‘The Restless Girls’, a classic, reimagined fairy tale

“Not far from where you’re sitting right now, there exists a country called Kalia… The shore shimmers gold, the land opens like an emerald quilt, and the Kalian mountains rise up as giants to greet the sky.”

The wondrous land of Kalia and its twelve princesses come from the imagination of Jessie Burton, who wrote The Miniaturist and The Muse for adults. The Restless Girls (Bloomsbury Children’s Books) is a re-imagined fairy tale inspired by The Twelve Dancing Princesses about girls who circumvent their powerless state. It is told in sumptuous picture book form and is a perfect Christmas gift.

Award-winning artist Angela Barrett has illustrated another fairy tale, The Most Wonderful Thing in the World (written by Vivian French) as well as The Night Before Christmas (written by Clement C. Moore), Rockinghorse Land, The Orchard Book of Stories from the Ballet (written by Geraldine McCaughrean) and the awarded Can It Be True? (written by Susan Hill), a retelling of the Nativity story. She enhances Jessie Burton’s story of The Restless Girls with her whimsical, enigmatic illustrations.

The twelve princesses are introduced in The Restless Girls in order of birth: Frida is clever, ambitious and wants to fly a plane; Polina could read the stars; Lorna is kind and wise; Ariosta paints; Chessa sings; Bellina speaks five languages; Vita is happy and has a quick wit; Mariella is gifted with numbers; Delilah has green fingers; Flora is always reading; Emelia wants to be a vet and Agnes wants to be a writer.

When their mother, Queen Laurelia, dies in her racing car, King Alberto (who didn’t grow up with any females and so doesn’t understand them) curtails their artistic and other pursuits because he wants his daughters to stop thinking and prepare to be housewives. They wilt when he locks them in a small room with no distractions apart from their imaginations, their stories and a portrait of their mother. One day this picture is tilted and the princesses discover a door with a staircase behind it.

Music and light lead them across an underground lagoon and forests of silver, gold and diamonds. They discover something even more amazing and beautiful inside a tree when a sheet of vines and diamonds falls to the ground.

The princesses meet a range of animals including a fox, a peacock with a leather book and a lioness. The girls are “brave, resourceful, clever and kind” but their worn-out shoes enrage the king.

The classic style and beautiful fairy tale form makes The Restless Girls a timeless, empowering, gift. 

(It is also available in a deluxe, slipcase edition.)

My Top 2018 Young Adult Releases!

I both love and hate the end of the year when all the “top favourite” lists of books roll out. Because choosing is hard. How does one choose?! I’ve read 200 books this year and narrowing down my favourites feels a bit like choosing between my kids. However! I’m doing a top 5 recommendation list anyway (I suffer valiantly) and these are all published in 2018. Highly recommend them for your Christmas wishlists!


1. THE CRUEL PRINCE by Holly Black

BUY HERE

I’ve been a massive fan of hers for years (since I discovered The Darkest Part of the Forest and proceeded to read her enormous collection of backlist titles) and was so excited to get a book set in faerie that also promised schemes and stabbing. And it delivered.

Jude is the kind of unapologetic antiheroine I crave reading about, and her relationship with Cardan is full of schemes and twists. It’s an entrancing and viciously dangerous book and I can’t wait for the sequel!

 

2. KEEPER OF THE BEES by Megan Kassel

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This was a bit of a “surprise” favourite, because I honestly went in expecting a good read (I’d enjoyed this book’s predecessor Blackbirds of The Gallows!)…instead I got something that totally broke my heart AND remade it! It’s technically a sequel, but can be read as a standalone.

It’s about cursed boys and girls struggling with mental illness, antiheroes who didn’t choose to be this way, and unbreakable tight-knit friendships. It totally captivated me!

 

3. MUSE OF NIGHTMARES by Laini Taylor

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Another sequel (this one needs to be read after Strange the Dreamer!) but oh oh wasn’t it incredible?! Sequels strike terror into me (what if they can’t live up to the first book!?) but this one was gorgeous and captivating and so clever.

I loved how it expanded the world, answered questions, and spun more magic.

I’m in awe of Laini Taylor’s imagination!

 

4. ANGER IS A GIFT by Mark Oshiro

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This is such a gut-wrenching story, by an #ownvoices author, who talks about what it’s like to be black and go to a highschool that couldn’t care less about its students. It’s about murder and violence, it’s about anxiety and grief, it’s about first love and unbreakable friendship bonds. It totally wins your heart over, while being brutally realistic. Moss is the narrator and he’s truly relatable and winning, as well as someone your heart breaks for, as he struggles with really bad anxiety after his father was murdered. I love reading about teens who refuse to be crushed by society though, and so hope this gets the claim and recognition it deserves over the whole world!

 

5. ACE OF SHADES by Amanda Foody

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AHH. This was such a clever and amazingly intoxicating adventure featuring a con artist and a girl running away from finishing school. It is delightfully badass and tricky and has a complex magic system I really enjoyed getting lost in. I also am a total sucker for the secretly-soft-con-artist types. And Enne’s character development (from shy wallflower to incredible stabby go-getter) was so fantastic to read. It has the very slightest tastes of romance, but I also loved how it focused on friendship instead. The WORLD too. Oh wow! It’s one you can get lost in. Totally can’t wait for the sequel next year!

Black Cockatoo & Blakwork

Magabala Books are going from strength to strength. They are perhaps most well-known at the moment for publishing Bruce Pascoe’s books for adults and children such as Dark Emu, Mrs Whitlam and Fog a Dox but Magabala has a strong backlist across age-groups and genres with great new books coming all the time.

Two new titles are standouts.

Black Cockatoo is of comparable quality to Bruce Pascoe’s writing for young people. It is written by Jaru and Kija man Carl Merrison and Hakea Hustler, illustrated by Dub Leffler (Once There Was a Boy and Sorry Day). It is a memorable story about an Aboriginal family living in the Kimberley.

Thirteen-year-old “Mia, her skin unblemished, radiated optimism and hope.” Mia loves her Country but sometimes wants more. Her grandmother tells her that she lives in both worlds. “You will be strong both ways.”

Although she is a spirited character she must show respect to her older brother. However fifteen-year-old Jy’s anger ripples “under his scarred skin”. He disrespects the family’s past and is killing birds, including Mia’s totem the dirrarn. Mia protects the injured bird for as long as she can.

Education is valued by the family and language, particularly used for bird names, is included.

Both Black Cockatoo and Blakwork are insightful, confronting literary works.

Blakwork by Gomeroi woman, poet Alison Whittaker (Lemons in the Chicken Wire) spans genres. It is poetry, memoir, critique, fiction and satire for adults or mature young adults.

‘a love like Dorothea’s’ is a reinterpretation of Dorothea Mackellar’s ‘I Love a Sunburnt Country’ and is positioned sidewards on the page. “I love a sunburnt country. That is mine but not for me.”

‘outskirts’ is a chilling tale about a woman who worked in an abattoir and ‘killwork’ is non-fiction set in the same place. ‘vote’ addresses refugees and intermarriage where “blakness” is “a code embedded in your bones – it didn’t bleed through you, it constituted you, so there was no letting out.”

‘tinker tailor’ is a satire about Blacktown in Western Sydney. There are different stories behind the naming of Blacktown such as, “‘They call this place Blacktown because it was given to two Aboriginal men.’  Seemed weird to me that the whole continent wasn’t Blacktown.” The National Centre for Indigenous Excellence in Redfern on Gadigal land is considered in ‘futures. excellence’: “For people so put out on the fringes, we blaks love the centre”. In ‘the last project’ a note on the Centre says “We’re coming back, daught. There’s work to do.”

‘bathe’ is set at Maroubra Baths. “This is a poem about not suffering.”

‘The History of Sexuality Volume III’ is a poem about desire: “two blak women [who] love each other”.

Language is used in ‘’palimpsest’ and there is some superb writing in ‘rework’. “Pull over here, watch some spinning nightly fights reach across a highway’s ribs. At the Kamiloroi Highway’s spine two signs rise and speak and re-speak…”

Blakwork has just been shortlisted for the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards. Both it and Black Cockatoo are strong, significant works.

Kids’ Holiday Reads that Make Great Gifts

Books are the gift that just keep on giving, aren’t they?! They’re worth so much more than the latest toy that lasts a whole five minutes. Here’s a small roundup of some great books for kids that make for beautiful gifts and can be shared over the festive season and well into the holidays.

Picture Books

All the Ways to be Smart, Davina Bell (author), Allison Colpoys (illus.), Scribble, October 2018.

This is the fourth time this superlative duo have come together, following the successes of The Underwater Fancy-Dress Parade , Captain Starfish and Under the Love Umbrella. Bell and Colpoys will be winning awards once again with this stunning picture book that is so intelligent in its own way. For all children wondering what their kind of smart is, this energetic rhyming guide reinforces a confidence that there is certainly more than one. From artistic endeavours to scientific explorations, using your imagination to skills in building, retaining important facts to showing compassion and empathy are all but a few. Coordination and music abilities, polite manners, ‘feeling scared but taking chances.’ The list is endless and these book creators have absolutely nailed it with their verve, humour, versatility and diversity. The language rolls off the tongue to perfection, whilst the neon colours draw your eye just the way an artist should. All the Ways to be Smart – adding much brightness to any child’s mind – in more ways than one.

What Do You Wish For?, Jane Godwin (author), Anna Walker (illus.), Penguin Random House, October 2018 (Paperback).

What Do You Wish For? puts a smile on every face and a glow in every heart. It’s that all kinds of fuzzy warmth, peace and togetherness that Christmas time really represents. Godwin’s intention for this book is for readers to understand that this time of year is, and should be, one of gratitude. The combination of her inspiring, tender words, and Anna Walker’s beautifully dreamy, intricate illustrations, is simply divine. There is an excited buzz in the air every Christmas. Ruby and her friends always put on a special show in the park, and write a wish to hang on the tree. But Ruby’s wish is too big to write on a little piece of paper. Her wish is of spirit; it’s made of smells of baking, candlelight amongst the dark, wonderful surprises and quality family time. But most of all, her Christmas wish is one of complete serenity, and a warm sparkle in the sky. What Do You Wish For? is the most magical treasure for any young reader and their family to cherish this Christmas.

It’s Not a Scribble to Me, Kate Ritchie (author), Jedda Robaard (illus.), Penguin Random House, 2018.

I always love books that encourage exploration of the imagination. In this one, it’s the walls, floors and windows that get to discover what the bear child is conjuring up in his mind – much to his family’s dismay. The little bear speaks a lyrical tongue as to what his crayon and pen scribbles represent. A red Santa makes an appearance above the fireplace, a green frog on the toilet, a black witch inspired by broomsticks, a blue frothy sea and yellow splotchy bumbley bees. It’s amazing what each colour of the rainbow can be turned into, and where they happen to turn up! But somehow, this cheeky bear is able to win over the family with his colourful, magical, whimsical, wonderful charm. A beautifully alluring, absolutely sweet, vivacious and child-centred book in its words and pictures. It’s Not a Scribble to Me is ideal for children from age three as a facilitator of self-expression, creativity and boundless possibilities.

Australia Illustrated (2nd Ed.), Tania McCartney (Author, illus.), EK Books, October 2018.

I absolutely adored this book when it was first released back in 2016. Now I (we all) get to relive the magic once again with this much anticipated 2nd edition recently re-published. Australia Illustrated is a visual festive celebration, the ultimate pictorial encyclopaedia of our beautiful land. Tania McCartney’s expansive array of detail and design, even if only a snippet, takes us on a wonderful journey around the country exploring major attractions to pockets of hidden gems we may have otherwise missed. My kids loved traveling around Australia; spotting familiarities, discovering new mysteries of the unknown, and giggling along at the cute and quirky nuances. Vivacious watercolours and a mix of media showcase the well-known to the unique. From the BIG and beautiful Queensland Mango and Big Banana in Coffs Harbour, the diverse native animals, bush tucker, sports, slang and weather, and a taste of idiosyncrasies from State to State. A gloriously scrumptious edition to pore over with the kids at home or away.

And another exquisite book from Tania McCartney that is a piece of art in itself is Mamie. Published by HarperCollins, November 2018. With her large, round gumnut eyes and angelic face, Mamie shares her story of adapting to change, fairies, pixies, elves and friendship. Celebrating the life of renowned and much-loved Australian icon – author and illustrator, May Gibbs of the Snugglepot and Cuddlepie fame, McCartney takes readers on a historical yet imaginative journey. She gently and expertly showcases the exceptional creativity, inspiration and achievements of Gibbs absolutely beautifully and with bunches of natural charm. Mamie is sure to win hearts abound, just as she has done over the past 100 years.

Chapter Books

The First Adventures of Princess Peony, Nette Hilton (author), Lucinda Gifford (illus.), Walker Books, 2018.

The attitude and tenacity of The Little Princess mixed with a quintessentially unique dialect like Lola (Charlie and Lola) together brings about this charming new face to the bookish world, Princess Peony. Partner that with the perfectly scruffy tomboy/girl-looking character in grey tones with pops of hot pink and you’ve got yourself a popular new series for girls (and boys) in the junior reader market. Princess Peony, the name which must be reminded to the audience every now and then, begins her fairy tale in front of her house, erm, Castle with her dog, no, Dragon; Totts. Her mission: to be Obeyed. But things take a wrong turn and her story is interrupted by Prince Morgan the Troll (aka, her big brother). Attempts to outsmart each other lead to some pretty hilarious events and a new mission to avoid child-eating bears. The text and pictures work brilliantly together providing plenty of visual literacy opportunities for readers to laugh about. And there is a remarkably True Princess Information and Quiz Sheet for all Princesses in Waiting to absolutely study and swear by. Just gorgeous! I will be buying The First Adventures of Princess Peony for my nearly six year old and all her friends!

The Tales of Mr Walker; a hotel dog with a nose for adventure, Jess Black (author), Sara Acton (illus.), Penguin Random House, 2018.

The Tales of Mr Walker is inspired by a real-life Labrador named Mr Walker who is a Guide Dog Ambassador and helper at the Park Hyatt Melbourne. This is an adorable book containing four enchanting stories about life working at the grandest hotel in town. Targeted at independent readers from age eight, we are delighted with the adventures this canine companion takes us on, viewed from the dog’s perspective. ‘Tracy must like parks as much as I do’. With his Guide Dog training behind him, Mr Walker is very well disciplined and loyal. But naturally, he has certain things on his mind, such as chasing balls, and food. Romp along on the fun adventures with Mr Walker. He doesn’t disappoint. Fluid and bright illustrations bounce in and around the text. The cover is appropriately high-end with its linen bound spine and gold trimmings. Royalties going to Guide Dogs Victoria is just another excuse to pick up this book as a gift for someone you love, and someone who loves dogs.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

Even more great gift ideas for kids can be found at Boomerang Books here.

Amnesia Fiction

Amnesia fiction generally contains a character suffering from some form of memory loss, or memory loss forms part of the storyline. It’s such a common plot device I thought it was worth exploring. Here are seven amnesia fiction novels you might enjoy.


We Were Liars by E. Lockhart
We Were Liars is about a group of four friends who called themselves The Liars. Cady (Cadence), Mirren, Johnny and Gat are best friends and they spend every summer holidaying on a private island off the coast of Massachusetts. During Cady’s fifteenth summer she suffers a traumatic brain injury but unfortunately she can’t remember what happened. Two years later she returns to the island in an attempt to try and remember what happened.

We Were Liars is full of mystery, secrets, lies and a twist at the end.

Before I Go to Sleep by S.J. Watson
Every time Christine goes to sleep she loses all of her memories. A consequence of a traumatic brain injury years earlier, her brain erases everything overnight and when she wakes, she has no idea who she is.  Christine must find out what happened but soon learns she can’t trust anybody.

Before I Go to Sleep is now a film starring Nicole Kidman and Colin Firth.

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
Rachel catches the same train into London each day and enjoys imagining the lives of those living in the houses she travels past. The train waits at the same signal light each day and she pays particular attention to one of the houses. One day Rachel sees something that will set an entire chain of events rolling as she inserts herself into the lives of those she’s been watching.

Rachel is an alcoholic and her memory is patchy as a result of black outs and alcohol abuse. This makes her an unreliable narrator. Or does it?

Still Alice by Lisa Genova
Amnesia in fiction isn’t always attributed to an accident, injury or trauma. In Still Alice by Lisa Genova, the protagonist Alice is fifty years old and a cognitive psychology professor at Harvard. She’s an expert in linguistics, married with three adult children and learning to deal with early onset Alzheimer’s disease.

Still Alice is about family dynamics and the sense of self. It’s also been adapted to the big screen starring Julianne Moore as Alice.

The Maze Runner by James Dashner
When Thomas arrives on a lift surrounded by a gang of boys, all he can remember is his name. He finds himself in a walled glade which forms part of a mysterious yet brutal stone maze. Thomas doesn’t want to settle down to life in the glade and insists on searching the maze.

Prepared to risk his life to escape the maze, what Thomas finds will irrevocably change the lives of everyone in the glade.

What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty
Alice ‘comes to’ in a gym, and instead of being 29 and pregnant with her first child, she finds 10 years have passed. She’s now 39 years old with three kids and in the middle of a divorce. She also has a strained relationship with her sister.

Alice tries to work out what happened to her life. How did her life become like this and how did she lose 10 years of her life?

The Bourne Identity by Robert Ludlum
First in a series, the star of The Bourne Identity is Jason Bourne who hardly needs an introduction. Played by Matt Damon in the movie franchise, Jason suffers from amnesia and can’t remember his former life. Was he an assassin? Why are people trying to kill him? This is a thrilling action-packed series following Jason’s journey to the truth about himself.


Do you enjoy amnesia fiction? Have you read any of these books? If you have others you’d like to recommend, please let me know in the comments below.

An Untold, Unforgettable Story: ‘Everything I’ve Never Said’ by Samantha Wheeler

We’ve spoken previously on the blog, Samantha, particularly about your environmental, conservation stories for younger readers, such as Wombat Warriors

Thanks for joining us again to talk about Everything I’ve Never Said, an original, affecting and unforgettable work.

Thank you, and my pleasure.

There’s deservedly a big buzz about this novel. It’s for middle readers – what age group is that?

We’re finding the novel appeals to anyone from 9 to 109! It’s found in book stores and libraries on the ’middle reader’ shelves as it is published for that age, but it is suitable for anyone in upper primary to tweens, young adults and adults alike.

How is this book different from your other works?

My other stories each features a species of vulnerable Australian wildlife, and a young person trying to save them. Written for 7-10 year olds, they’re completely fictional adventure stories, (although based on real animal issues), plot driven and very animal focussed. My new story is based very much on my own family’s experience of living with a young person with a disability and the story is more character focussed. The plot allows a unique insight into a moment in time in a family’s life, and as such, probably appeals to a wider reading age and is a more emotional, heartfelt story.

Could you tell us about the major characters in Everything I’ve Never Said?

Everything I’ve Never Said is about a fictional character, Ava, an eleven year old with Rett syndrome who can’t talk or use her hands to communicate. Based on my own daughter, Charlotte, who suffers with Rett, the fictional Ava lives with her nearly fourteen year old sister, Nic, and her mum and dad, but struggles to tell them what she wants and how she’s feeling. Through Ava’s inner voice, the reader hears what she wants to say, even when her parents and sister don’t understand her. It takes the arrival of her new carer, Kieran for the family to work out a way to help her.

How do you show the authentic relationship between protagonist Ava and her older sister Nic?

My eldest daughter, Beth, helped me a lot with the relationship between the two girls. Despite having raised my daughters, and watching them grow up together, I found it hard capture their relationship on paper. Like many siblings, it’s not all hugs and love – there’s rivalry and jealousy, but when the chips are down, true love is exposed. It was important to me to accurately show how Nic would respond to her sister in various situations. I didn’t want to show  the typical eye rolling teenager. For example, when I asked Beth what Nic would say when Mum wanted to put Ava in respite, she very quickly replied, ‘She’d say no, Ava would hate that!’ This wasn’t the reaction I expected. I thought Beth would think Nic would love time without her annoying sibling, rather than consider her sister’s feelings.

Why did you write the book as fiction rather than non-fiction?

Ava’s voice was very powerful when I began writing, but having never heard my own daughter speak, I could only imagine what was going on inside her head. Right from the start, I had to use poetic licence to interpret what was happening for Ava, which meant the book naturally became a work of fiction. Many of the raw, difficult experiences in the book are based on true events, for example, being placed on hold for hours with Centrelink, Ava having a melt down in the hospital, the embarrassment of Nic and the exhaustion of Mum, but there were some things about our life I wasn’t ready to share.

Ava starts at Rosie’s Cottage, a respite home. In your experience, how accessible and worthwhile is respite care for those with a disability?

We’ve always struggled with respite. Having a non-verbal child means they can’t tell you if everything is as it should be when they stay somewhere else overnight. Also, because our daughter is so physically fragile, the other clients were often not a good match. She’d be knocked over, or just left sitting on a couch all weekend. If it is a good service, respite can be very worthwhile as it gives the person a chance to make their own friends and have experiences they would never have with their own family.  For example, we’ve never taken Charlotte to Dreamworld, but she’s been with respite. We currently don’t have a safe, enjoyable overnight respite place for our daughter, so we pay carers to care for her one-on-one in our home, so she feels safe and protected when we’re not there. 

How helpful is art for young people like Ava?

Art can be incredibly soothing. In the story, Ava’s colours in her paintings to reflect her mood, and I think my own daughter would do the same. But more than that, the art teachers and music teachers we’ve encountered with Charlotte seem to have a way of bringing out the best in their students. Perhaps it’s accessing that other side of the brain? I’ve got a feeling that would be the same for people with or without disabilities. Art and music are very therapeutic.

Many people don’t treat those with a disability well, e.g. substitute teacher Wendy. What is something you would like people to know about how to treat someone with Rett syndrome?

I often ask people to consider Stephen Hawkins. Bent and twisted in his wheelchair, how would we ever know what he had to say if he couldn’t use a speech device? So, I try and tell people not to judge a book by its cover. People with Rett syndrome and any disability are just like us. They may not be able to communicate, they may look a bit different, but talking to them like any other person, smiling, and asking how their day is going, will make them feel less isolated and more included as part of the community. Empathy is so important.

What parallel have you created between Ava’s life and what happens to her father?

In the story, Ava’s dad falls unexpectedly ill in Ava’s presence. This creates a situation where Ava feels her lack of communication more keenly than ever. She can’t help him, or even call for help. I see this in my own daughter when she tries so hard to say something; her eyes shine and her lips make the shape of a word, but no words comes out. It’s incredibly hard. Creating a situation where Dad can’t communicate for a while gives him a true understanding of what it’s like for Ava, and helps the family advocate more strongly to find a way to help her.

How has your family reacted to the story?

My husband was surprised at first, saying, ‘Is that what you really think is going on inside Charlotte’s head?’ He said the book has helped him understand her more and make more of an effort to try and understand her subtle ways of communicating. Both daughters, Charlotte and Beth, are very proud of the book, with Charlotte grinning all through the recent book launch, and any time I talk about it.

Your books have received recognition in many awards. Which has meant the most to you and why?

Recognition from your peers is so important. I’m incredibly proud and grateful for any award nomination as we have so many talented authors in Australia. I think, in particular, when my first book, Smooch & Rose was voted in the Readings Top 5, and shortlisted for the Qld Literary Awards, it really help me believe I should keep writing. More recently, winning the Environmental Award for Wombat Warriors was pretty fantastic!

What do you hope for Everything I’ve Never Said?

I hope my story will shed some light on people living without a voice. People who can’t speak up, whether they have a disability, or are shy or too scared to say what they think, need to know we do care about what they have to say. I also hoped people with Rett or other disabilities, families, siblings, carers, friends would feel less alone. We’re in this together, and while it might not be ‘Italy’, it’s a very special type of ‘Holland’ where, even with its ups and downs, we live lives full of unexpected treasures.

Thank you so much for giving us even more insight into Rett syndrome and living with disability, Samantha. It has been a privilege.

Thank you, thanks for the opportunity!

(Everything I’ve Never Said is published by University of Qld Press)

Picture Books for Christmas that Make Your Heart Sing

Looking for Christmas book gifts that aren’t necessarily festive-themed? Want beautiful stories of the heart that are perfect to share at a time of love, hope and togetherness? Here’s a little mix of brand new picture books that make your heart sing just as much as carollers on your doorstep.

Marvin and Marigold: A Stormy Night, Mark Carthew (author), Simon Prescott (illus.), New Frontier Publishing, October 2018.

Last year Marvin and Marigold did celebrate Christmas in A Christmas Surprise. This year they are exploring themes of friendship, kindness and overcoming fears when things get a little shaky. Being afraid on a wildly rainy night is a feeling many preschool-aged children know all too well. However, Carthew expertly leaves readers unrattled by this overbearing storm with plenty of reassurance and a loving message of the importance of family – very much inclusive of our beloved pets. Written with gentle rhyming couplets and sprinkled with humour, A Stormy Night takes the intensity of the swirling thunderclaps down a notch and rather reinforces the warmth of having one another and their grandparents to feel safe and sound. The final page further leaves a satisfying surprise to add to the warm and fluffies! A nice one to share with family these holidays.

Wisp; A Story of Hope, Zana Fraillon (author), Grahame Baker-Smith (illus.), Lothian Children’s Books, August 2018.

A stunningly told and illustrated book that literally sends shivers running through your spine. Beginning with a world of people alone, poor and desperate, to guiding us with an aura of ambience to a place of memory, promise and hope. Wisp is an exceptional story of a young refugee finding a whispering light that is passed around to elders, returning the glint in their eye of a life that ‘once’ was. The tales they tell swell with uplifting memories, music and magic that quells the dullness they have come to know. The illustrations are simply breathtaking. Vast landscapes where shadows meet sparks of glow and colour. For a child of primary school age to read this book, Wisp provides them with a deeper understanding of war and a beautiful impression of the power of hopes, dreams and optimism for the future. Particularly relevant at this time of year.

The Christmas Choir: Silent Night, Lara Hawthorne (illus.), Lincoln Children’s Books, September 2018.

A beautiful rendition of the traditional Christmas carol – Silent Night – adorned with paintings reminiscent of a child-friendly style of Biblical graphics. Bold blocks of colour are draped over camel-riding shepherds, kings, virgin mother and child, with dark backdrops glittering with sparkling stars. The classic song spreads throughout this tale of the calm and beautiful holy night in which Jesus was born, and is also written in full verse at the finale. A background story about the song’s original composition in 1818 in Oberndorf bei Salzburg, Austria is also provided – funnily enough written in hast by Catholic curate, Joseph Mohr on Christmas Eve because of a problem with the church organ caused by mice. Reading (and singing) Silent Night to your children is a lovely way to teach them about the faith and also gain further insights into the meaning of the world famous and beloved carol.

The Aussie ABC Christmas, Nancy Bevington (illus.), New Frontier Publishing, October 2018.

Now here’s one with a mix of the traditional and the modern, but totally classic Aussie! The Aussie ABC Christmas will make your heart swell with pride for our true-blue Australian customs, natives and way of life. Bevington has done a brilliant job culminating all the quirks and nuances of our nation with Christmas through her adorable, humorous and clever illustrations across the alphabet. An Akubra-wearing Angel, a red bucket-topped ‘sandman’ on the Beach, Kissing Koalas under the mistletoe, Anzac biscuits and Milk for Santa and plenty more. Not to mention nods to the good ol’ Hills Hoist used as an Ornament, and famous landmarks like the Opera House as a resting place for the Reindeer. This is how to make your Aussie Christmas a celebration to splash out on! So much fun for children from age three.

Find even more fantastic Christmas book gifts via Dimity Powell’s roundups and the Boomerang Books gift guide for children here.

Merry Christmas!

Great Gift Ideas # 3 Crazy Christmas Books

Before you race out to spend a fortune on the latest toy this Christmas, check out these crazy Christmas books. They are more fun than a box of crayons and can be enjoyed individually or with a loved one. How’s that for value. And there is enough Christmas spirit in each one to jingle your Christmas bells well into the new year! Enjoy the roundup.

A Miniature Christmas Anthology edited by Beattie Alvarez

Each year the good folk at Christmas Press present an entertaining seasonal anthology for kids. This year, A Miniature Christmas explores the, you guessed it, miniature worlds of all things tiny from genies, mice, elves, fuchsia fairies, even app characters! Several well -known authors and illustrators share their short stories alongside new names in the children’s literary world, each crafting tales that intrigue, entertain and make you ponder. For example:

The Funactor by Oliver Phommavanh is a clever observation of our 21st obsession with apps.

Goblin Christmas by Ian Irvine combines urban social issues with fantasy that has a touch of Harry Potter mystic about it.

George the Genie by Dianne Bates has all the form, plot and cheeky wisdom of a classic fairytale whilst Small Creatures by Rebecca Fung is just plain good fun.

The stories are short enough to share with your child each night on the countdown to Christmas, with special drawings to enhance the magic of each tale. This collection would make a jolly Christmas stocking addition for young primary aged readers.

Christmas Press November 2018

Macca’s Christmas Crackers by Matt Cosgrove

For me, this is the best of the Macca instalments by far. Funny, fast paced and full of Christmas cheer coupled with a warming message about the true spirit of Christmas, this seasonal romp with Macca the Alpaca reminds us that the best Christmases need not cost anything but love, friendship and goodwill. A cheerful lesson for kids (that is not the slightest bit preachy or forced) and a timely reminder for us big kids to slow down and regain seasonal perspective. Aztec bright and brilliant!

Koala Books, Scholastic October 2018

Continue reading Great Gift Ideas # 3 Crazy Christmas Books

A Touch of Spirit: Talking with Teena Raffa-Mulligan and Who Dresses God?

Today we’re joined by the remarkable Teena Raffa-Mulligan, author to a number of children’s titles including picture books, junior fiction and middle grade novels, as well as romantic reads for the adults. Always possessing a love of the imagination, magic, excitement and adventure, Teena has produced such engaging titles like Friends, True Blue Amigos, Mad Dad for Sale, amongst others, and her latest re-release edition of Who Dresses God? The latter is a gentle and touching story inspired by her daughter’s spiritual exploration of the practicalities of the higher being, that is, God. When years ago as a young child, this divine little soul sought philosophical insights into how God can hear, see and speak, how He transcends yet blends into everything, everywhere, without any physical connection. This is a tender and loving rhyming picture book that opens the gateways to enlightened discussion amongst families with preschoolers and beyond, and is particularly delightful to share around this holy time of year. And here’s Teena to share more with us…

Teena, you have had a long relationship with writing coming from a background in journalism. How did your path lead you to become a children’s author, and what do you love about the world of children’s books?

I knew from an early age that I wanted to be a writer. Books opened a door into the wonderful world of imagination for me and from the time I learnt to read my head was filled with story ideas of my own. The journalism came about by accident rather than intention. In high school when the vocational guidance officer suggested I become a journalist I dismissed the idea as I thought it would be far too boring to write news stories.

My ambition was to be a ‘real’ writer and I had dreams of living a Bohemian life in Paris and writing serious literary novels. However a good looking surfer came onto scene and instead I married and we bought a home and started a family. I’ve always loved books, so I read to our baby son from the time he was a few months old. That’s when I decided I wanted to write for children. I knew nothing about the publishing industry and it was long before computers and the Internet, so it was a learning journey. I received some lovely feedback about my ‘beautiful writing’ and ‘engaging characters’ but all my early manuscripts were rejected by multiple publishers.

That’s when I decided it would be easier to get freelance articles published than children’s books – and it was. Editors bought my stories, requested more and I soon found myself doing – and enjoying – the job I’d dismissed as ‘boring’ in my teens when local papers came on the scene. General reporting and feature writing evolved into sub-editing and editing and I learnt some invaluable skills that I was able to use in my creative writing.

I never lost my dream of becoming a published author, so continued to write, submit and learn everything I could about writing for children. In time the acceptances began to come in. I love the world of children’s books because imagination is unlimited and possibilities abound. It’s a world of magic, wonder, excitement and adventure and the kid in me revels in having the chance to explore it through writing and reading.

You’ve written a mix of articles, short stories, poetry, picture books, juvenile fiction and adult titles. Do you have a genre you feel most comfortable with? What do you find are the most common themes or influences in your writing?

I’m happiest writing for younger readers, and that can be a poem, short story, picture book or chapter book. I’m a bit of a butterfly so staying focused on a novel is a bit of a challenge for me. Many of my stories have themes of belonging, family and friendship, though I don’t set out with that in mind. Essentially, I look on the brighter side of life and my stories invariably have a lightness and optimism about them.

You have recently re-released your gentle and loving story, ‘Who Dresses God?’, originally published in 2012. What can you tell us about this book and what is your aim for readers sharing it with family members, particularly around this time of the year?

The book was inspired by my younger daughter, who asked me that question as a child after a conversation with my mum. We weren’t a religious family so the question came out of the blue for me. I answered it the best I could, we had an interesting discussion and I didn’t give the subject any further thought until a few days later when my writers’ brain clicked into gear. I didn’t consciously set out to write a picture book. It was one of those ‘gifts’ that turn up from time to time in a writing life; a story, poem or scene from a larger work that arrives without warning and the only effort on the author’s part is to commit the words to the page or screen.

I hope the story will start a discussion between children and their family members and encourage young people to think about the world we share and whether there is more to it than there appears to be.

What kinds of strategies, discussions or activities would you suggest for parents and educators to engage in following the reading of ‘Who Dresses God?’?

These two awareness exercises are simple for young children to do:

1. Close your eyes. What do you see? How does it feel? Cover your ears with your hands. What can you hear? How does that feel? Close your lips and cover your mouth. Try to speak. Does it work? How does it feel when you can’t use your mouth and tongue to speak?
2. Go outdoors to a nature area such as the park, bushland or seashore. Stand perfectly still and look around you. What do you see? Listen. What do you hear? Can you feel anything? Then go through the same process, only this time with closed eyes and blocked ears. How much of the world around you are you aware of when you do this? NB. This can also be done in a suburban shopping centre or city street; also while travelling in a car, bus or train.

Here’s one for older children:
Imagine you have the amazing power to create your own world and everything in it. How would it look and how would things work? Write a description or draw a picture of your world.

You and illustrator, Veronica Rooke, have not only collaborated on the development of this and several other books, but also conduct school presentations together. What has it been like working with her on these projects?

I met Veronica when I was working for a local newspaper and she was producing a weekly cartoon strip for the publication, so our friendship goes way back. Our paths used to cross from time to time and I knew she was a talented artist but our creative collaborations didn’t start until she moved into the street where I live about 12 years ago. I was looking for someone to illustrate the new edition of my stranger danger picture book and saw her jogging in the street so stopped to ask if she’d be interested. As it turned out, she’d recently made an employment change and the timing was right.

I was impressed with the way Veronica worked, because I had no idea how to brief an artist. I simply handed over the manuscript and said, “See what you come up with. I’d like it to be bright and colourful with cartoony characters.” She asked the right questions, produced wonderful illustrations, designed the book and organised it to be print ready for the printer.

I still take the same approach when I commission Veronica to create illustrations or book covers, though occasionally I will suggest a particular style or mood. I was thrilled when Serenity Press commissioned her to illustrate my picture book, Friends, and encouraged a collaborative approach, because we work so well together. I give her space to interpret my stories artistically and she is always willing to make changes if there’s something I feel isn’t right.
As for dual presentations, it’s great for a writer to have an artist in the room. We take turns to show how we work, interact with each other and the students, and while I’m talking, Veronica can add pictures to my words in the background. We’ve also put together a joint workshop presentation that gives young people the chance to make their own picture book.

Fun Question: If you could dress God, what would you choose for Him to wear?

Hmm. This one’s tricky! Because God isn’t like you and me, I’d dress Him in a rainbow, a symphony of birdsong and the gentle caress of a spring breeze.

What does Christmas time look like for you and your family? What are your favourite festive traditions?

We always have a family get together at our house in the evening for our children and their families. The meal is buffet style, with contributions from everyone: a selection of salads, sliced chicken and turkey, vegan and vegetarian options, trifle and fruit salad for dessert. Every year I make the chocolate snowballs and chocolate fudge my mother-in-law used to make, and the bean salad and nut meat pasties that my mum made at Christmas.

After the meal there’s gift giving, followed by a walk to the beach just over the hill and a cricket game in the cul-de-sac opposite our house. I love that our family can be together at this time.

For many years there was another tradition on Christmas Day, and that was a visit to the Italian family home in Fremantle. It began in my childhood and long after my grandmother died my bachelor uncle continued to hold open house there. My father’s side of the family would all turn up at various times, gather around the enormous table that filled the big kitchen and catch up on all the news. Sadly, after my uncle died eight years ago the house was sold and that tradition is no more. I miss it.

Anything else of excitement you’d like to add? News? Upcoming projects? TBR pile?

I have a new picture book in production and scheduled for release by Daisy Lane Publishing in mid-2019. When the Moon is a Smile is about the special times a small girl spends with her dad, who no longer lives with them. I’m thrilled to be working with publisher Jennifer Sharp, who spent a week exploring London with me last year after we both attended the Serenity Press writers’ retreat at Crom Castle in Ireland. I also can’t wait to see what illustrator Amy Calautti comes up with for the illustrations.

Thank you very much for your time, Teena! It’s been wonderful learning more about you! 🙂

It’s been a pleasure chatting with you. You asked some great questions and the dressing God one put me on the spot!

Visit Teena Raffa-Mulligan at her website, and on her blog tour for Who Dresses God? here.

Sea Song Publications

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Review: The Last Namsara by Kristen Ciccarelli

BUY HERE

The Last Namsara by Kristen Ciccarelli is so epically captivating that I’m mad at myself for not reading it sooner! It was deliciously good. It promised dragons and wicked magic and outcast princesses turned into hunters to redeem themselves. And it not only delivered, it excited me with the complex world and characters you can’t help but love despite their prickly disposition to stabbing things.

The story follows Asha, a scorned daughter of the king, turned into a dragon slayer to protect her people — since she’s the reason dragons attacked and killed so many of them so long ago. She wears the weight of her terrible sins, and does everything she can to please her father. But this also means she’s about to be married to a boy who’s grown into a cruel soldier. Her father does offer her a way out of the arrangement though: find the First Dragon, Kozu, and kill him and bring his head and heart to the king to pay the price for Asha’s wickedness. But in order to lure him out, she’ll have to tell stories. And telling stories is not only forbidden — it’s what threw Asha into this terrifying doom in the first place.

I am just so here for dragon stories. I always get worried they won’t live up to expectations, but this does so splendidly! Asha is a dragon slayer to start with, hunting dragons because they’re represent the Old Ways (which her father is outlawing) and they’re also dangerous to the people. Asha has a complicated relationship with dragons, because as a child she used to tell them stories and that’s what started this horror, when they turned and attacked her. She’s horribly scarred and wears armour made from their skin — but they used to be her friends. I loved how this was explored and the twists in the relationships. (So don’t fear! It’s not all dragon slaying. We love on some dragons too.)

The cast is quite varied, complex, and excellent. Asha is the sole narrator, but we also get very close to her brother (Dax) and her illegitimate slave cousin (Safire)…and of course met her horrible cruel hearted betrothed (Jarek). It would’ve been nice to have gotten to know Safire better, but Dax was loveable with his anxious inability to be a “proper” dark hearted dragon king. And I HATED Jarek.

And of course we can’t forget the one who steals Asha’s cold, fierce heart: Torwin. I absolutely adored their relationship. If you’re looking for an incredible slowburn romance = this is it! They’re so tentative at first, with Asha so locked in her shell of being hated and despised, that she can’t even fathom someone truly loving her. And Torwin is also a slave, forbidden to touch Asha, but he’s not scared to risk everything. They have a relationship of saving each other, seeing each other’s lives horribly risk, mending each other’s lash wounds or dragon wounds. It’s tentative and sweet, and your heart will melt with Asha’s as she realises maybe she can love. But not only that: maybe she deserves to love and be loved.

It’s easy to be captivated by the world too! It has a dust and desert vibe, with lots of lore woven through the book in the form of quick stories of their past. It made the world seem vast, to have the backstory legends too, and I loved the details in their clothing and customs. They also have stories that have power. If you tell a story, you can summon a dragon, and it’s outlawed, along with all the Old Ways. There’s a great deal of magic here, but not magical-wielding people. The plot is definitely on the slower side, and the book is hefty, but the characters are so entrancing it’s hard to look away.

This is definitely a book about defying society’s expectations. I loved that about it, because it’s such an important message! It’s fiercely about love and hate, how they can be powerful and destroy…or powerful and rebuild you. Asha is the badass and terrifying dragon queen we have all been longing to hear about.

The Things That Will Not Stand and other goodies for Christmas by Michael Gerard Bauer

Thanks for speaking with Boomerang Books, Michael. You have an incredible, and awarded, body of work for children and young adults.

I remember first reading The Running Man as a proof copy and knowing that this was an Australian classic; literally falling off my chair with laughter when I read Don’t Call Me Ishmael; and judging the Qld Literary Awards when Just a Dog won best children’s book.

Could you please tell us about these and some of your other books?

I often get asked at school visits which of my books is my favourite. Of course, a bit like choosing between your children, it’s probably an impossible question to answer. I’m happy to say that I love and am proud of everything I’ve written and each book has something that makes it special for me. I would never have the nerve to send them off to my publisher if that wasn’t the case.

The Running Man of course will always be special to me. It made me a published author, won the CBCA Book of the Year and changed my life in ways that I’d only ever dreamed about. It also says some things that are important to me – like how we often judge and label people and put them in a convenient box, without really knowing them or seeing the human being behind the label. I was writing it back in the early 2000s when the issue of refugees was very much in the news and they were being demonised by some. Sadly not much has changed.

Some people might think it strange, but of all the things I’ve written, I’m probably most proud of the Ishmael trilogy. I’d happily be judged as a writer just on the basis of those three books. I love the mix of comedy with more serious moments and the way the characters grow and develop and reveal different aspects of themselves as the series unfolds. I’m also pleased with how the series ends and that ultimately it’s all about the saving power of love and friendship. It was a sad day for me when I wrote the final scene and said goodbye to characters I loved. I have a special place in my heart for readers who take the time to follow the journey of Ishmael and his friends all the way from year nine through to graduation. Some of the loveliest emails I’ve received are about these books.

I loved writing Just a Dog. I enjoyed the challenge of trying to write a powerful story in the simple language of a young boy. It took quite a few drafts to get there but I was really pleased with the way it turned out. A number of Corey’s and Mr Mosely’s stories were based on childhood memories of dogs I grew up with. The response to this book has been overwhelmingly positive and beautiful but because of the serious and ‘more adult’ issues it also touches on, it’s had a bit of a polarising effect on readers. One lady said after reading the book that it was going ‘straight in the fire’! I remember when I submitted it, my publisher asked me who I thought the story was for. My answer was, ‘I’m not sure. Maybe it’s just for me.’

Like I said at the start, I could give reasons why each of my books is special to me – but don’t worry I won’t do that! However I have to mention what a joy it was to work on the Eric Vale and Secret Agent Derek ‘Danger’ Dale series with my beautiful (and genius!) son Joe. (AND you can check out Joe and wife Rita’s ARTSPEAR ENTERTAINMENT YouTube channel to see for yourself why this super-talented couple have 1 MILLION subscribers.)

Where are you based and what’s your background in children’s and YA literature?

I’m based in Brisbane. I’ve lived most of my life in the suburb of Ashgrove which was the setting for The Running Man. We now live in the bordering suburb. Look how far I’ve come!

I was a secondary school teacher of English and Economics for quite a few years and dreamed of being a writer. I had what amounted to a quadruple major in English Literature from Qld Uni but my awareness and depth of knowledge of children’s and YA literature was quite limited until I got a job at Marist Ashgrove (the school St Daniel’s is based on in the Ishmael books). The wonderful English co-ordinator there who interviewed me and who was ultimately responsible for me getting the job, said I needed to know more about what young people were reading. She handed me a stack of YA and middle grade novels to read over the Christmas holidays. It opened my eyes to a whole new world of stories.

How are you involved in this community at the moment?

I’m very fortunate living in Brisbane as we have a very vibrant, active and enthusiastic writing and illustrating community. It’s a large and supportive group and I’m often in contact with other local writers and illustrators through book launches and other literary function and events. My involvement comes about mainly via such organisations as the Queensland Writers Centre, ASA, Book Links and the local branch of the CBCA. I’m also a member of the May Gibbs Children’s Literature Trust where I’m on the selection committee for their Fellowships and Residencies.

Could you please tell us about your new novel, The Things That Will Not Stand?

Well if you insist! The Things That Will Not Stand is a YA novel set over just nine or so hours at a University Open Day for senior school students. It is told in the first person, present tense by a year eleven boy called Sebastian, who is attending the day with his best friend (and perhaps mentor) Tolly. Sebastian is a bit of a lost soul as well as a romantic and when he has a brief encounter with the ‘perfect girl’ he can’t help himself hoping and dreaming that they might make a connection and his day will pan out like some feel-good, rom-com movie. Instead, he meets Frida – the ‘wrong’ girl – and his and Tolly’s day takes a very different and much more unpredictable, turn.

It’s a story about two teenagers who are both hurting and damaged in their own way. It’s about the stories they tell, the secrets they keep and the courage and faith it takes to share their real selves. The novel is a mix of comedy and drama because as Sebastian says about life, ‘It’s never just one type of thing … It’s all over the place. One minute it’s tears. Next minute it’s laughter. Then, just when you think you’re headed for a happy ending, the monsters turn up.’ I hope readers enjoy spending the day with Frida and Sebastian and Tolly. I certainly did.

How important is an opening scene and how did you write it here?

An opening scene is crucial. First impressions count, as they say. I think a good opening scene feels like the curtains are suddenly drawn back and you find yourself as the reader in the centre of someone else’s world. A world that hopefully draws you in and hangs on. TTTWNS opens with Sebastian standing in a cinema foyer staring at a set of big sliding doors, hoping and praying that soon they will glide open and the girl of his dreams will walk through. I chose to start here because it’s a dramatic and pivotal moment that could go either way. It also a scene that reveals a lot about Sebastian’s character and personality.

How does Sebastian represent a “Very Ordinary Guy”?

This is Sebastian’s description of himself and it reflects the doubts and lack of confidence a lot of young people – both male and female – have about themselves, especially when they compare themselves to others around them and (unfairly) to larger than life celebrities. In that way he is an ordinary teenager because like most teenagers, he doesn’t see or appreciate the extraordinary and admirable qualities he actually does have. But I’d like to think that readers will see them.

Frida has a sharp wit. How did you form her dialogue?

I enjoy writing dialogue and I loved creating the exchanges between Frida and the boys. I can’t explain the process of writing the dialogue or where the ideas come from. I think knowing the character well and seeing them as real people helps. Because of Frida’s connection to Frida Kahlo I imagined her as someone who was creative, fiery, intelligent and strong-willed but also with a sense of fun and humour and compassion. I tried to channel that. Writing for me is often like picturing a scene in my head and watching it like film and then trying to capture in words what I see and hear.

I think everyone loves humour but it’s so difficult to write. It’s something you do well! How do you pull it off?

I often get asked how I come up with the jokes and humour in books like the Ishmael series and the Eric Vale series. I can never answer those questions. I sometimes do workshops on writing humour and talk about how the key to all humour is ‘surprise’ or the ‘unexpected’ and how you can apply this to creating surprising and unexpected characters, situations, storylines and language use. But I must admit that I don’t have a conscious process I go through or a formula in my mind when I’m writing comedy. I just try to think of things that I find funny. Pathetic explanation, I know! I was never extroverted or a ‘class clown’ at school, but I could always make my friends laugh. I think it helps that I’ve loved comedy and have devoured funny movies, TV shows, cartoons and books ever since I was a little kid. One of the strengths I think I have as a creator of stories, it is that I often see connections and links between things. Perhaps being able to see surprising and unexpected connections between words and ideas and situations, helps with producing humour and witty dialogue.

What is the significance of the movie Casablanca and other movies in the novel?

Like The Big Lebowski, Casablanca is one of my favourite films. Best dialogue ever. It’s significant in the novel because as a love story it stands in contrast and challenges Sebastian’s happy ending rom-com fantasies. The final scene of Casablanca shows that love is not a selfish thing, that sometimes it involves pain and sacrifice. After watching the film together, Frida comments jokingly that Sebastian is nothing like Bogart’s character Rick in the film. I like to think that by the end of the novel she might not be so sure.

How are Sebastian and his mate Tolly actually not Ordinary Guys, but superheroes?

Aren’t most superheroes ordinary people most of the time until those crucial moments when they are called on to reveal their alter-ego? Sebastian and Tolly don’t have superhero costumes but they do have those moments when they reveal who they are through their words or actions – such as when Tolly takes on Frida’s tormentor in the lecture theatre. But they’re not your classic superheroes. If they do possess any ‘superpowers’ it’s just their essential decency and empathy.

The Things That Will Not Stand is an engaging read that, at first, conceals scars and depths in the character’s lives. How do you unpeel these layers?

Every time you have a character in a scene they are revealing something of themselves – how they act, their appearance and mannerisms, the words and images they choose to use, how they react to other characters, other situations and ideas, their thoughts and feelings and attitudes – all of these things and more help readers’ build up an understanding and appreciation of a character.  Even if the character is trying to hide or disguise who they are, their real nature can be shown to seep through.

Sometimes in TTTWNS hidden layers are exposed when cracks and inconsistencies appear in a character’s story.  More importantly, layers are peeled back when trust grows between the characters – when they feel brave enough to place some of their secret pain and hurt in someone else’s hands. The various events of the day provide the opportunities for the trust and connection between Sebastian and Frida to grow and strengthen.

What is the significance of the title?

The title is a line from the movie The Big Lebowski – a big favourite of mine. The main character in the film, The Dude (Jeff Bridges) says at one point, ‘This aggression must not stand, man.’ In the book the statement ‘It will not stand’ is used by Sebastian and Tolly as a declaration of intent, a call to action against some perceived wrong or injustice or any unacceptable situation. A bit like how recently all those amazing school kids around Australia saw the lack of commitment by our country’s leaders in dealing with Climate Change and took to the streets. To my mind, that was a big ‘It will not stand’ moment. I could well imagine Sebastian and Frida being there, with Tolly leading the way.

What are you writing next?

There might be a sequel to Rodney Loses It. I hope so anyway. Winning the CBCA award this year as well as the Speech Pathology of Australia award and sharing that success with the amazing Chrissie Krebs has been such a great thrill. I’m pottering around with some ideas and verses at the moment, but I won’t submit anything to my publishers unless I think it’s up to the standard of the first book.

The main thing I will be writing next year is a serious YA novel (my first completely serious book since The Running Man). I was very fortunate recently to receive a Queensland Writers Fellowship to support this project. The working title of the book is Gaps and Silences. Like The Running Man, it will be set in Ashgrove, but further in the past. There might also be some slight connections between the two stories. Haven’t quite worked that out yet. There’s still a lot of pieces of the jigsaw puzzle of find and assemble before I get a clear idea of the full picture.

Anything else you’d like to mention?

I have a blog/webpage at michaelgerardbauer.com and I’m on Facebook at Michael Gerard Bauer Author, Twitter @m_g_bauer and Instagram at mgbauerpics.

Thank you, Michael, for your generous and insightful responses. 

Michael writes across age-groups – so seek out his works for Christmas gifts. I highly recommend The Things That Will Not Stand for teen readers.

(Books published by Scholastic Australia)

Prime Minister’s Literary Awards 2018

It was a great privilege to attend the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards in Canberra yesterday. I was on the judging panel of the Children’s and Young Adult categories and we were thrilled with both our shortlisted and winning books.

It was wonderful to see the value that Prime Minister Scott Morrison placed on Australian literature in his speech, citing David Malouf’s Johnno, for instance, and the importance of children’s books.

All of our Children’s shortlisted authors and illustrators attended as well as a number of our YA authors. It was such a treat to speak with Lisa Shanahan and Binny Talib, creators of the highly engaging and layered Hark, It’s Me, Ruby Lee! (Hachette); and Sarah Brennan and the legendary Jane Tanner (Drac and the Gremlin, The Fisherman and the Theefyspray, Isabella’s Bedroom and There’s a Sea in My Bedroom) – creators of Storm Whale (Allen & Unwin); and the winners of this category – some of children’s lit loveliest and most talented people – Glenda Millard and Stephen Michael King for the stunning Pea Pod Lullaby (Allen & Unwin). This is a lyrical directive to everyone to care for refugees and anyone needing help.

 

Scholastic Australia was very well represented, with a table full of shortlisted authors and illustrators hosted by publisher Clare Halifax. Beautiful picture book Feathers was written by the ever-smiling Phil Cummings (Ride, Ricardo, Ride!, Bridie’s Boots,  Boy, Newspaper Hats) and illustrated by Phil Lesnie (Once a Shepherd).

 

 

Rising star Tamsin Janu was again awarded for her Figgy series set in Ghana. This time for Figgy Takes the CityHer novel Blossom, about a girl who looks after an alien, was also entered and she has another original work due to be published next year.

 

In the YA category, Bruce Whatley’s extraordinary graphic novel, Ruben, was shortlisted. Bruce was accompanied by his exuberant wife, Rosie Smith (My Mum’s the Best).

And Scholastic published the winning YA work: the delightful Richard Yaxley’s originally-constructed holocaust novel, This is My Song.

Authors don’t know in advance if they have won so it was an emotional time for all as the winning books were announced.

I also loved catching up with some of the poets, such as eminent writer Judith Beveridge; genre-crossing Adam Aitken, shortlisted for Archipelago (Vagabond Press); and Brian Castro who won with Blindness and Rage: A Phantasmagoria (Giramondo) and appropriately read a poem-speech. His prose work, The Bath Fugues, is a personal favourite.

Gerald Murnane, winner of the fiction category for Border Districts (another winner for Giramondo) is known as a recluse. He tried hard to get to Canberra but just couldn’t manage the distance. It is great to see his work recognised further with this prestigious award.

The ceremony was a very special and memorable event. Sincere thanks to the awards committee.

The complete list of winners, shortlisted books and judge reports can be found at the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards website.

Greats Gift Ideas # 2 -Tweens and Teens

They may think they’re too old for Christmas but thrust one of these great reads into their Christmas stockings this year and your tweens and teens will love your forever, or at least have something incredible to tie them over until the turkey is ready. Here are some recent must-read middle grade and young adult fiction titles that make ideal gifts this season. There are literally dozens more, some featured already as full reviews this year. Check them out, here. Alternatively, visit the Boomerang Books Christmas gift books list for more literary inspiration.

His Name Was Walter by Emily Rodda

Historic, mysterious and crawling with supernatural scare. This is a consuming story within a story of love, embezzled fortunes and trust and old mysteries. Rodda enchants with her ability to knit the past with the present and overlay it all with a good old fashioned fairy-tale that lances kids’ hearts with imagination. Highly recommended late night reading for tweens and lovers of twisted fairy tales.

HarperCollins Children’s Books August 2018

Continue reading Greats Gift Ideas # 2 -Tweens and Teens

Furthermore and Whichwood by Tahereh Mafi

If I ever crave gorgeous worlds and perfectly delicious writing, I always take myself over to a Tahereh Mafi book. She just has such a way with words! It makes you feel like you’re in the story, due to the sensory elements and the magical creativity. I’ve always loved her YA Shatter Me series, so I was very keen to try her children’s duology, Furthermore and Whichwood. To say they are an exquisite delight is an understatement! I thought I’d give you a little introduction to both books because you absolutely need them in your life. (True, now.)

Also technically Whichwood is a sequel, but can be read on its own!

FURTHERMORE

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We tumble into the world of Ferenwood which is a cosy small town where magic is colour and when one turns twelve, they Surrender their chief magical talent and are given a quest to help others. But Alice has this one problem: she is colourless. She’s so so pale and milky white and, since her father took a ruler and disappeared one day, she’s been entirely alone. Books giving us oddball and misfit protagonists isn’t anything new, but Alice is so winning. I love this trope and I think it’s so endearing because it’s so easy to feel like the “odd” one out. And Alice is delightfully firm in her opinions, disagreeable to those who are mean to her, and extremely passionate. She’s not always “nice” and she’s not perfect, which makes her even more loveable.

The adventure takes off when she and Oliver (aka her childhood nemesis) end up thrown together to find Alice’s father. They have to travel to Furthermore, which is also a magical land, governed by ridiculous and impossible rules. And if you mess up? Well people will eat you. No pressure for sure.

It has everything you want in a story! Magic! Adventure! Unlikely friendships where they bicker and also save each other! And the writing is this entrancing delight, where every word is weighed in colour and smells and Alice eats flowers and Oliver tells lies and everything goes horribly wrong before it goes right.

WHICHWOOD

BUY HERE

Now we trot over to Whichwood and you will absolutely fall in love with this one and it’s frosty setting and sharp lemony protagonist named Laylee. She washes the bodies of the dead and, with her magical Mordeshoor abilities, sends them on to a restful afterlife. Grim? I think yes. But somehow it’s macabre and gorgeous, with Laylee eating sugared snowflakes and every description making your heart glow with wonder at this strange world where a little girl is forced into such a dark job (but she secretly loves it). She’s all alone after her mother died and her father wandered off, driven to madness from his grief.

And she’s dying. Laylee is turning silver from overwork in a thankless job since the people of Whichood barely pay her — in money or respect. What they don’t know though, is that if Laylee doesn’t do her job, the dead will get antsy and go find their own skins to try and relive again. They’ll unzip skins from the living and wear them instead.

What I adore about this one, is how dark it is — but it’s written in a hopeful and often whimsical way. Laylee’s ghosts are quaint and, yeah dead, but they actually love her. And Laylee is a fiercely gorgeous and sharp girl who’ll bite your hand off before accepting help. But a fingertip away from death…maybe she’ll accept the help from two strangers (named Oliver and Alice!) before she collapses and her dead go walking.