ‘join-in’ text, with plenty of repetition:

I’m a hungry dinosaur,

Oh, the cake looks nice.

I’ll chomp and chew

A piece or two …

Maybe one more slice!

And Ann James has even used actual chocolate icing and hundreds and thousands in her illustrations. The cake looks delectable.

Dog In, Cat Out

Another old favourite by Ann James is Dog in, Cat Out with text by Gillian Rubinstein.

Dr Suess, of course, also ticks all these boxes, including humour – a child magnet.

Green Eggs and Ham

 

 

Elizabeth Honey’s ‘Hop Up! Wriggle Over!’ – One for Mum and Bub

1733911_origHop Up! Wriggle Over!, Elizabeth Honey (author, illus.), Allen & Unwin, April 2015.  

Cherish the moments of early mornings, chaotic meal times, constantly chasing tails and a house that’s never tidy, because one day it will be a distant memory; and you’ll miss it. This recent release emanates all this energy, and more; it’s a gorgeous, totally relatable book for mums to share with their little cherubs for Mother’s Day.  

elizabeth_honeyAward-winning author of poetry, novels and picture books, Elizabeth Honey‘s books exude vibrancy, joyfulness and wit. She also illustrates her own books, which are characteristically heartwarming and delightful. Some of her titles include I’m Still Awake, Still!, Ten Blue Wrens and That’s not a Daffodil! (CBCA 2012 Honour Book).  

Distinct to her charmingly boisterous style is her latest celebration of our unique national fauna; ‘Hop Up! Wriggle Over!’ is a completely adorable book of an Australian animal family bouncing through a busy day.  

With glorious onomatopoeia in short, punchy bursts, the baby mammals jumpstart the day with a scene parents know all too well. No more rest for the wicked; Mother Koala and Father Kangaroo are soon hustling as the daily routine begins.

”Hop up! Wriggle over! Wakey wakey. Hungry.
Crunch crunch. Gobble gobble. Lick lick. More!
Bong! Bong! Clang clang! Ting ting! Shhhh!”
 

Hop up! Wriggle Over! ImageWith nine little ones to attend to, breakfast is like a clanging, tinging orchestra of bowls and spoons. A trip to the playground is like running a marathon trying to keep up with their abundance of energy. Tea time sounds of nibbles, chomps, slurps and burps. And bath time is bubblicious pandemonium. Finally, the kidlets settle for a story, and kisses, snuggles and sweet dream wishes see the babes peaceful at last.  

As playful as the text, Elizabeth Honey’s illustrations radiate life, animation and spirit. Typical toddler-like actions in the pictures suitably mimic the frolicsome hubbub that the words express. At the same time, her pencil and watercolour paints create a gentle feeling in its technique and natural earthy tones; perfect to capture the warmth and innocence of this loving family.  

‘Hop Up! Wriggle Over!’ is a beautiful introduction to different Australian animals and the reinforcement of the daily routine. It is a book of romping good fun, but also a nice way to end a busy day. What could be better than a story and a snuggle with your precious ones just before bed? An enchanting, lively book recommended for babies and young children, and their mums.
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Quality Australian Novels for Children

Figgy in the WorldThe recent CBCA shortlisted Book of the Year for Younger Readers is an impressive list, not least because of the strength of the books that are Notables but didn’t make the shortlist. Younger Readers is traditionally a category of the awards that receives an enormous number of entries and it is thrilling that the quality is so high this year.

Many of the shortlisted books are aimed at upper primary age children, which is the case most years, although The Cleo Stories: The Necklace and The Present by Libby Gleeson, illustrated by Freya Blackwood (Allen & Unwin) is for much younger readers.Cleo Stories

It is surprisingly difficult to find an outstanding junior novel. Books in series, for example, often cater for the seven to nine year-olds, and picture books and simple chapter books cater for even younger children. Libby Gleeson achieved the feat of creating an excellent junior novel years ago with the brilliant Hannah Plus One (which did become a series). In The Cleo Stories (for even younger readers than Hannah), she acknowledges the situations and feelings of a young girl, firstly when she wants to be like the other girls and then when she needs a present for her mother. The character of Cleo and her concerns reminds me of Anna Branford’s lovely Violet Mackerelone of the titles in the series was a Notable book this year.

BleakboyRealism novels dominate the 2015 short list. Steven Herrick always does an authentic portrayal of relatable primary school kids and the groups they mix in. Bleakboy and Hunter Stand Out in the Rain (UQP), about a new boy who is bullied, works well in prose rather than the verse novel form he often uses. It also looks at environmental issues.

The Simple Things by Bill Condon (Allen & Unwin) is about a gentle, immature ten-year-old who has to stay with his formidable great-aunt, Lola. Lola reminds me of Kirsty Murray’s Aunty ‘Big’ in The Four Seasons of Lucy McKenzie.Simple Things

Ben in Two Wolves by Tristan Bancks (Random House) tries to deny the trauma in his life but is forced to confront the troubles caused by his parents and use his own initiative.

Figgy in the World by Tamsin Janu (Omnibus Books, Scholastic) is quite different from the other shortlisted books, being set in Ghana. Figgy’s grandmother is ill so Figgy is running away to the United States of America to buy medicine. It gives an excellent insight into another world at an appropriate level for primary-aged Australian children.

Withering-by-Sea: a Stella Montgomery Intrigue by Judith Rossell (ABC Books, HarperCollins) is a gothic mystery but the fact that it is the first in the ‘Stella Montgomery Intrigue’, rather than ‘Mystery’ gives an insight into Judith Rossell’s original and quirky style.

Two WolvesSome of the Notable standouts that missed out are Ophelia and the Marvellous Boy by Karen Foxlee, The Ratcatcher’s Daughter by Pamela Rushby, Paper Planes by Allayne L. Webster, The Crossing by Catherine Norton and Kelsey and the Quest of the Porcelain Doll by Rosanne Hawke.Withering-by-Sea

Review: Ascendance by John Birmingham

9781742614069The final instalment in the Dave Hooper trilogy brings events to an epic crescendo.

Not for the first time John Birmingham lays waste to the streets of New York. The Dave, who has been struggling to come to terms with his recently acquired hero status, has learnt he may not be the special and unique snowflake he led himself to believe. Meanwhile the monsters, who have been unleashed upon the world, are starting to learn and adapt to human technology and tactics with the aid of a few brains.

The Dave and his new-found companion are almost overwhelmed by the new and numerous attacks in New York. Their task is made more difficult as Dave’s newly acquired powers come up against some unwanted interference from some of the more empathetic demons. As they cut and hammer their way through swathes of orcs and demons Dave soon finds he is making some very tough choices about who will survive each onslaught. Decisions he is not ready or comfortable to make. Being a hero is not the party The Dave had hoped for and as the tide continues to turn in the monsters’ favour the strain is beginning to show leaving him even more vulnerable.

This maybe the conclusion to the Dave Hooper trilogy but John Birmingham is far from finished with this new universe he has created and is in the process of tearing down. I can’t wait for the ebook spin offs he has got planned and the next epic chapter whatever and whenever that will be.

Buy the book here…

Chatting with Toni Jordan

toni-portraitAs much-loved Australian novelist Toni Jordan sees it, some writers have ideas banked up like circling planes waiting for their turn to land, but her creative mind is more like a desert, occasionally crossed by tumbleweed.

Well, that’s some impressive tumbleweed that’s rolling along on the breeze!

AdditionIn her debut novel, Addition, Toni Jordan introduces us to Grace, a woman who counts everything to hold her world together. Jordan provides a fresh take on the romantic comedy and a unique perspective on living with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder in a novel that is charming and enlightening.

Another quirky young woman takes centre stage in Fall Girl, about a professional con artist who falls for her mark. The novel is woven with humour and intrigue, making it a lively and compelling story.

Jordan departs from the chick-lit genre in her most recent novel, Nine Days, delivering touching snapshots of Australian family life. It begins in a working- class suburb of Melbourne on the eve of World War 2 and bounces between decades, telling the story of the Westaway family. Each chapter is dedicated to a crucial day in the life of a different member of the family. Jordan manages to give each character a fresh and authentic voice that makes this story a beautiful and memorable read.

So, what’s next? Toni Jordan visits Boomerang Books to tell all.

JF: Welcome, Toni Jordan! You’ve written best-selling romantic comedies – Addition and Fall Girl and a touching historical family drama in Nine Days. What can we expect from your next novel?

TJ: I’ve been trying for about two years to write something a bit more serious, along the ‘touching’ vein. But it’s not happening (or at least, not very well). So it’s another romantic comedy—a kind of sexy romp/satire thingee. I’m amusing myself, at any rate.

JF: You’ve likened your creative brain to a desert, occasionally crossed by tumbleweed. Can you expand on this and explain a little more about the inspiration for your work.

TJ: Yes, this is exactly right! I had these grand ideas for my next novel but on the page it was this lumpen, doughy thing. I’d decided to abandon it and then, while I was on holidays over Christmas, I re-read Anna Karenina. The beginning is amazing: Stiva wakes up on the sofa in his study and wonders why he’s sleeping there instead of in his wife’s bed. Then he remembers that yesterday, she found out he was having an affair with their children’s governess. Awesome. So an idea sprang into my head about this complicated group of couples, all falling in and out of love with each other over the course of a weekend, beginning at the same point.

Nine Days began with the photo on the jacket, of a woman reaching up to kiss a departing soldier through the window of a train. I never thought I’d be one of those people who could write from a photo, and it took a long time but eventually it all came.

Nine DaysJF: I was intrigued by the structure of Nine Days. It is written in first person from the point of view of nine different characters. How did this test you as a writer?

TJ: I was really worried if I could pull this off. The worst thing would be to stuff this up, I think, and have them all sounding the same. The nine of them were very clear in my own head—I knew each of them very well—so I set myself a kind of challenge. My aim was that, if a reader looked at any three sentences that were together in a chapter, they should be able to tell which character it was. I’m still really happy about the way it turned out.

JF: Nine Days jumps back and forth between the decades. Did you write the chapters in the same order that they are presented in the book?

TJ: This is funny—I also teaching creative writing and over the years, a number of students have asked my advice about writing non-chronological narratives. I always told them the same thing: that they should write the story chronologically, then move things around to sit in the order they wanted.

When it came to doing it myself, however, do you think that this is how I did it? No, I didn’t. I found it much easier to conceptualise how the reader would unravel each clue if I wrote it in the order it appears in the book. My advice to all those students was rubbish.

JF: Nine Days was inspired by a photograph of an unnamed young soldier heading off to war on a train, his sweetheart reaching up to kiss him farewell. Has anyone come forward to claim they know the couple?

TJ: We’ve had a few ‘maybe’ people. The most likely is that the photo is actually an aunt seeing off her nephew. But the romantic in me doesn’t want to think about that.

Fall GirlJF: You spoke at the inaugural Historical Novel Society Australasia conference. What advice would you give to aspiring historical novelists?

TJ: I honestly think that research is not as important as emerging novelists think it is. What matters in historical fiction are the same things that matter in any other kind of fiction: a wonderful story about interesting people, well told.

JF: Can you name a few of your favourite historical novels?

TJ: Of course I’m Mantel mad. I also loved Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks, Possession by AS Byatt, Oscar and Lucinda by Peter Carey and anything by Sarah Waters. One of my former students, Ilka Tampke, has just published her debut novel, Skin. It’s historical fantasy set in iron-age Britain and it’s just wonderful.

JF: Thank you Toni Jordan and good luck with your next story. I can’t wait to read it!

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

 

 

 

 

 

Review: Pleasantville by Attica Locke

9781781254097I used to love legal thrillers. They were the first crime books I got into when I was a teenager. There was a mystery but there was also an argument to made and refuted. Unlike other crime stories the legal thriller must get down to the bones of right and wrong, innocence and guilt. The good legal thriller shows that these waters are just as muddy and murky as out on the street. And when you add politics to the mix it gets even murkier.

Attica Locke announced herself as a writer to watch with Black Water Rising and in her new novel she returns to her main character, Jay Porter. Fifteen years on Jay has built his legal career on the massive payout he won against Cole Oil. Even though they have yet to pay Jay’s reputation has seen him take on other similar cases in Texas and Arkansas. But the recent death of his wife has left Jay shaken and changed his priorities on life and his legal career is now at the bottom of that list. All of which is about to change whether Jay wants it to or not.

Pleasantville has a long history in Houston. It was the first suburb opened up to African-American families after the Second World War and soon became an active voting block in the city’s elections. It has its own political power base led by Sam Hawthorne. Sam’s son, Axel is running for Mayor in what is promising to be a very close election. Pleasantville is once again at the center of fierce campaigning. When a young woman, apparently working for one of the campaigns, goes missing it sparks fears among Pleasantville’s residents as she is the third girl to go missing in recent years. When her body is found and Sam Hawthorne’s grandson is arrested, who also happens to be Axel’s campaign director, politics can’t help but become embroiled. All of which drags Jay Porter back into a courtroom.

This is a superb novel. Attica Locke blends the heated tension of city and suburban politics with the high drama of the courtroom and in doing so shows how easily distorted truth and justice can become. Politics is a tangled web at the best times of times but when big business, a small tight-knit community and money get involved it gets dangerous for all involved, especially the unwitting. And politics is ultimately about power and what people will do with it and the lengths they will go to hold on to it, no matter who gets in the way. Attica Locke tells the story in a way that is both gripping and personal and in doing so keeps you hooked to the final page and beyond.

Buy the book here…

Last Minute Must Have for Mum – Picture book review

Dear Mum I love You #2This is a Mother’s Day book that shouts Mother’s Day and possibly one of the best picture book tributes to mums I’ve read since becoming one. It will melt your heart and make you want to scoop up someone small and hug them tight.

From the failsafe team of Ed Allen and Simon Williams, Dear Mum, I Love You addresses mums of all creeds and colours in a heart-warming, epistolary-styled, bright pink covered picture book. I love the concept of learning about the various glowing attributes of each young creature’s mother through their handcrafted notes and letters to her.

Clever word play deftly synchronises each creature’s relationship with their natural, species-specific behaviours; Junior the elephant loves wallowing in his bath for instance. Lachie the monkey loves hanging around with his mum; Mia appreciates the finer qualities of hide and seek thanks to her mum, the chameleon.

Each youngster’s little thank you note echoes the undiluted innocence and serenity the very young possess in truck loads without a trace of sentimentality or schmaltz. Well okay, it is a book full of love notes to mum so you’d expect a little cuteness. However, I never once felt trapped in a chocolate-box while reading this. Rather, it was a book I genuinely looked forward to sharing with my own child.

Allen’s sometimes-sarcastic humour and William’s pages of glorious colour balance it all beautifully. Each full-page spread is dense with textural detail and character rich imagery.

Philanthropically correct (at time of printing – I’m assured the .70c stamp is set to increase any day soon, though), Dear Mum, I Love You has real letters for little fingers to open, flaps to lift revealing hidden notes and most charming of all, real note paper for children to write their own message of love and appreciation to YOU. Arww… At least you would hope they act on this mindful prompt!

Dear Mum, I Love You combines the almost lost past times of letter writing and spending quality reading time together in a remarkably fun and delightful way.

As Evie, the deer sums up, ‘My favourite place in the whole wide world is always anywhere you are. I love you.’ And you’ll love this too.

Mother's day noteAvailable, in time for Mother’s Day sharing, here.

Scholastic Australia April 2015

 

 

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

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

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

Fiction Books

A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson

Kate Atkinson has written an extraordinary companion novel to Life After Life returning us to the world of the Todd family and Fox Corner. This time to tell us Ursula’s brother Teddy’s story. This time Atkinson tells the story of just one life, one rich, long, detailed life. But that does not mean it is any less original, imaginative or inventive as its previous companion.  A writer truly at the height of her powers and what a pleasure it is to enjoy. Jon & Chris

God Help The Child by Toni Morrison

Spare and unsparing, God Help the Child weaves a tale about the way the sufferings of childhood can shape, and misshape, the life of the adult.  At the centre: a young woman who calls herself Bride, whose stunning blue-black skin is only one element of her beauty,  Bride’s mother takes a lifetime to come to understand that ‘what you do to children matters. And they might never forget.’  Toni Morrison at her best.  Chris

Hush Hush by Laura Lippman

This novel is everything Laura Lippman has been doing so well in her standalone novels but this time with Tess Monaghan. Lippman takes a confronting but tragically all too familiar crime and explores the fallout, years later, for all those involved. Combined with the ups and downs of parenthood this is not only a page-turning addictive mystery but an exploration of motherhood and the lengths, good and bad, mothers will go to for their children. Jon

Pleasantville by Attica Locke

Blends the heated tension of city and suburban politics with the high drama of the courtroom and in doing so shows how easily distorted truth and justice can become. Politics is a tangled web at the best times of times but when big business, a small tight-knit community and money get involved it gets dangerous for all involved, especially the unwitting. Attica Locke tells the story in a way that is both gripping and personal and in doing so keeps you hooked to the final page and beyond. Jon

World Gone By by Dennis Lehane

Lehane brings 1940s Florida to vivid and sweltering life. Boston maybe his literary stomping ground but he shows he can bring all those same skills to wherever he wants. He also returns to the themes he started in The Given Day; fathers and sons. As always with Lehane this is tightly plotted that builds to a blockbuster ending. Jon

The Whites by Harry Brandt

Writing under the transparent pseudonym Harry Brandt, Richard Price again demonstrates he truly is a master when it comes to crime and American life. Price delivers a multi-layered, slow-burning portrayal of friendship, justice and revenge and how easily the three of them can be incompatible. Jon

Ascendance by John Birmingham

The final instalment in the Dave Hooper trilogy brings events to an epic crescendo. The Dave, who has been struggling to come to terms with his recently acquired hero status, has learnt he may not be the special and unique snowflake he led himself to believe. Meanwhile the monsters, who have been unleashed upon the world, are starting to learn and adapt to human technology and tactics and the tide appears to be turning in their favour. Jon

The Green Road by Anne Enright

nne Enright was awarded the Inaugural Laureate for Irish Fiction in 2015. Her latest novel is fine example of why. The writing is exquisite, you could read the book just for that experience. It is a meeting of compassion and creativity. This is the story of a family coming together for Christmas because their mother is going to sell the family home. They feel as though their young days are being forgotten and they are indeed growing older. Chris

Non-Fiction Books

On The Move by Oliver Sacks

When Oliver Sacks was twelve years old, a perceptive schoolmaster wrote in his report: ‘Sacks will go far, if he does not go too far.’ It is now abundantly clear that Sacks has never stopped going. From its opening pages on his youthful obsession with motorcycles and speed, On the Move is infused with his restless energy. The story of a brilliantly unconventional physician and writer – and of the man who has illuminated the many ways that the brain makes us human.

Farewell Kabul by Christina Lamb

Reporting on the region since the age of 21, Lamb has fought with the mujahadeen dressed as an Afghan boy, experienced a near-fatal ambush and head-on encounter with Taliban forces and successfully established links with American, British, Afghan government, Taliban and tribal fighters. Her unparalleled access to troops and civilians on the ground, as well as to top military officials has ensured that this is the definitive book on the region, exposing the realities of Afghanistan unlike anyone before.

1864 by Tom Buk-Swienty

Told in rich detail through first-hand accounts, Tom Buk-Swienty’s magisterial account of the Schleswig conflict tells the story of this pivotal war. 1864 shows how a minor regional conflict foreshadowed the course of diplomacy that led to the First World War and brutally presaged the industrialised future of warfare. This is a gripping, epic human drama that shows the effect all wars have on the soldiers, on families and on the individual men and women who must live its realities.

Stephen Fry’s Incomplete & Utter History of Classical Music

Stephen Fry presents a potted and brilliantly rambling 700-year history of classical music and the world as we know it. Along this musical journey he casually throws in references to pretty much whatever takes his fancy. Entertaining and brilliantly written, this is a pretty reckless romp of a history through classical music and much much more.

Real by Victoria Alexander

This visually stunning, thought-provoking book is about looking around with awareness, noticing life’s quiet details and knowing that the honesty of time changes everything – from a human face, a family home, or a fragile sampler book of antique lace. Illustrated with photographs taken by the author in 27 countries, Real affirms that we are more alike than we sometimes admit – we all have a desire for warmth and love – and that there is dignity in simple things.

The Challenge of Things by A.C. Grayling

A. C. Grayling’s lucid and stimulating books, based on the idea that philosophy should engage with the world and make itself useful, are immensely popular. Whether he is writing about the First World War and its legacy, free speech, the advantages of an atheist prime minister or the role of science in the arts, his essays are always enlightening, enlivening and hopeful.

Sicily by John Julius Norwich

The stepping stone between Europe and Africa, the gateway between the East and the West, at once a stronghold, clearing-house and observation post, Sicily has been invaded and fought over by Phoenicians and Greeks, Carthaginians and Romans, Goths and Byzantines, Arabs and Normans, Germans, Spaniards and the French for thousands of years. It has belonged to them all – and yet has properly been part of none.

Picnic in Provence by Elizabeth Bard

In Lunch in Paris, Elizabeth Bard fell in love with a handsome Frenchman and moved to the City of Lights. In this mouthwatering follow-up, the couple and their newborn son bid farewell to Paris for rural life in a tiny village in Provence – land of blue skies, lavender fields and peaches that taste like sunshine. 

From India With Love by Latika Bourke

A beautiful memoir of growing up, discovering your heritage and finding peace with who you are. This is a beautiful story of finding your place in the world and finding peace with the path that led you there. 

Childrens’ Picture Books

Pig the Fibber by Aaron Blabey

Pig the Pug is back in an all new bad tempered adventure.  If it wasn’t enough he is selfish ,rude greedy and unreasonable he adds to his lack of virtue fibbing. Pugs antics will have you and young readers in stickers. Ian

I’m A Hungry Dinosaur by Janine Brian

Another gem from the author of I’m a Dirty Dinosaur comes I’m a Hungry Dinosaur, a rhyming picture book. Our favourite dinosaur loves cakes –  flour, icing sugar, 100’s and thousands – shake, stir, mix, bake. Jan

What The Jackdaw Saw by Julia Donaldson

Jackdaw asks all the animals to his birthday party but he can’t understand why they don’t say yes, just tap their heads. Fortunately wise old owl is on hand to help out.  As always the text is full of Donaldson’s charming rhymes and Sharratt’s illustrations are bold and cheerful .This is a book that works on two levels, as a story that engages and entertains and as an introduction to sign language and deafness for the very young.

Books for First Readers

Lily the Elf: The Midnight Owl by Anna Branford

Lily the Elf lives in a miniature elfish world but still faces the dilemmas and adventures of 5 year old girls. A beautiful new series for young readers by the author of the Violet Mackeral series. Jan

Books for Young Readers

My Secret Guide to Paris by Lisa Schroeder

Nora’s grandmother works with a fashion designer in Paris. They have always looked forward to travelling to Paris together so Grandma can show Nora all her favourite places. As Nora is nearly 12  the plans they have are now about to take place. A beautiful adventure around Paris begins with letters and a treasure map. This treasure hunt will make you want to visit Paris yourself. Jan

Julius Zebra: Rumble with the Romans by Gary Northfield

This is a fun romp through ancient Rome. Julius is a young Zebra, minding his own business, eating grass, dealing with his annoying younger brother when he is captured by a legionnaire and taken back to Rome to fight in the arena. This is just the start of his adventure! Fast paced, funny and they won’t even know they are learning something. Ian

Books for Young Adults

Simon vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda is one of the best high school romance novels I’ve read in years. It’s an honest, occasionally awkward, sometimes heart-wrenching, often hilarious, and completely captivating portrayal of the complicated lives of teenagers. Becky Albertalli’s story is so true to life, and so emotionally honest. It’s a hugely impressive novel, and such a delightful read. Simon

The Unlikely Hero of Room 13 B by Teresa Toten

How hard it must be to live with OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder). The different ways and triggers it can affect people. Adam is dealing with divorced parents, a young stepbrother and OCD. He joins a support group and knows there may be no cure but there will be ways he can learn to cope with this. A great book to help you understand OCD. Jan

 

Review: The Whites by Harry Brandt

9781408864586It has been seven years since Richard Price last published a novel and it has been worth the wait. Writing under the transparent pseudonym Harry Brandt, Richard Price again demonstrates he truly is a master when it comes to crime and American life. Price delivers a multi-layered, slow-burning portrayal of friendship, justice and revenge and how easily the three of them can be incompatible.

Billy Graves was a member of The Wild Geese, the WGs. A group of cops in the early 90s fresh into uniform and looking to make a difference on the wild streets of New York. Twenty years later he’s the only one still carrying a badge. The rest of his crew have successfully and unsuccessfully carved out new careers, all for different reasons and under different circumstances. But all of them are still haunted by their ‘Whites’. The cases that got away from them, where justice for one reason or many was never served. The cases they just can’t let go of, for the families of the victims and their own sense of right and wrong.

Billy Graves is in charge of the Night Watch. The unit that responds to calls during the never glamorous night shift. He’s given the dregs of the department. The misfits and washouts, the cops nobody else wants to work with. He does his shifts and rushes home to get his two boys off to school before sleeping through the rest of the day. It’s life and it has it’s rhythm. Until he’s called to the scene of a stabbing where the victim is one of the WG’s ‘Whites’. When another ‘White’ is reported missing it is too much of a coincidence. As Billy picks around the edges suspicions quickly turn to betrayals. And when his wife and kids are targeted by a stalker it all suddenly gets too much for Billy. Operating on a severe lack of sleep and trust he grapples with what is the right thing to do while events slowly escalate around him.

Richard Price not only has one of the best ears for authentic dialogue but also for the street. It’s noises and rhythms that ebb and flow around those whom inhabit it.

“THE SOUND of tires rolling over a side street full of shattered light bulbs was like the sound of Jiffy Pop achieving climax”

He brings all his characters and their turmoils vividly to life with sublime nuance and empathy. Ultimately this is a story about the mistakes we make and how those mistakes and their consequences haunt us constantly. About how justice can be blind but vengeance can be all-consuming. If you let it.

Buy the book here…

Picture Books to Celebrate the ANZAC Centenary

In just a couple of days we commemorate the legacy of the brave soldiers and the tragic events of World War 1 that occurred one hundred years ago. A beautiful selection of ANZAC books for children have been reviewed by Dimity here, but here’s a few more that certainly captured my heart with their touching themes of heroism, love and dedication.  

9781921720628Once a Shepherd, Glenda Millard (author), Phil Lesnie (illus.), Walker Books, 2014.

Gorgeous in its lyrical prose. Devastatingly provocative. Stunning imagery. ‘Once a Shepherd’ is a war story of love and loss, sure to break its readers’ hearts.
It tells of a young shepherd, living amongst a backdrop of emerald green beauty. “Once Tom’s world was all at peace.” He marries his sweetheart, and all the world seems right. Until he is called to war and he bids farewell to his wife and unborn child. A stranger veteran calls upon Tom’s home once the war had ended, only to share the shattering news of his heroic fall with a now grieving widow. Of the hand-stitched coat she once darned, now a new toy lamb is mended for Tom Shepherd’s baby boy. And the world is at peace once again.
‘Once a Shepherd’, with its carefully crafted verse and exquisite watercolour images of greens and browns, is a powerful, moving tale of the heartbreaking reality of war and the inherent hope for peace.
Prized Notable Picture Book of the Year in the Children’s Book Council of Australia’s 2015 Awards.  

9781921977718Midnight: The story of a light horse, Mark Greenwood (author), Frané Lessac (illus.), Walker Books, 2014.

A foal born at midnight; black as coal, eyes glimmering in the moonlight. She is Midnight, the Australian Light Horse trained by Lieutenant Guy Haydon and gracious in her charge in the last great cavalry.
The first port of call for the soldiers is four months in the trenches at Gallipoli without their horses. Reuniting once again in Cairo, the relationship is further bonded as the pair endure the harsh conditions of the heat, scarce water supply and flying shrapnel. But still, soldier and mare commit to their duties, and to one another. In a devasting final battalion (Beersheba, August 1917), riders tumble and horses fall. Guy and Midnight are both struck; a heartbreaking yet poignant moment as the pair share their last breath side by side.
The succinctness of the text reads almost poetically, and the continual references to the affectionate bond between Guy and his beloved Midnight make this war story more of a tender account of their time on the battlefield. The gouache illustrations by Frané Lessac compliment Greenwood’s evocative words and capture the starkness of each war scene.
With notes referencing background information on the Light Horse and the details of Beersheba, ‘Midnight’ makes for a terrific resource for studying the war, as well being as a heartrending tale of love and dedication.    

9781742833477Anzac Biscuits, Phil Cummings (author), Owen Swan (illus.), Scholastic Press, 2013.

This book is probably my favourite of the Anzac stories. ‘Anzac Biscuits’ poses a lovely contrast between a child’s warm and safe home, and her father battling the cold and dangerous conditions out in the trenches.
Rachel and her mother spend time together baking Anzac biscuits. As pots and pans bang and crash to the floor, the soldier lays low as shots bang around him. As Rachel sprinkles oats like snowflakes, the soldier turns his back to the bitter cold. The little girl loves the smell of burning red gum in her stove, but the soldier will never forget the choking gun smoke drifting across the fields. Despite the treachery that the soldier has faced, we are given a heartwarming ending we can cherish; the soldier – Rachel’s father – loved the biscuits made just for him.
An endearing story of affection, commitment and sacrifice, with equally warm and gentle illustrations, ‘Anzac Biscuits’ is a beautiful way to introduce the topic of wartime to young children. They will also find little clues in the pictures upon revisiting the book, which make for wonderful discussions about what life was like for both the soldiers and their families at home (and the significance of anzac biscuits).  
Prized Notable Picture Book of the Year in the Children’s Book Council of Australia’s 2014 Awards.
 
resized_9781743317235_224_297_FitSquareI Was Only Nineteen, John Schumann (text), Craig Smith (illus.), Allen & Unwin, 2014.

The words versing the iconic song about the Vietnam War, ‘I Was Only Nineteen’ tells of the devasting loss, sacrifice and emotional impact an elderly man is reliving of his time as a teenager at war.
We travel with this veteran from the moment he set sail, to inhabiting a firey, orange scrub, battling for hours and weeks amongst bullets and grenades and watching mates hit by the blasts. No-one told him about the mud, blood, tears, rashes and chills that would haunt him until he was old.
These memories of the war, through these unforgettable words, have been beautifully illustrated by Craig Smith, rendering warmth and respecting the spirit of our soldiers – the fallen and the survivors. I love the clever connection between the past recount and the present with a touch of army green evident in each scene showing the veteran and his grandson.
‘I Was Only Nineteen’ is a poignant rendition of a groundbreaking song by John Schumann, with great historical significance and plenty of scope for wartime study.
Prized Notable Picture Book of the Year in the Children’s Book Council of Australia’s 2015 Awards.

LEST WE FORGET

Review: Hush Hush by Laura Lippman

hush-hushI am not a fan of long running crime series. While a recurring character can be like a familiar friend sometimes the longevity of a series means it falls into the realm of incredulity. Tess Monaghan was a character I fell in love with but was also quite happy when she was put on the back burner. Added to this is the fact that the stand-alone novels Laura Lippman started writing were truly exceptional and amazingly got better and better which meant Tess wasn’t too badly missed (although she did pop up from time to time in these stand-alone novels).

This is the 12th Tess Monaghan book but only the third one since 2008 (one of which was a novella). While I was not overly excited to see Tess return I was still keen to read as it had been a long while since last she appeared. And I have to say I did miss her. Not only was it great to have her back and refamiliarise with her sense of humour, appetite and life but I think this is one of the best Tess Monaghan novels yet.

The last we saw of Tess she was pregnant and not enjoying it. We catch up with Tess three years later. Tess is balancing her life as a PI with her three-year old daughter Carla Scout and her de facto husband’s bar. Like all working families Tess’s life is in fine balance that is constantly tilted by the life of a toddler. Laura Lippman captures this balancing game brilliantly and Tess, despite a severe lack of confidence in herself, is perfectly suited for it.

Tess gets a case which she thinks is going to be perfect for paying the bills. A wealthy but controversial woman has returned to Baltimore from overseas. 12 years previously she gave custody of her two daughters to her husband after being found not guilty in the death of her third daughter by reason of insanity. She has returned to try to be a part of her now teenage daughters’ lives and to make a documentary film. Tess has been reluctantly hired to assess her security arrangements. A soft gig she takes despite misgivings about the woman’s intentions. But when strange notes begin being left for the woman and then quickly escalate Tess must try to put aside her own judgements to discover the truth. A truth no one wants to confront.

This novel is everything Laura Lippman has been doing so well in her standalone novels but this time with Tess Monaghan. Lippman takes a confronting but tragically all too familiar crime and explores the fallout, years later, for all those involved. Combined with the ups and downs of parenthood this is not only a page-turning addictive mystery but an exploration of motherhood and the lengths, good and bad, mothers will go to for their children.

Buy the book here…

Player Profile: Georgia Madden, author of Confessions of a Once Fashionable Mum

0a74b18Georgia Madden, author of Confessions of a Once Fashionable Mum

Tell us about your latest creation:

Confessions of a Once Fashionable Mum follows Ally Bloom, first-time mum and fashionista extraordinaire, as she struggles to find her feet on the suburban SAHM circuit.

9781863957366Where are you from / where do you call home?:

I live with my husband and two children on Sydney’s North Shore.

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

An author, always! As a child, I had a funny habit of going into bookshops and touching the spot on the shelf where my book would one day sit. Little did I know that it would take me 40+ years to build up the courage to actually give it a go.

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

My children. They’re seven and ten, and I’m still in awe that my husband and I actually made them. They’re fabulous (of course) and nothing like either of us.

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

After years of working at a tiny desk in the corner of the bedroom, I finally have an office – with a door! That door is the greatest gift of all. When it’s shut, my kids know that I’m in the thick of things and Daddy’s in charge.

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

I recently read Hannah Kent’s Burial Rights (mind-blowing), and re-read Elizabeth Gilbert’s The Signature of All Things, just to drink in her delicious prose again.

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

The Magic Faraway Tree. Isn’t it everyone’s?

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

I still feel like Bridget Jones, fumbling and bumbling through life and hoping for the best.

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

I’m an interiors journalist, and write on everything from paint trends to updating your front fence for the likes of House & Garden, Inside Out and Home Beautiful.

I’m also, for the first time, class mum at my son’s school. It’s a tougher gig than I’d anticipated – the mums are pretty forthright with their opinions – but it’s all great material for my next book!

What is your favourite food and favourite drink?:

I drink far too much coffee and diet coke, and single-handedly keep the avocado industry in profit.

Who is your hero? Why?:

My grandmother Gang Gang on my father’s side. As a young woman, she’d race the train from Sydney to Melbourne in her open top car. Family folklore has it that she always won. She was the only female in her year to study architecture at university; read and argued profusely; and was a dab hand at DIY.

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

The demise of small, independent bookshops. Online sites are great for nabbing a bargain, but nothing compares to perusing the shelves of your local bookstore, and getting advice on great new reads from people who love books as much as you do. I’ve discovered so many wonderful books this way, and I’ll be forever grateful that I did.

Website: http://www.georgiamadden.com

Twitter:[email protected]

These Are The Names

These Are The NamesIt never ceases to amaze me that every so often you come across a cultural product (in this case, a writer) you’ve never heard of, but that’s (who’s) immensely popular and bestselling in another country.

Tommy Wieringa is an award-winning Dutch writer. He’s published many books to critical and award claim, and the book most recently released in Australia, These Are The Names, won Holland’s Libris prize. That’s the Dutch equivalent of the Booker.

That prize hints at the style of book These Are The Names is: challenging; containing characters and storylines that aren’t entirely likeable but that illuminate some key human and cultural lessons. So, an arduous read, but one that’s worthily enlightening.

These Are The Names contains a motley assemblage of characters. Pontus Beg is an ageing policeman chasing the skirts of his cleaning lady and taking stock of his life—past and present. He has not, as the first line of the book tells us, become the wise, calm old man he’d envisaged. One of his feet is perpetually cold. Life and routine and alienation from family have worn him down. His family history is something of a mystery.

Beg lives in a border town on the steppe. It’s unclear which country this steppe occurs in—perhaps deliberately, or perhaps because I’m obtuse and couldn’t figure it out. Regardless, it’s a bleak, harsh town reflected in the landscape.

Concurrent to Beg’s story is that of a group of refugees attempting to cross the border to a better life. Thrown together through tense circumstance, they find themselves on a relentless, wrenching march across the steppe. They are starving, distrustful of each other, unsure if they’re going to survive.

Their and Beg’s worlds collide when the group eventually makes it to the town, at which point Beg’s task is to discover their names, their stories, and to solve a related murder. Which is a difficult task, for they have ‘become people without a history, living only in an immediate present’. They’re also ‘dead people’, one tells Beg. ‘You have no idea how often we fell asleep in the certainty that there would be no tomorrow…You can’t get to us.’

These Are The Names tackles some big themes: religion, family origins, identity, asylum, hope, and despair. It’s an unflinching look at flawed humans, the choices they make, the repercussions of those choices, and whether redemption can be had.

Each character is complex and troubled in their own ways, and the journey immensely difficult, which Wieringa wrings out through exquisite turns of phrase. For example:

A thirst that drowned out all thought, thirst that tempted you with cool ponds, that conjured up the sound of dripping faucets. They wept for rain. Every word they spoke tasted of rusty iron. The child, a boy, pinched the skin on his forearm and pulled. The puckered skin rose up and remained in place, like a crease in a sheet of paper.

And:

The dreams with which each of them had left home had gradually wilted and died off. Their dreams differed in size and weight, and remained alive in some longer than others, but in the end they had almost all disappeared. The sun had pulverised them; the rain had washed them away.

While I can’t say I enjoyed These Are The Names per say, nor can I say it’s the point. As with any Booker-style book, it’s designed to test and incrementally shift our perceptions of the world. Wieringa’s book has haunted me, which is a sign its themes resonate off the page. Most particularly, it’s made me wonder what I would do in desperate circumstances, whether as a refugee or as someone ageing and feeling increasingly obsolete and out of place.

Wieringa will be in the country shortly, but crazy work and life curveballs will prevent me from hearing him speak. My goal is now to track down some podcasts and interviews to learn more about him and his oeuvre.

For although I didn’t know about him prior to Scribe giving me the opportunity to review this book, now that I do, I’ll be seeking Wieringa’s work out.

Film Review: Samba

sambaa4posterThe benefit of reviewing a film later than usual (I could not for the life of me make it to any of the Samba media screenings, so Think Tank Communications provided me with a double pass to see it once the film was out) is that you get to hear what other reviewers think about it.

I have to say, though, while other reviewers’ consensus was that Samba wasn’t as great as they’d hoped, I found it rather great. Put another way: As a follow-up to The Intouchables, it falls a little short. But as a standalone film, it holds its own just fine.

Although Samba isn’t precisely the sequel to The Intouchables, it was weighed down by the weight of sequel-like expectation. This was contributed to by the fact that the writing-directing duo Éric Toledano and Olivier Nakache reunited for the film, along with star Omar Sy.

In Samba, Sy stars as protagonist Samba (‘like the dance’), who winningly portrays an illegal alien trying to stay in France at all costs. After 10 years eking out a living in Paris working odd, lowly paid, and entirely insecure jobs (such as a construction worker, dishwasher, window washer, garbage sorter, and security guard), he’s picked up by the authorities on the Tube.

It’s in the lock-up that he encounters Alice, played by Charlotte Gainsbourg, a neurotic woman volunteering to help illegal immigrants while on sick leave from her executive job due to burnout.

Both Samba and Alice are in their own ways displaced and trapped. Samba’s willing to do whatever it takes to get working papers; Alice, a refugee from the corporate world, is trying to determine how to reset her life, while concurrently medicating to try to counter her anxiety and stress-related insomnia.

Don’t give them your number, she’s told by the more experienced volunteer. Don’t get personally involved. Of course, Sy’s Samba is warm and affable and Alice can’t help but be drawn to him.

The film is a social dramedy slash cross-cultural romance, with France’s immigration hurdles providing the high-stakes context. For me, the levity of the production was its strength. The Sisyphean existence Samba and his peers are forced to live, grappling daily for short-term gigs all the while sandwiched between worrying about getting caught and the pressure their families back home are placing on them to send money, is bone-wearyingly relentless. As Samba yells during a scene of particularly heightened emotions, even the mailman is freaking him out.

There are some incredibly touching moments in the film—and simple too. A conversation in a service station is one. A post-party group conversation around a table is another. Witty, bittersweet dialogue flows, written brilliantly and delivered with timing and panache that make it insightful and touching. There were also some tension-breaking humorous moments—one of the best involved a conversation about a piece of red paper.

While the Alice character was colder and more two-dimensional than Sy’s Samba, Gainsbourg handled the role decently well and found some ways to if not spark with Sy, then at least humanise her character and make her believable. My greater concern was that the film was ever so slightly too long. But I was still incredibly moved by it.

For for me, the film is part of a larger conversation of poverty-, war-, and desperation-led immigration around the world, and the lack of acceptance people often receive when they arrive in foreign countries. Australia—a country described as having tiny hearts and balls of steel for its treatment of people seeking asylum—is not so dissimilar to the France in which Samba is set. And that’s not something to be proud of.

So, while Samba mightn’t be as successful as The Intouchables, but it nevertheless warrants a watch and its issues warrant wider consideration. I’m breaking with review consensus to say: check it out.

Lest we forget – ANZAC children’s book reviews

And the Band Played Waltzing MatildaA couple of months ago I revisited an iconic song by Eric Bogle, finding new breath in Bruce Whatley’s picture book, And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda. Bogle found the words and Whatley the images that profoundly capture all the raw emotion, loss and resilience that epitomises the Great War of 100 years ago.

This collection of titles does the same. All commemorate actual events of WWI. Many embrace the incredible ANZAC legacy. Each is a significant work of art and testimony to real-life heroes who gave their youth, their souls, and tragically, their lives in the quest to protect sovereignty and country.ANZAC Ted Hero Plain as Day

‘Not everyone wins medals, some heroes never do’, but this small collection deserves your attention as absolutely as those we’ll be commemorating during the 100th year Anniversary of World War One (and the Centenary of the Landing of Gallipoli this year). Because they should be remembered.

Ride Ricardo RideAs the war first erupted in Europe, so we begin with the picture book, Ride, Ricardo, Ride! by Phil Cummings and Shane Devries. A young Italian boy’s love for riding his bike under the clear quiet skies of his village is shattered when the shadows of war appear. Devries’ splendid illustrations saturate the pages of Cummings haunting tale of human endurance. Evoking eloquence and beauty out of destruction and despair.

Omnibus Books March 2015

1915Mid-primary reader series, Australia’s Great War landed last year with Sophie Masson’s, 1914 and is followed this year by Sally Murphy’s, 1915. Each honour events specific to that time in history in spirited, easy to read novels that unite an absorbing mosaic of factual occurrences with engaging fictional characters typical of that era. Thoroughly engrossing with further releases due each year until 1918, this series provides an awesome framework for primary students to become intimately acquainted with the machinations and characters of the First World War.

Scholastic Press 1914 – 1918

the-last-anzacOur oldest living ANZAC, Alec Campbell may no longer be able to march but the true-life story of his meeting with a young boy a year before his death is perceptively depicted in Gordon Winch’s picture book, The Last ANZAC. Alec ‘the kid’ Campbell’s encounter with James, is faithfully portrayed with the help of Harriet Bailey’s expressive illustrations, alternating back and forth from the deserts of Cairo and trenches of Gallipoli to present day suburbia. Ideal for the expanding minds of 5 – 7 year-old history scholars. Visit Romi’s full review, here.

New Frontier Publishing March 2015

ANZAC Ted and Belinda ANZAC Ted is the debut picture book of author illustrator, Belinda Landsberry and encompasses two of my great loves: teddy bears and beautiful picture books for kids.

Landsberry uses gorgeous water coloured illustrations to complement a gently rhyming tale of a little boy’s beloved toy. But, Ted is a teddy bear of rather diminished appeal having survived the ANZAC campaign with the little boy’s digger grandfather. Worn, torn, and scary looking, he may score zero cute and cuddly points in the Toy Show at school but he is and was the unsung hero and much cherished mascot of the Gallipoli diggers who more than earns a place in this little boy’s heart. ANZAC Ted gets my vote too. Perfect for reading aloud with someone you cherish or soaking up the atmospheric sepia illustrations alone.

EK Books 2014

The ANZAC PuppyThe Anzacs of course included the New Zealander’s so it is only fitting that popular Kiwi author, Peter Millet and illustrator Trish Bowles are able to share their remarkable picture book story based on another real life war hero, Freda.

The ANZAC Puppy is a tender rendition of the interwoven lives of Lucy, WWI solider, Sam and Freda, a harlequin Great Dane puppy who grew into a loyal and much loved good-luck mascot of the New Zealand Rifle Brigade 5th Battalion. Sam’s tale brought tears to my eyes and will warm the cockles of your heart. It parallels ANZAC Ted in many ways thanks to the stirring sensitivity the creators use to express these tales of nostalgia. My primary-schooler is always a bit dubious about reading ‘another wartime story’. Thankfully, picture books like ANZAC Ted and The ANZAC Puppy have assured her that not all conflict ends in tears and heartache.

Scholastic NZ Mach 2014

My GallipoliThe majority of these Anzac tales will suit primary aged readers. My Gallipoli by Ruth Starke and Robert Hannaford is an exceptional picture book with more sweeping appeal.

This phenomenal, clothbound presentation marries fictional characters with direct accounts in an epistolary chronological description of the months immediately before the first landing at ANZAC Cove to the Allied retreat in 1915, then onto to present day commemoration ceremonies.

Starke is genius at capturing the moment even if it did take place a hundred years ago. She masterfully connects the reader to all those touched by the doomed campaign to capture the Dardanelles: the diggers, their families, the Turkish countrymen, the nurses, the COs and, the war correspondents. First person recollections plunge us into their places of battle and pain with powerful precision. Hannaford’s  fine charcoal, watercolour, and gauche portraits anchor their thoughts with tangible identities.

My Gallipoli reaffirms the futility of war but also underlines the courage, the tenacity and the hope that were crucial to the survival of thousands of men (and women) at that time.Each page, each Gallipoli recollection is a complete superb story unto itself.

My Gallipoli is a picture book of substantial implications for students of history and art and a glorious record of our inglorious past. My pick for in depth and animated Centenary discussion.

Working Tile Press March 2015

 

 

Review – The Last Anzac by Gordon Winch and Harriet Bailey

The Last Anzac, Gordon Winch (author), Harriet Bailey (Illus.), New Frontier Publishing, March 2015.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Gallipoli landing. For this significant Anzac Centenary, a myriad of children’s books have been released to teach our young ones about the physical, emotional and historical impact of war, and to celebrate our war veterans; our heroes.

the-last-anzacOne such picture book that does just that is ‘The Last Anzac’, written by Gordon Winch and illustrated by Harriet Bailey. And this one is certainly special. It is based on the real life experience of a young boy’s meeting with Alec Campbell in 2001, who served in Gallipoli in 1915. Having being enlisted at the tender age of 16, at the time of the interview Alec was the last living Anzac at the ripe age of 102. Amazing!

The last anzac pic endpaperEndpapers with original letters, photos and stamped envelopes set the scene for the historical journey we are about to encounter. Alternating between past and present, we are told of the day that the young boy, James, and his father stepped off the plane in Tasmania to visit and interview the last Anzac, Alec Campbell.
He, too, was young and small, nicknamed ‘The Kid’ at the time of the Great War (1914 – 1918). Alec was a noble and brave teenager, having endured treacherous experiences in Anzac Cove. In comparison, whilst in the comfort of Alec’s present home, James nibbles on biscuits as he asks the veteran questions about his responsibilities, fears, safety, living conditions and health during the war.

The story retells Alec’s six weeks worth of dodging bombs and escaping firing gun bullets, eating tinned bully beef and hard biscuits, and the celebratory treat of oranges when leaving Gallipoli. An image of young and old hands touching war medals portrays the sheer dedication of this man in his short service, but also a reminder for children (and adults) to respect and honour all the soldiers who fought for our country long before they were born.
Alec was sent back to Australia after suddenly falling ill; now a Gallipoli veteran – at the age of seventeen. As boy and veteran bid farewell, it is this serendipitous moment that James realises he is in the presence of a true hero.
(Alec lived to the age of 103, passing the year after James’ interview.)

The last anzac picHaving had done extensive research on the subject, New Zealander, Harriet Bailey has illustrated this book with precision and sensitivity; appropriate for the given era. There are enough details to depict the harshness and trepidity of the wartime, but without any graphic or shocking images. The same is felt about the gentle nature of Gordon Winch’s text; the story provides basic information that is suitable for younger children to understand and digest. The juxtaposition between the 1915 retelling and the 2001 meeting is cleverly highlighted in the pictures with bold, earthy tones of khaki and burnt orange for the past, and softer, pastille shades for the present.

‘The Last Anzac’ is a beautifully written true account of this exceptional and humble soldier, Alec Campbell during World War 1. Its non-confronting and meaningful approach, and significant historical value make this resource engaging and suitable for early primary students.
Teaching notes are available at http://www.newfrontier.com.au/depot/item/898-20150317102244-The-Last-Anzac.pdf

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———-LEST WE FORGET———-

List of books with the word ‘boy’ in the title

I enjoyed writing the blog post Books with the word ‘Girl’ in the title so much, I thought I’d do one for books that have ‘boy’ in the title. At first glance, I thought this one might be easier, but let’s see how I go.The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

The first book that comes to mind for me is The Boy In The Striped Pajamas by John Boyne. Now a very well-known motion picture film, The Boy In The Striped Pajamas is definitely unforgettable, but did you know it is rumoured that author John Boyne wrote the entire first draft in two and a half days? Amazing!

As you might expect, there are a number of YA titles with ‘boy’ in the title, beginning with Boy – Tales of Childhood by none other than Roald Dahl. Published in 1984, Roald Dahl recounts his days as a child growing up in the public school system in England and the living conditions in the 1920s – 1930s.

Boy Roald DahlMany of us will remember reading Storm Boy by Australian author Colin Thiele at school and might even admit to crying at the end (I think I had something in my eye). It’s a story about a boy and his pelican and was part of the school curriculum when I was growing up.

Another Australian contribution to this list is Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy by Karen Foxlee. Set in a mysterious museum, Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy is a modern day fairytale about the power of friendship, courage and love and of course, never giving up.

The Boy Who Cried Wolf is such a familiar story with a powerful message – we all know it – but when you look up the title in any directory you’ll see a swag of authors and can be forgiven for feeling overwhelmed. The edition I’ve selected for this collection is The Boy Who Cried Wolf with The Goose That Laid the Golden Eggs illustrated by Val Biro, primarily because it’s marketed as Aesop’s Fables for Easy Readers. Perfect right?

For those who enjoy delving into non-fiction, there’s The Boy Who Was Raised As A Dog And Other Stories From A Child Psychiatrist’s Notebook – What Traumatized Children Can Teach Us About Loss, Love and Healing by Bruce Perry and Maia Azalavitz.About a Boy Nick Hornby

Getting back to adult fiction, there’s About A Boy by Nick Hornby, an entertaining read about ladies man Will Freeman (played by Hugh Grant in the 2002 adaptation) who picks up women by attending single parent groups. His life takes a turn though after he meets 12yo Marcus.

So, how many of these books have you read? What have I missed?

Review – ‘Imagine’ by Emma Mactaggart and Ester De Boer

Imagine emma mactaggart picImagine, Emma Mctaggart (author), Ester De Boer (illus.), Boogie Books, 2015.  

What would you do in your most fantastical of daydreams? Totally let your imagination run free…where would you go? In Emma Mactaggart and Ester De Boer’s explosive ‘Imagine’, we are taken on a zoo adventure wilder than you could ever devise!  

Utterly ridiculous! Absolutely preposterous! So much fun! We are given a little taste of individual children brainstorming their interactions with animals in the most unusual, extraordinary ways. From tall giraffe high-chairs, to bathing in a hippo, riding in an elephant car, using an ostrich as a broom, and speeding along on a cheetah bike. Now children, don’t frighten those animals with those rip-roaring imaginations!  

Imagine pic With its lyrical rhythm and fast-paced flow, Emma Mactaggart has created an energetic and delightful story to engage all the senses. The equally exuberant illustrations by Ester De Boer add an extra dimension to the text with their colourful watercolours, movement and intricate details. The result of the pair’s collaboration is ”magical”. As Emma describes, “On one hand, a great deal of trust has be to shown as you are trusting another person to interpret your words. It is super important to pick the right person who has the right style for what you envisage. Even though Ester had never illustrated a book before, I knew her drawing skills were masterful, her sense of imagination was extraordinary and she has a wicked sense of humour!”    

The repetitive theme and sentence structure, along with the interactive nature of the story will be sure to hook its readers along for the ride. ‘Imagine’ is creative and refreshing, perfect for children of primary school age to delve in to again and again.  

Head-shot_Emma Mactaggart‘Imagine’ is a book that certainly encourages readers to open their minds and test logic, but it also empowers emotive and coginitive control. It has been found by scientist J.L. Singer that daydreaming benefits a healthy mental life by driving creative thought, ambitiousness, the development of social skills, and as a form of meditation (brainpickings.org). When asked for her thoughts, author Emma Mactaggart believes that “Daydreaming is the ultimate right brain activity. We float into a space which allows the ‘flash’ of an idea to pop up. It is a homework item for the Child Writes children for exactly this reason. Daydreaming needs two things – permission from those around you and permission for yourself to drift.”  

Child Writes pic Award-winning independent publisher and author, Emma Mactaggart is an inspirational literacy advocate for young people, establishing the Child Writes program which enables students to create and publish their own books. She is the author of ‘Child Writes: Creating a Children’s Picture Book is Child’s Play’, which is a valuable resource for aspiring children’s writers and artists.

To find out more about Emma and her work, please visit:

https://www.facebook.com/ChildWrites

To view ‘Imagine’ on YouTube, click here:
https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=DfpJY1V8uxY

Cracker 2015 CBCA Short List

ProtectedThis year’s Children’s Book Council of Australia short list is a cracker.

Older Readers

I’ve reviewed most of the Older Reader titles for the Weekend Australian, which means that I think they’re excellent. It’s a superlative list this year. Incidentally, most of these authors are relatively or brand-new published YA writers; and are women, representing the high number of YA Australian female authors published in recent times. The future of Australian YA looks exciting.

I reviewed Christine Bongers’s Intruder with Tristan Bancks’s, Two BleakboyWolves (Younger Readers) here last year. Great to see these Queensland/far north NSW authors acclaimed in the CBCA awards.

Younger Readers

Two Wolves is shortlisted in the Younger Readers category, along with a mixture of other first-time shortlisted authors, including Tamsin Janu for Figgy in the World, as well as names we expect to see such as Steven Herrick, Libby Gleeson and Bill Condon; Bill here with a novel for younger children, The Simple Things, instead of his usual YA. Judith Rossell won the Indies award for her gothic, Withering-by-Sea (see my review) and is deservedly shortlisted by CBCA.

Picture Books

The picture books form a strong list and include some newcomers such as Trace Balla with Rivertime and Michael Camilleri, with his outstanding illustrations for David Metzenthen’s Gallipoli book, One Minute’s Silence.One Minute's Silence

Freya Blackwood is shortlisted three times – here for illustrating Irena Kobald’s powerful Two Blankets. Stephen Michael King is also shortlisted three times, with Glenda Millard’s The Duck and the Darklings in this category.

 

Early Childhood

Stephen Michael King is shortlisted twice in the Early Childhood category; for the simple yet stunning Snail and Turtle are Friends and Lesley Gibbes’s Scary Night. Libby Gleeson and Freya Blackwood appear together twice, here with Go to Sleep, Jessie! and in The Cleo Stories, shortlisted in Younger Readers.

The Eve Pownall Information Books are another strong bunch, with my personal favourites Emu by Claire Saxby and Graham Byrne (we shortlisted Emu’s stable mate, Kangaroo, in the Qld Literary Awards), A-Z of Convicts in Van Diemen’s Land by Simon Barnard and Tea and Sugar Christmas by Jane Jolly and the brilliant Robert Ingpen. Tea and Sugar

It wouldn’t be a CBCA short list without evergreen favourites, Jackie French and Bruce Whatley, Fire; Margaret Wild, The Stone Lion; Alison Lester, Noni the Pony goes to the Beach; and Aaron Blabey, Pig the Pug.

It’s always disappointing for those excellent titles that miss out but many of these have been nominated as Notables. These lists are worth looking at.

Older Readers

Younger Readers (it’s devastating to see what missed out being shortlisted in this category)

Picture Books

Early Childhood

Eve Pownall Information Books

Congratulations, not only to the shortlisted authors and illustrators, but the judges and the CBCA for enabling these outstanding books to be widely acclaimed.

Ann-Marie Finn’s Sweet New Release; Gus the Asparagus

There are moments in life that make us stop and adjust our perspectives on the world. Even encourage us to see the world from another’s point of view. Author Kaylene Hobson and illustrator Ann-Marie Finn from Dragon Tales Publishing have achieved just that by introducing us to their new, loveable character, Gus. ‘Gus, the Asparagus’ is a story targeted towards children and families with an Autism Spectrum Disorder, promoting awareness through this valuable and entertaining resource.

IMG_8433Gus is a part of the Green Family. He is the only asparagus, but he doesn’t mind. Despite his differences, they love him anyway. But upon entering school, Gus finds it difficult to ‘fit in’ with the other fruits and vegetables. Cleverly, the story integrates some of the challenges that a child with Autism may face; like highly distracting birds and misunderstanding the rules in a ‘rolling’ race.
A diagnosis of ‘Asparagus Syndrome’ sees Gus finally thrive as others become more aware of his needs and help to make adaptations to his environment. And the best part is, Gus makes a friend who doesn’t mind his upside down, asparagus ways… being different is okay.

‘Gus, the Asparagus’ is a simple story that clearly defines its’ message of accepting differences in yourself and others, yet in a humorous, light-hearted manner. The mixture of explanatory narration and amusing dialogue is like watching a children’s television show! Whimsical, goggle-eyed characters and bright, bold colours that Ann-Marie Finn has illustrated perfectly suit the playful text by Kaylene Hobson.
A sweet, charming and significant book for families, teachers and specialists, and all primary school children to connect with, whether on the spectrum or not. ‘Gus, the Asparagus’ is sure to spear your hearts with its juicy goodness!

Ann-Marie Finn is a talented artist and author, having produced stunning books including ‘A Trip to the Moon’, ‘Captain Kieron’, ‘I Despair of My Hair’, and illustrations for ‘Isaac’s Dragon’ and ‘My Dad is a FIFO Dad’. I am fortunate to have had the opportunity to learn about Ann-Marie Finn’s fascinating journey to creating her books, including the scrumptious ‘Gus, the Asparagus’.

You have a gorgeous, eye-catching style of illustrating. Please tell us a bit about your artistic background. How did you come to illustrate children’s books?
Well I’ve been an illustrator since leaving college, and I always knew that I wanted to be a children’s book illustrator eventually. I started out designing greetings cards and stationery, and there was never really time to work on anything new. Then I left work to have my two children and I knew then that I had to just go for it! I took a story that I had written years earlier as a student, adapted it to be about my first little boy Liam, and A Trip to the Moon was created.  

Congratulations on the release of your latest book with Kaylene Hobson, ‘Gus, the Asparagus’! Can you tell us a bit about how you and Kaylene collaborated and what you hope the readers will gain from this book?
The reason Kaylene and I met was through a group that Kaylene set up to help kids on the spectrum to interact with each other. Once she found out I was an illustrator and I found out that she was an author we started talking about a collaboration. We completed Kaylene’s first book in July last year and haven’t stopped thinking up ideas since. When I first had the idea to make Gus the Asparagus a character I sent her a message. I knew she would either laugh and think I was crazy or decide it was a good idea and we should run with it! (She did both). The idea behind the book was to create a character that kids with autism could connect with and understand, a book for them to understand themselves rather than for adults. We also hoped it would be fun for any kids, not just those on the spectrum.  

How did working on ‘Gus, the Asparagus’ make you feel, considering the topic is so close to your heart? How does the story resonate with you personally?
I loved every moment of working on Gus. The best part was that we were never short of ideas! In fact we had too many and had to cut out some pages (good excuse for a sequel though…). Gus himself is very much like my eldest Liam, and he actually helped me out when I was illustrating the book and gave me ideas on what would make Gus more comfortable in class. I love it when my kids get involved in my work.  

Gus the asparagus picWe’ve seen a mixture of amazing artistic techniques across your books, including pencil sketching, collage and digital media. Do you have a particular style or type of medium that you tend to prefer over others? Describe the illustrative process you used for creating ‘Gus’.
When I see a manuscript or think up a character I can usually see it in my head before I start to work on it. I knew Gus needed to be a very simple but bright character, without fussy backgrounds. It didn’t take me long to get him right. The characters were created from painted colours on textured paper.  

51cO8B3DfnL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_ The pencil sketch style that I developed for A Trip to the Moon is my favourite though, I like that I get to draw it all by hand but have the ability to manipulate the images easily in Photoshop and keep the hand drawn look. I’ve used that technique in most of the books I’ve illustrated.  

What were the most rewarding and challenging aspects of creating the illustrations for this book?
The most rewarding part was when I got the look of Gus just right. Both Kaylene and I knew instantly when he was right, I think it’s his eyes that do it! There weren’t any real challenging parts to the illustrations, it’s amazing how easy it is to get the right expression on an asparagus!  

Do you like asparagus? What’s your favourite vegetable?
I love asparagus! Luckily the variety I eat doesn’t have saucer like eyes so I don’t feel like I’m doing anything wrong….  
Yes, I would consider asparagus to be my favourite 🙂  

You have authored and illustrated several children’s stories. Do you have a preference for a particular role in creating books for kids? Why?
Well I have never considered myself an author, just an illustrator. The fact that I have written 3 and a half of my own books doesn’t register really, but I think that’s all part of being an asparagus…  

What has been the biggest highlight for you since beginning your journey in the field of children’s literature?
The feedback is most definitely the best part of every book. I’m always a bit scared of doing book readings (I’m allergic to public speaking), but seeing the kids being interested in what I’m reading, pointing to the pictures and asking questions is amazing. It’s the whole reason I wanted to illustrate children’s books in the first place.  

51Mmu67oo-L._AA160_You have two new projects due out soon. Can you tell us a bit about the works you are creating with Georgie Donaghey and Michelle Worthington?
I have just finished Lulu by Georgie Donaghey and received the first copy a few days ago. It was a very challenging one for me because I decided to paint the illustrations this time. It’s very time consuming and less easy to correct if I make mistakes, so tougher when working to a deadline. In the end though I think I got it right and I’m very pleased with the final result.  

Angels Outside the Window is a gorgeous story by Michelle Worthington about her son’s experience with having a baby brother born prematurely. I am in the early stages with this one, trying to find the right style to work in. I want to keep it soft and dreamy; a sensitive style to go with a sensitive topic. Michelle is kindly donating profits from the sale of this book to the Life’s Little Treasures foundation, so it’s an extra incentive for me to get it just right!  

What does your art space look like? Creative clutter or meticulously organised?
It’s clutter central. Whenever it gets too much to cope with I panic and try to get someone to organise it for me. Kaylene has tried to empty my desk before, so has a professional de-clutterer. But it still ends up the same way. I can draw pretty pictures but I can’t for the life of me put something back where it belongs!!  

Is there anything else about Ann-Marie Finn that you can share with us? Something we won’t find on the internet!
Hmmmm, I think you might have guessed by now that I’m a bit of an asparagus 😉  

Thanks so much for talking with me, Ann-Marie! It’s been a blast!

Connect with Ann-Marie Finn:
www.amfillustrations.wordpress.com
www.facebook.com/amfillustrations
www.dragontalespublishing.com.au

World Autism Awareness Day was celebrated on April 2nd this year. You can find more information about the cause here.

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To WIN a copy of ‘Gus, the Asparagus’, head to the Gus the Asparagus Giveaway!
Entries close 9pm (AEST) Sunday April 26th 2015.

Standout Literary Fiction

These are the NamesMy standout literary fiction of the year so far is Dutch author Tommy Wieringa’s These Are the Names (Scribe) and Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Buried Giant (Faber & Faber). Both these writers have  been awarded for previous works and should have similar success with these books.

The novels are masterfully written, with myth-like, nebulous settings and a wandering quest. Both are seeped in classic literature: The Buried Giant in Arthurian legend and These Are the Names in the Bible, particularly the Old Testament.

These Are the Names is a dual narrative about police commissioner, Pontus Beg, who seeks out his Jewish heritage, and a group of exiles, who perhaps emulate the ambiguity of JM Coetzee’s refugees in The Childhood of Jesus before they reach safety.

Childhood of Jesus

Beg is doled out sexual favours by his housekeeper and, surprisingly for a man who regards himself as restrained, shows violence towards prisoners. His police force operates on bribes. Beg lives in Michailopol, which has experienced nuclear rain from atomic testing and a ‘lager’ where thousands of, mainly, Jewish prisoners have been executed.

The refugees travel across the sand like the Exodus of the Jews. There are a number of men, including the poacher, the tall man and the Ethiopian; a woman; and a boy who was judged most fit to travel by his family. He becomes hardened but could be seen as a ‘little Moses’. The men can be violent, although the Christian Ethiopian saves the tall man from death. They endure a long truck ride, pass through a deserted village, exhaust the supplies of an old woman and cross a border. They are not a cohesive group and degenerate into corpse-robbers. Finally they turn on one of their group.

Like some who have sought asylum in Australia in recent times, they were told to destroy their papers so that they have no compromising identity.

Arthurian legendLike Wieringa’s refugee boy, Ishiguro’s Edwin, the boy bitten by a mythical creature and ostracised by his village in The Buried Giant, may also be the precursor of a new land and future. Edwin is taken under the care and tutorage of the knight, Wistan, as they travel with an old man and woman who, like many of Ishiguro’s characters, have an ambiguous identity. They also encounter Sir Gawain in their quest to find memory, home and family and slay the dragon.

The ideas in these novels are provocative. Lovers of literary fiction should relish them both and can hear more from Tommy Wieringa, who is coming to the SWF next month and will also be visiting Brisbane.

Buried Giant

PS Mum, this is for you – Mother’s Day picture book reviews

Unconditional love, tolerance and understanding; all qualities most mothers possess in spades. They warrant gratitude every single day, not just on Mother’s Day. So this year, before you load up mum with a bed full of toast crumbs and good intentions snuggle up to her with one of your favourite ‘I love you’ reads. Here are a few picture books to get you in the mood (or for you to help your little ones on their way to a blissful Mother’s Day!)

Our Love GrowsOur Love Grows by Anna Pignataro has a sublime que sera sera flavour to it created by Panda Pip’s repeated question, ‘When will I be big?’. His wise Mama calmly explains that with the passing of time, he is growing as surely as the world around him that is also continuously altering. Petals fall, seasons change, footsteps grow bigger in the snow, and babies that once fit snuggly into a mother’s embrace become too large for arms to hold but never hearts. A beautiful poignant reminder that the passing of time never diminishes a mother’s love, rather it augments it. Pignataro’s illustrations will melt your heart.

Scholastic Press March 2015

Blow Me a KissFirst published in 2010, Blow Me a Kiss by Karen Collum and Serena Geddes, captures the spirit of innocence and belief that the very young enjoy sharing so vicariously. Samuel shares his kisses with a range of unsuspecting rather grumpy individuals as he and his mother go about their daily tasks, unwittingly infecting all those around him with joy and happiness. Playful text springs alive with Geddes’ bouncing illustrations. A love fest for the soul.

New Frontier Publishing paperback March 2015

Grandma the Baby and MeNew additions to any family can result in times of turbulence and tribulations. In Grandma, the Baby and Me, Grandma understands this better than anyone does, especially when Henry’s new sibling joins them. Life skids off kilter for Henry as he adjusts to new family dynamics and the feelings they stir up. Fortunately, Grandma’s special little hand squeezes help reinstate Henry’s tolerance and love. Emma AGrandma the baby and me illo spreadllen tells Henry’s tale with expressive warmth and adroit pre-schooler perception enhanced by Hannah Sommerville’s beautiful watercolour illustrations. A touching portrayal of the significance of secondary carers and grandparents in a child’s life.

Omnibus Books September 2014

Hooray It's a New Royal BabyHaving lived through the birth of baby George in Shh! Don’t Wake the Royal Baby! and his first birthday in Happy Birthday Royal Baby!, the Cambridgeshire corgis are about to have their world rejigged once again. Announcing the new picture book by Martha Mumford and Ada Grey, commemorating the imminent second arrival of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Hooray! It’s a New Royal Baby!

While the titles may not invigorate the imagination, this series of books provides royal lovers and young families alike with enough colour and laughs to tie them over from one headline to the next. This book shows everyone in the palace experiencing unmeasurable pomp and excitement as Royal baby No. 2 makes his way into the palace.

George however is not as amused. The Duke attempts to appease his royal first born with a new pet goldfish, which is brilliant at first but quickly Shh Don't Wake the Royal Babybecomes boring.

Fortunately, George discovers that babies are anything but boring and ‘much more fun than having a new goldfish’. He and the new Royal baby soon develop an unbreakable bond of sibling love, but is it enough to convince the Royal couple to have more children?

Bubbling with cheek and gaiety, Grey’s illustrations capture the Royal family verve with incredible likeness and a right royal jolliness that reflects this cute, family-orientated narrative.

Bloomsbury March 2015

 

Review – Nobody Is Ever Missing by Catherine Lacey

9781783780877I grabbed this book solely on the back of a tweet from Joss Whedon but it then languished in my TBR pile for months. With the book finally being released in Australia I thought it was time to pick it up and was immediately sucked in.

Catherine Lacey’s writing style is electrifying. She skillfully balances between stream of conscious and almost manic narrative to intimately capture the unravelling of a person. Our narrator is Elyria who has, almost on a whim, left her husband and life in New York to travel to New Zealand where she is trying to hitch her way to an artist’s farm. Elyria has lost all regard for her own well being and safety and is focused on the one task she has set herself. As we travel with her we learn of tragic events in her life and her relationship with her unnamed husband.

Elyria is lost. She wants to be lost. She wants to go missing. Missing from her husband. Missing from her life. Missing from herself. Catherine Lacey captures this sense of running in prose that is charged with so many different emotions. Her sentences are long but frantic, her dialogue short and hidden. Elyria is spinning out of control but is just hanging on and Catherine Lacey manages to infuse this into her writing.

This is a novel that grabs you by the shoulders, holds on tight and gives you a good shake. It will captivate you, it will grab you and will not let you go long after you’ve put the book down. Nobody is ever missing because you can’t go missing from yourself. Even if that is what you want to do.

Buy the book here…

Win a Mother’s Day Hamper of Books

moday-banner

Looking for great  gifts to buy for your Mum? Books make fantastic gifts for Mother‘s Day! And to make your job easier, we’ve released our 2015 Mother‘s Day Catalogue.

If you order from our Mother‘s Day Catalogue before midnight on Sunday 3 May, you’ll get FREE shipping on your order when you use the promotional code code 4mum at the checkout.

PLUS, by using the promo code, you’ll also go into the draw to win a Mother‘sDay book hamper worth over $850.

Follow the links below to order your books from Boomerang Books today:

motherdayhamper

Stories Behind the Stories; Interview with Acclaimed Author Libby Gleeson

A true master of her craft is one that writes to elicit a multi-sensory experience from the very sight and sound of her words. She makes you feel, she makes you ponder, she creates suspense, excitement, and sorrow. All aimed to tug at your heartstrings, and all equally gratifying. The acclaimed multi award-winning author that holds the power to harness our emotions with her stories is Libby Gleeson AM; Australian author of over 30 books for children and young adults. I am thrilled to welcome one of our greatest national treasures and inspirational advocate for children’s literature; Libby Gleeson.  

Libby Gleeson PhotoPlease tell us a bit about your writing journey. What have been your biggest obstacles, and greatest personal achievements?
I was trained as a teacher but wanted to be a writer and so began that transformation while living and working in Italy in the nineteen seventies. I then went to London and joined a writers’ workshop which was formative in teaching me about editing my own work. Subsequently, back in Australia I read my work with other writers and that helped me to refine the work to make it publishable. Obstacles are just life and family commitments, and getting published many times is always a great achievement.  

Which books did you enjoy reading as a child? Any that have influenced you as a writer now?  
I read everything as a child and particularly loved L.M. Montgomery’s work – Anne of Green Gables, etc.

You’ve been winning Literary and service awards, in Australia and internationally, for over 30 years. What do these honours mean to you? Are there any that stand out as most significant for you?
All awards make you feel affirmed and so I am very grateful when successful. I know how hard the judging process is so I also know; intellectually that not winning is not necessarily a judging that the work is no good. The Bologna Ragazzi for The Great Bear is one highlight, as is the PM’s award for Red. All CBCA awards are important and make you feel pretty excited. The highlight was also receiving an AM, a Member of the Order of Australia.    

You’ve written over 30 books including picture books, early readers, books for older readers, non-fiction and short stories. Do you have a preference for a particular age group or genre, and why?
No preference. All are very satisfying. Big novels take a lot out of you so they are usually followed by something shorter. (But not always easier!)  

Many of your books are touching tales with heartwarming, heartwrenching and real moments that leave a lasting impression on the reader. Which of your stories resonate most strongly with you?
Nothing is a favourite but close to that sentiment are The Great Bear, Amy and Louis and in the novels, Mahtab’s Story. The novel I am Susannah is also pretty special.  

Your writing style is gentle, carefully crafted and compelling. Is this something that comes naturally to you, or does it require many drafts to achieve this quality of writing?
It does take lots of drafts to look so natural!    

go-to-sleep-jessie--1Your long-standing collaborations with illustrator, Freya Blackwood, have been hugely successful with works including ‘Amy & Louis’, ‘Clancy and Millie and the Very Fine House’, ‘Banjo and Ruby Red’, ‘The Cleo Stories’ and ‘Go To Sleep, Jessie!’. How did the pairing come about and what aspects of her style do you think best compliment your writing?
I saw Two Summers by John Heffernan and Freya when I was writing Amy and Louis and I thought her gentle style and her palette would suit my story. Fortunately she agreed to illustrate it. I would always ask her to join me when the work is of small children in a domestic or playful context.  

‘Go To Sleep, Jessie!’ (see review) deals with the love and despair of a girl with her screaming baby sister. Did this story evolve as an influence from your own childhood upbringing with your siblings, or more as a mother of three daughters?
This one came from mothering 3 daughters and believing little children are happy sleeping together.  

In ‘The Cleo Stories: The Necklace and The Present’ (see review), Cleo is a loveable girl who overcomes some tricky concepts with creativity and a positive attitude. Is Cleo based on anyone you know? How did you develop this character?
Cleo is based on my own daughters Josephine and Jessica and Freya’s daughter Ivy: all very creative  

‘The Cleo Stories: Book Two’ is currently in the pipeline. Can you reveal anything about Cleo in this next chapter? Will there be more Cleo Stories in the series?
I’d like to write more stories about Cleo – she’s a charming character to work with. In Book 2 Cleo is desperate for a pet and she’s also lonely when her friends aren’t around to play with. She solves each issue creatively.  

mum-goes-to-work‘Mum Goes to Work’ (illustrated by Leila Rudge, see review) is a groundbreaking and reassuring story about adapting to the realities of working parents, and how children can positively manage this lifestyle. The original version was published in 1992. Why has it been re-released? How do you feel the impact of the message will compare nowadays with what it did 23 years ago?
The original version went out of print some years ago but Sarah Foster, the former publisher at Walker Books felt it should be brought back. I’m very glad she did. I think working mothers are much more of an ordinary part of life that they were back then, but I think children are very unaware of what that means in their mother’s daily life. And I think many parents aren’t really aware of what their child does during a day at childcare, although a lot more information is now provided.  

What brought about the inspiration to write ‘Mum Goes to Work’ all those years ago?
I had kids in Child Care and discovered that the 4 year olds knew what their dads did but described their mums only as cooks, dishwashers, etc – housework. All the mums would have been workers or students because that was the only way you could get a place at the centre. So I interviewed the mothers at our centre and built the book around that.  

What projects are you currently working on? What can all of us ‘Libby Gleeson’ fans look forward to in the near future?
‘Cleo book 2’ will be out in 2015 and I am busy researching and writing 1918, a book set during the last year of WW1. It is the final title in a series published by Scholastic. 1914 and 1915 are already in bookshops.  

What advice would you give to aspiring writers wanting to become successful children’s authors?  
Read an enormous amount. Write lots and try to find a course or a group that specialises in children’s books. Find courses at The Writers’ Centre or Community College or similar.

Thank you so very much for answering my questions for Boomerang Books, Libby! It has been an absolute pleasure.  

Libby Gleeson received the Lady Cutler Award in 1997, became a Member of the Order of Australia in 2007, and has won numerous awards here and overseas. Some of her picture book awards with the Children’s Book Council of Australia include ‘Banjo and Ruby Red’ (see review), ‘Shutting the Chooks In’, ‘Clancy and Millie and the Very Fine House’, and ‘Amy and Louis’, amongst others. Awards in various State Literacy Awards, Prime Minister’s Literary Award (‘Red’ won in 2013), and the international Bologna Ragazzi Award (‘The Great Bear’ won in 2000) are also prestigious prizes that she has achieved.  
Amy&Louis_cover

More information about Libby Gleeson and her books can be found at:
www.libbygleeson.com.au

Bees in the City Book Review

Bees in the CityBees in the City: The urban beekeeper’s handbook sold me on both cover design and title. The cover, with its watermarky aesthetics, hints at a modern, professionally designed book that marries content with form (something that’s often missing from beekeeping books, which look like they’ve been run off on a photocopier and patched together in someone’s house). And the title, well, it summed up exactly what I’m doing for environmental and bee-survival reasons: urban beekeeping.

It was disappointing, then, to discover the aesthetics (and its related budget) had been reserved solely for the cover artwork. The insides of the book, which I expected to have if not vibrant images of bees and beekeeping then watermark iterations of them, had only text.

Don’t get me wrong, I love text. But beekeeping is a practical thing and a mesmerisingly beautiful one that should lend itself to creating beautiful books. I also found the book’s opening chapter (or three) a little slow.

I’m not sure why I persevered with it then, but I’m glad I actually did. Bees in the City is a fascinating examination of urban beekeeping—its challenges, its logistics, its successes, and the profound effects beekeeping has not just on the environment, but the beekeepers and people who encounter the bees.

Documenting the urban beekeeping scene in London, and especially what it’s like to be involved in it, this book is the follow-up to the authors’ A World Without Bees. I haven’t read the first book, but it’s one I—we all—should get on to stat.

The book is pragmatic about the rise in interest in beekeeping. For example, introducing millions of bees into urban environments may not be the most responsible thing to do if we don’t also ensure there are enough plants on which the bees can forage.

It also notes that not everyone can—or should—become a beekeeper. Sponsoring hives and donating to organisations that do research into bee survival are just as useful and crucial. An interesting point is that many of us may be suffering from ‘nature deficit disorder’ and bees help us reconnect with our environment. All of which is to say there’s plenty of food for thought peppered throughout.

A World Without BeesThe parts that interested me most, though, were the diversity of beekeepers. There were some schools and workplaces that managed to overcome nervousness about stings and potential lawsuits to set up hives on their premises and teach students and employees beekeeping practices.

The effect has been profound, with people appreciating the incredible work and complexity of the bee superorganism and also finding common ground to relate to each other. It’s revitalised schools and offices.

One of my favourite moments of the book involves a school student who went from being the naughtiest in the school to being a model student—all because he found his place working with bees and is something of the school’s resident bee expert now.

My second favourite moment involves people who’ve gone through a drug and alcohol rehabilitation program now learning beekeeping, and the incredible influence it’s had on helping them stay clean. Perhaps there is something in that native deficit disorder thing.

My third involves teaching kids at risk who live in housing projects beekeeping. As an added twist, they put them in teams Apprentice-style and encouraging them to work out how to make a viable byproducts such as lip balm.

I earmarked a lot of pages in the book and I won’t bore you with my fourth, fifth, and more favourite moments. But I will note one of the bee expert quotes contained within it and that has resonated with me long after reading the book’s final page:

The world’s most interesting animal lives in your backyard. What I want to get across, to schoolchildren in particular, is that while watching Sir David Attenborough in the Amazon Basin or Borneo, it’s easy to forget that the creature with the most complicated communication system of all is on your doorstep.

So, while Bees in the City may not have the pictures I’m after, I do still consider it a worthy read.

Double Dipping – Bedtime dramas abound

Putting the kids to bed is a rite of passage that not every parent survives in tact. Bedtime can be fraught with misadventure and procrastination. A five-minute goodnight kiss can draw out into a production of Oscar winning proportions. If you have kids under seven-years-old, chances are you’ve experienced a night or two like this.

Perhaps a soothing tale of similarity will help salve those jangled nerves and settle your nearest and dearest. Here are two picture books that make me smile with thankful, ‘it’s not just us’ realisation.

Onsie Mumsie Onsie Mumsie by Alice Rex and Amanda Francey is a gorgeous little parade through a small girl’s imaginative bedtime routine suitable for pre-schoolers.

It’s bedtime but whose exactly. Our cute protagonist refuses to succumb to slumber until she invites all creatures great and small to bed first. Tigers, penguins, even crocodile onsies are dutifully donned then cast aside as it seems no one is quite ready for bed. Time ticks away until she is finally out-onsied and outwitted by Mumsie.

Amanda Francey
Amanda Francey

 Alice Rex’s bouncy text is undeniably read-aloud, share together material but it’s Amanda Francey’s adorable illustrations, full of soft pretty detail that really capture the heart.

Perfect for sharing those intimate bedtime moments, Onsie Mumsie is the essential companion for those (little girls in particular) who have ever owned or worn an Onsie. It would make a lovely addition to those Mother’s Day gift packs too!

Available here.

New Frontier Publishing April 2015

Alfie's Lost SharkieAnother beautifully crafted Mother’s Day gift to think about is, Alfie’s Lost Sharkie by Anna Walker.

We first met Alfie and his cat, Steve McQueen last year in Hurry Up Alfie. It’s easy to see what makes Alfie such a hit with early primary school readers. Even my nine-year-old relegates Alfie to the ‘must be kept and read repeatedly’ shelf.

Alfie is the mirror image of your typical six to seven-year-old. He is creative, dog-minded, and nonplussed about the world outside of his own universe. No amount of coercion or cajoling will hurry him into action, or in this case, convince him to go to bed.

Alfie’s excuse for delaying theAlfie illo spread inevitable this time; he cannot locate his favourite bedtime companion, Sharkie. He embarks on an exaggerated, pro-longed search for Sharkie as his mother attempts to guide him through the necessary pre-bedtime rituals.

 Walker’s dreamy multi-textured illustrations leave the reader with a keen sense of familiarity. Even the very young will instantly appreciate Alfie’s mischief filled world and his argument in spite of the fact that Alfie sports a rather long green snout and spikey tail.

Anna Walker
Anna Walker

However, it’s Walker’s sparse, snappy and well-thought out dialogue between Alfie and his mum that enriches Alfie’s personality enough to entice youngsters to want to re-live the moments with him, again and again. The ultimate sign of a winning, endearing picture book.

You’ll find Sharkie, here.

Scholastic Press March 2015

I’ll be posting more reviews for fantastic Mother’s Day picture books that you’ll be glad to get your hands on in the weeks to come.

 

 

 

The Modern Magazine

The Modern MagazinePrint magazines are—contrary to the kind the-sky-is-falling-in predictions that always accompany the arrival of new media—not dead. They’re not even dying. They’re actually undergoing a bit of a vinyl-like renaissance.

Jeremy Leslie has picked up on this phenomenon and penned a solid, gorgeous print book to discuss the magazine industry context and its plays.

Entitled The Modern Magazine: Visual Journalism in the Digital Era, the book is a coffee table tome that pays homage to excellent magazine innovation and design. Organised logically and featuring stellar design itself, it features covers and spreads of some of the best designed, most beloved magazines around. It’s basically porn for magazine lovers’ eyes.

The word ‘magazine’, I learnt from Leslie’s book, is derived from a combination of the Arabic makhzan, meaning storehouse and the French magasin (shop). It also has connotations to magazine as in guns and bullets—that is, the sense that the magazine could explode people’s idea of content etc. through surprise.

As with books, I also found out from Leslie’s book, early magazines were only afforded by the wealthy, but came to become affordable for the masses. Later, the originally purely text-based magazines came to include images—a change that coincided with major 20th century cultural and political shifts. It’s this image-led aesthetic we are now familiar with, and magazines have become rich text and visual records of our times.

As a not-so-closet magazine (and book) lover, I can attest to that. Both timely and often timeless, magazines capture the here and now as well as represent a time capsule of culturally and historically significant events. Leslie documents all this and more.

Leslie’s writing style is brilliant and the information he imparts incredibly readable and salient. But it’s even possible to enjoy this book simply by flicking through its vibrantly designed pages. This is a man who understands communication design.

The Modern Magazine emerged from a blog Leslie writes about magazines and the publishing industry, so he spans multiple platforms and refreshingly doesn’t get caught up in the print-versus-digital dichotomy. New media doesn’t usurp old media, Leslie argues—the relationship and interplay is far more complex than that.

Technology, for example, has improved magazines by facilitating better layout, increased processing power, greater audience reach, and diversification of content in general. For example, Monocle magazine has opened coffee shops and set up a 24-hour radio channel—all of which feed back into, and create new opportunities for, the magazine and brand.

But, Leslie says, shiny, new technology isn’t immediately adopted by magazines—it has to earn its place and be adopted and adapted to suit the magazine rather than being treated as ‘new toy novelty’. Print, it turns out, is a rather robust interface not yet surpassed by superior digital ones.

Nor is Leslie anti-technology, noting, for example, that the newly allowed affordability of software means such wins as it’s easier than ever to produce magazines. We’re subsequently seeing a rise in independently published magazines—meaning things are on the up for magazines in general and innovation is at magazine development primacy.

Which is 500-odd words’ way of saying The Modern Magazine is a fantastic point-in-time examination and prediction of what’s to come in terms of magazines and their publishing and distribution practices and channels. And it offers some handy eye porn candy…