NSW Premier’s Literary Awards & SWF Indigenous Voices

As always, the Sydney Writers’ Festival in May was an amazing week.

The NSW Premier’s Literary Awards were announced on the Monday night and I was thrilled to meet the Patricia Wrightson (children’s book) winner for the surrealist mystery Iris and the Tiger, Leanne Hall (who I interviewed for the blog here), photographed below with shortlisted Tamsin Janu and shortlisted Ethel Turner YA author Lili Wilkinson.

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The winner of the Kenneth Slessor Poetry award was Peter Boyle for the inimical Ghostspeaking, an intriguing mystery of finely woven stories and poems. The richly constructed characters are brought to life with interlaced poems. It evokes Borges’ Labyrinths with the brush strokes and ideas of artist William Robinson and the clear bold outlines and strokes of Matisse.

Congratulations to James Roy (who I interviewed for the blog here ) and Noël Zihabamwe, whose One Thousand Hills won the Ethel Turner award and all the other shortlisted and winning authors, including overall winner, Leah Purcell for The Drover’s Wife play script.

At the SWF, I was privileged to be in conversation with Dr Anita Heiss and Witi Ihimaera for the ‘Indigenous Voices’ sessions at the Wharf in Walsh Bay and at Parramatta Riverside Theatres. It was great to have the opportunity to discuss Anita’s new The Race for Reconciliation, a novel for children that celebrates Aboriginal hero Cathy Freeman and shares truths that many Australian children don’t know about stolen children, National Sorry Day and other aspects of Aboriginal recent history.

Anita has also shown Aboriginal women in contemporary Australian literature in new and important ways such as in Barbed Wire & Cherry Blossoms. This compares the WW2 Prisoner of War camp near Cowra in central NSW when Japanese soldiers broke out, with the local Wiradjuri people who also virtually lived under prison conditions – and had less food than the Japanese prisoners.

Also in this session was revered Maori writer Witi Ihimaera. He was the first Maori author to have both a novel and short stories published. In his memoir, Maori Boy, Witi uses a unique and powerful spiral thread structure. He also uses myths in his work.

Witi is well known for his book and movie from the book, Whale Rider and also now, Mahana. At times he wished he was brought up more in Maori traditions and he wasn’t great at the haka. But he was destined to do another kind of haka.

Anita and Witi made a fine team enlightening us about indigenous voices.

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Changing Feelings – Picture books about change

Last week, Romi Sharp reviewed some heart melting picture books that promote helping to heal. You can view them, here. The inclusion of emotionally resilient building narrative in picture book format is a subject close to my heart, even more so after my recent return from Singapore’s Asian Festival of Children’s Content where I presented a seminar on Biblio-therapy and its usefulness in children’s literature. These next few picture books eloquently and artfully address the need to embrace feelings and increase a young child’s ability to cope better with change. Have a look for yourself.

Through the Gate by Sally Fawcett

Fawcett’s latest picture book epitomises the essence of change so succinctly, even I, a great resister, felt gladden and reassured. From the magnetising front cover, achingly decrepit and hopeful at the same time, to the dramatic transformation of the end pages, Through the Gate is a visually striking and emotionally memorable look at affecting and accepting change.

Continue reading Changing Feelings – Picture books about change

Review: When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon

BUY HERE

When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon is definitely one of the cutest books I’ve had the pleasure of reading in 2017. It’s totally nerdy and full of adorkable socially awkward characters and so much delicious food. It features the absolute best romance that I couldn’t help but ship!

The story follows both Dimple and Rishi’s storylines as they head off to a program to develop an app — and discover their parents have set them up for an arranged marriage. Well, Rishi knew. And he assumed Dimple was on board. Their first meeting ends up with Dimple throwing an iced coffee in Rishi’s face and running away. #Awkward But the two end up becoming tentative friends (although future marriage is STRICTLY not on, in Dimple’s opinion) and team up to enter this app competition. It’s 6 weeks of design and discussion and development…with the two realising they maybe do have feelings for each other after all. Which is exactly the opposite of what Dimple wanted.

My favourite thing was how both Dimple and Rishi were huge nerds! Dimple is into coding and computers and Rishi is (in denial though) a huge comic book artist. Aren’t they the perfect pair!? And to top it off, they were written so complexly with so many dimensions that I couldn’t help but feel totally sucked in by the story and dissolved into their vibrant and emotional world. Their character arcs were just amazing and relatable! And the book isn’t just about two teens coding an app — they eat delicious food (like, so so much…you will get hungry reading this) and there is intense gelato appreciation; plus the end up dancing in a contest which is rather hysterical; and there may or may not be an adorable star-gazing scene.

I also really liked how it was a positive story about arranged marriage for Indian cultures! Generally I see it portrayed as very negative, so it’s nice to get this perspective. Plus both sets of parents were lovely, kind, and wanted the best for their children. It’s always refreshing to see parents in YA books not casted as the villains. Plus it was full of rich Indian culture, which I totally loved being immersed in. Dimple is pretty adamant about being a “normal American” but Rishi is fiercely proud of his Indian heritage and his comics feature Indian folklore. He’s proud of where he came from and he doesn’t want to lose touch with that, which was wonderful to read about.

I really loved their voices and the fact it was written in 3rd person! That’s my favourite perspective and it really connected me to the story instantly. I’m also glad it split up to tell both perspectives, because they really both were precious cinnamon rolls and I loved every chapter!

I thoroughly enjoyed When Dimple Met Rishi and it was full of squishy happiness and true appreciation for nerds of all kinds. The geek levels were intensely awesome, with a science-interested girl and an art-interested boy. The writing had me hooked on every chapter and I truly cared for the characters. All the praise for this adorable and sweet story!

Picture Books to Help and Heal

When you’re feeling a little lost, a little broken, or need a helping hand, what better way to lift you up than with a few beautiful, encouraging books with a whole heap of sentiment and warmth. Here are a few newbies you’ll want to hold close to your heart.

The Whirlpool, Emily Larkin (author), Helene Magisson (illus.), Wombat Books, May 2017.

When one moment shifts into another, without warning, and your world suddenly seems like a foreign place. This emotional whirlpool, as it is described; can pluck you from a place of familiarity and warmth then spin you round until you’re left confused and displaced. The Whirlpool considerately and sensitively addresses this sentiment without needing a definite cause; there doesn’t have to be some traumatic event for us to experience those ‘bad’ or isolated days. Because we all know happiness, sadness, loneliness and love, and here they are expressed beautifully through the eyes of a young polar bear cub.

Emily Larkin’s words are poetic-like. In their very being they stir up emotions in your soul. The simple sentences are sharp and carefully crafted for dramatic impact. Helene Magisson’s breathtaking illustrations almost literally wrap you up in this sensational vortex. Specifically defining moments are highlighted through her choice of visual layout and colour. Vast scenes define both feelings of joy and desolation, and focal sequences display proudness and a tiring endurance. And with Helene’s characteristically alluring charm and symbolic nuances, the significance of the yellow scarf cleverly ties the changing moods and atmospheric conditions altogether.

The Whirlpool is, funnily enough, a gentle and hopeful tale, reassuring its primary school aged readers that experiencing a range of feelings and challenges in their life can be helpful in navigating their individual journeys. This is explained further by helpful notes at the back of the book. So, take a step back and watch a snippet of real life flash before you- this book is insightful, sincere and stunningly beautiful.

Nanna’s Button Tin, Dianne Wolfer (author), Heather Potter (illus.), Walker Books, June 2017.

The sentimentality of a little piece of plastic, primarily used to hold material together, may mean little to some, but for others, buttons hold a lifetime of memories. Nanna’s Button Tin is brimming with warm and fuzzy goodness, of special intergenerational bonds and precious reminders of the past.

For a little girl, Nanna’s button tin holds the key to healing her Teddy’s much-needed amending. And she has the added comfort of being fulfilled with stories of love as she searches for the perfect round, brown button for Teddy’s eye. The tiny yellow button reminds Nanna of the day the little girl was born. The bear-shaped button was worn on her birthday jumper when she was three. The sparkly green one signifies the connection between her grandparents. Whilst the silver angel button helped bring her back to health when she was sick. With Teddy finally fixed, the button tin and all its contents are replaced on the shelf for another day of memorable moments.

With heartfelt dialogue between the characters, and superbly detailed, realistic and warm illustrations, Nanna’s Button Tin contains a pile of love and a beautifully familiar homely feel. This book will be adored, shared and reflected upon by its preschool-aged audience, and their grandparents, many times over. Certainly one to replenish all the warmth in your heart.

Ava’s Spectacular Spectacles, Alice Rex (author), Angela Perrini (illus.), New Frontier Publishing, June 2017.

Another story told through the eyes of a child is Ava’s Spectacular Spectacles. And what a vision she has! Initially, though, Ava is self conscious about her glasses and won’t wear them in class. But with Mrs Cook’s bright and imaginative attitude, things have never looked the same. Presenting a page from various fairy tales to Ava, much like watching an oversized movie screen, the teacher explains how glasses would have helped the characters avoid their problems in the story. Featuring Little Red Riding Hood, Hansel and Gretel, Humpty Dumpty and more, Ava soon realises that in order to perceive the world clearly, she will need to ‘see’ the world clearly.

I love the enthusiasm and energy throughout the text, inviting readers and listeners to join in and ponder these sentiments. There is that subtle coercion that adults attempt to convince children of what is best, but the tale is written so playfully and creatively that it just feels like pure entertainment. The illustrations are equally jovial, colourful and expressive, and particularly visually large and easy-on-the-eye to suit its purpose.

Ava’s Spectacular Spectacles is fantastically fun, full of familiar fairy tale delights. It is perfect for children from age four, and especially providing a shining light for those with vision impairments to feel confident and secure.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

YA Wintery Reads To Curl Up With

As Australia descends into the pit of despair wintertime, it’s a great excuse to curl up with a book and a delicious hot drink and lose oneself in a fictional world! And if you happen to like to coordinate the weather with your current read then I have good news for you! Today I’m listing some wintery-themed YA books that will be perfect for snuggling up with.

Winter is coming. Be prepared. Stockpile books.


SHIVER BY MAGGIE STEIFVATER

This is like my go-to winter series because it’s mostly set in a snowy foresty town in the USA and the weather is so palpable you genuinely feel cold reading it! It’s about werewolves who are human in summer and wolves in winter, which I think is a fabulous twist. It’s also for sure one of my favourite series!

BUY HERE

 

THE IMPOSTOR QUEEN BY SARAH FINE

This one is like the YA book dark and sinister version of Frozen! It features a queen who should have magical element wielding powers to protect her kingdom but yet…she doesn’t??? She ends up running away and finding a boy who controls ice and snow. The book has such a chilling setting and it’s all snowy mountains and traipsing through ice fields. Also it’s excellent.

BUY HERE

 

THE EDGE OF EVERYTHING BY JEFF GILES

It’s set in the aftermath of a huge blizzard that leaves a girl and her little brother rather trapped in a strange cabin with an even stranger boy who appears to be some sort of death reaper. It turns out that the boy, X, is here to fetch the souls of evil people and hate for them is destroying his life…even if he is actually a really soft and kind person. But vengeance must come…right? The whole book has a really cold vibe with all the snow and blizzards!

BUY HERE

 

THE SMELL OF OTHER PEOPEL’S HOUSES BY BONNIE-SUE HITCHCOCK

This one is set in Alaska! So get ready for snow and months of darkness. It’s also a really emotional and poignant tale of 4 different teens’ lives and how they all interweave and join. From a boy running away from home to a girl stuck on a fishing ship when she wants to dance ballet. The writing is simple and really packs a punch. And there is pie. I don’t know about you, but I’m of the opinion that all books should include excellent mentions of delicious pie.

BUY HERE

 

SNOW LIKE ASHES BY SARA

Surprise! This one includes SNOW. (Which is stunningly new information that you didn’t guess from the tittle, I’m sure.) This is an epic fantasy set in a world were the seasons are actually countries! Meira is a refugee from the war-torn country of Winter and all she wants to do is protect her BFF, the future king, and restore the kingdom of Winter to its past glory. There’s lots of dark magic out to make everyone’s lives miserable and some completely stunning plot twists that might unhinge your jaw. Plus it’s perfectly and delicious cold to read about an entire country that’s known for its winter!  You’ll need a hot chocolate to get through this one for sure.

BUY HERE

Review: New Boy by Tracy Chevalier

9781781090329New Boy is Tracy Chevalier’s contribution to the Hogarth Shakespeare series which aims to re-interpret some of Shakespeare’s more popular works. So far the series has included retellings from bestselling authors Jeanette Winterson, Anne Tyler, Margaret Atwood and Ian McEwan. I have been thoroughly enjoying this series and I have been particularly looking forward to Tracy’s reinterpretation of Othello.

It is Washington DC during the 1970’s. Tracy transports us back into Primary school – year 6 to be exact. That awkward time when you are on the cusp of growing out of the friendships and alliances that have sustained you through your younger years. Fumbling attempts at relationships cause extra tensions and alliances are forged and broken with ease.

Osei Kokote is the new kid in school. It is not the first time he has been in this position. As a Diplomat’s son he has changed school regularly and feels like experience has given him a good grasp of how to survive the first day at a new school. He is also quite adept at dealing with being the only black kid in a predominantly white environment.

Dee Benedetti is the teacher’s pet. A good girl and rule-follower who is generally liked by her classmates and the school as a whole. Drawn to the new boy, she makes the brave and startling decision to befriend him unknowingly upsetting the chain of power in the playground and setting off a series of events that will end in disaster. As the children manipulate, use and betray each other over the course of the school day the tension grows drawing the adults, who should be immune, into the web as well.

Tracy Chevalier’s decision to place the drama of Othello ín a schoolyard is pure genius. The compounding of racing hormones, changing power dynamics and racism is a potent mix. I was completely drawn into the drama and taken straight back to the playground. To take a story so well known and make it so new, horrifying and powerful is an accomplishment. Even though I was prepared for things to not end well, New Boy left me shocked and gasping. This is going to be one of my top 5 books this year and I think New Boy easily outshines the other titles in the Hogarth Series.

Buy the book here…

Wally Turns 30! – New Editions

What a fantastical blast from the past! Those cherished days of pouring over Where’s Wally? scenes for hours on end, in search for that inconspicuously eminent character, and his friends, we all know and love so dearly. Allow your children the same pleasure with these marvellous 30th Anniversary Edition and brand new collector pocket books that will be sure to spin heads, strain eyes and tire fingers to their hearts’ delight.

The classic, world-wide phenomenon, Where’s Wally? (30th Anniversary, Feb 2017) by Martin Handford, is celebrating 30 years of magical, wondrous, time- and space-travelling zeal that, no doubt, is still burning strong to this day. With its large-face, portrait format, Wally-Spotters can partner up and share the scrutiny together. It is the observer’s mission to find five intrepid travellers; Wally, Woof (but all you can see is his tail), Wenda, Wizard Whitebeard and Odlaw, plus their precious items in every scene. But that’s not all! There are another 25 Wally-watchers and an extensive checklist of people, creatures and objects to be found, too!

Each scene is presented with a postcard from Wally addressed to us, the Wally fans, providing a snippet of his endeavours in that particular destination. All set with his walking stick and a bulky load in tow, Wally wonders through busy and colourful places. From a crowded town, to a packed beach, a snowy mountain, a groovy campsite, jostling train station, a manic airport, a mass of runners at the sports stadium, a jiving museum, the swarming sea, a bustling safari park, jam-packed department store, and a lively fairground. (Plus a bonus scene!)

Along with your keen sense of observation, you’ll also delight in the humorous and quirky details found in every picture. The vibrant illustrations teem with life and personality, every tiny character with their own hilarious story to tell. No wonder Where’s Wally? will forever be a global classic! A must-have for every home and school.

The Where’s Wally? The Totally Essential Travel Collection (June 2017) is certainly the fun adventure that never ends! Including seven of the classics in one travel-sized book, littered with colouring in postcards and adorned with gold foiled stripes, this will be your trusty travel companion wherever the destination. The handy elastic close is a clever way to return to your place, and fold-out checklists enable easy accessibility as you search and turn through each wondrous location.

If I were to choose my favourite edition I would have to say The Wonder Book definitely packs a punch with its uniform colour selections for each scene and its pages that are filled to the brink with the most minuscule of detail. And if you’re up for a real challenge try visiting The Land of Woofs! It’s a cracker!

The Where’s Wally? Colouring Collection (May 2017) is an absolute spectacular of Wally-related searches, games, jokes and creative tasks, all in black and white! Whilst colouring, doodling and sketching your way through the pages, astute observers also have the added task of locating Wally, his friends, his special lost paint pot, and other precious possessions. Plenty more hidden objects are compiled in the checklists, and the enormous lift-out poster creates even more colouring, searching and time-consuming goodness.

With heaps of inspiring, creative and thought-provoking activities, this travel-sized handbook with elastic close is an energetic bundle of joy (and a calming force at the same time!).

The great thing about this series is that they cater for every age group, starting with simple perusal to the more complex exploration. But there is no doubt, this is imagination, entertainment and brain-training at their best!

Walker Books Ltd., Walker Books Australia.

Review: The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli

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The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli is a special squish of an adorable story. It just ticks all the right boxes for what YA contemporary is longing after. It’s cute and fun and manages to weave in the awkwardness of teenagerdom (shh that’s totally a word) with the epically beautiful and special parts about growing up and finding out who you are and, of course, falling in love.

The story centres around Molly who is a sufferer of many, many unrequited crushes. Then her twin sister, Cassie, meets the most amazing girl and Molly truly starts to realise what she’s missing. But she’s conscious that she’s not particularly “cool” and that she’s fat (which she worries people will judge her for), and that she doesn’t want to fall for someone who isn’t going to treat her well. Molly is all into Pinterest arts and baking and hanging out with her super cool friends. Then she meets two boys: Will, who is like the most adorable hipster boy who seems to really truly like her…maybe more than “like”, and then there’s also Reid, who Molly works with who’s a ginormous nerd and wears Lord of the Rings tee-shirts and is unconventional and dorky. But he’s not really Molly’s type. But is Will either?

It’s truly a story about falling in love for the first time, but also about growing up and feeling left behind by your peers if you’re not “keeping up” enough.

I adored how diverse it was, with at least 50%, if not more, of the cast stars queer characters of different ethnicities.

The writing is, of course, brilliant and totally addictive! Seriously I could never look away from the page. It’s just captivating and beautifully written and it felt so real and relatable with the tone and dialogue. Becky Albertalli just knows how to write books that make you feel like you’re living inside them.

The characters were definitely the best part! They were relatable and dorky at times and completely realistic. I did struggle to connect to Molly, though, with her 30+ unrequited crushes. That’s a lot of people to fall in love with, okay?! She doesn’t really ACT on them, though, so the book isn’t full of breakups and angst. I still loved Molly for her who she felt everyone was growing up around her and she was stagnating. The book puts forth the question of “am I keeping up?” and then slaps it down because there isn’t a timeline to do things! Molly can be 16 and not have kissed anyone and that doesn’t make her weird or broken. I think this book captured just how overwhelming growing up can be. Also it was super cute to see how into Pinterest arts and crafts Molly was! When she was planning her mothers’ weddings Pinterest-style?! OH YES AND YES.

There were so many beautiful messages too. I love how Molly’s mums talked about there not being “a specific age” to reach milestones and achieve things. And of course it underlined that love is love no matter what. And even though Molly had anxiety and was shy, she never was forced to become someone else.

Also the romance was freaking adorable. It had the potential to be an angsty love-triangle, but it wasn’t!

The Upside of Unrequited is a glorious, sweet, happy and feels-good book that will truly make you smile! The writing is captivating, the characters are relatable, and there are so many chocolate mini-eggs that you will find yourself having a serious craving and probably gnawing on your copy of the book. So be wise: read it + eat chocolate simultaneously. The story is full of poignant messages and sweet plot twists and is a definite must read!

Amazing YA Mothers You Definitely Want To Read About

Good parent influences in Young Adult books can be as rare as finding a unicorn. However they do exist! And when we find them, life is glorious! I love reading about epic fictional women who inspire and also delight. In honour of Mother’s Day today, I’d like to present a list of some really wonderful mothers in YA books. These are also underrated fictional mothers (because we all know we already love Molly Weasley) so hopefully you find some new glorious books to add to your to-be-read pile!


RADIO SILENCE BY ALICE OSEMAN

BUY HERE

Not only is Radio Silence a complete geek-fest, it features a mother-daughter relationship that is just so gloriously wonderful and special. Frances has been raised by a single mum who’s really busy with work, but is still always there for her daughter. And when Frances runs into trouble with friends, her mum is totally volunteers to step in and help out. Better yet? Frances actually lets her.

It’s really important, I believe, to have books where parents are the antagonists and are shown supporting their teens and helping them through super difficult times. #precious

 

THE HATE U GIVE BY ANGIE THOMAS

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This has been one of the most famous YA books of 2017, which is excellent, because it thoroughly deserves the hype and love! It’s about the #BlackLivesMatter movement and features Starr, who has watched the murder of two of her friends. It’s heartbreaking and heartwarming….aaaaand Starr has an amazing set of parents!

Not only are her parents strong and wise, they’re super involved in their kids’ lives. Starr’s mum spends time with her and encourages Starr to be the best she can be in all things. Also Starr’s parents are super in love and that’s just so adorable to read about. Starr says her parents are her OTP and if that isn’t the best thing then what is.

 

THE UPSIDE OF UNREQUITED BY BECKY ALBERTALLI

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This is a super cute tale about romance, love, and family, from the point of view of Molly, who is a rather anxious teen who is obsessed with Pinterest crafts and delicious things like mini chocolate eggs. Basically she is the best kind of person. I really love and adored her two mums!

Not only are they raising a splendidly kind and loving person (hello, Molly!) but they’re super sweet and loving to each other. And they listen to their kids. And they’re hardworking women multitasking jobs, teenagers, and a baby. Like, woah, just hats off right here.

 

THE SERPENT KING BY JEFF ZENTNER

BUY HERE

This is actually from the point-of-view of three teens: Dylan, Trevor and Lydia. Unfortunately only Lydia’s parents are awesome (Dylan and Trevor break my heart with how callous their parents can be, unfortunately) but the contrast of Lydia’s folks is beautifully written. So much adoration here. SO MUCH. Her mum and dad not only support her, they joke around with her and make their house a welcome and loving place. You can see the affect it has on Lydia too, with her being confident about her life and career and knowing she can come to them for emotional support. The best kind of parents.

 

Book Week: the CBCA Eve Pownall Books, Part 2

Fabish: the horse that braved a bushfire

By Neridah McMullin, illustrated by Andrew McLean   Allen & Unwin

Another amazing animal in the Eve Pownall shortlisted books is the horse, Fabish. He was an old horse who rescued the yearlings from the terrible Black Saturday bushfire. The trainer rescued the finest race horses but couldn’t look after them all so he set Fabish free with the yearlings. He discovered every single one safe after the decimating fire but didn’t know where Fabian had taken them.

Picture book form is an apt medium for this true story. Important Australian illustrator, Andrew McLean, is an expert in painting our countryside and animals and Neridah McMullin has crystallised the events into a riveting tale.

Primary-age children could no doubt imagine where the horses may have found safety. They could write and draw their possible experiences.

These creators have published other very worthwhile books, such as McLean’s A Year on Our Farm and Bob the Railway Dog and McMullin’s Kick it to Me and KnockAbout Cricket.

William Bligh: a stormy story of tempestuous time

By Michael Sedunary, illustrated by Bern Emmerichs Berbay Publishing

This tale begins in 1808, 20 years after the First Fleet, when soldiers arrest Governor Bligh. It then retrospectively tells the account of the Mutiny on the Bounty before returning to Bligh’s attempts to quell both the Rum Rebellion and John Macarthur.

Michael Sedunary’s writing is picturesque and colourful; personalising Bligh’s life and endeavours.

Bern Emmerichs’ illustrations are intricate and patterned.

Surprisingly, blogging and social media appear in this book. Bligh’s log (now kept in Sydney’s Mitchell Library) relates blogging to the gossip, printed pamphlets and handbills of the period. Macarthur’s ‘tweets’ against Bligh are viewed as the social media of the time.

The first Australian political cartoon (adapted here) shows Bligh dragged from under his bed by Major Johnston’s men. Propaganda is explained and readers are asked to think about how ‘simple slogans and labels are meant to stop us thinking any further about things.’

More surprises appear when readers are asked to consider who is the hero or villain – Cook or Bligh? (Cook ordered many more floggings than Bligh.)

Other books in the series are What’s Your Story? and The Unlikely Story of Bennelong and Phillip.

 Enormous congratulations to Berbay Publishing for its Bologna Award.

 The Gigantic Book of Genes

By Lorna Hendry   Wild Dog Books

This is a glossy science publication with high quality photos. It includes seamless explanations of genes and genetics with apt examples for children to understand.

It has incredible information, such as ‘If you took all the DNA in your body, unwound it and stretched it out into a single strand, it would reach all the way to Pluto and back.’

Readers are asked: which has more genes: a grape or a human? (the answer is on page 32)

We are reminded that tongue-rolling and widow’s peaks are genetic.

No doubt every reader will be amazed when they clasp their hands to see if their left or right thumb is on top. (page 59) Try it!

And genetically all humans have 99.9% of identical DNA. We are almost exactly the same.

Book Week: the CBCA Eve Pownall Books, Part 1

The Eve Pownall Information Books this year span the ABC, animals and history.

They highlight several small, independent publishers, who should be congratulated on their excellent publications.

Spellbound: Making Pictures with the ABC

By Maree Coote    Melbournestyle Books

Spellbound also won a 2017 Bologna Ragazzi Award. It’s a large, sumptuous hardcover in three parts: architecture, animals and people, and features typography (letter art) where images are created from letters that spell their names.

Young children could find the letters in the illustrations. Older readers could appreciate the typographic poetry (shape poetry) where the meaning of the text is enhanced visually.

I spoke to the creator, Maree, on the day before she flew to Bologna to receive her award, who explained that she has restricted herself to using existing fonts.

There are three levels of difficulty within the book’s examples: 1. any letters that inspire a picture can be used 2. only use letters of the correct spelling of the subject’s name 3. only use correct spelling and only 1 font per letter (see page 3).

This book helps understanding of Visual Literacy. (See page 3 for line and shape, and page 63 for patterns.)

Children could use Macs, or equivalent, to create their own letter art.

There is even a mini tutorial on how to create animals using only letters.

 A-Z of Endangered Animals

Words and Illustrations by Jennifer Cossins       Red Parka Press

The Introduction explains how the high animal extinction rate is due largely to humans, and also introduced species such as rabbits and foxes, in Australia.

Everyone can help by reusing and recycling, keeping beaches clean and not wasting water.

The book is well-designed; it’s clean and clear.

It is structured with one animal representing each letter of the alphabet.

Information on the left-hand page includes conservation (e.g. endangered or vulnerable) status; current population; description of the animal and where it lives; and an interesting fact such as no two tigers have the same striped pattern, and eastern gorillas use basic tools to gather food.

Each animal is illustrated on the opposite page.

Primary-aged children could focus on Australian endangered animals and present information using the same format, possibly to make a class book.

Amazing Animals of Australia’s National Parks

By Gina M. Newton    National Library of Australia

Like A-Z Endangered Animals, Amazing Animals of Australia’s National Parks shows which species are endangered, vulnerable or threatened (their conservation status).

Every state and territory is included, so readers may be able to visit one.

The structure is organised by environments and habitats such as woodlands and grasslands (the Bush), wetlands and waterways, arid zones and coast, oceans and islands.

Each habitat has a double page, followed by one page each for selected animals.

Read this book to discover more about our wildlife and how to care for the environment

There are high-quality photos, interesting ‘fast facts’ and a glossary.

I will write about the 3 other Eve Pownall shortlisted books in another post.

Love and Life – Picture Books for Mums

Looking for beautiful books that capture your heart with themes of comfort, joy, encouragement, living life and nurturing this Mother’s Day? Here are a few that possess these qualities, and more, ensuring you’re bursting with love and light on your special day.

My Meerkat Mum, Ruth Paul (author, illus.), Scholastic Australia, April 2017.

Meerkats. Utterly adorable. Quirky. Funny. Eccentric. Fiercely protective and loyal. It doesn’t take much to fall in love with them, and here is a sharp-witted, sweet tale that you will fall in love with, too.

Single words and short, punchy sentences establish the pace for the quick and tenacious characteristics of these feisty little creatures. “Up. Stretch. Left. Right. Sleepy Mum. Morning light.” The illustrations favour the same theatrics with their humorous assortment of snapshots showcasing the meerkats in each and every action. It is Mum’s duty to prepare her three pups for the busy day ahead. Ensuring they are meticulously groomed from every angle, they are ready to set out from their burrow for a lesson in hunting. But their work is not without misadventure as the young meerkats encounter a lick of danger. Luckily Meerkat Mum is there to assert her authority, security and comfort…as all good mums do!

Ruth Paul has captured the heart of motherhood through her cheeky, vivacious story of possibly one of the cutest animals in existence. My Meerkat Mum is a delightful read for mums and bubs to share, highlighting the love and ultimate dedication of a Mum who’s work is never complete. A book that preschoolers will simply adore.

Old Pig, Margaret Wild (author), Ron Brooks (illus.), Allen & Unwin, Jan 2017.

Written and illustrated by the legendary creators that are Margaret Wild and Ron Brooks, this heart rending classic remains as moving as since it was first published 20 years ago. The comfort in knowing you’re taken care of long after a loved one has gone brings peace and warmth even to the most broken of hearts. This story of living, giving, optimism, appreciation and infinite love will move you to tears whilst shining a beacon of light and hope in the places you need it most.

It has been only Old Pig and Granddaughter for a long time. They are an inseparable pair, a tremendous team that work well together, but most importantly, enjoy each other’s company. As quickly as we’ve fallen for this loving duo, we are shaken with a harsh reality that Old Pig is gravely ill. And Granddaughter is left to deal with her sudden sense of loneliness, alone. But Old Pig has some final affairs to prepare. Besides the bills, Old Pig gives Granddaughter the gift of peace and a sensational love for the world around her. “Do you see how the light glitters on the leaves?” “Do you see how the clouds gather like gossips in the sky?” And Granddaughter gives her own final gift too…tissues, please!

This story that deals with life and letting go has been written by Margaret Wild with the most beautiful, sincere language in a spiritually uplifting and gentle manner. It emanates with an aura of goodness; that generosity, solicitude and serenity can fulfil one’s happiness. Brooks’ use of light and shade and autumn tones encapsulate the ride of emotions as well as capturing the beauty of a world infused with promise.

Old Pig is a delicate look at loss in a story so filled with love. It is a reassuring book for early primary years children, and in particular those who have lost, or are especially close to, a grandparent.

Under the Love Umbrella, Davina Bell (author), Allison Colpoys (illus.), Scribble, Feb 2017.

No matter where one is, physically, emotionally or spiritually, they can take comfort in knowing that they are deeply and truly loved. Under the Love Umbrella is a charming analogy and reminder for our children that they always have the security of our love despite their fears, mistakes, insecurities, and even their misdemeanours.

Gorgeously poetic in its rhyming stance, Davina Bell uses sweet and mesmerising language to steal our hearts. A variety of everyday situations are captured, and are constantly brought back to the soothing words, “…love umbrella.” Whether they are experiencing unfair play, or feeling shy, moving house and strange new things, or bad dreams and big worries, the children can rely on feeling safe, considered and loved. Although it cannot be seen, love can be felt, even a long, long way away.

The simple colour palette with pops of neon orange is in similar style to this duo’s previous title, The Underwater Fancy-Dress Parade. Colpoys effectively attracts readers with her joyous and warm images, encapsulating a diverse population of family types and cultural backgrounds.

Under the Love Umbrella is an encouraging, reassuring and light-hearted story filled with warmth for any parent to share with their young ones. It includes several themes that offer valuable discussion points, including the final question, “Who’s under your love umbrella?”.

Stay safe, warm and protected this Mother’s Day! Snuggle up with a good book and a loved one. X

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5 Books About Twins

I love books about twins so much I thought I’d put together a list of some of my favourites.

  1. Flowers in the Attic by Virginia Andrews
    This was the book that started my love affair with twins in literature and is the story of 4 young children locked in an attic by their Grandmother. Their father has died and the children are living in their gothic grandparent’s house waiting for the Mother to successfully acquire some money from her strict Grandfather who detests the children. Gradually their mother visits less often and the children are largely left to their own devices. This is a classic YA novel with gothic undertones and themes of greed and betrayal.
  2. The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
    This book is in my Top 10 favourite books of all time. Vida Winter is a successful author and has decided to tell her life story now that she’s dying. She’s given many interviews over the course of her life, but each time she tells a different story. This time she’s serious about revealing the dark truth about her past and Margaret Lea has agreed to be her biographer. But it won’t be easy.
    The novel makes countless delicious references to stories, books and reading and I revelled in the language.
    Here’s a sample from the book: “Do they sense it, these dead writers, when their books are read? Does a pinprick of light appear in their darkness? Is their soul stirred by the feather touch of another mind reading theirs? I do hope so.
    Naturally the plot includes twins and the wonderfully haunted Angelfield House forms the backdrop of the novel in a charming and menacing way. In addition to being a brilliant book, The Thirteenth Tale is also major BBC film starring Vanessa Redgrave and Sophie Turner (Game of Thrones).
  3. Beside Myself by Ann Morgan
    Beside Myself is a psychological thriller and suspenseful read looking at themes of identity and mental illness. Twin sisters Helen (domineering) and Ellie (submissive) play a game one afternoon to swap identities, but Ellie won’t change back. What happens next is an ever growing divide between the sisters and the subsequent decline of one of them. As the consequences of the game last a lifetime, I couldn’t help but wonder what I would have done in Helen’s situation
  4. A Dark Dividing by Sarah Rayne
    Continuing the suspense theme, A Dark Dividing is about conjoined twins born 100 years apart and how they’re connected. Alternating between the past and the present, and across 3 different periods, the novel reveals a number of shocking secrets as it progresses.
    Author Sarah Rayne loves to include a creepy building at the centre of her books and this time it was the suitably scary Mortmain House. Originally used as a workhouse for men and women who would otherwise die of starvation, the living conditions at the house were horrendous. Children abandoned at birth or born to families unable to care for them all ended up here and suffered terrible treatment as a consequence.
    As the title suggests, A Dark Dividing is a dark read and I enjoyed finding out how all the characters were connected.
  5. The Distant Hours by Kate Morton
    Another gothic novel featuring twins in a creepy estate is historical fiction novel The Distant Hours by Kate Morton. Edie is a book publisher and when her mother receives a long lost letter originally posted in 1941 from Milderhurst Castle, her curiosity is piqued. Her mother is secretive about her past, but Edie finds out she was billeted at the castle for a short time during the war.
    Edie visits the crumbling castle and meets the three elderly sisters residing there. Twins Percy and Saffy live together with their younger sister Juniper and the reasons they each chose to stay at the castle after the war and why they never married or had children inform the plot. Something happened to bond the sisters together for life and it was a thrill to discover. The characters love to read, write and tell stories, and all shared a love of books. The reference to the library in the castle made me weak at the knees.

I hope you enjoyed this list, but I’ve just noticed that almost all the twins in my list are female. I can’t even think of a novel with male twins, can you? Further reading: The Ice Twins by SK Tremayne and The Silent Twin by Caroline Mitchell.

Review: Willful Machines by Tim Floreen

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I was so surprised and delighted by Willful Machines by Tim Floreen! I saw a friend recommend it and say it was underrated — and they were 100% right. It’s so emotional, complex, and relatable and entirely underrated! Although it does have an ending that is rather destined to set you biting your nails and crying desperately for a sequel. But that’s the kind of reaction a good book should give, right?!?

The story is set in the not-so-distant future and centres around the president’s son who goes to an elite boarding school. And he’s not doing very well at all. His mental health is declining with the grief and anxiety of losing his mother, and the effort of keeping his sexuality hidden from his very conservative father. He throws himself into building robots — even though robots are the reason his mother is dead and the world is in an uproar. There’s a robot computer virus, named Charlotte, who seems intent on destroying people. And it’s possible that her next target is the president’s own son, Lee.

I love how it was set in a world that is very similar to ours, but just with a little more tech. Like really clever robots. Dude, I need a clever robot to go search for my continually missing left socks. There are cleaning droids and mechanical creatures that just may or may not be manipulated into evil. #exciting

The topic of “choices” comes up a lot, and I really appreciated this discussion. Lee firmly believed you can’t choose aspects of yourself, which is so true and so important to say! You can’t choose your sexuality. You can’t choose to be depressed or not. There are a lot of misconceived notions that those are choices, so I loved how the book delved into the matter. It was also intensely interesting how it talked about being predisposed to make a choice. (Like if your culture likes a certain type of food, won’t you? And if your parents have a certain belief system, won’t you be more likely to adopt it?) And doesn’t that make humans similar to programmed machines at times? It was an interesting discussion and I appreciated how the book made me think.

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The characters were also adorable and tragic creatures. Lee was amazing! I adored him! Being the son of the president is hard enough (with constant bodyguards eliminating craved-for privacy) but he’s also antisocial, a complete nerd, and very very anxious. He’s also very firmly in denial of being gay, in case his father finds out. I loved his character development and how relatable and dorky he was!

The romance is equally adorable. When Lee meets Nico, he’s captivated by this loud-laughing, Shakespeare-quoting, Chilean, perfectly handsome boy who eats anything and everything and will sneak out at midnight to throw sparklers down a cave in a mountain. I can’t even with how cute they were together.

The writing is excellent and I flew through the book in a few hours! It keeps you rooted to the page, perfectly weaving together Lee’s personal life at school and the robot crises of the world, and the conspiracy theories against the president and his son. It’s more of a boarding-school-story than a hair-raising action adventure, and I think that’s why I loved it so much. It focuses on emotional writing and character development. And then it leaves you clutching your paperback and breathing fast at the end as everything goes perfectly dreadfully wrong.

Willful Machines is splendidly cute, heartfelt, and bittersweet. It has characters to root for, mysteries to solve, and an open ending that’ll leave you thinking. It didn’t shy away from tough topics and I felt the diversity was excellent and perfectly represented. I loved the creepy old-fashioned school setting and the slightly sinister robot undertone.

The Magic of Music – musicality in picture books

Deploy music to tell a story and joy results. You need only to think about your favourite song to understand this. Unite the magic of music with the unique creation of a picture book story and the result is something very special indeed. These next few picture books combine a passion for music and story and the exceptional ability of both to bring people together. They’re also a whole concert-full of fun.

The Great Zoo Hullabaloo! By Mark Carthew and Anil Tortop

Not only is the word hullabaloo an absolute hoot to roll off your tongue, it implies mayhem of the most exuberant manic kind. This is exactly what The Great Zoo Hullabaloo! delivers.

Lively, liberating adventure is what Jack and Jess encounter one morning upon entering a zoo that is ‘strangely deserted.’ Even the new roo seems to have bunked. Unable to find a single real-life occupant, they begin a quest to track down the missing residents with little more than a trail of feathers, footprints, and poos, aka scats, to guide them.

Their bush tracking efforts eventually lead them to a party to end all parties. Every animal is hooting and tooting, and hopping and bopping a right hullabaloo! There’s cake, a surprise appearance and enough revelry to fill a pirate ship. For whom is this euphonious shindig, though? Well, you will have to come to the party yourself to find that out.

Tunefully rhythmic and exploding with joviality, this is classic Carthew and Tortop. Great musical verse (with a lovely reference to the Silvery Moon) and animated illustrations make The Great Zoo Hullabaloo! worth getting vocal about! Make sure you read Romi Sharp’s full rhapsodic review, here.

New Frontier Publishing May 2017

Baby Band by Diane Jackson Hill and Giuseppe Poli

Life for the residents of Level 8 in their apartment block is rather subdued and unexciting. They coexist placidly with very little interaction despite their close proximity, so artfully portrayed in the very first pages by Poli. Then one day, The Baby arrives. And, as babies are wont to do, that changes everything.

Baby’s persistent refusal to sleep wears his mother to distraction. His cries are heard and felt by each resident of Level 8, again shown by Poli’s brilliant vignettes that provide telling glimpses into the lives of Baby’s neighbours.

Then, Baby’s chance discovery of the pots and pans cupboard sets off another chain of cacophonous chaos. Each clamorous clang, squeak, squawk and stomp, vibrates throughout Level 8 and awakens a melodious joy in all who dwell there. Slowly, each of the residents is drawn to the rooftop to rejoice in all things musical, with one noticeable difference. They are celebrating, together. But, can you guess what happened to Baby amidst all this musical mayhem?

Hill has composed her palpable passion for music into an elegantly told tale that truly does rise ones soul an octave higher. Poli’s illustrations resonate charm with very few brush strokes. The linear use of images and variation of perspectives, rather like notes on a musical stave, sweeps the reader along the corridors of Level 8, in and out of the apartments and finally to their common park area, which the residents now utilise to play together in their newly formed Baby Band.

Baby Band is a symphonic story pre-schoolers will love having read to them, incongruously gentle in appearance and sound yet magnificently entertaining. This story elicits plenty of opportunity for musical interaction and discussion about all manner of instruments, pots and pans notwithstanding. I adored the cleverness of it all and the irony of young children being able to find solace and slumber in sound. Bravo!

New Frontier Publishing March 2017

The Bear and the Piano by David Litchfield

Sometimes, finding yourself only occurs because of some other serendipitous discovery. This is what happens to a young bear cub one day after he happens upon a piano in the middle of his forest home. At first, the sound Bear is able to procure from the piano is so awful, he abandons it but after several seasons not only does he mature so too does his ability to produce beautiful sounds from this strange thing.

Playing the piano transports Bear far beyond the wooded boundaries of his forest and fills his heart with melodious joy. Night after night, crowds gather around bear and his piano entranced by the magic he evokes from its ivory keys, until one night Bear is given an opportunity he is unable to say no to, to see the world and share his music with it. And so, he leaves his home and friends behind.

Bear’s tale of yearning for brighter lights and attempting to make better of himself is not unique but Litchfield’s personification of a bear embarking on a journey of self-discovery is both touching and purposeful. Bear’s successful debut in the big lonely city and then consequent tug to return to his old friends and home draws the reader in with cinematic magnitude. When he does return to the forest, he is deeply dismayed to find no one and nothing as he left them. He worries his desertion has made them angry or worse that they have forgotten him. However, he is mistaken as the heart-melting ending reveals.

The Bear and the Piano is a picture book that quietly moves you to the core as an operatic aria would. Bear is tragic yet infinitely loveable. His desire to share his love (of music) and taste the bittersweet reality of his dreams is one many of us may harbour and thus relate to easily. It is easy to like and admire his courage and equally as easy to feel his heartache and despair in spite of his successes. It can be lonely at the top. Luckily, for Bear, and us being at the top is not the be all and end all.

This book is an arresting mixture of loud and strong – forte piano as it were and is beautifully supported by Litchfield’s sumptuous illustrations. A pleasure for lower to upper primary students.

Frances Lincoln Children’s Books Quarto Group UK March 2017

 

 

Ideas for Book Week – CBCA Younger Readers, Part 3: Dragonfly Song & A Most Magical Girl

Now that the CBCA Short List has been announced, it’s time to start preparing for Children’s Book Week in August, when the winners are also announced.

This is my third post about Book of the Year: Younger Readers and I have already posted about Picture Books and books for Early Childhood. Teachers, librarians and parents may be interested in sharing these books with young readers. I have included a range of activity ideas.

Dragonfly Song by Wendy Orr  Allen & Unwin

Dragonfly Song dances far back into historical fiction – to the Bronze Age in Crete where King Minos, the Bull King, demands an annual tribute of 13-year-old boys and girls. Aissa, named after the dragonfly, is born with extra thumbs and her father defies the gods by cutting them off. When he dies, the wise-woman takes the baby to a farm but her life there is destroyed and she becomes a ‘mute’ servant and then a bull dancer. Aissa summarises her life as a poem on pages 376-7.

The writing is a mixture of prose and poetry and these both extend the narrative. There is recurring dragonfly imagery and snakes are a potent motif. This is a crossover novel for younger and older readers. Could some read it as a literary Hunger Games?

Writing Children could write in the styles of both the prose and poetry.

Sculpture They could google images of sculptures of Theseus and the Minotaur (on which part of Dragonfly Song is based), or use the cover illustration, and twist thin, coated wire to replicate the human and other figure in action (science: force and gravity).

Dragonfly Jewellery Children could represent the dragonfly symbolism by threading coloured beads, particularly blue, onto wire to make brooches or other jewellery.

A Most Magical Girl by Karen Foxlee  Allen & Unwin

Karen Foxlee continues the speculative fiction with A Most Magical Girl, a fantasy for 9-12-year-old girls (in particular) about Annabel Grey who is sent to live with her witch great-aunts in their magic shop in London. These women can bewitch broomsticks or make a potion to turn someone into a wolf.  At first Annabel doesn’t believe in magic, even though she can see visions in puddles, but she is enlisted into a quest to prevent Dark Magic and evil Mr Angel and his shadowlings and resurrection machine from overtaking London.

Kitty, the wild betwister (someone who goes between ‘this world and that world’), frequents Highgate cemetery and other crannies and is also full of magic. She is able to create a ‘heart-light’. Readers could contrast these two girls, as well as smelly, eye-twinkling troll Hafwen who longs to see the stars.

When Annabel and Kitty are sent ‘Under London’, they encounter trolls and a dragon. A map is somehow drawn onto Annabel’s skin. Children could read the descriptions about the map and use them to illustrate the visible skin of a paper figure or mannequin.

The girls must find the Morever or White Wand to save the people of London. As well as a rite of passage and story about friendship, A Most Magical Girl portrays the battle between dark and light.

Each chapter begins with an extract from Miss Finch’s Little Blue Book (1855) about manners for young ladies. These loosely correlate with the plot. Readers could write a brief alternate plot line to correspond with all or some of these extracts.

The UK setting is interesting because, until recently, Karen Foxlee seems to have been better known and appreciated in the UK and US than in her homeland. Hopefully this is changing. A Most Magical Girl is a very well imagined and constructed middle grade novel.

A Most Magical Girl is a beautiful hardback publication and is a great companion novel to Ophelia and the Marvellous BoyOlder readers should explore Karen Foxlee’s YA novel, The Midnight Dress. It is an exquisitely written, wondrous tale.

I will also write about the shortlisted books for Older Readers and the excellent Eve Pownall information books in upcoming posts.

Review: American War by Omar El Akkad

nullThis amazing book took me completely by surprise. When I read that it was about a second American Civil war my immediate first thought was Trump. My second thought was another dystopian novel but Omar El Akkad’s novel defied all my expectations and is a strong contender for one of the books of 2017.

What makes this novel so profound is Omar El Akkad’s ability to tell a deeply personal story about a huge, cataclysmic event at the same time as weaving a story that is relevant to our society today despite being set in a future 75 years from now. El Akkad’s novel works on so many different levels and has so many different layers that as a reader you get completely lost in the time and history the novel creates.

The novel’s second American Civil War breaks out when the US Federal Government bans the use of fossil fuels. Southern States rebel against the North and war quickly follows. America, North and South, then unleashes its political, economic and military war machine against itself. Drones, biological warfare, political indoctrination, enhanced interrogation, rendition which inevitably leads to terrorism, suicide bombings and other extreme acts of desperation as the war escalates and then ebbs and flows between atrocities.

The story focuses upon the Chestnut family, following them over the course of twenty years. They are from Louisiana, living on the banks of the Mississippi ‘Sea’. When the war reaches them they are forced to flee to a refugee camp. Despite the war being construed as North vs South, Blue vs Ref the Chestnut family begin to learn it is more nuanced than just two sides. And the children of the Chestnut family, who a growing up in this war, a forced to pick a side. A choice that will have irreconcilable consequences.

What makes this novel so powerful is how recognizable events and their reactions are. From drones haunting clear blue skies to the idealistic being recruited to blow themselves up in crowded squares. From how quickly each side dehumanizes the other to the extremes each side goes to in the name of ‘the right’ and ‘the just’. The heart of the story is Sarat Chestnut who will break your heart as hard as hers is broken. There are echoes of Katniss Everdeen and The Hunger Games but the context is much closer to home. This is a novel of sublime scope and passionate precision. It is a warning and a requiem. This is one of the best books you will read this year.

Buy the book here…

CBCA 2017 Younger Readers, Part 2: Mrs Whitlam & Within These Walls

Mrs Whitlam by Bruce Pascoe  Magabala Books

Bunurong man from Victoria, Bruce Pascoe also wrote Fog a Dox, which won a YA Prime Minister’s Literary Award and Seahorse. Like Seahorse, Mrs Whitlam centres around an Aboriginal family, without emphasising Aboriginal issues. Pascoe here portrays well-functioning, happy, ‘normal’ families. He also won 2016 Book of the Year for the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards for his adult book, Dark Emu. I’ve interviewed the author for Boomerang Blog here.

In Mrs Whitlam, Marnie is surprised to inherit a Clydesdale horse called Mrs Maggie Whitlam after its young owner dies. The horse is named after the wife of the former Prime Minister who, as Marnie’s mother states, ‘Did a fair bit for black people too!’ The tale explores suffering at an appropriate level for young readers, introduces us to a very appealing girl who is brave but sometimes made to feel inferior, and culminates in an exciting rescue.

After finishing the short novel, children could re-read descriptions of the horse, research Clydesdales and then make an ‘assemblage’ (a 3D collage originating from Picasso’s cubist constructions). They could make the rough sculpture by using ‘found objects’ such as wire, cardboard and wool or twine.

Within These Walls by Robyn Bavati  Scholastic Australia 

Extreme suffering is evident in this well-written holocaust tale set in Warsaw, Poland during WW2. It is mainly placed in history just before Morris Gleitzman’s novel, Soon, another graphic account of violence against children and adults.

Within These Walls is not just another holocaust story. It is particularly interesting and engaging and reveals a depth of knowledge and research based on true events, especially in the sealed ghetto. The details such as Miri’s mother wearing a wig and baking challah create verisimilitude. The family reads the Biblical book of Esther and the Passover account of the Jews’ Exodus from Egypt, replacing slavery with freedom. Both books are pertinent to the story told here. Family is critical to Miri but, tragically, she loses her parents and siblings one by one.

We experience Miri’s life in the city, the open and closed ghetto and in a dark cellar. The novel begins with her time in the cellar and it is used to foreshadow some of Miri’s darkest times.

Even though Within These Walls is shortlisted for younger readers, parents and schools may wish to examine the contents before giving to all children.

The author also wrote Dancing in the Dark, which has a Jewish focus as well.

Review – Ella Saw The Tree by Robert Vescio

Ella Saw The Tree, Robert Vescio (author), Cheri Hughes (illus.), Big Sky Publishing, May 2017.

The value of mindfulness is not to be underestimated. For reasons of improving one’s stress levels, resilience, empathy, curiosity, decision making skills and self-awareness, practicing mindfulness is beneficial for positive wellbeing and mental health. In his latest book, Ella Saw The Tree, Robert Vescio addresses these themes with thoughtful consideration. Here is a story that joyfully taps into children’s innately inquiring minds. It reminds them that slowing down, focusing on the inner self, and appreciating their environment will offer them surprising discoveries and a sense of calm.

Ella is a free-spirit by nature. She has a keen imagination when it comes to pretend play. But as her mind is constantly brimming with fantasy and busy pursuits, it is the first time she notices the shedding tree in her backyard. A conversation with her mother helps Ella realise the tree’s natural cycle, the beauty of her surroundings, and the power of living in the moment. She becomes attune to her emotions, breathing and senses, finally allowing herself to respect life’s tranquil moments.

Vescio’s elegant and sensatory language is beautifully articulated to connect readers with the aspects of mindfulness highlighted in the story. His words are delicate and carefully chosen, and pleasantly supported by the luscious illustrations by Cheri Hughes. The images emanate a feeling of warmth, soul and attention. Synonymous to the reflective nature of the book, Hughes has chosen to contrast the fluidity of the subtle background watercolours with the prominence of the vivacious character, as well as including varying viewpoints.

Ella Saw The Tree is a warm, entertaining and important story that invites children, and adults alike, to opt in to the skilful technique of being ‘at one with oneself’ and with nature. I love that this book prompts us to celebrate the simplicity, beauty and surprises of life that induce the most happiness.

Read Dimity’s guest post with Robert Vescio from his blog tour.

#By AustralianBuyAustralian

5 YA Books With Jaw-Dropping Plot Twists

Books with amazing plot twists are arguably the best kind. Who doesn’t want to have their mind totally spun in dizzying circles after a thrilling plot reveal?! It makes the book stand out! It makes you sit in awe of the author! It also makes you distrust everyone evermore, but pfft, that’s just a minorly inconvenient side-effect.

Today I’m listing 5 Young Adult books that have simply superb plot twists and reveals! I won’t be giving spoilers, but obviously you need to get your clammy paws on these books ASAP and have your mind blown. Thank me later.


DANGEROUS GIRLS

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Not only is this book perfectly thrilling, the ending will absolutely bend your mind. It’s about a group of teenagers who go for the perfect holiday on the island of Aruba…but not all of them come back. There’s a murder. There’s pretty damning evidence that Anna, a quiet a studious girl, killed her best friend, Elise.

I really loved how the story was mostly told by Anna’s perspective, as she went through the harrowing ordeal of trials and court cases and listening to TV reporters and the world in general tear her apart and condemn her — but it also had news clips to add extra perspective. There’s a huge cast of characters (SUSPECTS!!) and this was the first YA thriller that ended with my brain screaming. As a good thriller should.

 

THE SACRED LIES OF MINNOW BLY

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This story centres around Minnow Bly, who’s grown up part of a cult with limited contact with the outside world. But when the cult leader is murdered and their homes burned down, Minnow is the one they have in custody. She knows things. She is not talking about them. She also has no hands due to some macabre punishment from the cult…

Oh this book was really harrowing. It’s impossible not to have your heart break for Minnow and the suffering she’s been through. It also is a slight twist on the fairy tale, The Girl With No Hands, and I loved that spin!

 

WHITE CAT

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How about a thriller with paranormal aspects?! This one is set in a world where you can curse someone with a touch, and everyone wears gloves to prevent being manipulated. Cassel’s family are basically crime laws, and yes he wants out and is getting himself through an elite private school to get away…but he’s haunted by his family’s dark work and also the question of what really did happen to his best childhood friend, Lila? Who really killed her?

I loved how it mixed a highschool contemporary setting with the Mafia aspects and also magic. Every book should have magic! Dangerous magic all round!

 

ALLEGEDLY

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This is one of my all time favourite books because I’m still not over the jaw-dropping ending! It’s the story of Mary who, at 7 years old, was accused of murdering a baby. Now she’s 16 and out of prison and trying to make a life for herself after discovering she is now pregnant. She wants to keep her baby, go to uni, get her charges cleared because she swears she didn’t do it. But then who did?

This book was sad and brutal to read but absolutely captivating! It’s impossible to put down and your heart will just break for Mary as she’s abused and mistreated at every turn. I’m still reeling over the ending reveal!

 

THE LEAVING

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6 children were kidnapped one day and then, years later, only 5 are returned. And to make the mystery even more complex, none of the returning teenagers remember a single thing about their time away. The story flips from several of the kids perspectives and also to the sister of the one kid who never came back. They all want to know what happened to these kidnapped kids and the town is getting rapidly suspicious that someone isn’t telling the truth.

I particularly loved the raw and emotional writing in this one and the book’s tendency to use unique formatting to tell the story. Sometimes the font will explode into huge letters or the sentences will fall to pieces and run off the page. I think it’s such a great visual experience of the kids’ PTSD as they try to cope with no memories and being reunited with suspicious families.

 

CBCA 2017 Younger Readers, Part 1: Captain Jimmy Cook & Rockhopping

The Younger Readers CBCA Short List has a well-balanced selection of books; there’s something for all primary school age groups. I know the awards are judged on literary merit, but this is a helpful and positive by-product.

I’ve written about these 6 books in three Parts for the blog.

As well as a plot run-down and mention of anything that stands out, I’ve incorporated some activities that children could do with these books at school or home.

Boys, in particular, will be very keen to read these first two books.

Captain Jimmy Cook Discovers Third Grade 

By Kate Temple & Jol Temple, illustrated by John Foye  Allen & Unwin

Jimmy is thrilled to share a name with Captain James Cook but not so keen to write a diary, like the explorer. When he reads that Cook kept a ‘log’, he becomes far more interested. Like Jimmy, children could keep a short log about their daily activities, especially at school, and include one or more illustrations in the naïve style of the book.

The book is funny. When Jimmy dresses up as Cook for History Week he uses powder and hair cream to create Cook’s curls but the cream leaves him with bald spots. He takes his fake arm to Bed, Bath and Cables and loses it in the Kids’ Ball Pit.

When he realises that Cook was killed by the Hawaiians, Jimmy resolves to continue his explorations. He eats cereal to try to win a competition to Hawaii, feeds his baby sister an orange thinking she has scurvy and inadvertently terrorises a guest speaker. He starts an Explorers’ Society (but no girls are allowed) and the members use a formula of ‘Sir + Street Name + Fridge’ brand to invent their names, such as ‘Sir Clanville Fisher-Paykel’. Children could also try finding their own explorer names using this method.

Jimmy discovers lots of information from Google, such as what ‘fermented’ is, and uses an ancestry site to find out about his descendants. Children could also use the internet to learn about their past family.

Devotees can read more in Captain Jimmy Cook Discovers: X Marks the Spot, which is equally good.

Rockhopping by Trace Balla  Allen & Unwin 

This companion graphic novel to the award-winning Rivertime is set in Gariwerd (the Grampians). It tells the second story of Clancy and Uncle Egg, whilst respectfully including and acknowledging the Jardwadjali, Djab Wurrung and other Aboriginal peoples, as they try to find the source of the Glenelg River. Nephew and uncle also encounter native wildlife and plants and, of course, get lost along the way.

Read this book in conjunction with the Eve Pownall shortlisted, Amazing Animals of Australia’s National Parks. Teacher notes are available at the publishers’ website. Also read My Place by Nadia Wheatley and Donna Rawlins to highlight the section where Clancy imagines the history of the lake and who could have lived there (page 71).

Children could use the panels when Clancy is falling down the cliff, on pages 32-39, to create their own mini-graphic novel or animation of something that could go wrong in the wilderness.

Review: The Boy on the Bridge by M. R. Carey

nullThe Girl With All The Gifts is one of the best zombie novels in recent years. It totally blew me away while at the same time turned the zombie genre completely on it’s head. There were so many elements to the novel I loved but I was curious how M.R. Carey was going to return to the world he created and tore down.

The Boy on the Bridge is more a prequel than a sequel, set ten years before the events of The Girl With All The Gifts and ten years after what has become known as “The Breakdown”. The story centers upon a scientific mission which is headed north into Scotland to explore what has happened to the rest of Britain following the collapse of London, England and the rest of the world.

A band of four soldiers, four scientists and an incredibly intelligent teenage boy have set out in a converted tank/mobile laboratory called the Rosalind Franklin. Their mission is to explore the countryside and take samples of the infection that has all but wiped out humanity to discover any anomalies in the hope of finding a possible cure. But what they find is contingent on what they have brought with them. And the cure they are hoping to find might not be for the disease they were looking to cure.

All the elements I loved about the first book are here again in spades. Carey has set everything firming in a scientific universe. There is nothing supernatural about the zombies, or hungries as they are known, that are taking over the world. This means there is hope that there is something scientific in which to combat the disease. Carey also cleverly constructs this novel so new readers and old fans can enjoy it alike. Carey provides just enough information for those who read The Girl With All The Gifts and all its twists while keeping surprises for those who want to start here first.

Carey also meticulously builds the tension on a number of fronts. Firstly the claustrophobic nature of life inside Rosie, as she affectionately is known. To this he adds numerous secrets members of Rosie’s crew are keeping from one another and even themselves. This gets ratcheted up through the discovery of some unknown hostiles that has massive ramifications for their mission. A mission which then has to try and get home.

I couldn’t get enough of this book and literally want to turn around and read The Girl With All The Gifts again. (If only you could see the movie in Australia!) I never expected a sequel the first time around and definitely not one this good. I will even go out on a limb and declare this book even better than the first one! Which I didn’t think was remotely possible. Forget The Walking Dead, M.R. Carey’s series is streets ahead on every level.

Buy the Book here…

Anil Tortop’s Illustrations Bring Stories to Life- Picture Book Reviews

Following my delightful interview with the charming, and uber-talented illustrator, Anil Tortop, today I focus on two of her most recent, ebullient and boisterous books that are sure to become family favourites; The Leaky Story by Devon Sillett and The Great Zoo Hullabaloo! by Mark Carthew.

Know that magical feeling of being totally captivated by an exotic world of unbelievable action and a place where only your imagination comes true? If you’d like to experience that feeling again then take heed, because The Leaky Story will take you there! It’s like a fantastic blend of the realms captured in The Neverending Story and Jumanji; with curious characters and creatures literally bounding from words to life.

This book about an eager book, busting to be engulfed by an inquisitive young boy, packs a hearty punch when it comes to fruition. But slowly at first, the tension builds as the leak becomes a flood, and soon overcomes the entire Blossburn living room – unbeknownst to J.J’s technology-addicted parents. But with gusto and fight, the whole family become the swashbuckling pirate- and kraken-battlers they could only ever imagine possible and reclaim the land that is rightfully theirs. I wonder what other surprises are in store for the Blossburn family!

Sillett’s narrative exudes energy, spirit, wit and personality, which is perfectly matched by Tortop’s whimsical illustrations. With both text and pictures, you can feel the tension rising and pace quickening as quiet moments become rowdy, and empty spaces begin to saturate each scene. I just love the quirky little details that Anil always integrates into her books. Readers will enjoy spotting funny, subtle qualities and character relationships (even of the unlikely kind!). Her sketching and digital art is rich with colour, fluidity and ambience- the ultimate atmosphere for a treacherous test on the high seas!

The Leaky Story certainly laves over us with its exciting and memorable read aloud experience, surging the wildest of imaginations. So get off your devices and go pick up a book! Highly recommended for preschoolers and up. Dimity’s review is here.

EK Books, April 2017.

The Great Zoo Hullabaloo! piques our curiosity from the outset, leading us in with a medley of scittering and scattering animal footprints across the endpapers. Upon entering, a bird’s eye view shot of the sparse scene again creates a sense of wonder and keeps the pages turning. Anil has brilliantly captured this intensity throughout with her subtle clues and witty elements that add further richness to the animated text.

In a rhythmic rumble that reflects a bebopping tune, Carthew’s narrative sweeps us from a hush to a rambunctious hullabaloo. When Jess and Jack discover the absence of creatures in the Zoo, they set about with their most astute senses to solve this unusual mystery. Only to find a ka-thumping, drumming, hooting, humming orchestral menagerie of wildlife celebrating none other than baby roo’s first birthday! With clapping, jiving and a goose-ejecting cake, moonlight parties don’t get any better.

Movement, energy, exhilaration and cuteness-overload, The Great Zoo Hullabaloo! offers a festivity for the senses and a clamorous encounter of the wild kind. A range of animals and instruments from all over the world provide plenty of scope for learning, as well as a reminder of our universal similarities and the importance of unity. A joyous book of rhythm, teamwork, togetherness, and a love of music that children from age three will devour with every turn.

Love them, Anil Tortop! 🙂

New Frontier Publishing, May 2017.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Doodles and Drafts – Blog Tour with Robert Vescio

To an infant child, the world is full of unbelievable marvels. Every new discovery is cause for celebration and intense scrutiny. They inherently know how to appreciate the most minuscule details of life because for them, these are the ones that count the most.

Robert Vescio’s latest picture book, Ella Saw The Tree invites young readers to pause for thought and cherish the finer details of life, ones they are often forced to abandon or forget about as they deal with the daily need to ‘grow up’.

Today, we welcome Robert back to the draft table to discuss how his book about mindfulness can help us all slow down whilst catching up with the things that really matter.

Welcome Robert! Tell us a bit more about Ella Saw The Tree.

Continue reading Doodles and Drafts – Blog Tour with Robert Vescio