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.

Review – Freedom Swimmer

Freedom SwimmerI often have great difficulty reviewing a book I feel a profound affection for. Freedom Swimmer by Wai Chim may be one of those books. There is an aura of Amy Tan about Chim’s depiction set in Communist China of two boys and their astounding quest to find a better life. If you think this sounds less than remarkable, read on.

Chim has fashioned a tale base on the true-life events of her father who made an incredible lunge for freedom when at the age of 19, he swam from the Dapeng Peninsula to Tung Ping Chau Island, Hong Kong in hope of finding a better life in the then British colony. I love books that reveal another of history’s amazing episodes, one that I may only have had peripheral knowledge about before, or in this case, no solid previous understanding. Stories like these, shared with today’s children, are priceless. The tales of the real life freedom swimmers are remarkable and chilling in their own right.

Freedom Swimmer chimes with Mao Tse-tung quotes and the fervour of Communist China, just pulling itself up from the so-called ‘Great Leap Forward’. Ming’s village is stricken by famine and poverty throughout this era, as are most in rural China.  He loses his parents but survives and along with dozens of other orphaned village children, he and his closest friend, pseudo brother Tian, scrape together an existence that is both grinding and bereft of any real affection.

One day, the village cadre makes an announcement. As part of the new re-education program initiated by Mao’s self-serving government, city youths are sent to Ming’s village to be ‘taught’ by the peasants. This is of course also an insidious way of injecting more Maoism’s into the population of China, an explicit agenda to control and monopolise thought.

Ming’s fellow villagers are not so easily swayed although few of them express their so-called ‘imperialist’ doubts aloud fearing terrible retribution. Tian is the first to laugh in the farcical face of Communism yet like Ming, begrudgingly accepts the new arrivals, as is the cadre’s directive. To his surprise, Ming quickly befriends one of the city boys named Li. Li is a staunch supporting member of the Red Guards but also warm and intelligent enough to approach his newfound village life with considered respect. He encourages Ming to express his dreams, Ming teaches him to swim. Although worlds of thinking separate them, they form a deep bond and respect for one another. As is often the case when great divides define relationships, those on one side slowly begin to yearn for the opposite.

Then the unthinkable happens; Li’s father is branded a Party traitor. Li immediately falls from favour, plunging into disgrace and unrelenting torment from his erstwhile comrades. Ming too is suffering from his untenable position as a village no-body, and is frequently frustrated at not being able to be with the girl he secretly admires.

Rather than continue their oppressive lives, the teenagers plan to risk the shark-infested waters between their peninsular and Hong Kong and swim to salvation. It is a great measure of the stoicism of humanity that so many, thousands in fact, of Chinese youths braved this desperate escape; spurned by nothing more than their hopes for ‘a better life and greater opportunity.’ Shark attack, illness, dog patrols and armed guards contributed to the immense risk these swimmers took in their bid for freedom.

Wai ChimChim recounts this period with confidence and true affection. Her writing is moving, poetic and substantial with strong character convictions and emotion to maintain a midgrade audience. This is a fascinating if not contemptible, chaotic time in Chinese history that captures the themes of taking chances, striving for a better life and perseverance with authenticity and feeling.

Chook Chook seriesFans of Chim’s previous junior fiction series, Chook Chook will appreciate her relaxed, more grown-up storytelling style and shared family history. I know I did. Stories have the power to unite and enlighten. Freedom Swimmer is auspiciously, one of those stories.

Sydneysiders have the good fortune of being able to meet Wai Chim this Friday at Gleebooks where she will officially launch, Freedom Swimmer.

If you can’t wait, the book is available here, now.

Stick around for the fascinating and touching insight into Wai Chim’s father’s story which inspired this compelling story to be written in the first place.

Allen & Unwin August 2016

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Striking Out – Picture books that challenge

There are times in every small person’s life, when they are faced with taking the plunge, striding into the unknown, and just striking out into that adventure called life. It’s not always easy, sometimes it’s downright wrenching, but who says it can’t be fun. Here are a cluster of recently released picture books that will enlighten and inspire in those darker and daring times.

CrustsCrusts by Danny Parker Illustrated by Matt Ottley

I adore the sinuous artistry of this incredible picture book team. A picture book with their names on the cover promises great subtlety and infinite pleasure. Crusts is no exception. One third graphic, two thirds regular, this picture book grabs the most frustrating habit a maker-of-lunchbox-lunches has to contend with – the uneaten crust and flips it on its head.

Jacob is your typical crust-eating refusal expert. His mum is your typical eat-your-crusts enforcer. Neither is willing to give any ground, which is unfortunate because in a galaxy far far away, a tiny planet is crumbling into nonexistence and has had to jettison three explorers to Earth in an attempt to locate and transport planet-saving crusts back to them. At first, it seems the mission is doomed to fail as Jacob squirrels away crusts by the bin load and scribbles away at plans the explorers feel are useless to their cause. Turns out, there is more to Jacob’s distaste in crumbs and ingenuity than meets the eye.

Parker’s narrative is always spot on, poetic and soulful. Ottley’s fanciful illustrations strike the perfect balance between droll fantasy and tragic normality. Crusts is a crowd pleaser even for those unwilling to swallow one physically. It accentuates the values of tenacity, humanity, selflessness, and kindness and comes highly recommended for lovers of invention and space travel.

Little Hare Books imprint HGE August 2016

Zelda's Big AdventureZelda’s Big Adventure by Marie Alafaci Illustrated by Shane McG0wan

I love the plucky audacity and determination shown by Zelda the chook. Zelda has a dream, ‘to be the first chook in space.’ However, the road to the Milky Way is long and arduous and none of her coop-mates is willing to lift a primary wing feather to help her achieve her ambitions.

Undaunted, she strikes out alone and finally launches herself into chook history. When she eventually comes home, her fickle-feathered friends agree Zelda’s tenacity and drive are by far the best examples of how to get anywhere interesting they’ve ever encountered. With her appetite for space exploration sated, Zelda concedes adventures are always more fun when shared with friends. This is a fun, easy to read, easy to share picture book encouraging perseverance and courage. Great for pre-schoolers and early primary readers and chook lovers like me.

Allen & Unwin 2016

Up up and AwayUp, Up and Away by Tom McLaughlin

Like his previous titles, The Story Machine and The Cloudspotter, Up, Up and Away warms the very cockles of your heart and is guaranteed to cheer you. Unlike Zelda who travelled far into space to find her first planet, Orson, a boy who loves to make things, prefers the challenge of making his own. And he does.

At first, the new planet is slow to find its position in Orson’s universe but slowly with a lot of tending loving care from Orson, his planet grows up and even develops its own gravitational pull. That is when Orson realises, that he must let his beloved planet find its true place among the stars. Under five year olds will relate to this on a number of levels; pets growing up, butterflies dying, outgrown shoes and so on. Adults will be reminded that one day their own tiny planets will eventually have to orbit elsewhere, too.

This whimsical picture book describes the sometimes unavoidable necessity of letting go of things you love the most in order to set them free. McLaughlin elevates this difficult life lesson to a place of beautiful reason and logic in spite of the nonsensical notion of mixing up a planet from scratch from ‘a cup full of rocks and a dash of water’.

Powerful and smart, Up, Up and Away is about accepting and recognising challenges and change.

Bloomsbury August 2016

OutOut by Angela May George Illustrated by Owen Swan

Sometimes taking on new challenges is not always a matter of choice. Out is a stunning debut picture book by George, which tackles the unrelenting struggles of refugees and their emigration attempts. We never learn the real name of the young asylum seeker in this story, but she is recognisable as a girl with much heart and soul and deep pools of courage. Together with her mother, they endure a treacherous journey from their homeland to Australia. Life is very different, and it takes a while for them to assimilate to the music, dancing, and language. Everything is a new challenge for she and her mother and yet throughout their ordeals, she always retains the thinnest, most fragile tendrils of hope, as depicted by a bright yellow ribbon she carries everywhere.

Written with frank solemnity Out resonates with positivity and a belief that good will always prevail. Swan’s gentle muted illustrations convey emotion and compassion and allow the characters of the story to stand out when they are surrounded by so many others that are in exactly the same boat as they, as it were.

Persuasive and compelling, Out will suit readers four and above and help them realise the strength of the human spirit whilst appreciating the various paths they can take (or must make at times) to reach their goals.

Scholastic Press June 2016

 

 

 

Marvellous midgrade reads – Reviewing Aussie Talent

Midgrade readers have to fulfil a variety of whims. They should appeal to the increasingly insatiable literary appetites of confident mid-primary aged readers. They must soar with excitement and be able to crack readers up at the mere mention of impending doom for any adults foolhardy enough to wander through the storyline. And they should be wickedly close enough to real life to qualify the use of magic and make believe. Here are three new titles that tick all the ‘midgrade must have’ boxes.

Marge in Charge with Isla FisherMarge in Charge by Isla Fisher Illustrated by Eglantine Ceulemus

This new novel spills from the pen of noted actor, writer and comedian, Isla Fisher. Words flow with funny fluidity and the help of some very entertaining illustrations. Rather than being told in chapters, there are three separate Marge orientated stories all hinging on the premise of Marge babysitting Jemima and Jake.  None of their previously bland babysitters can match the zany ingenuity of marvellous Marge. Marge is not your average babysitter; she makes mess and turns the rules inside out and upside down.

Young readers will love the out of control antics Jemima and younger brother,Jake are coaxed into by the indiscernibly aged Marge. It is enough to make any parent cringe with terror but will raise whoops of delight for those under ten years old. Fisher’s style is comforting and chortle worthy with injections of humour only the experiences of a mother of three could have inspired.

Riotous hilarity tempered by sound parenting advice (mostly from the worrying mind of 7-year-old Jemima), all mixed up with a plucky mucky 4-year-old and lots and lots of lovely rainbow coloured hair. Marge is the complete package. Fresh fun entertainment (at least for six + year olds).

Piccadilly Press imprint Allen & Unwin July 2016

The Stupendously Spectacular Spelling BeeThe Stupendously Spectacular Spelling Bee by Deborah Abela

India Wimple is a girl with a dream and like many of us these days, that dream stems from reality TV. Every week, she and her family glue themselves in front of The Stupendously Spectacular Spelling Bee TV show and as we are currently deep into the latest series of The Great Australian Spelling Bee (of which I am also hooked) the telling of India’s tale could not have come at a better time!

Unlike 11-year-old India, my spelling abilities have diminished drastically over the years. India however is in the prime of her time and yearns to be the next spelling bee champion. All she has to do is sign up for the show and spell. But of course there are many ‘precarious’ and ‘calamitous’ situations she and her family have to contend with before she gets close to standing behind the spelling podium; a cantankerous old van, a haughty little spoilt girl intent on winning, concerns for an ailing brother and an inherent shyness that threatens to choke her each time she gets up on stage to name but a few.

Deb AbelaAbela deftly weaves a contemporary idea into a topical story line with enough quirky characters with admirable whims to have readers on the edge of their seats by the time India eventually makes it in front of the TV cameras. And like those mini spelling marvels on the real life reality show, she handles it with modest aplomb and true integrity.

It is impossible not to love all of Abela’s characters in this tale even the snarky ones.  And while young readers are hanging on every syllable uttered, they are unwittingly enhancing their vocabulary thanks to each chapter heading introducing a new word and definition relating to that chapter. Ingenious!

The Stupendously Spectacular Spelling Bee may be a mouthful and a half to master but is invigorating and enlightening reading for anyone who adores words, competitions and fifth grade spelling (which I still struggle with). It’s a fun family indulgence without the need to go anywhere near the tellie.

Penguin Random House Australia July 2016

Princess ParsleyPrincess Parsley by Pamela Rushby

I had the unique pleasure of hearing the birth of this story a couple of years ago when accomplished author, Pamela Rushby pitched it for the first time to a panel of publishers at the SCBWI Sydney Conference. Now, like the growth of Parsley Patterson’s family country market, it has evolved into a book worthy of a place high on the bookshelf.

Following bouts of political kerfuffle, Mullumbimby farming resident, Kevin Patterson decides to withdraw from Australia and set up his own (Possum Creek) principality within the Northern Rivers hinterland. This way he can avoid the one-sided malevolent machinations of the local council and run his popular farmers’ market in peace. Sounds straightforward enough albeit a little left field; it’s a stance the surrounding residents applaud for his daring and pluck. His family revel in their collective newly acquired regal status, all that is except Parsley.

Being a princess is the last thing on Parsley’s list of things to be in her new high school. With her ‘not strictly hippy’ parents always in the limelight, the most popular boy in school tagging along and a cackle of hard-nosed A Group girls (The Blondes) to contend with, life under a tiara becomes increasingly embarrassing and more hilarious with each page turn.

Dim's Day 2 14th July (34)I am a bona fide fan of Rushby’s sharp satirical wit. Although somewhat toned down here for a slightly younger audience, it still transports readers along on a heady and spirited adventure echoing the same verve and heart of the 1997 movie, The Castle. Like the Kerrigans, the Pattersons are a family for which you feel an instant affection. However, can poor Parsley’s princely plight and newfound calling as a comedian be enough for her to realise the true cost of popularity?

I was amazed to learn that there are around 12 actual real micronations based on the principality idea here in Australia alone.  Stories like Princess Parsley, which engage on multiple levels, are not only a boon to read but also marvellous gateways to more of life’s delightful discoveries. Ripper stuff. Ideal for 9-year-olds and beyond.

Omnibus Books July 2016

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Fun for Fathers – Picture books to share with Dad

One of the most joyful pleasures a child can enjoy is Daddy-time. There can never be too much of it. Here’s a new selection of picture books you can share with your special little someones on Father’s Day or indeed, at any time at all.

The Ballad of Henry HoplingseaThe Ballad of Henry Hoplingsea by Julia Hubery Illustrated by Lucia Masciullo

I love the look and feel of this jolly little tale. It is less about dads and more about appreciating what you have rather than agonising over what you do not have but it makes such entertaining reading that it is sure to give dads, daughters and sons sufficient enough excuses to stay snuggled together in reading harmony for many lovely moments.

Humble farmer Henry is besotted with Carmelita and begs her hand in marriage. In spite of their solid and long standing friendship, she refuses succumbing instead to her princess inspired yearnings to live in silks, eat oysters and one day be whisked off her feet by a shiny brave knight. Henry can supply none of these things so forsakes he is farmer origins and sets off for Knight School.

Henry’s proactive tenacity is admirable however; his kind heart is bigger than his knightly ambitions and abilities. Which of these though will be enough to win over Carmelita? Humorous rhyming text and bewitching illustrations full of colour and captivating detail ensure this is one ballad readers will want to relive again and again.

Little Hare Books (HEG imprint) August 2016

Counting on YouCounting on You by Corinne Fenton Illustrated by Robin Cowcher

Part of the You Have my Heart series, this padded hard cover picture book is the ideal size to slide into any Father’s Day gift bag. The text is sublimely simple but saturated with exquisite moving emotion. Readers are taken through a flowing collection of days, many of them recognisable to young children, those: ‘I can’t-find-my-socks days, my tummy-is-too-full days’ until they are reassured of the presence of a loved one who can hug them closer ,squeeze them tighter and ‘make things better’ than anyone else; in other words, the adult they can count on.

Counting on You examines the 6 primary emotions formerly identified under the Parrot’s classification. Cowcher’s restrained colour use is heavenly, truly evoking movement and feeling. Highly recommended.

The Five Mile Press August 2016

I spy Dad JBI Spy Dad! By Janeen Brian Illustrated by Chantal Stewart

No two dads are ever quite the same; they are as diverse and individual as pebbles on a beach. I love how kids love their particular version of dad no matter what he does, what he looks like or how he acts. One little girl wonders which dad belongs specifically to her and searches for him among dashing, splashing dads; sewing, mowing dads; and creeping, leaping dads enjoying the cheeky chase until she finds the one who’s just for her.

Brian’s gifted way with rhyming words ensures every beat of this search is on point while Stewart’s illustrations are playful and bright. A sure favourite for under sixes.

New Frontier Publishing August 2016

Where's Dad HidingWhere’s Dad Hiding? By Ed Allen Illustrated by Anil Tortop

Never a dad around when you need one? Prolong your search and fun with this colour-saturated picture book promoting games and play, Aussie animals and relationships. Where’s Dad Hiding? encourages young pre-school aged readers to carefully examine every one of Tortop’s vibrantly illustrated page spreads for Baby Wombat’s missing dad.

Daddy Wombat is cunningly secreted on each page among a glorious collection of colourful Aussie inspired landscapes and situations. I get the feeling Daddy Wombat enjoys being cheeky and slightly irreverent just like real life human daddies as he leads Baby Wombat on a teasing search. This picture book pulses with verve and character making it a delight for dads to share with their kids.

Scholastic Australia August 2016

Grandpa is GreatGrandpa is Great by Laine Mitchell Illustrated by Alison Edgson

No matter what mantle they fall under grandad, pop, Nonno, opa, gramps, there is no mistaking the greatness of grandpas. This cute rhyming story reinforces the many moments and things grandfathers make memorable for their grandchildren. Whether it is playing games together, making mess, rocketing to the moon or simply watching the tellie together, Mitchell’s engaging text and Edgson’s bold use of baby animals to depict the grandpa-grandchild bond is both entertaining and heart-warming.

Scholastic Australia August 2016

The Greatest Fathers Day of AllThe Greatest Father’s Day of All by Anne Mangan Illustrated by Tamsin Ainslie

It’s the witty parallels I enjoy in this rhyming picture book about a dad eagerly anticipating his Father’s Day but like so many mere males, gets it mixed up a little. His blow-by-blow expectations take readers through some typical and well-loved Father’s Day morning rituals as his excitement mounts then crumbles into disappointment.  Children eager to plan their own Father’s Day surprises for dad will value the familiar similarities and the divine pencil and gauche watercolours used by Ainslie.  Her illustrations are vaguely reminiscent of Anna Pignataro’s; her characters exuding the same sort of charm in their sweet alluring faces. A nice way to mark the occasion of Dad’s Day.

Harper Collins Publishers first published 2013

Happy Father’s Day, Dads!

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

 

 

Review – Little Wing

Little WingAuthor illustrator, Katherine Battersby has flown many miles in recent times, a bit like her latest picture book character, Little Wing. Little Wing catapults the connotation of taking a leap of faith into glowing picture book form that is a pure delight to read.

Little Wing is the smartest animal in the world. He owes his genius to good old-fashioned book learning, that is to say, he reads – a lot. Nearly everything he knows is attributed to the days he spends between the pages of dozens of books bequeathed to his island home by providence.

Little Wing illos spreadIt appears a satisfying way to spend his days; I mean who hasn’t dreamed of reading under swaying palm trees on a sun soaked faraway island as a full time occupation! I’d call that heaven but for Little Wing whose aspirations and yearnings clearly outclass mine, ‘something was always missing.’ So, he sets out to find it.

Turns out, it’s Little Wing’s sense of self that is absent and no matter how many books or alter egos he assumes, none of them provide the right answer, the perfect fit. Until one radiant morning, realisation dawns and Little Wing’s life transforms forever. His social circles are greatly enhanced, as well.

Little Wing illoThe wait for Battersby’s next picture book has been well worth it. Little Wing exudes all the warmth, charm and wit of her debut picture book character, Squish Rabbit whilst introducing fans and new readers to a wonderfully new winsome critter. He is difficult not to love with his little wings and clacky big blue bit (aka his beak). However, what makes Little Wing universally appealing to young and old is his quiet and unquestioning fortitude. Even when faced with one of life’s most prominent and niggling questions: who am I and why am I here? Little Wing diligently pursues the answer until the answer literally flies right over him.

His tenacity tells young people that being one thing is fine but if you want to try other things, new things, then that’s okay too; you just need to be brave enough to pursue your dreams, to make that first leap into the unknown. Youngsters are no strangers to change. In fact the leaps in their young lives are almost always forced and without negotiation: going to school, moving home, surviving decaying family situations, growing up…So it won’t be hard for them to accept Little Wing as someone they can emulate and learn from.

Little Wing is likely to resonate with adults just as strongly. We all want to learn to fly. How many of us really have the courage to look deep within ourselves, take that first big breath, and then, move forward, though? It’s a daunting prospect but like Battersby herself, Little Wing does it with admirable aplomb.

Battersby’s accompanying artwork for this story is nothing short of fabulous. Bland bookish concepts are captured in bold watercolour and pencil illustrations intoxicatingly combined with fabrics, textiles and scanned vintage books. The resultant collage effect is a cocktail of fun and colour. I love it! So does my Miss 10 who spent many joyful moments with me feverishly examining the end pages in an effort to match feather to friend.

Katherine Battersby & Little WingLittle Wing is a picture book experience that sings on many levels but most importantly gives children license to extend themselves and follow their most ardent callings in order to reach true happiness.

Little Wing is available now, here. For those fortunate enough to live in SE Queensland, Katherine Battersby is touring a number of local schools, accompanying Little Wing as he explores his new home.

Little Wing # 2Little Wing is officially taking off this Saturday August 13th at Riverbend Books in Bulimba, Queensland. Join Katherine, Little Wing, and special guest, Peter Carnavas from 10.30 am for lots of fun and feathers.

UQP August 2016

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Review – Noisy Nights – on tour with Fleur McDonald

Noisy NightsIf you like novels of the rolling outback variety with plenty of page-turning drama, a sprinkle of bucolic romance and a good dose of dust and hardship, then you are likely familiar with one of Australia’s leading rural writers, Fleur McDonald. Her litany of outback, female orientated sagas constitute engrossing adult reads. However, not content with being a bestselling author of adult fiction, McDonald has now set her sights on the fickle world of writing for children. Noisy Nights is the first picture book penned by McDonald and illustrated by Annie White depicting farmyard fun for pre-schoolers.

The premise is simple; Farmer Hayden is desperate for a good night’s sleep. Little wonder after working hard on his property all day long. Tucked under his cosy doona, beneath a darken sky and shining stars, everything appears ideal for sound slumber, except it is ‘so noisy outside his window.’

Apparently, the animals of Farmer Hayden’s farm are very vocal night. Now anyone who has ever spent a night in the country or even just camped in his or her own back yard will agree nights are not so silent. The cold stillness of a night bereft of the noisy pollution of city living seems to magnify each and every sound made by unseen creatures, as is the case for poor old Farmer Hayden.

Night after night, dogs bark, cows moo, horses nicker, and crickets chirp. Frequent pleas for quiet fall on deaf ears until defeated and fatigued, Farmer Hayden submits to his insomnia and spends the next night sitting outside on the veranda. He’d rather watch the noisy choir rather than suffer the torture of listening to them.

As predicted, thFleur McDonalde dogs bark, the cows moo, the crickets chirp and so on but the sheep dance to a different song this night, or rather, they jump to it. Finally, mesmerised by them, something amazing happens. Could this be the beginning of no more noisy nights?

McDonald pulls off her first attempt at writing for children with uncomplicated honesty. Predictive, repetitive text creates many opportune moments for young readers to not only bolster their vocabulary base but for them to indulge in interactive story telling with whomever they are reading with, as well. The narrative is enjoyable and supports common barnyard and animal connections as well as the old familiar maxim that ‘counting sheep to get to sleep’ really does work.NoisyNightsBlog Tour[1]

In addition, White’s well-loved illustrations emphasise the farmyard fun making this common dilemma instantly recognisable for even the most citified child.

Noisy Nights is soft-hued and gentle in its appearance and content making it a beautiful picture book to curl up with when your little one is ready for a good night’s sleep.

For more reviews and information about Fleur McDonald, visit her other Blog Tour stops.

Noisy Nights is available for purchase now, here.

New Frontier Publishing August 2016

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Double Dipping – Save our Trees!

With National Tree Day just around the corner (28th to 31st July) what better way to celebrate the importance of sustaining and enriching our environment than by honouring earth’s life source, the tree.

Here are two picture books that appeal to the younger end of the market. There are many more, that showcase the magnificence of trees and nature: Jeannie Baker’s marvellous works, Tree by Danny Parker and Margaret Wild’s Tanglewood, for instance. Hunt them down and enjoy, but for goodness sake, leave those trees standing!

Barnaby and the Lost Treasure of BunnyvilleBarnaby and the Lost Treasure of Bunnyville by Robert Vescio Illustrated by Cheri Hughes

Barnaby is a gardener who loves to rove and gather. With his assorted stash of seeds, he dreams of transforming his home, Bunnyville into a verdant wonderland of fruit and veg. The major of Bunnyville, however has other ideas. He believes bunnies are designed for one thing and one thing only, to dig. Faced with this opposition, Barnaby devises a way to turn the mayor’s stony greed into positive action.

Barnaby illos spreadWhen a treasure map promising to reveal the lost treasure of Bunnyville turns up, the mayor enlists every paw and claw of Bunnyville to find it. Enthusiastic excavation ensues but the only ‘treasure’ unearthed is an rusty old key by Barnaby. While the rest of the township concedes defeat, Barnaby utilises the myriad of holes created by the hunt and with some luck and patience, Bunnyville is transformed into a lush productive garden.  The townsfolk are delighted, the mayor impressed by what Barnaby reveals is indeed the ‘lost treasure of Bunnyville’. The concept of 2 and 5 a day as never looked so delicious!

Robert VesicoThis ambrosial little tale about bunnies and treasure hunting neatly encapsulates Vescio’s subtle plea for perseverance and preservation in a way that will appeal to under 6-year-olds. It gently emphasises that ‘a tree is a treasure’ and that from little things, big things, important things really do grow – into ‘growing treasures’.  A playful and useful way to introduce young readers into food production and conservation. (I love Hughes pumpkin bright illustrations and amazing seed-studded end pages, too!)Take it with you as you head out to plant something this weekend!

Big Sky Publishing July 2016

The Gobbling TreeThe Gobbling Tree by Mark Carthew Illustrated by Susy Boyer

An oldie but a goodie, this classic picture book by Mark Carthew and Susy Boyer depicts what happens to the seeds we plant and the consequences of our interaction with them.

The gobbling tree situated on a rise in the local park is never named but becomes the focal point of concern for the neighbourhood kids when one by one they lose a precious plaything to its arboreal clutches. Kites, cricket bats, balls, sticks, boots, even Jacob’s ladder (Ha Ha) are gobbled up as each attempt to get their objects back results in more lost items. Soon most of the town’s treasures are stuck within the tree’s grasp including, Simon! It’s not until nature shimmies to her own dance that normality is restored…until the next cricket match that is.

Mark CarthewAnyone who has ever had a Frisbee stuck in a tree and failed to dislodge it with a variety of other thrown items will relate to this hilarious lyrical misadventure. (I’m putting my hand high up, here!) Carthew’s ability to bring song into story is well loved and in this case, worthy of receiving the Speech Pathology Book of the Year 2009 Award. Boyer’s drawings capture the colour and comedy of the situation beautifully. This favourite never grows old and underlines my deep-rooted respect for trees evermore.

New Frontier Publishing first published 2008

So whether you intend to plant a tiny parsley seed or the beginnings of something large and magnificent, encourage your children to honour nature this weekend, indeed every weekend. They can enjoy books like these as they wait for their treasures to grow.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Feeling Good and Fitting In – Inspiring Picture Books

Self-assuredness, making wise life choices, strong self-esteem, and a kind heart – all positive attributes we wish for our offspring but not always easy to foster. The beautiful subtly of picture books can help reinforce and encourage these traits in children. Here are some inspiring examples.

Stick and StoneStick and Stone by Beth Ferry Illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld

Simplicity refined. Gorgeous illustrations accompany a rock solid (pardon the pun) rhyming text about the strength and benefits of friendship, sticking together and courage in times of trouble. I loved the elementary message and profound humour. Kids will warm to the humanness of these two non-human characters, Stick and Stone. Highly recommended for primary school aged readers and those trying to understand schoolyard friendships.

Koala Books September 2015

The Truth According to ArthurThe Truth According to Arthur by Tim Hopgood Illustrated by David Tazzyman

This could easily become my new best-go-to favourite resource for dealing with fibbers. Arthur tells porkies, not to hurt but like most young people, to lessen the damage to himself that could arise from his actions, in other words, to avoid getting in trouble. However, Truth follows him about everywhere and no matter how hard Arthur tries to avoid, hide, bend or stretch Truth, Truth remains stalwart staring Arthur down until eventually …he admits The Truth.  Told in a smile-inducing uncomplicated way and matched with super line drawings, The Truth According to Arthur addresses the importance of taking responsibility for ones actions and always, always being honest. A brilliant addition to any parents’ tool kit!

Bloomsbury Publishing July 2016

I don't like KoalaI Don’t Like Koala by Sean Ferrell Illustrated by Charles SantosKoala illos spread

There is something slightly sinister about the non-seeing stare of Koala. Something dark and off-putting that Adam finds unsavoury as well. So much so, he cannot bring himself to like his new toy, Koala one little bit. He tries everything to lose Koala but inexplicably, Koala always returns (good on you Mum and Dad!). Until one terrible night, Adam finally learns to value Koala’s unwavering friendship and worth. Santos’ drawings enhance Ferrell’s beautiful clean narrative, often in a clever parallel way and reinforce the notion of acceptance; of who we are, what we truly love and of our own fears.

Koala Books 2015

The Ricker Racker ClubThe Ricker Racker Club by Patrick Guest Illustrated by Nathaniel Eckstrom

This is a once upon a time type of picture book that grabs kids’ attention from the very first page. Brothers Max and Ollie have invented the Ricker Racker Club, an association with distinct rules and regulations; being a boy for example. Polly is not a boy and secretly yearns to join the club so in an ironically old world way, she cunningly surrenders to the boys’ demands and desires, cleaning their bedroom, giving them her tooth-fairy money and so on whilst they belt around being, well, boys. Weeks pass until one day their pet turtle, Albert finds himself in peril of being consumed by the local wolf. Help comes from an unexpected quarter forcing the boys to rethink their club policies. A delightful comical representation of how friendships, acceptance, and courage are won on your actions.  Suitable for mid to upper primary readers and those who love back yard adventuring.

Little Hare Books HGE  April 2016

KindnessThe Invisible Tree – Kindness by Kirrily Lowe Illustrated by Henry Smith

For those who prefer their tales of moral strength and positive virtue with a more spiritual spin, seek out the Invisible Tree series by Wombat Books. Each picture book in the series describes how a child character learns about a particular attribute or emotion and how that virtue is a kin to a beautiful fruit, one that grows on an invisible tree inside them. The musical stories demonstrate how we can nourish our greatest gifts and capacities and share them with others. Kindness, set in Uganda, is the fifth book following this cultivation of strong healthy spirit and prompts children to grow their own invisible trees for love, joy, and peace. Spectacularly illustrated with found, recycled, and hand-made papers by Smith, these books form a treasure chest of inspired awareness.

Wombat Books 2016

Let's PlayLet’s Play by Herve Tullet

This little gem is amazing. Full of white space and second person interplay, Tullet creates two distinct characters for children to adore; yellow dot narrating straight out of the book and YOU, the child (reader). Yellow dot entices children to play with him with the words, ‘I’m bored…Do you want to play?’ What child could resist! They are led through a series of steps, fine-tuning their attention, questioning their fine motor skills and challenging their focus before plunging together into a dark, messy, FUN adventure. It’s nothing more than a succession of splodges, smudged lines, and colourful dots, yet Let’s Play is a miraculous riot of colour and genius which cleverly unleashes creativity and imagination in kids whilst giving them permission to be themselves, have fun, take risks and oh yes, ‘play again another time’. Brilliant. Ideal for pre-schoolers and older readers who’ll be able  to claim yellow dot as their new best friend. Gleefully recommended

Allen & Unwin March 2016

#BooksCreate confidence and kindness

Double Dipping – Terrific reads for Tweens & Teens

As children shrug off their tween years and enter the tribulation-ridden terrain of teenage hood, the art of telling stories for them becomes more exact and tenuous. Tales still need to entertain yet they must also strike such firm and resounding accord with their intended audience that for readers to abandon them would be like dissing out on themselves or at least, their friends. Two new titles in town, which address each of these age groups with terrific virtuosity flow from the pens of Michael Gerard Bauer and Tamsin Janu and deserve closer scrutiny.

Figgy and the PresidentFiggy and the President is Tamsin Janu’s second book featuring Figgy, a young African village girl with limited world reference but enormous ambition and tenacity. Figgy is one of the most endearing characters I have ever met. She and her Ghanaian friends and family are so richly portrayed; it is a delight to be part of their adventures. The characters are complete enough that this tale could take place almost anywhere. That it is set in Ghana is merely an enriching added bonus. As with Figgy in the World, this story is full of warmth and originality.

Figgy in the WorldIn this current snap shot of Figgy’s life, she and her best friend, Nana dream about their future careers, speculating on their successes and mapping out the paths for their chosen occupations. Trouble is deciding on a career is not as straightforward as Figgy imagines so when she unexpectedly lands a role as an actress in a locally made film, she immediately fancies this might be the future for her.

However just as she embarks on her newfound career, Figgy’s erstwhile absent, now heavily pregnant mama appears throwing Figgy into even more confusion and uncertainty. Figgy is then forced to abandon her own misgivings when Nana is mercilessly ripped out of their lives causing her to attempt to rescue him.

Figgy and the President is a superb story of tenacity, childhood resourcefulness, and friendship that mid primary readers will cherish. It reads with an innocent fluidity that I imagine tween-aged children influenced and shaped by our (often-trivial) First World dilemmas will find entertaining and fascinating, thereby giving rise to a stronger sense of empathy and humanity. A perfect follow up to Figgy in the World but able to be read alone.

Omnibus Books for Scholastic May 2016

It’s no secret that many of Michael Gerard Bauer’s books leave me quaking at the knees, usually with laughter and emotion. Surprisingly, this one is not at the top of my favourites list of his but I have a feeling it will be a hit among gaggles of school guys and gals nonetheless.

The Pain, My Mother, Sir Tiffy, Cyber Boy and MeThe Pain, My Mother, Sir Tiffy, Cyber Boy & Me is a new YA comedy that I initially found cloying (a bit like attempting to swallow a whole clotted-cream-and-jam-smothered-scone in one go) – not just because the title is so mouth-filling but partly due to the rabid use of capital letter actualisation and metaphoric description; this coming from someone with a pathological obsession to metaphoric-ise practically everything (see afore mentioned scone and cream example).  Nevertheless, like my predilection for scones and clotted cream, I could not give it up either. Discomfort is often  born from self -realisation, and whilst the way Maggie Butt thinks and reacts is a painful reminder of my own metaphoric inadequacies, figuratively speaking (and she does this a lot) her behaviour brilliantly mirrors the  psyches of many a teenager  whom I am certain will find this an outrageous and comforting connection.

‘Me’ is Maggie Butt and her teenage life is messy and mucked-up. Every time she gets close to achieving one of her ‘Three Specific and Realistic (life) Goals’ they are lampooned out of the water. There’s a drama queen quality about Maggie I found slightly unnerving at first however Bauer’s injection of sweet satire and ability to weave a generous amount of heart and soul into his storylines saved not only me, but eventually also Maggie and a few others besides.

Michael G BauerBauer seems well accustomed with the fickle affections and feelings of pre-adult youth having raised a couple, taught dozens more and presumably been one himself portraying Maggie and her school mates with a raw sincerity I found touching . His 15-year-old female voice rings alarmingly loud and true, at times almost too convincingly so it is a relief when we are eventually shown Maggie’s true emotional turmoil, her warring desires, and not-to-much-to-ask-for expectations. Sir Tiffy, Sista Lista and a dude on a motor bike all help us (and Maggie) see what really truly matters whilst completing an intricate tapestry (stolen metaphor) of characters and satellite storylines.

In true Bauer style, The Pain…is more than it initially appears. It is wry and cool. It is funny and sensitive. It is a glorious collection of intelligent and side-splitting word play. It is unquestionably a riotous encounter of the teenage kind which connects solidly with today’s reader and transports older ones (like this one) back to nights with Paul Young (figuratively speaking), controversial casual-ware (see the T-shirt incident pg. 146) and thankfully possesses an ending that I’d cross  an ocean of metaphors to experience again.

Witty, relevant, and snappy, this junior novel will appeal in spades to younger YAers, as well.

Omnibus Books for Scholastic May 2016

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Review – Dragonfly Song

Wendy Orr’s latest novel has the sweeping majesty of an epic novel and the thrill of a mid-grade fantasy that will win leagues of young new fans. Powerful, eloquent and moving, Dragonfly Song is a story you will never want to leave.

Dragonfly SongAt first glance, Dragonfly Song is not for the faint hearted, weighing in at nearly four hundred pages, however do not be disheartened for from the moment Aissa slips into existence, you will be enthralled and the pages will float effortlessly by. Aissa is the first-born daughter of the high priestess of an ancient island nation. She is however, imperfect and so is abandoned, thus determining not only her destiny but the fate of her island home and all its inhabitants, as well.

Aissa’s people are emerging from the time of flint and spears into the mythical Bronze Age. Her world possesses a strong Byzantine period feel for me at least, where hierarchy, occupation, and bloodline dictate survival. Having endured a childhood of servitude and persecution, Aissa is unaware of her own ancestry and link to the goddesses or even her true name until she is twelve years old. Her fellow islanders consider her the bad-luck child, a curse to all who cross her, and abhor her. Yet she is resourceful, curious, and oddly revered by the island’s animals (snakes, cats, bulls) and although mute from the age of four, she slowly begins to grasp the power she has to sing them to her biding.

It is this power that both exalts and alienates her to the Bull King and his Lady wife, the Mother. At the age of thirteen, Aissa finds herself in the land of the great Bull King, interned as a bull dancer, eventually dancing for her life and the freedom of further tributes (aka human sacrifices) against her island home.

Aissa is manOrr Wendy, preferred author photo, credit Roger Gouldy things: of pure blood, a priestess in the making, a talented bull dancer, spirited, obedient, loyal, a privy cleaner, displaced but above all, resilient. It is hard not to fret over her emotional well-being and want to call out encouragement for her. Her story is both bleak and horrifying at times but ultimately her tale of rising out of the quagmire of the downtrodden soars with optimism and promise.

Orr masters this with incredible ease. Her artistry with language is unforced and sublime. Part prose and part verse novel, I was utterly swept away by the beauty and tragedy of Aissa’s plight. The use of verse to relay Aissa’s internal dialogue and inner most dread and desires is genius and executed with such finesse I wished it never ended.

Dragonfly Song is an adventure story, a tale of daring and hope and a quest for love and acceptance that will have you weeping and cheering. Gripping, artful, and exciting, this novel has broad appeal for both male and female readers aged twelve and above.

03To discover the heart and soul behind the writing of this novel, see my Doodles and Drafts post with Wendy Orr, here.

Allen & Unwin June 2016

DOODLES AND DRAFTS with Wendy Orr on the inspiration behind Dragonfly Song

Dragonfly SongHang onto to your bronze daggers as you are in for ‘a riveting, mythic Bronze Age adventure’ –  we have the remarkable Wendy Orr at the draft table today, escorting us on her Blog Tour for her stunning new novel, Dragonfly Song. And like all terrific stories, there is usually an even more fascinating story behind it; how it came to light, what energies and events conspired to motivate its first heartbeat. Today, Wendy shares her inspiration with us.

Orr Wendy, preferred author photo, credit Roger Gould

 

Welcome Wendy! Tell us, what was the inspiration for Dragonfly Song?

Sometimes it’s easy to see where an idea’s inspiration has come from. Sometimes it’s not – and sometimes some of the things that inspire it don’t end up in the story. Dragonfly Song is one of those mysteries.

Certainly one thread comes from childhood and teenage reading of Greek myths and Mary Renault’s retelling of the Theseus myth, The King Must Die. (There are many stories about Theseus, a king of Athens with a typically complicated hero life. However he is best known for being one of seven youths and seven maidens sent as a tribute to King Minos of Crete. Minos sent them into a labyrinth to be devoured by the half-man, half-bull monster, the Minotaur – but luckily, Theseus defeated the Minotaur instead of being eaten.)

04Then, about twenty-five years ago, I dreamed about a white robed priestess leading a long torchlight procession up a steep green volcanic mountain.  As a story grew around the dream, I started reading up on the intriging civilization that flourished in Crete around four thousand years ago.  The Minoans seem to have worshipped a mother goddess and been ruled by a priestess until they were taken over by the warlike Mycenaeans of mainland Greece. Their palaces had grand court02yards and stairways, flushing toilets, lightwells, and painted frescoes on walls, ceilings and floors. They had beautiful art, gold and jewellery; images of priestesses holding snakes and of young men and women leaping over the backs of giant bulls. What if these bull-leaping games had inspired the original myth of Theseus?

Although the rather melodramatic novel I wrote then was, luckily, never published, the images of that world never left me. Eventually I started playing with the idea of a completely new story set in the same era.

It started to take shape on a 2010 visit to New Delhi. Culture shock can be a great inspiration: new sounds and smells; beautiful buildings and overwhelming poverty. Home again, doodling with a fingerpaint app, I sketched a girl with a sad twisted mouth and tangled black curls. This wasn’t the direction I’d expected, but one evening in my tai chi class, the form of the story appeared in a luminescent blue bubble –  and no, I can’t explain it exactly what I mean by that, but it was powerful enough to bring me to tears. The next day I saw a dragonfly, the exact same colour as the bubble.

And dragonflies kept on appearing whenever I made a significant decision or saw something that helped to shape the story:  finding an offcut of chipped flint on a Danish island; visiting the mysterious deep blue source of a French river that would have seemed even more mysterious and holy in ancient timeDragonflySongBlogTourGraphics…

Ah the synchronicity of life…Thank you, Wendy!

Watch Wendy explain more, here. Catch up with her again as she continues her DragonFly Song Adventure and tour.

Stick around for my full review of Dragonfly Song coming soon. Meantime you can get it now, here, if you can’t wait to read it first!

Allen & Uwin June 2016

 

 

 

 

Being You is Best – Picture book reviews about Self

Teddy illo spreadIt is sheer coincidence that the following picture books lie on my desk at a time when the tenets of tolerance, acceptance and being yourself are being so brutally questioned again, (when are they not). However, it is heartening to know that equally powerful positive messages are available and as accessible as picking up one of these books and sharing it with the next generation. The message is clear and simple: being you best.  It’s ok. It’s empowering. It’s beautiful. And it is not wrong. Here are some awesome new publications, which emphasis this conviction.

Being You is Enough Being You is Enough and other important stuff by Josh Langley

Josh Langley produces a number of inspirational, aphorism-infused illustrated books but I especially warmed to this recent release aimed fair and square at primary aged readers. It contains ‘all the important stuff a kid should know…’ conveniently listed from 1 to 11. Loud, bold, and just a little bit irreverent, Langley encourages youngsters to recognise and listen to their own superpower, the voice in their heads.  This voice can mislead you but also be your best friend and guide you to other awesome thoughts.  He goes on to reveal ways to combat angry feelings, bad thoughts, and many other internal conflicts common to young kids.

There is no sugar coating the message here, the advice is simply described and plainly delivered. This honest and straightforward approach will appeal to under 10-year-olds and frankly anyone else who is suffering from a touch of self-doubt. Langley’s line illustrations are the perfect accompaniment to his affirmations, quirky and kid-like, again bursting with appeal.

Being You is Enough is a terrific green light of a book to strengthen kids’ self-awareness, acknowledge their need to ride unicorns and reinforce the understanding that they are loved and never alone. A must read, wonderful bunch of little miracles between two covers.

Big Sky Publishing February 2016

Introducing TeddyIntroducing Teddy A Story about being yourself by Jessica Walton Illustrated by Dougal MacPherson

I could not wait to read this one. Errol and his teddy, Thomas are the best of friends. They do everything together but increasingly, Thomas feels less and less like playing. Something disturbs him so deeply that he is terrified it will destroy his friendship with Errol. A mighty conflict of self is raging within Thomas who eventually reveals to Errol that he wishes his name were Tilly, not Thomas.

Walton’s sensitive narrative escorts young readers through the tricky landscape of gender awareness and acceptance. It is a watershed picture book for it not only exposes children to different family models, equality, and tolerance of others, it gently challenges the paradigms of society whilst highlighting its diversity.  MacPherson’s charm-laden illustrations ably reinforce Thomas aka Tilly’s growing discord and eventual surrender to being herself.

Full of relevance and grace, Introducing Teddy is tastefully rendered and should be on every classroom bookshelf.  Suitable for early to mid-primary readers and anyone fearful of questioning their own sexuality.

Bloomsbury Publishing May 2016

The Mozzie with the Sharp SnozzieThe Mozzie with a Sharp Snozzie by Irina Goundortseva

Resonating the delightful tones of the Ugly Duckling, The Mozzie with the Sharp Snozzie is a delightful visitation of one little mozzie’s sense of self. Our chipper little protagonist lives by the pond in perpetual awe of the beautiful butterflies who flutter about being beautiful all day long. She yearns to join them, to be as beautiful as them but they shun her because of her ugly and boring appearance. Disheartened, Mozzie retreats then embarks on a plan to elevate her popularity by disguising her true self. The shallow butterflies are enamoured by their beautiful new friend until disaster strikes and ‘things go from bad to worse’. Will Mozzie abandon her newfound friends and self-appreciation to save the day?

Vibrant illustrations accompany a lively text and storyline that will have little ones enthusiastically page turning to the very end.  Mozzie… is an invigorating tale about the benefits of being proactive, being yourself, and loving who you are. In addition, it does wonders for the esteem and profile of mozzies everywhere, which I think is reason enough to hunt it down to enjoy.

Big Sky Publishing August 2016

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

 

 

Review – One Would Think the Deep

One Would Think the DeepIf you thought Claire Zorn’s first two YA novels, The Sky So Heavy and The Protected, were brilliant, you’re going to need double tinted Ray Burns for her latest masterpiece, One Would Think the Deep.

Zorn manages to mould rough edged, grit-encrusted reality into exquisite accomplished prose with the mere flick of her fingers. One Would Think the Deep is a story that surges with emotion, confrontation, and ultimately, hope.

If I were to reflect on Sam’s story too deeply, I’d be overwhelmed with the melancholy of it, of him but this is not a tale of woe and hopelessness, in spite of its gently grim beginning. Its sincerity and swagger from the opening lines swept me along and held me afloat until the very end.

Shortly after one fateful New Year’s Eve, Sam Hudson finds himself suddenly orphaned, teetering on the precipice of shock, grief, graduation and homelessness. My stomach filled with sick ache for him as he called his Aunty Lorraine to inform her of his mother’s premature death.

With nothing more than his skateboard and a collection of 90s something mixed tapes (he listens to Jeff Buckley on his Walkman with the same obsession I did to ABBA), Sam lingers uncomfortably in the small coastal town of Archer Point with his aunty and cousins, Minty and Shane. He is caught in a turbulent no man’s land of past boyhood memories and buried family secrets, incapable of finding his fit. Grief and despair are his most loyal companions, second only to his cousin, Minty with whom he spent a chunk of his childhood.

Minty is the laWavetter day version of Taj Burrows, young, gifted, a surfing legend amongst the local crowds. His laconic life views and ability to work any wave endears Sam to the ocean. But it takes a few months before his newfound surf therapy begins to take effect. Despite the elegant monastic simplicity of ‘a life in the water’, Sam’s life continues its complicated hurtle toward (his) self-destruction. He pines for a past he doesn’t fully understand, yearns for the affections of a girl he can barely speak to and is constantly at crushing odds with most of his family members including, Nana. Sam’s emotional dichotomy of good boy battling the bad within is fascinating and heart wrenching at times. It’s impossible to dislike him because of what you feel for him feeling so much.

Sam’s story of hurt and healing is beautifully rendered. Even the most vicious of emotional situations are depicted with refined tenderness so that I found myself weeping emphatically throughout, not just at the end where you’d expect a need for tissues.

Each character is drawn with knife-edge sharpness. Each speaks with a clarity that never dulls. Every sense is heightened by the wrenching complexity of the lives of this very inconsequential, simple group of ordinary individuals. And it’s not just Sam who is damaged and vunerable. Each is noticeably flawed or at least weighed down by their own limitations to a point of exquisite confusion. I loved them all.

It’s not the surf, time, or chance or even family that ultimately saves Sam in as much as they all conspired to also undo him.  It’s that old chestnut love, which I believe is the true nucleus of One Would Think the Deep (the moments between Gretchen and Sam are incomparable).The ability to surf the ‘glistening wake’ of your leviathan fears and laugh about the results with people who love you is ultimately the key to surviving the ride.

If you are experiencing loss and your soul feels displaced, if you have a passion for the waves or you are still in love with the sounds of the 90s, then you must submerse yourself in this book.  I can almost hear Jeff Buckley crooning Hallelujah

UQP June 2016

Claire ZornStick around…in the coming weeks I’ll be chatting more deeply with Claire about her latest work and how she developed such impressive surfing lingo.  Meantime, you can find all her great reads, here.

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Curious Concepts – Concept picture book reviews

Concept picture books play a huge part in shaping a young person’s perceptions. They are capable of unlocking an inquisitiveness that hopefully sticks around for life and are crucial for developing critical thinking, reasoning, and logic. However, important educational concepts need not be strictly didactic and dull as these entertaining picture books clearly display.

Garden FriendsGarden Friends by Natalie Marshall is a Touch and Feel board book, sturdy and bright in appearance in the same vein as the That’s not my… series. This one directs 0 – 3-year-olds to experience their tactile investigations within a garden setting using short verb orientated phrases – ‘Duck is quacking!’ It’s joyous and sensual and a nice shift from the usual ‘touch and feel’ concept.

The Five Mile Press March 2016

Counting Through the DayCounting Through the Day by Margaret Hamilton and Anna Pignataro escorts pre-schoolers through a typical day from sunrise, to breakfast, to visits with Nanna and finally back off to bed. Along the way, our young protagonist gently encounters many fascinating objects and situations from two sturdy feet to five broody hens and even ‘thousands of raindrops falling from the sky’. And as children are wont to do, they count each and every one of them.

Hamilton’s gently rhyming verse and affecting choice of counting objects harness a child’s every day pleasures, highlighting the world around them: their toys, meals, the weather and so on. Numbers 1 – 11 are shown numerically and in words while Pignataro’s combination of drawn, painted, and collage illustrations are simply marvellous. The end pages alone will provide hours of delight and interest.

Counting Through the Day is as much about story as it is about learning to count. I love that readers are taken past the obligatory ‘10’, and are introduced to 11, 20, hundreds and even millions, exposing young minds to a universe of infinite possibilities. Easy to grasp and absolutely beautiful to enjoy.

Little Hare Books imprint HGE 2016

For someone whose spatial awareness is not as sharp as it could be, the next two picture books are a real boon. They encourage an understanding of the relationship of objects to oneself and in ones world in a clever and entertaining way that ensures high levels of reader investment and interest.

The Shape of My HeartThe Shape of My Heart by Mark Sperring Illustrated by Alys Paterson is a board book sized banquet of colour, shapes, and rhymes; images guaranteed to captivate 0 – 5-year-olds. This is no ordinary ‘this shape is a…’ book. It expands the notion of appearance and form by depicting the most obvious shape to start with – you and me. From there, readers are shown the various shape of parts of our anatomy (eyes, mouth, feet) the environment in which they live (sun, houses) and those shapes that inhabit the world with them (birds, vehicles, creatures in the zoo) and so on. I love how the shape you can hear with (ears for instance) leads to a myriad of other shapes that make up our existence. Sounds confusing to describe but not to behold and read thanks to Paterson’s cheerful and shapely illustrations. Reminiscent of Mem Fox’s Where is the Green Sheep? in parts, The Shape of My Heart combines visual literacy, introduction of sounds, and rousing vocabulary whilst neatly implying that everything that shapes our lives fits within our hearts and you can’t get any more spatial than that. Highly recommended.

Bloomsbury for Children February 2016

What Could it BeWhat Could it Be? by Sally Fawcett is a fascinating picture book initiative combining the best bits of storytelling, creative stimulation, and subliminal learning. Displayed in complementing double page spreads, Fawcett gently introduces young readers to some well-known geometric shapes and colours. Pre-schoolers and early primary schoolers may already be loosely familiar with shapes such as circles, ovals, and even octagons. They are probably discovering the mysteries of an artist’s palette, as well but in What Could it Be?, they are challenged to delve deeper, look more closely and investigate the world of possibilities surrounding them.

With the help of, a young boy named Max, readers are prompted to answer the ‘what if’ inspired notion to think outside of the box and tap into their creative souls. Each page of story is gloriously illustrated by Fawcett who cleverly secretes dozens upon dozens of obviously hidden aspects in each scene to be discovered by roving little eyes. I say obvious because this picture book adventure serves to show that every conceivable form, colour and object in our worlds are there for us to find if we just look hard enough and perhaps use a little imagination.

Children will delight in the seek and find quality of What Could it Be?. In addition, this book has far-reaching usefulness in homes, schools, and early learning centres. I see a future for it in home schooling, too as it fosters a genuine exploration and appreciation of the world around us. At the book’s conclusion, children are invited to go one-step further and are encouraged to think, experiment, create, and share for themselves.

Unleash your child’s creativity with this one!

EK Books June 2016

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Spinning Tales – Cricket inspired Young Fiction

I realise it’s brass-monkey weather already and for many a young sportsperson, rugby jerseys are in preference to baggy greens. However, the warming image of red leather cracking against willow against a burnished summer sky is one I am in dire need of right now. Therefore, here are a few of some recent favourite cricket inspired reviews. I use the term favourite with reserve for if not for this selection of picture books and novels, I might still not know my googlies from my dot balls.

Picture Books

Knockabout CricketKnockabout Cricket by Neridah McMullin Illustrated by Ainsley Walters

Until last year, I had little idea of the exact history of Australian cricket and was unaware that one of our first International cricket stars was an unassuming bloke called Unaarramin, otherwise known as Johnny from Mullagh Station in WA.

Knockabout Cricket is a fictional portrayal about Johnny’s appearance onto the 1860’s cricketing landscape. Through the eyes of a pastoral station’s son, James, readers are introduced to a tall Aboriginal boy whose natural aptitude, ball skills and ability to ‘read’ the ball is nothing short of spectacular. A team of indigenous players is soon formed and admired by all who watch their daring and athletic play.

Johnny MullaghThe subsequent matches played between the Aboriginal 11 and the Melbourne Cricket Club become the catalyst for what is known today as the Boxing Day Test and eventually, the first tour of England by an Australian cricket side in 1886.

McMullin’s narrative is complemented by informative text neatly incorporated into each page of Walters’ illustrations. The overall effect is alluring and maintains interest but perhaps the most fascinating addition for me was the handy field position drawing and photograph of the Aboriginal cricketers alongside the Melbourne Cricket Ground Pavilion in 1867.

A worthy introduction to a sport legend for early primary readers.

One Day Hill Publishers February 2015

Boomerang and BatBoomerang and Bat by Mark Greenwood Illustrated by Terry Denton

This long awaited picture book release does not disappoint. This time the story of the First Real Eleven is told through the eyes of Johnny Mullagh himself thereby evoking a slightly more personal feel. Where before, we knew the names of the indigenous team thanks to a photograph, in Boomerang and Bat, Greenwood involves each of the shearers and station hands by name from the start.  Within pages, we are familiar with Cuzens’ barefoot bowling; Dick-a-Dick’s heroic parrying displays, and Johnny’s exceptional batting prowess.

Under the tutelage and determination of captain-coach, Charles Lawrence, the team eventually makes it to the MCG. However, Lawrence has more far-reaching plans for his team and so covertly smuggles them aboard The Parramatta Clipper bound for England thus initiating the first international tour for an Australian cricket side.

Johnny’s team went on to delight and excite crowds at Lords, whilst proudly donning caps with the emblem of a boomerang and bat. They earned standing ovations and considerable admiration until the demands of touring and occasional discrimination became too strenuous, killing one teammate and eventually sending the others back to Australia. Despite their amazing sporting achievements abroad, there was little fanfare to welcome the Australian 11 home. Johnny continued to play the game he loved with amazing adroitness often scoring a hundred runs, however it would be another ten years before another Australian cricket side would leave the country again to compete. For this reason alone, Johnny and his teammates are Australia’s first true international cricket stars.

Boomerang and Bat illos spreadGreenwood’s balanced narrative is both touching and colourful conveying fact with soul. Denton’s illustrations capture the humour and atmosphere of not only the pastoral settlements and rugged proving grounds of our players but also the refined serenity of the playing fields of the home of cricket.

An awesome historic picture book to share with pre-schoolers and above.

Allen & Unwin April 2016

Meet Don BradmanMeet…Don Bradman by Coral Vass Illustrated by Brad Howe

Being a non-sporty, bookish type of kid who gained much of her Australian contemporary history knowledge from the TV mini-series of the 80s, I had but a peripheral knowledge of last century’s cricketing legend, Don Bradman. Thankfully Random House’s Meet..series is around to fill in some of my sporting history gaps and educate new generations about one of our national heroes.

Vass’s narrative opens with Don as a small boy, completely engrossed with the game of cricket. He practises daily, studies the form of players constantly and one day, in spite of his smallish stature, takes up the bat. Instead of a meteoric rise to cricketing stardom, life pitched a few dot balls of its own and Don had to work and wait his way to his dreams like the rest of us. Thankfully, he never declared them over. His spectacular batting ability was soon signed up by the St George team in Sydney allowing to him compete in the national Sheffield Shield competition for NSW. He debuted by scoring a century. Not bad for ‘the Boy from Bowral’.

Meet Don Bradman illos spreadWith the help of Howe’s cartoonesque illustrations reminiscent of 30s and 40s comic strips, readers follow Bradman through his career as he sets new records, scores new highs and helps Australia win and retain the coveted Ashes (1934 and 1936). Even the controversial Bodyline tactic devised by the English Cricket team in the 1932-1933 Ashes series was not enough to curb the brilliance of one of Australia’s most impressive sportsmen to date.

Captivating end pages and a succinct timeline pay further homage to ‘our Don Bradman’ and ensure another part of our cricketing heritage is not lost to new generations.

Random House Children April 2016

Mid-Grade Novels

Lucky BreakGlen Maxwell Lucky Break by Patrick Loughlin Illustrated by James Hart

If modern T20 cricket is more your thing, cast your beau peeps on this exciting series by Penguin Random House. The first book of this cricket series endorsed by T20 Player of the Year, Glen Maxwell, hit the stands in 2014. Since then Academy All-Stars, World Domination and State Showdown have bowled into bookstores.

Highly recommended for any kid who has a passion for team sports, cricket whites or even just a thirst for exciting dual gender inspired adventure, the Glen Maxwell series penned by sporting enthusiast, Patrick Loughlin rings with solid spotting voice, tween humour and plenty of fast paced action. They are perfect reads for those needing an excuse to read something that thrills rather than bores.

Glen MaxwellI do not know cricket, do not watch cricket, nor even profess to love cricket. However, I thoroughly enjoyed these books thanks to the energetic storylines, bolstering words of encouragement from a real-life sporting icon and (thank goodness) a comprehensive glossary of cricketing terms that means this summer those tedious hours spent in front of the tellie watching seagulls scatter across the pitch will suddenly become much more meaningful.

Random House Children’s Books December 2014 – November 2015

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Australian Story – Stories with a love of Country

Wednesday the 25th May marks the 16th National Simultaneous Storytime event. Aimed at promoting the value of reading and enjoying stories inspired and produced by Australians this campaign sits neatly alongside the 2016 CBCA Book Week Theme – Australia! Story Country. Story telling expeditiously fosters an appreciation and understanding of our unique Australian humour, environment, and its inhabitants so it’s vital that a love of books and reading begins at a young age. This is why I love this selection of picture books relating to Country and those who call it home.

Magabala Books

Crabbing with DadThis publishing house routinely produces books that preserve and promote Indigenous Australian Culture. Paul Seden’s Crabbing with Dad, is chock-a-block with eye popping illustrations and is a feast for the senses as our protagonist and best mate, Sam go crabbing with their Dad up the creek. They encounter several other folk fishing or hunting among the mangroves and waterways and eventually pull up their own crustacean reward. I love the vitality and verve this story promotes and that spending time with the ones you love are life’s best rewards.

April 2016

The Grumpy Lighthouse KeeperFor clever repetitive phrasing and a colourful introduction to yet more of our dubious sea life, The Grumpy Lighthouse Keeper will light up the faces of 3 – 5 year-olds. Inspired by the iconic Broome Lighthouse, author, Terrizita Corpus and illustrator, Maggie Prewett help our indignant lighthouse keeper to survive a stormy wet-season night as the slippery, slimy, wet creatures of the sea take refuge in his warm, dry bed. Loads of fun, if you aren’t the lighthouse keeper!

April 2016

Mad Magpie (high res)Gregg Dreise is a name to remember. Mad Magpie is the third picture book in his morality series based on the sayings and stories of his Elders and possibly the best one yet, although Kookoo Kookaburra was a huge hit in this household, too. Dreise’s picture books embrace and preserve the art of storytelling harnessing fables and wisdoms and making them accessible for today’s new generations.

His line dot authentic illustrations are pure magic and elevate the enjoyment of this tale tenfold. I found myself continuously stroking the pages so enamoured was I by the exquisite patterning and textures throughout. Guluu, the angry magpie’s tale captures the spirit of the landscape and reinforces the turn-the-other-cheek idiom. The Elders encourage Guluu to ignore those who taunt and tease him. They show him how to find ways to still his anger and remain calm so that he is able to stand proud and strong, like the life-giving river. This is an impressive tale promoting positive ways to combat bullying and enhance individuality.

May 2016

Cheeky Critters

Go Home Cheeky AnimalsAnother picture book that successfully captures the essence of place and changing of the seasons is Go Home, Cheeky Animals! by Johanna Bell and Dion Beasley. Simple repeating narrative gears readers up for the next instalment of animals – goats, buffaloes and camels to name a few – to inundate  a small outback community and taunt the dogs that are supposed to be on the lookout for such intruders. Beasley’s paint and pencil illustrations are naïve in style and full on cheek and colour, which results in phenomenal kid appeal. Superb fun and heart.

Allen & Unwin Children’s April 2016

Barnabas the BulllyfrogBarnabas is a Bullfrog who relentlessly teases and belittles the inhabitants of the Macadamia farm in Barnabas the Bullyfrog. When springtime blooms bring on a spate of spluttery sneezing, Barnabas blames it on the bees and is intent on wiping out their busy buzziness. Nosh the Nutmobile rallies his faithful friends, uniting them in a sweet intervention that cures Barnabas’s allergies and unseemly social discrepancies. Barnabas the Bullyfrog is the forth in The Nutmobile Series created by Macadamia House publications and Little Steps Publishing. Rollicking verse (by Em Horsfield) and Glen Singleton’s quintessential Aussie themed illustrations bring Nosh, Arnold and the gang musically to life. You can’t get any more Queensland than Macca nuts and cane toads however, these tales have strong universal appeal as well; this one admirably speaking up against bullies and for the world’s prized pollinators. Well done, Nosh!

Little Steps Publishing 2015

Possums Galore

Possum GamesThey may send us batty at times with their frenetic nocturnal antics but who can deny the perennial appeal of a cute round-eyed Brushtail possum. Michelle Worthington and Sandra Temple have pieced together a delightful picture book, with lilting language and winsome illustrations. Possum Games is the story of Riley, a small possum who is shy and awkward, unsure of himself and frankly, awful at sports. However, in spite of his shortcomings and apparent inability to join in, Riley has big dreams, which thanks to a twist and a dodge of fate, spring into realisation one fateful night. Possum Games is more than a tale of finding your perfect fit. It stimulates tenacity and boosts confidence and more than ably explains the actions behind the ruckus possums make on our rooves at night. A fabulous read for pre-schoolers and young primary readers.

Wombat Books 2014

The Midnight PossumMore midnight antics are revealed in Sally Morgan’s and Jess Racklyeft’s The Midnight Possum, this time in the heart of our bushland. Possum loves the midnight hour, which brings on a tendency in him to roam. As he bounds through the treetops, he encounters an Australian potpourri of animals until he happens upon a distressed mother possum who has lost her baby. Possum’s pluck and courage save the day (and the baby Ringtail). The innate curiosity and diversity for adaption possums possess are gently portrayed in this charming picture book. Racklyeft’s acrylic painted and collage illustrations amplify the allure. A sweet addition to your Australiana collection.

Scholastic Australia 2016

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Packing it on – Dog titles with a Difference

I can’t help it, but my shelves seemed littered (pardon the pun) with delightful doggie-inspired titles lately. Just what makes animal tales, namely those featuring cute and courageous canines so attractive for young readers? Is it that dogs and cats are real, free of pretension and judgement and brimming with pure joie de vivre? Is it because their will to live for the here and now surpasses all others, just like a young child’s? Whatever the magnetic force behind the love of dog stories, this small pack merely reinforces the bond.

Picture Books

The Whole CaboodleThe Whole Caboodle by Lisa Shanahan Illustrated by Leila Rudge

Lisa Shanahan brought us the irrepressible Bear and Chook and has a knack of capturing the thrill of story within singsong narrative. The Whole Caboodle is no exception and offers ‘oodles’ of imaginative linguistic word play with the added bonus of walking 3 – 5 year-olds through some fun counting rhymes. It’s more of a stroll-through-the-park-spot-the-hidden-dog-breed than a full-blown doggie tale, but Rudge’s expressive illustrations will keep you tugging at the leash for more. Great for kids who are into dogs and all their varied shapes and sizes.

Scholastic Press April 2016

My Dog DashMy Dog Dash by Nicki Greenberg

The memories of my not-so-distant puppy schooling experience with our border collie leapt back to prominence as I read Greenberg’s cute account of one little girl’s adventures with her new pet. If you were to read the text aloud without the pictures, you’d swear her pet, the fiend of puppy school, is the worst dog you’d ever laid eyes on. Look again though and you’ll see that not all dogs are created equal. After one agonising night of anguish, this pet turns out to be the best companion ever. Greenberg rarely disappoints. Her jolly illustrations, beguiling contradicting narrative, lovable characters, and utterly adorable ending are assured winners. Go Dash, Go!

Allen & Unwin April 2016

Mrs DogMrs Dog by Janeen Brian Illustrated by Marjorie Crosby-Fairall

As a child, I once read a story about a cat told from the cat’s point-of-view. The cat knew his owner as Fur-on-The-Face. I can’t recall the title or author but have never forgotten the magic of living in the head of that cat and seeing the world as he saw it. Mrs Dog reignites that magic in the most alluring and compelling way. Mrs Dog is too old to round up the Woolly-Heads anymore but that doesn’t stop her from adopting an orphaned baby Woolly-Head, whom she calls, Baa-rah. She takes Baa-rah under her paw, teaching her all there is to know about the farm except how to bark properly. Little Baa-rah is unable to communicate this way until he is forced to find his inner-dog and save his best friend

  Brian’s exquisite use of language is the beating heart of this gorgeous picture book and conveys a story that will bring a tear to your eye and a smile to your heart. Crosby-Fairall’s illustrations are equally divine. The alternating use of perspective shifts the reader seamlessly from merely being an observer to Mrs Dog’s, the Tall-Ones’ and of course adorable little Baa-rah’s point-of-view. A simple tale of devotion, love and loyalty possessing all the best bits of Babe but stunning and memorable in its own right. Highly recommended and not just because Mrs Dog is a beautiful Collie.

The Five Mile Press May 2016

Mid-grade Reader

Regal BeagleRegal Beagle by Vijay Khurana Illustrated by Simon Greiner

This is an enjoyable little mix up of a book attractively presented as a hard soft cover just right for post preschool hands to master. Combining imagination with fantasy, Regal Beagle tells the tale of Lucy, the deceased Queen’s best friend and only living beneficiary to the throne. Lucy is brave and clever, caring and loyal but is in danger of losing her crown to the diabolical Lord Runcible who craves the title of ruler of the kingdom as his own. His obsession to rid the kingdom of Queen Lucy causes an infestation of plague proportions and provides plenty of witty hustle to this easy to read story. Khurana’s writing style is chatty and carefree and is ably supported by Greiner’s jazzy graphic illustrations. A fun, flowing read perfect for kids who understand that anything is possible.

Random House Australia 2014

Junior Fiction

The Dog, Ray by Linda Coggin

The Dog RayThis blue ribbon read strikes with pinpoint accuracy at dog-loving 7 – 12 year-olds. Hefty subject matter is served up as a heart-warming tale about a girl who dies tragically and returns to life as a dog following a Pearly Gates blunder. As pedestrian as that sounds, this sweet little story lopes along at a satisfying pace that will keep children page turning until the very end. Daisy aka Ray’s spiritual, emotional and canine journey is just as likely to make you grin as it is to move you to sadness, however one thing is for sure, it will captivate young readers enough to make them want to wag their tails (if they had them). Funny, spirited and stirring, The Dog, Ray embodies much more than just Daisy’s afterlife as a dog. Homelessness, friendship, animal cruelty, tragedy, and family relationships are incorporated throughout this story, which is big on heart and suffused with hope. It does have a happy ever after ending, however perhaps not the one you were hoping for. Concise, captivating and creative.

Hot Key Books first published 2010 Bonnier  April 2016

 

Review – The Pause

The PauseThis book is remarkable. John Larkin cleaves a mighty wedge into our suspension of belief with the consummate precision and delicacy of a brain surgeon. The Pause doesn’t just tell the story of emotionally damaged Declan O’Malley poised to leap in front of a train and end it all; it entertains the reader in a way that allows you to spontaneously laugh aloud whilst weeping.

Declan is about to leave his teenage-hood behind and as it turns out, his life too. With everything to live for he makes a fatal unplanned decision set to change his path and all those his life (and death) affects. However, before Declan suicides, he pauses. What follows is a fascinating narrative of Declan’s before and after and the parallel consequences of his decision. The Pause has a strong ‘sliding doors’ quality; essentially  it’s an alloy of two versions of one life that invites readers to think hard about the multitude of tiny insignificant decisions we make with every breath and how they define and dictate the direction our lives take.

John LarkinThis novel is absorbing. Larkin’s structure elevates empathy and firmly imbues us into Declan’s emotional quandaries. The pace is never frantic but it is unrelenting nevertheless. It is a story that is difficult to step away from. You will not want clean the kitty litter tray or answer the front door once you step onto that station platform with Declan.

Larkin’s characters cut with knife-edge deftness. Declan is a complex mixture of teenage swagger and self-doubt. He is both grounded and deeply disturbed, harbouring a hurt so painful, it threatens to derail him for good.  He is acutely aware of his shortcomings and that hormones have as much to do with his rational thought destruction as anything else as a teenager. Yet in spite of his chemical and emotional acknowledgement, he is still side-blinded by the actuality of life and his mental frailty. Like many adults and young people, he has very little idea of just how mentally sick he is until it is literally too late. However throughout all this tenderly rendered turmoil, Declan possess a sarcasm and comical observation on life so clean and unrestrained it will make your heart bubble. If I had a son, I would want a version of this boy.

Declan’s support crew: his faithful school mates, his wickedly wonderful family, his gorgeous girlfriend and her estranged demon mother are equally as colourful and mosaic, all layered with such incredible meticulousness that you will want to either hug or slap them accordingly. Through them, we visit the impacts of mental disease, ADHC syndrome, family relationships, regret, sexuality, self-acceptance, and suicide as well as the cry for universal understanding.

Larkin’s prose is beautiful. Apart from being a story of teenage angst and depression, The Pause is a crushing love story. It swells with hope and the desire to live. It resounds with a fervent realisation that life is not always straightforward and simple but if we take time to acknowledge our own self-worth, if we simply pause for thought to see life through, the possibilities are endless.

Confronting, elegant, and accountably decisive, The Pause is an astonishing masterpiece of torn emotions and triumphant spirit that is essential YA (and beyond) reading.

Random House Australia April 2016

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Mums are Super! – Small reads, big on Heart

Mums come in all shapes and sizes and deserve adulations, which match their boundless love, tireless efforts, and quiet achievements. To fit them all into one day – Mother’s Day – is a mission impossible so shower your mother with gratitude (and great reads) year round! Or, if you are like me and prefer to share special literary moments with your reasons for motherhood (aka your brood), then curl up with one or two of these titles, together.

Too Cute 0 – 4 year olds

I love You Carry and Play board bookI Love You

This super dinky, pretty in pink board book forms part of the Carry and Play series, which neatly cover most of the celebratory seasons of the year: Christmas, Halloween, Spring time and so on. I Love You is an excellent fit for Mother’s Day given the mummies and babies theme. Simple assuring text, sweet illustrations and a shape and size that is perfect for little people with tiny hands and big hearts to grab on to will ensure hours of devoted reading; they’ll love toting around their very own copy.

Bloomsbury 2016

You have my Heart by Corrine Fenton and Robin CowcherYou Have my Heart

Another smallish picture book big on heart is You have my Heart. The suggestion that something special lies within begins with the padded cover and rich depth of joy portrayed by the bright red balloons, which float quietly yet purposefully throughout. The balloon belongs to someone who like us all, drifts through life on an ever-changing tide of emotions. There are good days, great days and ‘tears-tumbling-down days.’ This is a delicate exploration of Parrot’s Six primary emotions and all the other in-between days, ultimately uplifting and reassuring young readers of their value and worth and that they are loved and cherished You have my Heart illos spreadunconditionally. Cowcher’s restrained two-tone illustrations are superlative. Guaranteed to melt your heart.

The Five Mile Press April 2016

Pre-school Perfect 3 years +

My Mum's special SecretMy Mum’s Special Secret by Sally Morgan Illustrated by Ambelin Kwaymullina

Every child thinks their mum is special. It probably has a lot to do with the way she selflessly provides and cares for them. How she always has time to play with them, guide and teach them, watch over them and share with them the small wonders of their immense worlds, much like mother Kookaburra does with her chick. Morgan’s simple conversational text sits comfortably alongside Kwaymullina’s jolly colour-filled illustrations. Bold and bright, big on Aussie character but possessing a theme recognisable in any language, this neat little picture book will reinforce the mother-child bond snuggly.

Omnibus Books April 2016

Nannie LovesNannie Loves by Kylie Dunstan

Celebrating a mother’s love spans many generations including a grandmother’s. By examining each and everything and everyone Nannie loves, Dunstan takes us on a vivid holiday to Nannie’s farm, however for the narrator, it’s a much cherished regular visit. We meet her cows and chooks and Grandpa with his assortment of checked shirts. We ride tractors, wander about the farm, help collect eggs and best of all participate in the beautiful sharing of family and food. It’s a love of countrNannie Loves chooks illosy, family, and life that is pure and encompassing and it is superbly rendered  by Dunstan’s use of paper collage and pencil illustrations. I love it. I ‘m sure your Nan will, too. Gorgeous for those shared reading occasions when you both want to feel extra special.

Working Title Press March 2016

Fantastic Fun for 4 – 10 year olds

SupermumSupermum by Leah Russack Illustrated by Anil Tortop

Have you ever notice just how super your mum is? Perhaps not as she dashes about conjuring up meals, making mess disappear and healing all hurts. For one small child however, their mum’s superpowers are sensational secrets they are busting to share, so they do. This picture book is outrageous fun and exploits the perennial favourites – imaginative play and superheroes – with funky new verve and humour thanks to Tortop’s charismatic illustrations. Crackling with wit and colour, each scene smartly supports Russack’s simple statements – with a nifty twist that every child will immediately warm to. Supermum is proof positive that mums can do just about anything, with or without a cape. Superb for reading aloud and jumping off couches with.

Scholastic Australia April 2016

Take Ted InsteadTake Ted Instead by Cassandra Webb Illustrated by Amanda Francey

It’s the uncluttered natural flow of Webb’s narrative that makes Take Ted Instead a delight to read out loud but it’s Francey’s lavish illustrations that will draw readers back to this tale of bedtime procrastination. Yes, familiar theme but fun new approach with plenty of predictive word play that readers under five will appreciate just as fondly as those slightly older. Our little boy is tired but rather than succumb to bed, clings to a rising determination to send his many varied companions off in his place; my favourite bedtime victim is next-door-neighbour Ned but I think Francey’s portrayal of Ed (the goldfish) is gorgeous, too. Will Ted end up in bed, alone or will bedtime end in peace and joy? A delicious bedtime story to wind up Mother’s Day with.

New Frontier Publishing April 2016

Hope yours is wonderful, too. Happy Mother’s Day to all the Supermums out there.

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Marching Forward – Remembering Bravery Reviews

Remembering, honouring, commiserating, – learning. When recently reading ANZAC titles to my maturing primary schooler, she asked, ‘Are there still wars, going on?’ I had to reply that yes, sadly there were. However, by sharing the past and gradually exposing children to the realities of it, hopefully they become better equipped to care enough to avoid and prevent future conflicts. It’s a reality I’d like to hope for. These titles perpetuate that hope while escorting young readers through the historical past.

Forward MarchForward March by Christobel Mattingley Illustrated by David Kennett Picture Book

This is a curious ANZAC picture book, more of a compilation of ANZAC Day emotions, colours and locations commiserating the loss of our war veterans and the sacrifice they made. The opening page appears sombre and cold at first; pre-dawn on ANZAC Day morn. Look closely though and you’ll notice a pale yellow light entreating hope and promise. It represents one of the many war memorials across Australia where keen crowds gather to remember not only our great-grandads, dads, sons and grandsons, but also the grandmas, mothers, daughters and aunties, all those affected by battles they never ever wished for nor properly understood.

Mattingley’s sparse yet rousing statements honour all those who left their families and land to serve abroad whilst also acknowledging those who stayed behind and kept the country ticking over, ending with the rising of the dawn, the Last Post and a pledge to never forget.

What really captivates though are Kennett’s painted and drawn illustrations clustered in muted sepia-coloured vignettes that resemble the type of photo album your grandmother might have kept. Although an eyeful to take in all at once, these spreads tell of life on the battlefields in ways that leave words gasping. Several international conflicts are depicted including the Boer War, both Great Wars and the Vietnam War giving children wider scope and deeper meaning to exactly what we are remembering when standing at the cenotaph on ANZAC Day.

Ideal for prompting discussion of past world commemorative events amongst early primary schoolers presented with respect and restraint.

Omnibus Books March 2016

Socks Sandbags and LeechesSocks, Sandbags & Leeches Letters to my Anzac Dad by Pauline Deeves Illustrated Fiction

This hardcover illustrated tribute to those who served in the First World War is uniquely different to other children’s books drawing on this theme. Significantly, it is told through the eyes of a twelve-year-old child, Ivy whose father has left to fight overseas.

Deeves executes the same breezy epistolary style used in Midnight Burial to inform readers about life back in Australia whilst great chunks of her population were, in many ways, coerced to fight overseas. Through a series of letters written over a period of four years to her father who is first posted to Gallipoli and later France, Ivy describes how she and her mother had to move house, live with their Aunt Hilda and succumb to the restrictions of life during wartime.

Ivy’s voice is delightfully informal and intimate, eliciting strong young reader appeal and interest. She mentions various modernisations and several vagaries of life over 100 years ago that our tech –imbued children of today might well find absurd. I particularly appreciated Ivy’s illustrations included in her letters.

Socks Sandbags and Leeches illos spreadDeeves flourishes fact with fiction in a way that imparts a lot of new and interesting information. Although essentially a story about Socks, Sandbags & Leeches, readers can locate various topics about Conscription, the Retreat from Gallipoli and what school was like for example from the headings listed in the Contents. Scrapbook type pages crammed with authentic sketches, prints and excerpts of the time enhance the appearance of Ivy’s collection of letters and serve to reinforce the information she is relaying to her absent father.

A fascinating storytelling approach and account of the First World War for readers nine to fifteen.

National Library of Australia NLA February 2016

Dreaming the EnemyDreaming the Enemy by David Metzenthen YA novel

I have to include this new novel by master story teller, David Metzenthen, tackling the effects of Post-Traumatic Stress associated with one of our more recent political conflicts. Immersing readers into hot sweating jungle warfare and solider psyche, makes for a challenging read, not for the faint hearted. There’s a possibility it will create lasting impressions but not because of any insensitive gratuitous horror (there isn’t any) rather because it’s narrated in a somewhat disconnected way, from deep inside the head of a returned Vet and his erstwhile Viet Cong nemesis.

If you think you have difficulties getting your head around this psychological battle, spare a thought for the main character, Johnny Shoebridge. His tale of post-Vietnam traumatic anxiety is as wrenching and spellbinding as it is complicated and beautiful. Johnny has left the battlefields but has brought home a dread of living and the ghost-fighter, Khan who relentlessly dogs him. He knows he will remain forever at war if he can’t find a way to lay this phantom to rest.

Metzenthen has woven an elegant web of infinite detail, spinning tragedy and despair with hope and healing, undoable finality with incomplete futures, expanding on the truism that a solider may leave the battlefield behind but that the battle may never truly leave him.

‘Death never ended for the living.’

Wit and plenty of ribald reality checks temper Metzenthen’s breathtaking use of language and meticulous description while characters so real you can literally hear and smell them give you a great sense of tangibility. By the end of it, we come to acknowledge the awful truth we’ve suspected all along just like Khan and Johnny, that war is never really about wanting to kill or having a choice about it. Dreaming the Enemy decries this ultimate tragedy with a force so powerful it leaves your heart heaving.

Older teen readers will gain immeasurably from this stirring read as will the rest of us. Stunning and faultless.

Allen & Unwin 2016

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Getting Serious about Series # 4 – Ripper Reads for Girls

Lola's Toybox Patchwork PicnicI don’t usually like to categorise reads into which gender they might appeal to better. I believe every child is individual and will find a story to fit their unique reading tastes no matter how pink the cover or how boyish the hero. To say that boys should be directed to sports orientated titles and little girls to books about bunnies is pre-historic thinking and infers we (little girls) don’t like puppy dogs’ tails and snails. Simply not true! However, there can be no denying that certain reads will attract certain readers more powerfully than others. This luscious collection of chapter books and mid-graders will undoubtedly appeal to the sweet-toothed predilections of little misses given they are choking with cuteness and gee gees and unicorns.

Lola’s Toy Box by Danny Parker Illustrated by Guy Shield

This is a perfectly placed first-time-chapter-book series for little readers just putting their A B Cs together. These books provide useful stepping-stones in Lola's Toybox On Story Seathe crossover from readers to more exciting chapter books, each with a softly delivered message and each peppered with adventure. Anyone with an animated imagination and insatiable love for their toys will adore Lola’s Toy Box series. Lola and her toy clown Buddy, chance upon a portal – an old toy box, which transports them time after time to the varied lands of The Kingdom where they experience toy-filled adventures beyond their wildest dreams.

The Patchwork Picnic is the first of this series so far. Other exciting toy-land destinations include The Plastic Palace, On the Story Sea, and The Treasure Trove. The Timberfield Talent Show is the very latest release. Wild and whimsical, just what five to seven-year-old emerging readers need.

Hardie Grant Egmont 2015 – February 2016

Pine Valley Ponies The Forbidden TrailPine Valley Ponies by Kate Welshman Illustrated by Heath McKenzie

Pint-sized people from six years of age who love ponies, have ponies, ride ponies or want to ride ponies will fall over themselves with this new pony series. McKenzie’s tummy tickling drawings  (his horse characters are darling!) ably romp alongside short, easy-to-read chapters about Maddy and her pony, Snowy and their induction into the Pine Valley Riding ranch.

It’s not all smooth cantering for Maddy however, as she attempts to fit in amongst the fancy-pantsed, equine experienced girls of her class. However, the call of adventure soon overrides difficulties and cements her love of Pine Valley Ponies The Pony Showhorse riding, as it will for those absorbed in her antics. Start with The Forbidden Trail and move onto The Runaway Foal then prepare yourself for The Pony Show.

There is much for horse-orientated kids to love here, from the bright pastel and foil covers, enticing page layouts, pony profiles, nifty horsey Q & A and loads more besides. Well recommended.

Scholastic Press October 2015 – March 2016

Ruby Wishfingers illoRuby Wishfingers by Deborah Kelly Illustrated by Leigh Hedstrom

Ruby Wishfingers is an absolute crack up of a series. I loved the first instalment, Skydancer’s Escape and can’t wait to get into Toady-ally Magic. Suitable for slightly older primary aged readers, this tantalising new series still features terrific line drawings and easy to digest chapters but it’s the humour infused story line, flavoured with more than a hint of magic that truly makes Ruby irresistible.

Ruby Wishfingers Toadlly MagicShe’s your run of the mill ordinary girl with a peculiar name who one day awakens with a weird tingling sensation in her fingertips. She soon realises it’s a force to be reckoned with and that you should be careful what you wish for.

Loaded with lovable characters, talking pocket-sized unicorns, indignant felines, jellybean rain and magic, Ruby Wishfingers books will not disappoint those who love adventure and fast zany reads. My pick of the crop.

Wombat Books March 2016

Keeper of the Crystals Runaway UnicornKeeper of the Crystals by Jess Black Illustrated by Celeste Hulme

The things you’ll notice first about this adventure fantasy series are the brilliant covers and sparkly titles. Each of this four part series about Eve and her unlikely companion, Oscar lures young readers in like fish to wriggling worms. It begins when the pair unwittingly unleash the power of the crystals after they open a forbidden wooden box in Eve’s Nan’s attic.

The initial crystal is of a small unicorn, which is a portal into a mysterious fantastical far away land, Panthor. Suggestions of environmental instability and political oppression in each of the strange new worlds Eve and Oscar are transported to resonate throughout these tales albeit all disguised with action, myth, and fantasy for the young reader.

Keeper of the Crystal Eve and the Last DragonAn attractive series that would suit readers seven years and above and those with a penchant for the surreal.

New Frontier Publishing June 2015 – March 2016

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Powerfully Poignant – Historical MG reviews

Courage to CareBeing part of the human species is not always a club I’m proud to belong to. We can be pretty awful to each other sometimes even though most of us, most of the time err on the side of kindness. History allows us to mark the good times and the kind people. More frequently however, it serves as a reminder of the inglorious periods of our human existence. We cannot and should not hide from them if we want humanity to evolve, which is why these next three books make for such fundamental reading. All would complement the historical fiction shelves of young readers aged between 11 and 15. All encourage us to recognise discrimination, understand its origins, and be brave enough to fight its ugly consequences. All invite us to care in a powerfully poignant way.

One Thousand HillsOne Thousand Hills by James Roy and Noel Zihabamwe

This book is devastating. Powerful and wrenching yet achingly beautiful. Roy and Zihabamwe have given one ten-year-old boy a voice among an ocean of hundreds of thousands that were silenced without reason or mercy. Written with understated force and crisp, almost child-like clarity, One Thousand Hills traces the tension fraught days leading up to one of the most despicable acts of genocide the world as ever known, the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

Pascal lives in Agabande, close to Kigali, in the heart of Rwanda. His life is simple and idyllic despite the taunts of his older brother and annoying traits of his little sister, Nadine. His parents work hard, worship what is good and Godly, and provide for their family as devoutly as the rest of the villagers who reside in the verdant mountainous countryside. They are a mixed family of Hutu and Tutsis, yet they share the same brutality and sheer ‘awfulness’ of this crime against humanity, born of fear and a need to sustain power with over 800,000 other Rwandans.

This novel does not sensationalise the violence nor does it dwell on the political legitimacy and shortcomings of the world’s nations who at first refused to acknowledge the genocide and certainly did nothing to prevent or end it. Instead, readers are shown how Pascal, via his vivid and eloquent narrations to a counsellor in Brussels some five years later, survived the ordeal and how his experiences changed him.

His voice rings loud and pure yet is tragically and irreversibly altered by what he has seen and had to do to save himself and Nadine. The final picture is not a straightforward prediction of how the previously pious and life-loving Pascal will evolve. He is at the endpoint, painfully sad and despondent; we, like the counsellor are incredulous and shocked that he has emerged with any sense of hope at all.

Despairing and gut wrenching, yes, however rather than fuelling hatred and disgust, this poignant tale promotes understanding and hope ‘to prevent children having to hide or run in fear from conflicts that have nothing to do with them.’ (Paraphrased from James Roy’s dedication.)

Powerful, essential reading.

Hanna My Holocaust StoryMy Holocaust Story: Hanna by Goldie Alexander

This is the first title in the Holocaust series aimed at upper primary readers and at first glance, I had mixed feelings about curling up to read this one. On one hand, I find the potency and importance of this subject terribly arresting but on the other, if handled oafishly instils depression and worse, a kind of muted blasé trance – we’ve-heard-and-seen-it-all-before kind of attitude. Happy to report, Hanna exhibits none of the latter and is an excellent introduction of the Holocaust and its impact for young readers.

Peppered with edgy characters, spirited narration, and well-paced drama, Hanna is another title that skilfully addresses the atrocities of ethnic cleansing without bogging young minds previously unexposed to the grim details of WW II.

Hanna Kaminsky is a Polish Jew forced into hiding with her family, then surviving in the Warsaw Ghetto at the onset of WW II. Like Pascal, she can almost taste the rising tension of political unrest but is too absorbed by her love of gymnastics, her best friend, and her warm family life to comprehend the danger it represents.

Pascal’s refuge was an old disused water tank. Hanna’s is reading. Throughout her nerve-destroying confinement she clings to the one novel her mother allowed her to flee with, The Scarlet Pimpernel. She begins to mirror her survival on his character and adopts the mantra ‘pluck and audacity’ to make it through each moment of escalating horror. In spite of her own hardships, Hanna shows spunk and fortitude in the face of adversity, using them to help others in dire need.

Alexander’s historical notes give this story depth and dimension describing the staggering loss of life associated with the Holocaust, millions being children, but again are presented in a balanced, informative way. For there is no need to over-describe the tragedy of these events.

It’s interesting to note this title is endorsed by Courage to Care, an organisation devoted to educating and challenging young people to stand up to injustices rather than just being passive bystanders.

Inspiring and purposeful.

Paper Planes by Allayne L. Webster

This did not pull me as much as the title and cover promised it might owing to continued overzealous exposition however, it is nonetheless a fascinating account of the conflict thPaper Planesat divided a nation and its people for nearly half a decade. Ashamedly, I knew very little about the Civil War that savaged the former Yugoslavia in the early 90s in spite of the fact that I was living and working in Europe at the time.

Paper Planes traces the plight of one family in Sarajevo through the eyes of the quite naive 12-year-old Niko and his eventual escape from the city under siege. Flecked with historic accuracies, this story does prick the emotions and beggars the belief as to how we humans are (still) able to fight our fellow man in such prehistoric ways for so little substantial reason.

Recommended for mid-grade readers, Paper Planes is another story about a terrible war and cultural genocide, the sufferers of which are often the innocents; the children and the people who never wanted it in the first place and like all war-torn tales, it is based on real historical facts and the lives of those who lived them.

Find all books here.

Scholastic Australia March 2015 – March 2016

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Review – Cyclone

CycloneI was but a babe in arms when Cyclone Althea swept across Townsville on the eve of Christmas in 1971 however, I will never forget the noise of it; the warning sirens, the howling winds, the pelting rain. We were hushed into submissive silence by the storm screaming to get through our walls; muted by the all-consuming blackness, the sheer force of it. And then afterwards, struck again with incredulousness; our roof still over our heads whilst every other in the street lay shorn off, twisted and deformed in backyards where they didn’t belong.

Images like these are hard to erase. A few years later, another cyclone, this one by the name of Tracy struck at a similar time of year, blighting a similar town, producing similar indelible memories for the survivors.

Bruce Whatley and Jackie French45 years on, powerful storytelling duo, Jackie French and Bruce Whatley mark this event with their new picture book, Cyclone. It’s hard to ignore the images of this beautiful work, as well.

Following in the same potent spirit of their Flood and Fire collaborations, Cyclone focuses primarily on a single tragic natural disaster, which had cataclysmic consequences for not only the community it affected but also many others across Australia. The results are profound and moving, yet also hopeful.

A storm brewed out at sea on the 24th of December 1974, yet the residents of Darwin hunkered down, unconcerned, too preoccupied with the imminent arrival of Santa Claus to worry about a fairly normal occurrence for them. When Cyclone Tracy unexpectedly swung and hit Darwin full in the face, she did so with such vehemence and force that the township was taken unawares. As the BOM quoted, ‘The entire fabric of life in Darwin was catastrophically disrupted, with the majority of buildings being totally destroyed or badly damaged, and very few escaping unscathed.’

French depicts this wholesale devastation with lilting verse that pays homage to the intensity of the storm as well as infusing the tragedy with a personal touch. The narrator, presumably a small expectant child waiting for Santa but faced instead with a wild beast who consumes their town overnight, is shown huddling with their family in their brick barbecue amidst a sea of destruction.

FloodThe poignancy of the situation and the degree of loss is beautifully rendered by Whatley’s pencil and acrylic wash illustrations. As with its two predecessors, I believe Whatley executed Cyclone’s drawings with his left (non-dominant) hand producing exquisite expressions of infinite detail and fluidity. Streaks, smears and runs feature in every landscape representing the force and chaos of the storm and later the pervading sense of new life, slowly seeping back, where ‘houses grow…day by day’ – my daughter’s favourite spread. The washed-out appearance and toned-down hues do indeed reflect the tone and look of a feature film reel likely to have existed in the 70s. The whole effect is goose bump raising.

Cyclone is an ode of sorts to the man at the end of the phone line French happened to answer one fateful day following the catastrophe of Cyclone Tracy as she manned the Information Section of the Department of Urban and Regional Development. She will never forget his despair, nor his tenacious courage to rebuild and move on.

FireLike Flood and Fire, and Cyclone Tracy itself, Cyclone is a telling testimony to the legacy of good that can emerge from ravaged lives and homes. It cites that humans are ultimately survivors, capable of adapting and ‘inventing ways to live with whatever challenges the planet throws at them.’ We are reminded to respect the forces of nature and learn from our mistakes; a significant observation for those who have endured a natural disaster and for those of our more recent generations who have not. Highly recommended.

Scholastic Press February 2016

Gone to the Dogs – Canine reads to relish

Pig the Winner illoCats v Dogs: me, I’m more of a dog person but there can be little denying the positive impact pets have on small minds and well-being no matter what species they are. The therapeutic effect dogs have on the lives of their humans is well documented. Their cuteness appeal however is much harder to chart. It simply knows no bounds. Here is a smattering of doggy-inspired reads for kids that may lure more of the feline-inclined over to the dog-side.

Cute Appeal

The Pocket DogsThe Pocket Dogs and the Lost Kitten by Margaret Wild and Stephen Michael King is a jolly little new addition to the extremely likeable picture book series, The Pocket Dogs. Mr Pockets’ dogs, Biff and Buff struggle to accommodate a new member into the family in this picture book that pre-schoolers will soak up with glee and older readers can easily tackle on their own. King’s iconic illustrations thrill to the nth degree. Learn more about Biff and Buff’s adventures here, in Romi’s fabulous recent review.

Omnibus Books Scholastic Imprint February 2016

Winner!

Pig the WinnerI have to confess, Pig was not my favourite Aaron Blabey character when he first forced his way into our lives. Bulgy-eyed and ill-tempered with the most pugnacious attitude on four legs, Pig was hard to love. Nevertheless, his irascible nature eventually got under my skin like a coat-full of fleas and by Pig the Fibber, I had to agree with my 9 year-old that this cantankerous canine really was worth trying to love. Pig the Winner is quite possibly my favourite account of this bad-mannered pooch to date. His behaviour has not altered and his agenda remains purely pug-orientated; poor second-best, Trevor is treated with the same distain and disrespect as before for Pig’s greed to be first at everything outweighs any compassion he has for his kennel buddy. He’s a cheat and a gloater who has to learn the hard way that good sportsmanship should be about fun, friendship, and fitness not just coming first all the time. And he does learn eventually, sort of… Pig the Winner is a gloriously gauche and enjoyable mockery of man’s best friend behaving badly. A winning addition for your Pig collection.

Scholastic Press March 2016

Tips and Tricks

Wonderdogs Tips and TrainingIf you need help changing your pooch from a Pig to a well-mannered pup, look no further than Dr Katrina Warren and Kelly Gill’s Wonderdogs Ticks & Training. This doggy training guide isn’t just about extending the mental prowess of one of the world’s smartest dogs, the Border Collie, although it does feature Kelly Gill’s troop of wonder collies. It guides readers through the basics of puppy care, socialisation, initial good manners training and harnessing canine respect and psyche. Moreover, it does all this in a supremely conversational and digestible way, perfect for the young dog owner. Children as young as five will gain much from the clearly laid out explanations and sweeter than cotton candy photos of some very cute collie pups. Part 2 ramps up the training to wonderdog level introducing readers and their dogs to dozens of trainable tricks ranging from basic to advanced, again in step-by-step logical progression. It’s easier than following a recipe and just as rewarding. You don’t have to be a new dog owner either to appreciate this book and transform your dog into something even more wonderful.

HarperCollins Publishers March 2012

Leader of the Pack

Me TeddyChris McKimmie’s creations either make you cringe with discomfort or cheer with exuberance. His picture books brim with artwork that is simultaneously bewildering and bewitching, crowded with observational humour and flushed with detail. I don’t always find them easy to read but immensely interesting to absorb, often across a number of readings.

Me, Teddy echoes much of the iconic McKimmie brilliance we’ve come to associate his tales with however, for me, it represents a significant piece of art and comedy, as well. This is Teddy’s scrapbook, a carefully scraped together collection of memories, anecdotes, pictures, and internal thoughts by the McKimmie’s much-loved black Labrador. Teddy introduces us to his chewed-shoe and soap-eating, puppyhood then invites us to romp with him through his day-to-day adventures including his confusion when his family temporarily depart with their suitcases, leaving him behind. I love Teddy’s dog-eared perspective of life and the subtle intimation that he is the one who really calls the shots. Actual drawings, photos and hand written notes create a delicious sense of authenticity for what could have been a self-indulgent tribute for a (beloved) family pet, which it is but which also elevates it to a heart-warming picture book that any child, person and dog lover will instantly ‘get’ and love, too.

Allen & Unwin Children’s February 2016

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Hippity Hoppity – Easter’s on its way!

You may be surprised as I to learn that Easter is just two and a half weeks away. Well, maybe not with all those buns and eggs on the shop shelves to remind you. If filling your Easter break with more than just chocolate and egg hunts and spiritual appreciation is important to you, then perhaps these new picture book releases will appease the persnickety Peter Rabbit within (and entertain your younglings to boot!)

We're Going on an Egg Hunt Laura HugesWe’re going on an Egg Hunt, by Laura Hughes amply satisfies young tastes with easy-to-read, boldly laid out text that echoes the perennial favourite, We’re Going on a Bear Hunt verse. Being instantly recognisable means small eyes can concentrate on Hughes’ foxy little illustrations, only there is not a fox in sight, thank goodness. The Bunny Family are the ones on the hunt…for eggs naturally, and they are super excited about it, too.

As they traverse their way through woods and across farmyards, they encounter obstacles at every twist and bend. Armed with nothing more than an egg-swiping net and a barrow-load of perseverance, they figure out the best course of action until they hit the jackpot and a whole lot of trouble. Did I mention there were no foxes?! Perfect Easter action-based fun for pre-schoolers demonstrating positive rewards follow tenacious effort with dinky flaps to lift and treasures to accumulate.

Bloomsbury Children’s Books March 2016

The Wonderful Habits of RabbitsEver wondered what rabbits get up to when they are not fighting off wolves and hunting for eggs? Well, wonder no more for The Wonderful Habits of Rabbits will delight every lover of lapins and addresses all those tricky rabbit questions. Written in gently loping verse, author, Douglas Florian invites us to spend a day with a colony of rabbits (otherwise known as a fluffle) as they leap and laze The Wonderful Habits of Rabbits illos spreadabout the meadows. Actually, life with this family of cottontails stretches poetically across several seasons until it’s time to snuggle down with a goodnight kiss. Sonia Sanchez’s winsome pencil line drawings bound with colour and charm depicting the energetic spirit of bunny in the most Watership Down-dream-like way. The end papers are particularly appealing, especially for kids who love to quantify and establish ownership (of things) with plenty of rabbits to choose a favourite from. The Wonderful Habits of Rabbits is a fetching addition to your Easter reading.

The Five Mile Press February 2016

George BilbyIf Easter equals a chance to chillax with your loved ones and whip up a few dozen hot cross buns as it can for me, then you’ll appreciate George, the Bilby Chef and his insatiable quest to cook. This sweet new character hailing from the pens and paintbrushes of Jedda Robaard features in the first of a new picture book series about enterprising epicurean marsupial, George and because bilbies like George are Australia’s preferred kind of egg-delivering icon, he fits snuggly into any Easter basket. In this debut instalment, The Raspberry Surprise, George is intent on surprising his best friend, Betty Echidna on her birthday with a special sweet treat. Raspberry muffinsGeorge Bilby illos spread are his dessert of choice but locating and then harvesting said raspberries proves to be near impossible until George enlists the services of some of his very obliging and thoughtful friends. By the time Betty arrives, the cakes have been baked and readers are gently aware of the benefits of working together towards a shared goal. Robaard’s soft easy to digest illustrations compensate for a slightly longer text but one that young readers will enthuse over thanks to the lovely sense of expectation and logical explanation. Best of all; a handy Bilby Chef Recipe card is included to keep and use. I wonder what other scrumdelicious adventures George will encounter. Ideal for three-year-olds and above and budding junior Masterchefs everywhere.

The Five Mile Press February 2016

Dance Bilby DanceFor many, Easter is a time of reflection, renewed hope and of life moving forward. For most of us, dreams represent the impetus to continue. In Tricia Oktober’s latest picture book, Dance, Bilby, Dance, our favourite Easter marsupial, Bilby is no different; ‘he wishes he could dance.’ In what appears to initially be a one-man show, Bilby is surrounded by white space, alone with his desires while all those in the world around him appear to revel in what he regards is unobtainable, until one day, after closely observing his dancing shadow, his innermost yearnings leap into existence. But, has Bilby unleashed a passion too big and scary to control? Oktober’s bright expressive illustrations are king in a quietly impressive picture book that imaginatively introduces readers five years old and above to some curious critters, stirring language, and the possibilities that can lead to new friendships. I especially appreciated the gentle notion that overcoming ones fears can free one for moments of ecstatic expression and reward; an approach to life that should never be underestimated. And perhaps one of the soundest Easter messages of all.

Ford Street Publishing March 2016

Aussie Easter Hat ParadeNow it just wouldn’t be a notable time of year without a cheer-filled, colourful contribution by Colin Buchanan and Simon Williams, and if you have primary aged children you will instantly sympathise with the Easter Hat Parade tradition performed at many schools. What I love about Aussie Easter Hat Parade is the outrageous tribute to not only a swag of Aussie creatures but also the brilliant flora that constitutes their homeland (and ours). From the bright red desert pea that Billy Bullant crowns himself with to Wombat’s Gymea lily lid, each little mate adorns themselves with feathers, flowers, gum nuts and more resulting in a fantastic Easter bonnet brouhaha and the very first Aussie Easter Hat parade (just in case you were wondering how all this craziness started). Sensational fun, bewitching illustrations and a singalong CD to boot, with a neat little ending reminding us that sometimes the biggest brightest ideas can originate from the most minute situations…or ants.

Scholastic Australia March 2016

 

 

Animals behaving badly – Picture book reviews

Archie illos spreadThey say animals have been done to death in picture books. Why then does nearly every second illustrated story I pick up feature talking, singing, skydiving critters of every shape and body-covering-skin type? Because kids adore them, that’s why. The funky demeanours of our animal friends serve not only to relay real-life stories and situations in non-threatening, easy to assimilate ways for young readers, they also ultimately create characters of irrepressible entertainment. This next selection of recently released picture books ably illustrates this point.

Cheeky monotremes, mammals, and avians

Echidna Jim went for a SwimEchidna Jim went for a Swim bristles with fun and frivolity until you realise things are shaping up to end very badly for poor old Jim who just wants to enjoy a day at the beach with his mates. The archenemy of inflatables is of course anything spiky, but Jim is not about to let that ruin his fun. Phil Cummings is known for his poignant, super sensitive picture books. Echidna Jim represents a more quirky, unconventional style for him that nonetheless embraces difference and friendship. I loved Laura Wood’s interpretation of the moon-jumping cow in, The Cow Tripped Over the Moon. Her portrayal of surfing dingoes and soggy cockatoos is just as beguiling. Great for tots over three.

Scholastic Press February 2016

ChipWestern Australian author illustrator, Kylie Howarth was raised on an emu farm so presumably understands the fevered machinations of our feather-minded friends. Chip is like most other gulls…he adores fish and chips; can’t get enough of them in fact. Sadly, his obsession leads to total prohibition of all fried foodstuffs from Joe’s Chips Van until one day Chip cooks up an idea involving the rest of his seaside-clan. Together, with a little perseverance and a lot of verve, they convince Joe of their potential sales benefit to him and thus earn a place at his table. This is a deceptively simple book featuring cuter than cute seagull pictures, an extra surprise element within, and the commendable message that human food is perhaps not the best for our wild native buddies no matter how hard they try to convince us otherwise. Fun reading for pre-schoolers with the potential to lead to real-life discussions.

The File Mile Press March 2016

Archie no ordinary slothHeath McKenzie is no stranger when it comes to capturing animal antics between the pages of picture books. Archie no ordinary sloth, is his latest creation featuring one of my favourites in the jungle, the ebullient sloth. Well, at least Archie is which is what immediately alienates him from the rest of his inactive tribe. Lonely and unable to accept his unsloth-like incongruities, Archie flees and happens upon a group of outcasts whose appearances and attitudes help him turn his own around. They convince him to return to his friends whom he discovers, are in grave danger. Will extra-ordinary Archie save the day? A charismatic little picture book full of McKenzie’s zest-filled drawings, lovable characters, and comical prose perfect for focusing on the usefulness of being different.

The Five Mile Press March 2016

Big Bad Bears

Bear Make DenNot since Goldilocks and the Three Bears have I wanted to doss up under the same roof as a bear so much. Bear Make Den is the combined effort of Jane Godwin and Michael Wagner and is gloriously illustrated by Andrew Joyner. In a subtle uproarious salute to the home handy man, Godwin and Wagner reveal Bear’s Ikea-inspired side as he blunders through a bout of home renovations. As his den fills with furniture and other home-making necessities such as art and ovens for cake baking, it slow dawns on Bear that there is little point in having a great home if you’ve no one to share it with. EBear Make Den cake illo spreadlementary, bear-like prose roars into life within Joyner’s intelligently drawn pictures. Bear is someone I’d love to share cake with. Bear Make Den  is a splendid book to share with toddlers, pre-schoolers, and early primary readers a like because of the scope of its vocabulary, visual story, and suggestion about ‘the value of relationships in making us happy’.

Allen & Unwin January 2016

A Beginners Guide to Bear SpottingIf you’re going to keep hanging around bears, you would be wise to swat up on Michelle Robinson’s and David Roberts’ Beginner’s Guide to Bear Spotting. This big, hulking bear of a picture book is laugh-out-loud funny and constitutes a primary- schooler’s essential guide to surviving a walk through bear country. It patiently takes readers through a series of serious definitions whilst trying to focus young attention spans on the various dangers and attributes of the Black and the Brown bear, which as it turns out, are confusingly similar. By the end, we are none the wiser as to whether bears are truly sweet cuddly teddies in disguise or not, but sufficed to say, we were warned. In spite of the drop-bear being the most fearsome Ursus we Aussies have to contend with, Bear Spotting is still a convincing and very comical read. Robinson’s text is as wry and witty as it was in There’s a Lion in my Cornflakes, while Robert’s drop-dead brilliant illustrations read like a box-office smash. Highly recommended.

A Beginners Guide to Bear Spotting illo spread jpgBloomsbury children’s Publishing Australia March 2016

 

Getting Serious about Series # 3 – Word Hunters

Word HuntersAll right, so it’s taken me a few years to share these ones but here are three of my favourite books of all time. I can’t even properly explain why but when a tale ticks multiple boxes so satisfyingly and engrosses you so completely whilst doing so, you can’t help but be muted into humble reverence. Ok, perhaps I’m trumpeting up the Word Hunters trilogy somewhat and confusing my metaphors but I reckon this series by charismatic collaborators, Nick Earls and Terry Whidborne deserves a little repeated airplay.

Therefore, from their cloistered position on my bookshelf, I reach for Word Hunters, The Curious Dictionary, the first in this divine trinity. Although in paperback, the book(s) has an alluring, timeless quality to it thanks to the cleverly designed leather-look cover and gilt bordering. But enough about aesthetics. Delve inside and you are immediately met with poetic riddles, dares, and definitions. You get the feeling you are entering hallowed ground, a place where time might lose itself, history may be rewritten and anything you say or do could alter anything you’ll end up saying or doing.

Nick Earls 2Confused yet? Well fear not, for Earls has enlisted the help of 12-year-old twins, Lexi and Al Hunter; to help save the English language and make sense of the fascinating etymological expedition they unwittingly embark on.

The Curious Dictionary, an ancient dictionary created by a chap called Caractacus and used for the last 1500 years by word hunters to protect word history, is the twins’ new Lonely Planet guide. With it they zip back and forth through the ages, hunting down words at risk of disappearing from the language and carefully tracking every step of their evolution in the past in order to keep them alive in the present (the words that is). The time travelling alone is enough to cause a bad case of chundering (the first new fact of many I learnt about time travel) and continually upset Doug, Al’s pet mouse. However, the sharp focus on the at-risk-words is what truly commands attention.

Word Hunters PegThe Dictionary’s definitions of endangered words are benignly simple as are some of the proffered words, hello and water for example. Thankfully (although at times regrettably), we are not over-flooded with threatened vocabulary which allows Lexi and Al plenty of time to visit ancient cities, meet great inventors and survive harrowing situations like the Battle of Hastings. In short, experience a really ripper world tour full of lumps and bumps and strange old men and curious gadgety golden peg things.

These books are pure essence of adventure for tween readers, enticing them into an historical literary experience they might not even recognise being in; the journey is so littered with quintessential Earls’ irreverent wit it is hard to believe we are learning something so vital, at least I felt I was. The historical detail is phenomenal. Moreover, it’s not just about the words.

As Lexi and Al hone their hunting skills and learn to cope with the time-slipping nausea, we are drawn into the engrossing world of UPPER and lower case, the timeline of printing, letter formation and so much more relating to etymology and philology. Now colour me dull, but I found this anything but dull!

Word Hunters Lost HuntersThe Lost Hunters involves more words, more battles, and alarmingly, a search for their grandfather who it turns out, is the lost hunter. Fortunately Whidborne’s beguiling illustrations heavily featured throughout the twins’ travels serve to lighten the mood, and push Earl’s acerbic historical observations (and some very gory situations) merrily along, albeit not so merrily for Doug the rat who firmly entrenches himself in my list of favourite characters in this volume. His contributions to sensory detail are Terry Whidbornepure brilliance.

By the third and final instalment, War of the Word Hunters, Al and Lexi are in full training mode owing to their impending battle with the armed and dangerous grey-robes, rogue hunters determined to thwart word history and so alter its course and irreversibly undo people and their cultures.

Word Hunters War of the Word HuntersThe Word Hunters series is not just a collection of etymological explanations and revelations, (although this was enough to captivate me long into the night), it is a gripping, exhilarating quest through time that at times makes your guts churn with dread and discomfort. The rest of the time, they’ll be dancing because you’re laughing so hard.

I loved all the characters: the good, the bad, the alive, the dead and the ones with unpronounceable names. I loved Earls’ wry union of our sometimes-inglorious past and our social-media ridden present. I loved Whidborne’s flamboyant execution of whimsy (and rats). And I loved the serious provoking of thought Word Hunters conjured and the passion for preserving words it stirred up in me. As Grandad Al said, ‘Every one of us is the consequence of a million flukes of history Word Hunter sketches– who met whom and where they went and what they did.’

It is kind of mind boggling but then, so is the Word Hunters series. Perfect for history buffs, word nerds, 9 – 13 year-olds and rat lovers.

Find all books, here. #ByAustralianBuyAustralian

UQP July 2013

 

 

Books with Bite – YA and MG reviews

Young Adult and Mid-grade novels are being gobbled up by kids and young adults almost faster than they can be cooked up. The exhilarating storylines and make-you-laugh-hate-cry predicaments I discover between the covers of YA and junior novels are repeatedly rewarding, and contrary to the views of some of my adult-only reading friends, capable of imparting deep satisfaction with tales of intense emotion and believable fantasy. These novels tell it like it is, with a no hold bars attitude and formidable spunk that instantly cements our dislike or admiration for the heroes within. They are quick and honest reads to invest in, which is why they are so perennially popular. Here are some you might like to eat up, if you can wrest them off your teenager’s bookshelf.

Mid-Upper Primary Reads

The Vanilla Slice KidThe Vanilla Slice Kid takes the custard-pie-in-the-face gag to a death defying new level. Chockers with slap stick humour and oozing with more pink spew than you can catch in a wheelbarrow, this midgrade novel is sure to crack a smile on the dials of 6 – 11 year-olds. Archie is a kid with envious abilities; he can shoot sweet sticky treats from the palms of his hands. Only trouble is he hates cakes and has a set of parents and one hysterically insane General bent on exploiting his super talent. As the General’s domination of the world draws closer and Archie’s own life hangs in a gooey mess of trifle and fruitcake, Archie must rapidly decide who to trust and what to eat. Deliciously good fun, Adam Wallace and Jack Wodhams know how to whet young appetites. Liberally sprinkled with wacky line drawings by Tom Gittus, The Vanilla Slice Kid is one satisfying read.

Ford Street Publishing October 2015

CrossingCrossing by Catherine Norton had me engrossed from start to finish. This softly dystopian drama is an interesting reflective exploration of the corruption and discord that can develop in human society no matter how long we spend on this planet and an interesting suggestion that history is ever capable of repeating itself. Echoes of WWII communistic control reverberate throughout with the most obvious similarity being the Wall, which separates 12 year-old Cara’s reality from a future she has never dared think about before let alone attempt to strive for. Norton’s gripping narrative echoes with prophetic what ifs, encourages individualism, and reminds us to never ‘let them wall your mind.’

Omnibus Books May 2014

Upper Primary – 14+ Reads

Talk UnderwaterTalk Under Water by Kathryn Lomer is a breezy light-hearted read about a couple of teenagers facing not so breezy light-hearted experiences. Seems talking under water is easier than you think (especially if you are deaf), but talking above it about your innermost desires and trepidations is not quite as smooth sailing.  Life in the teenage world can be ‘as simple and as complicated as that’ accordingly to Will who is wrest from his mainland home to Tasmania on the whim of his disillusioned divorced dad. When he meets Summer, his world begins to brighten, however her reluctance to share her deafness with him for fear of thwarting their budding relationship creates confusion and misunderstanding deeper than the Bass Strait. Written in an expository and introspective style, Talk Under Water is a beautiful observation of being young and being deaf, literally giving diversity a face and voice.

UQP August 2015

OneOne by Sarah Crossan is searingly beautiful. I’m almost lost for words. Poignant, painful and playful, Crossan invites us to spend the end of summer and beyond with conjoined twins, Tippi and Grace. It’s an experience you are not likely to forget in a hurry. Explicit yet elegant, this verse novel has the power to move you effortlessly from mirth to heartbreak with a solitary syllable. Written with sensitivity and extraordinary candour, One is one of the more ‘grown up’ verse novels I’ve read yet possesses all the succinct expressive precision I’ve come to expect and enjoy of them. Crossan examines the one question: what does it mean to want and have a soul mate? Is the battle for identity and dignity worth the loss of sisterhood love? Unequivocally compelling and wrenching and highly recommended.

Bloomsbury Children’s September 2015

YA – New Adult Reads

The FlywheelFurther embracing the notion of diversity is Erin Gough’s *The Flywheel. This upper high school read is LOL funny and tummy turning cringe-worthy (Not because of the writing – Gough’s narrative is prose perfect. More because of the excruciatingly embarrassing and difficult situations 17 year-old Delilah must struggle her way through.)       I had not expected The Flywheel to delve head first into the impenetrable tangles of unwanted responsibility, sexual identity, social expectations and love with such wild abandon nor so entertainingly. Thoroughly absorbing characters, snappy wordplay and enough fraught situations coupled with realistic downers kept me guessing how life was ever going to pan out for Dancing Queen Del. The Flywheel (café) is the type of place I’d like to return to. Definitely worth a visit.

Hardie Grant Egmont February 2015

The Rest of Us Just Live HereIt is near impossible to put into words just how ingenious Patrick Ness’s The Rest of Us Just Live Here is. Ness writes with such acerbic wit and abandon in such an incredibly controlled, dagger-precise way, it actually becomes a sheer joy to be caught in the swirling angst of so many pre-grad teenagers. This is the penultimate tale of the underdog finessed with consummate care and at times an irreverence you cannot help but admire. Ness’s mixed posse of Unchosen Ones led by Mr McOrdinary, Mikey barely have to whisper for attention yet are heard with stinging clarity. They banally attempt to get on with their lives and graduate however, the Chosen Ones’ inability to deal with the Big Bad continually claims their attention. Explosively wicked, you must experience this (Ness) for yourself.

Walker Books August 2015

*You’ll note a fair whack of these terrific reads are by Aussie authors and for some, this is their first novel, made possible by such incentives as The Ampersand Project. When you purchase and read an Aussie title, you are not only supporting the further creation of more awesome stories but you are in no small way ensuring the survival of a distinctly unique and vital Australian industry. Read all about Boomerang Books commitment to #ByAustralianBuyAustralian here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finding the Love within – Part 2 – Annabel’s Dance

Annabel's DanceI mentioned last week the merits of not judging a book (or a person) by its cover. Today my hypocrisy shows for I’m rather partial to the cover of our Part 2 picture book review about dealing with differences, newly released, Annabel’s Dance, by Diane Jackson Hill and Lois Bury.

It’s quirky and sweet, exudes fleecy softness yet is eye catching and dare I say, more than a little sheepish, which is all rather fitting for Annabel’s Dance tells the hitherto untold story of a sheep whose unique appearance and delicate constitution sadly alienates her from her mainstream counterparts, aka The Mob.

High on a hill lives not a lonely goatherd, rather Annabel’s flock that are everything you’d expect of a mob of sheep; clean, docile and conforming. Then there is Annabel who is anything but. She is messy and unkempt, erratic and in a constant state of disarray. Her oddball behaviour does nothing to endear her to her fellow sheep who are quick to push her aside and keep her there.

Annabel's Dance illo spreadAnnabel retains her fraught emotional balance by retreating within herself, repeating the mantra, ‘Hazy mazy oops a daisy, wriggle your ears but don’t go crazy.’ She tries hard to control her exaggerated reactions to every day events and smells and noises but her incessant restlessness offends the others’ sense of correctness so much so that she is shunned even more.

Annabel’s supersensitive responses exacerbate at shearing time thanks to the aggravating noises and sensations so she avoids it, until over many missed shearings, she becomes a prisoner of her own condition…and wool! To her detriment, one day her overgrown mantel trips her up, literally. Farmer Shanks springs to her rescue and resourcefully and caringly helps her to overcome her worst anxieties. This sudden special treatment forces the other sheep to re-evaluate their opinions about Annabel. But will it be enough for them to follow suit?

Diane Jackson HillHill developed the idea for this picture book in an attempt to understand the behaviours of her granddaughter and the disorders of ADHD and Autism. Whilst doing so, she learned the true life stories of individual sheep found in New Zealand, Tasmania, and Victoria who incredibly escaped annual shearing and have been found with up to 6 years’ growth of wool. Could they by supersensitive too? wondered Hill. And so, Annabel’s Dance was born.

And inspired it is. Hill’s rippling narrative and strong use of visceral vocabulary (wool the colour of ‘whipped cream’, growing in ‘tight crinkles’) is both appealing and entertaining. It conveys Annabel’s plight with sensitivity and respect so that we ache for Annabel but not in a pitiful way.

Lois BuryBury’s gorgeous illustrations focus largely on Annabel, she is the vivid abstract splat in the mob’s otherwise ordered life, thus in spite of her innate shyness, she stands out, a situation many young readers on the Autism / Asperger’s Spectrum will no doubt recognise and take heart from.

This is a picture book that deserves repeat readings and thanks to its robust thick feel pages and sensible layout, will stand up to them. Annabel’s Dance and all her uncontrollable wriggly jiggly quirks is a beautiful celebration of individuality that encourages readers to embrace and accept the exceptional abilities that hide within us all. You just have to uncover the wool over your eyes to see them!

Baaatastic for 3 – 6 year olds and lovers of woolly jumpers, everywhere.

Wombat Books February 2016

 

Finding the Love within – Part 1 – Elephant Man

Elephant Man cover 2The old proverb ‘you can’t judge a book by its cover’ is a mantra often touted but sadly, sometimes forgotten in our instantaneous summarising of a person’s character based on their outward appearance. In spite of our best efforts to ignore the extraordinary and bypass the bizarre, unusual can equate to different which can persuade us to believe it as being wrong which means we are liable to overlook the true beauty of a thing or personality of a person. Here (across two reviews) are two picture books that I believe will help young children see beyond the ‘covers’ of difference and discover a deeper greater understanding of what dwells within.

Elephant Man

Written Mariangela Di Fiore (translated by Rosie Hedger) Illustrated by Hilde Hodnefjeld

I first learned of Joseph Merrick aka the Elephant Man in my early teens thanks to the 1980 movie release dramatizing this man’s short life during the late 1800s. I remember with indelible clarity the poignant ending and cruel indignities portrayed so effectively in black and white, but confess I never sought out written information about the man behind the mask. Life moved on as it does, till now.

Elephant Man illo spreadThe picture book, Elephant Man is the first time Merrick’s story has been told with children in mind. Firstly, it blows current 400-words-or-less picture book constraints out of the water. Di Fiore is deliberately unrushed and methodical in her telling of Merrick’s story from the time of his birth, when he looked ‘like any other baby’ to his rapid physical corruption, possibly caused from Proteus syndrome and the disease called neurofibromatosis type 1.

Mid-primary readers will easily handle this account thanks to the inclusion of beseeching dialogue and Merrick’s fictionalised internal thought. There is a satisfying balance of story interwoven with fact and intimate events. By the final ‘reveal’, we have endured the pain and humiliation as Joseph did as well as being heartened by his tremendous sense of self-regard despite his dispiriting existence.

Mariangela Di FioreDi Fiore’s compassionate narrative aligns effortlessly with Hodnejeld’s mesmerising illustrations, describing Joseph’s devastating loss of his mother as a wee lad, his alienating deformities, his surrender to life as a spectacle and his eventual salvation by the kind doctor, Frederick Treves.

Hodnefjeld’s artwork is heart stopping. Combining illustration, and photographic montage it gives readers tantalising glimpses into real Victorian London, including the London Hospital where Joseph resided until his death.Hilde Hodnefjeld

This is a true story both confronting and liberating. It is moving and memorable. It bares the worst and best of humanity without sacrificing dignity. Above all, it demonstrates the strength of will, that once uncovered can make love accessible to anyone, no matter whom or what they are – or what they look like.

I read this to my 10 year-old who insisted I complete it in one sitting. I could see the profound effect it had on her from the look on her face as she assimilated something almost unimaginable. She commented repeatedly afterwards on Joseph’s plight, trying to come to grips with the way he was treated, the way he looked and most touchingly, how he must have felt. ‘That poor man…’

Gather round – prepare to be amaze! You simply won’t believe it’. Elephant Man is neither gruesome nor frightening, rather simply beautiful and so very very relevant. I entreat you to share it.

Allen & Unwin Children’s January 2016

Stick around for Part 2 of Finding the Love within when we go a little crazy with, Annabel’s Dance.

 

 

Review – New Year Surprise!

New Year SurpriseYou’ve finally found a spot for all those new toys. You’ve organised your post-Christmas reading pile. You’ve dutifully noted your New Year’s resolutions. Time to relax. Well, SURPRISE! There’s more. It’s New Year’s all over again; a time to celebrate, rejoice and welcome new beginnings, this time with the flair of Asia.

Stunning new picture book, New Year Surprise! by award-winning author, Christopher Cheng and fine artist, Di Wu joins the informative raft of entertaining and insightful children’s books depicting the Asian cultural tradition (namely Chinese) of celebrating the Spring Festival.

The Race for the Chinese ZodiacI have many favourites on this topic, which bring back fantastic childhood memories of feasting, lion dancing and of course, receiving those coveted ‘ tau hongbau’ red money packets. Titles like Long Long’s New Year by Catherine Gower, Sally Rippin’s Fang Fang’s Chinese New Year, Gabrielle Wang’s, exquisite The Race for the Chinese Zodiac, and to a less celebratory degree, The Magic Brush by Kat Yeh introduce young readers to a celebration steeped in tradition and spellbinding superstition.

New Year Surprise! focuses less on the legend of Nian – the original monster who used to terrorise Chinese villagers annually until they learned ways to thwart his evilness and scare him away (with red paper and irritating fireworks). This charming picture book takes place in a traditional rural northern Chinese village where life still follows an ancient and simple route and festivals such as Chinese New Year shape and colour family and community life.

New Year Surprise Illo spread # 2The prospect of the imminent festival excites Little Brother and he craves to be involved with the preparations. His brothers, father, and friends tell him he is too small to be of any use though; he is not strong enough to hold a dragon pole, he cannot reach to hang the lanterns, he has already helped serve tea and light the firecrackers. So what could the ‘special job’ be that his father promises he can do?

New Year Surprise illo spread # 1Over the week, Little Brother’s relatives arrive and celebrate with sumptuous feasts and Grandfather’s timeless stories. The atmosphere is rich with colour, joy, and positive expectations for a prosperous and lucky year ahead. Yet Little Brother remains at a loss as to his particular role in the festivities. It is not until the climax of the festival, the mesmerising dance of the serpentine dragon, that Father finally reveals Little Brother’s most significant role.

Christopher ChengCheng’s first person narrative places readers firmly within the snug folds of Little Brother’s padded jacket so that rather than feel the chill of his snow-covered home, we sympathise with his frustrated longing to contribute. Cheng infuses just the right amount of Chinese heritage and terminology to establish authenticity without swamping little minds with too much unfamiliar culture, although I wager most people will instantly recognise the Gong Xi Fa Cai! New Year salutation without too much difficulty.

Di WuAs evocative as the scent of incense wafting on a breeze, Di Wu’s illustrations are painted using traditional Chinese brushes on rice paper and are exquisitely faithful to the traditional colours and textures of Chinese paintings. New Year Surprise! is a merger of art, words, and culture that works as well as dumplings and tea.

As with many National Library publications, the joy of the reading experience extends after the story has ended with explanatory notes on this and on other festivals in China, some familiar, others an exotic new revelation. A marvellous way to embrace and honour a fascinating culture for early primary schoolers and above.

To experience a taste of one of the most significant festivals on the Chinese calendar (normally occurring in February or March) grab yourself a copy of New Year Surprise!, here. This Chinese New Year will be the Year of the Monkey and officially is celebrated on the 8th of February with festivities spanning from the 7th to the 22nd February.

Gong Xi Fa Cai!Year of the Monkey

National Library Australia February 2016

 

 

Aussies – We salute! Reads to enjoy around the barbie

As the mercury level rises and your pool swells with screaming kids, it might be time to reach out for a reason to remember why you love summer, and kids, and Australia! Here is a real mixed swag of reads full of the flavour of Australia Day.

Australians Let Us B B Q!Australian’s Let Us Barbecue! I featured this one just before Christmas but it’s still worth popping on the bonus CD by Colin Buchanan and Greg Champion for that extra dollop of Oz. Along with the iconic illustrations of, Glen Singleton, every bit of Aussie swank and summer backyard tradition have been merged into the tune of our Australian National Anthem. Throw your thongs in the air and enjoy the rousing recital and sing-along. It’s not just all about burnt black snags on the barbie. The lads take us over rugged mountain ranges, across scorching desert plains, around the Rock, through the Whitsundays and back again. I am on that sailboat and in that Kombi thanks to Singleton’s dynamite depictions. An exemplary example of an Aussie summertime that must be experienced by everyone. Quintessentially, unashamedly Aussie.

Scholastic Australia November 2015

The Little Book of Australian Big ThingsNow that everyone’s levels of Aussie-rama are peaking higher than the midday sun, grab The Little Book of Australia’s Big Things by Samone Bos and Alice Oehr. This nifty little hard back features an amazing assortment of Australia’s BIG things from bananas, lobsters and trout to guitars and bushrangers. Fun, informative, and loaded with cheek and colour, this guided-tour-around-Australia-collection has a charming retro feel with dozens of activities, recipes, and pop-out pages for little ones to Big thingscraft their own big things. The dust jacket forms part of the fun too, folding out into a big Australian panoramic scene. Too true! It’s enough to make me want to jump in the Kombi again and track these all down for the heck of it. Highly recommended.

Chirpy Bird imprint of Hardie Grant Egmont 2015

Speaking Bad Nedof bushrangers, check out a really bad story by Dean Lahn. Actually, his picture book, Bad Ned isn’t all that bad – that’s just the subtitle. The bad face, explosively bold text and cartoon-esque styled illustrations are comically quirky and a pleasing parody of a little boy’s imaginative day. Bad boy Ned models himself on the notorious bushranger, Ned Kelly but at the end of the day, his naughtiness becomes unstuck, literally. More entertaining than expected however the sudden ending may require explanation for young readers not familiar with our bush-rangering lore.

Omnibus Books imprint of Scholastic May 2015

ABC DreamingIndigenous author, Warren Brim hails from Far North Queensland, as do I, so it was a marvellous treat experiencing ABC Dreaming. Unlike some learn-the-alphabet books, ABC Dreaming depicts a unique array of Aussie (rainforest) characters, fruits, and flora. The stunning x-ray line, dot artwork paints each subject against a vibrant background that best accentuates its unique features. From Red-eyed green tree frogs, mozzies and nutmeg pigeons to yabbies and xanthorrhoeas (blackboys or grasstrees), this is a beautiful and stimulating way for little Aussies to learn their ABCs.

Magabala Books November 2015

An English Year front cover (800x770)But of course, little Aussies take on all shapes and forms. If you’d like to spend Aussie day appreciating your family’s diversity and background or the culture of others who make up our great society, cast an eye over Tania McCartney’s and Tina Snerling’s latest additions to their Twelve Months in the Life of Kids series. An English Year and A Scottish Year are as good as actually being there. I encourage you to visit this awesome series of picture books that allows Aussie kids better beautiful contact with kids outside their ‘norm’ of experience. Lavishly illustrated, meticulously thought out and superbly accurate, An English Year invites you to experience the English isle, its inhabitants, and rituals without the need of a passport. Better than a bacon buttie. Exploring the highlands and lowlands of Scotland is just as fun as well. You’ll be visiting this one time and time again if nothing more than to practice pronouncing the Celtic mouthfuls of place names, traditional fare and annual events.

A Scottish Year front cover (800x770)Fun and informative. Breezy yet substantial. I have to say, I’m a little bit in love with this series. Potentially so useful in the classroom and home. Of course, if it’s Aussie flavour you’re after, An Aussie Year is the non-fiction picture book choice.

EK Books imprint of Exisle Publishing September 2015

The Big Book of Australian History 2I embrace the digital dexterity of our young generation however confess that I sometimes get a lot more joy from thumbing over pages of facts and images rather than endlessly scrolling and clicking. There’s something so organically satisfying and enriching reading an old tome style encyclopaedia. Renowned history and science writer, Peter Macinnis has created a sensational collection of historic events for primary and high school students in, The Big Book of Australian History that I am delighted to thumb through.

From the time Gondwana broke up to when strangers arrived in the 1600s to our present day milestone-makers, this is a truly superlative treasure trove of highlights, did-you-knows, ancient discoveries and of course stunning images, photographs and maps. As stated by the National Library of Australia, The Big Book of Australian History (shortly to be followed by The Big Book of Indigenous History) ‘is a book to dip into and savour’, an ‘enthusiastic retelling of Australia’s story that is infectious’. Informative text is presented in a non-over whelming way and broken up into logical chapter chunks flowing chronologically from the Dreamtime to modern day, finally entreating readers with the proposition that they are tomorrow’s history makers. Bloody marvellous, if you’ll pardon my Aussie vernacular. But then of course, it is time to salute our Aussieness!

National Library Australia May 2015

Enjoy and Happy Australia Day!

 

 

 

 

 

 
 

 

 

It’s a Zoo out there! – Animal inspired picture book reviews

I’ve just returned from a farm-animal infested camping holiday, which wasn’t as reprehensible as the smell of the boar’s pen suggested. In fact, it made me re-realise just how important and beneficial interaction with all critters great and small is.

Whether the focus is on an animal for all its prickly, cuddly, bizarre glory or relaying the story from an anthropological point of view, animals in picture books continue to be a massive draw card. Here are some of my standouts from recent times.

Must have Mammals

Adelaide's Secret WorldThe ethereal quality and charm of Elise Hurst’s fine art and narrative are undeniable. She suffuses both once again into Adelaide’s Secret World, an anthropologic tale featuring a rabbit named Adelaide and her foray through fear, loneliness, and introspective alteration. This picture book is an imaginative and beautifully presented convolution of two characters for whom friendship would normally be isolated and foreign but through twists of fate and circumstance, a connection is found and a musical friendship forged. Marvellous for nudging little ones with quiet voices out of the shadows. Read Romi Sharp’s detailed review and interview with the author illustrator, here.

Allen & Unwin October 2015

Clementine's BathNot many dogs or kids leap at the mention of bath time with relish. Clementine is no exception. Following her long walk, Clementine steadfastly refuses to take a cleansing plunge after rolling in some pretty offensive odours. Annie White’s Clementine’s Bath is the second picture book to feature the shaggy loveable mutt, Clementine. With lots of robust bouncy-dog small people appeal, Clementine leads her family on a right merry chase until she finally succumbs to the suds. Perky, poetic, frolicsome fun and perfect for pre-schoolers to early primary doggy devotees.

New Frontier Publishing October 2015

Something Fishy

Blue Whale BluesLooking for a picture book swimming with leviathan humour and meaning that swells the heart. Look no further than Blue Whale Blues by Peter Carnavas. Whale is one seriously doleful dude who is feeling very blue given he is swamped with bike trouble. His chipper little mate, Penguin is there to lend a flipper, however repeatedly pulling Whale back from the doldrums. It isn’t until Turtle forces a frank and funny realisation that Whale is finally able to forget about his ‘blue whale blues’. This is one of Carnavas’s best offerings for pre and primary schoolers I’ve encountered. His skill in creating just the right amount of turn-the-page suspense and hilarity is quietly sublime. Nothing about a Carnavas picture book is forced, yet everything is rich and meaningful. His first illustrative crack at collage is winning, as well. Whopping good fun teaching kids not to take themselves or life too seriously.

New Frontier Publishing September 2015

Piranhas don't eat BananasThe Pi-ra-nha by definition is a freshwater fish of South America known for its razor sharp teeth and voracious appetite for meat including guinea pigs, puppies, naughty children, and professional tennis players, so Aaron Blabey informs us. Sadly, Brian, a piranha sporting a generous jaw of said teeth, loves bananas which immediately blackballs him from his piranha buddies. Piranhas Don’t Eat Bananas is a priceless look at one individual’s attempt to persuade the masses. Blabey is at his uproarious rhyming best as Brian assumes every ounce of his inner Carmen Miranda in a gallant effort to convert his meat loving mates to fruit. Alas, not everyone is as vegan-minded as Brian. This snappy read-aloud story has Eric Carle Hungry Caterpillar appeal for younger readers with plenty of slapstick, tongue in cheek humour for the older ones (and some suggestive comedy for us adults!). Ideal for busting stereotypical ideals and encouraging small minds to try new things. Highly recommended.

Scholastic Press September 2015

Avian wonder

SeagullSome picture books offer more than just entertainment between two covers. Seagull, written and illustrated by Danny Snell, exemplifies how story and art can elevate meaning to levels that make you giddy with wonderment. Seagull represents her often-maligned species as she scavenges on a windswept beach (that reminds me intensely of the Coorong region in SA). She becomes entangled in thoughtlessly abandoned fishing line and tries repeatedly to free herself with no success so that readers feel a growing compassion and distress not usually associated with birds of her creed. As it sometimes occurs in life, help comes from an expected source and eventually, Seagull is free to soar the wide blue skies again. Snell’s shrewd use of collage and acrylic paintings beautifully capture Seagull’s demise, fading hope, and then singing spirit. The message behind Seagull’s near destruction is powerful and clear unlocking early primary discussion on topics concerning conservation, wildlife preservation and community outreach. Visit Romi’s review on Seagull, here.

Working Title Press September 2015

Robin''s Winter SongI was quite taken by Suzanne Barton’s, The Dawn Chorus so was delighted to hear Robin sing again in Robin’s Winter Song. The fact that Robin is experiencing a more Northern Hemisphere climate as he attempts to grasp the idea of ‘winter’ creates a refreshing reading stimulus for us enduring our typical southern summers. Robin’s first encounter with winter snows is unforgettable, replicating the magic many young and old alike experience when discovering something new and wondrous for the first time. Whilst not as moving for me as the award-winning Dawn Chorus, Barton’s sweet multi-media illustrations fill ones heart with warmth and joy.

Bloomsbury Children’s November 2015

‘Bearly’ there

Where's JessieBertie is a bear who has been there and done that…at least in the Australian outback. Janeen Brian’s fictional reminiscing of a real life character, Bertie, in Where’s Jessie? is a tale of separation, courage, fear, loss and reunion, rendered in the most spellbinding way by illustrator Anne Spudvilas. As Bertie’s family move townships across the desert, the outback cameleers or removalists of the day are enlisted to transport their belongings including their daughter, Jessie’s teddy bear. He is dislodged from the trek along the way, lost and abandoned in a desert that is less desolate than it first appears until by kind chance and good fortune he is finally reunited with his Jessie. Brian’s practical use of evocative and lively vocabulary paint as strong a narrative picture as Spudvilas’s breathtaking outback spreads. Possessing more than a fair share of animals and absorbing historical drama, Where’s Jessie? is a happy-ending adventure worth experiencing.

National Library Australia November 2015

Being AgathaAgatha was born ‘just as the leaves were falling. She had her mother’s ears and her father’s nose’, which I can relate to in many ways. Quite simply, Agatha is unique and very special however, it doesn’t feel like that to her, especially at family gatherings. By the time Agatha hits kindergarten, her sense of self are put to the test for it becomes plain to her that she is different to everyone else. She begins to lose sight of what makes her special so creeps away to hide much to the distress of her classmates. With a little patience and persuasion, Agatha’s friends help her realise that being herself is the best part of being Agatha. I love how small children naturally look past superficial differences and are able to find true value and worth in another’s personality and actions. I wish more adults could retain this quality. Being Agatha by Anna Pignataro, is a book that reminds us all to look for the good within others and ourselves at all times. Bravo! A solid story about the specialness of difference sure to elicit smiles of acceptance and understanding in pre and early primary schoolers.

The Five Mile Press September 2015

 

 

‘Balm for the Soul’ – Summer holiday Reviews

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

For the freedom seekers…

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

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

Little Hare Books Hardie Grant Egmont October 2015

Australian Kids through the YearsFor reminiscing…

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

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

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

National Library of Australia October 2015This & That

For the littlies…

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

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

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

Scholastic Australia October 2015

For the thinkers…River Riddle

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

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

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

Scholastic Australia August 2015

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

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

 

 

 

 
 

 

PIR – What is it and why should you care?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Double Dipping – Emotional support from Oliver and Tom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dragon Tales Publishing December 2015

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

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

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

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

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

Dragon Tale Publishing December 2015

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

 

Stocking Stuffer Suggestions # 6 – Dim’s Christmas picks

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

Fantasy

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

Morris Publishing Australia October 2012

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

Allen & Unwin November 2015

Classic

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

Koala Books Scholastic Australia November 2014

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

Allen & Unwin October 2015

Anthology

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

Ford Street Publishing October 2015

Australiana

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

Scholastic Press November 2015

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

Scholastic Australia November 2015

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