Review – All Aboard the Nutmobile!

Australia is well-known for its myriad of contrasts and tempestuous weather. Devastating bushfires, consuming floods, and cyclonic furies can weary even the staunchest of spirits. But, seldom ones to lie down in defeat, Aussies love to rise above a challenge; plucking inspiration, hope, and incredible optimism from the deepest of floods waters.

All Aboard the NutmobileThis is precisely how the team of Macadamia House reacted following the Queensland 2010/2011 floods. They rebuilt their farm and salvaged their business. And from this rescued kernel of a nut, grew the idea for their first picture book.

All Aboard the Nutmobile is a rollicking little adventure depicting the first encounter, Nosh the Nutmobile has with the inhabitants of Macadamia House. They’ve never seen a Nutmobile before and regard him with a mixture of awe and reservation. They are not particularly enamoured by his strange nutty, dome-shaped appearance and don’t care to make friends with him, preferring to argue and speculate amongst themselves as to what he really is. That is until, the weather turns foul.

Driving rains and ensuing floods threaten not only their sporting pursuits but soon their lives as well. Fortunately Nosh and his young driver Max, come to their rescue. And like all floods, the muddy waters eventually subside and it becomes clear that Nosh really is a very useful Nutmobile who’s earned his rightful place at the Home of the Nut.

Like the hundreds of Queenslanders who endured the floods, this creation is a valiant effort on behalf of the Macadamia House team. Launched late last year to coincide with the Year of the Farmer and the National Year of Reading, Nosh is the first in the Nutmobile series. The characters are straight out of the Fraser Coast hinterland; Boris, the maroon wearing cane toad is my personal favourite. (Although I am far less captivated by cane toads in real life)

The nutmobile spreadKids from three to eight will adore Glen Singleton’s bold, bouncy, and wonderfully Australiana inspired illustrations. You already know his work if you’ve ever been to one of Queensland’ theme parks and used their maps to find your way round. The Twelve Days of Christmas and Santa Koala are other well-known favourites.

Glen Singleton and Em HorsfieldNewcomer to the writing scene but not the world of nuts is Em Horsfield. Her simple rhyming verse chugs along as surely and cheerfully as Nosh himself. And she knows her subject inside out, residing and working on a macadamia farm herself. Sweet.

All Aboard the Nutmobile not only entertains with its colourful cast of Aussie characters and oodles of charm, it humorously introduces young readers to various real life situations and outcomes and provides a platform for discussion of events that have affected many of them either dramatically first hand or from afar.

The Harvest Race Nutmobile 2Watch out for the next instalment of Nosh, in The Harvest Race, August 2013 coinciding with harvest season. The third in the series should be released in time to fill your Christmas stockings. Perfect.

NutmobileYes I’m a fan of the delicious Queensland nut and the iconic Nutmobile (I’ve chugged around in one once or twice) but I admire good old Aussie benevolence and tenacity even more so. This picture book encapsulates both in bucket loads.

Little Steps Publishing, an imprint of New Frontier Publishing 2012

 

Stephen Michael King’s Baker’s Dozen – Classics you’ve read to your kids

Every now and then it’s nice to reflect and remember the golden moments of yesterday. And nothing conjures up warm, snugly memories better than a magic word or two, shared and cherished with those you love.

Stephen Michael KingWhen I asked children’s illustrator author, Stephen Michael King, what his reading list looked like, he trumped the idea with a list of classics reads, dredged up from his recollection of days spent reading them with his children.

Have a look. Do you recognise any of your favourites? Perhaps you’ve shared one or two of them yourself…

One dozen classic stories I’ve (Stephen Michael King) read with my children.

It was going to be ten but I had to add two more. Whoops three more . . . the title should read thirteen classic books I’ve read with my children. Here’s his baker’s dozen.

The Terrible underpants The Terrible Underpants – (with voices) You can’t say the name Wanda Linda without doing a silly voice. Kaz Cooke – Penguin Books

Green Eggs and Ham – I had to read every page in one breath. It’s lots of fun as the text grows and my face turns blue. Dr Seuss – HarperCollins

 Mr Magnolia – I love it, so my children had to love it too. Simple problem/perfect solution! I’ve read it easily three hundred times. It didn’t worry me if my children were already asleep. Quentin Blake – Random House UK

My Uncle is a Hunkle – My daughter asked me to read this at her preschool. I used my best ever cowboy voice. We must have read this book together about a hundred times. I feel like crying when I imagine her laughing in my arms. Lauren Child – Hachett Children’s Books

Where the Wild Things Are – I read this hundreds of times too. Its story and art are timeless but its design is what hypnotises me every time. Maurice Sendak – Harper Collins Inc.

The Hobbit – I read this to my son when he was in primary school and we were both so proud we read it together before the movie was released. My daughter read it to herself a few months before the movie’s release. She’s equally satisfied. JRR Tolkien – HarperCollins

Peter Pan – I read this with my daughter and we both loved how Peter killed pirates and yelled “Cock a Doodle Doo”. We love the movies but the book is an earthy adventure not to be missed. J M Barrie – Vintage

hover-car-racerHover Car Racer – My brilliant wife suggested I read this. If you want to introduce your son to books and you need to twist his dad’s arm to read . . . then this is the book. I had a lot of work on at the time but this book kept me connected. I read it once to my son, then to my daughter, and then my son asked me to read it again. Matthew Reilly – Pan Macmillan Australia

The Importance of Being Ernest – (with voices) Who would have guessed! What an experience! Father and daughter magic! I had a different voice for every character. Occasionally I would use the wrong voice or say a random stupid word. It was so much fun. Oscar Wilde – Penguin Group

Danny the Champion of the World – What can I say? I own an autographed copy. When I first read this book I wished I lived like Danny in a caravan with my dad. A Message to Children Who Have Read This Book – When you grow up and have children of your own, do please remember something important: a stodgy parent is no fun at all. What a child wants and deserves is a parent who is SPARKY. Roald Dahl. Roald Dahl– Random House UK

Midnite Midnite – (with illustration by Ralph Steadman). My Mum gave me this book. I read it when I was eight, nine or ten. Can’t remember exactly when! It was a joy to dust off the old copy and read it again. Over forty years after it was written, father and son had a rollicking good time! Randolph Stow – Penguin Books

Nicabobinus – I read this in a dusty corner when I worked in a children’s library and had to contain my laughter. Both my children read this book on their own steam. I heard waves of freeform laughter coming from their rooms. Terry Jones– Penguin Books

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase – I first read this because I admired the old ink illustration. I then chose to read it to my daughter because it has a great girl character and wolves. Joan Aiken – Vintage Children’s Classics

Thanks to SMK for this beautiful list, and Roald Dahl for his sage advice as always.

In future Classic Reads with your Kids posts, we’ll try to feature even more ‘classic Aussie reads’ too! Keep on reading.

 

Doodles and Drafts – Charmed with Belinda Murrell

BinnyashakissWhen bestselling, award-winning children’s author Belinda Murrell requested a chat, I was delighted to oblige. And with the dual release of The River Charm and the new Lulu Bell series this month, she has much to talk about. So froth up your café au lait, sit back and discover why squishy bananas, suits of chain-mail and not quite becoming a vet make Belinda smile.

Lulu Bell Unicorn.jpg 2 And don’t forget to read on for my review of The River Charm and details of Belinda’s latest book launch this weekend.

Q Who is Belinda Murrell? Describe your writerly-self for us and the thing that sets you apart from other Aussie children’s authors.

I am a children’s author currently writing my eighteenth book! My books range from picture books, a series of three fantasy adventure books for boys and girls aged 8-12, called The Sun Sword Trilogy and a series of time-slip historical adventure books for older girls called The Locket of Dreams, The Ruby Talisman, The Ivory Rose and The Forgotten Pearl. My latest books include The River Charm and a series of six books called Lulu Bell for younger readers.

I love to write for children because I love their whole hearted passion and enthusiasm for books. I am also very inspired by the incredible talent we have here in Australia. There are so many wonderful authors, illustrators, and publishers who are committed to creating exceptional books for our children. I like to think that my books are joyful, thought provoking and vivid.

Sun Sword TrilogyQ Describe your 10 year old self. Did you have any concept then of what you wanted to do or be when you grew up? If so, what was it?

I was a tomboy, with long golden plaits, who loved climbing trees, riding horses, reading books, looking after my animals and sword fighting! I loved writing, and ‘self-published’ novels, poems, plays and stories from about the age of eight in hand illustrated exercise books. However at that age I dreamed of being a vet when I grew up, just like my dad. I didn’t realise that you could have a career as a writer.

Q You write for a wide selection of age groups and children’s genres. Which one do you enjoy the most and why?

My favourite age to write for is probably between 10 and 15. At that age, readers are still young enough to be totally entranced by a story and to love it passionately. However they are also old enough to want to read about more complex issues – history, tragedy, love, loss and redemption. However it has been so much fun to write the much shorter Lulu Bell books for readers aged about 6 to 9.

The River CharmQ Who / what inspired the characters in The River Charm?

The River Charm is a very special book to me, because it is based on the true life adventures of my great-great-great grandmother, Charlotte Atkinson. Set in Australia, during the 1840s, it is the story of a family who lost everything but fought against almost insurmountable odds to regain their independence and their right to be together as a family. Charlotte was born into a wealthy family at Oldbury, a grand estate in the bush. But after her father dies, her mother is left to raise four young children on her own. A young widow was a tempting target – from murderous convicts, violent bushrangers and worst of all, a cruel new stepfather. Fearing for their lives, the family flees on horseback to a remote hut in the wilderness. The Atkinson family must fight to save everything they hold dear.

Q If you could time slip back to the era of the 1840’s, would you? Why?

Yes! I’d love to visit Oldbury (the house that my great-great-great-great grandparents built) and meet the Atkinson family to see how they compare with my imaginings about them. I feel that I know these characters intimately after spending a year researching their lives and adventures. It would be amazing to meet them in real life.

Q What was the most despised thing you’ve ever found in your school lunchbox?

Squished banana and soggy celery.

Lulu PenguinQ Do you think childhood happenings shape your adult writing voice and style? Have yours? Share one moment from your past which has direct bearing on your present.

Yes absolutely. I had a wonderful childhood – full of books, animals and adventures. My mother encouraged us to be creative and imaginative whether it was reading lots of books, writing our own stories, playing imaginative games or just having the time to daydream. She always encouraged us to aim high and be the best we could possibly be. On the other hand, my father was very adventurous – travelling the world and disappearing for months at a time. He used to take us off on amazing trips – sailing the ocean, horse-riding and camping out on remote cattle stations. As a result I have always loved to travel and have had some incredible adventures. Many of these childhood experiences have made their way into my writing. My new Lulu Bell series is very inspired by my childhood, as it is about a girl called Lulu growing up in a vet hospital, just like I did as a child. We had so many animals, including a pony called Rosie who lived in our back garden in suburban Sydney. If anyone left the back door ajar – she was straight into the kitchen searching for snacks. This particular incident inspired a key scene in Lulu Bell and the Birthday Unicorn.

Q Do you have favourites? If so list your favourite read of all time, holiday spot and most memorable breakfast and why.

Favourite book (so hard to pick only one) but I’ll say Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. I discovered Jane Austen’s novels when I was a teenager and immediately loved them. I particularly enjoyed the satirical humour of her novels, the witty dialogue and the insight into late eighteenth century English society. I’m enjoying sharing Jane Austen with my own daughter now.

Favourite Holiday Spot – my brother’s farm at Dungog which we visit as often as we can. This is where I keep my horse Nutmeg. We go up there and work with the cattle, get filthy dirty and ride for hours!

Most memorable breakfast – croissants, omelette and café au lait at our apartment in Paris!! For two years, my family and I travelled while I home schooled my three children. One of my favourite places was staying in an apartment in the Marais district of Paris.

Q Did you have a favourite book character or hero as a child? If you could incorporate that character into one of your own stories, which would it be and why?

When I was growing up, I loved Lucie Pevensie from The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis. I loved the book’s enticing mixture of adventure, action and fantasy. My sister and I would dress up in silver chain mail, with swords and bows and arrows, and play Narnia. I was enraptured by the idea that it might be possible to pass through a secret door into a magical world, full of talking animals and adventure.

In a way, my heroine Tilly in The Ruby Talisman was like Lucie. With an old family heirloom, she found her way into another world. It was the colourful, dangerous and vibrant world of France in 1789 during the French Revolution. However Tilly was a more modern, feisty heroine than Lucie – and yes, she could fight with a sword!!

Kate and BelindaQ What other Aussie children’s book author(s) do you admire the most and why? (sisters allowed!)

Of course I adore my sister Kate Forsyth. She is an amazing writer and has an incredible knowledge of the publishing industry. We are also very good friends and walk together regularly along the beach, talking about writing, books and our latest plot tangles!

Q Do you write every day? Do you have a special spot or routine to make the magic happen or can you write anywhere, any time?

Yes – I try to write every day, unless I am out visiting schools and festivals. I work in my beautiful office, which is lined with hundreds of books, has a fireplace and looks out over my gorgeous garden. My dog Asha keeps me company, sleeping in front of the fire. I usually get all my kids organised for school, take my dog for a walk along the beach, come home make a coffee, sit down and start writing!

Q Name one ‘I’ll never forget that’ moment in your writing career thus far.

Definitely the moment when my agent, Pippa Masson, rang to tell me that Random House wanted to publish not just my first book, but a three book deal for The Sun Sword Trilogy! We cracked bottles of the finest French champagne and my feet didn’t touch the ground for days!

Q Name one non-writing goal you’d like to achieve in this lifetime.

To see my three beautiful children grow up to be warm, funny, loving, joyful and inspiring adults. Luckily they are all well on the way!

Q What is on the draft table for Belinda?

I am now writing book 6 in my Lulu Bell series, for junior readers, which is called Lulu Bell and the Sea Turtle. However it is a bit of a struggle to concentrate at the moment with all the launch activities. The book is due to my publisher, Zoe Walton, next week so I’d better get cracking with it!!

A Mother's Offering to her ChildrenReview – The River Charm

Until I’d meet Belinda and immersed myself into the absorbing world of The River Charm, I had not given much thought to the first Australian children’s book; what it was about, who wrote it or when it first appeared. The River Charm introduces us to this fascinating period of colonial artistic and literary history with the help of a much cherished river pebble charm which unlocks modern-day Millie’s astonishing 19th century ancestry.

Many aspects of early Australian society may intrigue young readers but probably receive as much serious consideration as the first ever Australian published children’s book does. Murrell successfully weaves fact and fiction together in a mesmerising time-slip historical tale based on her own great-great-great-great-grandmother, Charlotte Waring Atkinson who penned, A Mother’s Offering To Her Children in 1841. For me, as much as for Millie, this is an awe-inspiring discovery.

Murrell’s admirable female heroines including the fearless Mamma and her daughter Charlotte, represent the face of human tenacity, and true pioneering spirit surviving amidst the striking yet harsh and unforgiving Australia bush.

It’s a story about endurance and the right to fight for what you believe in. Tween (10-14) girls and lovers of evocative, historical Australian bush themed sagas (the likes of The Silver Brumby that delighted me as a child) will adore The River Charm.

Discover more of Belinda’s enchanting time-slip adventures and books here. Or join her on Friday June 7 for High Tea at Berkelouw Books, shop 24, 215 Condamine St, Stockland Centre, Balgowlah at 6pm for the launch of The River Charm and Lulu Bell. (I’ll be reviewing this fab new series for junior readers later this year.)

Random House Australia Children’s June 2013

 

 

YA Review – Steal My Sunshine

The reading audience of YA yarns is ticklish to quantify by age and intangible by definition. Yet its common trait is the desire to be shocked, entertained and moved in the briefest possible time. I no longer have the rush of youth but do suffer the impatience of age so I love that YA reads can take me on a tour of emotions and conflicts, show me succinct snap shots of life, and have me safely home in time for dinner. It’s a bit like being a teenager again. So many issues, duelling emotions, and desperate questions that need answering – like yesterday.

Steal my sunshineSteal My Sunshine, Emily Gale’s first Australian release, is a bit of a circular re-visitation of one’s past. It centres around 15 year old Hannah, a girl with mostly pure intentions who is often at bitter odds with her mother Sarah, and older brother, Sam. She dwells on the fringe of true friendship and romance and feels most kindred to Essie, her eccentric, gin-swilling grandmother.

This story drew me in from the start. How could someone’s sunshine be stolen? It is easy to find fault with Hannah’s acerbic, confused mother, her pusillanimous father, her self-absorbed brother, and her seen-it-all-before best friend. But the key to surviving a crisis is not always about attributing blame. Sometimes it just makes more sense to acknowledge your true-self and accept how it fits in with life.

Hannah’s acknowledgment occurs when her world begins to dissolve during an oppressive Melbourne heatwave. Normality is slipping through her fingers faster than sand from St Kilda beach and she’s at a loss as to how to hang onto it. Enter Essie; the one person Hannah feels holds the answers, whose past can help Hannah make sense of her future. But Essie harbours a shameful secret of her own.

Hannah’s wild, enigmatic misfit of a best friend, Chloe, complicates the mix further. She is as intimate as a bestie should be but is not quite the right fit for the more straight-shooting Hannah. It doesn’t help that Hannah has a burning desire for Evan, Chloe’s older brother.

The disintegration of Hannah’s parents’ marriage and subsequent polarisation between Sam, her mother and herself, forces Hannah to spend more and more time with her grandmother until Essie at last, reveals the shocking truth. And this is where it gets interesting.

Essie takes us back sixty years after an ill-fated attraction leads to her expulsion from her family in the UK to Australia and the subsequent ‘cruel, immoral and shameful’ forced adoption of her baby. It is this theme of abandonment, involuntary confinement, and coercion that Gale portrays so poignantly through Essie’s heart-wrenching, personal recounts.

Though astounded, Hannah eventually finds solace and an understanding of where she belongs within her family and in doing so, reconciles with those she has been at odds with.

Touted as a coming of age novel, Steal My Sunshine summons us to acknowledge the abominable practise of forced adoption in the 1950’s and 1960’s and the realisation that not all broken things can be fixed back to perfect. But as Hannah discovers, the pieces can be saved and remodelled into something else just as special.

Emily GaleGale successfully evokes all the discomfiture of living in St Kilda during a heatwave whilst confronting one’s burning personal issues. Her narrative is gripping yet fluid, and although I would have liked to have seen more emotional development between Hanna and Evan (because I’m a hopeless romantic), it would have been superfluous to the story. The ending seemed a little too convenient after the gritty intrigue created mid-novel but these are minor niggles in a book that offered a satisfying YA mix of confronting pasts, contemporary anguish and reclaiming one’s self. A YA read that shines.

Woolshed Press imprint of Random House Australia May 2013

 

 

Review – Seadog

SeaDogIn his youth, my shaggy-coated border collie had a fondness for rolling in guano, preferably just after bath time. The maturity and inability age brings to pursue such endearing past-times means I have not had to deal with that glorious dead-fish-wet-dog-poo smell for some years – until now.

Thanks to the jolly new picture book Seadog, by Claire Saxby and Tom Jellet, there’s a new canine character in my life. And I love him.

Who couldn’t adore the larger than life, guiltless, messy charm of this floppy-eared mutt? There are many things Seadog is not. He is not a clean, shiny dog. He is not a trick dog or a fetch dog. But his devotion to his young family and all things maritime knows no bounds. Even if he is permanently on the nose, wilfully disobedient and partial to rolling in piles of rotten fish, Seadog embodies the immense spirit of the sea with an unparalleled verve for life, and terrifying seagulls.

His devil-may-care personality races across each page and through the briny waves until he develops some serious grooming issues. But Seadogs ‘don’t like baths’ either.

Tom JelletTom Jellet’s super-groovy illustrations depict our scruffy hero in rough and ready style. Jellet’s line drawings boldly ignore the sticking-within-the-line rule giving Seadog the perfect unkempt, woofy appearance. Until he concedes to ‘a few short minutes’ of pampering and preening so that every hair lies neatly in place, within the lines of conformity, ‘until someone opens the door…’

From the navel flag bedecked end pages (which I took some minutes to try to translate hoping for a secret message there in – a la SEADOG!) to Claire Saxby’s easy verse-style text that reads like a rousing sea shanty, Seadog is a boisterous, enchanting read about a dog with more heart than the largest ocean and infinitely more appeal than a pile of rotten fish.Claire Saxby

In your face fun for pre-schoolers and beginner readers.

Andy Griffiths will officially launch Seadog at the Williamstown Literary Festival on June 2nd at 2.00pm. All are welcome to join Claire Saxby, however energetic canines unfortunately cannot attend!

Random House Australia Released May 2013

 

Review – Ferret on the Loose

Stand in the kids’ section of any library and you’ll soon discover what under 10 year old readers gravitate towards; pacey, riveting chapter books, starring jump-off-the-page characters with the odd quirky picture thrown in to keep it all real.

Ferret on the LooseThis is precisely what New Frontier Publishing is delivering with their dynamite Little Rocket Series. Like Aussie Mates and the (now ceased) Aussie Nibbles collections, Little Rockets junior fiction is aimed at that Golden Age of reading where kids are still willing and able to suspend belief for action and fun and downright silliness. This series certainly ticks all those boxes. The books have a generous physical feel and look about them which will stand up to many years of being loved. Ferret on the Loose is the latest to hit the shelves.

Take a club-full of feisty ferrets and over-anxious owners, a determined founding father, Mr Olfart, (yes you read correctly) and a best friend who doesn’t mind rodents in the slightest and you’ve got one crazy recipe for fun.

FerretTen year old Lucy and her pet ferret Flash are seasoned competitors in the annual Fastest Fearless Ferret Race. Only trouble is, Flash doesn’t always quite live up to his name. Not that he isn’t fast, he is. But he is unpredictable and given to distraction. No amount of coaxing and cajoling with chocolate can entice him down that clear plastic racing tube to fame and fortune, and the gold trophy that Lucy longs to see her name engraved on sooner than later.

Tragically, Flash’s training goes from bad to worse when he is confined to barracks after nearly concussing himself and then mysteriously disappearing. Lucy is distraught. Her ferret-racing nemesis, Elisha Muggins, is conspicuously smug. And come the day of the big race, Flash is still missing. It is not until the winners are announced that Lucy realises the winner is in fact, her Flash, in disguise!

You’ll have to read this zippy little tale yourself to find out who the real ferret-napping culprit is. Benjamin Johnston’s animated coloured illustrations and Heather Gallagher’s comic use of names and situations will keep you and readers aged 7 and beyond amused along the way.

New Frontier PublishingThings I learnt from Ferret on the Loose: Wanting to win above all else is not wise. And letting a ferret loose on a moving tread-mill is even less wise.

New Frontier Publishing Little Rocket Series May 2013

 

On My Bedside Table

Bedside read listWant to know who I like to curl up in bed with after a long day behind the flat screen? Curious to know how I spend the midnight hours? Well I can reveal that at least three of those listed below are amongst the many who keep me occupied into the wee hours of the night. But enough about the books weighing down my bedside table.

As a solution to my incurable curiosity about what  makes a good read and what is good to read, I will be featuring who and what some of Australia’s most popular authors and illustrators like to go to sleep with, or bathe with or dine with…you get the picture.

And so to kick off our inaugural On My Bedside Table post we begin with a clutch of very clever children’s authors and illustrators. Look carefully and you may just pick up an idea or two for your own reading list. Enjoy!

Susanne Gervay ~ Children’s and YA award winning author and patron, director and co-ordinator of numerous societies associated with Kids’ Lit.

Conspiracy 365 (series) by Gabrielle Lord

Hey Baby! Corinne Fenton (picture book)

Trust Me Too edited by Paul Collins (anthology of stories)

Jandamarra by Mark Greenwood illustrated by Terry Denton

Lighthorse Boy by Dianne Wolfer illustrated by Brian Simmonds

Ten Tiny Things by Meg mcKinlay illustrated by Kyle Hughes-Odgers

Gracie and Josh• I have a pile of picture books and illustrated stories at the moment. Maybe because I’m into picture books – of course there’s my Gracie and Josh illustrated by Serena Geddes there too.

Anil Tortop ~ Illustrator, designer and sometimes animator

• The second book of A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket (via Kindle)

• SCBWI bulletin

• Nonstop Nonsense by Margaret Mahy

• Downloaded picture books (on my iPad to have a look at very often. But I don’t read all of them. Just look at the pictures…)

Maggot MoonMichael Gerard Bauer ~ Children and YA multi CBCA award winning author

Just last night I finished reading Maggot Moon by Sally Gardner. A powerful, moving book that I really liked. It’s set in what appears to be England but the country is under a vicious totalitarian rule as if it had lost WW2. The story centres around a young boy called Standish Treadwell and the horror of his life, and eventually his attempt to expose a fake moon landing which is about to be broadcast by the government as an example of their power.

I’m also at present re-reading Barry Heard’s book Well Done Those Men about his Vietnam experience and the terrible effect it had on his life. A great read and soon to be a movie.

Anna Branford ~ Writer for children, maker of things and bath tub reader

There is a funny selection on my bedside table just now! Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows is there because I’ve been recovering from a cold and it is always my best companion when I’m not feeling well.

The AntidoteOn top of that is a book by the hilarious and wise Oliver Burkeman called The Antidote, which is a wonderful critique of the practice of positive thinking.

And right at the top of the pile is Sue Whiting’s new book, Portraits of Celina, which is spooky and beautiful all in the same moment.

On my Bedside table Anna BranfordFeeling inspired yet? I am. Time to grab whatever is on the top of your pile and curl up together.

 

 

Doodles and Drafts – Shifting through the Haze with Paula Weston

Paula WestonIt’s not that I’m not fond of paranormal spec-fiction; it’s just a genre that happens to feature much further down on my reading list – picture books dance all over them in fact. But when Queensland author, Paul Weston announced the release of her first YA novel, I was simultaneously intrigued and fascinated and then, pleasantly surprised.

Shadows, Book 1 in the Rephaim series, is a tale easy to warm to. Paula’s brisk and breezy writing style ensures a tight, zippy read. Her feisty characters, both human and non-human, imbue each page with snappy dialogue, witty innuendo, and believable outcomes. Exhilarating action is balanced beautifully with brief ‘shifts’ of reflection and pace that enables the reader to be fully drawn into Gaby Winters’ confused new world of Fallen Angels, Hellions and demons – The Rephaim. The course and cheeky interplay between Gaby and rogue, would-be saviour, Rafa, provides just enough romantic conjecture to stimulate ones carnal curiosities while the lightly seasoned scenery possesses a delicious sense of tropical Aussie atmosphere. I became so engrossed in Gaby’s pursuit of answers; about her brother Jude, and about her half-angel self that the end came all too soon.

And so I’ve been cunningly lured into the realm of the Rephaim. Looks like paranormal fiction has just moved further up my list.

HazeTo honour the spot I’ve reserved for the second instalment in the Rephaim series, Haze Book 2 due for release 22nd May, I have the author here herself to share a bit more about her paranormal fascination and, her obsession with the Foo Fighters.

Q Why paranormal spec-fiction? What is the attraction for writing this in genre?

A: I like the idea that there’s more to the world than we can see, and paranormal (and urban fantasy, magical realism etc.) stories provide plenty of scope to explore that in a contemporary setting. For me, it enhances the escapism to have a story with other-worldly elements set in a very recognisable world. There are endless ways to be creative with mythology and world building – and it’s a lot of fun!

Q Do you have favourites? If so list your favourite read of all time, holiday spot and season of the year and why.

A: I have a long list of favourite books across genres, but if we’re talking spec-fic particularly…The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater, The Lumatere Chronicles by Melina Marchetta, Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor, and – of course – The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien.

My favourite holiday spot is Turin in Italy in autumn. It’s a beautiful city with amazing history and buildings, has incredible food and wine, gorgeous countryside nearby, friendly people, and it’s not as overrun with tourists as other major Italian cities. It’s in the Piedmont region (just like the Sanctuary in the Rephaim series).

Q Who / what inspired the characters in the Rephaim series?

A: The series started with an idea about a girl and guy with a complicated history that only he remembers. There was an attraction between them, but if he took advantage of that, he knew there would be serious ramifications if/when she got her memories back. I knew there were paranormal elements in how she lost her memory, and that the two of them were caught up in a bigger conflict. I’m also a huge fan of Joss Whedon (particularly his Buffy, Angel and Firefly series) and Eric Kripke (Supernatural), so it’s fair to say their writing and TV shows inspired me.

Q If you could ‘shift’ with anyone, who would you choose and where would you shift to?

A: I would shift with Murray (my husband) and visit our family around Australia. And then we’d go to Turin!

Q Before signing your two-book deal with Text Publishing, did you have all four books in the series clearly thought out in your mind, or already on paper?

A: Yes, I had roughly plotted out the four books (and had a rough draft of Haze, book 2). The lovely people at Text were aware there were four books in the series when I was offered the initial two-book contract. As a new writer, getting even a two-book contract was a pretty big deal. Text then made the offer for books 3 and 3 the week before Shadows was published, which was a huge moment for me.

Foo FightersQ How many times have you been to a Foo Fighters concert? How does their music, affect what you are working on?

A: I have been to two Foo Fighters concerts. Both were awesome, but my favourite was the River Stage concert the guys did at the Botanic Gardens after the Brisbane floods. It was a more intimate and chatty show and they played a lot of album tracks – it was a concert for hard-core fans. Loved it!

I don’t listen to music when I’m writing, but I do listen to the Foo Fighters when I’m driving and I find it gets the ideas flowing – particularly if I’ve struck a brick wall with a particular scene. There’s something about the heavier tracks that hits me in the chest and helps me find the mood for fight scenes – or finding Gaby’s voice when she needs to be resilient. But at the same time, the Foo Fighters’ acoustic, gentler tracks can also help me channel a more vulnerable voice.

Q What was the most despised thing you’ve ever found in your school lunchbox?

A: My mum used to make me cheese and jam sandwiches, which I really didn’t like. Now I eat brie and quince paste on ciabatta which is kind of the same thing…Turns out my mum was ahead of her time!

Q Do you think childhood happenings shape your adult writing voice and style? Have yours? Share one moment from your past which has direct bearing on your present.

A: Experiences in my teenage years have shaped how I approach stories, but I think reading hundreds of books over the years (then and since) nourished the storyteller in me, and helped me find my own voice and style. I was an often angry and rebellious teenager and I’ve definitely channelled some of that for Gaby’s voice in the Rephaim series. For reasons that become apparent through the series, Gaby often feels like an outsider and tends to deal with that through anger and sarcasm. I often felt like I didn’t fit in (as most teenagers do at some point) – I still do at times – so that voice is usually easy to find.

Q Tell us what we can expect from Book 2 and Paula Weston.

A: Haze (out 22 May), has more twists and turns and some answers. Readers can expect to learn more about the Rephaim (particularly the Outcasts), more about Gaby’s twin brother Jude, and more about Gaby’s past. There’s more action, more secrets revealed, and the Rephaim discover something that threatens all of them. And, of course, there are some interesting developments for Gaby and Rafa.

Both books published by Text Publishing – Haze Book 2 available from 22nd May 2012.

Review – Somebody’s House

Somebody's House PBHave you ever wandered down your street and wondered who shares it with you? Do you like to let your curiosity conjure up interesting occupants based entirely on the external appearance of a dwelling? I do. I’m not sure if young children do this as consciously as us more questioning grown up types but Katrina Germein’s newly released picture book, Somebody’s House, allows them to do just that, and absolutely guilt-free.

At the bottom of a little girl’s town by the sea is ‘a long, looping street’. I immediately want to visit this street and find out who we’ll meet. As the little girl drifts along it, she passes houses of every size and description and colour. She catches glimpses of the occupants’ lives from the objects she spies in their gardens or poking out of windows or perched up in trees. Each page poses the enigmatic question, ‘who do you think is inside?’

The speculative answers are the result of her assumptions and vivid imagination and, quite possibly true, although I’m not sure if scarf-knitting ewes and high-heel wearing peacocks are your run-of-the-mill suburban types.

Katrina GermeinIt doesn’t matter a pip because this is a joyful exploration of colours and rhythms, and shapes and forms that will entertain readers from 0 – 5 years and give beginner readers hours of fun as they navigate their way through the musical text.

It’s easy to wax lyrical about picture books when the words sing and the illustrations bombard the senses with tons of movement and bouncing detail. Somebody’s House does precisely that. A comfortable familiarity grew each time I revisited ‘somebody’s’ street yet I was delighted to continually find something new and quirky to smile at.

Anthea Stead’s exuberant use of acrylics, oil pastels and sgraffito* saturate the pages with a festival of colour and patterns. There is enough going on to attract young readers back for a second look again and again and the use of subtle visual clues not only adds to the whimsicality of the story but allows them to deduce who lives inside each house.

Known for her straightforward and honest way of sharing life’s truths with children, Germein has created a beautiful picture book that reinforces one’s sense of belonging and sense of place, while lightly alluding to the marvellous diversity of society and family types that exist all just metres away from one’s own front door.

Recommended for 3 – 6 year olds and anyone curious about their neighbours.

For those lucky enough to be living in Adelaide, pop along to the Lobethal Markets nestled in the Adelaide foothills on Sunday the 19th of May for the official launching of Somebody’s House.

Somebody's House Launch

• Sgraffito is a painting style that uses painted layers and ‘scratching’ techniques to create an image. This technique can be used on walls, ceramics and paper or canvas.

 Walker Books Australia May 2013

 

Review – Bea

Fitting in with your flock is important. Occasionally though, our sense of self is questioned, buried beneath the need to conform. Mixing like with like is not necessarily a bad thing. It’s safe, secure and reassuring.

Bea, however, is a bird who favours being true to yourself in preference to self-preservation. She dares to be different. She has unusual tastes. She does not fit in.

Bea PBBea is the enchanting debut picture book of stellar new author illustrator Christine Sharp. In Christine’s’ own words, ‘Bea is a book about appreciating being in the moment and delighting in the simple things – dancing, star gazing, and above all, friendship.’ And soaring with the fruit bats on calm nights…

Sounds poetic doesn’t it? That’s because it is. Sharp’s fluid text floats dreamily across the pages, often undulating and swirling about the tree tops just like a flock of birds. It’s wild and free, daring and challenging, playful and fun; the very essence of what makes a picture book attractive to young children.

Bea’s contemporaries lead a mundane sort of existence. They spend their days pecking at ants, watching worms wiggle and building nests. Nothing less than you’d expect from a bird. But they have never experienced the sublime joy of ‘singing sweet songs to the moon’ with your best friend like Bea has.

In contrast to their ‘birdy-ness’, Bea bakes berry pudding, dances to disco beats and dreams of travelling the world, in a hot air balloon if you please.

Christine SharpThe clever use of alliteration, which is loosely presented in alphabetical order, beckons to be read out loud and with as much vibrancy and spontaneity as the illustrations evoke. Sharp’s abilities as an artist and designer are reflected in each richly vivid page spread. A mixture of scanned pencil drawings, paintings, photography, fabrics and objects used in collages bring Bea and her best mate, Bernie, to life and deliver a beautiful, textured feel to the book. For me they evoked the stirring scent of rose gums and damp scrub and crisp mountain air. Younger readers will be charmed by the juxtaposition of ‘real’ and ‘fake’ art on each page (as defined by one seven year old).

Bea is an instantly likeable character whose slightly eccentric tendencies and far reaching desires inspire a tremendous sense of self. Her actions prompt others to ask, ‘Why?’ This is no bad thing in my book. She blithely lives her life to the beat of a different drum (or wing in this case). And her best mate Bernie admires and appreciates her all the more for it. I do too. Bea pleasantly surprised me with its simple message of how important it is to feel at ease in your own skin, no matter what your feather type.

Share this alluring picture book with pre-schoolers and those who are developing their own idea of their place in the flock.

UQP March 2013

 

Lest We Forget

On the eve of ANZAC Day it seemed fitting to touch on the significance of the day. Young people are often faced with a barrage of ANZAC Day information whether they are involved in commemorative services and lessons at school or simply viewing a dawn parade on the day. Explaining the whys and how of one of our most significant periods of history need not be a glorification of the atrocities of war, but rather a celebration of the indomitable fighting spirit of our nation as a whole and a message of hope eternal. I’ve plucked out a few titles from ANZAC book shelf in case you want to share the Spirit of the ANZACS with your family. There’s something there for young readers from 5 to 15. It’s by no means comprehensive but certainly worth the read…lest we forget.

Anzac Biscuits PBPicture Books

Anzac Biscuits Phil Cummings and Owen Swan March 2013

A Fair Dinkum War David Cox February 2013

Anzac Day Parade Glenda Kane and Lisa Allen March 2010

The Promise – The Town that never forgets  Derek Guille and Anne-Sophie Biguet April 2013Fair Dinkum War

Mr Grandad Marches on Anzac Day Catriona Hoy and Benjamin Johnson 2008

The House that was built in a day – Anzac Cottage Valerie Everett April 2007

Graphic Novels

An ANZAC TaleAn ANZAC Tale Ruth Stark and Greg Holfeld February 2013 (see my reflections and review on this magnificent graphic picture book here)

Mid grade and upper primary readers

Light Horse Boy Dianne Wolfer March 2013

The Gallipoli Story Patrick CarlyonThe Gallipoli Story April 2003

When we went to Gallipoli Pamela Rushby May 2008

Older Readers 12+

A Rose for the ANZACS Boys Jackie French April 2008 (have a look at her other titles too: A Day to Remember and The Donkey who carried the wounded)

The Horses didn’t come Home Pamela Rushby March 2012

So whether you spend your day at a commemorative march tomorrow or in quiet contemplation, make sure that when you are nibbling on an ANZAC biscuit, you have something good to read.

 

 

 

Review – Mr Darcy the Dancing Duck

The first time I met the acquaintance of Mr Darcy, I was much enamoured by his unassuming good looks, impeccable manners and sophisticated demeanour. If his reserved gentility left both Lizzy and me a little wanting and him rather lonely in the beginning, then it was only a question of time and persistence on behalf of Lizzy’s friends, to eventually secure his friendship and affection.

He is after all the stuff of classic novels. Imagine how I swooned with delight when Mr Darcy re-entered my world, this time with a new tribulation to overcome.

Mr Darcy the Dancing DuckMr Darcy the Dancing Duck is the second release by the impressive new picture book teaming of Alex Field and Peter Carnavas. Loosely observing the characters and circumstances of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, this delightful tale reintroduces us to Mr Darcy, a duck contentedly residing in Pemberley Park until it dawns on him that spring is in the air and therefore ‘it’s dancing season again.’

Mr Darcy cordially greets his erstwhile friends; merry Maria, dignified Mr Bingley and the comely Caroline but as always feels a little awkward and shy around Lizzy and her sisters. His hurried refusal to dance with Lizzy intimates a weakness in our dashing hero – he cannot dance.

He is very much disheartened by his inability; so much so, he can no longer even acknowledge the presence of his friends. Fortunately they recognise his inadequacy and quickly give him a ‘helping hand’. Before long, Mr Darcy is dancing rather splendidly and even taking a few turns about the makeshift maypole. But will he be able to demonstrate his new found talent in front of those he is so eager to impress without making a fool of himself? Amidst a blaze of colour and twirling of ribbons, he does. Mr Darcy and Lizzy couldn’t be happier, dancing together in Pemberley Park. Ahh.

Alex Field (Sophia Whitfield)You need not be an Austen addict to appreciate the subtle references to the characters of Pemberley Park or to fall in abject adoration of Mr Darcy, a duck of ineffable character and appeal as I did. The crisp, clever narrative of Alex Field (pen name for one Sophia Whitfield) effectively draws the reader into Mr Darcy’s world and his largely self-imposed, perplexing social situations. It is not difficult to care about this be-speckled little duck. Younger readers will adore his bright bow tie and the way he tries to contain his hapless clumsiness. Older ones, like me, will be attracted to the very attributes and humour that make all Mr Darcys so alluring; restrained humility, beguiling vulnerability and brooding charm.

Peter CarnavasAnd who isn’t spellbound by the illustrations of Peter Carnavas? Free of any human form, Carnavas’ marvellous paintings encapsulate all the sensitivity, sophistication and elegance of the era in the most charismatically cheerful, contemporary way.

It may be 200 years on, but thanks to the passion and talent of authors and illustrators like Field and Carnavas, the celebration of love and friendship and top hats lives on.

Pride and Prejudice CoverAnd as Professor Todd mentions on the celebration of 200 years of Pride and Prejudice, “I don’t think she (Jane Austen) wanted to write a book that is simply borrowed from the library and then taken back or a paperback that’s thrown away. She wanted to write books that people valued, kept and read.”

Mr Darcy the Dancing Duck and its predecessor, Mr Darcy, are two such books. Value them, keep them and read them, often.

Perfect for primary aged children and Pride and Prejudice officiados.

New Frontier Publishing April 2013

 

 

 

Review – DON’T let a Spoonbill in the kitchen!

Don't let a spoonbill in the kitchenFun, Fun, Fun! Delicious, unrestrained, dive-head-first into it FUN, was my first impression of Narelle Oliver’s scrumptious new picture book, DON’T let a Spoonbill in the kitchen! Well OK, but why, I bet you’re wondering. I was and couldn’t wait to devour this book to find out.

My indulgence was delayed though first by the cherry-topped, pink-iced cupcakes dripping delectably across the cover and then by the brilliantly detailed end pages. (Actually it was Miss 7 who found it hard to move on from this girly treasure trove of items) When we finally did, we were rewarded with a veritable fest of musical narrative and divine illustrations.

Narelle OliverNarelle Oliver is one of those unassuming, home grown Aussie talents who quietly gets on with creating perfectly balanced masterpieces for children to savour with seemingly little effort and fanfare. Immerse yourself into the pages of this picture book though and you’ll soon be marvelling at the many exquisite elements, the lyrical storyline and informative descriptions of some of our most curious native Australian birds, and wondering just how she does it so well.

Oliver is well-known for her predilection for Australian native fauna and feathered creatures. Fox and Fine Feathers and Home are just two examples of her acute appreciation and sensitivity for them and the way she is able to preserve them in the picture book art format, allowing children to cultivate a keener sense of value for the world around them.

Narelle's art

DON’T let a Spoonbill in the kitchen! takes this one level higher for me. Each rhyming quatrain rolls sweetly off one’s tongue whether read silently or out loud; something littlies will repeatedly adore. The format is simple and reoccurring, ideal for building expectation and reinforcing fact with humour. We are introduced to a selection of birds and their chief characteristics before receiving a cautionary warning about them on the succeeding page. The ‘advice’ pages burst with exuberant colour, mayhem, mess and FUN and allow readers to make their own assumptions as to why it’s best not to take a pelican to the airport, for instance.

I struggled to find a favourite amongst these images. They are all marvellous and Oliver’s use of handmade collages, linocuts and real photo imagery make it feel as though the birds really are causing chaos in the kitchen. The overall result is a riotous, educational and hilarious picture book which is seriously good FUN!Narelle Oliver's Spoonbill launch Bris Square Library April 2013 (19)

I had the immense pleasure of attending Narelle Oliver’s launch of DON’T let a Spoonbill in the kitchen! today amongst a crowd of esteemed children’s authors, illustrators and dedicated professionals of the children’s literary industry. Supported by Book Links QLD Inc. and launched by Her Excellency Ms Quentin Bryce AC CVO Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia, the occasion was a celebration of fine art and joie de vivre and thankfully, was unhindered by the antics of any mischievous winged individuals. Happy to report, all cupcakes remained intact until the littlies set forth upon them!

Narelle Oliver's Spoonbill launch Bris Square Library April 2013 (2)

This is a picture book to treasure and to laugh at over and over again.

Recommended for pre-schoolers and those who crave to be a pelican (like me).

Omnibus Books by Scholastic Group Australia April 2013

 

 

Review – Night Watch

Night WatchWho hasn’t watched an African wildlife documentary and not been enthralled by the lives of the majestic beasts that roam within? I may be easily amused but their appearances and antics still impress me, as does Phil Cummings’ and Janine Dawson’s latest offering, Night Watch.

Our African stars are Giraffe, Elephant, Hippo, and Baboon. They are neighbours, living side by side around the lake, getting on with their everyday lives but rarely exchanging more than a passing nod or ‘gruff grunt’ with each other; a modern predicament in today’s high density living society.

One day though, danger comes ‘prowling…creeping…stalking…sneaking’; Lion is on the hunt.

The animals rally nervously together and thanks to an ingenious idea of Baboon’s (being smarter than he looks) they hatch a shrewd plan and form a vigilant night watch. Lion is out-witted and frightened senseless by their deviousness. From then on, it’s business as usual, each resuming their insular coexistence by the lake, but no longer afraid of the night or what it could bring.

Phil CummingsThis likeable picture book touches on the importance of cooperation, teamwork, survival (of the cleverest) and the value of friendship with bucket-loads of charm and wit.

Phil Cummings pleasing rhythmic text pulses with humour and sound and stands up to repeated readings. But it is Janine Dawson’s gorgeous watercolour illustrations which convincingly convey the verve of the African savannah for me. They radiate the naivety, ingenuity and vulnerability of the characters with a sunny vibrancy sure to charm the pants of young readers.Janine Dawson

Working Title Press suggests this picture book provides plenty of potential for imaginative interaction, activities and kinetic play for children from 3 – 6 years of age. I am inclined to agree. But of course, if you are partial to safaris through the wilds of Africa, it’s worth a look too. Because you never know when you’ll need to outsmart a marauding lion do you?

Working Title Press April 2013

 

 

Review – Grandpa’s Gold

GGoldOnce upon a time, not long ago, unearthing quality crafted, self-published children’s books was like fossicking for gold. They were out there, but often buried under layers of fools’ gold. Grandpa’s Gold is one of the genuine gems.

For me, one of the greatest rewards of being a parent is being able to share the world’s wonders and its treasures with your offspring. Heading off on adventurous travel, although beset with obvious challenges, creates unimaginable, lasting memories for young and old alike. Seasoned children’s author, Robin Adolphs, has struck gold with this slick, memorable story about a young boy and his grandfather sharing such an adventure.

Jake has a Grandpa who possesses a 4WD and the ancient ability to read maps. Best of all, he knows how to find gold. He and Jake set off one day in search of it. Along the way, Grandpa reveals just how elusive the precious metal is and how tricky it is to find. Jake is fascinated to learn that if he listens hard enough for a ‘kind of WHOOP-WHOOP noise’, gold won’t be far away.

They set up camp in the goldfields. Jake hears many noises that first night but none of them the WHOOP-WHOOP of gold. That is until Grandpa introduces Jake to the mysteries of a metal detector. Jake is spell-bound by it, having had ‘no idea the earth was so noisy’.

Each buzz, crackle and whirr prompts them to stop and dig. Soon Jake’s pockets are bulging with treasures: a rust billy can, an old hob-nail, a broken horseshoe, even the head of a pick-axe; relics of a yesteryear all too wonderful for a small boy to leave behind. Grandpa’s efforts are less fruitful until he relinquishes the detector to Jake. WHOOP-WHOOP! ‘And there is was. Gold!’

This appealing tale transported me back to the time I spent fossicking the gem fields of west Queensland. Miles and miles of Brigalow scrub, rocky outcrops and the promise of stumbling across the next pink sapphire kept me there for a spell. Fossicking for one’s fortune is an addictive occupation only the human race has bothered to adapt for; only we can devote countless hours to sifting through barrows of scree, tediously sluicing gallons of mud or blowing up mountains in search of something so ridiculously small and shiny in comparison to the huge, dirty effort expended looking for it.

Robin AdolphsRobin Adolph’s story suggests there is more to be gained from the quest itself than the find. (She’s right. There is something almost therapeutic about time spent this way.) Grandpa and Jake share much more together than plain old greed. They experience the thrill of adventure, a shared camaraderie and those marvellously unquantifiable feelings of anticipation and inflated expectation.

A winning picture book embraces many levels. Grandpa’s Gold does this in spades. This is cheekily represented in the last page spread with an alluvial multi-layering of treasures that Jake is determined to find one day.

Perhaps the best discoveries in Grandpa’s Gold for me are the illustrations of Arthur Filloy. Big, bold, cartoon-style drawings flood each page with sound and motion. Jake and Grandpa are depicted in beguiling caricature fashion. I particularly like the way the illustrations involve both pages with shales of rock, drifting clouds and nocturnal eyes appearing on pages of text– something not often found in self-published picture book offerings. The simple line drawings of an old timer from a by-gone era ‘using’ the treasures Jake mines on each opposite page are genius and help span a young reader’s understanding of the passing of generations.

But that’s not all. Ex-teacher Adolphs gives us one last reason to linger a little longer in search of hidden treasure – A did you find…Quiz at the back of the book. This was the clincher for my Miss 7, who declared Grandpa’s Gold as ‘a very cool book’. Eureka!

Recommended for 3 – 8 year olds as enthusiastically as heading off into the sunset in search of adventure with them.

Butternut Books April 2013

Adolphs’ other titles under Butternut Books include Yesterday I Played in the Rain and The Pile Up.

Lucky SE Queenslanders have a chance to experience all the fun of finding gold this weekend at the official launch of Grandpa’s Gold 13th April at Logan North Library 10.00am, Underwood, QLD

 

 

 

Doodles and Drafts – An Interview with Lucia Masciullo

At a time of year when there are more new children’s book releases than autumn leaves drifting about, it’s nice to grab a cuppa, sit back and remember that what makes a book brilliant is the genius behind its creation.

Lucia Masciullo Today we meet one of those geniuses, the quietly charismatic illustrator, Lucia Masciullo. Her story is fascinating. Her style is utterly beguiling. And thanks to her clever connection with my addiction to marshmallows, her name is no longer impossible for me to pronounce!

So grab that cuppa and prepare to be absolutely delighted…

Q Who is Lucia Masciullo? Describe the illustrator in you and what sets your work apart from other Aussie illustrators.

First of all I’m Italian and this is why you probably can’t pronounce my surname (by the way it’s quite similar to marshmallow but with no sugar: ma-shu-llo). I am born and bred in Livorno (Leghorn on English maps) on the coast of Tuscany and I moved to Brisbane in 2006 with my partner Vincenzo.

More than an illustrator I like to think I’m a visual explorer: I love to experiment always new styles and new techniques. Maybe because I started to work as illustrator only 7 years ago, but the more I learn about illustration and visual art, the more I want to know.

I’m also a Biologist and maybe that’s the reason why I like to study things I’m passionate about. I keep the same enthusiasm I had at the Uni, but instead of learning about cells, animals and plants, now I want to learn things like what the best color to represent an emotion is or how to balance words and images in a composition.

Family forest LuciaQ What is your favourite colour, why and how does it influence or restrict what you illustrate?

I have several favourite colors. It depends on my mood, I guess. I like Amber in the morning, Cool Grey when I’m wistful, and Apple Green when I’m hungry and so on.

I think your personal perception always influences your art, especially while working with colors. It’s inevitable. So I try to feel the same mood that I want to depict. The colors choice is easier this way and listen to music with the same mood I want to represent helps me a lot. It’s probably like being an actor: an actor can pretend to be sad or happy, but it’s way more believable if he can really feel the emotion he wants to convey.

Q What, whom persuaded you to illustrate?

When I was a child I was pretty good at drawing, but I was also good at swimming, math and amongst other things, sprinkling water from my mouth. So I wasn’t encouraged particularly to pursue art.

Maybe I felt that my dad wouldn’t easily accept me doing art as a job. Furthermore drawing was something so important for me, that I couldn’t accept failure or critiques: I didn’t want to show my drawing to anyone. So whatever the reason I ended up studying Biology.

But few years later I realized that if I wanted to do something useful with my life, if I really wanted to make the difference in this world, I had to do something that I really cared about. So I bet on my passion for art.

I would say that learning how to illustrate professionally has been a wonderful experience, but the truth is that the main reason I’m an illustrator today is because of my partner Vincenzo. He encouraged me and supported from the very beginning, giving me the strength to keep going the times when I wanted to give up.

Q Are you a natural or have you had to study your craft? If so where?

I have always been quite good at figuring out simple forms and basic lines out of complex images. Some people may look at a picture and imagine a story or (piece of) music. Others may look at a tree and figure how to climb it. When I look at utility pole, a building or a face of an old woman, I can easily imagine how to reproduce that image using simple lines and shapes. This is my natural talent and that’s probably why I’m good at drawing.

But of course this is only the beginning of the story. You need to perfect your skills: in other words you need to practice. A lot. I attended a three years course in Illustration in Florence and I started drawing and painting 24/7 since. I was caught by the art bug. And I still am.

Q Was it a work opportunity that prompted your move to Australia?

Yes and no. It was a work opportunity for my partner: he won a European Endeavor Award in 2006 that allowed him to work at the University of Queensland for one year. I came in Australia as his partner, so you could say it’s love that brought me to Australia.

The initial plan was just to stay one year, but (lucky us!) things have gone differently.

The Boy and the Toy illoQ How do you develop your illustrations? Do digital computer programs feature significantly in what you produce?

For each illustration I start by drawing a rough sketch of the scene I have in mind with pencil and paper. Just to get the feeling of it and to evaluate if it’s a good idea or not. Then I draw the final scene, defining the characters and the background. Always with pencil and paper. I draw the same scene few times, until I’m happy with the composition.

At this stage I scan the drawing and refine it digitally using a tablet. It saves me a lot of time. I can change rapidly the scale of the elements, correct mistakes and balance the composition (when I’m not sure if an image is well balanced, I flip it right/left and make adjustments until the original and the flipped image look both nice).

Then, when everyone is happy with the drawing (myself, the publisher and the author sometimes) I make a few digital colored sketches and use those as a guide to paint the final artwork.

Different media may give different effects and moods to the same illustration. For picture books I like to use acrylics or watercolors to which I add details with pencil or ink.

I like the transparency of watercolors and the joyful effects water creates when mixed with pigments. I also love acrylics because they work on every surface and they are great if you want to add a textural element to the illustration.

Q Where has your work appeared?

I’ve illustrated six picture books, three young adults’ novels and I also did little black and white illustrations for the popular series Our Australian Girl.

I’m also the co-founder of Blue Quoll, a digital children’s book publisher company and I’ve illustrated the first two titles.

I have exhibited my works in Brisbane in a number of occasions and I’m very proud that two of my illustrations have been selected for a National exhibition titled ‘Look! The art of Australian picture books today’ that showcases the best of children book illustrations in Australia: my works have been presented among those of some of the most important names in the Illustration industry.

The Exhibition was set at the State Library in Melbourne in 2010, and has been moved subsequently to Brisbane, Canberra and to several Regional Galleries since. Now it’s going to be held for the last time at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Gallery until April 2013.

Q What children’s books have you illustrated? Do you have a favourite?

These are the children’s books I’ve illustrated:

Queen Alice’s Palaces by Juliette McIver ABC 2013

Come down, Cat! by Sonya Hartnett Penguin 2011

Family Forest by Kim Kane HGE 2010

The Boy and the Toy by Sonya Hartnett Penguin 2010

When No-one is Looking – On the Farm by Zana Fraillon HGE 2009

When No-one is Looking – At the Zoo by Zana Fraillon HGE 2009

No, I don’t have a favourite. I always try to do my best when I illustrate picture books, so I really like them all: they are my little creatures.

Q How long, on average does it take you to complete illustrations for a picture book?

From the first sketches to the final artworks it takes four to six months.

Q Do you draw every day? What is the most enjoyable part of your working day?

I draw almost every day, but I also have a part of my day dedicated to the routine: emails, online activity, parcels to send, events and meetings to attend … even though I’m usually quite good at procrastinating all the things that do not concern drawing.

I think the best part of my working day is when I find solutions to my problems. It may be the right color palette for a scene, an original point of view, the right expression for a certain character. Sometimes problems seem complicated, they absorb all my thoughts and sometimes even my dreams. But the bigger the problem, the bigger the satisfaction when I find the right solution.

Oh and of course I like to receive positive feedback from publishers: I can’t stop smiling in front of an enthusiastic email!

The accidental Princess LuciaQ It’s accepted that writers often scribble ideas on the back of takeaway menus, napkins, bus tickets, whatever they can when ideas strike – is this the same for illustrators? When you get a shot of inspiration and desire to draw, what do you do?

Oh yes, it’s absolutely the same for illustrators. I always bring with me an A6 notebook where I can scribble and sketch freely. My favourite subjects at the moment are utility poles, people and cups. Leafs and trees, sometimes. I also take note of all the sensational ideas I have for my future best seller picture books.

Q I can barely master a stick drawing. Do you like to dabble in the written word and if so, have you consider writing your own (children’s) book?

To illustrate my own story is something I really would like to do. As I said I like to collect ideas for future books, but when I go to Libraries and Bookshops and I see all the amount of beautiful books already done, I just wonder why should I write another children’s book? I guess I’m waiting for the right story, the story I really would like to tell.

Besides I’m not very confident in my writing skills. Probably I’d use more pictures and no much text.

Q Which Aussie children’s book illustrator do you admire most and why?

There are many Australian illustrators I like: Gus Gordon, Freya Blackwood, Robert Ingpen, Kerry Argent only to name a few, but the one I admire most is Shaun Tan, even though his books are technically picture books and not children’s books.

When I first arrived in Australia I found everything was different from my Italian life: food, buildings, trees and my English was quite poor and it wasn’t easy to make new friends. I felt a bit lost. So when I read The Arrival, it hit me personally: not only the pictures were astonishing and sensational, like the kind of pictures I’d like to create, but the story was my own story. I had the feeling that he had written this book for me!

Then I met Shaun in 2010 at the Bologna children’s book Fair and I really liked him as a person: he is a very nice guy, friendly and generous (he helped me in obtaining my Australian permanent visa). A truly inspirational illustrator.

Lucia Aurealia AwardQ Name one ‘I’ll never forget that’ moment in your illustrating career so far.

Well, of course I’ll never forget the moment I received the first ‘yes’ by two Australian Publishers. The first one was by Hilary Rogers at Hardie Grant Egmont; the second one was by Jane Godwin at Penguin.

In both cases they sent me a manuscript, asking me some preparatory sketches: characters design and a couple of background scenes. I did my best and I sent them back my sketches. Amazingly for me, they liked them and they asked me if I was interested in working with them, illustrating the entire picture book.

After years of frustration and hardworking, trying to refine my artistic skills, finally someone was giving me a chance. This was the only thing that I was waiting for, the possibility to show what I could do. I remember I began jumping all over the house because I couldn’t contain the enthusiasm. And I’m happy now Hilary and Jane couldn’t see my lack of professionalism.

Queen Alice's PalacesQ What is on the storyboard for Lucia?

In December (2012) I finished to illustrate a lovely picture book that will be published in April, titled Queen Alice’s Palaces, based on a hilarious rhymed story by Juliette McIver.

These days I’m working on a breathtaking manuscript by Sonya Hartnett, a challenging one. I love her stories, but I hate them at the same time, because they are so intense I can’t stop thinking about them until I’ve illustrated them.

I for one can’t wait to see them.

Review – No Matter Who We’re With

No matter who we're withIt’s heartening to see the partner publishing arm of the kids publishing industry is not only thriving but consistently providing ways for rising Aussie authors to produce their work. IP Kidz, an imprint of Interactive Publications, is one such entity and Robert Vescio is one such author. His new picture book, No Matter Who We’re With was released just last month.

The title immediately suggests a topic slightly left of field, yet the cover depicts a family relaxed, joyful and at ease with each other. Or so we think…I do so love the juxtaposition of ideas a picture book can present like this even before you open it.

We soon discover that the protagonists of the story, two young siblings, spend time with both mum and dad who live apart. The cause of the parents’ separation is not dwelt on and in spite of this physical inconvenience, the children love both mum and dad unconditionally because ‘they take very good care’ of them. The parents’ love is no less understated and reciprocal.

Dad is great at dress-ups. Mum has a ‘splendiferous garden’. Both are pretty good at satisfying the kids’ culinary demands.

Robert VesicoVescio has crafted a quaint, endearing story; fun and straightforward in its delivery; positively instilling comfort and an assurance that families can still thrive and survive despite not living in a coexisting environment. (Interestingly, this theme is just as relevant for families with spouses serving abroad or serving time for example, not just those with divorced parents)

The children narrate the tale themselves which gives the book an uncomplicated, personal and almost childlike touch. Reference to the time before the children’s parents separated is gently repeated throughout; a time they clearly still remember and cling to. But there is little to be maudlin about. The children take delight in every minute spent with either parent. Their reactions represent acceptance of a common family situation. Their behaviour offers reassurance that security, peace and love can be enjoyed no matter what your family circumstance.

Cheri ScholtenCheri Scholten’s cheerful illustrations sustain the atmosphere of unreserved love. They are almost manga in appearance and use colour and perspective effectively to emphasise detail. I especially love the gigantic bowl of Spaghetti Bolognese Dad dishes up after the kids spend the afternoon making cupcakes at Mum’s.

Parents and carers should find No Matter Who We’re With easy to read and share with children regardless of their actual circumstances.

Recommended for 4 – 8 year olds.

IP Kidz March 2013

Stay tuned for my next post featuring another excellent title addressing this theme.

 

Review – The Light

Some of my childhood highlights as a city slicker were the infrequent visits to my Grandparents’ farm, tucked away in the volcanic hills of the Blackall Range. Learning how to milk cows and churn their cream into golden, waxy pats of butter produced a memory that prevails today, even if the skill has waned.

The LightNostalgia is something worth sharing for it preserves much more than just a time and place. It builds one’s history and shapes one’s future. Jo Oliver’s latest picture book, The Light, pays homage to the lighthouse keepers and their families of Montague Island and gives us an alluring glimpse of a time and occupation now extinct, and superseded by technology.

The cover and title intimate the story subject immediately; however it is the little girl, kneeling alone on the windswept hillside with her tin whistle which piques one’s curiosity. She introduces us to her home, her family and her life upon this seemingly barren and desolate rock in the middle of the Tasman Sea.

Montague Light houseOne wonders at the lack of everything this family possess and how they endure the tedious isolation of their environment. However, Louisa or as she is affectionately referred to in the story, Lou Lou, doesn’t have time to be bored. Her days are filled with studies and chores and learning to ‘churn the butter’. Yet she still finds moments to run off and sit upon the smooth sun-kissed rocks to play her tin whistle.

In contrast to an existence that is bleak and forlorn, Lou Lou’s music represents the very essence of life pulsing within and around the island. Everything is part of the melody; the crashing waves, swaying seals and swooping terns.

Jo Oliver’s text is enhanced by her understated yet evocative paintings and sketched drawings. The vivid cerulean sea is a vibrant backdrop no matter where you look from the lighthouse. It effervesces with barely restrained beauty as Lou Lou plays her whistle.

Indeed it is the simple pleasure of music and revelling in each other’s company that binds this family inextricably together. However a sense of foreboding prevails when we learn from Lou Lou’s father that a terrible storm is on the way.

Whenever Lou Lou or her father or mother makes music, the pages are cloaked in sheet music. The effect is subtle and unobtrusive. But as the storm closes in, ominous darkness descends. The sheet music becomes muddied and less discernible. The family play on despite the howling storm outside and are soon joined by four shipwrecked men who only locate the safe haven thanks to the guiding light and later, the music. Hope is rekindled and salvation is celebrated within the warmth of shared lamplight.

Lighthouse quartersThe subdued, muted details Oliver uses in both her story telling and illustrations are easy to appreciate in much the same way as her previous picture books Pilgrim and Tatiara. The Light won’t necessarily cause young children to leap up and want to be lighthouse keepers. Its significance lies in the gentle way it illuminates an era when manned lighthouses were a vital necessity to our maritime safety and well-being, and highlights the selfless families who operated them.

Suitable for primary aged children and big kids with lots of nostalgic memories.

New Frontier Publishing  March 2013

5 Faves from Afar

The volume of literary genius Australia possesses is staggering. Distill this down further to talented kids’ authors and illustrators and you’d still fill oceans, which is why I love showcasing our home grown children’s books.

But it’s impossible to ignore the magnitude of offerings from overseas too. So every now and then I’ll give you 5 Faves from overseas.

Here is the first fistful – all picture books this time round.

Waiting for Later1. Waiting for Later by Tina Matthews Walker Books Australia (OK published here but Tina is from NZ so sneaks in on this list). Nancy’s family are too busy to play with her. Each time she appeals for their attention, the reply is ‘later’. Nancy holds out for ‘later’ in a grand old tree in her garden with surprising results. An evocative cautionary tale reminding us of the precious brevity of childhood told in captivating book-end style.

2. Too Many Girls by Jonty Lees Eight Books Limited UK. Fun, frivolous and very pink in parts. Any Dad outnumbered by females will immediately sympathise with this poor fellow who is subject to an appalling lack of privacy, regular nail painting and indiscriminate hairstyling thanks to the females in his household. The crisis erupts in a ‘brush war’ resulting in some happy compromises and a lovely shade of purple. A lesson in the art of acceptance (and why men will never rule the world)Too many Girls

Fantastic Flying Books3. The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr Morris Lessmore by W E Joyce and Joe Bluhm. Simon & Schuster UK, originally by Athenum Books for Young Readers NY, USA. Immediately captivating. Glowing illustrations exude a burnished charm and warmth that complement the touching tale of Mr Morris Lessmore, a man who loved books and reading his whole life long. It’s a genuine never-ending story. Magnificently magic.

4. Blue Gnu by Kyle Mewburn and Daron Parton Scholastic NZ. Boo is not your average gnu. He’s blue for a start. And oscillates wildly betweenBlue Gnu yearning to fit in with the rest of the heard and being his own unique self. A warm and witty look a colours, patterns, differences and friendship.

This Moose belongs to Me5. This Moose Belongs to Me by Oliver Jeffers Harper Collins Children’s Books UK. Oliver Jeffers – enough said. One of my favourites of his. Illustrations divine enough to frame and hang on the wall plus a mockingly humorous story that questions the audacious assumption that we can really ever own anything outright in this world, equals pure genius. In the end, nature triumphs as does this must read picture book.

Do you have a favourite, unforgettable picture book? Let me know and it could make it onto 5 Faves.

Not a Review – A Reflection of An ANZAC Tale

An ANZAC TaleConfession: The day I received Working Title Presses’ latest release, An ANZAC Tale, I was assailed with nostalgia and immense trepidation.

How does one do justice to one of the most unjustifiable periods of human history? Ruth Stark and Greg Holfeld have done it and done it admirably well. The result is a meticulously researched and presented graphic picture book that possesses the unique duality of being both breathtakingly beautiful, and poignantly tragic.

It is almost that time of year when we gather as a nation to commemorate and reflect on one of the most fiercely contested campaigns of WWI, the battle of Gallipoli. But how does one pass comment on the interpretation of the tenacity, stupidity, bravery and strength of spirit of humanity without sounding trite or conceited? I wasn’t sure I could manage it as masterfully as the Stark Holfeld team. So I didn’t try.

Instead I revisited the tale, and with each turn of the page, was transported back to a time over two decades ago, when I gazed across the benign azure waters of Suvla Bay and ANZAC Cove, on the European side of Turkey’s Gelibolu Peninsular. Sunshine bronzed my already travel-tanned shoulders and the smell of the Aegean Sea filled my lungs. Nothing permeated the silence that engulfed us, not even the cry of sea birds. I stared at the impossibly steep cliffs looming up from the beach and shivered in spite of the heat.Landing spot ANZAC Cove

I remember standing in the trenches of The Nek and Second Ridge, shallow now, scalloped smooth by time. A pine scented breeze played about my neck. We stood unmoving, listening to it whisper through the pines; the sound of a thousand souls sighing around us. And tears seared my eyes, blurred my vision of the honey coloured earth as I struggled to imagine it stained vile by the colours of war and battled to comprehend the futility, the valour, the discomfort, and the stench of human corruption.

GeliboluWe were led about by our Turkish guide with quiet reverence, not because he thought we were special, but because we were Aussies. We had already earned his respect and our right to be there. We felt that as absolutely as the heat pulsating up from the baked earth.

I remember visiting Chunuk Bair, Lone Pine; standing in front of the walls of names, searching, too many to read through; I’ll be here all day, I thought. Compared to whom? I found a pine seed from that tree and slipped it into my pocket, (just as Ray did for his mate Wally). When the afternoon sun lost its sting, we slipped away quietly from the trenches and had Turkish Dondurma (ice-cream) to temper the memory of what we had seen and felt; acutely aware of enjoying a pleasure and a respite that would have been denied to the ANZACS.

My brief sojourn to Gelibolu makes me no more of an expert on the event and the place than the next Aussie backpacker. Yet it has created an indelible memory with which An ANZAC Tale resonates profoundly.Ruth Stark

The enormity of the ANZAC’s story is handled with remarkable lightness of touch and told by Ruth Stark with a respectful, quintessential Aussie jocularity. It is never sentimental or laboured but simply follows best mates Ray Martin and Wally Cardwell as they experience the first landing at ANZAC Cove on the 25th April 1915. What followed became a battle of endurance and wits sadly resulting in thousands of deaths on both sides.

RoosThe popular comic-style graphic format is dominated by the illustrations of Greg Holfeld that are brutally faithful to the moment without depicting gratuitous guts and gore. The last charge in particular rips with chaotic movement, terror and finality but not in a way that traumatises the reader.

Ruth Stark and Greg HolfeldWally, Roy and their new, fortune-seeking mate, Tom, head an anthropomorphic cast of Aussie characters. They are buck Roos, who rub shoulders with Kiwis (the birds) and various other national fauna. The Drill Major is a raucous bossy cockatoo. Egyptians are depicted as cats. Wily and resourceful magpies represent enterprising privates and Johnny Turk is portrayed as the ‘black eared’ caracal lynx, from the Turkish word karakulak. This cat is described as being fiercely territorial which accurately translates to the Turks’ indomitable fighting spirit.

An ANZAC Tale not only chronicles a significant period of history difficult for young people to fathom in a way that they (young boys and reluctant readers in particular) will find enthralling and exciting but also takes us on a deeply moving journey (tears were never far away for me) through the vagaries of Australian society in the early twentieth Century and the complexities of warfare. All this is brilliantly supported with maps, notes and a timeline.

‘Why would any Australian want to come to Gallipoli?’ Ray asks Tom as they evacuate under the cover of darkness on the 18th of December 1915. You don’t need to turn the last page to find the answer to that poignant question, but you’ll be touched when you do.Bugler

If you haven’t yet been or are unlikely to get the family to Gallipoli any time soon, An ANZAC Tale is an outstanding armchair substitute. Beautifully bound and twice the length of a normal picture book, it will appeal best to older aged primary children and those who’d rather reflect than analyse.

Working Title Press 2013 Available now

Review – The Windy Farm

I’m not big on wind. Of all the meteorological marvels on offer, it’s the least appealing to me, perhaps because I endured a few too many tropical cyclones and missing roofs as a child.

Windy Farm 2So when The Windy Farm blew onto my shelves, I instinctively hunched my shoulders and wondered what on earth could be so appealing about the latest offering by well-liked picture book team, Doug MacLeod and Craig Smith. Turns out a whole Beaufort Scales worth.

Our plucky young narrator lives with her family on the windiest farm on Windy Hill because it’s all they can afford. Their home is buffeted and bullied by incessant katabatic winds. The kind of wind that permanently bends trees into weird angles; the kind powerful enough to blow away young pigs and little girls. No one is safe from its force, no one except Grandpa who, as the illustrations subtly suggest, is so immense and heavy that he will never budge just like his favourite pig, Big Betty.

The family survive undeterred and, as is often the case, necessity becomes the mother of invention. And indeed this is the case; Mum cannily invents heavy metal shoes to anchor them all to the ground. However, in spite of their best efforts, one day they lose half their home to nature’s tempest.

Rich Uncle Jeff is no help, pointedly refusing to lend them any of his oil-amassed fortune to help fix the house. They resort to good old fashioned ingenuity and Grandpa’s power tools instead but the ensuing crippling power bill plunges them into despair (who hasn’t felt like this after receiving their electricity bill?)Windy Hill generators

Not easily defeated, Mum comes up with a wily plan; to convert the farm into a sustainable wind farm. Pretty soon things are on the up and up. The farm road is paved in tarmac and truckloads of money from all the electricity they’ve enterprisingly ‘farmed’. Big Betty, the prized pig, returns to a wind-proof sty (she was sold to pay the electricity bills) and although the need to wear heavy metal boots remains, their money worries have been swept away, just like Uncle Jeff who ‘became poor’ after the ill winds of fate blew his way. ‘Never mind,’ Grandpa sanguinely observes; no one really liked him anyway.

Doug MacLeod’s contemporary message about the power of wind and its significance in environmental sustainability drifts delightfully zephyr-like throughout this picture book. Told in a concise, witty style, The Windy Farm exposes young readers to a range of fascinating topics including the harnessing of energy, inventions, problem-solving, sustainability and endurance.Doug MacLeod

No stranger to children’s book illustrating, Craig Smith’s flamboyant, comic-book style pictures and characters are hysterical; from the very top of Windy Hill all the way down to the chooks’ little metal boots. He uses heavier gauche paint to create a deeply detailed yet fluid almost dreamy visual effect that sweeps from page to page. Movement (of the omnipresent wind), is represented magnificently with the use of acrylics. One can see and feel the air swirling through each scene. I found it astounding even though I’m not that big on wind.

Craig SmithSmith and MacLeod include lots of witty references to the use of nuclear power and the need to adopt a clean energy philosophy if we are to enjoy a longer, better existence than poor old Uncle Jeff.

The Windy Farm is not however a heavy prescriptive lesson in world conservation. Rather, it is a light-hearted, fanciful look at ingenuity and tenacity in their purest and funniest forms. My Miss 7 just thinks it’s very cool. Well it would be with all that wind about wouldn’t it?

Breezy, good fun, imaginative with plenty of room for thought. Plus 5s will love it even if they are not big on wind (but most are).

Available now.

Working Title Press February 2013

Janeen Brian – Part Two

Janeen 2Do you have an all time favourite book character you secretly aspire to be more like? Discover Janeen Brian’s

Q Who or what was your favourite book character as a child? If you could incorporate that character into one of your own stories, which would it be and why? How would you adapt that character to suit?

I wanted to be one of the girls in the Enid Blyton’s Famous Five or Secret Seven series, because, having few books in my childhood, I felt as if I personally knew the girls. But as well, they were up front characters who had adventures and were at time, quite gutsy. I liked that! I think many of my girl characters have some of those characteristics!

Q Which Aussie children’s book author do you admire the most and why?

How can any reader or writer answer that! I love the work of my friend and poetry colleague, Lorraine Marwood. Her words sing to me or shake me about. Her work is so real and yet, magical. A bit like her.

Q How long does it take you to develop a children’s story? Does the time vary dependant on the genre: picture book, MG novel, script etc.Eddie Piper

I have recently compiled an anthology of my poems, entitled, As long as a piece of string. That will have to suffice for my answer to that one, because as vague as it is, it’s the truth. Sometimes picture books can take as long to write as a piece of fiction. Of course, you’re not necessarily slogging at it for hours every day, but developing it, shaping it and re-writing it over time.

Q Do you write every day? What is the most enjoyable part of your working day?

It’s rare that I miss a day where I’m not writing, even if it’s just catching up on my diary.

I'm a Dirty DinosaurQ What inspires you to write like nothing else can?

Certain words; strong, emotional situations; a state of tranquillity.

Q Do you have a special spot or routine to make the magic happen or can you write anywhere, any time?

I work mainly in my home office; and each morning I prime myself by responding to emails and getting lots of admin out the way first. It’s also a way of letting my brain know that I’m here and we’re going to do something to do with writing or brainstorming. I do a lot of brainstorming. I don’t tend to start putting anything on the computer until I’ve written enough, using pen on paper, and have a physical feeling that that I’ve captured the voice of the character or that I’m ready to start.

Q What is that one thing that motivates you to keep on writing (for children)?

I love the creativity; the tumble and jumble of words and feelings; the constant astonishment that so much of what happens in your life can become the story for another and the fact children seem to like what I write.

Shirl at the Show JBQ Name one ‘I’ll never forget that’ moment in your writing career thus far.

So many! I think being a writer is full of surprises, but a recent one was winning the Carclew Fellowship in the 2012 Adelaide Festival Awards for Literature. The Fellowship awarded me a sizeable amount of money to further research and develop a three-in-one-project. When the phone call came to say that I’d won, my first reaction was that I was going to be told my application was disallowed because it involved three proposals, not one. But instead, I was told I’d won!

Q What is on the draft table for Janeen?

Three books due for release within the next six months – so, much admin, media promotion and launches to organise. The books are: A picture book for the very young, called I’m a dirty dinosaur. (illustrated by AnnMeet Ned Kelly James and published by Penguin group Australia). An Australian historical picture book for the young called Meet Ned Kelly (illustrated by Matt Adams and published by Random House) and an historical, adventure novel for upper primary, called That boy, Jack.(published by Walker Books) I also have a number of other projects out with my agent or publishers.

My next project will be another picture book. I have vague ideas, but will need to do more research first.

Can hardly wait. For a full list of this year’s releases visit Janeen’s website too.

Doodles and Drafts – An Interview with Janeen Brian Part One

Today we delve deeper into the dynamic world of industrious children’s author, Janeen Brian. She’s releasing more books per month than I’ve had pie floaters  and I hear that one of her poems, “What did you learn at school today?” is being published in The School Magazine’s Blast Off this month. Does this lady never slow down? Let’s find out…

Q Who is Janeen Brian? Describe your writerly-self for us and the thing that sets you apart from other Aussie children’s authors.

The introspective part of me used to struggle in earlier days, because I had no pre-formed vision or identity of myself as a writer. I knew little about writing. Yet I quite liked to write. I knew little about books. Yet I liked to read. I’d never known about how to deconstruct, analyse or evaluate writing or reading and I can’t remember getting much of a grounding of it in high school, but I’m sure I must’ve. In my later years I tentatively did a TAFE correspondence writing course and dipped my toe in a weekend writing workshop.

Although I did write for adults and enjoyed it, (short stories and poems), I discovered it was really where my heart was. I felt better connected with a children’s readership. People say that when they read my work, they see pictures in their head and that pleases me, because I try to write pictorially. They say my work reads aloud well. That pleases me because I like the music of language and the sensory world of words. Reviewers often make the comment that I ‘know what children want’ and that pleases me because it’s what I strive for.

I also write a lot of poetry, enjoying the capture of a particular moment to provide a shortcut to the emotions.

Perhaps poems, picture books and short fiction is where I fit best.

Q You are an experienced writer covering many styles and formats, including TV scripts. What is your favourite style of writing, why and does it result in your best work?

I am experienced in that I’m been writing for about 30 years and of those, 23 years have been fulltime, but I never stop learning and trying to improve. I’m sure I’m not the only author who says that! But I enjoy different styles and formats because it challenges me, and I find different aspects to my writing emerging that may have remained untapped. During my writing life, I’ve tried to seize any writing opportunity and that included writing eleven scripts for Here’s Humphrey, a pre-schoolers program. While I loved the content and age group, I felt that ultimately the fast-paced nature of scriptwriting for the media wasn’t quite me. When the show drastically changed format, I wasn’t asked to write any more scripts, so perhaps the producer felt the same! I like researching and have written much non-fiction. When I write information articles or books, I try to write simply, so children grasp concepts, and also hopefully in a visual or anecdotal style, so information is more readily absorbed. I do this, because I don’t absorb facts very easily! As mentioned in the earlier question, I think I do my best work with shorter pieces, though I’m very proud to have written several novels and to have had them accepted and published.

Q At what stage in life did you realise you wanted to write? What, whom persuaded you to continue? Was it always this way or did you aspire to be something different as a kid?

Nothing struck me on the head to get writing! In Year Three at school, I decided to be a teacher and followed that course into Primary school teaching at eighteen. Later, around the time I had two young daughters, I simply dabbled in writing for my own enjoyment. I’d never been a closet writer or held dreams of one day writing. I simply began to write every now and then; mainly poems for my girls or to give away as gifts. Then, on becoming a single mum, I began to use my writing to earn extra money; penning small articles in magazines. I was also asked to write some scripts for a children’s theatre company, which was a big ask as I’d had no training or real understanding of the constructs of theatre. But I did it. I think one show was a flop but the others were okay. So, I beavered away, joined the SA Writers’ Centre, met a kind, experienced author who became my mentor and life-long friend, and who provided much needed encouragement and practical advice. Then I was lucky enough to have books/readers accepted by an educational publisher, which I think gave me good training in crafting to a brief and culling floppy, useless words.

Q How have your refined your craft? Did you study, if so where, and do you feel this has attributed significantly to your work?Janeen's work

I was persistent, imposing on myself all sorts of disciplines, real or imaginary to keep the writing muscles working and the financial side viable. I attended writers’ courses, but never attended University. My only tertiary training was the two-year teacher-training course. I read books on writing, obtaining my first loads from libraries, then purchasing more and more myself, all the time reading and trying to improve my writing. At that time, there was no computers or websites, no online blogs or author chat lines. I stuck to my simple, personal credo, If it’s to be, it’s up to me. Joining and meeting with a group of South Australian, published children’s writers and illustrators, called Ekidnas, helped me and my writing immensely. It wasn’t a critique group, more a support group, providing encouragement and networking opportunities in the days prior to email (doesn’t that sound amazing?). Now we meet approximately four times a year, but have an Ekidna website of our own, which is updated weekly and highlights our members’ achievements and activities. Quite impressive!

Where does Thursday goQ You are a published author of several titles. What are they? Which are you most proud of? Do you have any you would rather forget?

By May, 2013, I’ll have more than 78 books published, some educational, the rest being trade published. I also have poems in fourteen anthologies. Here’s the website for titles: wwwjaneenbrian.com. One of the easiest books I ever wrote was a picture book called Where does Thursday go?, illustrated by Stephen Michael King and published by Margaret Hamilton. The words simply fell onto the page. The book won an Honour Award in the CBCA picture book awards, and a Notable in the Early Childhood Awards in the same year. It then went on to be published in USA and UK as well as being translated into thirteen languages. I call it my heart book, because the idea was triggered by my then six-year-old daughter, Natalie, and I was able to dedicate the final book to her first son, my first grandchild, Liam. I still love the story, the language and the superb illustrations.

Want to find out what’s on the drafting table for Janeen? See what’s in store tomorrow in Part Two of our chat with one of Adelaide’s finest children’s writers.

Review – Meet…Ned Kelly

I have never felt so exposed by a picture book as I did when I first laid eyes on Meet…Ned Kelly. The piercing stare of Australia’s most infamous bush ranger peering from the slit of his armoured headgear sliced through to the very marrow of my bones, anchoring the outlaw’s stare there as if to say, Want to find out more? I did.Meet Ned Kelly

I’m not one to wallow in history for too long; but I do find it compelling discovering new threads that help me appreciate how the fabric of a nation, its people and their culture is woven together.

Random House’s new Meet…series allows young readers to be similarly fascinated by picture books that tell exciting true stories of the real women and men of Australia’s past. And what more exciting a character than Ned Kelly?

Prolific children’s author, Janeen Brian, introduces children to one of the best known, ill-understood, and extraordinary tales of early Australian history, that of Ned Kelly. The sometimes misleading mystic and romance of bushranging is forsaken in favour of a straight forward, chronological telling of the facts of Ned’s life beginning with his not-so-easy childhood and ending with his untimely death in the Old Melbourne Goal in 1880.

However the story is anything but dull and lifeless. Brian leads us through Ned’s brief life with an objective clarity told in simple and effective bush ballad style verse. Each stanza is suffused with sufficient detail to allow us to develop a strong sense of Ned’s character and the treacherous times he occupied, featuring often unbalanced and corrupt systems of justice.

Ned is portrayed as a fair, brave young man but one who often found himself on the wrong side of the law mostly by misfortune, poor judgement, and ill-luck. His recurring stints in goal and unpopularity with the police ensured he and his family were regular targets for prosecution. The gaoling of his mother in 1878 was the catalyst for the birth of the Kelly Gang.

The gang escaped capture numerous times thanks to Ned’s long standing reputation amongst good friends, but following betrayal and the final calamitous showdown at Glenrowan Inn in 1880, not even Ned’s genius iron-clad armour could protect him from his ultimate fate.Ned Kelly poster

It’s a stirring tale brought to life with the help of Matt Adam’s almost surreal illustrations that echo the lines and textures of a number of classic Australian painters and therefore add a rich authenticity to each scene. The font used throughout and for the timeline on the end pages reflects the feel of a wanted poster, many on which Ned’s name no doubt appeared.

I feel I better understand this young man, so vilified by the injustice of the day, after meeting him ‘face to face’ in Brian’s historic picture book. And I cannot imagine a more brilliant nor dynamic way for primary aged readers to explore our rich historic past.

Keep an eye out for my next post where we meet author Janeen Brian face to face and explore more about the author behind Meet Ned Kelly.

Random House Books Australia March 2013

Review – Drongoes

I was never the highest jumper or the fastest sprinter at school, and standing in the middle of a netball court surrounded by a pack of short-nailed, indomitable girls with only a thin bib between them and my trembling heart filled me with terror. No, sport and I don’t really gel well. I lacked that flame of desire to cross the line first; unlike Jack, the newest hero of Scholastic’s Mates-Great Aussie Yarns series.Drongoes cover

Christine Bongers’ freshly released, Drongoes, is a magic little yarn about confronting fears, surmounting obstacles like Corby Park Hill, true grit and above all friendship, and is faintly reminiscent of the classic fable, the Hare and the Tortoise in so much as the unexpected outcome leaves us with an immense and satisfying sense of victor victorious.

Christine BongersIt’s Jack’s last year to beat ego-inflated Rocket Robson in the Year Five cross-country race at the athletics carnival. It’s also his best mate, asthma-stricken, Eric’s chance to simply finish the race. All of Eric’s previous attempts have been thwarted by over-anxious intentions and Eric’s inability to breathe.

Eric however excels at best-mateship and together, he and Jack embark on a determined training program consisting mostly of encouragement, patience and the ubiquitous presence of a flock of spangled drongoes.

In true slow and steady style, they compete against Rocket Robson against all odds, with surprisingly hilarious and touching results.

I’ve been a fan of this ripper series for some years now. The short, Aussie flavoured stories showcase some of Australia’s finest and funniest children’s writers. Christine Bongers’ contribution is no exception.

There are dozens of little things I liked about Drongoes: the title for one – the re-emergence of a classic slice of Aussie vernacular, the strong undercurrent of mateship, the timely message that pride (and too many pies) comes before a fall, and the subtle reference to Eric’s ethnicity and Jack’s personality through their nicknames; Puff the Magic Dragon and Drongo. But it was the ultimate act of selflessness on Jack’s part that made me want to stand up and whoop along with the cheering crowd in the end. I actually shed a tear or two instead!Spangled Drongo 2

What I love about this series is how each powerful storyline is supported by equally fabulous illustrations, in this case aptly provided by Dan McGuiness. Each page is smothered in pictures, with complimentarily themed page borders and interesting fonts; perfect for magnetising the interest of 6 – 8 year olds taking up chapter books for the first time. The explanatory text at the end is a Dan McGuiness illustratorlovely informative bonus.

I still don’t have much time or talent for sport. But I do adore spangled drongoes, who fortunately frequent my backyard too. What Drongoes did for me was to bring the two unexpectedly and effortlessly together so that the resulting spark almost ignited that flame to jump up and race off into the sunset – almost.

A genuine winner.

Scholastic Mates Series 2013

Review – The Treasure Box

Many of my generation (sadly not all) and those of the next, fortunately have not endured the atrocities of war like those seen during the Holocaust. That we are able to feel its impact, appreciate the drama and acknowledge its implications is the unique potency of a picture book. Margret Wild and Freya Blackwood exploit this power wondrously well.The Treasure Box

The quiet unassuming cover of the Treasure Box magnetised me from the moment I was handed the book. The subdued colours, lone tree bereft of leaf and life, fragments of words adrift; all at conflict with the title, which promises something far brighter and more uplifting. I was a little unprepared for the subtle magnitude of the tale, again preoccupied by the end papers, comprising scraps of text which interestingly are taken from Sonya Hartnett’s and Morris Gleitzmann’s foreign editions of their own wartime tales of displacement and loss.

We join young Peter’s story after his home town is destroyed leaving the library in ruin. Books once housed there are transformed to nothing more substantial than bits of ash as ‘frail as butterflies.’ That is all but one; a book that by fortuitous happenstance had been taken home by Peter’s father before the bombing.

Treasure box illoPeter’s father is intent on safe-guarding the book for the stories it contains; stories that tell the history of Peter’s people, of a past ‘rarer than rubies, more splendid than silver, greater than gold.’ The book is secured in an old iron box which forms part of the meagre possessions they flee with from their homeland.

Peter’s father does not survive the soul crushing exodus but instills in Peter tremendous tenacity and a promise to keep their ‘treasure safe’. Unable to continue with such a load but true to his word Peter buries the box under an ancient linden tree, to which he returns many years later. His single-handed courage and loyalty perpetuates the most valuable treasure of all – the gift of hope and love.

Margaret WildMargaret Wild’s eloquent sense of story and place transports the reader into the very heart and soul of Peter and his father. Her thoughtfully sparse narrative paradoxically permeates every inch of the page and ounce of our attention. Neither her words nor the illustrations compete for space in this book. They work in convincing unison, caressing the story along and guiding us skilfully through horrific, almost unimaginable situations like sleeping in ditches, and holding the hand of a dying father.Freya Blackwood

Freya Blackwood’s artwork is instantly recognisable, however is taken one step higher using collage and multi-layering to create a stunning subtle 3D effect. Characters literally appear to be trudging across the page, accompanied by the metaphoric charred fragments of the leaves of a million books. The story is further enriched with delicate contrasts and symbolism on each page, all in the haunting sepia coloured tones of despair and misery.

Only the intensity of the treasure box itself, shown in vibrant red throughout, never fades. By Peter’s maturity, colour and prosperity have returned to his hometown. Even the library radiates with a glorious, golden yellow – hope restored.

I happened upon this picture book late last year, in spite of its 2013 publication date. I thought it was a most serendipitous discovery, but did not fully appreciate its immense value until I uncovered its contents. Truly one to treasure.

Penguin / Viking January 2013

Doodles and Drafts – Peter Allert Part Two

Today we continue to follow exciting new Queensland talent, Peter Allert and have a sqizz at his first published children’s picture book, Long Live Us!Long Live Us PB

Q Where has your work appeared?

My first book was ‘Long Live Us’ written by Edel Wignell and published by IP Kidz in 2011. Since then I have been focussing on my own illustrations and writing my own children’s book. I was part of a SCBWI Illustrators Exhibition at the Brisbane City Library in 2012 exhibiting my illustrations from Long Live Us and other projects.

Over the years I have volunteered my services as an illustrator to gain more experience, this was helpful in building my portfolio.

I have Illustrated Artwork for Aurealis Australian Fantasy & Sci-Fi Magazine www.aurealis.com.au. This has been exciting as you have to sum up a whole story into one illustration which can be a challenge. But these are the challenges that make being an illustrator worth it for me. Anything that allows you to be creative should be encouraged.

Q What children’s books have you illustrated?

In 2010 I finished illustrating my first children’s book for Interactive Publications, Pty, Ltd. “Long Live Us!” was written by Edel Wignell and published by IP Kidz in 2011.

Q How long did it take to complete your picture book project, “Long Live Us!”?

As I was working fulltime it mostly worked on the weekends and whenever I had spare time, from the character inception, storyboarding, final illustrations and adding colour in was approx. 15 to 18 months.

Peter Allert illoQ I can barely master a stick drawing. Do you like to dabble in the written word and if so, have you consider writing your own children’s book?

Yes, I would encourage any illustrator to attempt this. Apart from it possibly turning out to be a published book, it also gives you insight into the processes of how a book is developed. I am working on several ideas at the moment, I will be happy to share them once they are closer to completion.

Q Which Aussie children’s book illustrator do you admire most and why?

I believe Shaun Tan has opened up a lot of doors for illustrators in Australia and inspired many to pursue their craft. He combines his mastery of painting and illustrating with new perspectives in storytelling. Plus he’s just a nice guy.

Q Name one ‘I’ll never forget that’ moment in your illustrating career so far.

Professionally I’m not surprising anyone by saying that when they send you a copy of the book you have just illustrated or written and you see it the first time with your name, it is one of the best moments in your career. On a personal level though I completed an illustration I was very proud of and still am to this day. I looked back and said ‘did I do this?’ That is also a great moment for illustrators because you know all your long hours and work have paid off.

Q What is on the storyboard for Peter?

This year I will be attending and volunteering for the CYA Conference for the 8th Year in a row. I would encourage anyone considering becoming an illustrator, writer, or both to attend this conference. It gives you a great set of skills and understanding of the industry to start you off. Apart from that I would like to start another book and illustrate some of the photographs I took in Japan or Sweden last year. I am always open for new challenges and will add any of my new work to my website www.peterallert.com.au.

Have a look at this charming little trailer for Long Live Us! featuring some dubious fairy tale folk and one very hungry troll. (just click on the link)

Long Live Us!

 

Doodles and Drafts – An interview with Peter Allert Part One

I struggle to decipher my own handwriting. I can barely make a stencil look decent and my attempts at creating hangman stick figures always fills my opponents with pitiful glee. This is why I admire anyone who has even an infinitesimal amount of artistic flair.

The process of anything emerging be it writer, illustrator, butterfly, and to a lesser degree, human baby is a beautiful thing and deserves some examination.

Peter Allert IllusOur doodler today is Peter Allert, whose artistic flair, I am happy to announce is anything but insignificant. In fact Peter’s drive and dedication to his craft are so great; they have filled more than one post can cope with alone. So here is Part One of my interview with Peter Allert, illustrator of children’s books (Long Live Us!) and bona fide gentleman to boot.

Q Who is Peter Allert? Describe the illustrator in you and what sets your work apart from other Aussie illustrators.

I was born in South Australia and moved up to Queensland in the 1980’s with my parents, I spent time living in Sydney but have made Queensland my home for the last 13 years. I have always illustrated in one form or another but have become quit driven in my 30’s to discover my potential.

ill-animals-frog3I believe I am an artist at heart who has found I express myself best through illustrating with watercolour pencils and ink. My strength is illustrating animals, capturing their fur or feathers, bringing their eyes to life as if they were looking at me. I am most proud of this work. I have also illustrated a variety of other subjects including fairy tale and children’s book characters and Science Fiction themes.

I think what sets me aside is that I use watercolour pencils rather than straight watercolour paints, therefore I am able to apply the detail I am comfortable with. I also mix my love of photography with my work so I can capture a natural realism in my subjects. I like getting out and about and seeing the world, I feel this helps bring perspective to your illustrations. I am still finding myself as a writer and poet but draw inspiration from my other writers and close friends.Peter Allert Possum

Q What is your favourite colour, why and how does it influence or restrict what you illustrate?

I guess like a lot of illustrators it is hard to choose just one but if I had to it would be green. To me it’s a very nature colour with so many ways it can be applied. It can be applied to illustrations not just as a straight green but also through using other amazing blues, yellows…etc. It influences my work as I like illustrating natural subjects and I find they always have an element of green in them. It may however restrict me if I had a dark subject matter, I would always want to add a brighter colour to inspire hope.

Q When did the coloured pencil drop for you? What, whom persuaded you to illustrate?

When growing up I guess coloured pencils were all around me, in school, at home, they were inexpensive and there was always a colouring book that needed my attention. After seeking feedback about my work I found the straight pencil a little limiting. With water coloured pencils I could enhance and bring the colours to life, with the right paper I could add other dimensions and finishes to my work. It just displayed and continues to display great potential. I also like detail and I can accomplish that with pencils.ill-book-mr-q

Deep inside me, even when I was younger child I wanted to create and be artistic. I didn’t exactly know what it meant for me personally or that you could possibly make a living out of it. But when I decided to make this profession part of my life I was inspired by Shaun Tan, Gregory Rogers, Narelle Oliver, Maurice Sendak, & and many of the illustrated children’s books I grew up with.

Q Are you a natural or have you had to study and suffer for your craft?

I have had some study in art and illustrating over the years but I would have to say I am mostly self-taught. That said, in the beginning I was finding my work lacked some fundamental things and I knew I needed advice and training. I took some basic classes, attended conferences and researched other artists. I started diversifying my subject matter, built my portfolio and over the years improved my craft. I wouldn’t call it suffering I would call it dedicating yourself to long hours of improving your skills and yourself.

Q How do you develop your illustrations? Do digital computer programs feature significantly in what you produce?

If I have a particular idea or theme in mind I will simply start drawing small sketches and exploring ideas. I’ll make notes and over a period of time, this may take days or weeks, I will then start the main illustration. With most of my illustrations I will lightly draw it first with pencil on pressed smooth watercolour paper. I then slowly add layers of colour such as a yellow base, followed by a light green or blue then to add some dimension I will add variations of the same colour. Indigo makes a great darker colour to use when additional shading is required, I will very rarely add black unless there is a reason. Once I feel it is ready I will apply water with a brush, mixing the colours and bringing the illustration to life. I include more layers or shading to add depth, and then use an ink pen if required.

ill-animals-ambrose1I will often note the pencil number and photograph different stages of the illustration to remember how I reached the final stage. A lot can happen in the creation process so if you end up liking the final piece then remembering how you got there is important. Remember that when illustrating a picture book you want the illustrations to be consistent in both colour and appearance. This helps me anyway. I do not use any major software programs as such but I do scan my images and clean them up in order to send on to publishes.

Q Do you draw every day? What is the most enjoyable part of your working day?

To be honest no, but the enthusiasm is there. Like all illustrators who are also working it is a constant juggling act. The best part of my day is the morning; I have been probably stewing on an idea and have all this energy and want to put it down on paper.

Q It’s accepted that writers often scribble ideas on the back of takeaway menus, napkins, bus tickets, whatever they can when ideas strike – is this the same for illustrators? When you get a shot of inspiration and desire to draw, what do you do?

You draw it anyway you can. I once started illustrating on a napkin because I made the mistake of leaving my notebook behind. If you have an idea, write it down, draw it, and make a note of it because it will disappear. Too often have I laid in bed with an idea or two thinking it is such a great idea how could I possible forget it and when the morning comes it’s no longer under my pillow.

Long Live Us troll

Join me again soon for Part Two where we learn a little more about Peter and his work in the fractured fairy-tale, Long Live Us!

Review – The Emu That Laid the Golden Egg

lamingtonsAs I smack down some lamingtons over the Straya Day long weekend, I am reminded of how my first encounter with half of the Aussie Coat of Arms filled me with unaccountable terror. A bristling periscopic neck thrust its way deep into our car’s interior in search of edible morsels as I shrank deep into the rear seat. Being young and unacquainted with the ways our largest flightless bird, I convinced myself their diet must include the tender noses of young innocents. Thankfully I was wrong. And thankfully, the talented team who brought us Town Possum, Outback Possum, Yvonne Morrison and Heath McKenzie, have created a version of Aesop’s well-known fable, The Goose That Laid the Golden Eggs, entertaining enough to salve my terrifying first impression of – the emu.Emu Gold 4

But are all emus as undiscerning and bold enough to lunge for any old scrap? Apparently not, for Emma’s taste requires greater stimulation than the mere leftovers the rest of her flock dines on. Her insatiable appetite leads her far from home until exhausted and starving; she gorges on what she mistakes for kernels of corn. You’d think laying a golden egg would stem your starvation somewhat but it does little to abate her hunger and she soon abandons the glimmering egg.

Enter stage right, the baddies; two rotten scoundrels, keen on stealing whatever they can get their grubby little, pink paws on. Before long, Emma is trapped by their devious plot to become the richest possums this side of the goldfields. Their crafty plan soon unravels thanks to Emma’s gluttony and a certain black beetle. Jammy Emma escapes to reunite with her flock and the realisation that greed gains nothing, and leftovers taste far better than, ‘brass, glass and gold!’ (Which I hasten to point out; is why it is paramount to keep your windows up when driving through wild life reserves featuring roving emus. Tourists confined in cars are nearly always a better option for them than running down bugs.)

This charismatic picture book portraits our oft times misunderstood emu as a hugely likeable misfit who is just after a good feed. I adore Morrison’s trade-mark lilting verse, and really relish a picture book which dares to include vibrant snappy vocabulary; vital for enabling young children to strengthen their literacy muscle. Unforced, clever and chock-full of interesting and evocative words and images, the swaying rhyme is a delight to read out loud.

McKenzie’s bold illustrations bounce off the page with as much zeal and fervour as a hungry emu bounding towards a car full of tourists with an open bag of CCs. Brilliant and fun.Emus

I still harbour one or two reservations about emus. Hard not to when they stalk up close and stare you down with those Delphic, ember-coloured eyes. But I have absolutely no reservations in recommending The Emu That Laid the Golden Egg to anyone who loves a true-blue Aussie yarn, iconic Aussie characters and the odd blowfly or two.

Oi! Oi! Oi!

Published by Little Hare Books 2012

 

Review – Not a Nibble!

Not a NibbleFamily holidays are the stuff many childhood memories are forged from. With just a couple more weeks of summer holidays left, I revisited an old favourite and evoked some happy would-be memories (if mine had been the type of family to embark on seaside camping trips).

The excitement is palpable as Susie’s family head to the beach, car packed to the roof racks. They soon set up camp and immediately immerse themselves into all things seaside: hunting in rock pools, feeding seagulls, swimming the surf, and of course, fishing.

Led by over enthusiastic Dad, Susie, her brothers and cousins begin each day with great expectations, but for Susie, catching fish proves as elusive as keeping waves upon the sand. Her determination however never wanes, not even when her brother Alex taunts and teases her with fake-fish-hope. It’s not until the last day of their holiday that Susie glumly concedes defeat. Not everyone is lucky with fishing. She appears to be that luckless somebody.

Incredibly, Susie’s luck changes. She catches a glimpse of two Southern Right whales off the jetty much to the disbelief and delight of the surrounding crowd. She, her Dad and a dozen fascinated on-lookers, unite as they share a few special moments together watching mother and calf frolic in the waters before them. It’s a holiday memory bigger than any fish her family have caught before and one Susie won’t easily let get away.

Elizabeth HoneyElizabeth Honey’s entrancing sojourn to the beach captures precious familiarity and the exuberance of youth with playful grace. It is a story we can cherish for years to come much like a treasured cowrie shell. Honey’s spirited prose makes me want to kick off my sandals and grab a rod and bucket of bait. Susie’s Dad’s regular morning wake-up calls, addressing his kids as various species of marine-life, caused me to smile often. And who doesn’t delight in a big frothy milk shake from the local beach town café?

Each page drips with Honey’s sparkling watercolour illustrations, capturing the very essence and light of the seaside. Vintage Honey and deserved CBCA Picture Book of the Year.

Ideal to share with primary-aged readers.

Published by Allen and Unwin 1997

Review – Peggy

PeggyIt is little secret I love chooks and pigeons. So when I noticed this lovely new picture book featuring a little black hen and her feathered friends, there was instant grab appeal.

Peggy, a beguiling little black hen, lives a contented albeit somewhat isolated life in the burbs until one day she is unceremoniously whipped up by a fateful gust of wind and dumped in the middle of a strange new world, the city.

Peggy embarks on all the things an out-of-towner in the big smoke might be expected to do; she shops, dines on new cuisine, feasts her senses on curiosities of all shapes and sizes; thoroughly enjoying her big adventure until homesickness suddenly strikes.

When she spies a familiar sight, a sunflower like the one from her yard, she pursues it tenaciously; her only tentative link with all that she knows and misses. But the sunflower soon disappears. Alone and forlorn, Peggy waits in an empty train station until salvation appears; the pigeons, the very same ones she used to observe from a distance. They show her the way home.

Peggy passes her days now as before only now she shares her existence with the pigeons, even taking the occasional outing with them – via train to the city.Peggy and pigeons

Anna Walker has deftly created a simple little tale of a brave chook on a big adventure with the use of ink and photo collage. Her economic of words ensures we keep turning the pages, keen to keep up with Peggy’s exciting explorations.

The use of photo imagery adds marvellous depth, and warm authenticity to the lusciously thick pages in spite of the chilly damp of autumn the illustrations suggest. Muted background colours ensure details are highlighted with sensitive playfulness: the bunch of bright, yellow sunflowers, brown, wind-blown autumn leaves, and cherry-red umbrellas.

I especially loved Peggy; plucky, stoic, simply black, with that inquisitive look that only a chook can wear. A look that wonders; Can I eat this before it eats me? Peggy gently suggests that it’s worth expanding your horizons from time to time, and that this is not as scary as you might think it is because there are always friends around to help you, if you keep an eye out for them.

Recommended for pre-schoolers and appreciators of avian.

Peggy is published by Scholastic Australia 2012

 

Doodles and Drafts – An interview with Michelle Worthington

Welcome 2013! No bangs and whistles to launch the New Year this time. No arm-long lists of resolutions (fitted most of them on the back of my hand). Time to just buckle in, knuckle down and devote more hours to all those things we should actually be devoting more time to. One of them being more posts!

And so I embark on what I affectionately term Doodles and Drafts: snap-shot peeks at some of our most notable and most inspiring authors and illustrators. Some you will know intimately already, some are not so well-known but are creating impressive upward spirals; because all great writing starts with that first scrawled idea and all wonderful art begins as a mystic scribble… We kick off with a Drafter.

My first encounters with children’s author Michelle Worthington were at the usual haunts; children’s writing festivals and conferences. I was struck by her vivacious zeal and enthusiasm when asked anything about the craft of creating children’s stories. I’m delighted to feature this young, vibrant writer in my first author interview. Enjoy.Promo Photos 001

Who is Michelle Worthington? Describe your writerly-self for us.

My name is Michelle Worthington and I am a published Australian author. The stories I write are like the stories I used to read when I was little and they have what may now be seen as an old fashioned feel, but they have a timeless message. My goal is to be a successful Australian author known for uniquely Australian, classically elegant and compassionate stories for young children.

You’re a published author of several titles. What are they?

Picture book, The Bedtime Band, illustrated by QLD wildlife artist Sandra Temple was released by Wombat Books in November 2011.

Adult nonfiction book Practically Single was released by Mostly for Mothers Publishers in June 2012.

Picture Book, The Pink Pirate, published by Little Steps Publishing in July 2012, illustrated by New Zealand artist Karen Mounsey-Smith.

Yellow Dress DayPicture Book, Yellow Dress Day published by New Frontier Publishing in September 2012 which is illustrated by emerging NSW artist Sophie Norsa.

Why do you enjoy creating picture books? What other genres in children’s writing interest you?

As a mother of two rapidly growing boys, I am often asked why I write picture books for young children, especially young girls. The answer is simple; believe it or not, mothers were once little girls. More than that, I am a mother who wants my sons to grow up and marry strong, independent women. I write stories that empower little girls to believe they can be anything they want to be, as long as they believe in themselves. We live in a world where children are often asked at quite a young age to decide who they want to be. I want the children who read my books to decide to just be themselves. I would like to write a chapter book for boys one day.

 We know you love high heels but what’s your favourite colour, why and how has it influenced your writing?

My favourite colour is pink, of course. I love pink shoes.

Your recent release of the picture book “The Pink Pirate” was written for you niece. What message did you want to convey to her and your readers with this book?

The Pink Pirate was written for my niece, Georgia. I wanted her to know that she could be anything she wanted to be, regardless of her gender or the opinions of others. Books teach us so much about ourselves, the world we live in and the world that exists in our imagination. Every time you read a good book, you should get just a little bit smarter. It is very important not to underestimate the intelligence of the next generation, but at the same time, it is even more important that we pass on the right messages and lessons to them, in a way they will accept and understand.pink pirate

What does the term, ‘Power of Pink’ mean to you and why is it important for you to relay this belief to young readers?

There are not enough picture books that allow girls to be the hero of their own fairytale. Our children are growing up in a different world and they need to learn how to save themselves, instead of waiting to be saved. Writing my adult non-fiction fiction book about my divorce taught me that.

What inspires you to write? People, places, occasions…

I love writing stories for my family and friends, because I get my ideas from them. Words are like music to me. The right combination can sing in your brain as you read aloud. I write my books with that in mind. Books are best shared and if the reader enjoys telling it, it gives so much more pleasure to the listener. It is very important for me to feel like I am fostering a love of words and appreciation of good writing in my readers.

Where is your favourite place to create stories?

Practically SingleI write stories in my head all the time. They tumble around in my head until they are ready, then I write them down on anything I can find; bus tickets, napkins, back of my hand. Being a busy mum, it is hard to find an exact time to spend writing, so I let the ideas flow when and where they will.

Is illustrating your own picture book stories something you’d ever contemplate?

I can’t even draw stick people, so no. But I love working on books with talented illustrators, it makes the experience doubly delicious.

What is the one thing that motivates you to keep on writing (for children)?

I believe in the power of words, the power of sharing and the power of hope. Picture books encompass all these things and they are the perfect medium for teaching children about different people, places and challenges that they wouldn’t normally experience in their day to day life. I am not a doctor, scientist or any other professional that could help make a difference in the lives of children with disabilities. I am a writer. I can only use the gifts I have been given to help others to the best of my ability. If we all focus on what we are good at, we can all help each other in our own special way.

What is on the horizon for Michelle?

I am working on my first book app called Captain Cody, another picture book about the ocean, a fairy book with magic sparkles and a book about blended families, all to be released in the next 18 months. Watch this space; you never know what I will get up to next.

About Michelle

Best described as an Australian author with a penchant for high heels, Michelle is passionate about her kids and what she writes for them and kids like them. She’s won several poetry awards and is a regular presenter at schools and early learning centres.

Mini review of The Pink Pirate– Miss 6

Did you like the book? “Yes!”

What was the best bit?  “The girl saved the ship.”

What message do you think there was? “That girls can’t be pirates, but they can! When they grow up they can be whatever they want.”

Would you change anything in the book? “That the girl didn’t have to fight Blackboots, because she could have been hurt.”

Anything else you want to say about the book? “The two mice and the cat were doing swords as well.” (so clearly mice and cats can be anything they want to be too)

 

 

Reading Resolutions

Book stackToday I realised I can no longer see my alarm clock over the stacks of books on my bedside table; from any angle, from any height.

It never used to be this way. I was always a monogamous, one book at a time reader from the age of six. Novel series might have come out in less lavish quantities than they do today but when they did flaunt themselves at me, I was firm, steadfastly wading through each new world one chapter, one cast of characters, and one story at a time. When the book ended, it was held and admired for a while, then placed reverently back on the bookshelf, before another was selected after sweet deliberation.

Not so anymore. I am a feckless and fickle reader nowadays. I acquire an unrelated selection of titles, pile them indiscriminately on top of one another, ignoring fine cover art and first release styling. I’m ashamed to say, some nights I hop from plot to plot, sometimes switching loyalties and resuming different relationships up to three times a night. Some titles stay pinned mercilessly under genres alien and repulsive to them for months on end, never seeing the light of the bed lamp or making it back onto the book shelf. For as capricious a reader as I am now, I am sadly not a fast one.

It’s not my fault I’m this way, not really. When reading anything and everything from school newsletters, body corporate minutes, seminar notes, bloggers’ posts, manuscripts (my own included), shopping lists (hardest to do because my hand writing is illegible), emails, and let’s face it, a few hours of essential Face Book updating consumes most of my working reading time, then I must be equally varied and adaptable when it comes to my leisure reading time; especially when leisure reading time often ends with a slap on the face by the offended title after I’ve nodded off.

Alas I wish it were not so. George Ivanoff’s recent pre-Christmas post on one’s holiday reading list, prompted me to examine that indignant stack of books. It made me realise that although I may have fine-tuned the art of reading more than one book at a time, miraculously not losing the plot, (so to speak), perhaps what I am reading deserves a little more respect.  Respect in the form of dedicated time to enjoy its individuality. Improbable but not impossible.

I have made no formal resolutions this year, apart from: write more, relax more, finish writing more, eat less, and cook more…you know how it goes. However my reading resolutions have now far exceeded any list I’d ever be allowed to take to a deserted island. I want to read more with my child, explore another foreign language, consume even more pictures books which for me is like walking through an art gallery, review more titles, and read at least half of the shelf of ‘keepers’ I’ve acquired and am saving for that ‘rainy day’. I’ve resolutely set a higher personal reading goal this year to accommodate book club must reads; I’m dreaming big. Plus I have made the odd commitment to myself to read at least one title of every author in the kids’ section of the library from A to Z; before I move onto to YA.

Deserted islandAs with a deserted island and being surrounded by water with nothing to drink, having too many want-to-reads and not enough time to read them is not the best equation for good health and well-being.  My lifestyle and career choice imply that I can no longer be an exclusive reader, committed to just one title at a time. Those languid, lazy days under a palm tree with book in hand (yes that was me once upon a time, ironically on an island) are long past.  But George, you’ll be pleased to know, I’m almost through the holiday-list!

What are your 2013 reading resolutions? Whatever they are, resolve to make time to enjoy them. The most shocking and silly FB post in the world simply cannot rival the escapism and beauty to be found in a good read.

 

A festive feast

I couldn’t resist taking a break from my Christmas duties to squeeze this post in. At this time of year, there’s a veritable sleigh-load of children’s Christmas books on offer; exciting new titles and plenty of old chestnuts too. Applesauce and the Christmas Miracle is one of the latter, which if not already part of your Christmas hamper, is destined to become so.

Brimming with rural Aussie flavour, this CBCA short-listed picture book is a sensitive juxtaposition of a pig, ironically named Applesauce, who feels hopelessly bereft after a bushfire sweeps away life as she knew it in her valley. Unable to come to terms with the loss, she succumbs to abject depression, certain there will be no Christmas this year for her and her beloved Joe and Marigold; the people she shares her life with.

Sage Owl consoles Applesauce, advising her that ‘Christmas comes from the heart’ not from what you have or have not got. But surrounded by such a bleak, scarred world, Applesauce is unable to feel anything but glum.

Meanwhile, others from the neighbouring bush are making their way through the empty landscape to see Joe and Marigold. We are still not sure why, although a glimpse at the book’s cover gives us a clue. The arrivals of the Shepard family and Marigold’s three slightly eccentric looking, elderly aunties all go unnoticed by Applesauce, that is until, she is finally introduced to Joe and Marigold’s new baby.

Suddenly, all that was miserable and desolate becomes cheery and meaningful. Cockatoos swirl like snowflakes. New red leaves blaze like fairy lights in the fierce sunlight, and it is amongst these simple and symbolic celebrations of new life that Applesauce lets ‘Christmas fill her heart again’.

Author Glenda Millard
Author Glenda Millard

From the first line, award-winning author, Glenda Millard, draws us almost imperceptibly into Applesauce’s pining for better days; days before drought and bushfire desecrated her world. Even without the exquisite illustrations of Stephen Michael King, Millard’s descriptions are deliciously seasoned with enough sensory detail to enable the reader to smell and feel the arid emptiness of the land; ‘night fell as dark as burnt toast’ is one image that lingers on long after being read and is thoughtfully followed by a text-less spread of night, star flecked sky.

King’s illustrations compliment the poignant text perfectly; never impinging on the tale, always filling each page with delicate, imaginative colour. I adore King’s quirky illustrative style and sense of fancy.  Both work well to retell a tale as old as Christmas itself. Adults sharing this picture book with young children will recognise the clever parallels to the nativity story. Young readers will enjoy the gorgeous imagery, magically told tale and simple yet strong Christmas message. Applesauce and the Christmas Miracle is guaranteed to fill your heart with the spirit of Christmas.

Recommended for pre-school age (3) and above.

10 Things you (wished you) didn’t know about Dimity Powell – Children’s author

Welcome to my first post at Boomerang Books.  I would be lying if I didn’t admit my hands are trembling just a little. Taking hold of the reins that my colleague and dear friend Tania McCartney used to steer her posts so aptly and smoothly with for the past year or so, is by no means an easy feat. My heartfelt thanks and best wishes to you Tania!

So who is Dimity S Powell? DSP? Well, I’m often accused of my Debatable Sensory Perception on life; that is to say, the description ~ dim but nice ~ suits my persona well. But is there more to being Dim? You’re about to find out…

1.       The first short story I ever submitted was accepted by the School Magazine in NSW. It gave me immense hope and slightly unreal expectations.

2.       I once had a close encounter of the lost-in-a-triangular-kind-of way off the island of Bermuda whilst crossing the Atlantic, in a vintage Camper and Nicholson motor yacht. Fortunately, I was not transported off this planet, at least I don’t remember if I was.

3.       I used to play the flute – well. Now I just polish it – a lot. It’s shinier than some of my manuscripts.

4.       My first epiphany was at six years of age. I was standing in the girls’ toilets of my new primary school when I realised all of my friends were books. But this didn’t faze me in the slightest. I had the most profound thought: through books one could acquire anything, go anywhere and learn absolutely everything. It was a powerful realisation, and a conviction that I still carry today.

5.       At some point in my life, hanging one load of nappies (yes I used cloth ones) on the line was considered a herculean achievement. Now if I’m not juggling at least 15 balls, with my left toes whilst in an inverted yoga position, it’s just not a normal day.

6.       I considered living in Istanbul, twice, but never learnt to count over 1000 in Turkish. The cost of a loaf of bread would inflate a thousand Lira every three days. That’s ridiculously more fingers than I had to count with.

7.       I got wrinkly in a spa of George Harrison’s one time, but have never met him face to face.

8.       I read every Trixie Beldon mystery novel as a kid but have never ever felt the need to ‘solve’ anything; especially mathematical equations.

9.       I’ve eaten sea cucumber and alligator. Neither tasted like chicken. Both are infinitely more palatable than black boned chicken.

10.   I am a children’s author because I write for kids. I write for kids simply because it is so much fun.

I look forward to sharing my passion of all things Kids’ Lit with you in the weeks to come. Please excuse me though for a small while; my sleigh is about to depart and I’m due on board for the launch of my new Christmas kids’ novel, PS Who Stole Santa’s Mail? Keep an eye out for me as I soar by.