It’s Time to Celebrate!

As we approach the end of 2015, we take time to reflect on the year that was – all the joyous, heart-rending, life-changing and memorable moments. And in light of these occasions, we’re all a little stronger, a little smarter and a little wiser, so let’s celebrate! The following few picture books will give you that extra little reason to take pride in your achievements, and of course, to PARTY!

imageBring a Duck, Lesley Gibbes (author), Sue deGennaro (illus.), Scholastic Australia, 2015.

If there ever was a book about celebrations it’s ‘Bring a Duck’! When Bear finds a party invitation from Pig in his letterbox, he is ‘tickled pink’! But he is also stumped – ‘Bring your own duck?’ – whatever could Pig have planned? With a cascade of ducks of all sorts, shapes, sizes, outfits and personalities, the party is a flapping success! Young readers will relish the fun of the duck-themed games, events and magic tricks, including duck hunts and stunts and pulling a duck out of a hat. And when it’s Bear turn to host an elephant party, we are immediately inspired to dream up the most imaginative of parties for ourselves!

Simply charming and exuberant illustrations team up with the fast-paced, rhyming text that hold our excitement and engagement all the way through.

With humour, delight, playfulness and creativity, ‘Bring a Duck’ is a quacking sensation that is sure to invite sentiments of harmony, togetherness, imagination and fun.

imagePickle and Bree’s Guide to Good Deeds: The Birthday Party Cake, Alison Reynolds (author), Mikki Butterley (illus.), The Five Mile Press, 2015.

From one birthday party to the next. It’s a joyous occasion for Pickle and Bree as they plan a party for their Panda friend, Jason. Or is it? This new, gorgeous series, including ‘The Decorating Disaster’, aims to gently guide its readers to appropriate social etiquette and positive behaviour. So, when Pickle is disgruntled as his bear plans are overhauled by the over-zealous and strong-willed Bree, what’s needed is a fresh perspective. Listening to others, being open to new ideas and accepting differences are just some of the valuable lessons Pickle and Bree learn from their experience. These points are neatly tied together at the end with a list of Good Deeds to acknowledge and reinforce what makes each of us special.

But despite the disagreements, we are enchanted by the party-goers’ funny antics, adorable expressions and energy that exude from the pages. The pastel colours and textures are homely and inviting, and the text encouraging and supportive. Therefore, successfully fulfilling its intention.

‘The Birthday Party Cake’ delicately and sensitively deals with common issues concerning relationships, emotions and tolerance. This enables its readers to value their own and others’ opinions and feelings. A fun, thought-provoking and relevant story for all children from age four.

imageScarlett, Starlet, Emma Quay (author, illus.), ABC Books, 2015.

From honouring the birthday boy or girl to taking centre stage yourself, Scarlett, Starlet certainly enjoys the spotlight! Scarlett loves to dance. And when she does she is the brightest sparkle in her mummy’s and daddy’s eyes. She spreads rhythm all over the place, and even her puppy Jazzy Jo-Jo loves to tap along. A spectacular stage performance sees Scarlett shine like never before. But in the end she doesn’t need the spotlight, or even her mummy and daddy’s affirmations to know that she is, and always has been, a star!

The simple language with its tapping onomatopoeia, repetitive phrases and age-appropriate dialogue beautifully tie in with the basic colour palette of bright red and yellow, which signify strength, power and luminosity just like Scarlett.

‘Scarlett, Starlet’ is delightfully charming; the perfect book for young preschoolers longing to make their mark on the world of entertainment. They will undoubtedly take pleasure in reliving Scarlett’s shining moment over and over again.

imageA, You’re Adorable, Buddy Kaye, Fred Wise, Sidney Lippman (words), Nathaniel Eckstrom (illus.), Justine Clarke (audio), Scholastic Australia, 2015.

There’s no better way to commemorate special people and events in your life than with a song story and bonus CD to swing along to! The well-known, lyrical, alphabetical ode to someone wonderful is gorgeous in this new edition that celebrates the love and pride in those who mean the most.
‘I, you’re the one I idolise. J, we’re like Jack and Jill. K, you’re so kissable. L is the love-light in your eyes.’

With soft and dreamy illustrations that put all the warmth and tenderness in your heart, as well as the added elements of spirit, charm and curiosity. The soulful, Jazzy-tunes of Justine Clarke on the CD ignite that little extra spark to enlighten all the senses.

‘A, You’re Adorable’ is a sweet, melodic book that reinforces alphabet knowledge and feelings of adoration and affection towards our loved ones. Definitely something to appreciate as we look back on the year that was, and the aspirations we anticipate to satisfy in the year ahead.

Wishing all our readers a safe and Happy New Year! Looking forward to more bookish excitement in 2016!

Review: Simon Vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

9780141356099Simon Vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli is basically the definition of endless cuteness, teenage angst, growing up, and finding love. Did I mention cute? THIS BOOK = CUTE. By the end I was basically grinning like a deluded mushroom while I read! I was recommended this book copiously and I can 100% assure it it’s worth it. It’s perfect.

It’s basically about Simon who is not-so-openly-gay and his internet friendship with the anonymous “Blue”. It’s about Simon’s life, his drama class, his best friends, and it’s about growing up — changing. It’s written SO realistically and beautifully.

 

Let’s just have a list of all the reasons this book is so good:

  • First of all Simon is awesome. He has a more jovial, joking, lighter personality. He hugs people and jokes and is easy to get along with and very, very relatable. He overthinks and he’s angsty — but he’s not suffocatingly intense. I felt he was refreshing and enjoyable to read!

 

  • This book has food. Don’t underestimate the power of writing about good food and luring in readers that way! Although, I confess: Simon has an intense love of Oreos and I have never eaten one. But after this book — I want to.

 

  • The romance is so squishily adorable. Simon’s slow building friendship, and then romance, with “Blue” is just glorious to read. It’s cute and fun and I loved the mystery of “who IS Blue”. Their friendship is exclusively emails. Blue doesn’t want to meet up in real life. I absolutely related to the ease of online friendships (though of course these two didn’t stay friends…eeep. So adorable!) I did get frustrated at Blue at times for some of his more selfish actions, but humans can be selfish. So he’s flawed! That’s a good thing!

 

  • Which leads me to say: I love how the characters were flawed but likeable. They felt like “real” people!

 

  • Trying to figure out who “Blue” was (since Blue goes to Simon’s school) was one of my favourite parts! IT WAS SO FRUSTRATING. (Obviously that’s a good thing.) I didn’t once guess right either, so the mystery, clues, and reveal are all impeccably done.

 

  • The book also focuses very heavily on friendships. Simon has a tight-knit group of friends: Nick, Abby, and Leah. I really loved Abby (she was just so bubbly and fresh and compassionate) and I thought Nick was about as interesting as a paper fork. I did struggle with Leah’s character, but again…even if she was insufferable, she was still realistic.

 

  • The writing was really crisp and to the point. Even if sometimes the scenes did cut off a little too abruptly? Knowing this is a debut, though, makes me 10000% sure that this author’s next book will be FLAWLESS.

 

-~-

I can’t sing my praises for this book loud enough! It was part mystery, part coming-of-age, and part love story. And it flowed so seamlessly and definitely will be a book I want to revisit. Plus it was funny and managed to be lighthearted AND balance the darker topics. This book is an oreo of perfection dunked in addictiveness with a good helping of hilarity and perfectly wonderful characters on top.

 

[PURCHASE HERE]

Best YA Novels for 2015 and looking into 2016

a single stoneAustralian YA writing is powerful, fresh and imaginative, creating spaces for thought and wonder. The finest novels from 2015’s field in my view are Meg McKinlay’s A Single Stone, an exquisitely written dystopia about lean girls who tunnel through stone. Younger readers in upper primary school can also read it and I hope that it finds a niche as a contemporary classic.

Lili Wilkinson’s Green Valentine is a hilarious tale about popular girl Astrid and how she and Hiro transform their ugly suburb through guerilla gardening. Humour is difficult to write and Wilkinson shines in this, as well as inspiring readers to beautify their surroundings with nature.

The Guy, the Girl, the Artist and His Ex by Gabrielle Williams is another urban caper loosely based on the real-life theft of a Picasso painting. Books about the arts often rank highly with me, as do books with an interesting structure.

Fiona Wood’s Cloudwish centres on Vietnamese-Australian scholarship girl Vân Uoc Phan who adores Jane Eyre. The story becomes magically surreal when she wishes that she “fascinates” Billy Gardiner.

Truth about Peacock BlueRosanne Hawke (interviewed here) writes hard-hitting yet compassionate stories based on young people in dire situations, often in Pakistan. Her latest, The Truth About Peacock Blue follows Christian girl, Aster who is accused of blasphemy by her Muslim teacher. Her life is at risk. A number of topical issues are raised with sensitivity and balance.

Trinity Doyle’s Pieces of Sky is an exciting debut. Doyle is part of a group of female Australians who debuted with a splash in 2015. (I’ve interviewed many Australian authors on the blog.)

My international picks are award-winner Patrick Ness’s The Rest of Us Just Live Here, which follows the kids who aren’t in the cool group.

Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead is about Bridget whose friends seem to be growing up faster than she is. Stead always does something to surprise and parts of this novel are told in 2nd person. It’s clever and intriguing.

Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy is a (mostly) feel-good story about a big girl who enters a beauty pageant.

Cat with the coloured tailHighlights for younger readers are Molly and Pim and the Millions of Stars by Martine Murray, The Cat with the Coloured Tail by Gillian Mears, illustrated by Dinalie Dabarera, and Star of Deltora by living “imaginarium” Emily Rodda.

I can’t wait to read novels coming for young people in 2016, including Iris and the Tiger by Leanne Hall, A Most Magical Girl by Karen Foxlee, Lady Helen and the Dark Days Club by Alison Goodman, A Tangle of Gold by the luminous Jaclyn Moriarty and James Roy’s new YA novel.

Review: Rain Dogs by Adrian McKinty

9781781254554Sean Duffy returns in the eagerly anticipated fifth book in the Sean Duffy “trilogy”.

The year is 1987 and The Troubles are far from abating, especially around Sean Duffy who, with his knack for attracting trouble, is starting to show his weariness for its relentlessness. He still meticulously checks under his car each morning for bombs and still can’t maintain a relationship for any length of time. But when he gets a case that doesn’t add up he is still like a dog with bone; unable and unwilling to give it up.

When the body of Lily Bigelow is found inside Carrickfergus Castle it looks like an apparent suicide. No one else could have had access to the castle and there is no evidence of foul play. Sean Duffy is ready to sign off on the case but there are a few loose threads gnawing at him. As he starts to pick a way at them he soon uncovers something far more sinister in play. Something those above him don’t want him to uncover which makes it all the more difficult to prove. And he if can prove it will he be able to deliver justice?

McKinty paces this book brilliantly. Duffy’s malaise is perfectly instilled into the early plotting and when he gets a sniff of the larger picture the whole atmosphere of the novel shifts. Duffy’s need to see justice applied drives the last quarter of the novel and I am a little bit worried that Adrian McKinty may have found the perfect way to sign off on the series. I really hope not. Sean Duffy is an incredible addition to the crime fiction canon and still has not captured the audience this amazing series deserves. All the elements that make great crime fiction are here in spades; clever plots, political commentary, a true outsider as our hero and of course the perfect balance of humour and grim reality. If you haven’t read this series yet get your hands onThe Cold, Cold Ground immediately, especially if you are a crime fan of any persuasion. And if you have already discovered this wonderful series you are in for another sublime addition to the genre.

Buy the book here

Christmas Books For The YA Reader

I’m utterly horrible at reading books in the right season (how do I manage to read beachy books in winter and frigid books in summer? Who can know. It just happens) but I do make an effort around Christmas to swallow a few festive reads! Although most come with a sprinkling of snow, thanks to the bulk of YA authors coming from America — but you can’t have everything.

If you’re in the mood for some Christmasy stories — LOOK NO FURTHER! I have a list for you.

 

 YA   C H R I S T M A S   B O O K S

9780141349176 9780375859557 9781250059307

  • LET IT SNOW: This naturally rises to the top of YA Christmasy reads because — JOHN GREEN. He’s basically a YA superstar author, and rightly deserved. His quirky characters are always a highlight. In Let it Snow, there are 3 short stories that all tie together. Each is written by a different author. They’re a bit zany and involve a whole heap of snow and copious waffles and — of course — CHRISTMAS.
  • DASH AND LILY’S BOOK OF DARES: This is also co-written! By David Leviathan and Rachel Cohn, no less, and this one definitely fits the “quirky” category too. Lily and Dash haven’t even ever met. They just keep passing back and forth this book of “dares” and writing letters to each other. It’s pretty zany and involves Dash (the grinch) and Lily (the Christmas partier) which makes for a hilarious contrast.
  • MY TRUE LOVE GAVE TO ME: I actually haven’t read this one yet, so I’m mildly cheating on my own list (#rebelbookworm)…but it’s still a Christmas story! By a TON of authors, no less. Including: Stephanie Perkins, Laini Taylor, and Rainbow Rowell. So basically I need this book in my life ASAP. I have on good authority that there’s a crazy mixture of stories, from contemporary squishy adorable ones to dark fantasy.

 

9780141195858 9780064402750 9780007586325

  • A CHRISTMAS CAROL: “Well, duh and obviously,” you say…but have you actually read this book in a while?! Because it’s worth the reread! (Plus this cover is just about my favourite thing ever, despite not having snow at Christmas in Australia…it’s just pretty.) And I always enjoy the opening sentence of “Marley was dead, to begin with.” That has to be one of the best openings in literature. (Yes, I like creepy! Don’t judge!)
  • THE BEST CHRISTMAS PAGEANT EVER: This is barely 100-pages, so perfect for a Christmas Eve snack. It’s so incredibly adorable. It’s about the evil Herdman family who plague the lives of the “good” children…particularly when the Herdmans invade the local church’s Christmas play. It’s hilarious! And seriously heartwarming at the end. When I was a small bookworm, I actually read this twice while curled up under the Christmas tree. Yes, TWICE. I finished it and started again directly. It’s just that good!
  • THE LION, THE WITCH, AND THE WARDROBE: And of course we can’t forget the classic masterpiece that involves a fantasy world were Christmas is banned. The HORROR. (Some authors are truly cruel.) Granted this book is about more than Christmas, but it does feature a jolly Claus and presents and fighting and talking lions and Turkish Delight. Ergo it makes the perfect Christmas feast. I mean, read. (But feast…read….same thing)

 

What are you reading this Christmas?

‘Balm for the Soul’ – Summer holiday Reviews

Parachute Nintendo gameSummer school holidays for me are childhood memories of searing hot days in a sun-shrivelled backyard, homegrown apricots cold from the fridge after a swim in the above ground pool, and losing myself for hours on end in stories. What are your perfect summer holiday memories? Chances are your children’s summers are crystallising into something unforgettable as we speak and although game-playing is much more sophisticated and consuming than my days on the old Game and Watch Nintendos (Go Snoopy Tennis and Parachute!), here’s hoping story books still play a significant role in their holiday adventures. Here are some outstanding titles that are perfect for sharing these holidays. Picture books, yes, but hum dingers they are!Perfect

For the freedom seekers…

I am falling more in love with and in awe of Danny Parker’s work with each new release. Perfect, illustrated by Freya Blackwood wildly perpetuates this love affair. As revealed in a recent seminar, Parker uses song-like nine syllabic rhyming verse (akin to kuji mantras) to eloquently describe three children’s summer place and activities. It’s superbly simple and concise yet captures each moment of the children’s life with astounding alacrity. They lounge in the sunshine, mix and make, break and create. They meander and breathe, soar and believe until storm clouds pen them indoors. Their days are full of scheming, with nights of ‘beautiful dreaming’.

Perfect Illos spread # 2 Perfect, quite simply…is. Crisp, clean and wholesome smudged with daring that belies the adventure of the children’s days. Summer essence is beautifully bound together with Blackwood’s timeless pencil and acrylic painted illustrations; delicate and creamy, exuding a fullness of spirit that only children with no restraint of time or imagination possess. A perfect portrayal of freedom and joie de vivre. Better than Nintendo! Read more about these two creators and Perfect in Romi’s post, here.

Little Hare Books Hardie Grant Egmont October 2015

Australian Kids through the YearsFor reminiscing…

Another better than perfect picture book to place up front and foremost on your bookshelves this summer is Tania McCartney’s and Andrew Joyner’s, Australian Kids through the Years. This is blindingly brilliant. At first, I had a niggling concern that the target audience (5 – 8) might suffer some disconnection with the past, it being so far away from yesterday for them and their collected reference frames, but I was happily wrong on this account. My Miss 9 adored every page, every era, every word, and every image (yes, even the 80s) of this unreal expose of kids’ lives from the very first inhabitants to present day. What they ate, wore, played, and Australian Kids Years illo spreadeven read is faithfully recounted in kid-friendly pictures and bubble boxes. There’s a real personal intimacy with the kids from each time period created by McCartney’s short and sweet vignettes so joyfully illustrated by Joyner. (His illustrations smack of Little Golden Book, old-world charm – a perfect match for the text).

So much more than a catalogue of that-was-then facts, Australian Kids Through the Years brings hysterically accurate information right back into our lives (hysterical because I still own a Walkman) and is absolutely brilliant to share with today’s Z Generation. My Miss Z revelled in the revelations. (Yes, Mummy really did love her dragster bike). A must for homes and schools, and late-20th Century tragics like me. You’ll be digging out your Nintendo after reading this, too!

Australian Kids Year illo spread # 2Timelines and listings of illustrations are all faithfully included, as well. Read Joy Lawn’s Aussie round up on good reads, here.

National Library of Australia October 2015This & That

For the littlies…

It’s been a little while since the Mem Fox / Judy Horacek duo joined forces. Not since their Where is the Green Sheep? have I read a picture book so many times in one sitting. Happy to report some fresh material is now available to rest your sheep-weary sensibilities and, ironically, Horacek’s iconic sheep make a fleeting cameo in, This & That.

Essentially a tale for the under fours, This & That is robust and short enough to go a few (dozen) rounds at bedtime. Fox focuses her balanced prose with simple rhyme and rhythm mixing fantastical improbabilities with silly acceptability. They are stories, made up for your amusement after all. Horacek’s clean-lined illustrations embellish the possibilities even further. I love her use of pinging colour and light and shade.

This & That has a vaguely familiar feel to it but it’s a formula that works a wonder, if Green Sheep is anything to go by. Not all of Fox’s work works for me but this one has been worth the wait. Guaranteed to be the new go-to bedtime favourite these holidays.

Scholastic Australia October 2015

For the thinkers…River Riddle

If you’re anxious about your kids’ minds slipping in a soporific summer stupor fear not, this fun picture book, River Riddle by first time team, Jim Dewar and Anil Tortop will keep them (and you) engrossed in many minutes of contemplative thought, or in my case many many many minutes. You see, this tale is based on the well-known kids’ logic puzzle and those two words (logic and puzzle) reside uncomfortably in my head. I just find this difficult! That is not to say, impossible. Dewar’s clever rhyming quatrains ably set the scene and pace for Jack whose aim is to make it to the market with his bag of hay…on the other side of a deep wide river.

River Riddle illosHis companions, a fox called Frank and a sheep called Dolly are not to be trusted on their own so in spite of a small boat being available for their river crossing, the dilemma of whom to row across first and whom to leave on shore till later arises. Turns out, Jack is smarter than I am and solves his river riddle but does he make it to the market in time?

Tortop’s kid-cute digi illustrations are boisterous, bright, and cheery. My primary schooler had loads of fun recreating this story and acting out ‘the crossing’ with her toys in a mathematical logical way; again, I had to leave the room so confused did I become. This is the kind of holiday pre-occupation you’d pay for, am I right. Great for small minds and big thinkers.

Scholastic Australia August 2015

If none of these holidays reads suit you, discover more here at the Kids Holiday Reading Guide 2015 – 2016.

To all who have read, wept and laughed at my words and those of so many others this past year, a heartfelt THANK YOU. Have a great Festive Season and a safe, story-filled New Year! I’m off to scoff a few fruit mince pies and of course, keep on reading!

 

 

 

 
 

 

2015 YA Debuts You Should Catch Up On

It’s nearly 2016 (sheesh, how did that happen?!?) and, if you’re anything like me, there’s no WAY you’ve read all the 2015 releases that you wanted to. And pretty soon there’ll be an onslaught of NEW books that will demand your attention and your soul and other minor things.

But there are several Young Adult debut authors you really cannot miss. Especially when most of them have new books coming out in 2016! Debut books can be tricky beasts, because often you can tell the author isn’t a pro yet. But this list? Ohhhh, my friends, these authors are already so stunningly talented, I can barely WAIT to see what their next novels will hold!

 

2 0 1 5     Y A    D E B U T S

673d5ab0-7ffd-0133-0c58-0e76e5725d9d 9781460750780 9780141356099

  • MADE YOU UP: This is such an important book because it’s about a girl with schizophrenia, but it’s not about her schizophrenia. Her illness doesn’t solely define her, and I think that’s a really important message. Plus it’s gorgeously written.
  • THE SACRED LIES OF MINNOW BLY: Okay but WOW, this book is creepy! It’s about cults and murders and juvie — and the protagonist has no hands.
  • SIMON VS THE HOMO SAPIENS AGENDA: This is probably the most adorable LGBT book of the year. All the characters are entirely relatable and realistic. Don’t get me wrong — I do love a contemporary where the characters wax poetic with soliloquies of love and meaning. But I also love books that are awkward and realistic. Plus there are Oreos in here. So. many. Oreos.

 

9780399176654 9781471124235 9781408862629

  • THE WRATH AND THE DAWN: Definitely one of my all time favourite fantasies!! And it’s only a debut?! So I can only imagine the talent this author is going to bring to the table over the years! It’s a Persian folklore retelling of A Thousand and One Nights and has a good dash of magic with a mountain of delicious food descriptions.
  • DENTON’S LITTLE DEATHDATE: This book is hilarious. It makes fun of death rather ridiculously…so make sure you’re okay with gallows humour before devouring this!
  • BECAUSE YOU’LL NEVER MET ME: This one is told in letters between two boys with unusual disabilities. One is allergic to electricity. One was born with no eyeballs and has a pacemaker. Ergo — they can never meet or they’d kill each other! But the character development is phenomenal and you’ll never guess the ending….

 

9781509805143 9780552571302 9780062367884

  • FANS OF THE IMPOSSIBLE LIFE: Another super realistically cute contemporary. Why is this one special?! It’s narrated by 3 characters in 1st, 3rd, and 2nd person! The characters basically burst off the page and one character has chronic-fatigue, which I hadn’t read in YA until now!
  • THE ACCIDENT SEASON: It’s beautiful. Absolutely mind-stunningly beautiful. It’s kind of an eerie book, set in October, so it’s all pumpkins and autumn and Halloween. And it’s magical and mysterious and — did I mention — the writing is gorgeous?!?!?
  • FALLING INTO PLACE: This is written by a 16 year old author. TALENT ALERT. It’s not the average contemporary either, because it’s narrated by a childhood imaginary friend. Unique, right?! It’s written in tiny chapters and it’s barely 300 pages so you can eat it in two bites, basically. The author has two books coming out in 2016, so her debut is a MUST read before they arrive!

 

PIR – What is it and why should you care?

What the? you ask. This doesn’t sound very Christmassy. That’s because it’s not, really. But it is bookish and certainly something you should think about as you ponder over those last mSaving Aussie Books Againinute literary Christmas gifts.

There’s a sinister little acronym doing the rounds again, which deserves your attention, PIR. Parallel Importation Restrictions, is not a simple concept to grasp in 60 seconds but worth trying to understand.

It means the restriction of massive numbers of remaindered or unsold books published overseas, often to an inferior, unfaithful quality to their original Australian counterparts into our marketplace and thereby destroying consumer choice, suffocating the Australian publishing industry and most devastatingly of all, crippling the Australian literary scene by altering and stifling authentic Aussie voice and language. (Told you this wasn’t straightforward!)

Peter Carnavas PIREssentially, if you love stories, love books, and love reading, then the removal of these importation restrictions can and will affect you. Children’s author illustrator, Peter Carnavas describes the impact on the children’s literary scene in a recent blog post issued by Saving Aussie Books AGAIN. His words reverberate similar sentiments held by many in the Kids’ Lit world.

‘As a children’s author/illustrator, I know the huge impact that my books and other Australian books have on children, inspiring them to develop a love of reading.

If PIRs are removed, so many Australians will lose out – authors, illustrators, publishers, independent booksellers, teachers, librarians, parents and, most of all, children. It is a move that will only disadvantage these stakeholders and weaken Australian culture.

I am just one of hundreds of Australian children’s book creators that would be forced to reconsider the viability of making children’s literature.

We already receive minimal earnings, dedicating ourselves to what we do through our passion for promoting literature and stories to children.

This decision would cripple our efforts to put wonderful stories into the hands of Australian kids.’

Sheryl GwytherThis battle, vehemently fought and won back in 2009 continues, as Sheryl Gwyther, seasoned author for children and staunch advocate against parallel imports states, ‘the war rages on!’

‘The surest way anything positive happens is through People Power, and that means you, me and everyone in our industry who cares about Australian children’s books and young readers.

Lifting the Restrictions against Parallel Import threatens all those Australian publishers who took the risk of publishing the books in the first place and who invested in the development, editing and publication of the books.

There have been massive cutbacks to our industry – this will add so many more difficulties and restrictions. Less money means less books published, less new authors, less risks taken at all levels of authorhood.

‘The most insidious threat from Parallel Imports is how Australian children’s picture books and novels that have been Americanised would be allowed into this country and sold in competition with the Australian versions.’

Boomerang Books banner-boomerSo what, you may be asking. Story is story. If you have the option to buy a cheaper ‘version’ of the same story, why not? Sure, many books are sourced online nowadays but there are still sites, such as this one, Boomerang Books which are Australian owned and operated and offer original Australian content and titles at discounted prices.

Opting for the severely discounted, ‘altered’ overseas versions of our Australian stories found in discount chain stores further depletes a uniquely faceted yet delicate culture already challenged by a gamut of Americanisms. Of course, it’s the Z Generation that concerns writers and illustrators for children most. Children risk further literacy confusion. Parents will not be able to identify imported copies from the ‘real deal’ with ease and confidence. Essential settings, sense of place and character idioms will disappear from our language and when that happens, a people as a whole alter inextricably.

‘Books written in our country give Australian children insights into our unique culture; those books speak our language, colloquialisms, our English-Australian spelling, even common words (like Mum instead of Mom; pavement instead of sidewalk; tap instead of faucet, and so many more), our Aussie humour that Australians ‘get’, but is mostly misunderstood overseas, and most of all a subtleties in picture books that I have seen changed in Australian books to suit the American market.PIR sign the petition logo

We can’t influence those adaptations in another country nor would we have the right to, but we can stop the remaindered copies that failed to sell in the US being dumped into the Australian market and sold cheaply in bookshops, ‘masquerading’ as the authentic versions.’

If the repeal to drop current restrictions on parallel imports is successful, the effect for Australian readers, let alone those whose livelihoods revolve around producing those reads, will be knee-breakingly devastating. To petition this very real threat to (y)our reading-way-of life, please take a moment to consider the impact by reading through Saving Aussie Books AGAIN. Visit the petition site, here. Support our beautifully diverse, colourful reading culture and all those whose dreams and stories create it by signing on-line. And please, please, do it before it’s too late.

Excerpts, quotes and images included from Saving Aussie Books and Saving Aussie Books AGAIN used with permission.

The views represented in this article are the author’s and are not necessarily the views of Boomerang Books

 

Review: Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Star Wars BlueprintsIt’s hard to find a blog’s worth of words to say what I can really say in one sentence: Star Wars: The Force Awakens lives up to the heady hype and breathless anticipation.

I mean really, I’m pretty sure today we’ve heard the collective happy exhalation slash fist pumping of Star Wars fans the world over. I’ve yet to hear one say the film didn’t live up to their expectations.

Of course, it’s easy to say now I always had faith in JJ Abrams’ ability to execute an on-song film, but I did. He obvs has a strong track record, the Star Trek reboots being the most recent, but he is also a master at drawing out the key narrative elements and enhancing them.

Which is exactly what he did here. Balanced with just the right amount of action meets heartstring-tugging meets fantasy meets comedy, this Star Wars iteration impresses. Its look and feel is accurate. More importantly, its tone feels right.

In a nod to episodes past as well as a clever way to link the past and the present, TIE fighters, X-wings, the Millennium Falcon, and the Deathstar return in various forms (I for one have spent plenty of time poring over their blueprints). As do some of the most beloved characters.

FramesBut the film is carried by a cast of next-generation relative newbies—arguably in George Lucas’ tradition, but still much more than I’d expected, if I’m honest, but hats off to it.

These newbies include a modern droid that is Wall-E-like in nature, but mostly endearing rather than abundantly annoying. Is it just me, or did anyone else find Wall-E annoying? And BB-8 was cute, but only in small doses. I felt it was overdone in early scenes, but the rest of the film reigned it in.

There was, of course, also a resourceful junk scavenger named Rey, who upends stereotypes about which jobs women are or aren’t good at. In fact, she executes my favourite joke of the film—‘No, no, no. The one I’m pointing to.’—which is one about asking her male co-protagonist to hand her a spanner.

In fact, there was a fair amount of role reversal in this iteration. The women are strong and centre stage and less sexualised—more so than in the past. There’s Rey, of course, but Leia too, and no gold bikini in sight. There’s also a brilliant, bespectacled, oracle-like woman Maz (Lupita Nyong’o), whose opening words to Han Solo were: ‘Where’s my boyfriend?’ It turns out she’s a fan of the Wookie. She’s so incredibly compelling she just about steals the show.

Everyone is wearing masks in this film—some literally, others metaphorical. Peeling them off to reveal truths is at the film’s core. And, as a Star Wars fan who is also a Harry Potter fan, I have to point out what’s probably already been pointed out a bunch of times by now: Was it me, or were the new Darth Vader-ish and Supreme Leader Snoke rather Snape- and Voldemort-looking? And Rey very Keira Knightley meets Natalie Portman? Inadvertent or not, to me the resemblances were uncanny. (Then again, maybe I’ve spent too much time obsessing over Lucas’ every decision.)

Star TrekI don’t want to give to much away about the film, but I will say it’s a crowdpleaser—sentimental but not soppy, and a return to Star Wars form. Forgive me for admitting I actually cried at one stage when the Resistance fighters appeared.

‘This is so not how I thought this day was going to go,’ Han Solo says in one scene, as things go pear-shaped. But I’d prefer to recast this: This film so didn’t go how I expected it to. And for that, and the fact that Jar Jar Binks remains banished, I am entirely thankful.

Books & Christmas with Melissa Keil

MKMelissa Keil is the author of two of my favourite YA novels, The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl (2014) and Life in Outer Space (2013).

(I reviewed Cinnamon Girl here and Life in Outer Space here.)

Thanks for speaking with Boomerang Books, Melissa.

Where are you based and how involved are you in the YA lit world?

I’m based in Melbourne, but get to travel around a bit for writers’ festivals, school visits and so forth. The YA lit world is pretty amazing in Australia – apart from the festivals and speaking gigs, I get to catch up with other authors pretty regularly at launches and other events. It’s a lovely, supportive world to be part of.

How did your first YA novel, Life in Outer Space, get published? Which awards has it won or been shortlisted for? life in outer space

My first novel was the winner of the inaugural Ampersand Prize run by Hardie Grant Egmont, who, at the time, were looking for real-world manuscripts from unpublished YA authors. I think it was just one of those magical moments where the stars aligned and the manuscript just landed in front of the right people at the right time. It’s been nominated for a few things, including the Prime Minster’s Literary Award, The CBCA Book of the Year (Older Readers), the Gold Inky, the Western Australian Premier’s Book Awards. It was the winner of the Ena Noel Award, and it was also a YALSA Best Book for Young Adults in the USA.

There’s still a buzz happening around your second novel The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl. Which awards has it won or been shortlisted for and what’s happening with it now?cinnamon girl

Thanks! Cinnamon Girl was shortlisted the Gold Inky Award, the CBCA Book of the Year (Older Readers), the Western Australian Young Readers Book Award. The most exciting thing that’s happening at the moment is that it’s getting ready to be published in the US and UK early next year. Both publishers have chosen quite different (but amazing) cover looks, and the US edition has been illustrated by a fantastic comic book artist called Mike Lawrence. I’m looking forward to seeing her out in the wider world!

Why do you think these books resonate so strongly with readers?

That’s a hard question! All I can say is that I write the characters who I love and connect with, whose worlds I want to be immersed in. They feel like real people to me, and I hope that that translates onto the page.

What else have you written?

I started out as a children’s book editor, and as part of my job, wrote lots of books ‘in house’, mostly junior non-fiction and preschool early-learning type books. I’ve had a picture book, Rabbit and His Zodiac Friends, published. I also have lots of half finished books and short stories in my bottom drawer!

What are you writing at the moment?

I’m finishing up my next novel, tentatively titled The Secret Science of Magic. It’s been one of the most challenging things I have written so far, but I’m on the home stretch with it now.

What have you enjoyed reading?inbetween days

The last book I read was Vikki Wakefield’s Inbetween Days, which was just beautiful, with some wonderfully complex and well-realised female characters and relationships. I’ve just started reading Carrie Brownstein’s Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl, which I’ve been looking forward to reading for a long time.

Christmas is coming. How do you plan to celebrate and what books would you like as Christmas presents?

All the books! I think my friends and family are tired of me asking for books and book vouchers, but there is no such thing as too many books. There are loads of things on my wishlist – one of the things I would really love though is the complete Obernewtyn Chronicles. My first four books are original editions with covers that don’t match the newer books – as all true book-nerds know, this is just unacceptable.

Where can people find you on social media?

At my website melissakeil.com, or on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook as MissMisch77.

All the best with your books, Melissa.

Thank you for having me!

Three reviews

Three for the price of one! How’s that for a bargain? Oh wait… you’re not paying for this, are you? This blog is FREE to read. Okay, change of approach…

Continuing with my series of multi-review posts, pretty much seems to be the only way for me to keep up with telling you about the books that I’ve been reading. This time around, I’ve got three books of different genres and eras — mystery from the 1800s, anthropomorphised animals from the 1970s and humorous gothic storytelling from the 21st century.

The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1894)
Written for grown-ups, but suitable for younger readers.

Sherlock HolmesI’ve been slowly working my way through a box set of Conan Doyle’s books about the greatest of all fictional detectives. This is the second collection of short stories.

These are such entertaining stories. Not all of them are great mysteries, but most of them are cracking good adventures. By this stage Conan Doyle has become very comfortable with the characters of Holmes and Watson and there isn’t too much variation (inconsistency) in their presentation.

This collection is most notable for its concluding story, “The Final Problem”. This is the story in which Conan Doyle famously kills off his creation. But don’t worry (WARNING: Spoiler!), he brings him back by popular demand later. 🙂

What is most interesting about reading this collection, is how the Holmes canon differs from my original expectations. Based on various film and television adaptations, I’ve always assumed that Sherlock’s brother Mycroft was a frequent supporting character and that Moriarty was a recurring villain. Both these assumptions are shattered. Mycroft is only in two stories thus far, and Moriarty first appears in the story in which he dies (Oh dear, more spoilers!).

The other thing I noticed is that Conan Doyle often doesn’t explain all of Holmes’s deductions. And, in “The Final Problem”, he doesn’t tell you anything about how Sherlock defeats Moriarty. All we get told is that it was a pretty brilliant plan. There is a reliance on reputation and past cleverness. But that story is more about the friendship between Holmes and Watson than about adventure or mystery… and as such, works admirably.

All up, it’s a great collection. Can’t wait to read to next book in the series.

[Read my review of A Study in Scarlet and The Sign of the FourReading Sherlock]

Watership Down by Richard Adams (1972)
Written for older children, but suitable for grown-ups.

Watership DownWatership Down is a Carnegie Medal winning CLASSIC! I read this many years ago after visiting England and watching rabbits in a field one afternoon. This time around, I read it to my eldest daughter (12). I loved it all over again and got to see it afresh through her eyes.

The story is about a group of rabbits who break away from their warren after one of them has a premonition of doom. They travel across the English countryside in search of a location to establish a new warren, eventually settling on Watership Down. But even then there are problems to solve with the lack of does, and a threat from a dangerous rival warren called Efrafa.

The whole story (with the exception of one short section) is told from the rabbits’ pov. It is a remarkable book. It is not cute or twee. It is dramatic and exciting and emotional and, at times, quite violent. The animal characters are never anything but completely believable. The rabbit society is portrayed in intricate detail, with customs, history and mythology. The writing is mature, philosophical, subtle, complex and sometimes unexpected in its approach. The imagery is vivid and often disturbing, particularly the events at Efrafa, with their Nazi overtones. This is an outstanding book and an extraordinary read.

Goth Girl and the Wuthering Fright by Chris Riddell (2015)
Written for kids, but full of references for the enjoyment of grown-ups.

Goth Girl 3This is the third book in Riddell’s illustrated, humorous gothic fantasy series for kids (there is a fourth on the way). The series follows the adventures of Ada Goth, only child of Lord Goth of Ghastly-Gorm Hall. Her best friends include the plucky and intelligent Emily Cabbage and William Cabbage, the boy with chameleon-like abilities; both children of inventor Charles Cabbage. Ada’s governess, by the way, is a vampire named Lucy Borgia.

In this instalment, Ghastly Gorm Hall is hosting a literary dog show, while a strange creature lurks the halls chewing on the shoes of the Hall’s staff. As with the previous books, puns and name-play abound, with references both modern and classic. The writers entering the literary dog show include Plain Austen, author of Prompt and Prejudice and Northanger Cabbie; Sir Walter Splott, author of Drab Roy; William Timepeace Thackeray, author or Vanity Fete; and Homily Dickinson, author of Of What I Speak Thou Knowest Not. And then there are the judges Countess Pippi Shortstocking and Hands Christmas Andersen.

The illustrations are gorgeous. Loved every single one of them.

Whilst definitely amusing, this book is the weakest of the three so far. It seems to get carried away with the jokes and forgets about the plot until right at the end. The Wuthering Fright of the title barely even features in the story. Nevertheless, it is enjoyable and worth getting for the illustrations alone.

[My review of book 1 is included in 10 mini-reviews]
[My review of book 2 is included in A bunch of mini-reviews]

Okay, that’s it for this time. Go home!

Catch ya later, George

PS. Follow me on Twitter

atlantis2Check out my DVD blog, Viewing Clutter.

Latest Post: DVD Review  — Atlantis: The Complete Second Series

.

.

.

Double Dipping – Emotional support from Oliver and Tom

In my SE QLD literary backyard, there’s a charismatic dragon with a moxie rapidly earning him the reputation of a force to be reckoned with. He bides within a new young publishing house called Dragon Tales Publishing. Here are two of his latest issues; Oliver’s Grumbles and My brother Tom.

Each of these picture books are a little bit special, possessing a sensual hard cover feel that encourages you to hang on to them long after the last page is read. They deal with potentially difficult subjects to dress up in picture book format however manage it with tact and quiet sureness, ever mindful of their young audiences. What sings most vociferously about these two titles however is not the gravity of the subject matter rather the passion of the creators to share their experiences with readers. I applaud the bearing of souls and empathy displayed within and tip my (Christmas) hat to the dragon. He should be proud.

Oliver’s Grumbles by Yvonne Mes and Giuseppe Poli, deals with emotional disaccord and internal conflict.

Oliver's GrumblesWe’ve all had an attack of the grumbles. Mine, like those of a young child sometimes come from nowhere, out of the blue, without warning and are very (very) difficult to eradicate, as Oliver finds out. After a ‘particularly grizzly and growly day’, Oliver is plagued by Grumbles. They cause inexcusable mayhem and muck-ups but steadfastly refuse to go away. Oliver is neither able to entreat nor eradicate them. They even have the gall to snuffle his snuggle blanket!

It takes a while, but Oliver eventually recognises that sometimes the best way to deal with a negative (and rather unruly) situation is with head-on positivity. A resounding message to parents out there everywhere! With a kiss and prrr prrr (Grumble nice speak), Oliver and his Grumbles slip smiling into sweet slumber.

Mad Hatters Manly Yvonne's Book launch Nov 2015 (21) (480x640)Oliver’s Grumbles is a delightfully close up and personal look at dealing with emotions such as anger and frustration. And, a reminder to us all that, sometimes to change everything, you simply need to change your attitude. Mes uses narrative flecked with engaging alliteration and powerful verbs to reflective Oliver’s changing moods and growing frustrations.

Mad Hatters Manly Yvonne's Book launch Nov 2015 (19) (480x640) Giuseppe Poli’s line and pencil illustrations add whimsy and colour enough to keep young eyes glued to the pages until the very last grumble is dealt with. I adore their bright orange angst reminiscent of Oliver’s hair, which alters bewitchingly to a softer shade of sky as they mellow from grrr to prrr.Olivers's Grumbles illos spread

The many subtleties of both text and drawings make this a winner for me. Recommended for grumbles under 10 or anyone having one of ‘those’ days.

Dragon Tales Publishing December 2015

My brother Tom by Michelle Worthington and Ann-Marie Finn, is a heartfelt story ‘for older siblings of premature babies to help them make sense of what’s happening’, especially when they are confined to hospital.

My brother TomIt is also (for me) touching, tear-up material but beautifully absent of sentimentality, making it a fabulous go-to book to help littlies and biggies understand and cope with one of life’s more dramatic and stressful occurrences.

Michelle and Tom Worthington writes with honesty and quiet understanding having experienced the turmoil and anxieties of early births herself. Her narrative is direct and candid yet incredibly sincere and always kid friendly. While it may incline to tug at an adult’s heartstrings, My brother Tom establishes strong emotional connections for younger readers right from the start.

Tom’s brother observes not only his brother’s fight for life but also his parents’ emotional conflict as they worry and wait. His presence appears passive and helpless; a role many siblings must feel they are forced to adopt in situations like these. What his parents cannot know or see however, are the singing angels outside the window who give Tom’s brother the courage to believe things will get better and who follow little Tom, everywhere.

Ann-Marie Finn # 2Illustrated by Finn with extreme sensitivity and subtle colour change, this picture book affects a stirring sense of hope that radiates love and triumph. Highly recommended. Royalties from the sale of My brother Tom will be donated to Life’s Little Treasures Foundation.

Dragon Tale Publishing December 2015

Perhaps you know someone whose festive season will be less than tinsel-bright this year. You can bring some light into their hearts with picture books like these.

 

Best YA Covers of 2015

I get sucked in by amazing covers all the time. And I’m not even sad about it! I think an extraordinary cover is a must for a book considering you spend more time with it on your shelf than you do reading the insides. (Although, one mustn’t judge a book solely by the cover…but it is hard, right?!)

And is it just me or are Young Adult covers just getting more gorgeous every year?! 2015 showed some absolutely GORGEOUS designs. I’ll be listing my favourites below and be sure to tell me of your favourites in the comments and what you think of my picks!

Note: All book covers link to purchase pages on this website! Click away!

 

F A N T A S Y

20560137 9780451472397 9781780622279

I quite adore the variety of these fantasies covers…from city illustrations, to old book vibe to crow feathers! And just look at that typography. A book that makes letters look delicious enough to eat definitely wins favour with me.

 

W I L D    W E S T

download 156788f0-8006-0133-0c50-0e76e5725d9d 9780399168031

Apparently stories of the Wild West were quite popular in 2015. HUZZAH. (Yes, I am Australian, but I grew up with a slight fascination of the Oregon trail.) I adore Walk on Earth a Stranger for using the magic of gold dust on the cover. And Vengeance Road makes use of those famous wild west skulls. While Under a Painted Sky looks…painted?! The colours! The silhouettes! Help. I fell in love with a book cover.

 

D Y S T O P I A N

4b3883f0-7ffd-0133-9f07-0af7184f89fb 9781633752382 9780738743387

It might be just my picks of the year but…the dystopian covers seem dark this year! And they totally make use of stunning pinpoints of colour. I adore how 5 to 1 has made use of Indian henna patterns to reflect the country the book is set in. Forget Tomorrow just zings with that perfect shade of blue-green. It’s like the ocean. It’s delectable. Zeroboxer just looks like it’s going to thump you in the face at any moment — and that’s what a good dystopian cover should probably do.

 

M E N T A L    I L L N E S S

9781471404566 673d5ab0-7ffd-0133-0c58-0e76e5725d9d 9780141357034

Apparently BLUE IS IN for books that deal with mental illness and disorders! Which makes sense since blue is often a colour that signifies pain and sadness. I also really like how simplistic the covers are.

P R E T T Y    D R E S S E S

18081228 22918050 9781408858691

I will forever be addicted to covers that are just astounding gorgeous in the dress department. Plus it proves that you can be awesome and rule the world (as each of these girls are doing!) and were fabulous gowns. Blues and purples are obviously fashionable too in the fantasy rulership world. I shall keep that in mind in case I want to take over a fantastical country some time…

 

S C I E N C E    F I C T I O N

9780312642983 9781423171041 9780062220172

Basically: STARS. If a book has a sci-fi label, it is largely missing out if it doesn’t make use of stars and galaxies. I haven’t met a sci-fi cover I didn’t love!

 

H I S T O R I C A L    F I C T I O N

9781407159546 24187925 9780062321275

Historical Fiction seems very varied this year. Of course these are only 3 of the many YA books published, but I do like how hands are prominently featured in the first covers. Velvet Undercover falls prey to putting faces on covers….which usually is a no-no for me. But I love the colours so much. And the typography! So it still wins!

Review: Suffragette

SuffragettesCurrent cultural debates around feminism revolve around:

  • whether it’s a dirty word
  • shifting perceptions of and reclaiming it (thanks to the help of some universally liked women like Emma Watson) as something positive.

Which makes the release of Suffragette, the historical fiction-based film about the suffragette movement, incredibly prescient and timely. The term used then might have been suffragette instead of feminism, but this is a debate that is long-running and perennially important.

As someone who’s always identified as a feminist (I successfully petitioned to get female bin girls and female altar servers back in my local municipality), there was no question I would review this film. And while I don’t know what I expected of Suffragette, but I have to admit it wasn’t the realisation that I don’t know my suffragette history as well as you’d think I would.

It’s London, 1912, and the suffragette movement is gathering momentum. The voiceover contains excerpts of politicians and other powerful men debating the pros and cons of giving women the vote. Protagonist Maud Watts (Carey Mulligan), a 24-year-old laundry worker, is largely oblivious to this.

She was born in the laundry and was strapped to her mother’s back as an infant. Her poorly paid, poorly educated mother was forced to return to work as quickly as possible. Maud started working for the laundry part time when she was seven years old and full time when she was 12. Repeating the little-opportunity cycle, she now has a child of her own.

Maud doesn’t identify as a suffragette—in fact, she denies it multiple times throughout the film. But trapped and dreaming of a better life, she gradually she finds herself drawn in, and eventually contributing, to the movement out of necessity.

Suffragette is the story of one group of women’s experiences of the suffragette movement. Emmeline Pankhurst (played by Meryl Streep) looms large in the psyche, making brief cameos at key moments, but this film drills down to the personal. Maud, with her blistered hands, poor pay, exhausting hours, and lecherous boss is an everywoman with which we can identify.

She’s supported and encouraged by a cast of incredible actors, including Helena Bonham Carter, who plays a chemist who was never allowed to become a doctor. One police officer describes her character as ‘educated with scruples’, which makes her particularly dangerous.

‘It’s deeds, not words, that’ll get us the vote’ is one of many memorable phrases this film contains. ‘You want me to respect the law, then make the law respectable’ and ‘They don’t want to be lawbreakers, they want to be lawmakers’ are other phrases bandied about as the women participate in national campaign of civil disobedience.

My StoryI spent a vast portion of this film wondering what I would have done had I been alive during this time—I’m the beneficiary of these women’s courage, but I wonder how courageous I would have been. I came away with a whole new level of respect for their bravery. And an appreciation for the filmmakers who saw this film as warranting being told, which all too rarely happens with ‘women’s stories’.

There was much impromptu and impassioned murmuring as the film credits rolled. Or, more specifically, a list detailing when and where women’s rights began to be recognised.

For example, after years of suffragette action, women over 30 and of a certain character in the UK were finally allowed to vote as of 1918. It took until 1928 for the rest of the women in the UK to be allowed to. And it took until 1925 for the UK to recognise a mother’s right to her child.

Australia was comparatively forward: women received the vote in 1902.

We sat right until the end of the credits, marvelling, talking, maybe even shedding a surreptitious tear or two. It was during this time that my co-reviewer noticed two women leaving the cinema wearing suffragette hats. Something tells me they contributed to the original suffragette movement and the film held special significance for them.

In light of this, and in light of the fact I’ve realised I don’t know as much about suffragette history and homage as I probably should, I’ve decided my Christmas present to me is going to be suffragette-themed books. I’ll be starting with The Suffragettes: The Fight for Votes for Women and the simply titled Suffragette. If you can recommend any others—particularly seminal texts—I’m all ears.

Review: The Tsar of Love and Techno by Anthony Marra

9781781090480I must admit to slight reservations before reading this book. A Constellation of Vital Phenomena was one of my favourite books of 2013, narrowly missing out on being my book of the year (I had to do a re-read of my top two to split them). What had me hesitant was that his follow up book was short stories. I am not completely adverse to short stories but they are not my favourite form of writing. I can also be quite cynical and I was a bit suspicious about following up a spectacular debut novel with a collection of short stories. Boy, was I wrong!!!!

Anthony Marra has written a worthy follow up to A Constellation of Vital Phenomena that will once again make you laugh, make you learn and break your heart. Through interconnected stories Marra takes us from Leningrad in 1937 through to St Petersburg in the modern day exploring life in the Soviet Union and modern day Russia. Full of dark humour Marra explores life under a totalitarian regime and the impact as that regime slowly disappears. He shows how people etch out their part in it and learn to survive, or not. At it’s heart it is a story about family and how no matter how hard others try and erase it, it is always there, enduring.

Each story told is self-contained and is writing of the highest order. There is no way to pick a favourite story, they all stand out. We begin with a Soviet censor in 1937 whose job it is to erase the pictures of those who have been denounced by Stalin’s purges. We then follow the granddaughter of a famous ballet dancer, who was denounced, erased by the censor and sent to an Arctic mining town. As the Soviet Union collapses, and capitalism comes to the new Russia, the ballet dancer’s granddaughter is given the opportunity to escape the exiled existence her family has been sentenced to, but at a cost. We meet a Russian soldier conscripted to Chechnya and later taken prisoner. We meet an art museum curator in Grozny trying to rebuild after two wars. And we meet a father and son in St Petersburg, each of whom are looking for answers for questions they can’t or won’t ask. Anthony Marra ties all these lives together in a beautiful and poignant way with writing that grabs you from the opening page all the way through to the ending, breaking your heart numerous times along the way.

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena announced Anthony Marra as an exceptional talent to watch. His new book book confirms it. This is a writer you are not only going to hear a lot about right now but for many, many years to come.

Buy the book here…

A Pet is for Life – Sandy Fussell on Sad, the Dog

Sandy Fussell‘s new picture book had a most timely arrival, with Christmas around the corner it comes as an important reminder that responsibility for pets is for a life time, not just for one season. Already having success with her middle grade books, including the popular Samurai Kids series and her award winning novel, Polar Boy, Sandy Fussell‘s venture into picture book territory is exciting, and certainly most welcomed.

I look forward to sharing our interview with you as the talented, animal-loving Sandy Fussell talks about her career and her gorgeous new title, Sad, the Dog.

imageFor me, and my daughters, Sad, the Dog has had a lasting affect on us. Having always had (spoilt!) dogs in our family, it is unimaginable the level of ignorance and treatment that Mr and Mrs Cripps place on their dog; an unwanted ‘nuisance’ they were given for Christmas. Starved for affection, and even a name, this little pup, who’s spirit is inexorably crushed, calls himself ‘Sad’ – unfortunately, an apt name. But when the grouchy owners up and leave, without so much as a bat of an eyelid, poor Sad is left to fend for himself. In a seredipitous turn of events, Sad is united with a new friend, a new family, a new name, and a new spirit.

Fussell’s eloquent language, together with Tull Suwannakit‘s characteristically arresting illustrations, have the irrefutable power to elicit a full range of sensations with every read. I honestly can’t remember many books that have had me bubbling with rage, sorrow, optimism and pure joy all at once. Through the sadness, though, you’ll find those pops of warmth and love.

Sad, the Dog is emotionally and visually striking, highly memorable and absolutely endearing that any child (and adult) would be ‘lucky’ to own.

Read Dimity‘s insightful review here.

Walker Books, Oct 2015.

Thank you, Sandy for talking with me today!

You’ve been successful with your middle grade fiction, and in particular your best-selling ‘Samurai Kids’ series. What made you venture into the world of picture books and how would you compare your processes between the different writing styles? Do you prefer one style over the other?

imageI never intended to write a picture book and if anyone had asked me, I would’ve insisted it would never happen because I don’t look at the world through “picture book eyes”. But one day, I accidentally looked that way, and the story of Sad the Dog appeared inside my head (450 words complete with a plot hole!).

My approach to middle grade and picture books is exactly the same. I let the story tell itself. When the sense of place and character is strong, the story always follows. While I don’t prefer one over the other, I find middle grade a lot easier to write (the picture book eyesight problem again).

What I did find very different and quite wonderful, was that with a picture book, I was never on my own. Whatever I was doing, Tull Suwannakit (who illustrated Sad) was keen to share and support and vice versa. When you write a picture book there is always another person who loves it exactly as much as you do.

‘Sad, the Dog’ is loosely based on a true story of a neighbouring family in your past. What does this story mean to you? What significant messages do you hope readers will gain from reading your book?

This question of messages in books interests me – Are they really there? Do they matter? What if readers get them wrong? I’ve heard many authors (especially adult fiction) say they don’t write with books with a message. For me, that’s not possible. A writer brings many themes to a story – from their passions, beliefs and experiences – they’re story building blocks. And themes inherently contain a message. The reader may find completely different themes and messages depending on their life experience and perspective, and I’m fine with that too.

Sad the Dog, is about hope. Life can be very sad, but with a little help, it can be turned around. There’s other messages too. If we help others we make the world a happier place. Owning a pet involves an emotional responsibility as well as providing the physical needs of food, water and somewhere to sleep. I could probably find even more messages if I went looking. My world view seeps into all my stories, long or short.

What have been your most rewarding and challenging aspects of creating books, and in particular, ‘Sad, the Dog’?

For me, the story itself is a wonderful reward. I suspect I am a very selfish writer. I write the stories I want to tell and the stories I want to hear. The challenge is convincing others these stories are worth reading and sharing.

School visits are the ultimate challenge and I’m always up for that. If I can inspire one child in every school to look at books more positively – that’s a huge reward.

The other big reward I associate with creating books is meeting book people – whether they are readers, writers, librarians or booksellers – anyone who wants to talk books is an instant friend. I’ve been part of the Oz literary landscape for a few years now but writing a picture book introduced me to even more book people.

imageThe artwork by Tull Suwannakit is quirky, compelling and absolutely sublime. What do you like about his work and how do you feel his illustrations compliment your text? Do you have a favourite image from the book?

I have to admit when I was first shown a drawing of Sad, I shook my head and said “Sad doesn’t look like that.” But the truth was, as I soon discovered, I didn’t know what Sad looked like and luckily for me, Tull did. My image was a memory of Cassie, the floppy-eared soulful-eyed spaniel type dog who was the inspiration for the story. What I didn’t realise was after I reworked the inspiration into a story, it wasn’t about Cassie any more. It was about Sad. And Sad didn’t look like Cassie, he looked like himself. Which is what Tull knew right from the beginning. His illustrations were a perfect fit.

I love Tull’s artwork and I love how art pervades his life. I feel lucky to be part of it. RMIT did a short film about Tull and his art. One of my Sad, the Dog favourite things is the birthday card Tull drew for me – Sad has a big grin and mouth full of sausages. My favourite illustration – and it’s so hard to choose – is the front cover with Sad sitting in the leaves – the colours are glorious and the fallen leaves, while leaving the tree bare and barren, remind me it will grow green again.

imageIn a wonderful coincidence of life imitating art, a friend on Twitter sent me this picture of her dog (who wasn’t sad but very happy).

How did you find your publishing experience with Walker Books? How did you go about approaching them with your ‘Sad, the Dog’ manuscript, and how have they supported you in the process?

I read an extract from White Crane at a meeting of writers that included Sue Whiting who had, unknown to everyone there, just been appointed Commissioning Editor for the new Walker Books Australian list. Prior to that Walker Books Australia was a distributor of Walker Books UK and Candlewick US titles. Sue asked me if I would send her the manuscript when it was finished. I did and I’ve been sending Sue manuscripts ever since.

By the time I had the idea for Sad, the Dog I had already published five middle grade titles with Walker Books, whose name is synonymous with beautiful picture books. So I was thrilled when they accept Sad for publication.

How have you found the response to ‘Sad, the Dog’ so far? Any stand-out moments or particular comments that have resonated with you the most?

The response to Sad has been overwhelmingly positive and I’ve had lots of messages and pictures sent to me via social media. Samurai Kids is a popular series and I’m fortunate enough to still receive fan mail seven years after the first book – but they’re always email. Many responses to Sad are more spontaneous – photos and shout-outs. I’ve wondered if it’s a “picture book thing.” Adult picture book lovers are a vocal group – whether they love the book personally or because their child does – they seem more inclined to tell the world about books they love.

I’m rather partial to these lines from a review on Brona’s Books blog: When I read picture books I tend to wear two hats – my preschool teacher’s hat (will a rowdy group of preschoolers like this book? What are its educational possibilities?) and my book lovers hat (do I love this book?) In recent years I have also added a third and fourth hat – my bookseller’s beret (will this book sell? Who to?) and my blogger beanie (does this book have review potential?) Sad, the Dog by Sandy Fussell is one of those special picture books that I can answer YES, YES, YES to all the above. What author wouldn’t love to hear that said about their first picture book?

Do you / have you owned a pet of your own? What special moments with your pet/s can you recall the most?

imageCurrently I have two chocolate-point Burmese cats (Bree and Tega) and a green tree frog called Fat Boy Slim. Over the years I’ve had many pets – some have been rescues and returned to the bush (Mouse, the baby possum given to me by a Ranger when I worked at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Robert the cockatoo with an injured wing) as well as numerous parrots (Robert liberated those), tankfuls of tropical fish (discus and hatchet fish are my favourites), a budgerigar, ducks, chickens, a lizard, a turtle, snakes and three Scottish deerhounds.

My pets, especially the dogs and cats, are family members, much more than just animals that live in my house and yard. Sad, the Dog was inspired by my indignation that anyone could abandon their dog to the new owners of their house, as if a pet was some sort of inanimate home fixture.

Have you always wanted to be a children’s writer? What motivated you to pursue this career? How did you get your break?

I always loved reading but I never wanted to be an author of any kind. I was into mathematics and IT. Finding I wanted to write for children was an accident. My avid-reader 10-year-old decided overnight he wasn’t going to read any more. I’ve always believed the key to kids reading is finding the right thing to read (which may not be a book). I managed to convince him to write me a story that he would like to read. He insisted I transcribe it, because while storytelling was fun, writing it down was hard work (he was right about that). It was the most random story I’d ever heard and I kept interfering. So he sent me away to write my own story. By that time, I was hooked.

I kept writing because I loved it. I wrote nine middle grade stories before I decided I wanted to share them. A chance meeting with Di Bates, who is one of most generous and knowledgeable people in the OZ children’s literary industry, fast-tracked my path to publication. Di encouraged me, improved my work and made sure I was standing in the right spot when opportunity found me. One of my career highlights is the speech I gave at the NSW CBCA dinner where Di was presented with the Lady Cutler Award for Services to Australian Children’s Literature.

What valuable writing and publishing tips have you learned along the way that have been the driving force to getting you to where you are today?

I’m a list lover from way back – so here’s My Top 6 Takeaways from Becoming a Published Author
1 Writing is a habit. Write and the story will come.
2 Words are the musical notes that make a story sing. Choose every one of them carefully and polish sentences until they shine.
3 Writers need other writers. And illustrators. And book people. Because they understand.
4 A writer needs to read widely inside and outside their comfort zone to develop their writing potential.
5 Your editor is your story’s best friend. Trust her (him) with it.
6 It’s important to give. It’s good for the soul. It makes for a better person and a better writer.

You juggle your time between writing, blogging, presenting, and running several literary initiatives including The Story Crowd and The Reading Stack. What are your secrets to managing all these jobs?

I think the truthful answer might be a bit boring. I’m not a good sleeper so I have more hours in my day than most people. I know it’s not supposed to be healthy to sleep 5 ½ hours a day but despite my efforts, I can’t change that pattern. My mother and grandmother were the same so perhaps it’s genetic. I’m also a very efficient person and the theory of productivity fascinates me. I’m always reading articles about it. I’m very focussed – some would say fixated and obsessed– and always full of ideas. I tend to act on a lot of them when I think most people have equally wonderful ideas but just keep thinking about them. If I’m not doing two things at once, I’m looking around for something else to do.

Finally, tell us something about yourself that not many people would know!

I spent years learning the violin. I’m still not very good at it so perhaps that’s best kept secret.

Thank you so much, Sandy! I’m sure your violin skills are superb! May you and your family enjoy a safe and prosperous Christmas! Looking forward to seeing you in the New Year! 🙂

You can find more on Sandy Fussell at her website and facebook page.

*** Find this post on the Just Write For Kids Australia page for your chance to WIN a copy of Sad, the Dog! ***

Books & Christmas with Rosanne Hawke

Rosanne Hawke writes hard-hitting yet compassionate novels about young people in difficult, often dire, situations. Her most recent novel for young adults is The Truth About Peacock Blue (Allen & Unwin), about a young girl accused of blasphemy. It’s an inordinately powerful and topical story, which is also well balanced.Truth about Peacock Blue

Thanks for speaking with Boomerang Books, Rosanne.

Thanks for asking me.

Where are you based and how involved are you in the YA and children’s lit world?

I live in the mid north of South Australia near Kapunda. Besides writing I’m involved with YA & Children’s Lit by visiting schools, teaching Writing for Children and Writing for YA at Tabor Adelaide (an independent tertiary institution), by belonging to Ekidnas (SA’s Children’s and YA book creators support group) and SCWBI.

Why did you live in Pakistan and what do you love about the country and its people?

We lived in the Middle East for ten years and about seven of those years in Pakistan. We went as aid workers with a Christian mission agency, and I taught ESL and trained teachers to teach English in a school set up for under privileged girls in a mountain area. We lived in Khyber Puktunkhwa (formerly the NW Frontier) in a town called Abbottabad. The scenery was beautiful and we took our children for their summer holidays to places like Swat, Chitral and Kaghan. The mountains are majestic and we saw snow for the first time.

Hawke, Roseanne on Karakorum Hwy

We found the Pakistani people to be very hospitable and family orientated. In a positive sense family members support each other and work together. Children are taught that what is best for all is best for one. Once during the Gulf War when we were confined to the school compound a poor family brought us curry they had cooked. We found that the less people had the more they shared.

As someone who has lived in Pakistan and knows firsthand about people from different cultures and faiths, what do you see as a way forward to peace between peoples?

Peace between people groups grows from knowledge, understanding and learning to care for each other. This occurs when we make a friend with someone from a culture different from our own. As soon as we become friends (i.e. know them, their fears, sorrows and joys) it is impossible to think of that person as ‘other’ or to demonise them. My daughter Lenore says it all starts with a smile. I suggest that people who are frightened of certain refugee groups do not have a friend from that group. Another thing I have noticed is that people who are secure in their own identity and culture are able to embrace other different identities and cultures.

What inspired you to write The Truth About Peacock Blue?Asia Bibi

I wrote The Truth about Peacock Blue (TTAPB) because of a news article I read online about a fourteen-year-old girl accused of blasphemy. Also I had been following the story of Asia Bibi, a mother of five accused of blasphemy and on death row in Pakistan. First I wrote a short story called ‘Only a School Girl’ for the UNICEF anthology, Reaching Out: Stories of Hope edited by Mariah Kennedy (2013). This was Aster’s story and the agent/publisher suggested I write it as a novel.

Where does the title come from?

The main character, Aster likes peacocks and peacock blue is her favourite colour so she used this as her Facebook profile name instead of her real name.

The main character, Aster, has a new teacher who seems to hate her. Where does this hatred come from?

By the end Aster does feel the teacher hated her. In reality the teacher is so intent on converting Aster that she loses focus of Aster as a person. A loving person wouldn’t try to coerce another to convert. The teacher’s brother put pressure on her also. Plus she has a belief that anyone who is not Muslim is kafir (a pagan or unbeliever ) and needs to change.

What are Aster’s links with Australia?

Aster has a cousin in Adelaide called Maryam Yusef who is in first year uni. Maryam sets up a blog and petition to help Aster. This is an integral part of the story as Aster doesn’t know that the world is interested in her, but Maryam tells the world about Peacock Blue. We also hear what a lot of people think about freedom of speech and religion, and human rights.

MockingbirdWhat is the importance of To Kill a Mockingbird in the novel?

This is Aster’s English text. The English teacher chose it because as a work of art it did more to change racist views in America than any other book. The novel has similar events to Aster’s story and it is a novel/movie most readers would be familiar with.

How have you linked Malala’s story into the book?

I think Malala is a hero. In TTAPB a guard wanted to demoralise Aster by showing her an article of Malala being shot by the Taliban etc. But it did the opposite for Aster: Malala inspired her. After reading about Malala, Aster grew stronger, made a calendar and decided to keep hoping.Malala

Aster is a Christian girl who is imprisoned for blasphemy (along with Muslims and others) in line with Pakistan’s blasphemy laws. What do we need to know about the plight of Christians and other minority groups in countries like Pakistan and Syria? Why is this happening, why don’t we hear about it in the news and how can we help?

At the moment Christians are the most persecuted religion. At one time it was Muslims or Hindus; mostly it has been Jews (thinking of WW2). The journalist in TTAPB likens extremists, who have closed minds, to the Klu Klux Klan, a group who believed in white supremacy, and who took steps to remove non-whites from their communities. Some extremist groups will remove people they see as sub-people because they are not Muslim. The Christians had a period in history called the inquisition which acted in a similar way, fueled by power and corruption. I’m sure most Christians were horrified by the inquisition as most Muslims are today by extremists groups who use violence. Our own indigenous people were persecuted too.

We can help persecuted religious minorities through groups such as Open Doors, Barnabas Fund. Agencies like World Vision are also helping minority groups during their humanitarian work. Amnesty also keeps an eye on such issues as well as human rights injustices.

Why don’t we hear about it? We heard about Paris. And we heard about the twin towers. But many more are killed in Africa and other places that we don’t hear about because they are not ‘western’ and the media may not feel we’ll be interested, and so won’t run the story. Maybe there are no journalists where some atrocities happen. Some governments may ban journalists so they can run their country without interference. SBS tries to give a balanced view of world news. Groups like Barnabas give online updates on persecuted minorities.

SorayaAs well as child imprisonment, The Truth About Peacock Blue also challenges the imprisonment of asylum seeker children in Australia. How do you or your characters think this could be resolved?

I was appalled when I returned to Australia from Pakistan and found children in detention centres. I didn’t see Pakistan doing that to asylum seekers. It’s why I wrote Soraya the Storyteller to try to make sense of it for myself. Again the way to resolve it is by making friends. I have met intelligent and nice people who say negative things about a cultural group and I believe it is born of fear. In TTAPB Maryam believes children shouldn’t be in detention, and families should be housed in communities until they can be assessed. Assessment shouldn’t take four or five years as it did with a family I met in a detention centre. They need assessors who understand certain cultural groups.    

What else have you written?Mountain Wolf

TTAPB is my 24th book and I have written picture books, junior novels and other YA novels. Kerenza: A New Australian is about a Cornish immigrant family settling in the Mallee farmlands in 1911. Mustara is about a boy Taj and his camel, released this week in Paperback. The Keeper series are three adventurous and thrilling books about Joel Billings who lives by the sea on Yorke Peninsula. Shahana; Through My Eyes shows orphans living in a war zone in Kashmir. Marrying Ameera and Mountain Wolf (15 plus) deal with forced marriage and trafficking.

What awards have your books won?

This year I won the Nance Donkin award for my work. Last year my YA novel about grief with Cornish themes, The Messenger Bird, won the Cornish Holyer an Gof award for YA literature and the inaugural Ann Trevenen Jenkin Cup. In 2012 Taj and the Great Camel Trek won the Adelaide Festival Award for Children’s Literature. My younger readers’ fantasy, Across the Creek, won the Holyer an Gof award for children’s literature in 2005. Others have been shortlisted, commended or Notable.Messenger Bird

What are you writing at the moment?

I am working on an historical fantasy set during seventeenth century Moghul India which is now northern Pakistan. It will be released as two books: Daughter of Nomads and The Leopard Princess in June & October 2016. It is something quite different for me, a breakout novel, UQP says. Next year I’m writing a companion to Kelsey with a male protagonist for 2017, and my YA Borderland series will be released during 2016-2017 as four totally rewritten and re-titled separate novels (including a new work) by Rhiza Press.

What have you enjoyed reading?

I’ve enjoyed many books this year; these are some of the children’s titles.

My Gallipoli by Ruth Starke & Robert Hannaford

Withering by the Sea by Judith Rossell

The Simple Things by Bill Condon

The Wishbird by Garielle Wang

Figgy in the World by Tamsin Janu

Christmas is coming. How do you plan to celebrate and what books would you like as Christmas presents?

This year our family will all gather at my brother and sister-in-law’s new house and garden in the mid-north of SA. I’d like my own copy of My Gallipoli and The Eye of the Sheep by Sofie Laguna, something magical or mythical with beautiful writing and engaging plot.

Thanks for your thoughtful answers and all the best with your books, Rosanne.

Thank you for your kind support.

Kelsey(Kelsey and the Quest of the Porcelain Doll was my best novel for younger readers for Australian Book Review in 2014 and I reviewed it here for Boomerang Books.)

YA Books For Blisteringly Hot Summer Reading

Since summer in the fabulous land of Oz can be so incredibly hot, sometimes it’s excellent to just curl up in the air-conditioning and read. And if you’re fond of reading books to match the sweltering weather you’re experiencing…I CAN HELP. I’ve compiled a list of YA summery and burningly hot books.

S U M M E R   R E A D S

9781250068088 9780142426043 9781471122668

  • I KILL THE MOCKINGBIRD: This is about 3 kids on the brink of high school who decide to make Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” book…wanted. With reverse psychology. GENIUS, NO? They hide it! And create a huge demand for copies! It’s really funny and endearing and it’s barely over 100-pages, so perfect for a summery snack.
  • MY LIFE NEXT DOOR: This is about Sam’s summer where she kinda accidentally falls in love with the next door neighbour…who has a HUGE chaotic family that are utterly endearing and hilarious to read about. It also has a surprisingly intense ending for an other wise “light, fluffy” contemporary. Seriously. Pull out the moral dilemmas and nervous finger-nail chewing.
  • SINCE YOU’VE BEEN GONE: This one features Emily who’s best friend, Sloane, just suddenly…vanished. But Sloane left her a list of summery things to do, so Emily is completing it. It’s like a summer “bucket list” sort of book, with crazy stuff like “Hug someone named Jamie” and “go skinny dipping”. Emily collects a bundle of odd friends and they try to complete the list to find the missing Sloane. LISTS, FOLKS. I do so love lists.

 

9781906427795 9781407124261 9780141354439

  • THE SCORCH TRIALS: Technically this is the sequel to The Maze Runner, which you do need to read first. So go do that. Off you pop. But then come back and read the blisteringly hot Scorch Trials because hooooly desert. It’s hot. This has action and mystery and…zombies. I’m pretty sure this book is perfect.
  • BLOOD RED ROAD: This is one of my favourite reads of 2015! It’s totally underrated in it’s intense awesomeness, trust me. It features Saba who’s brother is kidnapped and she must travel the dusty, dangerous universe to get him back. It’s set in a sort of apocalyptic world and it’s written in slang. Saba is AMAZING. She’s tough and gritty. This book has guns and cage fights and siblings willing to die for each other. Be still my beating heart.
  • STONE RIDER: How about a motorbike ride across the desert!? This, again, is an apocalyptic (possibly dystopic?) universe where they have motorbikes with feelings. It’s pitched as the YA version of Mad Max Fury Road!

 

9780451472397 9780062026484 9780399176654

  • INK AND BONE: While it starts off in England, the story is mainly set in…EGYPT! How awesome is that?! And why? Well, this story is about “what-if-the-Alexandria-Library-had-never-been-destroyed?” which is a grand question and makes for a magical world…where libraries can be evil and control reading. Basically, all bookworms need this.
  • THE GIRL OF FIRE AND THORNS: This is an epic fantasy but set in a Middle Eastern type landscape with deserts and silks and sweltering sun. It’s basically one of my favourite fantasies of ever because it’s so diverse!
  • THE WRATH AND THE DAWN: And I’ll finish up with my favourite retelling of 2015. Have you ever heard of the Arabian Night stories and Shahrazad who told 1,000 stories to a Sultan so he wouldn’t kill her? WELL. This is the retelling! It features Shazi in a Persian fantasy world with magic and evil and intrigue. Plus there are so much delicious Persian food descriptions in here, I nearly ate the book.

 

Stocking Stuffer Suggestions # 6 – Dim’s Christmas picks

Hold on to your paper hats. Here are some last minute cracking Christmas reads to cram into your kidlets’ stockings, a mere handful of my top picks this year. In no particular order:12 10 front cover

Fantasy

 PS Who Stole Santa’s Mail? doesn’t set out to change the world but it does reinforce the magic of believing in all things Christmassy (insert cheeky wink). This action saturated little tale has all the ingredients of a tantalising Christmas mystery, if I do say so myself with sleigh loads of magical mayhem, weird smells, disappearing mail and an evil elf thrown in for good measure. Terrific fun for primary schoolers, by me!

Morris Publishing Australia October 2012

A Boy Called Christmas A Boy Called Christmas by the ineffable Matt Haig with illustrations by Chris Mould however may just save the world or at least the spirit of Christmas. Miika is a mouse who believes in cheese despite the fact he has never seen it. Isn’t that something? He is just one of the several seriously delectable characters in this enchanting Christmas-flavoured book. A Boy Called Christmas combines everything you thought you knA Boy Called Christmas illosew about Santa, mixes it with all the hopes you’ve ever had about Christmas and pats it altogether with facts you’d never dreamed about before. If there is one book you read to your children (or pets or grandparents or self) this holiday season, make sure it’s this one. Touted as an ‘evergreen, immortal Christmas classic’ A Boy Called Christmas will fill your heart with more warmth and wonderment than a jug of eggnog. Perhaps enjoy both together, at the same time. You can’t go wrong. I love everything about this book; the joy, the spirit, the illustrations right down to the sparkly snowy bits on the cover. Higher than highly recommended.

Allen & Unwin November 2015

Classic

The Nights before Christmas The Nights Before Christmas – 24 Classic Stories to Share is a pictorial advent-styled collection of short stories, poems, classic tales, and carols by the likes of The Brothers Grimm, Mark Twain, Hans Christian Anderson and more while, Tony Ross is responsible for page after page of vivid festive illustrations. Overflowing with merriment, sentiment, and fairies, there are plenty of fairies; this compilation is the penultimate way to countdown to Christmas sans sugar! I shared it with my nine-year-old last year and now we are giving it a second airing. She will not abide missing a day’s story or skipping ahead. The lure of what awaits for the next night is half the attraction. A bit like waiting for the man in red himself. Very very special.

Koala Books Scholastic Australia November 2014

The Hush Treasure BookAnother unreal collection and Christmas keepsake is The Hush Treasure Book. Readers can meander in and out of the stories, poems, and pictures of some of Australia’s most well-known and best-loved authors and illustrators whilst listening to the melodic tones of the accompanying CD. The picture book format of this assorted box of literary treasures renders it a collector’s must-have while making it utterly wonderful to share with your children. You can read Joy Lawn’s illuminating review of Hush, here. She made it through Judith Rossell’s incredible Maze Page contained within as did my ten-year-old. Not surprisingly, I did not. I am not a fan of mazes, but I am in love with this book.

Allen & Unwin October 2015

Anthology

Rich and RareI touched on this anthology edited by Paul Collins a couple of months ago; you can revisit it, here. Rich and Rare deserves head of the table status as one of the most comprehensive collections of Australian short stories, poetry and artwork in recent times, and we do produce some cracking good ones. A sensational synergy of individuality so deftly and ably woven together into one fluid volume that it is pure pleasure to read. The likelihood of finding at least one or two of your favourite kids’ authors amongst this collection is above high, such is the calibre of Collins’ round up of talent. Deliciously diverse, thrilling, and thought-provoking Rich and Rare is capable of satisfying the fussiest of readers from 10 to 100 and as Collins suggests, ‘should be in every home.’

Ford Street Publishing October 2015

Australiana

Emo the EmuIt doesn’t really matter where the exact origins of the term ‘emo’ originated, what matters is this spanking new picture book by Tony Wilson and Lucia Masciullo. Both creators have captured the essence of emo in this picture book adventure, Emo the Emu. Emo is one moody, despondent little emu dude so full of mope that he is unable to enjoy his inner emu and Old Humpty Doo where he resides with his extended flightless family. Wilson’s lilting rhyming verse personifies the creatures of our Aussie landscapes precisely while focusingEmo illos spread on Emo’s utter gloom. Masciullo’s watercolour illustrations are ridiculously true to country and fun. Her rendition of lanky-fringed, angst-ridden Emo is hilariously spot-on (worthy of eliciting dozens of teenage eye-rolls). Thankfully, cool Kanga Katie lightens the mood and saves Emo from himself. This will make an awesome gift-with-a-difference for overseas family and friends or for those with a hankering to see more of our great land. A beaut exploration of friendship, emotions, travel, and the great Aussie outdoors. Put it on your list!

Scholastic Press November 2015

Australians Let Us B B Q!Need an extra dollop of Oz? Look no further than Australians, Let Us Barbecue! Yes, Colin Buchanan and Greg Champion along with the iconic illustrations of, Glen Singleton have merged every bit of Aussie swank and summer backyard tradition into the tune of our Australian National Anthem, (one I am betting Aussie kids will instantly learn the words to!) I am throwing both thongs in the air for this one. Slap the accompanying CD on for a rousing recital and sing-along to the very recognisable soundtrack. It’s not just all about burnt black snags on the barbie. The lads take us across rugged mountain ranges, across scorching desert plains, around the Rock, through the Whitsundays and back again. I am almost on that sailboat and in that Kombi thanks to Singleton’s dynamite depictions. An exemplary example of an Aussie summertime that must be experienced by everyone. Quintessentially, unashamedly Aussie.

Scholastic Australia November 2015

Oh there are stacks more, but investigate these first, then have a look through the Boomerang Kids Reading Guide 2015 / 2016 for more great gift ideas. You will not be disappointed.

 

 

 

 

 

5 Naughty and Nice Christmas Gift Ideas

With Christmas fast approaching, here are 5 great naughty and nice Christmas gift ideas for those you love or those you had to put up with this year:Crap Colouring In

  1. A colouring book
    Let’s face it, the colouring book craze isn’t going away any time soon, and for those ready to admit it, colouring books for adults can be a lot of fun. The Adult Colouring Kaleidoscope by Beverley Lawson is a good one, as is The Magical City and The Magical Christmas, both by the talented Lizzie Mary Cullen.
    But for the relative you don’t get along with, try Crap Colouring-In – Mindless Art Therapy for Modern Life by Joe Sumner. It’s bound to get your point across.
  2. A self-help book for the jerk of the family
    If you have a classic jerk in the family, who thinks he always knows best then you need to buy him a copy of I Know You Think You Know it All book by Chris Black. A self-help book full of advice and observations on how to stand apart from others and become an influencer, this could change someone’s life.
  3. A naughty bookThe Elf Off The Shelf
    If you’ve heard of the Christmas toy Elf on the Shelf, then you’ll know he/she brings a lot of joy to children and parents around Christmas time.  The Elf Off The Shelf by Horace the Elf is a parody of the ever popular The Elf on the Shelf and is definitely for parent’s eyes only. If you’d like to give a naughty or inappropriate gift to someone this year, then this is it.
  4. A book to give you peace
    If you’re tired of hearing the same old stories from Great Aunt Beryl or sick of listening to your brother-in-law talk about how important his job is, then you need a copy of The Martian by Andy Weir on stand by. One of the best books out at the moment, (and a favourite of mine) it’s bound to keep them occupied so you can get on with having a good time. (Or you could just read it and escape to Mars in the pages).
  5. Sticker bookThe Ultimate Dinosaur Glow In The Dark Sticker Book
    If you’re visiting nieces and nephews and want to give them a fun gift, then you can’t go wrong with a sticker book. Added advantage is that you can help them put the stickers into the book, or on the fridge, bathroom mirror etc. Check these out: The Cat In The Hat Sticker Book, Star Wars Classic Ultimate Sticker Book, Ultimate Disney Sticker Book and my favourite, the Ultimate Dinosaur Glow In The Dark Sticker Book.
    I wish you all a fabulous Christmas filled with books and laughter.

 

Christmas is Still Coming – Picture Books this Season

Need more Christmas-themed books to keep your little ones entertained this season? Between my previous list, those featured on the Kids’ Reading Guide, and the Boomerang Bloggers fantastic suggestions, you won’t be short for choice of top quality reads to cover all your festive needs.  

imageSanta’s Busy Reindeer, Ed Allen (author), Nathaniel Eckstrom (illus.), Scholastic Australia, 2014.

In a similar style to some of his other titles including 10 Cheeky Possums and 10 Funny Sheep, Ed Allen teams up with illustrator Nathaniel Eckstrom to sing us a reindeer tune just like the 10 Green Bottles one. Readers journey with ten fun-loving, and at times obstinate reindeers, with each page turn subtracting one poor deer from the equation. Carrying out all their favourite Christmas pastimes, like ice skating, hanging fairy lights, organising gifts, carolling, baking and decorating the tree, unfortunate (but oh-so-humorous) mishaps lead us down to one, until they all regroup with Santa’s call and they’re off on their merry way.

Bursting with energy, cheekiness and Eckstrom’s witty illustrations, it’s so much fun to see the reindeers’ attempts at productivity the night before Christmas! Santa’s Busy Reindeer will have your preschoolers in fits of giggles and lots of sing-along action.  

imageThe Naughtiest Reindeer, Nicki Greenberg (author, illus.), Allen & Unwin, 2013.

Poor Rudolf is bed-ridden on the night before Christmas. How will the other reindeer manage to pull the sleigh without him? Never fear! Ruby is here! But Ruby isn’t exactly the most obedient of reindeers. Her over-enthusiasm and impetuous nature lead her to all sorts of mischief. Too much for Santa to bear, he heads back to his Mrs, mistakingly dismissing one visited home, and Ruby! How will those children react when they discover their absent presents? Who will make up for the night-time disasters? You will see, a little compassion goes a long way!

You’ll be lolloping along with Ruby’s antics in this gorgeously comical and engaging rhyming story. Young readers will fall in love with this delightful and zealous character, and no doubt will relish the sequel out this Christmas, The Naughtiest Reindeer at the Zoo.  

imageThere is a Monster Under My Christmas Tree Who Farts, Tim Miller (author), Matt Stanton (illus.), ABC Books, 2014.

From naughty reindeer to naughty monster. This one’s exploding with naughtiness and cheek! With foul language and foul smells, a young boy’s Christmas is ruined by the gaseous fumes that pervade his every move. As told in first person in an explanatory style, we learn how the wrapping of presents ritual is infused with bauble bombs, a photo with Santa captures nothing but cloudiness, and Mum and Dad can’t get past his cracking noises and putrid whiffs. But will Santa believe the young boy’s innocence, or will the monster’s true identity be revealed at just the right moment?

If you’re into toilet humour, you’ll love it! There is a Monster Under my Christmas Tree who Farts, with its animated, digital cartoons, is certainly not a ‘pleasant’ read, but early primary children will certainly be tooting for more.

Review: Legacy of Kings by Eleanor Herman

9781743693544Legacy of Kings is basically a historical-fiction-fantasy with Alexander the Great’s childhood reimagined. Does that not scream marvellous and great (har har I couldn’t resist) things to you? IT DOES TO ME. It’s quite a dark gritty book. There is battle and blood everywhere and evil magic and snakes. Ugh to snakes. I’m a big fan of gritty fantasy, though, so I loved the darker tone and how it kept up the exciting fast pace.

Oh, did I mention it has seven narrating characters? I KNOW. SEVEN. I hesitantly say it’s “too much”, although I did like most of the characters. But a few seemed superficial to the story line…but I assume they’ll become important in later books.

A quick over view of these little narrators!

  • ALEX: Obviously. I mean, he’s THE DUDE, right?! But he has an unfortunately small story line. I loved his character and would’ve liked more from him.
  • HEPH: He was really easy to manipulate. Poor Heph. He’s Alex’s best friend…but their friendship really goes under fire.
  • OLYMPIA: This is Alex’s mother, and I appreciate that we do get a peek at her POV. She is a subtle “villain”. She got up to some seriously freaky stuff…like, terrifying. Snakes. SNAKES IN HER HAIR. I am terrified of snakes.
  • KAT: I wasn’t Kat’s biggest fan because she was super self-involved, never communicated properly, and was NOT loyal in the romance department. But she definitely had complex intentions and was interesting to read about!
  • JACOB: He is Kat’s little childhood sweetheart. Aww. Except, Kat rejects him right at the start so I felt rather bad for him the entire book.
  • CYN: She. was. AWESOME. I’m 99% sure she was a sociopath, and her manipulative and smooth talking skills were so captivating to read.
  • ZO: What is the point of Zo? It is a myth to me. She’s supposedly Alex’s “betrothed”, but she runs away, gets caught by slavers, is a general naive munchkin. I will be curious about where here story goes in the sequels!

I’m a huge fantasy nut, though, so despite the millions of narrators, I still couldn’t help but love the story! I adore grisly fantasy. And the story kept me captivated the entire time, I did not want to put it down. Plus fantasies are usually tiring to read…but I just found myself whipping through it easily! HUZZAH. The world building gets a big thumbs up too. It was interesting and lavish and I felt immersed, even though the book is only 430-pages long. The writing was just fantastic. There is also a gorgeously glorious map. To be honest, I think all books should have maps.

If you’re a fantasy fiend: Legacy of Kings is for you. It is! I had a few quibbles about the characters, but as I sit and stare at the book (as one does when finishing a novel) all I can focus on is what I adored. I wish I had book 2 right now. Hopefully it’ll have more of Alex’s story in there…because I want to see how this battle and strategy genius grows up. It’s such a unique premise, right?! Yay for historical-fiction fantasies!

[PURCHASE HERE]

Christmas shopping list

 

Queues, dodgy carols, aching legs, confusion over what size feet my nephew has. Not for me, this Christmas. This year I’m avoiding the festive-season shopping chaos and buying everyone a book and a pig (or maybe an orangutan). Here’s what my Christmas list looks like.

For my Teen Son: Legacy by Tim Cahill

LegacyBlurb: The story of one of the most admired Australian sportsmen,  international football star Tim Cahill. With his trademark honesty and directness, Tim reflects on what it takes to make it to the top – the sacrifices, the physical cost, the mental stamina, the uncompromising self-belief and self-determination, the ruthlessness, but also the decency, the integrity, and the generosity. An autobiography that is more than a record of the goals and the games, Tim Cahill’s story is a universal reminder of the importance of making your moment count.

For my other Teen Son: Rich and Rare, edited by Paul Collins

Rich & RareBlurb: A collection of stories and artwork from Australia’s best loved writers and illustrators.  With pieces by Shaun Tan, Leigh Hobbs, James Roy, Justin D’Ath, Kirsty Murray, Simon Higgins, Gary Crew, Scot Gardner, there’s something for everyone.

For my Hubbie: A Brief History of Seven Killings, by Marlon James

A brief history of seven killingsBlurb: A Brief History of Seven Killings chronicles the lives of a host of unforgettable characters – slum kids, one-night stands, drug lords, girlfriends, gunmen, journalists, and even the CIA. Gripping and inventive, ambitious and mesmerising, A Brief History of Seven Killings is one of the most remarkable and extraordinary novels of the twenty-first century.

For my Dad: Napoleon’s Last Island by Tom Keneally

Napoleon's Last IslandBlurb: Betsy Balcombe as a young woman lived with her family on St Helena. They befriended, served and were ruined by their relationship with Napoleon. To redeem the family’s fortunes William Balcombe, Betsy’s father, betrays Napoleon and accepts a job as the colonial treasurer of NSW, but William never recovers from the ups and downs of association with Napoleon. Tom Keneally, with his gift for bringing historical stories to life, shares this remarkable friendship and the beginning of an Australian dynasty.

For my Mum: The Secret Chord by Geraldine Brooks

The Secret ChordBlurb: A unique and vivid novel that retells the story of King David’s extraordinary rise to power and fall from grace. With stunning originality, acclaimed author Geraldine Brooks offers us a compelling portrait of a morally complex hero from this strange age – part legend, part history. Full of drama and richly drawn detail, The Secret Chord is a vivid story of faith, family, desire and power that brings David magnificently alive.

For my God-daughter: The Red Queen, by Isobelle Carmody

The Red QueenBlurb: The time has come at last for Elspeth Gordie to leave the Land on her quest to find and stop the computermachine Sentinel from unleashing the deadly Balance of Terror arsenal. But before she can embark on her quest, she must find a lost key; and although she has long prepared for this day, nothing is as she imagined. This is the final, dramatic volume in series of books that undoubtedly shines as one of the most fantastic, and fantastical, tapestries ever woven.

For my Nephew: Two Wolves, by Tristan Banks

Two WolvesBlurb: One afternoon, police officers show up at Ben Silver’s front door. Minutes after they leave, his parents arrive home. Ben and his little sister Olive are bundled into the car and told they’re going on a holiday. But are they? It doesn’t take long for Ben to realise that his parents are in trouble. Ben’s always dreamt of becoming a detective – his dad even calls him ‘Cop’. Now Ben gathers evidence and tries to uncover what his parents have done. The problem is, if he figures it out, what does he do? Tell someone? Or keep the secret and live life on the run?

For my Niece: The Call of the Wild – Choose Your Own Ever After, by Julie Fison (a very good read, even if I do say so myself)

The Call of the Wild - Choose Your Own Ever AfterBlurb: Phoebe Wright and her besties, Annabel and Kimmi have been invited to the coolest party of the year! But when Phoebe realises it’s on the same night as her Wild Club’s movie-night fundraiser, she’s totally torn about what to do. In this pick-a-path story, the reader gets to decide how the story goes.

Save the OrangutansFor everyone: Pigs and Goats by World Vision or Orangutans by Save the Orangutan.

Merry Christmas!

Julie xx

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Twelve Authors of Christmas

Okay… so you’ve all heard of the twelve days of Christmas. Right? Old hat! This is a literary blog, so I’m doing the twelve authors of Christmas instead. I’ve picked twelve of my favourite Aussie kids/teen authors and asked each of then a couple of festive bookish questions.

Question one: What book would you like to find under your Christmas tree this year?

Question two: Which one of your books do you most hope will find its way under other people’s trees?

And now for the authors and their responses…

Michael Pryor

Under his tree:
The book I’d like to find under my Christmas Tree?  Illuminae, by Amie Kaufmann and Jay Kristoff because it sounds all sorts of space Science Fiction awesome.

Under other trees:
Which one of my books do I most hope will find its way under other people’s trees? Leo da Vinci vs the Ice-cream Domination League, because Book 2  (Leo da Vinci vs the Furniture Overlord) will be released in January so people need to get reading Book 1!

Illuminae Leo 1

Corinne Fenton

Under her tree:
I would like to find the just released Maggie Smith: A Biography wrapped and hidden under my Christmas tree. Why — because I admire her greatly as an actress and Christmas time is almost the only time I get to read big people’s books.

Under other trees:
Little Dog and the Christmas Wish  — because of the honour of it being in the Myer windows this year, I want to think of all those children recognising it and imagining a Little Dog finding his way home on a long ago Christmas Eve.

9781474600231 little-dog-and-the-christmas-wish

Meredith Costain

Under her tree:
Attachments, the first book by US writer Rainbow Rowell. I’ve recently read and loved Fangirl and Eleanor and Park and need another fix!

Under other trees:
Ella Diaries: Christmas Chaos. Because when is it ever not chaotic at Christmas! 🙂

9781409120537 9781760153052

Jack Heath

Under his tree:
I’m hoping for a copy of Zeroes by Lanagan et al, because the idea of a forgettable superhero has intrigued me.

Under other trees:
I hope The Cut Out shows up under lots of Xmas trees, so plenty of people have read it when the sequel comes out in August!

Zeroes Cut Out

Hazel Edwards

Under her tree:
Three Dragons for Christmas to share with grandson.

Under other trees:
Not Just a Piece of Cake: Being an Author. Why? To share the Questory ( Quest + Story) / memoir with my family, friends, colleagues and readers who keep asking “Am I in It?”

three dragons Hippo

Adam Wallace

Under his tree:
I would like to find Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli under my Christmas tree, as I have bought and given it away five times and now don’t have a copy of my own!

Under other trees:
I hope that Rhymes With Drawing finds its way under other people’s trees, so that parents can have some peace and quiet while the kids draw for hours on Christmas day!

Stargirl Rhymes with drawing

Claire Saxby

Under her tree:
I saw a book today that was a thesaurus for substituting unusual words for ordinary ones: yes please!

Under other trees:
I would love to see Christmas at Grandma’s Beach House under the tree because it’s a story, a song, a visual feast all rolled into a beach holiday!

Beach House

Tristan Bancks

Under his tree:
Can I have two books under my tree? In adults’ books, Anson Cameron’s Boyhoodlum and in kids’ / teen Robert Hoge’s Ugly.

Under other trees:
Two Wolves. It’s the book that I’m most proud of and that readers respond most enthusiastically to.

Boyhoodlum Ugly Two Wolves

Dee White

Under her tree:
Tears of the Cheetah by TM Clark because her previous two books, Shooting Butterflies and My Brother But One were great holiday reading.

Under other trees:
Hope for Hanna because hope is what keeps us all going through difficult times, and it’s one of the themes of Christmas.

Tears of the Cheetah Hope for Hanna

Paul Collins

Under his tree:
Anything new by Eoin Colfer or Philip Reeve would do me fine.

Under other trees:
The anthology Rich & Rare should be in every household!

Darkling Plain RIch and Rare cover Med Res

Goldie Alexander

Under her tree:
Hazel Edward’s latest memoir Not Just a Piece of Cake: Being an Author, as she talks about her journey as an author.

Under other trees:
My latest book appearing in a few weeks is Cybertricks. Science fiction for older children.

Hippo

Gabrielle Wang

Under her tree:
The Evil Garden by Edward Gorey because I love his quirky imagination and wonderfully strange illustrations.

Under other trees:
The Wishbird because fables are always good to read at Christmas time.

evil garden wishbird

A big round of virtual applause for the twelve authors of Christmas. Lots of literary goodness for under the Christmas tree!

But wait… what about me? I’m an author too. And I love getting books for Christmas. But what book do I want? Lots of great suggestions from the authors above. Let me think. I’ve already got Illuminae (almost finished reading it) and Rich & Rare (I’m in that one!). I reckon I’d go for Hazel Edward’s Not Just a Piece of Cake: Being an Author… aside from the fact that I know there’s a pic of me with Hazel in it, I think Hazel is a fascinating person with such a rich and varied literary career that it’s bound to make great reading.

As for which book of mine I’d like to see under Christmas trees… I’d go for the second edition of my very first book, the YA short story collection Life, Death and Detention. No, there are no Christmas stories in it, but I have quite a soft spot for the book that started my career as an author.

Hippo Life, Death and Detention

Merry Christmas, George

PS. Follow me on Twitter

automanCheck out my DVD blog, Viewing Clutter.

Latest Post: DVD Review  — Automan: The Complete Series

.

.

.

Books & Christmas with A.J. Betts

A.J. Betts has achieved great popular and critical acclaim for her YA novel Zac & Mia (Text Publishing).

Why A.J. rather than Amanda?

I chose to use my initials for the publication of my first novel, Shutterspeed, which was, amongst other things, a book written to appeal to reluctant male readers (14+). After teaching teens for many years, I realised how little was written to engage and excite this group. I worried that a female name on the cover might give potential readers a reason – however small – not to pick up the book. My decision was also a homage, of sorts, to S.E. Hinton, and her amazing work and legacy.Shutterspeed

Where are you based and how involved are you in the YA and children’s lit world?

After growing up in Far North Queensland, then living for a time in Brisbane and overseas, I’m now based in Perth, where I’ve been since 2004. I’m fortunate to live beside the ocean. I’m obsessed with the blues.

I’m quite involved in the YA scene. I’m a member of WA branch of SCBWI (Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators), which regularly meets for workshops and talks. I’ve made some incredible, like-minded friends through this organisation. I spend a lot of time speaking at schools and festivals, including working with The Literature Centre in Fremantle, which promotes Australian children’s creators, and conducts writing programs for young people. More generally, I’m a proud supporter of the LoveOzYA campaign, as well as the Room2Read projects.

How else do you spend your time?

Besides writing and presenting, I teach high school English part-time. I’m a keen cyclist (I own five bikes) so I try to get out most days, followed by an ocean dip. I read when I can, for pleasure or research. If I need some ‘down-time’ I watch films or I wander around shopping centres like a zombie.

Zac & MiaWhat inspired you to write Zac & Mia (which I reviewed for The Weekend Australian here)?

For the past eleven years I’ve worked as a high school teacher in a children’s hospital in Perth, and most of that time has been spent working on the cancer ward.

Even so, Zac & Mia was a surprise to me. In the past, my writing has always been sparked from random moments, followed by ‘what if?’ questioning. I never imagined I’d write about topics so close to my real (working) life. I never thought I’d write a novel so emotionally testing.

The book came about from two separate things: firstly, my empathy for teenagers stuck in isolation during a bone marrow transplant treatment (imagine being stuck in a room for five weeks!?); and secondly, because of a request I had from a cancer patient who wanted me to write a romance. I didn’t know which idea to pursue first – isolation or romance – so I wondered if it was possible to bring the two ideas together. This raised the question: is it possible to fall in love with someone you can’t meet?

Cancer wasn’t a driving ‘theme’, but the catalyst for bringing the two characters together. As the story developed, so too did the ideas, such as finding ‘a new normal’ after illness or change. It was only in the editing process that I realized what is truly at the heart of the story: What is beauty? What is courage? What is love? The characters are working out their own answers to these questions – and I certainly learned a lot from them along the way!

I’m indebted to the hundreds of teenagers I’ve worked with on the cancer ward – they are the reason I persevered with this book, honestly and earnestly. They continue to inspire and surprise me.

Could you tell us something about your main characters, and also about the book’s structure (which I love)?

Zac is a very level-headed kind of guy who likes sport and the outdoors. He uses humour to deal with problems, and has a ‘glass-half-full’ kind of approach. He was lots of fun to write and his voice came to me quite naturally. I’d say he’s made up of 50% me and 50% teenaged male students I’ve known over the years. (Please note: while Zac & Mia is influenced by real people, the actual story and events are fictional.)

The entrance of Mia’s character, on the other hand, needed to prompt contrast and conflict, and as a result she’s more impulsive, self-focused, and quicker to anger. She’s feisty! Whereas Zac’s decisions are based on logic, hers are emotion-fuelled. She was also fun to create, but it took me a long time to get her character right. Again, she’s made up of teenagers I’ve known (their comments; not necessarily their actions) and parts of me. I had to delve into my teenage recollections to truly bring her to life.

The three-part structure – Zac’s perspective; alternating perspectives; Mia’s perspective – evolved through the writing process. Originally, the novel was going to be completely narrated by Zac, but when I was approximately eight chapters in, I realized the main character arc was going to be Mia’s. This meant I needed to give her the chance to reveal much more of her inner life. I liked the alternating chapters in the middle third, as it contrasts the characters’ experiences while showing their lives intersecting. By devoting the final third to Mia, I came to like her more – and hopefully the reader does too! The novel’s three-word title came directly from its three-part structure.

AmandaBettsHave you received any responses from young readers about Zac and Mia that particularly resonate with you?

I’m overwhelmed by the sincerity of the emails I receive from young readers, both here in Australia and overseas. Some have cancer; some have witnessed it in a friend or relative. For most readers, though, they really relate to Mia’s experience, which is not about illness but universal experiences such as hope, rejection, fear, self-loathing, love, vulnerability and frustration. Readers tell me the book moved them, and that they see their worlds with new eyes. What a privilege this is, for me.

What else have you written?

My first novel is Shutterspeed (Fremantle Press; 2008), followed by Wavelength (Fremantle Press; 2010). They are completely different from each other, and from Zac & Mia. Shutterspeed is fast and edgy, exploring ideas of obsession and secrecy. Wavelength is more funny and philosophical, reflecting on the decisions that teenagers (nearing the end of Year 12) need to make.Wavelength

What are you writing at the moment?

My current project is already three years in the making. It’s something unexpected and exciting – a work of speculative fiction set in a future Tasmania. It’s my most adventurous story yet. I’m about 2/3 through the draft, though the overall shape keeps changing and I’m continually having to rework earlier chapters. It could be really good or a terrible mess. I’m yet to find out! But I’m enjoying it right now, which must count for something.

What have you enjoyed reading? Illuminae

So much! I’ve just finished reading Illuminae (by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff) which kept me awake at night for all the best reasons. This year some of my favourites have been Station Eleven (Emily St. John Mandel), My Brilliant Friend (Elena Ferrante), The Night Circus (Erin Morgenstern), South of Darkness (John Marsden), A Single Stone (Meg McKinlay), and Inbetween Days (Vikki Wakefield). I’m about to begin reading American Gods (Neil Gaiman), and a non-fiction book called The Soul of an Octopus (Sy Montgomery). I can’t wait to begin.

Inbetween daysChristmas is coming. How do you plan to celebrate and what books would you like as Christmas presents?

Already!? This Christmas will be a quiet-ish one in Perth with good friends, good food, and some cooling ocean swims. For Christmas, I need another bookcase, and only then I’m allowed to buy/receive new books. No-one dares buy me books for Christmas as they know how fussy I am.

For the New Year I’ll be going to New Zealand for a one month cycle-touring trip of the South Island, (with some research and bookstore events/visits thrown in). Travel, bikes, books – what more could anyone want?

Elise Hurst’s Incredible Narrative World

imageIt’s no secret that Elise Hurst is a champion in the world of children’s literature, with over 55 published books to her name, ‘The Night Garden’ being shortlisted in the 2008 CBCA Awards, and her unequivocal skill in fine art, portraiture and landscape artistry. Her works, such as ‘My Boots in Season’ and ‘Imagine a City’, are full of energy, imagination and surrealism, and at the same time touch their audience with their intense, nostalgic and indelible, classic qualities. It is a great honour to have had the opportunity to discover more about Elise’s creative world, and her secrets behind ‘Adelaide’s Secret World’ (read my review here)  

imageCongratulations on the launch of your latest picture book release, ‘Adelaide’s Secret World’! Your recent exhibition displayed a stunning collection of your oil paintings from the story. Please tell us about the response you’ve received and the most rewarding part of the whole process.

It was really special to have the book wrap around me in the gallery, and for people to be able to read it as they moved around the walls. By far though, the best responses have been from people being immersed in the text and telling me about their genuine connections to the character. That has been from adults and children alike.  

‘Adelaide’s Secret World’ is a touching tale full of imagination, reflection, serendipitous and courageous moments that empower change and finding one’s voice. Where did the inspiration for this story come from, and how did it develop?

I understand Adelaide, and I think there is a little bit of her in many of us. She is that person who has a beautiful rich world within her but no one notices. She is wrapped up in loneliness and has turned it into a safe place. She is observant and thoughtful, creative and active but she simply doesn’t know how to reach out to those around her. She grew from the coming together of many things – a painting of a solitary rabbit in a cafe that I created some years ago, a character of a woman striding through a street in New York with a strange huge bird, the memory of being at university before I had made new friends and how lonely that was even though I was surrounded by people. And the movie Amelie was one that struck a chord too, in dealing with a similar character. The more I thought about the character and the source of her isolation, the more she developed into a real person for me.  

How long did the process take from inception to completion? What were the most challenging aspects of creating ‘Adelaide’s Secret World’?

imageSome of the earliest emails I was trading with my editors Erica Wagner and Elise Jones at A&U are from 2011 – so the story has been on the boil for some time. The character was still changing then and the story was quite different. Over the next 4 years we met and talked a lot about what we wanted the story to be and how to make it flow naturally. One of the challenges is to make the story reinforce itself at every turn. Picture books are short so nothing should be wasted. All of the tiny details should support the narrative and should be symbolic in some way – from the colour choices to incidental details. In an early version I had intended that Adelaide would have a red coat hanging on her wall which she wasn’t brave enough to wear until the end of the narrative. However, I changed that to have her wear a red coat throughout the story. This way she was a visual focus, but also it showed that she was the warm beating heart of the story. It was important to me that she was not seen as broken or empty, but that she had so much to give if she could just find a way to speak out. In the red coat she carried all of that imagination and warmth around with her. It was also a nice visual link to the red curtain, itself a powerful metaphor. The curtain changed from being a comfortable buffer between her outer and inner world, to being torn apart and reused as an agent of change and connection when it is pulled into a long strand. This is used to physically connect others in the community, as well as Adelaide, so that when they leave their houses in the morning they follow the red strings and meet each other for the first time.  

I loved creating the paintings, but it was the story that was the biggest and most important challenge. I wanted a story with real heart, not just a lot of nice pictures.  

Your paintings are contemporary yet reflect classic detail in their artistry. Which illustrators have been your greatest influences in becoming the successful artist you are today? How did your path lead you to illustrate children’s books?

I think I looked at people who had certain skills – and it didn’t matter what field they were in. I loved John Singer Sargent for his incredible portraits and use of colour. John William Waterhouse for his accurate but dreamy narrative works. The Lindsays and Albrecht Durer and other etchers for their line and drama. E.H. Sheppard and Beatrix Potter for expressive lines and capturing animal characters…

To some extent I studied them when I was a child, but after that I think I just carried around aspects of their work in my head, just the same as you keep certain music and scenes from films and books, characters you meet and things you witness. They all swirl around together and find their own way out. I was a traditional artist first, before moving into illustration. This was great for assembling the skills I will draw on for the rest of my life as an artist. What that area lacked, though, was story. And once I began illustrating I found the other artwork I was doing to be curiously hollow. I could like it for what it had achieved but I didn’t have the same feeling and excitement for it as I do with narrative works.  

imageYour range of books showcase a variety of illustrating styles, from ink and watercolours to oil paintings, whimsical to soul-stirring. Do you have a preference over which medium you like to use? What is your process in determining which style best suits the story?

I used to change all of the time because I had all of these styles and media at my disposal (because of the traditional art beginnings). Now I have my two favourite styles that I think are the best conduit for my imagination. One is highly detailed and precise drawings in black and white. The other is expressive oil painting. They are opposites, really. Oils are fast and expressive, emotional and dramatic. The drawings are slow and considered, evolving and detail-filled. They are great for expressing completely different stories and aspects of the world I love.  

What does your art studio look like? Meticulously organised or creative clutter?

It has evolved from creative clutter to meticulously organised. I used to love being surrounded by inspirational things, but it got to a point when the functional space in my room was about a third of its actual size. It had to stop. Having kids too, there needs to be one space where I can go that is organised.  

What are your favourite figures / scenes to draw / paint? Why?

I like to draw without an agenda and see what happens. Unplanned drawings where a character finds themself in the middle of an adventure – that’s great fun. All I need is the beginning detail and it just goes from there. My inner child often gets to star there somewhere.  

imageYour writing style is equally as emotive and enchanting as your pictures. How do you get this harmony so aligned? Do you prefer one aspect of the book creation over the other?

I think the writing and pictures are really two hands working on the same task. They may have different things at their disposal but they are always supporting each other. I pay particular attention to the strengths of each medium at evoking the senses and helping us to make connections. So colour has an emotional language for me where cools shades might be sad or reflective, and warm ones are happy or excited or angry. Likewise I’ll describe sound or smell with the words. The more connections we make, the more immersive the experience of reading can be and the more real the story becomes.  

What do you love most about writing and illustrating for children?

I would have to say that I write and illustrate for me. And I sincerely hope that the adults enjoy the books as much as the children.  

What advice would you give to aspiring writers and illustrators wanting to succeed in the children’s literature industry?

I guess – become good at what you love. Keep learning, keep practising. Go to life drawing classes and get to know the human body. But above all else keep experimenting to find what it is that comes naturally to you and how you can use that strength and individuality to create things that are distinctly yours.  

What are you currently working on? What can all of your fans look forward to seeing from you in the near future?

I am completing a few commissions, while I think about the next story. I know it and the main character but I have yet to get anything onto paper. If you have read Adelaide then you have already met him. Next, the Fox gets his story.  

Thank you so much, Elise! Looking forward to Fox’s adventures!

Connect with Elise Hurst at her website and facebook page.

Teaching notes for Adelaide’s Secret World can be found here.

Books & Christmas with Anna Branford

I adore Anna Branford’s endearing character Violet Mackerel, who features in her own series for young girls, illustrated by Sarah Davis (Walker Books). Violet is written exquisitely and her empathy and kindness moves me even on multiple readings. The most recent instalment is Violet Mackerel’s Formal Occasion.Violet Mackerel's Formal Occasion

Thanks for speaking with Boomerang Books, Anna.

Such a pleasure!

Where are you based and how involved are you in the children’s lit world?

I live in Melbourne in a little apartment that looks down over a park. It is just about perfect for a writer as it’s very quiet but at the same time, I can see the world going by. As for my involvement in the children’s lit world, besides writing, I’ve been doing lots of school visits and touring this year and I’ve also had the opportunity to present at two writers’ festivals too, Brisbane and Melbourne, both of which were fantastic.

How else do you spend your time?

I lecture in Sociology at Victoria University, teaching on topics like childhood and religion. And I also love making things by hand, especially dolls and nests. I love knitting and felting and that kind of thing.

What inspired you to write the ‘Violet Mackerel’ series?Brilliant Plot

In a funny sort of way, the inspiration actually came through doll making. I was selling my dolls at an especially beautiful Melbourne country market, St Andrews, which is outdoors and starts very early in the morning. It was during the winter so it was still dark. There was a fire and some people were playing fiddles and flutes, and even though the sun was coming up there were still stars in the sky. It was a bit magical really. I noticed that some of the people setting up their own stalls had children with them still in pajamas and half asleep, watching the market forming all around them. And as I was wondering what they thought about it all, somehow Violet and her family popped into my mind.

Could you tell us something about your main characters? Are the children or adults modelled on real people?

One of the funny things about writing is that for me, I often don’t realise where my influences and ideas come from until after I’ve finished the story. Then, as I reread, I realise how very much like my sister Violet is, or how similar Violet’s mum’s reaction is to something I have recently felt myself. Retrospectively, I can usually see exactly where each trait and characteristic comes from, but it’s never intentional at the time of writing. I see my sister, my friends (especially young friends) and sometimes myself in the characters I write about.

I love reading about Violet’s family’s creativity and involvement with making things and going to markets. Do you also like these things?

I absolutely love them. I grew up with parents who often made things and who encouraged my sister and I to make things too. And for me markets, and especially craft markets, are places where you get to see newborn ideas, fresh from people’s minds and hands. I also feel a lot of love for handwork with small and slightly uneven stitches and unintended fingerprints in clay – all the evidence of the love of human hands.

How closely have you collaborated with illustrator Sarah Davis?

I love working with her. In some ways you could say we collaborate closely in that we are absolutely co-creators of Violet and her family. But at the same time, many of the ideas in the Violet stories come purely from Sarah and are a wonderful surprise for me when I first open a set of illustrations for a new Violet story. Lots of the humour especially! In the later books in the series, Violet’s teddy bear has become a hilarious side character in the stories, reflecting Violet’s emotions and thoughts. That is purely Sarah’s doing and I enjoy it as much as any reader of the series!

Why is a different illustrator used in overseas editions?Personal space

Violet has actually had four different illustrators in her different editions! I believe that is pretty unusual and I’m not sure of the reasons behind the choices publishers make about these things, but my best guess is that an ‘ordinary family’ like the Mackerels is actually quite a specific idea depending on the culture and society it is being portrayed for. It has been hugely interesting for me to see both the differences and the similarities in the way the characters have been created in their various incarnations.

Have you received any responses from young readers about Violet Mackerel that particularly resonate with you?

One thing I would never have guessed when I started out as a writer is the wonderful mail you begin to get! I’ve received beautiful handmade gifts from children and lovely stories from parents telling me that a Violet book was the first their child read independently from cover to cover. That just amazes me. I’ve heard from a few young readers that they think of Violet as their own friend, and that resonates with me a lot. When I was young my family moved very often and I always has to leave friends behind, so I know how important portable book friends can be for children.

What else have you written?

Lily the elfJust recently I have been working on my new series about Lily the Elf. Lily lives with her dad and her granny in an elf house under a bridge, with a moss garden and a huge (to her) dandelion overhead. So she is an urban sort of elf who exists, as lots of us do, in the city but also in an incorporated natural world. And although there is a lot about her life that is elf-specific, such as her tininess, she is a relatable character too, and deals with lots of the same troubles and delights that children her age do. I’m having a lot of fun creating this series in collaboration with Lisa Coutts, an illustrator who captures Lily’s world so beautifully that I secretly suspect she may be half-elf herself.

What awards have your books won or been shortlisted for?

I’ve been very lucky in this department over the past few years! Violet Mackerel’s Brilliant Plot was Honour Book in the 2011 Children’s Book Council of Australia Book of the Year Awards, Younger Readers category. In 2013, Violet Mackerel’s Personal Space won the Young Readers/Picture Book Award category of the Australian Family Therapists’ Award and was short-listed for the 2013 Children’s Peace Literature Awards. And in 2014, Violet Mackerel’s Possible Friend was short-listed for the CBCA Book of the Year Awards, Younger Readers category.

What are you writing at the moment?

I’m working on two things at the moment, a new Lily the Elf story about the trickiness of parting with old things even though you don’t really need them any more. And another thing that is top secret!

What have you enjoyed reading?Wind in the willows

My favourite book of all time is Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame. I read it when I’m feeling sad and it is like an old friend. I read it when I get sick and it makes me feel better. I read it at Christmas and it fills the time with magic. I think there will always be at least a bit of happiness with me all my life, so long as I always have a copy on my shelves.

More recently I have been some of Banana Yoshimoto’s books and enjoying them very much and wishing I could travel to see some of the places she is writing about.

Christmas is coming. How do you plan to celebrate and what books would you like as Christmas presents?

Magic Beach

I absolutely love Christmas! This morning my sister, my mum and I are also taking my three-year-old niece to ride the Christmas train at Myer and to see a gingerbread village. In the afternoon I am going to choose myself a Christmas tree. I celebrate non-stop all through December. I can never sing enough carols, or see enough lights and gingerbread creations, or wrap enough presents or light enough candles! But for Christmas itself my partner and I will disappear up into the mountains and have a couple of very peaceful days together, which is one of my favourite things of all. This year I would love to start sharing Alison Lester’s beautiful books with my niece so I am hoping for a copy of Magic Beach.

Where can people find you and Violet on social media?Neville

I have a website, annabranford.com, and can also be found on facebook.

All the best with your books, Anna. I’m looking forward to spending more time with Violet and Lily and later discovering your top secret project.

Thank you so much!

Boomerang Book Bites: The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen

This is an outstanding novel that deserves all the accolades and then some. It is so witty and cutting in it’s dissection of America’s attitude to the Vietnam War (or as the Vietnamese call it the American War). It is not just an anti-war novel but it is THE anti-Vietnam War novel bringing a perspective to the war, the conflict and it’s aftermath, that has been purposely ignored all these years.
http://www.boomerangbooks.com.au/Sympathizer/Viet-Thanh-Nguyen/book_9781472151377.htm
FREE shipping. Save $6.95 when you use the promo code bookbites at checkout

Review – Adelaide’s Secret World by Elise Hurst

imageHighly talented artist, Elise Hurst‘s illustrations seem to metamorphose with every title, from fluid watercolours to fine ink lines and bold, sweeping strokes of oil colours. In this latter artistic style, differing to that of some of her other titles, including My Boots in Season and Imagine a City, Elise Hurst has produced an intriguing, heart-stopping new book, its words and pictures working together to take your breath away; it’s Adelaide’s Secret World.

imageShe lives a solitary existence. A life once full of delight and wonders, now, a world confined in glass jars, hidden within a cloak and a red curtain. The town in which Adelaide lives is bustling with movement, but it seems the townsfolk are simply, and privately, just passing through each day. Longing for a connection, a serendipitous moment finds Adelaide at the door that opens her heart and soul to a whole new world full of possibilities. As she finds her inner calm, it is that very red curtain that once blocked her vision that she courageously uses as the missing link. By connecting the torn thread amongst the townsfolk, those who were once lonely and silent, including Adelaide, have now found a voice, and each other.

With her stunning collection of dreamy oil paintings and evocative words, Elise Hurst takes her readers on a soul-searching journey that touches a little piece of all of us. Feeling lost and isolated is not uncommon, particularly in a world of chaos. But Adelaide reminds us that friendship, humanity and self expression can always be found, and celebrated with a little bit of courage and an open heart.

imageThe exquisite mixture of colour, movement, emotion, and poetic softness in both text and illustrations work flawlessly together to evoke feelings of angst, peace, turmoil and calm. Pale yellows and greens in the beginning and end shed light on a world that is safe and comfortable, and becomes brighter even more so as Adelaide’s world is suddenly flooded with energy and an inner peace. The mid-section carries deep greens, blues and greys, signifying this spinning, chaotic whirlwind inside her mind. And throughout the book, pops of red burst with visual warmth, power and imagination.

‘Adelaide’s Secret World’ is undeniably uplifting and visually rousing, a perfect choice for early primary children to revisit over and over again. This book has potential to win awards and would make a gorgeous film. Highly recommended.

Allen&Unwin, 2015.

Click here for more information on Elise Hurst.

***Read my exclusive interview with the talented author illustrator herself! Click here!***

What’s On Your Christmas Wishlist This Year?

We bookworms have a wonderful advantage when it comes to Christmas time. When humans say, “Soooo, what do you want for Christmas?” the only answer to screech at them is “BOOKS! BOOKS!” The only real agony comes when writing the perfect Bookish Christmas List. Because you don’t want to forget any excellent ones, right?!

Today I have a list of YA books that should probably definitely be on your list too. Feel free to leave a comment and tell me what you’re most excited about, too!

 

978140884564697801435735249781631590757

1. HARRY POTTER AND THE PHILOSOPHER’S STONE (ILLUSTRATED EDITION)

Because how really can one exist without this glorious novel in their hands?!? Illustrations, peoples! Don’t ever think you’re too old. I dearly wish this edition had been around when I first read Harry Potter.

2. SOUNDLESS (Released Nov 2015)

A new book by Richelle Mead! OH HUZZAH! And this one is set in a Chinese-esque fantasy world were everyone is deaf. Intrigued? I think yes.

3. ALICE’S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND (Released Oct 2015)

This is the most beautiful version of Lewis Carroll’s famous Wonderland ever. I’m entirely sure it is. I believe it even has a few illustrations inside (!!) which I am so up for.

 

97803991717039781481432320 (1)9780399168031

4. WRITTEN IN THE STARS (Released Mar 2015)

Cover love aside (but not too far aside because let’s face it, this book is gorgeous) I really want to read this one because its about a Pakastani girl who is being forced into an arranged marriage. It’s about destiny and it sounds like an incredible story.

5. THE NEST (Released Oct 2015)

All I heard was “for fans of Coraline” and then it was on my list immediately. Although I did deign to go back and read the blurb later. The back cover promises wasp queens and brothers saving brothers and explores disabilities and dreams and fears. Does that not sound entirely compelling to you? Me = need this book.

6. UNDER A PAINTED SKY (Released Mar 2015)

I was mildly obsessed with the Gold Rush era when I was a small human…and I haven’t quite left the infatuation behind. So naturally I’m dying for this book set in 1849 about a Chinese girl who wants to be a musician, but ends up on the Oregon Trail bound for gold. Plus runaway slaves and cowboys. Say no more. This book needs me.

 

97814814230389781634501736

7. LOCK & MORI (Released Nov 2015)

Sherlock Holmes is one of my favourite things of ever and I’ve read countless retellings! So naturally I want to read more. Plus this version is by the point of “Mori” (Moriarty!) who is also genderbent and a girl! IS THIS REAL LIFE!? I’m so keen for this book!

8. IT’S A WONDERFUL DEATH (Released Oct 2015)

An absent minded Grim Reaper? An overzealous angel? DEATH PERSONIFIED?!? This book has my name written all over it basically. After the marvellousness that is The Book Thief and The Game of Love and Death, I’m all for games where supernatural eternities are personified.

97814472993189780385391535

9. CARRY ON (Released Oct 2015)

And of course I’m eager to read Rainbow Rowell’s latest book! Remember the fabulousness that is Fangirl?! Well, the fanfic that the protagonist of Fangirl wrote…is now its own book! So it’s like a book from inside a book?!

10.  5 TO 1 (Released June, 2015)

I love fantasy and dystopian…but have I ever read one set in India? Negatory. So! I’m absolutely dying for this beautiful looking book!

 

 

For more Bookish Christmas Wishlist inspiration, head over to Boomerang Book’s Christmas guides!