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.