Review: Mirage by Somaiya Daud

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Mirage by Somaiya Daud is a gorgeously lush story of rebels and body-doubles, inspired by the author’s Moroccan heritage and set amongst the stars. I actually didn’t realise it was sci-fi when I picked it up, but I was so excited and enthralled when I realised we were not only getting Moroccan-based culture and traditions — but also droids and tech and spaceships! I definitely hope this is the first of many books like this!

The story is told by Amani, who is a dreamer and poet on a small moon in a smaller village. She’s just turned eighteen and is receiving her special tattoo that marks her as an adult, when horror strikes. The traditional ceremony is interrupted by droids who scan all the girls’ faces but only take one: Amani. She’s whisked away into space, kidnapped by the brutal Vathek regime, and brought before their cruel and nasty princess…whose face has a startling resemblance to Amani’s. It turns out Amani is going to be used as a body-double. If there’s some place too dangerous for the princess to be, Amani will step in. Her life will be at constant risk, but failure to comply means her family’s death. She feels hopeless and trapped, tortured by Princess Maram, and lonely so far away from home. But her new life is full of glittering privileged and Amani learns to walk like a queen, be around the gorgeous prince she’s “supposed” to marry, and also accidental stumble on the hint of a rebellion and she could, quite possibly, stoke those flames…

What really stood out to me was the incredible world-building! It was perfect in every way, rich and luscious, weaving in myths and customs along with descriptions of their clothes and food! I loved the brief beginning chapters in Amani’s home village, where she’s preparing for her ceremony. And her respect and admiration for her family, plus her love of all things magical and poetic, was so sweet.

The contrast of going to the viciously lavish imperial courts was also so well done! When Amani gets there, and learns to live as Princess Maram, she has so much change and development. I did want a little more from the girls’ relationship, but it ended up being sparse as Amani would get whisked off to play body-double and didn’t actually spend much time with Maram. The two are such contrast though! Maram is snarky vinegar and Amani has such a sugar soul…although she’s determined, clever, and not about to be walked over. It’s nice to see soft, feminine protagonists, who are still strong and complex!

The plot follows a lot of being whisked around the courts and deception and quiet scheming. I did think there’d be more assassin attempts?! But the ones that were in there were chilling! There’s plenty of politics and pain and betrayal.

Mirage is definitely a story to look out for! It’s absolutely gorgeous world building will sweep you right off your feet, and you’ll soon become entranced in this world of gorgeous gowns and royal balls, while wars and conquering rage in the background, and a girl just tries to stay alive and decide if what she’s willing to risk for her people.

Beyond The Backyards – Nature Non-Fiction Picture Books

Picture books enable children to escape and experience worlds quite unlike their own. Non-fiction narrative picture books enhance those journeys even further. The following collection entices young readers to gaze skyward, creep through leaf litter and explore worlds in and beyond their backyards.

Backyard by Ananda Braxton-Smith & Lizzy Newcomb

Backyard is as it says; a whimsical exploration of a normal suburban backyard, that on closer inspection is anything but normal. ‘Sweet-tooth bats’ flit about the dusky evening sky, tawny frogmouths sit ‘as still as wood’. There is tiny movement everywhere and for one ‘sleep-moony child and star-eyed dog watching’, the world comes alive despite their close proximity to the city.

Visually sumptuous and satisfying, this picture book encourages mindfulness and evokes calm and imaginative thought. Captivating language coupled with sensory illustrations on every page will have youngsters revisiting this celebration of creatures great and small again and again.

Black Dog Books August 2018

Continue reading Beyond The Backyards – Nature Non-Fiction Picture Books

CBCA 2018 Shortlisted Picture Books #2 – Florette, The Great Rabbit Chase, Swan Lake, Ten Pound Pom

Florette written & illustrated by Anna Walker (Penguin Random House Australia)

Mae moves to a new home, an apartment. She is sick of all the packing boxes but draws on many of them, particularly drawing daisies. She misses gathering things for her treasure jar. After going to the park, she finds a forest inside a florist but it is closed. A ‘stalk of green [is] peeping through a gap … a piece of forest’. It becomes a treasure for her jar. She goes on to grow a plant for her new (shared) garden.

Themes include moving home; making new friends; the importance of greenery, trees, gardens; and natural and built environments.

Children could compare and contrast the endpapers (there are different creatures in each).

They could consider the meaning of Florette and related words such as florist and forest.

Garden They could make a terrarium or a green wall – a vertical garden or area covered in ivy or vines, dotted with flowers including daisies, model toadstools, other foliage and small model or toy creatures e.g. rabbit, turtle, bird, ladybird.

Children could do some of what Mae does:

  • Decorate treasure jars and find precious items to fill them, perhaps a plant like Mae’s
  • Chalk drawings on asphalt or cardboard boxes
  • Set up a picnic
  • Use pebbles to make daisies

Mae’s movements could lead to making a story map – on paper, cardboard, or using an app.

Other books by Anna Walker include Today we have no Plans, Go Go & the Silver Shoes, Peggy, Starting School and Mr Huff.

The Great Rabbit Chase by Freya Blackwood (Scholastic Australia)

Mum went to buy gumboots but she returned with a rabbit called Gumboots. His attributes are described positively at the start but the illustrations show otherwise

This is a cumulative tale with people joining in like in Pamela Allen’s Alexander’s Outing. There’s even a nod to the fountain of that book.

Humour Examples of humour include Gumboots who doesn’t stop to chat with anyone while escaping; the mother chasing him in towel; and the illustrations that sometimes tell a different story.

Illustrations Media: watercolour, pencil and oil paint

Freya Blackwood uses her signature spotted clothes and domestic details e.g. an ironing board. Red is used as a ‘splash’ colour and there is a worm’s eye view of the underground tunnel.

Themes community; simple outdoor pleasures; friends (even for rabbits); and how rabbits multiply.

Setting  The creek scene is a peaceful interlude, a moment in time, shown by a bird’s eye view. ‘Mrs Finkel’s forehead uncrinkles’ there. The trees are described as a simile: ‘They are like giants with their long legs stuck in the ground.’

The endpapers of this picture book are like a board game, which children could play on.

Children could look at a doll’s house where the front wall is removed. They could make a cutaway diagram (where some of surface is removed to look inside) showing the inside of the house and tunnel (as in the last double page spread). Or they could make a model inside a shoebox lying on its side.

Swan Lake by Anne Spudvilas (A&U)

This tale is taken from the ballad of Swan Lake, a tragic love story of a princess transformed into a swan by an evil sorcerer. The women are swans by day and humans by night. The princess plans to meet the prince at midnight at the ball. The sorcerer’s daughter is disguised as the Swan Queen and the prince chooses her as his bride.

The book is described as passion, betrayal and heartbreak in the Murray-Darling. Children may be able to identify the region from images of the area and the book.

The book is structured/played in III Acts, like the ballet. The written text is followed by pages of illustrations.

Children could listen to some of the ballet music e.g. Tchaikovsky’s Swan Theme; Saint-Saens’ The Dying Swan.

Ballet in pictures They could view some of the ballet.

Visual Literacy  The colours are mainly monochromic, with red as a splash (feature) colour.

Camera angles show some variety:  from underneath – red queen; from above – fleeing girl.

There are close-ups of the swan face and neck; black bird of prey.

Texture Children could emulate the texture through printmaking using leaves and sticks.

They could animate the transformation of swans to women using https://goanimate4schools.com/public_index or other animation programs or apps.

Books by Anne Spudvilas include The Peasant Prince and The Race

Ten Pound Pom written by Carole Wilkinson, illustrated by Liz Anelli (Walker Books)

This picture book is Carole Wilkinson’s memoir of immigrating from Britain to Australia as part of the Assisted Passage Migration Scheme, so it could also be regarded as an information book. Detail is shown to give verisimilitude.

Migration Carole Wilkinson packed her 101 glass animals and even tried to pack soil to take to Australia. Imagining they are migrating, children could be asked what treasured possessions they would take.

Compare/contrast Children could compare and contrast migration in the 1950s and 1960s with other ways of migrating to Australia in the past and present. They could use Popplet (a mind mapping tool http://popplet.com/ ) to organise their ideas.

Poem Carole Wilkinson wrote a poem about her empty house. Children could write a similar poem, including their circumstances and their emotions if leaving home.

Illustrator Liz Anelli says: ‘So much of her (Carole Wilkinson’s) tale rung true with my own journey and made it a delight to delve into. I loved researching details for the cruise ship they travelled on and especially enjoyed being able to ‘dress’ the characters in Anelli fabrics, sourced from my grandparents’ photo album.’

Some of her illustrations pay homage to John Brack’s paintings in style & colour and some of her other books are One Photo and Desert Lake.

CBCA 2018 Shortlisted Picture Books #1 – Mopoke & A Walk in the Bush

Mopoke by Philip Bunting (Omnibus Books)

Mopoke is structured using black and white alternating pages. The pages are well composed with the mopoke carefully positioned on each. The style is static, with a picture of mopoke in different poses. This style can also be seen in Sandcastle by the author/illustrator; and the Crichton shortlisted, I Just Ate My Friend by Heidi McKinnon.

Humour appears throughout Mopoke e.g. ‘This is a wombat.’

The book can also be dark e.g. ‘Nopoke’, where both pages are black.

Children could perform the text as a performance poem (see the work of Sollie Raphael, teen Oz Slam Poetry champion, who has a book, Limelight).

Safe styrofoam printing (like lino cuts) Children could select one of the mopoke pictures or design their own to make a printing tool. They could cut the rim off a styrofoam plate; etch the mopoke shape using a blunt pencil, pen or stick; etch some texture; add paint; place the paper on top and press.

Poster Making The bold, striking illustrations reflect current trends in graphic design so children could make a poster of a mopoke in this style.

‘Educational Technology & Mobile Learning’ –

‘The best 8 tools to make posters for your classroom’ https://www.educatorstechnology.com/2013/02/the-best-10-tools-to-create-postersfor.html or use Glogster.

A Walk in the Bush by Gwyn Perkins (Affirm Press)

There’s an interesting relationship between Grandad and (possum-like but actual cat) Iggy. Iggy doesn’t want to emulate Grandad; he seems more aware, while Grandad often seems oblivious to what they see in the bush.

The author/illustrator has a detailed eye for natural bush sights and sounds such as plants, animals and birds and silhouettes and shadows are executed in a light colour. The style is reminiscent of Roland Harvey.

The bushland setting is an integral part of A Walk in the Bush. To enable children to experience this, teachers or parents could find an area where there is some bush. It may be part of a State Forest, nearby bushland or a bushy area within a local park or the school playground.

Sensory Wheel Students look, listen and use other senses to note the sounds, sights and other features of the bush e.g. eucalyptus leaves to crush and scribbly marks on trees. They could record sights, sounds, smells, feel/touch, taste (where safe) on a sensory wheel.

Children could create literary texts by selecting one of the senses to focus on. They write a brief sensory description of the bush using language generated from their experiences in the bush.

They could write this description onto a piece of paperbark (if accessible without causing damage to trees) or onto recycled paper or wrapping or scrapbooking paper that emulates the colour, content or texture of the description. (NB paperbark is also available from some kitchen suppliers)

Soundscape While in the bush, could listen to and identify bush sounds.

They create then a soundscape by listing five of the sounds and recording these. The free recording tool Audacity could be downloaded to create soundscapes http://www.audacityteam.org/download/.

Review: The Art Of Escaping by Erin Callahan

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The Art of Escaping by Erin Callahan is a captivating and actually super stressful story about a teenage girl who’s obsessed with escapology. Bring out references to Houdini! It’s actually a topic I’ve never read about in YA before, so I was extra keen to try this one out and loved how it wove in everyday highschool angst, friendship group complications, secret keeping, and (of course) a hobby that requires you to be straightjacketed and handcuffed and thrown in a pool.

Lovely hobby.

The story follows Mattie who is determined to find the daughter of a late escape artist and be taught the art of escapology. This is a little complicated by her new mentor being super cranky and barely leaving the house…and also Mattie’s desperate need for no one she knows to EVER see her performing. Until a boy from school comes to one of her shows. Cue horror. But when they talk, the boy, Will, swears he won’t tell and offers a secret to Mattie so they can be sure neither will break. Will, school jock and sweetheart of one of the most popular girls ever…is gay. Will and Mattie soon fall into an easy friendship, where Will helps Mattie with her act, and also discovers things that he loves doing (like costume design) while Mattie thinks of ways to kickstart her brother out of his stalled life. They both want to find ways to be more than just boring and lifeless numbers in the world. And maybe death-defying act will help them escape their troubles — until those troubles catch up.

I did love the strong emphasis on friendship here! The two main characters aren’t a couple and while they both crush on other people irregularly through the book, it’s such a small part of the story. So nearly romance-free. It also ends up with an epic friendship group of a bunch of misfits from Mattie (who literally nearly drowns in chains and lockpicks for fun) and Will (closeted and anxious and lying to his girlfriend and unsure how to fix the messes he’s made) and Stella (super nerd girl who’s an ex-homeschooler) and Frankie (child genius who skipped two grades and literally no one talks to him). They were a great and dynamic group! Plus there were plenty of secondary characters who all felt fleshed out and interesting.

The scenes where Mattie’s learning how to pick locks are definitely amazing. There’s a twist on the “old cranky mentor” trope, with it being a young cranky (possibly agoraphobic) Japanese mentor, whose mother was the famous escape artist, but died in an unrelated accident many years ago. She unwillingly trains Mattie, but I did love their friendship, with the banter and insults flung around. I did not learn how to pick a lock though. Sad for me.

The story itself isn’t long, so the pace is pretty great! We follow Mattie (and the few chapters narrated by Will) as they manage school and college applications and also try to figure out how to keep their messy secrets from their families.

The Art of Escaping is definitely one to look out for! It really focuses on finding your passion and interests in life, trusting your friends, and picking death-defying careers because what’s a little adrenaline rush now and then, hmm?

Eleni Hale & ‘Stone Girl’ – Australian YA

Thanks for speaking with Boomerang Books, Eleni.

You’re most welcome and thanks so much for having me.

What is your background and where are you based?

I’m based in Melbourne. I lived in Greece as a child but came to Australia as a non-English speaking migrant at around eight years old.

My work background is mostly journalism. I was a reporter at various newspapers (five years at the Herald Sun) and then a communications strategist for the union movement for five years. Since having kids I have had to take a step back from that sort of high-octane work.

How involved in the YA literary community are you?

I first became aware of the LoveOZYA community through author Nicole Hayes. I was a member of her writing group and as my manuscript progressed she spoke to me about where she thought it might fit and how wonderful and supportive people were.

I love reading YA, especially Australian YA, and following other writer’s journey on social media. I’ve found the LoveOZYA community inspiring and vibrant. I love being a part of it. There’s a real effort to support each other and this makes the sometimes insecure life of a writer easier. We celebrate each other’s wins and commiserate with difficulties.

Stone Girl (Penguin Random House) is a searing, unforgettable story. Could you tell us about the protagonist Sophie and the symbol of a ‘stone girl’?

As I write my second novel I realize that I’m interested in the triggers and experiences in life that change as. What needs to happen to transform a person from one thing to another? As a journalist, reporting straight news, I would be stunned by the things people did and wonder how they grew from a kid into this adult. What forms their decision making and choices?

Stone Girl follows Sophie’s life from 12 to 16 years old as she becomes someone society typically judges, despises and ultimately dismisses. The persona of Stone Girl is her survival mechanism in a world where there’s no one to rely upon but herself. Sophie soon comprehends her place and makes a number of decisions about who and how she must be in response. It’s about resilience. She toughens up, she becomes Stone Girl, and this is both positive and negative.

Hardening herself, especially against adults, serves to both protect her and isolate her because stony self-preservation cuts both ways. She doesn’t trust anyone. Doesn’t ask for help even though she often desperately needs it. Her Stone Girl persona is what she uses to hide her vulnerability. When she lifts her chin against the world then she can shut out the things that have happened to her. She uses her anger to protect her. But in the end, it’s what she does with the Stone Girl facade that makes this a story of redemption.

Most of us have a mask we wear in order to fit in and protect ourselves. It just happens that Sophie has to wear hers 24 hours a day.

Could you tell us about some significant other characters?

Gwen is one of my favourites. Girlfriends have been the backbone to my life. They’ve saved me many times over, from my sister to the besties I’ve known over the years. I love the closeness and trust that grows between some women. The friendships in the homes Sophie moves through are formed as fast as they must be abandoned but in Gwen, Sophie finds a true ally. It’s a friendship that underscores everything else. It doesn’t just disappear because there’s a love interest.

I think of it like an old western when there’s a shoot-out and friends protect themselves by standing back to back. Gwen and Sophie bond in the knowledge that, despite appearances, adults actually have no idea what they’re doing.

Spiral came to me when I was at the Varuna’s Writer’s House. I knew Sophie needed someone, possibly a love interest, but I couldn’t figure out who would be strong enough break through to her.

Then, as I strolled through Katoomba, Spiral’s form became clear. I saw what he looked like, his motivations and that, like Sophie, in a world of broken promises, he too needed someone to trust.

Writing about Spiral was fun, especially at first. He’s gorgeous! A fiery and enigmatic character that I was drawn to completely – his name serving as prophesy.

I’ve always loved books with gritty honest characters that both shock and charm and I try to write this way.

How did you create such authentic experiences in the homes Sophie had to live in and her spiral into such terrible situations? 

Eleni Hale

This is fictional novel but I have borrowed heavily from my time as a teen growing up in group homes.

I tried to write the real story but felt unable to. Fiction freed me up and images and events appeared quite clearly to me; the rooms, the feelings, the flavor of being of being someone who lived that way. I put myself easily into Sophie’s shoes.

When I lived in the homes there were many younger kids and I’ve thought about them so often since. Sophie is how I imagined one life.

You’ve made drug-taking very appealing at times, e.g. chapter 22? How did you weigh up the risk of including this?

The truth is that before drugs destroy you, they feel good. That’s the trick. That’s why people keep taking them. If I pretended they were terrible all the way though then this would not be the realistic trajectory of addiction. It could be dismissed and then this would not be a true cautionary tale. Protectionism is not helpful for most teens, especially when you consider the type of world we live in right now.

How important is Sophie’s racial background to the story?

Her racial background and her estrangement from her Greek family contribute to her feeling of dislocation. She doesn’t belong there. She has no family here. She must let go of the past and carve her own way through the world.

Like Sophie, I grew up in Greece and left family behind. My Greek heritage and the memories of leaving my first home have significantly contributed to who I am today and I found it quite cathartic to include this in Sophie’s life.

What does she learn about family and others?

When she first goes into the homes Sophie is hopeful that she will once again find family, either with a social worker or with her Baba. However this is not to be. Sophie soon understands that in a world where the only constant is change, she can only rely on herself.

With the kids in the homes there’s a unique bond that makes them a kind of family – albeit temporary.

Could you explain what turned her situation around towards the end of the novel – and why have you chosen this form of redemption?

The fight to survive that carried Sophie through is her saving grace. I actually didn’t know how it was going to end until three or four drafts in. I just kept thinking, this is not the story of a victim. And finally I realized what had to happen.

Kids in care, people with addictions and the homeless are either viewed with pity or fear and I wanted to show how we should never underestimate anyone. People are amazing! They want to survive and many can achieve much given a chance.

You thank God in the Acknowledgements. Why have you done this?

Doing something you love, answering a calling to the self, which is what writing feels like to me, can mean many sacrifices in other areas of life. Financial, physical, mental; you turn yourself inside out. I found myself praying more. Especially after writing I feel quite close to ‘God’. This isn’t in a religious way but more a universal spiritual one.

Who would you particularly like to see read your novel?

Everyone. I need to fund my next novel.

But seriously, I guess if I was choosing readers based on getting the message across then I’d hope people from the world that deals with kids like these. Social workers, kids in care, etc.

I’ve also loved the responses I’ve received from those who are surprised about this world. I would like there to be a common understanding about the fact that hundreds, if not thousands of kids live this way right now in Australia. A public conversation about kids in care could finally bring change to this difficult, misunderstood and largely ignored section of Australian society. That, for me, would be a dream come true. I’d love to know that others wouldn’t feel the way I did when I was living in government care in the early 1990s.

Have you already had any memorable responses from readers to Stone Girl?

A redit post my husband put up went viral and I was shocked and amazed by the response. Social workers, lawyers, ex homes and foster kids from around the world commented and it solidified what I had always suspected. Despite the fact we don’t often acknowledge the plight of kids without parents, the situation matters to many. It’s a private pain. Or a job they really care about. Or they don’t know how to help someone… Some of them contacted me after reading Stone Girl, sending quite heartfelt messages. As an author, this is the best feeling in the world.

Putting aside the issue of kids in care, I wrote this book because gritty subjects, love at ‘the edge of a cliff’, characters living dangerously is what I find interesting to read. I’ve been floored by the generous reviews so far, especially those where people say they couldn’t stop reading. The number one reason for writing a fictional book has to be entertainment, doesn’t it?

This was the first review I received and I remember the relief I felt. Rob at Lamont Books really got what Stone Girl was about.

Wow! This is a must read novel for older teens, but a word of caution – it is definitely a YA title aimed at teens 15 years and older.

It took me back to my school days reading Go Ask Alice, which I found totally confronting, but at the same time an educational and inspirational cautionary tale. Stone Girl is certainly that as it takes us on Sophie’s downhill journey through institutional care as a ward of the state from when she is 12 until she is 16.

It is written with a real understanding and depth of character, as it is inspired by the real life experiences of the debut author, journalist Eleni Hale. Many dark topics are covered including death, poverty, heartbreak and substance dependence. But shining through the story is identity, survival, resilience and ultimately a coming of age empowerment.

I will not give the story away but suffice to say you cannot help but be swept along by the incredible Sophie, as the world continues serving up crap to her. She often stumbles and is so very nearly broken, but we continue to hold out hope for her throughout the story.

Stone Girl will change the way you look at the homeless, and hopefully enlighten young minds as to the plight of wards of the state.

This is a brilliant debut, but as it does contain extreme language, mature themes and substance abuse, it is suited to older teens, 15 years and up.

How can we protect young people and help if we encounter someone in a situation like Sophie’s or someone at risk?

From memory and for reasons I can’t really explain, kids in care seemed to be treated differently, like no-hopers. I don’t know if it was the way we dressed or looked. Maybe we were too loud or other times we seemed too quiet and uncommunicative. I just know that people changed towards you once they knew you were a kid who lived like that. From cops, to teachers, to people on the street, I was often hyper-aware of being a ‘lesser other’.

So in terms of talking to them in an encounter, simply show respect even if you don’t understand them, hold your judgment before you really know them (perhaps after as well) and don’t assume the worst.

Also important is to support the organizations set up to help them such as the ‘Make It 21’ campaign that seeks to extend support from 18 years old to 21. This could lessen the shocking number of government kids who end up homeless, drug addicted and/or mentally ill.

It’s really hard to get through to someone like Sophie once they hardened up. They guard strictly against pity and judgment. The communication channels are nearly closed. Improving their experiences in the ‘system’ is obviously an important way to avoid their slide into the margins of society.

I don’t have all the answers for this – I don’t think anyone does – but talking about it publically is a good start. Don’t let their lives be our society’s dirty secret any longer. Let their issues matter the same way that other’s kid’s problems are discussed regularly in public forums.

What are you writing now?

I’m writing the sequel to Stone Girl. What happens after you leave the home system and your support is cut off? What will Sophie do now that she is out in the world and responsible for herself in every way? She has no family and must scrape together the money she needs to live. Where will this new fight for survival lead her?

It’s as gritty as Stone Girl.

What are you enjoying reading?

I find myself alternating between adult and YA books. I recently read Ballad for a Mad Girl by Vikki Wakefield which I loved. Then I read Richard Flanagan’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North which was disturbingly brilliant. But Mirandi Stanton’s The Fish Girl is the best book (novella) I’ve read so far this year.

 Is there anything else you’d like to mention?

Thank you

Thanks very much, Eleni.

Review: Fawkes by Nadine Brandes

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Fawkes by Nadine Brandes was one of my highly anticipated release for this! I was absolutely not disappointed! It was full of darkness, magic, assassination plots, and really creative and unique twists on the infamous Guy Fawkes. Because yes! This is a historical retelling. But with magic. I also didn’t know much about the origin of Guy Fawkes, but I know the author did a lot of research (um, except the magic part didn’t happen in London at that time…well, I mean, maybe it did. Who can say for sure). This was such a lusciously detailed reimagining of London and I could wait to see how the story would unfold.

Thomas Fawkes lives in 17th century London, where the world is ruled by two opposing forces of magicians, and if he doesn’t get his mask and join one side…he’ll have no way to cure the plague turning his face to stone. His father, Guy Fawkes, was supposed to turn up to his school’s ceremony and gift his sone a mask, but the man (who Thomas barely knows anyway) never shows up. Thomas isn’t interested in dying of this illness, so he goes in search of his father. And then he discovers Guy Fawkes deep in the midst of organising the assassination of King James. The two opposing magician clans, the Keepers versus the Igniters, are destroying this world with their war, but it’s said if the Keepers kill the Igniters — it’ll stop the plague. Thomas has no choice but to help…right? They need 36 barrels of gunpowder and no betrayals.

Remember, remember, the fifth of November,
The Gunpowder treason and plot;
I know of no reason why the Gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot!
Guy Fawkes, Guy Fawkes, ’twas his intent
To blow up the King adn the Parliment;
Threescore barrels of powder below,
Poor old England to overthrow.
By God’s providence he was catch’d,
With a dark lantern and a burning match.

The story is narrated by 16 year old Thomas Fawkes, who is hopelessly honourable. He is like the ultimate beautiful “I shall do my duty!” son and I loved him. All the gentlemanly pledges and goodness! He’s literally dying of the plague, blind in one eye, but he’s still very particular about honour and his sword and being treated like a true man. He’s completely ostracised because of his plague infection, and he does his best to hide it. I liked how it twisted the London Black Plague by making it this magic-infected-illness that slowly turned you to stone.

really felt for Thomas and his confusion about whether to join his father or oppose murder. It was definitely a tug of loyalties and you really feel it as Thomas tries to decide!

The magic system was also awesome! It’s based on masks and colours! Basically you’re either a Keeper (controlling one magic at a time) or an Igniter (balancing multiple and lead by the voice of the White Light) and everyone wears a mask which helps link them to controlling the colours in things. So if your power is Brown, then you’ll control dirt and earth easily. I thought it was pretty clever and original!

There are also plenty of father and son drama issues. But of course. There’s nothing like an assassination plot that’s complicated by awkward fathers and sons who hate not being taken seriously.

I also really enjoyed the secondary cast, but particularly Emma! She’s a badass girl from Thomas’ school who constantly hides behind a mask (why?! Most everyone else takes theirs off sometimes!) and in the end she and Thomas accidentally end up working together — him trying to get information from the lord she’s staying with to use against the king, and her having Thomas as a servant guiding her through London while she tries to get hired as an artist. Their relationship is NOT smooth, which is always a lot of fun! Bring on the slowburn.

I loved the intense array of elements in the story too. From gunpowder and conspiracies, to disguises and miracles and plagues. There’s discussions on race and I felt the opposing magicians were a bit of a twist on the religious unrest in England at that time. Ultimately Fawkes is one you want to be looking out for! It’s available for preorder now and out in August!

Review: The Unpredictability Of Being Human by Linni Ingemundsen

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The Unpredictability Of Being Human by Linni Ingemundsen is beautiful tale told in forthright prose about an undiagnosed autistic girl living in Norway and realising her “normal” family is actually hiding a lot of upside-down secrets. It’s such a bittersweet book that’s definitely here to tug on your heartstrings. The unique perspective of Malin is so heartwarming as it is heartbreaking as she just tries to fit in and…fails. This is definitely the kind of book you want to pick up, as it’s full of heart, complex characters, and some twists that will leave your heart aching.

Malin is 14 years old when the story takes off, and tells her perspective in diary format. She also starts off doing an assignment that asks what she would do if she were God for the day. She chooses fixing the perfect bag of popcorn, because if God hasn’t fixed the world already, then maybe she’s not supposed to either? Her life is pretty normal, in her opinion, with a mum who drinks a lot (but it’s good for her heart) and a dad who never stops yelling and her older brother who ignores her or is super mean. But also probably hiding something, as she soon finds out. And after her mother goes way for a while on a mysterious “business trip”, Malin’s world starts to fall apart. she can’t seem to keep friends at school without making unforgivable social blunders, she keeps getting physically hurt, and her beloved cousin Magnus isn’t always  there to point her in the right direction. And the boy she likes? Well it’s possible she’s done something to make him hate her too. Why is life so utterly and unfathomably impossible?

Malin’s narration was definitely my favourite part of the book! She’s sweet and endearing and narrates in a really straight forward way. She’s so meticulous about the time and in love with her super advanced watch. While it’s not mentioned she’s autistic on the page (although confirmed by sources), she has so many accurate habits of an autistic individual and it’s refreshing to see her exist outside of stereotypes and be dimensional and complex. She’s surrounded by people, but so lonely, and always falls in with the weird kids at school…until they leave her too. Trying to keep up with the popular (probably evil) girl, Frida, is hard enough, but Malin keeps being lured into doing regrettable things while the girls laugh at her. You really ache for Malin and then cheer when she finds people who do care about her: like her amazing cousin Magnus.

The book is definitely about family over romance. Malin doesn’t pick up on the undercurrents happening inside her family, like how her older brother isn’t in school anymore or her mother’s drinking problem. But it affects her hugely and the uncertainty is really hard on her mental health. I did like the little hint of her crush on Reuben and she does a lot of googling about kissing…for “just in case”.

The narration is quite simplistic, but I think it captures the story and heart of it so well! It’s not flowery, so it just pulls you right in and since the book is so short, you end up devouring page after page.

The Unpredictability of Being Human is a fantastic book that will warm and break your heart in equal measures. It doesn’t have a wild plot, and it’s more a little peek through the window into Norway, where Malin is moving from child to teen and trying to understand things that will never make perfect sense: like the unfairness of suffering, of love, of betrayal and loss.

Kate Simpson Shares her Story on Finding Granny

 Finding Granny is a touching and heartwarming story about a young girl dealing with her Granny’s stroke, yet underneath the surface it so much more about the emotional impact it has on every character in the book, and even those behind the scenes. Granny’s convalescence is beautifully captured through the uplifting illustrations and the playful tone in which the story is told. The words were artfully written by debut author, Kate Simpson; mum, writer, engineer and podcaster, who joins us as a part of her blog tour to talk about her journey thus far. Thanks, Kate! 🙂

Thanks for talking with us, Kate, and congratulations on your debut picture book, Finding Granny!
Can you tell us a bit about your background and how you came to be a children’s writer?

I didn’t always dream of being a writer. I always loved books and thought it must be amazing to be an author, but it simply didn’t occur to me that this was something I could do. I felt like writing was something for people with ideas, and I didn’t have them.

When my children were born, I took maternity leave with each, and then worked part time. With less happening at work, I started looking for something more to challenge me intellectually and creatively. Because my own children were so young, I was reading mountains of wonderful picture books and somehow, something just clicked and I thought that perhaps writing for children could be the thing I was looking for. And it was.

What does having Finding Granny published mean to you? How do you hope it will touch its readers?

It’s incredibly exciting to have a book published and to be able to see it and touch it and read it to my children. Like many writers, I’ve been chipping away at this over a number of years and it’s such a thrill to see the fruits of my labour in physical form.

In terms of how it might touch its readers, I feel like it’s the type of book that may find a different place in each reader’s heart depending on their own experience. A family touched by stroke or by another illness or disability might get different things out of Finding Granny than a family with different experiences. But I hope that the love between Edie and Granny really shines through for everyone and that the emotion of the story rings true.

Do you have any personal experience with art therapy? How much research did you need to undertake in developing your story, combining the emotional and physical impact a stroke has on a person, and how art therapy can aid in their recovery?

I don’t have any experience of art therapy. In fact, in my first draft of Finding Granny, Granny underwent physiotherapy rather than art therapy. But I just couldn’t find a way to bring out Granny’s playfulness in that setting in the way that I wanted. I don’t remember how the idea of art therapy came to me, but I remember doing a quick Google search and finding a news article from the UK about an art therapy group for stroke survivors that was holding an exhibition. From there, it just clicked.

I did do a little bit more research after that. There’s not a great deal of detail in my book, but I wanted to be sure I wasn’t including any glaring factual errors. It was also interesting to read people’s personal stories of creating art after stroke. Some were already artists, who needed to re-learn their skill with their non-dominant hand after the dominant hand was affected by stroke. Others had never had any experience of art before beginning art therapy after stroke. I came across a few news articles and blog posts that included photos of the art work created, and I was blown away.

As a first time author, how did you find the publishing process with EK Books? Were there any surprises or challenges along the way?

I really didn’t know a huge amount about the process going in. The few things I’d gathered from conferences and friends were that it would be slow and that I would be involved very little. Largely, I suppose that was true. There were certainly gaps of many months where I heard nothing at all. But I was pleasantly surprised to find that my publisher at EK Books did consult me on the choice of illustrator and that I was given the opportunity to comment on the roughs. As for the waiting, it seems like that’s just part of every stage of the publishing journey. It’s excruciating, but it can’t be avoided.

Gwynneth Jones is obviously a talented illustrator, absolutely capturing the heart, joy and love in Finding Granny. What was it like collaborating with her, and what do you love most about the way she has portrayed your sensitive story?

What’s not to love about Gwynne’s illustrations? I remember in the early days, my publisher emailed me some rough pencil sketches that Gwynne had done of Granny and Edie, and I was just over the moon. She has really brought the characters to life and I just can’t imagine them any way other than as she has drawn them. That’s definitely the thing I love most about her work.

In some ways collaboration seems a strange word to use for the process of creating a picture book. Of course, in the end the words and text work together to create the reader’s experience of the book, but as the book is created we really work largely alone. I created the text before Gwynne was involved at all, and most of her work was done independently of me as well. The publisher did give me the opportunity to comment on the roughs, and I made a couple of comments, but I don’t remember asking for any substantial changes (Gwynne may remember it differently!).

Do you have a favourite memory with one of your grandparents?

Many! My maternal grandmother lived with us for much of my childhood, and I remember her fretting over us climbing trees and jumping over rocks. My sister and I took positive delight in terrorising her with our exploits, but now that I have kids of my own, I can absolutely understand where she was coming from!

You’re one of the trio in the popular podcast for kids, One More Page. Has there been a stand out moment, or piece of advice from a guest that changed you or your thinking, or reinforced what you do as a children’s writer/presenter?

I think the biggest thing I’ve taken away from the podcast is how incredibly supportive the children’s book community is. We’ve had organisations like the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators going out of their way to promote what we’re doing, and established authors and large publishers really getting on board to be part of our interviews and our Kids’ Capers segment. And then of course there’s the constant cheer squad of emerging writers, teachers, librarians and general book lovers who listen to the show and share it on social media, tell their friends and send us messages via our website. It’s such a delight to be a part of such a wonderful community.

Anything else of excitement you’d like to add?

Everything seems a little bit exciting at the moment. I’m doing my best to remember it all so that I can feed off that in the moments when I’m alone in my lounge room tearing my hair out over my latest manuscript. I have another couple of picture books coming out over the next two years, and I also have some ideas for some middle grade novels that I’m keen to get started on. I’m really hoping to build this little spark of success into a career.

Thanks so much for the interview, Kate! Congratulations again on your new release, Finding Granny, and enjoy the rest of your book blog tour!

Join the tour here. 🙂

Find ‘Finding Granny’ in Dimity’s reviews here.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

CBCA 2018 Shortlisted EVE POWNALL Information Books #2

I’ve already blogged about the CBCA shortlisted Younger and Older Reader books.

In two parts, I’ll now look at the Eve Pownall Information Books.

Amazing Australians and their Flying Machines by Prue and Kerry Mason, illustrated by Tom Jellett (Walker Books)

This book is structured chronologically with a focus on inventors and aviators we’ve heard of including Lawrence Hargrave, Nancy Bird, Charles Kingsford Smith, Rev John Flynn of the Flying Dr Service; and those we may not have heard of such as Dr William Bland (who appeared before Hargrave) in the 1850s.

The structure and writing styles provide variety: words in the aviators’ voices; 3 Amazing Facts about most aviators; and ‘Did You Know?’ columns. The book acknowledges difficulties for women in the past who wished to fly.

Some interesting information from the book:

George Taylor In 1909 he flew a glider from Narrabeen, NSW. His wife Florence also flew, tucking her long skirts into her bloomers. At age ten Taylor wrote an essay, ‘The Future of Flying Machines in Australia’. He was a cartoonist and suffered from epilepsy.

Bert Hinkler In 1921 he flew the nine hours from Sydney to Bundaberg wearing a suit and tie. His RAF flying instructor was Cpt W.E. Johns, who wrote the Biggles books.

Like Lawrence Hargrave, children could make box kites. The ‘e-how’ website could be helpful. It suggests using dowel, bendy straws and a plastic/vinyl tablecloth. https://www.ehow.com/how_4882168_make-box-kites.html Alternatively they could make gliders or paper planes.

M is for Mutiny! History by Alphabet by John Dickson, illustrated by Bern Emmerichs (Berbay Publishing)

Structured as an alphabet book, this book is set during British colonisation of Australia but also explores ongoing preoccupations such as L is for land rights.

The M is for Mutiny section could be linked with another book in this series, William Bligh: a stormy story of tempestuous times. Children could discuss why this letter has been selected for the book’s title and suggest alternatives from the book. 

I is for Island could lead to reading the graphic novel, The Mostly True Story of Matthew and Trim by Cassandra Golds and Stephen Axelson.

Decorative Patterning is used for sections such as J is for Jail and N is for Nurture. Children could select an alternative description for one of the letters e.g. C is for Convicts (instead of Cook) and create decorative patterning in Bern Emmerichs’ style.

Left & Right by Lorna Hendry (Wild Dog Books)

Like last year’s shortlisted book by this author, Gigantic Book of Genes, this is a glossy science publication with high quality photos. It includes seamless explanations of left and right with clear examples for children to understand.

It includes a clever idea where children hold their hands out in front and touch their thumbs. Their left hand forms an L shape (helping them remember which hand is left).

The author recognises that it is easy to mix up left and right and looks at situations where right may connote good and left signify weak or bad. For example, in Albania it has been a crime to be left-handed.

It features symmetry, spirals, clockwise and anticlockwise, and the compass.

The author includes incredible information, such as ‘Nearly all kangaroos are left-handed… Parrots use their left feet to pick up food.’ ‘Female cats tend to be right-handed, and male cats … left’. And when driving, island nations tend to drive on the left-hand side of the road.

 

 

CBCA 2018 Shortlisted EVE POWNALL Information Books

I’ve already blogged about the CBCA shortlisted Younger and Older Reader books. In two parts, I’ll now look at the Eve Pownall Information Books.

Do Not Lick This Book by Idan Ben-Barak, illustrated by Julian Frost (Allen & Unwin)

Min is a microbe. She is small. Very small. In fact, so small that you’d need to look through a microscope to see her.

I know from comments by a young family that this tactile, interactive book about microbiology has great appeal. The title is provocative – tempting and almost urging children to lick the book. Min the microbe guides the reader through the informative content, which is well designed with bright comic style illustrations and high-quality photographs. The information is clever, irreverent and quirky. It probably reflects the creators – a team consisting of writer Idan (quiet loud thoughts), Julian (who likes comics and toast) and Linnea, the scientist.

Children could consider, ‘Where will you take Min tomorrow?’ Like the book, they could take Min on a journey using a mix of photographic backgrounds, cartoon characters and written text.

Hygiene is taught and encouraged using reverse psychology. Teachers and parents may use the book to reinforce good hygiene (without losing the text’s inherent appeal).

Koala by Claire Saxby, illustrated by Julie Vivas (Walker Books)

Koala is most appropriate for the very young. It traces the experiences of a young koala achieving independence.

The writing is both literary and factual: providing parallel texts which are particularly useful for children who prefer one style over the other and to expose readers to both forms. The illustrations are distinctive for their rounded lines and shapes.

Children could make finger puppets using the following free template http://www.makefilmplay.com/kids-crafts/how-to-make-this-koala-finger-puppet-with-a-free-template/ or cut rounded shapes from felt (and sew and stuff) to make a koala. They could use these to re-enact the koala’s movements.

Koala is part of Walker Books’ excellent ‘Nature Storybooks’ series. Others include Claire Saxby’s Big Red Kangaroo, Emu and Dingo; and Sue Whiting’s Platypus. This could also be a good opportunity to introduce the classic Blinky Bill by Dorothy Wall.

The Big Book of Antarctica by Charles Hope (Wild Dog Books)

This is another big, glossy production from Wild Dog Books. The photos are exceptional. There is minimal written text and key words are shown in large coloured font.

Antarctica is studied in the Australian curriculum and this book covers explorers, scientists, transport, ice, plants (moss, algae, plankton), and much about animals and birds, e.g. giant petrels who vomit on anything they think is a threat (page 37). Climate change and global warming also feature (page 60)

Ice is looked at on page 22. There are many experiments about ice in other books and online to extend this subject.

Children may also be interested in looking at Antarctica in real time via web cams http://www.antarctica.gov.au/webcams

YA Books With Crowns On the Cover

Look we all secretly like to sing the Lion King lyrics, “Oh I just can’t wait to be kiiiing” when no one is listening. Because it would be very nice to wear a crown. Agreed? Agreed. Until we accidentally inherit one, however, we can make do by admiring gorgeous crowns on YA book covers. And also reading the books so we’re not just judging books by their covers. (Although that’s kind of fun, I’m not going to lie.)

You can also find my post of a list of YA books with Knives and Swords on the covers too!


ASH PRINCESS by Laura Sebastian

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Honestly this cover is super flawless, with it’s gorgeous dusky colour scheme and that crown that is so entrancing and yet is a symbol of oppression and devastation. Theo’s nation has been conquered by an evil tyrant, and now she’s a tortured captive princess in her own castle — and on special occasion she’s forced to wear this crown of ashes that makes a horrible mess over her face and clothes to remind everyone she’s worth nothing. But secretly? She’s planning assassinations and rebellions.

 

THE CRUEL PRINCE by Holly Black

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This is only one of my favourite reads of this year, but the faerie queen herself: author Holly Black! This is about backstabbing royals and cunning plots and a prince who is poisonous…and also a little bit tragic.

Our heroine, Jude, is a mere human in the vicious and gorgeously deadly faerie world…and the crown might be up for the taking.

 

FURYBORN by Claire Legrand

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This is about two women’s lives, but it’s set milleniums apart, which is a twist I hadn’t read before! It features one girl, an assassin who’s past might not be as boring as she imagined.

And a queen, who made a deal with an angel and has to prove herself through terrifying life-threatening trials to prove her powers are under her control. Or are they?

 

THREE DARK CROWNS by Kendare Blake

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And of course we can’t forget this one! The story of triplet sisters who have been raised differently and separately until they’re 16 and will make the fight for the crown. One is raised by a poisonous, cunning household of poisons and snakes. Another in the forests, who can control beasts and minds. And another who has the elements under her thumb with a simple wish. But what if they don’t all want to be enemies?

 

STARS ABOVE by Marissa Meyer

BUY HERE

A quick swap from the normal fantasies over to this sci-fi! It’s actually a short-story collection from the Lunar Chronicles world to give you that last taste of Cinder & Co before the series ends! And the cover is just gorgeous and gives us a hint of what’s going to happen to the now-returned Princess Selene and where the ex-Princess Winter will end up. Plus it just is such a fairy-tale cover! With the crown on a pillow, like a glass slipper waiting for it’s chosen one.