The Legacy of Imagination – Picture Books that Celebrate Imagination

Imagination – the external source of ideas and creative verve or simply an astonishing faculty for storing all that happens to you and all that you wish could happen to you. Either way, when a picture book encapsulates this wonderful cache of wishes and experiences, the sky is the limit as to what you can do and where you can go. Young children instinctively know this and apparently, so too do gecko-sque styled sketches…

I Want to Be in A Book by Narelle Oliver

This picture book, the last title by Narelle Oliver, is a kind of mecca to imagination and creation. It epitomises the need to belong, the joy of purpose and the delicate process of turning dreams into magical reality. And it is all done through the eyes and heart of a mere idea…a sketch, but a sketch with a name, Cecil.

Continue reading The Legacy of Imagination – Picture Books that Celebrate Imagination

Review – That Stubborn Seed of Hope

Human beings can be a tenacious breed. Our stubborn ability to cling to optimism often overrides unsolicited fear, which I guess allows us to fit in with the rest of the world’s species and, in short, survive. Brian Falkner artfully cultivates that seed of hope in a choice collection of short stories ideal for mid-grade to YA readers and beyond.

That Stubborn Seed of Hope Stories heralds what I hope is the first of more anthologies for children, depicting concise, gripping stories linked in theme and flavour. The tone of this collection is at times dark and sobering, sorrowful and desperate yet somehow also manages to leave the reader with a yearning to read on, to venture further into their own swamp of fears and to face those disquietudes with the help of another’s story.

Falkner addresses a number of fearful situations and occasions to dread with these stories: the fear of death, embarrassment, rejection, heartbreak to name a few. At times the obvious theme is enshrouded by a veil of less certain anxieties which combine to form complex and rich narratives. Continue reading Review – That Stubborn Seed of Hope

Review – The Elephant

It is a rare day on earth that I’m lost for words. Fortunately Peter Carnavas never seems to be. And he uses a few more than usual in his latest work, The Elephant.

Now it’s no secret I’m unashamedly enamoured by Carnavas’ work; his illustrated picture books embrace you like a warm welcome hug. This, his first foray into longer narratives, is a hug you can immerse yourself even deeper into but beware, you may not want to let go. I didn’t.

The Elephant is an average-sized, understated junior novel for people with small hands and large hearts. Even the cover is benign and quiet, muting the enormity of what’s to come. It reads with the elegant crispness of a verse novel using a collection of brief chapters to relay Olive’s story about her dad and the lugubrious grey elephant that plagues his every move. Despite the heavy nature of Olive’s situation, it’s this wonderful lightness of touch, Carnavas’ refined way with words to convey powerful meaning and Olive’s own irrepressible personality that add the light to her father’s shade and give this story a sunny disposition. Continue reading Review – The Elephant

Double Dipping – Meaningful Mindfulness

Mindfulness feels like the new catch cry. Its sudden appearance on school curricula and in children’s literature gives one the sense it’s a new concept but of course this is not one hundred per cent accurate. It’s more of a case of nudging empathy and caring within our next generations into a more prominent light, one that is accessible to them. Literature is one such way to improve accessibility and these two examples show how cleverly it can be done.

Ella Saw the Tree by Robert Vescio and Cheri Hughes

Picture books on mindfulness abound. This picture book by Big Sky Publishing is particularly special because of its gentle quality and strong connection with the everyday child. There is no overt preaching to relay the suggestion to pause for thought and take time to look around and notice the world. Hughes illustrations glow. Vescio’s narrative flows with an easy grace, reflecting the soul of this story, to remain calm and thoughtful.

Ella loves her backyard and fills her days playing in it but she overlooks the most obvious things at times, like the giant tree in the corner of her garden until one day, as the wind showers her with the tree’s falling leaves, she gets the impression it is crying. Despite reassurance to the contrary from her mother and Ella’s attempts to stem the downpour of falling leaves, nothing can alter nature.

Ella’s mother then teaches her daughter to see things in a different light by learning to sit still, observe, feel and ultimately recognise and appreciate all the many splendours, whether large or minuscule of the world. And this allows Ella to enjoy her world much, much more.

Ella Saw the Tree is a beautiful picture book to share, to keep and refer back to when needed. Whilst it focuses on an individual’s discovery of self-awareness, the implication that we should be more observant and empathetic towards our friends is also present amongst the swirling leaves of Ella’s tree.

Read Romi’s in-depth review of Ella Saw the Tree, here. For more insight into the story behind this story, read my interview with author, Robert Vescio, here.

Big Sky Publishing 2017

Too Many Friends by Katheryn Apel

This lilting junior novel is so on point with readers in this age bracket (6 – 8 years), it’s alarming. Apel reaches deep into the playground psyche of Grade 2s and extracts genuine emotion with the feather touch of verse.

The dilemma of having too many friends and those friends not all liking each other truly does germinate in the junior school years, quickly sprouting into an all-encompassing crisis, at least it can in the eyes of a seven year old. It’s a problem that often continues throughout the primary years as children’s social webs widen and become entangled by their developing emotions.

This eloquent verse novel more than ably addresses this social predicament from the point of view of Tahnee, whose pond of playmates is full to overflowing. How she works on retaining her bonds with friends she already has whilst inviting others she wants to befriend is skin-tingling touching and will no doubt strike a chord with many other children her age.

This third verse novel by Apel has a slightly younger, more playful feel about it than the previous, Bully on the Bus and On Track, which again suits the topic well. Tahnee is a warm, likeable character who epitosmises the concept of a mindful child. She shares her friendship woes with us in a series of short, elegant chapters that almost feel like standalone poems, perfect for readers to spend time with by themselves or as a sensitive shared reading experience.

Too Many Friends positively celebrates mindfulness and friendship for lower primary aged readers, demonstrating the power and beauty of these two concepts through the discerning use of verse. Highly recommended.

UQP May 2017

#byaustralianbuyaustralian

Never Bored – Board Books for Babies

Little books for little hands to grasp. Big world concepts for small minds to soak up. Board books are often baby’s first introduction to the relationship between sound and words and pictures. They also represent a delightful extension of love between parent and child as their worlds widen. These next few board books ensure these shared reading experiences are both entertaining and memorable.

At the Zoo I See by Joshua Button and Robyn Wells

This is the first in the Young Art board book series by young Indigenous Australian artists. Home grown and little hand worthy, it is a brief but merry parade of animals you might find at the Zoo. Some you’d have to look hard for, like the ‘prowling quoll’ and ‘queenly cassowary’ chicks, others are more immediate and recognisable like the ‘surprised lion.’

Button’s stripped bare text is spot on for toddlers and two year olds but includes some jolly adjectives to keep little minds tuned in and turning. I love Wells’ painted and ink illustrations – expression plus! Collect them all for your 0 – 4 year-olds.

Magabala Books February 2017

The Thank You Dish by Trace Balla

Meal times at our place are often a mixed plate of dedicated eating, distracted concentration and animated conversation. The Thank You Dish draws on these around-table -scenarios as one family sits down to enjoy their meal.

Continue reading Never Bored – Board Books for Babies

Changing Feelings – Picture books about change

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

Through the Gate by Sally Fawcett

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

Continue reading Changing Feelings – Picture books about change

The Magic of Music – musicality in picture books

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

The Great Zoo Hullabaloo! By Mark Carthew and Anil Tortop

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

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

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

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

New Frontier Publishing May 2017

Baby Band by Diane Jackson Hill and Giuseppe Poli

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

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

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

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

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

New Frontier Publishing March 2017

The Bear and the Piano by David Litchfield

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

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

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

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

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

Frances Lincoln Children’s Books Quarto Group UK March 2017

 

 

Doodles and Drafts – Blog Tour with Robert Vescio

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

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

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

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

Continue reading Doodles and Drafts – Blog Tour with Robert Vescio

Unbelievably Good – Strange but True Mid-Grade Reads

Tweens and teens love dipping into the world of fantasy. The more quirky the premise, the more unbelievable the outcomes, the better. These middle grade novels serve up a mind-bending mixture of almost too-whacky-to-believe storylines showcasing time travel, ghosts and gigantic invisible felines. Strange but delightfully, true.

Frankie Fish and the Sonic Suitcase by Peter Helliar and Lesley Vamos

A forever morphing, triple paced collision of Doctor Who meets Top Gear is one way of describing Pete Helliar’s first foray into writing for kids. His enthusiastic use of wacky, over the top metaphors is a touch extravagant at times but oh, do they provoke some face-wrinkling chuckles.

Francis (aka Frankie) Fish’s race against time back into time has all the hallmarks of a mega time travelling adventure with one difference; he is making the journey in desperation to preserve the existence of the Fish family line of which he may or may not still be a part of (it all depends on the battery!). And he’s doing it with his very grumpy, slightly geriatric, grandfather.

Continue reading Unbelievably Good – Strange but True Mid-Grade Reads

Doodles and Drafts – Jess Black Paws for Thought

Jess Black, author of the new Little Paws series joins us at the draft table today to share her inspiration behind these heartwarming story lines. Puppies, chewed shoes and big responsibilities are all part of training a guide dog puppy. The Little Paws series has them all plus buckets of cute puppy appeal to boot. Here’s what Jess has to say:

Writing the Little Paws series was a very positive experience for me. The story lines are fun, there’s plenty of puppy mischief, it’s a family friendly story line but most importantly the kids in the stories are in charge and at the forefront of the story.

Of course, what’s at the heart of the stories is bringing a gorgeous little puppy into your home and committing to raising it on behalf of guide Dogs. This meant that the series involved my spending lots of time with puppies in training with Guide Dogs Australia, understanding what it takes to be a Guide Dog and the impact that having a dog has on the life of a client. This added depth and meaning to writing the stories.

Continue reading Doodles and Drafts – Jess Black Paws for Thought

Dealing with Dilemmas – School Holiday Reads Sorted

The first round of school holidays is upon us. Kid induced dilemmas are rife. How do you deal with them? Whip out one of these chuckle-creating reads and indulge in ten minutes or more of togetherness time, is how. These picture books are guaranteed to make molehills out of mountains.

Busting! By Aaron Blabey

Lou’s dilemma matches my own on an almost hourly basis. But what is Lou to do when the queue to the loo is so long. Anyone with a weak bladder like me or toddlers with the inexplicable ability to ignore the call of nature until the last absolute possible minute will adore this ode to toilet queues. Busting! is all those desperate dashes through the supermarket, late night dreams of locked toilet stalls and screaming brakes on the motorway for verge-side emergencies rolled into rollicking rhyme and goofy pictures. Just brilliant. Potty humour has never read so well.

Suitable for potty training youngsters from three years and up.

Scholastic Press March 2017

I Don’t Want Curly Hair by Laura Ellen Anderson Continue reading Dealing with Dilemmas – School Holiday Reads Sorted

Double Dipping – Unleashing Imagination

A well-known writer for kids once stated, ‘Imagination is simply Image – Nation’ meaning, you fill your ideas well from all the images pooled from your life experiences, the world around you, and your impressions of it. That is what really constitutes imagination. However it occurs, unleashing it is the penultimate fun part. Here are two imaginative new picture books that do not hold back.

The Leaky Story by Devon Sillett and Anil Tortop

There is a veritable shipload of things to like about this rollicking tale of adventure and mayhem set incongruously within the confines of the Blossburn’s family lounge room. Sillett’s surreal tale about a book with a mind of its own explodes with mirth and mystery the kind of which pre-schoolers love to wallow in. It’s not just wallowing that they can indulge in either. There is enough onematapedic dropping and plopping, sploshing and splashing to have little ones dashing for their gumboots.

Continue reading Double Dipping – Unleashing Imagination

Review – Home of the Cuckoo Clock

‘There’s a sad sort of clanging from the clock in the hall and the bells in the steeple too. And up in the nursery, an absurd little bird is popping up to say, “Cuckoo, cuckoo!”’

So marks the passing of time as decreed by Rodgers and Hammerstein. Time, we often complain about its restraints and resist its ravages but to ignore it completely results in chaos. At least it does for the village of Schoenwald in Home of the Cuckoo Clock.

Home of the Cuckoo Clock is Robert Favretto’s first venture into the picture book world, one he makes with considerable assuredness and aptitude along with illustrator, David Eustace. Together they navigate the difficult yet supreme landscape of telling stories in pictures against the stunning backdrop of Germany’s Black Forest region.

Schoenwald is caught in a peculiar metaphysical time warp, in other words, frozen in time. It’s not a bad thing ignoring the passing of time however complete deprivation of any time keeping results in some devastating situations for the villagers: children are late for school, the shops do not open on time, and cows are not milked. The problem? No clocks.

Continue reading Review – Home of the Cuckoo Clock

Getting Serious About Series – Junior Novels for Little Misses

When it comes to captivating reads that snag interest and capture long-term readership, serial stories take the cake. Relatable incidents, swift moving plot lines and plenty of reasons to hang out with characters who become as close as real life friends all add up to serious series appeal. This winning combination works just as well for readers new to chapter books, too. Here are a few junior novels for younger children, chapter books if you will that are sure to tantalise.

Ginger Green Playdate Queen by Kim Kane and Jon Davis

Ginger Green is a foxy little minx in her first years of primary school. The thing she is most adept at this age is throwing playdates. Her winsome and extrovert personality allows her to make friends easily although not every person she tries to befriend has similar virtues.

Continue reading Getting Serious About Series – Junior Novels for Little Misses

Astonishing Picture Book Reads – Part 2

More picture books to make you smile squint and ponder.

Hello! Illustrated by Tony Flowers

Hello is a simple enough salutation, right. That opening phrase designed to introduce, calm, and unite two or more people. But what if those parties can’t speak the same language? Hello! is a visual and linguistic opportunity for primary aged children to meet 12 other Australian children with different cultural backgrounds and experience their different languages and customs. Many of them also speak English, which makes this introduction a breeze for readers and their carers to float through.

Each child introduces itself; Hua’s family for example comes from China. She speaks Chinese and then launches into the appropriate greetings, discusses some of her favourite foods and covers the numbers one to ten before signing off. These brief four page encounters encourage children to meet more and more people and practise more and more languages without feeling overwhelmed by the newness of it all.

Not only are we treated to new words and their characters and or alphabets, but also Flowers’ bright illustrations which take us on a fun, colourful tour of cuisines, games and traditions. This is a glorious global version of Australia: Illustrated if you like (with emphasis on cultures most prevalent in Australia). Hello! is just as engaging and equally as useful.

NLA 2016 Continue reading Astonishing Picture Book Reads – Part 2

Fantasy and Adventure – Novel Escapes

 

The golden age of reading begins when youngsters develop their reading confidence around the age of seven or so, and extends into their early teens where suspension of belief is still strong and stories featuring fantasy and adventure rate robustly on the their reading radars.

It is no wonder then that junior and middle grade novels are in such high demand. These three are definitely worth adding to your list.

Trouble and the New Kid by Cate Whittle and Stephen Michael King

Trouble first flew into Georgia’s life early last year. He stole their home inadvertently absconding with her baby brother, Godfrey. Since then, he’s barely been able to stay on the good side of the behaviour books, after run-ins with Mrs Jones and her cat, Tibbles in The Missing Cat. Now, Trouble is back in all his glorious dragon-green unruliness in, Trouble and the New Kid.

Continue reading Fantasy and Adventure – Novel Escapes

Animal Antics – Part 2

Well the animals still have it. This week we encounter more of their anthropomorphic antics between the covers of a veritable zooful of picture books.

Our Dog Benji by Pete Carter and James Henderson

Although cute and compact, this picture book features the large and lovely antics of Benji, a robust Labrador looking pooch whose insatiable appetite for anything and everything becomes a catalyst of encouragement for one fussy eater.

Our Dog Benji is an animated account of a day in the life of Benji as told by his young owner. Henderson’s duotone illustrations rate highly for their detail, style, and humour illustrating Carter’s understanding of dogs well and their avaricious ways. This handy little book subtly supports the notion of eating well and exploring more food options for fussy eaters.

EK Books February 2017

Monsieur Chat by Jedda Robaard

This little picture book is oozing with charm and the exact sort of intimacy that young readers adore; they are privy to the outcome even if the story’s characters are not. Monsieur Chat is a cuter than cute little ginger puss living among the city roof tops of a French city.

Continue reading Animal Antics – Part 2

Valentine’s Quickies – Picture Books that Melt Your Heart

In the name of love and all things sweet and sugary, here are a few picture books that will melt your heart. It is not so much that they honour Valentine’s Day, rather the notion behind the date, of love cherished and shared. Succumb to both.

Guess How Much I Love You – Colouring Book by Sam McBratney and Anita Jeram

Children across the globe will have no trouble recognising the iconic figures of Big and Little Nutbrown Hare. Guess How Much I Love You is one of those timeless picture books that somehow manage to enchant readers even as they age. In a heart-warming tale of what may be viewed as one-up-mans-ship (but of course, isn’t!), Little Nutbrown Hare endeavours to prove to Big Nutbrown Hare how fathomless his love  is. Of course, it’s an exercise in wishful thinking for Big Nutbrown Hare is always able to provide a counter example of how he loves his buddy just as much, thus, showing children that the love of an adult towards a child is limitless.

It’s a message that is simply told and beguiling illustrated and is now available as a delightful A 4 sized colouring book. Apart from full spreads, depicting the story to colour-in, and decorate with the included stickers, fans of Guess How Much I Love You can extend their artistic verve with page after page of interesting images to colour, rather like those you would find in a therapeutic colouring in book.

Fun and useful, this is an activity-based book to love and treasure.

Walker Books February 2017 Continue reading Valentine’s Quickies – Picture Books that Melt Your Heart

Doodles and Drafts – Blog Tour with Alison Reynolds

Writing a book about bullying or indeed, attempting to instill relevant social life issues into an entertaining format for kids, is always tricky to perfect. Alison Reynolds has managed to pull off this feat of meaningful storytelling with her captivating picture book series, Pickle and Bree’s Guide to Good Deeds. You can read Romi’s review of these two new titles, here.

Today she joins us briefly at the Draft Table to discuss just how she tackled the dicey subject of bullying with The Playground Meanies. This episode with Pickle and Bree is one of my favourites as we are reintroduced to Jason, the big footed, kind-hearted panda whose good deed not only saves the day but opens the pathways to friendship in a way very young children can’t help but connect with. Continue reading Doodles and Drafts – Blog Tour with Alison Reynolds

I Don’t Believe it’s a Picture Book! Astonishing reads for all ages Part 1

Picture books are a unique marriage of art and words. Occasionally, not even the words are needed. A picture book can evoke emotions so intense, you’ll wonder how so few images and words managed to resonate such an immense amount of feeling in such a short space of time. This is what I find so utterly attractive and astonishing in well-written picture books. Today, we reveal a few that not only take my breath away, but also astound me with their cleverness, humanity and sheer depth. Enjoy. Continue reading I Don’t Believe it’s a Picture Book! Astonishing reads for all ages Part 1

All creatures great and small – animal inspired picture books

Animal antics, you can’t beat them. Creatures great and small, they make us laugh, cry, and ponder. As characters in picture books, they are culturally neutral, globally recognisable conduits for expressing a range of emotions that small children (and adults) are readily able to relate to. In short, their appeal is universal. Today we get up close and personal with a few new animal orientated picture books bound to stir up the David Attenborough in you.

mopokeMopoke by Philip Bunting

Hot new author illustrator, Philip Bunting has produced a veritable winner. Mopoke’s cultivated, impossibly restrained colour palette and fierce economy of words positively exudes brilliance. It’s the genius absence of colour and preamble that snaps readers into full alert, squaring their attention on the one and only character, a small southern boobook owl, aka Mopoke (although there is an incongruous cameo appearance by a certain nocturnal marsupial, as well).

Mopoke is quiet and unassuming, clearly one who relishes peace and tranquillity. The Australian bush at night, however is rife with annoyances forcing Mopoke to assume various airs of tolerance until finally, he makes a dramatic move.

Covertly comical and clever, one could interpret this picture book as a subtle poke, pardon the pun, at our social media addictions and the intrusive way they interrupt our daily lives. Of course, none of this will matter to readers under seven or so. They will simply be enthralled by Mopoke’s milk chocolate coloured marvellousness. An experience to be savoured.

Omnibus Books February 2017

my-friend-tertiusMy Friend Tertius by Corinne Fenton and Owen Swan

Until I’d open the sepia hued covers of My Friend Tertius, I had no clue this zoo/war time story even existed. Fenton has, however not just written an historical, fact based picture book. She has encased the true-life story of a British Intelligence covert living in pre-war Hong Kong with that of Tertius, a small-orphaned gibbon into a kind of love story.

Told from Arthur Cooper’s point of view, Tertius soon becomes an inextricable part of Cooper’s life. Together they work and savour the steamy tropical pastimes of Singapore and Hong Kong until the onset of World War II finally forces Cooper to evacuate to Australia. He is loath to leave his best mate behind, though so smuggles him into the country before having to surrender him to the Melbourne Zoo.

This is a story of turbulent times, separation, and unconventional friendships that somehow endure. Despite Tertius’ imperfect circumstances, one cannot help but feel a certain warmth for his relationship with Cooper. A fascinating picture book for older readers revealing yet more amazing wartime alliances thoughtfully illustrated by Swan.

Allen & Unwin February 2017

one-keen-koalaOne Keen Koala by Margaret Wild and Bruce Whatley

Not since One Woolly Wombat have I come across an animal counting book that is so full of bounce and spirit, I thought I might have to a lie down after reading it. Wild’s wondrous way with words is so pleasing to read, you’ll wish this continues beyond the count of 12 happy possums. Light, breezy, and bristling with Australiana, her verse escorts young readers from numbers one to twelve whilst gently stimulating them with the notion that new beginnings are indeed enjoyable. The appeal for new pre-schoolers or primary schoolers is therefore ten out of ten.

Whatley’s illustrations are soft and unobtrusive albeit awfully cute and fun. He even manages to inject new life into an old favourite, the perennial wombat.

One Keen Koala is a counting / back to school book that almost makes me want to troop back off to Kindy. Highly recommended.

Scholastic Press February 2017

Stay posted for another instalment of animal inspired reads, soon.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Doodles and Drafts – Nick Earls reveals his Top Secrets

word-hunters-and-nick-earlsA few years ago, I had the supreme pleasure of joining a world of word nuts who allowed me to accompany them on hair-raising adventures through time and reason; I discovered the Word Hunters – a trilogy of etymological enigmas by author Nick Earls and illustrator, Terry Whidborne. I carry on a bit about the awesomeness of their series, here. Although Word Hunters is more than satisfying and a dozen other superlatives to boot, I was left wanting more as many exhilarating experiences are wont to make you feel. And so, the trilogy has expanded with the launch of the Top Secret Files.

Top Secret Files is a sort of compendium of loosely connected thoughts and verbal exploration. It’s a journal of notes and taste bud temptations. It’s an explanation of even more philology through brief crisp narrative and pages of eye-catching sketches, drawings, and diagrams. It’s the journal of the great word hunter, Caractacus entrusted to the ancient librarian, Mursili who perhaps a little misguidedly assigns it back to our dauntless duo, Earls and Whidborne.

Today we have the auspicious pleasure of welcoming Nick Earls to the draft table to learn a little more about the custodian of the Word Hunters and how he is dealing with his Top Secret Files.

nick-earls-2017Welcome Nick!

Who is Nick Earls? Describe your writerly self.

Twenty-six books into the job, he’s an unkempt work in progress, growing into the thought lines etched deep into his forehead and still trying to get better each time he writes.

In a former life, your quest was to serve and protect or at least, make people feel better. How does your current occupational goal as a writer compare?

I now wear my underpants on the inside and don’t have a cape. Each job hinges on a connection with people. In medicine, it’s getting to understand them on their terms, so that the story they tell makes as much sense as possible. In writing the kind of fiction I mostly do, it’s about tapping into characters who, when read, feel as though they can’t have been made up. With Word Hunters there are other objectives too – there’s an adventure to be had and a world of mind-blowing words facts to play around with. My goal as the writer of this series is to entertain, but also be part of opening minds to the possibilities of history and the fascinating workings of the language. It’s too easy to fall into the habit of saying that English is a crazy language that makes no sense, but the more you grasp its 1500-year history (plus some back-story) the more sense it ends up making. And the more powerfully you can use it. ‘Night’ and ‘light’, for instance, aren’t spelled that way by chance, or because someone threw darts at a board – there’s a reason for it, and a really interesting one (featuring a now-lost letter), so we wrote about that in the new book.

wisdom-tree-novellasName three titles you have created that you are particularly proud of and why.

It’s not a thing I feel about anything I write. Which doesn’t mean I think it’s all awful – it’s just that ‘pride’ isn’t really the feeling. I love the process of exploring the story and its characters, and how they’ll all work, and then the job of working hard to get the details right and delivering them in a compelling way. If someone gets it, I feel good. It feels as if all that work was worth sharing. Okay, one example: Gotham, the first novella in the Wisdom Tree series. I had two story ideas that I wanted to give to one character, and I thought I could make them work together in an interesting way. So, the first two acts are essentially one of those story ideas, with seeds being sewn for the third, then act three really takes you somewhere, delivers something (I hope) you’re not expecting, and also casts new light on the earlier part of the story. It’s worked just as I hoped it would for quite a lot of people now, and I have to admit that’s gratifying, since I love it when fiction works that way in my head.

top-secret-files-word-huntersIt’s been nearly three and a half years since the Word Hunter series hit our bookshelves. Was a follow up compendium like Top Secret Files always on the cards? If not, what evoked the idea and need for it?

It was Terry’s idea, and he put it to me when we were driving between two schools, doing our live Word Hunters show when the third book came out in 2013. He wanted to do something more visual and less dependent on a big new narrative, and he wanted to explore some of the gadgets we’d included. In that conversation, I realised I’d found some excellent word stuff that I hadn’t been able to include in the other three books, and we came up with the idea of a kind of manual, or ‘a compendium of devices and methods’ as Caractacus rather self-importantly puts it. Living in the Dark Ages and seeing the consequence of knowledge loss, Caractacus puts a premium on knowledge and, unlike the rest of us, has a pipeline to the future. So, this is him trying to keep track of the info future word hunters bring back to him, some of which he adapts for use in his own time. Some of that presented a fascinating challenge. In book three, he’s created lightweight 21st-century ceramic armour for the hunters to fight in, and for Top Secret Files I had to work out how it was made, then work out how to adapt that to processes someone could use on a Dark Ages pig farm. I have to say, that stretched me. Then we paired that with the fun activity of making your own medieval armour from cardboard, using the fascinating terms for each piece.

What can Word Hunter fans expect from Top Secret Files?

Expect the unexpected. You’ll come out of this dressed in armour from the 15th century, making bread from 3000 years ago and able to navigate using the Ancient Phoenician alphabet (or, more correctly, abjad). And who doesn’t want that set of awesome skills? You’ll also understand why we score tennis the way we do, where cricket fielding positions got their names, and how our alphabet found twelve new letters and lost nine of them!

Top Secret Files reads as a combination of loose jaunty exchanges and solid historical fact. At times if feels even more revealing and fantastical than the Word Hunters storylines. (Are all those words that couldn’t be saved as part of the English language real? Sorry had to ask; I’m too lazy to research every groke, fudgel, and curglaff) Why did you choose this style of delivery over straightforward narrative?

Some of the most improbable things in the book are true including, yes, those words that couldn’t be saved (even the one that involves doing a distinctly weird thing to a part of a horse that’s best left alone …). When I was tunnelling around for material, I wanted the facts to be weirder than the fiction, so that the fiction seems all the more plausible.

We had this kind of style in mind from the start, for two reasons. First, not having to build a massive narrative to slip in one brilliant word fact gave us licence to include lots more stuff and focus on it. It would have taken several more of the original books and a lot of complicated storytelling to have created opportunities to use everything we got to use here. Also, Terry was very mindful of creating a different way into the word hunters’ world. This was deliberately compact, really visual and in short sections (with an overarching concept but not an overarching narrative) to provide a way into the world for kids not immediately drawn to 40-60,000 words of narrative.

We wanted to make the original three books accessible by telling the most engrossing time-travel adventure story we could, but this book is designed to increase the accessibility even more. We wanted to create something for, say, 9-10-year-old boys not yet hooked by reading big stories (while at the same time offering fascinating content for people who are). If they get into this, maybe they’ll pick up book one, and then book two and book three. And by the end of that, maybe they’ll have felt that buzz in their head that only books can put there, and they’ll want more. I got into reading as a kid, but Terry didn’t, and this is Terry coming up with the kind of book he thinks might have made a difference to him at that age.

word-hunter-sketchesIllustrator, Terry Whidborne receives equal airplay alongside you, Lexi and Al throughout this journal. What was the dynamic like working with him? How did it influence and or benefit this production?

Terry’s great. We met working on an advertising campaign in 2002. We’re friends and I’m also in awe of his skills as an artist – another reason to do this book: I want publishers and others to see just how talented Terry is.

We each bring very different things to a book like this, and I think that helps make us a great team. We also had a very clear shared vision of what we wanted the end result to be. And it was always clear that we would have the freedom to suggest possible topics to each other, and throw in ideas to get the other one thinking. Terry would say things like, ‘I reckon there would be some kind of portal-sniffing device,’ and I’d have to rummage around for the science to sort-of back it up.

And I’d often say, about something I was working on, ‘I don’t know what this looks like – could you show me?’ and he would. Or I’d say, ‘here’s some great content I want to use, but how do we make it visual?’ and Terry would say, ‘How about a map?’

And he’d hide small things and see if I’d find them. Once you find, say, the ink smudge that’s also a map of Iceland – in context – you realise this book has more Easter eggs than Coles in March. It’s a slim book, but there are about a zillion tiny details in there, and they reveal themselves in different ways.

What inspires you to include or exclude words for discussion in the Word Hunter books? What external forces such as travel for example, influence your writing direction?

This time, I got the chance to use things that had amazed me, but that I wasn’t in a position to devote 20,000 words of narrative to. So, that was fun.

It was very interesting plotting the big story that runs across the first three books, and that create the world that the Top Secret Diary lives in. I needed each of the first three books to be an entire satisfying story, but also part of a whole, and I knew each one would feature three word quests. I also knew I wanted to follow a bunch of different pathways – English is what it is because of that – so I needed a mix of Germanic and Norman French/Latin words and words with very different origins. And I needed to get the characters to certain places at certain times to tell the big story we were telling. That was an awesome puzzle to try to solve. In the case of the last word in book three, I decided I needed something that would take us to the earliest-known book in English, link with an epic Dark Ages battle and get there via Shakespeare and one other interesting step. No easy task. I got there though.

Whose genius was it to include the interactive app, LAYAR for kids to utilise? Do you think this is the way of future storytelling?

That was Terry. The moment he discovered LAYAR, I got fanatical about it. It’s perfect for this book. Perfect. Again, it’s a great way in for someone not rushing to read lots of text, but for whom the idea of using a gadget to reveal hidden content appeals. And no one had more potential hidden content than me. I instantly knew it’d add massively to the reading experience, and I’d get to use a lot more great stuff.

Is it the way of future storytelling? It’s part of it, I’m sure. Technology gives us more tools than we’ve ever had. We just have to be smart enough to use them judiciously. LAYAR would be a gimmick or a distraction for some things, but it’s ideal for this.

On a scale of Never-Do-It-Again to Most-Exhilarating-Audience-To-Write-For-Ever!, how do you rate writing for tween readers? What is most appealing about writing for this age group?

I’m still learning, I think. I’m maybe a more natural writer for adults, but with the right material, time and smart editing, I can end up with something that works for the tween brain, and I’m getting closer to some of the techniques becoming instinctive. Two things are massively appealing about this age group. It’s a huge buzz when a kid comes up to you and raves about their Word Hunters experience and starts sharing some great etymology they’ve dug up. There’s a 9, 10, 11, 12-year-old whose grasp of English, you know, has been altered for the better. I love that. The other thing I really love is going round the schools and doing Word Hunters events. We’ve come up with a show that we can do together or solo that includes loads of visuals, props, games and a lot of noise, and It’s way more fun doing it than I ever thought. Every time I front up to a school with all my Word Hunters’ gear, I’m excited.

word-hunters-the-lost-huntersNow that you and Terry have been entrusted with Caractacus’ archive of Word Huntery (and really really interesting recipes!) thanks to Mursili, and blatantly ignoring all warnings to the contrary, have exposed it to the world, what plans do you and Terry have for the journal? Are more copies likely to appear? In short, what is on the draft table for Nick?

I have a PhD to finish, so no new fiction this year, but in the meantime, I want to make the most of the new material we’ve added to our show and take it around the place. I know that’s technically part of the job, because it might sell some books, but I actually want to do it because of the fun we can have and because of the way it opens a roomful of minds to the prospect of actually looking at our language and how it works, understanding it better and ultimately using it with greater power than most of us grew up being able to. I’ll also be putting in some effort to avoid the wrath of Caractacus. He’s not one to understand that this stuff was just too good to keep hidden.

Just for fun question (there’s always one): Describe a guilty pleasure (of yours) incorporating three words that did not exist before the last century.

Brilliant question. I’ll go as recent as I can. I regularly google (2001, as a verb) idle factoids (1973, invented by Norman Mailer, though the meaning has evolved since) using Bluetooth (1997).

Super! Thanks Nick.

If you reside in Queensland,  you can catch Nick and Terry putting in some effort to avoid Caractacus’ wrath and share their Top Secrets at one of this year’s Book Link QLD’s Romancing the Stars events during March. For details on where they will be appearing (there are Brisbane, Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast venues), and how to book, visit the Book Links site, here.

The Word Hunters Series including the Top Secret Files is available, here.

UQP December 2016

That’s the Spirit – Aussie books that inform and thrill

With only a week to go before you sling a few more lamb chops onto the barbie, here is swag of ‘must read’ Aussie kids’ titles to put on your reading list, (not the barbie).

theres-a-magpie-in-my-soupThere’s a Magpie in my Soup Sean Farrar & Pat Kan

It’s that time of year when raucous baby magpies scream night and day for food. Seems they are no different when submersed in soup. Sean Farrar takes pre-schoolers on a merry epicurean romp through a menu of Australian critters as they pop up in the most extraordinary of places, (the only one that failed to make the endemic Aussie grade was the porcupine whom I felt could have been replaced by the Echidna). Snakes slither from cakes, cockatoos appear in loos. Possums get stuck in pies and blue tongues pop in for lunch. Kan’s chipper illustrations jockey this ditty merrily along  as rhyme and fauna are introduced to young readers in a fun, relatable way. A jolly little bedtime read.

Big Sky Publishing April 2016

stripes-in-the-forestStripes in the Forest – The Story of the Last Wild Thylacine Aleesah Darlison & Shane McGrath

Demonstrative illustrator, Shane McGrath teams with accomplished author, Aleesah Darlison in this picture book for mid primary readers about the last Tasmanian Tiger. Portrayed in a sweeping epic narrative from a female tiger’s viewpoint, Stripes in the Forest escorts readers through Tasmania’s pre-settlement days to present day, as she recalls a life of cyclical and human influenced changes. Gradually numbers of her kind reduce to the point of assumed extinction however, Stripes ends on a positive note of supposition; what if she is not the last of her kind?

Stripes in the Forest is alluring for its historical references, detailed Thylacine Facts and nod towards the need for environmental awareness and understanding. Full marks for this picture book for making a difference.

Big Sky Publishing July 2016

this-is-banjo-patersonThis is Banjo Paterson Tania McCartney & Christina Booth

Two leather clad gold embossed volumes of verse sit reverently upon my bookshelves: The Singer of the Bush and The Song of the Bush – the collected works of A B Banjo Paterson. Now another, smaller, more modest but equally as treasured title will accompany them; This is Banjo Paterson.

This inspired new picture book by the notable partnership of McCartney and Booth is as entertaining as it is beautiful. It begins in the middle of the Australian bush, at least Andrew Barton ‘Barty’s’ story does but do not be misled by the smooth  informative narrative of McCartney’s for Booth’s illustrations tell another story. Readers are invited into Barty’s urban backyard where they are introduced to his inclinations, desires, friends, and favourite pastimes. He has a hankering for horses and rhyming words but ‘is also a fine sportsman’.

Barty harbours a secret desire to write in verse as he grows and one day one of his anonymously submitted pieces is published. From then on end there is no stopping ‘Banjo’ as his name becomes synonymous with the classic bush inspired, character driven poetry and stories many of us know to this day.

Quiet and unassuming in its delivery, This is Banjo Paterson is visually rich and emotionally satisfying to read.  Many aspects of Banjo’s accomplished life are covered in a way that is both revealing and appreciable for young readers.  McCartney’s knack for conveying facts in a beguiling spirited fashion is put to good use in this picture book that broadens minds and warms hearts. The inspired broadsheet replication at the book’s conclusion includes sepia coloured photographs of Paterson and a more detailed chronological description of his life plus extracts from several of his most well-known poems. Highly recommended for early learners and primary aged readers, This is Banjo Paterson is a marvellous introduction to one of Australia’s literary heroes.

National Library of Australia Publishing (NLA) February 2017

lennie-the-legendLennie the Legend:  Solo to Sydney by Pony Stephanie Owen Reeder

Once upon a time, a nine-year-old boy named Lennie Gwyther took his pony, Ginger Mick for a ride. It was a very long ride, from country Victoria to Sydney, over 1,000 kilometres in fact but in the days of the Great Depression back in the early 1930s, people were accustomed to making such long arduous journeys.

Lennie’s mission was to be at the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and his tenacity and determination were recognised and admired by the entire nation. Lennie’s story is adeptly told by Reeder with animated narrative and is interspersed with complementing historical snippets. Occasionally, comparisons are made between present day and last century living. Stunning photographs of this slice of Australia’s past are included along with fascinating statistics and notable people. The result is a feature-rich read, well endowed with fact and good story telling. Ideally suited for primary aged readers and those who love legends.

NLA February 2015

the-dreaming-treeThe Dreaming Tree Jo Oliver

Whilst suffused with the essence of the Australian landscape and renowned poets, let’s take a moment to appreciate the free verse poetic stylings of Jo Oliver whose, The Dreaming Tree reflects the ‘joy and freedom of being a child in Australia’.  Oliver’s poems, many of which are centred on the fierce and dramatic beauty of the Australian countryside, flow and ebb with all the finesse and passion of a verse novel. They are both uplifting and enlightening, and an extreme joy to read. This collection is presented in a picture book format accompanied by Oliver’s own dreamlike illustrations.  Her note at the end stresses that ‘poetry is fun’ and simply ‘feeling and thought playing together in words’. Oliver’s feelings and thought play magnificently together in The Dreaming Tree, for which I can list no favourites for I relished them all.

Highly recommended for primary and lower secondary school students as an excellent illustrative tool for capturing the essence of feeling in verse and injecting an appreciation for the enjoyment of poetry into the young.

New Frontier Publishing February 2016

HAPPY AUSTRALIA DAY!

#byAustralianBuyAustralian

 

 

 

 

There’s no place like home – Aussie flavoured picture books

During my short sabbatical from all things digital over the festive season, I visited some exotic, mesmerising places, supped on mouth-watering local fare, and immersed myself in numerous colourful cultural experiences. It was invigorating and fun but like always after a hard stint abroad, it is great to be home, because for me, there is no place like home. Therefore, to kick off the New Year and in readiness for our annual Aussie Day celebrations, here are a few picture books to stir up your patriotism.

shearing-timeShearing Time by Allison Paterson & Shane McGrath

Nothing shouts Australia louder than sheep, blowies, and working dogs on bikes. I envy the ability the picture book team of Paterson and McGrath has at capturing the essence of the Aussie outback with such bold open sky appeal.

Colourful and engaging, Shearing Time begins during the school holidays with one farm girl’s exclamation, ‘I love shearing time!’ She goes on to explain why, inviting readers to share her shearing experiences from sunrise to sunset. Every aspect including herding cantankerous sheep, the arrival of the rowdy seasonal shearers, the racket and rumble of shearing time right up to the feeding of workers is ably depicted giving youngsters a realistic, close-up look of how wool is procured from paddock to jumper. The glossary of well-loved shearing terms is especially useful.

A great focus on rural life and one of our most significant primary industries for 4 – 8 year-olds.

Big Sky Publishing March 2017

gus-dog-goes-to-workGus Dog Goes to Work by Rachel Flynn & Craig Smith

Here is another picture book duo whose combination of imaginative images and engaging text I adore. Once again, there are strong visual and verbal connections with regional Australian life. Chock-a-block full of colloquial language and ribald observation, Gus Dog Goes to Work is an excellent read-aloud picture book allowing carers to inject plenty of iconic Aussie swagger in their rendering of it. Gus is your typical sheepdog who exists only to work and please his owner, Tom.  When he awakes one morning to find Tom and his Ute missing however, Gus decides to venture out on his own to work. His meanderings steer him a little off track and into some stinky, hilarious, quintessentially doggy dilemmas until finally he and Tom are reunited.

Dog lovers aged five and above will get a massive kick out of this entertaining expose of country life from a pooch’s point-view. Bursting with more Aussie flavour than a barbie full of beef sangers, Gus comes highly recommended.

Working Title Press February 2017

fabishFabish the horse that braved a bushfire by Neridah McMullin & Andrew McLean

This is a gem of a book that evokes considerable emotion; warm tears spring forth unbidden each time I read it. Based on the true story of the vicious bushfires that ripped through the Victorian bush in February 2009, this picture book introduces us to ex-thoroughbred racer, Fabish and his retired role as mentor to the younger flighty yearlings.

McMullin faithfully recreates the mood and atmosphere of that scorching summer’s day when fire menaced the region. Fabish’s trainer, Alan Evett released the yearlings and Fabish fatalistically to find their own way while he huddled with the remaining stock in the stone stables. Outside a firestorm blazed out of control. He never thought he would see Fabish and the yearlings again.

The next morning dawned charred and desolate. Not a single living thing remained and yet miraculously, through the choking smoky haze Fabish appeared leading his yearlings home. McLean’s raw rustic palette coupled with McMullin’s poignant interpretation of the tale is a beautiful tribute to human resilience, loyalty, the power of nature and a truly unforgettable horse.

Strongly recommended for 6 – 9 year-olds

Allen & Unwin July 2016

sparkSpark by Adam Wallace & Andrew Plant

I grew up in the Adelaide foothills and witnessed the horrors of several summer infernos like Ash Wednesday but never experienced one first hand as author Adam Wallace did. Spark is a fascinating picture book depicting Australia’s most recent and devastating bushfire event, Black Saturday but ostensibly describing the catastrophic destructiveness and formidable beauty of any firestorm. And, along with Plant, he does so indescribably well.

Wallace succeeds with what no other has attempted before, to give fire a voice.  From the uniquely omnipotent point-of-view of a tiny spark, Wallace characterises the burgeoning flame with an almost child-like persona, suggesting a helpless naivety that encourages an instant empathy. Together, with the growing flame, we are borne along with a capricious and irascible wind, intent it seems after at first befriending the flame, to cause as much upset as possible until all control is lost.

Exhilarating and wild, terrifying and violent, Spark rips through your emotions with a mere sprinkling of words but with the force of an atomic bomb. Soul serrating language is not the only draw card. Plant’s monochrome illustrations will make the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end. Textural and scented with the acrid bitterness of the aftermath of pure destruction, Spark ends on the same quiet unassuming note as it begins; with teardrops from above, a flash of light and glimmer of green hope, simply brilliant.

A potent and compelling picture book useful for prompting discussions on natural disasters, Australian history,  and looking at things unconventionally for older primary aged readers.

Ford Street Publishing imprint of Hybrid Publishing October 2016

Stick around for the next swag-load of Aussie titles coming soon.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

 

 

Under the Christmas Tree Part 6 – Tis better to give than receive

It’s almost time to step away from the desk and wrap up the year. What a year it’s been, brimful of incredible stories and pictures, all of which have been a delight to share with you. It is, as they say; better to give than receive, so here are some final last minute helpful hints for something worth tucking under the Christmas tree.

was-not-me Was Not Me! by Shannon Horsfall

This fits the Naught but Nice list. Perfect for the school holidays, this picture book by talented newcomer, Shannon Horsfall will have kids swinging from the chandeliers and surging through the high seas with her calamitous Not Me character. He is cheeky and illusive and always hangs the blame for the mess on the carpet or the floods in the bathroom on his twin brother, Me. Mum suspects foul play and is not so easily fooled.

was-not-me-illos-spreadKids and mischief is a mix that portends all sorts of hilarious possibilities. Horsfall has managed to bottle that common go-to-get-out-of-jail card-catch-cry that kids so frequently use, ‘Was not me!’ with lightly rhyming humour and very likeable illustrations. Something fun for bored would-be house wreckers these holidays aged four to eight.

Harper Collins Children’s Books July 2016

twigTwig by Aura Parker

Another author illustrator production this time by Aura Parker whose unique organically inspired illustrations turn this gentle story about making friends and starting school into an obvious holiday choice for four to six-year-olds.

Heidi is a stick insect. She is tall and slender and blends in incredibly well with her surroundings so much so that she goes virtually unnoticed by all those around her. Such anonymity does not bode well for a creature as unassuming as Heidi and she fails to make an impact on her new classmates or even her energetic teacher, Mrs Orb. Dejected and miserable, it is not until Scarlett inadvertently unearths Heidi’s indignation that the rest see Heidi for who and what she is for the first time. From then on, the webs of friendship begin to spin.

twig-and-aura-parkerTwig is a sweet tale about finding the confidence to embark on new adventures. It is also a glorious detailed experience of visual discovery. Each of the end papers is crawling with critters and bugs of every description with prompts to seek them out. Twig is a marvellous way of getting real with bugs with a captivating nod to counting, species classification, biology, and colour. A picture book to truly pour over.

Scholastic Press November 2016

elephants-have-wingsElephants Have Wings by Susanne Gervay and Anna Pignataro

We have reviewed this one before (read Julie Fison’s encounter with Susanne Gervay, here) but it’s worth special mention and a prime place under the Christmas tree.

At a time in our history when there should be no child that suffers comes this powerful picture book by the accomplished team of Susanne Gervay and Anna Pignataro. Based partly on the ancient parable the Blind Men and the Elephant, this outstanding work is suffused with elegance, immense spirit and a beauty that young children will recognise and draw from even if they are not able to comprehend the complexities that lie within each page.

My daughter was nine when she first read it and stated, ‘It is great out of the box thinking isn’t it? I mean, who would have thought that elephants could fly.’ Indeed, capturing the essence of the blind men and the elephant in a picture book is one thing. Exhibiting it with such exquisite heart and sensitivity as the team of Gervay and Pignataro do is higher than commendable.

The journey of discovery begins one night as two young siblings beg their father for a bedtime tale. This particular night he tells their grandfather’s story, thus spanning the generations. From his recount, we learn of a group of children from varying cultural backgrounds intent on going out one dark night in search of a secret. They each find part of something, each certain they are right in their assumption of what it is, each unwilling to accept that their interpretation of their discovery whilst subjectively correct in one instance could also be part some bigger picture. They ‘argued until everyone was angry’ – my favourite line in the book, also one of the most disparagingly accurate of observations. It is not until grandfather appears with his candlelight that the children discover that each of them ‘was right, but also wrong’ and the magnificent elephant is revealed.

But what of the secret? As brother and sister embark upon the elephant’s sturdy back and soar with him over the many glorious fabrics of their world, they come to appreciate not only the beauty that surrounds them but also the cracks that threaten that beauty, until finally they arrive home, conscious now of their differences and sameness.

elephants-have-wings-illos-spreadThe subtle nuances so intricately and delicately woven into this creation are numerous. Pignataro’s textured, collaged illustrations, lift and transport, defying gravity and borders. They convey a rich tapestry of multiculturalism, religion, and ultimately, Nirvana – a divine realisation of self and the ability to see past fear, a call to reach out for harmony. The use of the colours of the Chakra, of pages drained of any pigment and then restored, provide reasons to clutch tightly to life, ride out derision, to hope – to forge forward.

Gervay’s impossibly expressive narrative articulates confusion, disaccord, reconciliation, and understanding, prompting young readers to ponder and question all that which they see (and hear) around them. To paraphrase the words of George R R Martin ‘Just open your eyes… is all that is needing. The eyes see true…then comes the thinking and in that knowing the truth.’

Supremely brave, eloquent and masterful, Elephants Have Wings will initiate discussion over many shared readings; it is one to treasure and grow with.

Ford Street Publishing October 2014

Find your elephant within as soon as you possibly can.

Cherish your Christmas moments. Give a Book. Read lots!

See you in 2017!

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Under the Christmas Tree Part 5 – Festive boredom busters

For most of us, it is now officially school holiday time, the season of fraught mothers, constant interruptions, drained purses, and frazzled tempers. Or, if you’re clever, blissful moments spent with your darlings in between extended periods of boredom busting activity. Festive harmony is easy to achieve, you just need the right materials.  Here are a handful of books that entertain and instil serenity.

the-anti-boredom-christmas-bookThe Anti-Boredom Christmas Book by Andy Seed and Scott Garrett

The title speaks for itself but does this book hold the eggnog? Ecstatic to report, it does and some! If you love trivia, jokes, silliness, and just good old-fashioned fun quizzes this is the boredom-busting book for you (and your kids). Perfect for slipping into your carry-on luggage if you happen to be going away or tucking into the backpack for those incurably long family lunches, we force our children to endure over the holiday season, The Anti-Boredom Christmas Book is stuffed with things to do, think about and act out – no pencils required!  (Although there are plenty of arty / crafty options to get creative with.)

Seed’s zany laugh-out-loud facts and games challenge the curious reader: would you rather wear frozen undies or sleep in a bed of snow? You can even learn how to say snow in 18 languages – always good to know. Wacky and wonderful insanity to fill the holidays with whilst simultaneously inspiring sanity.

Bloomsbury Publishing December 2016

wonderful-world-colouring-bookWonderful World Colouring book by Alison Lester

For a more Australian flavoured boredom buster, sample Alison Lester’s Wonderful World kids’ colouring-in book. Whether you are a fan of colour-the- drawings type productions or not, this one is sure to please and entrance the budding artists in your home. Focusing on the art of illustration, Lester ingeniously includes dozens of helpful illustrative snippets and hints to nudge would be artists on their way. Suggestions like: ‘try drawing with your left hand’, ‘always leave a little bit of white in the eyes’, and ‘don’t try to make everything perfect’, are secreted away among her own iconic images on the end pages and in an introductory ‘Drawing Tips’ prologue.

wonderful-world-illo-spreadInside, there is a treasure trove of thick sturdy pages of assorted images and scenes just begging for colour and personalisation.  Exceedingly so much more than just a colouring in book, Wonderful World will inspire, occupy, and educate for days.

Allen & Unwin 2016

my-lovely-christmas-bookMy Lovely Christmas Book

While their creative juices are still flowing, consider this as a sweeter than sweet stocking filler. My Lovely Christmas Book is a quaint diary sized festive book, brimming with blank pages and cheery prompts that allows readers to fill it with their own lists, notes, poems, and wishes, in short, to create a lovely Christmas book for them by them. It ostensibly covers the 12 days of Christmas so could be substituted as a tooth-friendly form of advent calendar, as well.

There is space for photos, favourite listings, and recordings of all the best bits of Christmas a kid can have. Sublimely illustrated, this is an exquisite combination of meditative colouring in book, crafty hang out and personal journal, which subtly encourages youngsters to observe and cherish this most magical time of the year.

Bloomsbury Publishing November 2016

the-kids-survival-guideThe Kids’ Survival Guide – Avoiding ‘When I was young…’ and other brain-exploding lectures by Susan Berran

I’m not sure I should be recommending this but it is insidiously brilliant no matter how potentially detrimental it may prove for we struggling parental types just trying to do our jobs. The Kids’ Survival Guide, is a crafty (not in the arty sense) cheeky, wickedly funny and devilishly useful hand book for kids who’ve had a gutful of the lectures, rules and dumb sayings adults dole out to them day after day of their young lives.

Thoughtfully sectioned into handy parts, the Guide escorts and educates readers on how to remain calm and cope with brain exploding stupidities like ‘You can have a motorbike when you’re older’ -how much older? A day, a month, a minute? Or, what about, ‘You should know, I’ve told you a hundred times’. Berran could be right or at least her character Sam could be right; parents do say the lamest things. Apparently, it’s all in the manual Sam and his mate, Jared found. I just hope they don’t strike back too hard as he shares some of his ‘brain-blowing close encounters’ and teaches fellow sufferers how to ‘twist, flip and turn’ the rules around. Heaven help us. Essential and absorbing reading that is sure to occupy young minds for precious minutes this Silly Season. Warning: Adults should read first to allow time to come up with some witty counter-attacks. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Big Sky Publishing October 2016

 

 

Under the Christmas Tree Part 4

It’s time for some fun fiction for kids. This little cluster of Christmas inspired picture books is sure to generate a smile or two and plenty of sage head nodding, perfect for slipping under the Christmas tree.

christmas-at-homeChristmas at Home by Claire Saxby and Janine Dawson

I adore the homegrown simplicity juxtaposed with the bustling busy detail Dawson’s illustrations project in this seasonal picture book. Saxby’s narrative is snugly woven to fit the meter of O Tannenbaum however instead of endless verses about pine branches, it’s the lines applauding classic Aussie Christmas lunching and community Christmas light displays that demand your cheery attention. From decorating the tree and touring the neighbourhood streets in search of the most  razzle dazzle to squeezing around the table and forcing down a feast, Christmas at Home is a jazzed up observation of a typical Aussie silly season enjoyed with those you love… at home.

The Five Mile Press November 2016

pig-the-elfPig the Elf by Aaron Blabey

Oh dear, he’s back and behaving badly as per usual. Resounding full marks for this festive episode of the world’s most self-centred pooch. Pig the Elf is a hilarious cautionary tale of greed and arrogance vs compassion and gratefulness. Blabey’s lilting and often times, cutting verse is almost of sing song quality, the carolling type no less (I had to hold myself back) and puts readers nicely in a ‘night before Christmas’ mood. Pig wants stuff for Christmas, lots of stuff and is not shy about slugging old Santa up for it. He does get his just desserts in the end although I’m not sure if he requested them as part of his kilometre long Wish List and I’m not altogether convinced he will mend his gluttonous ways; which I guess bodes well for future puggish adventures. Unbridled fun for pre-schoolers, pug lovers, and kids with Christmas lists that may warrant a hefty bout of structural editing.

Scholastic November 2016

the-naughtiest-reindeer-goes-southThe Naughtiest Reindeer Goes South by Nicki Greenberg

How can you not love a picture book with real snow and ice on the cover? Well at least that’s what the cover of the latest joyful instalment from Greenberg feels like. This type of tactile teasing instantly puts readers in the mood for some frisky frolicking about with Ruby, the naughtiest reindeer on Santa’s team. She and brother, Rudolf are bickering over sleigh-lead-pulling rights until Mrs S steps in and awards both of them poll position in the sleigh line up. Ruby however is having none of it. She swoops and swerves rebelliously, eventually causing sever upset and capsizes the sleigh. Stranded in Antarctica, Ruby has to overcome chilling reality and hostile penguins to make amends and deliver Santa’s presents on time. Greenberg’s rippling verse and super jolly illustrations transport young pre and primary school readers on a glorious special-delivery ride.

Allen & Unwin September 2016

all-i-want-for-christmas-is-rainAll I want for Christmas is Rain by Cori Brooke and Megan Forward

Two front teeth. A hippopotamus. A visit from Old St Nick. Not a lot to ask for, so why not some relief from the crucifying clutches of drought? Jane’s Christmas wish is about to take on a dramatic realisation. She lives with her farmer parents in Australia’s drought stricken Outback.  One day she makes the long trek into town to see Santa to place an extra special order with him. It’s not toys and presents that she yearns for as she counts the sun shot days down to Christmas morning. When it dawns, magic rains forth.

Brooke’s soulful text expresses the exact type of childlike innocence that allows such magic to spill into our lives. Believe, hope, and wish hard enough for something and it will eventually come to pass. If only that were true for our farmers.  Still, this picture book sings hope. Forward’s stunning watercolour illustrations drag us from bone dry dusty paddocks into mud-splattered pastures. Her end pages depict the stark before and after contrasts that epitomises our harsh Australian climate with such eloquent beauty, it will make your heart dance for joy, too.

At a time of year where in many parts of Australia, holiday cheer withers under the savage heat of summer, All I Want for Christmas is Rain is a timely reminder of the spirit of Christmas with a stout-hearted nod to those amazing Australians who feed us, the farmers. Evocative and poignant.

New Frontier Publishing November 2016

kids-reading-guide-2016-2017For more cool gifts for kids this Christmas check out Romi Sharp’s recommendations and Cait Drew’s list for older readers, or visit the Kids Reading Guide, here.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

 

Under the Christmas Tree Part 3 – Self-help for kids

Self-help titles are normally in high demand following the glut of Christmas overindulgence we adults tend to experience at this time of year. Children, thankfully do not time their greed or any other dilemmas for that matter so predictably. Therefore, it’s comforting to know there is an ever-available selection of fantastic kids’ books allowing little ones to explore their emotions, temper their fears, and make themselves feel a whole lot better about themselves and the world they live in. Here a few in picture book form.

Pickle & Bree Guide to Good Deeds by Alison Reynolds and Mikki Butterley

This is a divine picture book series featuring two unlikely companions, Pickle and Bree that centres around sound values and the importance of friendship. Romi Sharp discusses thethe-decortating-disaster various nuances and inspirations behind these demonstrative tales with author, Alison Reynolds, here. Visually exuberant, each title is crammed with subtle etiquette, positive attitude and enough storyline to keep kids tuned in and listening to the messages behind Bree and Pickle’s occasional the-big-snow-adventuredisagreements. How this delicious sounding pair work their way through The Decorating Disaster and decorating The Birthday Party Cake are the first two in the series and reviewed, here. The Playground Meanies and The Big Snow Adventure follow early next year. Supportive, fun learning for 5 – 8-year-olds.

The Five Mile Press October 2015

dingo-in-the-darkDingo in the Dark by Sally Morgan and Tania Erzinger

I adore Erzinger’s playful organically hued illustrations in Morgan’s timeless tale of overcoming your fears, in this case, of the dark. It’s impossible for Dingo to sleep because of his aversion to nigdingo-in-the-dark-illos-dingoht. In desperation, he believes that if he can catch the Sun who watches over him by day and keep it with him by night, he will be safe. His nocturnal bushland friends are quick to come to his aid, gently helping him discover another guardian angel, one who watches over him each night. The value of listening to your friends in times of trouble and doubt are gingerly brought home in this simple and enjoyable tale. Great for frightened pre-schoolers.

Omnibus Books November 2016

agatha-in-the-darkAgatha and the dark by Anna Pignataro

Agatha is one little lassie who also finds it hard to face her dread of the dark. When her fellow pre-schoolers tease and taunt her about it, her imagination threatens to spill into her real world until she realises with a little bit of help from the adults around her, that everyone has doubts and fears about something and that it is all right to admit this. Once Agatha allows her fear of monsters a bit of free reign, she discovers they are something she actually enjoys spending time with, sharing tea parties and sprinkle biscuits with them. Pignataro’s delicate narrative and soft, welcoming illustrations invite calm and help alleviate those pesky fears that follow us about. Highly recommended for shared pre-school reading.

The Five Mile Press 2016

the-fabulous-friend-machineThe Fabulous Friend Machine by Nick Bland

Move over Cranky Bear, there’s a new gal in town and her name is Popcorn. Popcorn is ‘quite simply, the friendliest chicken at Fiddlesticks Farm’. She’s your consummate over-sharer, adjective exploiter, and spreader of good cheer tonic, whose heart of gold is bigger than the henhouse. Every circle of friends has a Popcorn.

One day, Popcorn happens upon a fabulous friend machine, known in human circles as the cursed smart mobile phone. Popcorn is so enamoured by its captive glow and entreating way of connecting to others, that she becomes  obsessed with messaging and soon completely forgets about all her old friends. It turns out her new cyber friends are chicken lovers too but for reasons more sinister than friendship. Will Popcorn’s true friends stand by her and save the day? Or is Popcorn’s goose cooked?

This is my pick of the bunch cautionary tale. Bland deals with cyber-safety and social media mindfulness in a comical yet completely relatable way that is sure to make little kids squirt with laughter and understanding. Highly recommended as an engaging read for 4-year-olds and above and primary schoolers who may be toting their own fabulous friend machines about.

Scholastic Press October 2016

Find more fab reads for your kids this Christmas, here.

kids-reading-guide-2016-2017

 

 

 

Doodles and Drafts – All of Us Together with Bill Condon

 bill-condonBill Condon is a man of modest expectations that do not match his considerable abilities. He writes with charm, wit, sincerity and affection. His novels for young people, of which there are many resonate a genuineness that fascinates newcomers and for many older readers, transports them back to the idle days of their childhood, warts and all. We are fortunate to have Bill at the drafts table today to reveal some of the mental conflicts he still encounters prior to penning a new story (a predicament faced by nearly every author) and some insights behind the inspiration for his latest junior novel, All of Us Together.

All of Us Together is a tale of warmth, heartache, tragedy and hope all rolled up in one very threadbare blanket that was the Great Depression in the early 1930s. The heroes of this tale are ordinary folk trying to etch out a life during an extraordinary period of Australia’s pre-World War II history. Poverty and having to grow up sooner than you ought to thankfully are not issues many modern day Australian youngsters have to deal with on a day to day basis (although unfortunately they are never completely absent from any society). Condon manages to infuse enough hope into what appears an untenable and inevitable situation for Daniel and his family when they are forced to leave their family home and begin afresh, without being morose. All of Us Together is a realistic and unapologetic view of life with an emphasis on the positive power of sticking together through thick and thin.

Here’s what Bill has to say:

On Writing

Recently I started to watch a movie called Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. I didn’t care for it very much and turned it off after a short while. The thing that struck me most about it were the very first words spoken. A teenage boy says: ‘I have no idea how tall-of-us-together-front-covero tell this story’. This is exactly how I feel every time I go into battle with the blank page. One of the problems I have is that usually my mind is blanker than the page.

Although I have been at this game for a long time and have published many books, writing doesn’t get any easier. In fact, it often feels like I’ve never written anything, and have no idea how to go about it.

As gloomy as it may sound, one of the great motivators for me has long been the prospect of death. From the early 80s I wrote children’s poems and plays, short stories, and non-fiction. This was my comfort zone, and I was fairly successful at it. However, I felt that a novel was beyond me.

One night I was talking to one of my two wonderful sisters, and she hinted very tactfully, that perhaps I should try to push myself a little with my writing. I think she even put it more delicately than that, but it was enough to stir me into action. When I was 50, I at long last took the plunge and attempted a young adult novel. I was afraid that I’d fail, but I was even more afraid that I’d die without having tried. The book was called Dogs and it won an Honour Award in the CBCA Book of the Year Awards. Awards are such a lottery, but I was lucky. Perhaps if it hadn’t done well I might have gone back to doing what came easier to me. Even so, it was another five years before my next young adult novel appeared. I’ve now written eight novels, and each one has been a huge struggle.

the-simple-thingsIn 2014 I had a junior novel called The Simple Things published. I thought writing for younger kids would be easier than writing for teenagers, but I was so wrong. It seems any kind of writing is just plain hard for me. I’d written that book and had it accepted in 2012, but it took two years to get published. Then another two years went by, in which I was unable to write anything. So for four years the blank page won out. The one thing that finally got me going again was my old friend Death, or the fear of it.

At the start of this year I had a lot of medical tests done and I’d convinced myself that the results wouldn’t be good. ‘Just one more book’, I told myself. So I went back to a story I’d tried to write the year before, only to give up on. This time I attacked it as if I had a very pressing deadline. From the outset I had a title, All Of Us Together. I knew it was a junior novel set in the Great Depression in Australia, but like the boy I mentioned at the start of this piece, I had no idea how to write it. Then memories kicked in.

When I was young my parents told me of their Depression experiences. If only I’d known that I’d need their help in writing a book one day I would have listened much more closely than I did. But as young people often do, I took them and their stories for granted. I’m sorry to say that it was pretty much a case of in one ear and out the other.

Luckily, some things stuck. I remembered my dad talking about Happy Valley, a ramshackle unemployment camp near Sydney. There were similar camps all over Australia, set up to cater for people who had lost their jobs and homes and had nowhere else to go. I remembered my mum telling me about the tramps who would regularly turn up at her parent’s door to ask for a handout. She said they were always given something to eat.  Both of these memories – Happy Valley, and the tramp asking for food – made it into my book. And too, I borrowed from my own life, as I usually do. When Daniel, the main character in the story, gets into strife, his misdeeds are ones that I got up to when I was a child.

Slowly I got to know and understand Daniel and his sisters, Adelaide and Lydia, as well as their parents, and instead of dreading the thought of going to my computer, I actually wanted to spend as much time as I could with my fictional family.  They had become almost real to me, and I hope readers will feel the same way.

Once I’d found my way into the story and the words were starting to flow, I received my test results. All is fine.  This leaves me free to get on with life, and keep on hoping, for one more book.

We hope so too, Bill!

Thanks for visiting. Discover more bookish revelations about Bill as he continues his Blog Tour around Australia.

About Kids Books November 2016

BLOG TOUR DATES

17 November Di Bates http://www.diannedibates.blogspot.com.au

18 November Clancy Tucker http://clancytucker.blogspot.com.au

19 November Sally Odgers http://promotemeplease.blogspot.com.au

20 November Sandy Fussell www.sandyfussell.com/blog

21 November Dee White http://deescribewriting.wordpress.com
22 November Dimity Powell http://blog.boomerangbooks.com.au/author/dpowell

23 November Elaine Ousten http://elaineoustonauthor.com/
24 November Melissa Wray http://www.melissawray.blogspot.com.au
25 November Susan Whelan http://www.kids-bookreview.com
26 November Romi Sharp http://www.justkidslit.com

#ByAustralinaBuyAustralian

 

 

Under the Christmas Tree – Part 2

It’s important to keep the little ones pleased and preoccupied at Christmas time. Getting this mix right, ultimately frees up more ‘adult time’. In keeping with our non-fiction gift ideas theme, here are a few more picture books to soothe those savage beasts…ironically, all about savage beasts!

gigantosaurusGigantosaurus by Jonny Duddle

Gigantosaurus is more of a fun romp through the Late Cretaceous Period than a dry non-fictional expose about dinosaurs. Duddle’s full page colour extravaganzas and infectious story line introduces readers (and four tiny baby dinosaurs) to a clutch of stomping, crunching, munching giants in way that’ll have them perched at the end of their seats. An engaging and light-hearted cautionary tale well suited to pre-schoolers and amateur palaeontologists.

Koala Books Scholastic February 2014

big-book-of-aussie-dinosaursBig Book of Aussie Dinosaurs by Kel Richards and Glen Singleton

Slightly older lovers of those terrible lizards will appreciate this alphabeticalised collection of dinosaurs specifically focusing on those unique to prehistoric Australia. Most of them are represented from biggest to smallest, slowest to fastest and oldest and to youngest; some well know like Allosaurus and Muttaburrasaurus, others less so (meet Minmi – Minmi paravertebral for example!) You’ll find them all in the excellent Aussie Dinosaur Gallery at the end of the book, after becoming better acquainted with Richard’s interesting fun facts and Singleton’s vibrant, comical stylisations of Winston, Matilda, and Kakuru. This big robust book of Aussie Dinosaurs is engaging, informative and a welcome addition to any palaeontologist’s bookshelf because of its antipodean appeal. Highly recommended for 5-year-olds and above.

Scholastic Australia June 2014

discovering-dinosaursDiscovering Dinosaurs by Simon Chapman, illustrated by Rudolf Farkus and Mike Love

For prehistoric enthusiasts who fancy themselves as a bit of an Indiana Jones, you can’t go past Simon Chapman’s Discovering Dinosaurs. Impeccably presented with thick glossy pages that mimic an adventurer’s journal and feature dozens of statistics, diagrams, fold out maps and pop up surprises, this is the penultimate compendium for any dino addict. Chapman journeys with us from where it all began at the start of the Triassic Period across the supercontinent, through polar forests and swampy valleys, then into the lives of ‘real life’ explorers and even the internal workings of a dinosaur itself. Utterly captivating and in equal parts entertaining and thrilling, Discovering Dinosaurs delivers everything it promises on the front cover and would be a wicked gift for 8-olds and above.

Bloomsbury Children’s November 2016

animasaurusAnimasaurus by Tracey Turner and Harriet Russell

Animasaurus Incredible Animals that Roamed the Earth is a big beast of a book that reveals a host of prehistoric creatures that once roamed, swam and hunted across this planet. It unearths facts and figures about the plant eaters, sea creatures, predators and the smaller creep-crawlies who were precursors to their modern day relatives. Past and present species are depicted through illustration (the prehistoric versions) and real photographs (their modern day equivalents) across colourful full-page spreads. Each animal’s description allows for their backstory, specifications, and pinpoints where they lived on the planet millions of years ago. Once you accustom yourself to the layout of the information, it is a breeze to assimilate and provides a strong reference source for upper primary and secondary students to draw from. Happily, every corner of the earth is covered including Australia, which makes Animasaurus comprehensive and well-conceived.  Incredibly useful, informative, and highly recommended for 10-year-olds, plus.

Bloomsbury Children’s December 2016

a-miscellany-of-magical-beastsA Miscellany of Magical Beasts by Simon Holland

If creatures long extinct don’t tickle your archaeological interests, what about fantastically beautiful birds, fearsome giants, vengeful spirits, or mystical unicorns? These are just a few of the magical beasts and beauties featured in Holland’s astounding collection of mythological creatures from around the world. Resplendent in detail and richly presented, Magical Beasts invites readers to discover the legends and facts behind a menagerie of strange and wonderful creatures ranging from trolls, harpies, mermaids and winged wonders. Discover how to outwit a werewolf, what makes the claws of a Griffin so magical, and learn the differences between unicorns. This is a fantasy lover’s dream guide to all that is spectral and spirited. Magical Beasts would make a glorious keepsake to treasure and refer to whenever evil elves come knocking at your door. Superb for 12-year-olds and anyone who has ever believed in the power of the Phoenix.

Bloomsbury Children’s November 2016

Learn morekids-reading-guide-2016-2017 each title or purchase any of them by clicking on the title link.

Find more reads that are fascinating for kids this Christmas here.

 

Under the Christmas Tree – Part 1

Okay, with just over a month and a half to go, it’s time to get serious about Christmas. For the next 42 days or so,  I’ll attempt to fill your Christmas lists with some nifty literary ideas for kids to go under the Christmas tree this year. Today we look at some terrific non-fiction titles guaranteed to raise a few oohs and aahs on Christmas Day.

cheeky-animalsCheeky Animals – Shane Morgan

The classic 20-year-old picture book, Look & See, inspired Shane Morgan’s hard cover board book, Cheeky Animals. Clean, smile-inducing text compliments simple yet strong illustrations of some of our most cheeky cherished Aussie animals.  A great stocking stuffer for 2 + year olds.

Magabala Books October 2016

funny-facesFunny Faces – Dr Mark Norman

Just as funny but using expressive real life images of a variety of animals and their amazing anatomy to accompany concise, information-laden narrative is Dr Mark Norman’s, Funny Faces. This soft cover version is a close up, informative, extraordinary (did you know a Dragonfish has teeth on its tongue!)  look at the funny face bits of a planet of animals, birds, invertebrates and reptiles. The fact file and images are sure to keep budding biologists absorbed for years. Super handy and an easy to reference guide book for early primary project makers. Check out other titles in this funny series, here.

Black Dog Books June 2014

animaliumAnimalium – Katie Scott and Jenny Broom

Curated by Katie Scott and Jenny Broom, Animalium is a cloth bound, pocket-sized gem of a book that invites fledging Attenboroughs to enter a literary museum of the animal kingdom. I felt as though I was wondering through the astonishing exhibits of the London Natural History Museum, exploring the world of mammals, invertebrates, fish and more. This is a biologist’s nirvana: insightful, knowledgeable text, and clear, detailed illustrated plates. Excellent go to book that is a work of art unto itself for mid to upper primary.

The Five Mile Press October 2016

amazing-animals-of-australian-national-parksAmazing Animals of Australian’s National Parks – Gina M. Newton

Gina M. Newton’s Amazing Animals is an environmental triumph. This large, soft cover book leaves no leaf or stone unturned as Newton guides inquisitive minds through a plethora of our national parks and their fascinating individual habitats. From the Tropical Rainforests in the north to the Mallee Woodlands of the arid south, Amazing Animals focuses on the species that inhabit these places with detailed Q & A, fast facts, and a ‘did you know’ kind of narrative. Diagrams and close up photos completes this brilliant compendium of who what and where along with a comprehensive ‘how to use this book’ guide that even includes a Conservation Status indicator. Young readers may be familiar with some of the species highlighted; they may have even spotted a few of them in their own neighbourhoods. What is nifty about this guidebook is that they can now actively get out and explore more of the native parklands in their locale and become more wildlife aware by doing so. Superb. Highly recommended for classroom to bedroom bookshelves of primary and above readers.

NLA Publishing October 2016

awesome-animals-horse-fun-factsAwesome Animals – Horses Fun Facts and Amazing Stories – Dianne Bates and Sophie Scahill

I was your typical horsey-obsessed little girl. That kind of passion never real dissipates, merely dims with neglect. Dianne Bates and Sophie Scahill have produced a handy, bookshelf friendly series of Awesome Animal books that present eager young readers with a mindboggling array of facts, figures, trivia, and fun stories for a menagerie of animals. This one, about Horses is incredible. Layered with more information about horses than I have ever encountered, Horse Fun Facts is comprehensive, breezy, easy to navigate and utterly captivating. I guarantee readers will learn something new each time they delve into these books. Horses is an awesome mix of entertainment and information that will fuel those pony club passions forever more. A brilliant, value-laden gift idea if ever there was one.

Big Sky Publishing September 2016

fantastically-great-women-who-changed-the-worldFantastically Great Women Who Changed the World – Kate Pankhurst

History, whilst fascinating can be a tiresome thing to wade through at times. Not so anymore thanks to Kate Pankhurst’s illustrated explorative journey with some of our planets most noted, daring, and incredible women. Great Women Who Changed the World covers such heroines as Jane Austen, Coco Chanel, Marie Curie, and Anne Frank. Others like, Sacagawea and Amelia Earhart are also featured, each with their own two-page spread festooned with detailed trivia type tip bits all gorgeously illustrated to create a visual wonderland of facts and figures. By the time young readers have swam the English Channel with Gertrude Ederle or uncovered the first Pterosaur skeleton with Mary Anning, they will be hundreds of years wiser and no wiser for it! This awesome picture book ends on a note of great inspiration, namely for young misses but the message is universal: never give up, believe in yourself, back yourself, and dare to be different! Truly fantastic and a must have in your Christmas stockings!

Bloomsbury Children’s Publishing October 2016

For more great gift ideas, visit The Kids’ Reading Guide – Information Titles and stay tuned for my next instalment of Under the Christmas Tree.

kids-reading-guide-2016-2017

 

Guest Post with Robert Vescio – Connecting Friends Oceans Apart

robert-vescioToday, dedicated writer for children and father himself, Robert Vescio uncovers the story behind his latest picture book, Jack and Mia. In this special guest post, he reveals how his own family background influenced this story.

But first a little bit about Jack and Mia. I have to say I love the look and feel of this book. Claire Richards’ diversity aware illustrations make me want to reach out and stroke the cover and pages. They are vibrant, childlike and at the same time, visually satisfying, filling up the pages with joyful colour, kind of how I’d imagine kids would view their world. The pages themselves are thick and glossy, a delight to turn through. The generous finger feel somehow makes me want to start reading the story again immediately I get to the end which will put this book in good stead for those repeated read requests.

Vescio’s tale is reminiscent of other classic picture books addressing the friendship separation theme such as Amy and Louis by Libby Gleeson and Freya Blackwood but flips the concept ijackandmiamedn that Mia does not move away at first, but rather into Jack’s life. By doing so, suddenly ‘his days were full of rainbows’. He experiences a deep, rewarding friendship with Mia, unlike any other he’s ever had. They share everything together even a case of chicken pox and become King and Queen of their kingdom, until suddenly, Mia has to move ‘far, far away’. It’s not exactly clear where Mia’s family are transferred to however Richards’ illustrations suggest that it’s because of her father’s military postings.

Jack’s kingdom is in tatters, his world in ruin as he worries that Mia will no longer remember him being so far away. Little does he suspect that she shares the same despair as him until he happens upon one of Mia’s books, left behind in his toy box. It is this simple keepsake coupled with a bit of modern day technology that reunite the pair once again and allow their kingdom to flourish and grow…across the oceans.

Jack and Mia is an ideal book to share with young readers who may be experiencing their own emotional lows caused by separation of a loved one, either family member away for work or friend who’s had to move even just to a new school. A great class room and bedside book and possibly one of the most sensitive and well penned by Vescio to date. Now, here’s more from Robert:

‘I wrote Jack and Mia to show how friendships (rich in imagination) can survive distance by finding creative ways to stay connected.

Jack and Mia do everything together. They stick together like paper and glue. Then, one day, Mia’s family moves away – not to another suburb but to another country on the other side of the world.

This is a story that will resonate with children who are about to move or have moved and miss their friends. Unlike other picture books about this subject, Jack and Mia illustrates how today kids are finding it easier to keep in touch with friends and loved ones who live far away.

“Growing up, I had friends that moved half the world away – common for working parents and military families – and the only way to connect with them was to write or call,” said Robert. “Today, technology is changing the way we stay connected. Everything you need is in the palm of your hands.”

Skype hangouts have become a common occurrence in today’s society. It’s as easy as grabbing a coffee with your computer screen. In fact, Skype has become so popular that people use ‘Skyping’ as a verb to connect with people.

Of course, social media has also revolutionised how people talk. Facebook connects over 1 billion worldwide every day.

But, of course, not everyone embraces high tech gadgets. Some people prefer the human touch – a hug, for instance. Jack and Mia is all about how kids can use their imaginations to play together, even when they’re an ocean apart.

Jack and Mia (illustrated by Claire Richards and published by Wombat Books) is a warm and entertaining tale about the power of a child’s imagination and to keep a friendship long and strong, regardless of distance.’

Thanks Robert!

Barnaby and the Lost Treasure of BunnyvilleRobert Vescio  picture books include, Barnaby and the Lost Treasure of Bunnyville (Big Sky Publishing), Marlo Can Fly (Wombat Books) listed on the NSW Premier’s Reading Challenge for 2015, No Matter Who We’re With (IP Kidz). He has more picture books due out in 2016 and 2017.

Wombat Books October 2016

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Doodles and Drafts – Halloween guest post by Karen Foxlee

a-most-magical-girlHalloween is a time of frights and treats, tricks and magic, guises and remembrance – All Saints’ Day Eve. A fitting time to indulge in a little fantasy and fun. Karen Foxlee’s latest mid grade novel, A Most Magical Girl combines all of these things and will have primary aged readers biting their nails in delicious anticipation. Utterly charming, frightful in places and marvellously magic in others, this is an adventure both girls and boys will find spell binding.

Annabel Grey is a proper little lady of the Victorian times. She devoutly attempts to follow the sermons delivered by Miss Finch’s Little Blue Book, a bible of Victorian social etiquette and expectations but her good intentions derail after she is sent to live with her two aunts in London. They are Shoreditch witches and apart from being Annabel’s new guardians, unlock a heritage Annabel had no idea about, her ability to perform magic.

However, Annabel has no time to dispute their proclamations because her unusual abilities allow her to foresee a terrible future for London and all who dwell there. Mr Angel, evil warlock of the underworld has built a sinister device to use with his black magic to destroy all of the good magic in the world and those who practise it. Only a most magical girl can stop him.

Foxlee’s use of language is bewitching. Annabel’s adventure is fast paced and divinely otherworldly both in spirit and in setting. I thoroughly adored flying along on her desperate quest with Kitty and her strong-willed broomstick. I’m sure children will find A Most Magical Girl just as enchanting.

karen-foxlee2016Today Karen joins us at the draft table to reveal the magical places A Most Magical Girl sprung from.

Welcome Karen! Tell us a bit about kids, authors and story ideas…

The Big Leap

I love to tell my young audiences that kids and authors are pretty much the same when it comes story ideas.  They always look dubious at first.  Authors surely have a special library of previously unused ideas I can see them thinking.  It’s locked away somewhere at the top of a turret beside their quills and their perfect first drafts.

“It’s true,” I assure them.  “You tell me where you get your ideas from and we’ll see if we’re the same.”

Their hands shoot up: from life experiences, from dreams, from things you see! From things you read, things that happened a long time ago, from things you hope for, from television! Story ideas start from things you overhear, from facts, from songs, from comic books, from movies, from computer games, from mixing your own life with the life of book characters that you love! From day-dreaming!

I always love hearing that one.  It validates all my hours spent lying quietly day-dreaming. “Oh my goodness,” I cry, ticking off each one. ‘How weird! My ideas come from all these places too! They come from everywhere!”

Authors let ideas come, we day-dream, we are open to them.  We store them away in our brain machine never knowing when we might need them.  We put an idea from a year ago with an idea from today.  We percolate ideas.  We write them down without knowing what they mean.

But, I tell them, there’s also another way that authors and kids are the same when it comes to story ideas. Their dubious expressions return.  I clamber up onto a table.  Now they start to look down-right worried.

A Most Magical Girl came about as a combination of several ideas I explain.

  1. From an experience (a visit to a museum many years before)
  2. From a life-long love of history and from reading lots books with historical settings
  3. From a love of magic and heaps of little ideas about how magic works

And

  1. A good old-fashioned daydream.

I was lying on my sofa thinking about a museum I’d visited a decade before.  This museum was in London and it contained a recreated Victorian era street, where I wandered for hours.  Years later, on my sofa, I closed my eyes and day-dreamed a carriage arriving on that street.  I imagined a girl stepping down.  She was pretty and a bit posh and also, I knew as I watched her, the owner of a secret.  She stood before a shop window and read the words printed there. Miss E & H Vine’s Magic Shop.  Wow, I thought.  Magic.  I love Magic. This seems good. What’s going to happen here?

“What do you think authors do when they have some ideas that excite them?” I ask from my table top perch.  “What do you do?”

A chorus of replies: Just start! Just start writing! Just start even if you don’t know the answer!

“Do you just LEAP into the story?” I ask.

“Yes!” they shout, because they really want to see an author jump off a table.

And so, because it is the absolute truth about authors and ideas and how they really are not much different to children, I LEAP!

Fastastical, thanks Karen.

kids-reading-guide-2016-2017You’ll find A Most Magical Girl in the new Kids’ Reading Guide, here!

Allen & Unwin September 2016

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Doodles and Drafts – In conversation with Tania McCartney over tea!

Tania McCartney March 2016 cropTania McCartney is no stranger to the world of Kids’ Literature. Her knowledge and ability to produce entertaining, endearing and enduring picture books is nothing short of remarkable and now sitting comfortably in her enviable arsenal of accreditations, is a re-discovered gift – illustration.

Sumptuously rich in detail and stuffed with enough iconic charm to make both Banjo Paterson and Con the Fruiterer feel at home, her first self-illustrated picture book, Australia: Illustrated delivers a (very satisfying) slice of all things Aussie to an audience who might still remember what a frog cake is as well as those young enough to regard the Wheel of Brisbane as their first Ferris wheel ride.

Australia IllustratedIt is a magnificent compendium of facts, landmarks, foods, cultures, flora, fauna, natural wonders, celebrities and attractions playfully illustrated in Tania’s unique, considered hand. Her drawings do more than just tell a story and describe a caption. They fill my visual soul. New South Wales’s Snowy Mountain region is resplendent with wild silver Brumbies (skiiing, horse riding and snowboarding as it were!) for example, revealing Tania’s cheeky take on life and no doubt, her own personal reflections of a land she clearly adores.

Her affection is contagious. From the divinely cloth-bound cover and very first end pages, clean and devoid of the congestion of civilization (a nod to the pre-settlement days of Australia perhaps), to each State and Territories’ four to five page expose of their specific peculiarities, Australia: Illustrated draws the reader in and, sublimely, educates and entertains along the way. The final end pages, a testament to the diversity and wonder that fills this wide brown land (with green bits, girt by sapphire seas) we call, home.

Today, we leave the draft table for a pair of comfy armchairs, a delicious cup of tea and a few precious moments with the gifted creator behind EK Book’s newest non-fiction picture book release, Australia: Illustrated.

Welcome, Tania. It’s great to finally spend some ‘virtual’ time with you.

So lovely to visit, Dim!

Your very first self-illustrated picture book, Australia Illustrated, is out any moment. Has this been a dream come true?

In a word: yes!

Have you been suffering heart palpitations? I know I’d be more anxious that than

Yes. How did you know??

I could hear them all the way up here in Brisbane.

I’m not surprised. They’re pretty thunderous.

Has this book been a bucket-list kind of thing?

Yes and no. It was more of a meant-to-be than a bucket-list-thing, though now it’s been ticked off my bucket-list, I’m happy it got onto that list!

It has actually just been a long-buried seed of an idea but it may not have even grown if the circumstances hadn’t been right. There was a grant I wanted to apply for, I needed a contract to do so, my publisher just happened to think the idea was fabulous at the time (this changes, as you know!) and I got a contract the next day.

You’re kidding?!

I know! If only all contracts were like that! This was a little scary, though, because the idea was quite ethereal at the time. I mean, I knew it would unfold okay… and it did. But I did it all the wrong way.

What do you mean?

I basically winged it. I had an outline, of course, but the content was pretty much an organic process. I was SO lucky to have this kind of opportunity. And I did the cover first. I mean, who does the cover first?

I don’t much about the illustrative process, but that does sound a little dotty.

SO dotty. But it worked because that cover was one of my favourite things to create, and it set the scene for the style and layout of the entire book. I highly recommend up-ending processes!

Are you proud of thi047 qld daintrees book?

I am for the fact that I finished it. It took a year and contains over 1000 hand-drawn images over 96 pages. Half of the finished pages are digitally illustrated, too, so it was a lot of work and I was also in learning mode at the time (re-learning my illustration skills and also learning digital skills—I basically learned as I went).

I’m also proud of it because it’s my first self-illustrated book and I think first self-illustrated books take a lot of courage. Like, a lot. It’s scary because I’ve had years to get used to writing criticism, but illustration criticism is a whole other colour on the palette.

So, my nerves are on standby, for sure—and I have to consistently tell myself I created this book for me, no one else—and that if kids and adults happen to take pleasure in it, that will please me very, very much. In fact, ALL creators should create books for themselves first and foremost. If we created them for other people, we’d never enjoy it as much or do our best work. And once our books are published, they become someone else’s anyway, so it’s nice to hang onto ownership during production!

Oh gosh, Dim, this tea is so good.

Thanks! Isn’t it divine? You’ve written several books about Australia. Will there be more?

Probably not. I do have ideas for books about Australian people (biographic), plants and animals but they won’t be Australia-centric, if that makes sense.

I don’t know why I’ve written so many books on Australia. It’s not a conscious decision. Perhaps it’s because the world is full of so much negativity right now—I fully realise and accept that our country (any country) is far from perfect, but it just feels so nice to celebrate what’s good here sometimes. And there’s so much that’s good. Australia Illustrated is a celebration of w007 au beautifulhat’s good.

Hear hear! What brought you the greatest pleasure when creating Australia Illustrated?

So much. The creative freedom. The ability to play and allow things to unfold. I know it’s not realistic, but it would be incredible if all books could be created in this way! It’s just so much fun. I loved relearning skills and meeting my characters and learning so much about this country that I never knew.

I loved the digital illustration and the layout and design. I also loved doing the finishing art in Photoshop. Creating the fonts was fun.

How did you do that?

With an app called iFontMaker. It’s fabulous. You can get so creative. You can even create fonts for your kids, using their handwriting.

Sounds fascinating, I’d love to give it a go.

You must. I also loved pulling the pages together. It’s so satisfying.

So, hang on, you did quite a bit for this book. Not just writing and illustrating?

027 nsw sydney ferriesI did heaps. I researched, wrote, fact-checked, drew, painted, did digital illustration and mono-printing, scanning, touching up, photography, fonts, layout, design, typography, cover layout and design—all to print-ready PDF. I LOVE doing all this. It’s so satisfying and skills-building. Then I had the wonderful Mark Thacker from Big Cat Design take all the PDFs and whack them in InDesign for the printer.

And my gorgeous publisher Anouska Jones was my editor and second eyes and ears, and I had a group of other eyes and ears, too, and then there was the team at Exisle and our printing coordinator Carol and publicist Alison and all the fabulous book reps and all the wonderful friends and colleagues who helped me authenticate things and help me out with research.

I have an entire page dedicated to thank yous! I also had the backing of the ACT Government—artsACT—for their grant to help produce this book.

So while I did a lot, I certainly didn’t do it alone. No one ever does it alone.

Gosh, we have an amazing bunch of people in this industry.

We do. I feel privileged to be part of it. This really is great tea, Dim.

Of course it is, it’s from Queensland! What’s next for you, Tania?

Well, I’ve just come out of a long rest! I took a lot of winter off, other than ongoing obligations and a little bit of production on some upcoming titles.

 Oooh – can you share them with us?

COVER FINAL smilecryfullcover-smallWell, one is a sequel to Smile Cry with Jess Racklyeft. The other is a follow-up to This is Captain Cook with Christina Booth—and we’re also in the middle of another picture book for the National Library. Tina Snerling and I have been working on books 6 and 7 for the A Kids’ Year series.

I’ve been planning my illustration style for my first illustration commission with the National Library and I’ve been working on a non-fiction pitch for them, too, which I’ll illustrate. And I’ve been finalising a junior fiction manuscript after talks with a gorgeous publisher. Oh—and just like you would, I have several thousand other little bits and ideas floating around.

Yes, something I can relate 100% to! But would you have it any other way?

No! Well, yes—I really needed that time out after Australia Illustrated. It was an enormous amount of work. 96 pages!! So happy to have my energy and mojo back now, though.

Mojo back is good! Tania, thanks so much for stopping by today. I’ve really enjoyed the chat.

Me, too, Dim! And thanks for the tea!

The kettle is always on…

This is more than a picture book, more than a resource; Australia Illustrated is a meaningful, beautiful, thoughtful, piece of art.

Order Tania’s, Australia: Illustrated, here.

Australia Illustrated Launch PosterFollow all the excitement of her Virtual Launch this week with reveals, sneak peeks, more interviews and giveaways, here.

EK Books November 2016

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

 

 

Double Dipping – Friendships lost – picture book reviews

Recently, the world lost one of the Children’s Literary Industry’s most recognised and iconic author illustrators, Narelle Oliver. Among many of the literary legacies she left us (you can read about her marvellous achievements and books in Joy Lawn’s post, here), she was a woman who encouraged and maintained sincere relationships with everyone she met, friendships rich and real. During last week’s reflection about her, two books found their way to me promoting further introspection on friendship, love, and loss.

Molly and MaeMolly & Mae by Danny Parker & Freya Blackwood

Molly and her close friend, Mae are about to embark on an adventure together, a train trip into town. They are filled with bubbly excitement, relishing each other’s company, sharing the passing of time until the train arrives and the telling offs by Mum as they scamper, bounce, hide and ballet the wait-time away. Like all little girls, they are so engrossed with their games and secrets that they are blissfully unaware of the wider world surrounding them on the platform.

Their joie de vivre eventually spills into the carriage, over seats and under foot as the countryside slides away outside, until, after many miles, games become stale and tempers fraught.  Delays halt fun and bad weather smears their vision, turning their friendship murky. A trip by oneself can be lonely, however and the girls miss each other in spite of their falling out or perhaps because of it. Eventually, as they near their destination, they cross bridges of a physical and emotional kind. Their journey takes them over hills, through valleys, sometimes running straight and true, other times navigating bends and tunnels, until together, they arrive, holding hands.

Molly and Mae is a wonderful analogy of friendship brilliantly executed by this talented picture book team. There is an eloquent sparseness about Parker’s narrative that harmonises each and every word on the page with Blackwood’s oil painted illustrations. The combination is intoxicating and terribly alluring.

Blackwood’s visual story contains several signposts that guide readers through this warm and recognisable tale of friendship; transporting them through all the exuberant, boring, testing, dark, and illuminating parts of the friendship journey.

Memorable, visually poetic, and beautifully written, this picture book is not only perfect for little people from four years upwards but also makes a gorgeous gift for those remembering and sharing friendships, past and present.

Little Hare Books HGE October 2016

Ida AlwaysIda, Always by Caron Levis and Charles Santoso

I always feel a little conflicted with the idea of harbouring animals in unnatural habitats far from their original ones, from their norm. This picture book, however questions what is normal, learned and ultimately depended on and loved from a polar bear’s point of view.

Gus lives in New York City’s Central Park Zoo. He is joyously unaware of the bigger city outside of his parkland world where zookeepers and visitors come and go and tall buildings form his boundaries. This is largely because he lives with Ida, his polar bear room mate. She is right there with him, everyday, always. They play ball together, splash in their pond together, chase and race together until it’s time to rest and relax as the city’s heartbeat hums around them. Their days seem repetitive and predictable but for Gus and Ida, they are all that they need. Until one day, Ida isn’t quite there.

The city and zoo’s residents continue to shuffle and hum and rush and squabble but Ida can no longer join the raucous of daily living because she is old and has fallen ill. Gus struggles with this abrupt change, refusing to leave Ida’s side when she is too tired to play, insistent on helping her and making the most of ‘the laughing days’ they have left together, until one day, ‘Ida curls into quiet’ and is no longer there.

In spite of his loss and grief, Gus continues, listening as the city pulses around him. In its rhythm, he feels its life, his own heart beat and Ida, right there with him, always.

Ida Always illos spreadTouching, a little tearful but ultimately inspiring, Ida, Always was inspired by the real life relationship between two polar bears in New York. Apparently, not only Gus mourned the loss of his friend but also the entire city and all who had cared for and come to know them.

Levis’s treatment of their story is heartrending and not overtly sentimental, allowing the reader to observe and understand the bond of friendship and love possessed by these two creatures who knew little else but the world, which their friendship created. By telling their story with subtle fictional flavour, sharing their thoughts, and hearing them speak, we feel an affinity with Gus and Ida that we might not otherwise have felt. The result is poignant and powerful, and enhanced beautifully by Santoso’s illustrations.

Ida, Always is a story about love, loss, friendships and how those we truly cherish remain with us, always.

Koala Books Scholastic September 2016

 

 

 

Doodles and Drafts – Mark Carthew

Mark CarthewQuiet achievers are those I admire most. Mark Carthew is one of those quiet achievers, except when he’s strumming out a tune on his guitar and reading one of his crazy verse orientated picture books aloud. With more projects on the draft table than you can wobble a pencil at, I thought it was high time we got to know one of Australia’s most consistent and talented children’s authors.

His recent release, Marvin and Marigold  The Big Sneeze with Simon Prescott, exemplifies all that we’ve come to expect of a Mark Carthew picture book: clear, engaging story, lyrical text, and kid friendly pictures guaranteed to spark repeated readings. The Big Sneeze is the first in this mouse inspired cute critter series, ably introducing Marigold to her new neighbour, Marvin, who’s in a pretty woeful way with the flu to begin with. Their friendship begins in a rather slow, fractured way until with a dash of empathy and a slathering of kindness, Marigold comes to accept the true mouse behind all the sneezes, snorts and snuffles. A little classic in the making (which are what The Gobbling Tree and The Moose is Loose! are to me). Let’s find out how he does it.

Welcome to the Draft Table, Mark!

Q: Who is Mark Carthew? Describe your writerly-self.

I am passionate about words, pictures and music… and how each of these things resonates in its own special way to make images. The rhythm of language and the power of alliterative words and phrases shared out loud is something reflected in my stories, verse and songs.

MARK-CARTHEW-FOOTER-2-LOWRES-72DPIQ: A hefty percentage of your children’s titles are picture books. What draws you to creating this genre of children’s literature?

Working with and seeing wonderfully talented illustrators bring your ideas to life is one of the great pleasures of being children’s picture book / illustrated text author. Each book is literally a birth; a special creation and much anticipated result of both vision and passion. Illustrator’s weave their own skills and magic into this creative process, making the genre a unique blend of two imaginations. I also enjoy working with editors, publishers and designers — and they need to get due credit; as they can bring significant (emotionally detached) insights and ideas to picture book projects.

Q: What style of writing do you identify most strongly with; children’s, poetry, song writing? Which style excites you the most to create?

Hard question, as many of my works involve combinations of all three! My picture books, anthologies and plays regularly revolve around narratives with a strong sense of the poetic, alliterative and rhythmic; and more often than not they have a musical or song element that dovetails naturally.

Marvin and Marigold_Cover_frontQ: Marvin and Marigold: The Big Sneeze, is the first in a new series of picture books featuring two new fun characters. Please tell us a bit about it. Why mice? Was this your original intention or is it a product of your collaboration with illustrator, Simon Prescott?

At a meeting in Frenchs Forest Sydney, my Publisher at New Frontier Sophia Whitfield, suggested she would be interested in me developing a manuscript around two animal characters. Reflecting on this while returning on the Manly Ferry, some verses started to flow; and the Marvin & Marigold series began that very day. Some of the key alliterative and rhyming stanzas based around their names, ‘mice’ and ‘mouse houses’ were written on the way back to Circular Quay. New Frontier had just set up a UK office in London and it was Sophia who made the UK connection to Simon Prescott, based on his whimsical style and expertise in illustrating mice.

Q: How did the concept of Marvin and Marigold come to being? What do you hope to portray in your stories about them?

Children’s publishers in Australia and around the world have had great success with picture books concerning cute and endearing animal characters; interestingly quite often with titles featuring ‘two names’.  As mentioned, New Frontier was keen to see if I could pen something original and engaging along similar lines with potential for a series.

While still involving word play and strong rhyme; these narratives also explore some deeper thinking around familiar life scenarios, situations and personal challenges — as well as important themes such as family, relationships, kindness and empathy. A series with two next door neighbours and friends, a boy and a girl, provides the perfect vehicle.      

Q: You mentioned that you ‘enjoy making books that encourage play with language, words and images’. Do you find it easier to ‘tell stories in song’ when developing a picture book as opposed to writing in prose? Describe the process for us.

My creativity seems to flow when I write in a lyrical, rhyming style and I think my love of verse texts, poetry and song writing has influenced my desire to share stories in sympathetic mediums. Poetic stanzas often bounce around in my head like a ‘third eye’ or voice. However, I am also very keen to extend my writing into a more prose based, graphic narrative style for the older primary readership and I have a couple of projects on the draft table in that regard.

The Gobbling Tree with awardQ: Your picture books in particular have strong appeal for lower primary and pre-primary aged readers, providing plenty of predictive reading possibilities and moments of fun to crow over again and again. What is the attraction for writing for this age group?

 Younger audiences respond naturally to call and response, alliteration and the use of strong rhyming, onomatopoeic phrases that are part of my writing style. That natural early childhood interest in shared language and interaction excites me as a writer and allows me the privilege and space to enjoy the fun of word play mixed with drama, music, movement and spoken words.

 Q: What’s on the draft table for Mark?

 2017 will be a big year with three picture books as well as various other poetry and writing projects in production or development.

My long long term illustrator friend Mike Spoor (UK) and I will be releasing a speciality art style picture book Six Little Ducks (with song), a project which evolved from our 2013 Australian tour. The second book in the Marvin and Marigold series, Marvin & Marigold: A Christmas Surprise will be released in the lead-up to Christmas 2017 and The Great Zoo Hullabaloo illustrated by Anil Tortop (Qld) will be out in April 2017. That project was developed during my May Gibbs Children’s Literature Trust Fellowship and is in essence the sequel to The Moose is Loose!— but with a different publisher, illustrator and a new twist!

The Five Little OwlsWith the assistance of Karen Small from Small but Mighty Productions, I am planning to produce a 10th Anniversary Edition of my CBCA Honour Book and anthology, Can you keep a Secret? Timeless rhymes to share and treasure. I hope to do that in both eBook & hard copy.

I am also working on some new poetry anthologies and a graphic novel / crossover text for older primary readers.

Q: When not scribbling stories for children, who / what do you like to read?

I enjoy magical realism, folkloric and action / fantasy novels… and reading other writer’s illustrated books!

Q: Just for fun question (there’s always one): If you had to choose to be one of your picture book characters for a week, whom would you choose and why?

 The Zoo HullabalooMmmm… most of my current characters are animals, so that is a tricky question! I’d probably be Jack in my upcoming title – The Great Zoo Hullabaloo. He’s a zookeeper who enjoys being around animals, as well as playing the drums!

PS: Mark has lots of information, activities and free material on his wonderful website — www.markcarthew.com.au

Thanks, Mark!

Marvin and Marigold The Big Sneeze is available, here.

New Frontier Publishing

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

 

 

Review – Sugar and Spice Collection

Sugar and SpiceFairies and ponies, ballerinas and bows; all things nice, may not be what all little girls are made of but this omnibus picture book collection, Sugar and Spice, fresh out of the uber productive creative forge  of EK Books is sure to delight even the fussiest of feminie tastes. Designed with little girls in mind, this three-volume picture book gift set features stories by three different authors, each illustrated by Gwynneth Jones. Enjoy them individually or as a boxed collectors’ set.

The firstPatch and Ruby we devoured was Patch and Ruby by Anouska Jones. My Miss 10 reviewed this one but I’m inclined to agree with her response. Sweet and impossibly alluring, Patch and Ruby is a story full of ponies and chooks and cuter than cute meeces. Jones’s narrative is warm and restrained enough to sustain short attention spans whilst the illustrations excite the tactile senses and illicit quite a bit of cheeky humour. Keep an eye out for the chook in rollers. So clever.

Patch and Ruby is a gentle tale about finding your perfect fit and making friends along the way. The notion of seeing things from another person’s point of view is secreted away in Patch’s longing to find that missing something in his life yet pre-schoolers will be satisfied enough, soaking up the gorgeous equine inspired atmosphere of this tale.

Dance with MeDance with Me is the second slice of sweetness in this set. Penny Harrison has penned another story ostensibly aimed at sweet young ladies under eight but adorable enough to be enjoyed by pre-schoolers, everywhere. Dance with Me is a timely tale of affections and life changes. I can’t help but hear Frank Mill’s, Music Box Dancer in my head when I read about the beautiful pink clad ballerina who ‘lived in a small, wooden box.’ She and her little girl enjoy many joyful dances together until one day the little girl grows up and the ballerina is free to enjoy her own dances far from her box. However, her adventures are cut short when she is relegated to the shelf for many years until one day, someone new calls her to ‘come, dance…’ once more.

Gwynneth Jones’s spectacular use of altering perspectives, subtle colours, and Decalage (the metaphoric visual interpretation of the text to show a different meaning) is spot on and once again cleverly pins readers to their seats.

The Great Sock SecretSusan Whelan is the author of the third spicy instalment, The Great Sock Secret. I love how the fairies rule supreme in this toe-levelled view about one of the first world’s most cryptic mysteries: where do all the odd socks go? Jones’s eye-popping illustrations are phenomenal, revealing to the reader what Sarah already knows about the missing socks in her home. Whelan takes the reader on a whimsical treasure hunt of subterfuge as Sarah tries to preserve the fairies’ secret from her mother.

Fast paced and fun, The Great Sock Secret will make you stop and think next time you are faced with mismatched laundry and reticent children.

All three Sugar and Spice picture books will bring a smile to your face and comfortable warmth to your heart. They are easy to read, diverse in flavour and delivery and beautifully presented; the rich paisley patterned spines are just glorious.

These beautiful tales also stirred up many fond childhood memories; of my own music box dancer, backyard ponies, and the inevitable transitions we all make from childhood to adulthood. Thankfully, stories like these ensure an infinite sense of innocent pleasure and pure magic for generations to come.

Highly recommended for ages 4 and above.

For those lucky enough to reside in NSW, head to the Wallsend District Library this Saturday, 8 October for the official Sugar and Spice Collection Launch.

EK Books October 2016

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

 

 

 

 

Unforgettable YA tales that stick

Live throws up some questionable situations at times, which, for young people especially can result in unforgettable experiences. I love young adult novels that encapsulate such experiences in stories with unreserved candour and humour. Here are some unforgettable examples.

Forgetting Foster by Dianne Touchell

Touchell’s ability to reach deep into the grey sticky bits of both adults and seven-year-old boys and extract meaning from them for us in ways both poetical and moving is awe-inspirForgetting Fostering. This is a powerful and intelligent fiction for young readers written with precision and heart. As Foster’s world of stories and thus reality recedes into a place he can’t identify, he is forced to farewell the other most important thing in his life, his father.

Foster may inhabit a seven-year-old’s body and possess a sweet naivety and omnipresent reverence for his father still, but when his father begins to forget everything including Foster, Foster’s outlook on life, school and relationships is sent akimbo. For the first time in his life, he is adrift in a place where his father can no longer accompany him. To make matters worse, his mother is barely able to cope with their unexpected and irreversible demise let alone Foster’s feelings.

Losing a parent to (early onset), Alzheimer’s disease is no straightforward matter as Foster discovers. How it affects his position in his family is the question Touchell throws at us again and again with poignant force. At times brutally honest and real and at others stoically proud and witty, Forgetting Foster focuses on surviving battles we were not meant to fight.

Forgetting Foster is a sort of grown up version of Lisa Genova’s Still Alice; it is no less intelligent and revealing however translates the angst and ludicrous frustrations and realties of Alzheimer’s from the carers’ point of view instead of the sufferer’s. How Foster comes to deal with these realisations is the resolution for a story that has no real happy ending.

Focusing on a younger character but with buckets of lower secondary school reader appeal.

Allen & Unwin June 2016

Another Night in Mullet Town by Steven Herrick

Poetic, raw and real, I savoured every syllable of this verse-coming-of-age novel by Herrick. Mullet Town is an intelligent narrative about surviving on the peripheral of lAnother Night in Mullet Townife, both emotionally and materialistically.

Mates Jonah and Manx exist in a one mullet town, content to throw a line in the lake every now and then and wade through the treacherous bog of teenage parties and relationships. For Manx, who may aspire to more but is also driven to defend his simple existence from the ‘wealthy blow-ins’ who want to sell the town out, life suddenly becomes more complicated. How he manages to keep his head about water and remain supportive for Jonah plays out in an emotional journey Herrick cleverly wallpapers with gentle, lyrical wit.

The end petered out a little too matter-of-factly for me but life is not always full of neat and tidy endings. As long as the mullet continue to swim, there remains a glimmer of hope for the residents of Mullet Town – this is the departing assurance, which is in itself enough.

Gritty and extremely readable, a highly recommended verse novel for older readers.

UQP June 2016

My Australian Story: Black Sunday by Evan McHugh

Black Sunday is riveting and tactful. I thoroughly enjoyed McHugh’s account of one of the most unexpected and largest mass (beach) rescues in Australia in the late 30s. Ironically, I had come across old newspaper reports about this day in February 1938 whilst researching another topic. I was astounded and shocked by what I uncovered. Black Sunday

McHugh’s use of simple diary entries by 12 year-old David McCutcheon aka Nipper to detail the events leading up to Black Sunday, entreats intimacy and candour whilst painting a vivid picture of Bondi and its surrounds on the eve of WW II. Even those who have never swam in Bondi’s ever changing waters or basked on her golden beaches will gain a strong sense of place and time thanks to McHugh’s thoughtful epistolic prose.

The actual event itself is not over dramatized rather occurring naturally after a nine-month relationship with Nipper whose life ambition is to be a surf lifesaver like his grandpa, his diary, and the colourful cast of characters that people his life. There is a beautiful balance of emotion, history, and humanity in this Australian Story, which pays homage to heroes in every guise not least of which those that serve Surf Lifesaving Australia. Respect in the highest. Well suited for primary and lower secondary readers, Black Sunday is a fitting and vivid unforgettable tribute to Australia’s not so distant past.

Omnibus Books August 2016

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Where do I belong? – Picture books & Place

When penning a narrative or even recording ones past, authors must be aware of a number of aspects that shape a reader’s impression of the story. A sense of place is one such nuance that forms specific reactions and can colour a reader’s entire experience. When fashioned convincingly enough, a sense of place depicts not only where the story’s characters live and interact but can also provide the answer to how they and the reader belong (to the story). Here are a number of picture books that encourage a distinct sense of place.

Hello!Hello! Illustrated by Tony Flowers

‘Hello!’ is an icebreaker most young children are adept at. However, what if a potential friend’s first language is not English? Hello! is a brilliant introduction to 12 other languages commonly used in Australian homes, including three Indigenous languages. Once children learn to say hello, they are then able to share all sorts of things with their new friends, including favourite games, foods and customs, all in that language. Each new introduction includes how to count up to ten, as well.

Hello spreadThis is a fascinating multicultural exploration aimed at pre-school and primary aged youngsters and is nothing short of ingenious. Many children will have already encountered other people in their lives whose backgrounds and languages differ from their own. Hello! is an unobtrusive, inviting way to show differences need not discourage friendships. Flower’s cartoone-sque illustrations gently emphasise meaning whilst a comprehensive pictorial glossary and pronunciation guide at the end aid carers with extended learning. A marvellous go-to book recommended for home and classroom libraries alike.

National Library of Australia April 2016

Granny's PlaceGranny’s Place by Allison Paterson Illustrated by Shane McGrath

As a city girl growing up far away from my grandparents’ Sunshine Coast hinterland property, visits ‘to grandma’s farm’ were always chocka block full of new adventures and sunny memories to treasure. This bewitching sense of belonging echoes throughout Granny’s Place thanks to Paterson’s beautifully unaffected prose and McGrath’s sublime sepia suffused illustrations.

Granny's Place illo spreadA young girl describes her grandparents’ home that is ‘brimming with treasures of the olden days’ and has ‘springy metal beds and shiny hard floors with tasselled mats…’. It’s a place steeped in rich memories and every day opportunities. It is where family gather in large noisy waves and tiny discoveries, too good to share are made every minute. It is quite simply ‘the best place in the world’. A place where children flourish, absolutely. Alas, people and places cannot last forever as our girl learns to accept after the passing of her grandfather. When Granny has to leave the farm and move to a new life in the city, it is hard to appreciate her new place at first. Fortunately, memories are not so easy to forget and Granny’s love prevails.

Granny’s Place is overflowing with gorgeous imagery that will ignite warm recollections for many older readers. It also radiates the spirit of adventure and the changing rhythms of life that most young people will recognise whilst celebrating these childhood memories.

A marvellous homage to Australia’s past identity and a fitting example of creating a special sense of place.

Big Sky Publishing April 2016

Mr Chicken arriva RomaMr Chicken arriva a Roma by Leigh Hobbs

Mr Chicken pays homage to childhood dreams and aspirations personified. It could be argued that the Australian Children’s Laureate for 2016-2017, Leigh Hobbs is living a little vicariously through the rambunctious, irreverent Mr Chook who was a bit different to other boys and girls. As a youngster, ‘instead of playing games’, he dreamt of life abroad.

Fortunately for fans, both grew up, giving us the opportunity to experience an incredibly detailed, hilarious romp through (this time) Italy’s capital city, Rome. It’s a cavort of pure indulgence as the charming and very forgiving city guide, Federica, escorts Mr Chicken aboard her Vespa through Rome’s traffic ensnarled streets, past the Colosseum, to gelatarias, through the Trevi Fountain and even the Vatican. Hobbs leaves no ruin unturned in this whirlwind excursion, revealing stops I had hitherto forgotten about since my European backpacking days.

Mr Chicken Trevi fountainIf you ever consider tackling a trip to the big five European cities with a chicken in tow, Mr Chicken would be the chook to recruit. Unabridged humour told and depicted in the way only Hobbs can. Fantastic fun and insight to lands beyond for pre and early primary schoolers.

Allen & Unwin August 2016

A New York YearTwelve Months in the Life of …A New York Year & A Texas Year by Tania McCartney Illustrated by Tina Snerling

Unlike the other phenomenally successful titles in the Twelve Months in the Life of picture books series, which look at the life of children from other nations including Australia, A New York Year and A Texas Year focus on individual states within the USA.  Even then, the breathtaking diversity of cultures and idiosyncrasies is almost too mind bogging to comprehend. Yet, the McCartney Snerling picture book team convey these elements with aplomb.

Like their forbearers, New York Year and Texas Year kick off with introductions to the five children who will be our guides throughout the year across these states. They are a delightful homogenous mix of Texans and New Yorkers whose obvious differences (in aspirations, cultural ancestry, and appearance) only serve to highlight the sameness they share with kids all around the world. I particularly love Texan Ethan’s ‘when I grow up’ revelation; ‘I want to be a rock star or a palaeontologist’. Classic seven-year-old clarity!

A Texas YearAs the calendar turns, we are taken on a colourful eclectic  parade through each state stopping to observe significant dates, play games endemic to the region, take in the unique flora, fauna and natural wonders, and then, happily, return to the table to feast on local delicacies. It truly is a smorgasbord for the senses.

I love the detail McCartney is able to inject in the meandering text, which is neither excessive nor too sparse. Each fact acts as a signpost that sparks interest and allows children’s eyes to wonder and roam rather than stick to a regimented reading pattern. Snerling’s cute upon cute illustrations offer clean crisp characterisation and support the minutia of facts superbly.

This series is fast becoming a magnificent compendium of fun, fact-fiction picture books, which kiddies from all over the world can use to draw comparisons and conclusions about their international neighbours, supporting tolerance, enhancing awareness and creating as it were, a marvellous sense of place. Highly recommended for 4 – 8 year olds and big people who don’t get out as often as they should.

EK Books August 2016

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Doodles and Drafts – Guest post by Wai Chim – Author of Freedom Swimmer

Wai Chim # 2Today we welcome author, Wai Chim to the draft table. Her motivation to write Freedom Swimmer, stems from the little known history of her father and the need to understand more about the horrific events that took place during the period of China’s Cultural Revolution. Here is her story about his story.

Writing my father’s story

As a child, my father’s journey from a poor farming village near Shenzhen to ultimately living and working in a small Chinese restaurant in Long Island was fascinating to me. But for the most part, he was tight lipped about his past. While I can recount so much detail about my mother’s family and her childhood in Hong Kong (from her primary school friends to how she was always in the trouble with  my grandmother) – I knew very little about my father’s past.

Part of this was because he was pretty much the typical ‘Asian dad’ – quiet, emotionally distant and he didn’t talk about his feelings or say much about his life.

Back then, I could probably tell you three things about his life in China:

  • His parents had passed away when he about sixteen and he only had a younger sister left in China
  • His family had been very, very, very poorFreedom Swimmer
  • As a teenager he had left his village and made the swim to Hong Kong

I was particularly fascinated by ‘the swim’, probably because I was (and still am) such a terrible swimmer. I knew from a very young age that ‘the swim’ was an important part of his life story – and that terrible things must have happened for him to have made that choice.

A large part of my initial inspiration and motivation for writing Freedom Swimmer was to come closer to understanding my father’s history and this important piece of his past. However as I started writing, it became so much more than that.

Mao Tse-tungMy father was a great resource and opened up about a lot of the details of his life, but through my research, I found out there was so much more going on behind the scenes. My father and his family suffered greatly as a direct result of some of the horrible policies that were put in place at the national level. The events that transpired weren’t isolated to my family, a single village or even one particular region. An estimated 45 million deaths occurred as a result of the manmade famine caused by Mao Zedong’s Great Leap Forward while millions more suffered at hands the Red Guards during the Cultural Revolution.

And like my father, the people who went through it all simply weren’t talking about it.

I was shocked. The loud-mouthed, ‘my first amendment rights are sacred’ American in me was floored that that this had happened and people like my dad were just keeping quiet. As I delved deeper and deeper into the past, I wanted to wrap my arms around the young boy that was my father and cocoon him from some of the tragedies of his past.

My father, of course, is an incredibly strong and amazing man – he couldn’t have made it this far if he wasn’t. And it was because of his dreams of a better life, of finding better opportunity for himself and his future that I can even be sitting here today, writing a book based on his past. That I could be so shocked by some of the things I learned, and that all of his suffering is completely unfathomable compared to the silly #firstworldproblems that I complain about.

And for that, I am eternally grateful.

Thank you Wai.

Read the full review of Freedom Swimmer, here.