Doodles and Drafts – Searching for magic with Donna Smith and Jazmine Montgomery – The Magic Glasses Blog Tour

Jazmine Toy DectiveI’m not sure if it is the sleek, bug-eyed appearance of the title character, her sleuth-full occupation or just her name that appeals so forcibly to me, but there’s something about this new Literacy Ladder Reading Series title, Jazmine Montgomery Toy Detective, by Donna M Smith, that I just love.

Aimed squarely at 6 – 8 year old emergent and confident readers, this chapter book is brimming with mystery, mushroom elves and magic.

Jazmine Montgomery is a girl with a passion for solving dilemmas and is regularly called upon by her school and friends to locate missing toys. Operating from her backyard office (aka the cubby house), Jazmine has a litany of devices she uses to deduce the whereabouts of toys missing in action, but perhaps her most useful is her set of magic glasses, after which the first book in this series is titled.

When she is unable to find an errant iPad borrowed from school, Jazmine and her trusty side-kick, Yap (aka the shaggy pet dog) must use the glasses to relocate the iPad in time for school. If she doesn’t, she not only risks detention but her reputation as a detective as well. Who hasn’t gone through this kind of trauma just minutes before the first school bell of a morning?

The Magic Glasses illosYoung readers, especially those of the little-girls-with-large-aspirations variety, are sure to get a kick out of the first in this series. It might even have a few checking under their fruit trees for the tiny villages of  mushroom elves, like I did!

Each book includes super sleuthing tips and (elf) character descriptions which are perfect for coaxing fledging readers into the magical world of reading alone with confidence.

Donna M SmithTo celebrate Jazmine’s awesome success as a Toy Detective, today I welcome her creator to the draft table, author and publisher, Donna Smith. So grab a big bag of jelly beans, settle back and get comfy.

Q: You have published a varied selection of work for children Donna, including short stories, picture books and Haiku poetry. Name a stand out piece that you are most proud of and why?

HopscotchYes Dimity, some of my work is varied. Thank you for asking about the various genres I have written. I have also been fortunate enough to have had several text books published and course content for the Adult Education sector. Choosing one piece is difficult as I love them dearly for various reasons. Mr Bumblebottom which appears in the ‘Hopscotch’ anthology holds special significance, not only was it one of the first stories I wrote but it evolved over the course of two years whilst my eldest son Timothy, was at three and four year old kindy. This took place about seven years ago. Timothy really did not want to go to kindy and so I told him there was a magical dragon that would sit in his pocket throughout the day and he would take special care of him while he was a kindy. Over time, Timothy named him and told me what colour he was and lots of stories about how he felt happy at kindy when Mr Bumblebottom was there too. So over the two years while Timothy attended kindy, Mr B as he was known became an important part of the family. When Timothy started school, I whispered to him as he went into class for the first time that Mr B was in his pocket and he replied, ‘Mum, I am a big boy now shhh.’ I will say he did appear from time to time in need. So this story is quite special and at present I am working on it to be launched as a picture book.

Shadow at Cape naturalisteA Shadow of Cape Naturaliste, also holds special significance as it was the first story accepted by a publisher. At that time, I replied to an ad for stories at least 2500 words which must be historical fiction and a ghost story. I relished in the research process and found the Cape Naturaliste lighthouse on the Western Australian coast line has quite a haunted past. So, I wrote Harry’s Lighthouse (as the title was back then). It was published in Australian Chillers’ anthology in 2009. A few years later I decided to re-tweak it for a slightly younger audience and it became A Shadow at Cape Naturaliste. I love this book, the cover is perfect. The photograph depicts what I had imaged it to be exactly and the size is a perfect companion. This book has done well in grade three- six classrooms and is also available it the lighthouse gift shop.

Billy cart race derbyBilly Cart Derby is a really exciting, fast paced, giggle of book starring Jaz, TJ and Ben who participate in a billy cart race at school as a fundraiser. Jaz, TJ and Ben are based on my three children Jazmine, Timothy and Benjamin. What is interesting Dimity is that I wrote this book when Jazmine was in grade 1 (now grade 6) before Ben was even born. I wrote a draft based on a dress up day I attended at school where I saw a grade 6 girl wearing a billy cart. I thought it was fantastically inventive. So the story started to take shape about a billy cart race at school which was based on fundraising but during the race they had lots of mishaps. After the initial draft a couple of years later, I was pregnant with Benjamin and I decided to wait until he was born (to see if he was going to be a boy or a girl) before I completed the final draft so I could include all three children. I ended up waiting until Benny was in kindy and developed his own little personality and character so as I could make teh characters true to their real personalities. I just love the story so much. Children just find it hysterical. Billy Cart Derby is currently used in classrooms grade prep through to about four. Actually a grade three class used it last year during their narrative study. Billy Cart Derby has coloured glossy billy cart race track maps in the front of the book along with character illustrations. This book is currently undergoing production to be made into an interactive picture book, which is illustrated of course. I plan to write more about Jaz, TJ and Ben’s school adventures in the future.

Delightfully Haiku is also very special as it was my first poetry collection but, more importantly it was also a dedication to my nephew Marshall who was born sleeping in August 2010. It has received wonderfully positive reviews over the past couple of years which lead to being invited to participate in the Japanese Festival since it began in 2010. I have attended each year since and enjoy holding haiku poetry workshops throughout the day.

A Christmas TaleA Christmas Tail was born several years ago when my daughter’s Victorian doll house (which stands 1.2 metres tall) became home to a beautiful family of wooden dolls which my daughter still loves to play with. Over time we furnished the doll house, put lighting in, pictures on the wall, even a tiny grand piano sits in the living room. The idea of a story evolved. A Christmas Tail was co –written with Helen Ross, a very talented children’s writer and former primary school teacher. This beautiful picture book was illustrated by Aaron Pocock, a well known Brisbane artist who did a fantastic job bringing the story to life. A Christmas Tail kicks off a book launch tour in November so keep your eyes peeled for more information regarding that.

Jazmine Montgomery – Toy Detective series is based on my daughter Jazmine. Jaz tends to see magic in everything even at almost 12 (in a few weeks). I love the idea that not everything can be seen and just because we can’t see it on the surface doesn’t mean that it’s not real or it’s not there. Jazmine Montgomery has many case files that she will be sharing in the future. The Magic Glasses is book one in this new series.

It is really hard to pick just one book. My books hold special meaning and significance for myself and my family.

Q: What was the inspiration behind the character Jazmine Montgomery?

JM is based on my daughter Jazmine, who possesses a beautiful innocence and ability to see magic in everything. Jaz will be 12 in a few weeks and is still very much a little princess.

Q:What was the best thing about writing Jazmine Montgomery and the most difficult?

The Magic Glasses illos 2I think the most difficult aspect of writing the first of this series was the evolution that took place. I wrote the first draft a couple of years ago and after editing with Sally Odgers, it was discussed the possibility that an aspect of the story could outdate quickly. The original story was about a red scooter that was lost. Once it was decided that this may not work as well as something which was just flooding the market and being implemented in schools (such as the iPad), I had to re-write many sections to fall in line with iPad concept. Therefore this story evolved and underwent many visits for ms assessment by Sally before the final story was complete and Sally began the editing process. We worked on this story for quite some time before it was just perfect. I then contact Sharon Madder and was just delighted with her illustrations. Sharyn was wonderful to work with and I am really happy with the final result. Another difficult aspect of this particular book was the layout. I really wanted to incorporate the stars which appear around the pages, I had to create each individual star and place each one exactly where I wanted it to appear, this was very time consuming. Then my design team headed by Sylvie Blair, converted this in InDesign to make each star digital and keep the placement the same. This process was quite tricky, time consuming and expensive however, I am really happy that we kept at it as it turning out really well. It really sets the book off, particularly for the target age group. So this book has taken quite some time to produce and get just perfect. But well worth it. I must credit Sally Odgers as it was her idea of the stars on the page! Thank you again Sally.

Q:You have aimed this chapter book series for younger primary aged children, what motivates you to write for this age group?

My children I think Dimity. My children Jazmine 11 (she reminds daily that there are not many sleeps until she is 12!), Timothy 10 and Benjamin 7, inspire me every day. Our library at home is a favourite room in the house, it contains many, many picture books, early chapter books and novelettes. We read these sorts of books most often. I have had a few funny looks after purchasing an arm full of children’s books and then nestling down to read them in a cafe. I have surrounded myself with these sorts of books primarily because of the ages of my children, therefore it just happened that way. I am excited however about my next book, Benjamin and the Castle of Tomorrow which I have been writing since 2009. It started as a 2500 chapter book, and just became longer and longer. Sally said to me ‘don’t worry just keep writing.’ The book now some 25000 words has visited Sally’s desk more times than I can remember and has been a journey in its self.

Two trips to England to study castles and medieval culture, I took medieval literature electives during my Arts degree and submitted a draft as part of my final portfolio assessment in my children’s literature unit. I have also studied endless waterfall locations and waterfall photography, dragon myths and written under Sally’s guidance for the past four years. The story is metafictional and something I am very excited about. I am very happy to say- the story is complete and the editing process is now underway. So, I guess Dimity this will be a different genre again! Ben’s story, as Sally and I refer to it as, after all these years will be out next year.

Q: Have you or your children ever come across elves or fairies in your garden?

Of course Dimity, magic is everywhere. Just smile on the inside and out!

Q:What can we expect from Jazmine Montgomery in the future?

Jazmine Montgomery has an exciting collection of case files which has solved and worked on with her companion Yapps and the Mushroom Elves. Their next adventure sees them at school trying to solve the mysterious case the missing counting beads in the preps class.

Donna GraduationQ: What is on the storyboard for Donna Smith?

I graduated with my Arts degree in April this year. My main stream was Educational Psychology and Writing/ Literature. My youngest son has been struggling at school with a learning disability so I decided to attend Monash Uni earlier this year and complete their one semester course in Education Support/ Teacher Aide course with the aim to help Ben as much as I can. I have just completed PD training in Cued Articulation and really enjoy helping in his class two mornings a week. It has six years now that I have being doing classroom help with my children since they started school, however now I am helping in literacy intervention which I really enjoy. I was deciding whether to continue study in literature, however due to our circumstances with my son and recent further diagnosis, I have decided to continue study next year in the Masters of Special Education with a major in Literacy Support. As I also manage Jelli-Beanz Publishing, I am busy with a catalogue of titles which have approved contracts by various authors. Earlier this year I was fortunate enough to become a team leader at the Victorian College of Literary Arts which will see me working literacy invention programs, which is exciting. And my writing? Helen and I are currently brainstorming Peter’s next adventure, Jazmine Montgomery’s next case file will emerge and Benjamin and the Castle of Tomorrow will be released next year. Mr Bumblebottom will take flight as a picture book and Billy Cart Derby will be skidding into the interactive app world! Gee wizz, a cup of tea somewhere in there would be nice too!

Q: Just for fun, do you have a favourite Jelly bean? What is it?

Oh yes, I love Jelly beanz, my favourite is black! Wouldn’t it be wonderful if there was a rainbow jelly bean?

Mug of beanz(Oh yes! But black is my favourite too!) Thanks Donna and good luck with EVERYTHING including nabbing that cup of tea some time soon.

Jelli-Beanz Publishing Blog August 2013

Check out the Book Trailer for The Magic Glasses. Buy the book here.

Be sure to visit Jazmine as she zips around on the rest of her Blog Tour with Donna Smith.Jazmine Toy Dective Launch and blog dates Aug 2013









On the warpath with Tania McCartney and her Eco Warriors – Blog Tour Review

eco warriors coverStep outside into your garden or even local parkland. What do you see? Is it a verdant, vibrant paradise or neglected virtual wasteland? Today I am ecstatic to be on the war path with fellow lover of nature, kids and books, the luminous Tania McCartney. With more books blooming to life this year than a golden wattle in spring time, Eco Warriors to the Rescue!, stands tall and proud amongst them encapsulating the best of backyard adventure, magic and the preservation of our astonishing native flora.

Quintessentially named school-kids, Banjo, Matilda and Ned, are on a bit of a botanical mission. As self-appointed eco warriors with a goal to keep our native plants thriving for generations to come, they wisely consult their big book of Aussie flora and fauna. They become magically entwined within its pages smothered with splendiferous botanical paintings.

Eco Flame treesTheirs is a journey of enlightenment, discovery and wonder as they interact with such native gems as the kangaroo paw, blue quandong and my favourite, the flame tree. Each encounter reveals a basic fact, crucial to the long term survival of not only that species but our native environment as a whole. Young readers are introduced to the holistic ideology that plants, like animals, need much more than just clean water to flourish. Things like polluted bushland, introduced animal species, unregulated development and even unthoughtful behaviour like picking native flowers can dramatically affect the existence of our wild-flora.

This might seem like a heavy message to impart on young children but it is carefully implied with the clever use of real life images; our little warriors are visually shown as real people with beating hearts and souls and thus are completely believable as the executers and educators of the tips and tricks offered to us (and thoughtfully numbered throughout). Most resplendent in this joyful showering of information is the final notion that the ultimate thing we can do for our native plants is to ‘enjoy!’ them. So we should and so we can with Eco Warriors.

Tania McC McCartney considerately includes plenty of ways to think about and embrace our native plants with the inclusion of maps, links, explanations and even a list of native birth flowers. Her fertile, design-bejewelled mind  beautifully harmonises crisp, clear dialogue with the multi-media used throughout this picture book. I’m no expert in this field but recognise a good spread when I see one. (You can learn more about the design and layout behind this beautiful book at Angela Sunde’s blog).

Eco Warriors to the Rescue! packs a punch for all the right reasons. This book has a lovely ‘dirt girl’ feel and robust design with thick glossy pages (notably printed on paper from sustainable forest resources) and is more than suitable for repeated discussion, field trips and reads; outdoors perhaps, sprawled on the grass, gazing up through the branches of a flame tree aglow with carmine, campanula blooms. Botanical metaphors aside, McCartney has cultivated yet another work of art, which kids all over Australia and beyond will have fun reaping.

National Library of Australia August 2013

Join Tania McCartney and her three real-life eco warriors—Banjo (Riley), Ned (Andrew) and Matilda (Claire)—as they launch Eco Warriors to the Rescue! at Canberra’s National Arboretum Gift Shop, Saturday 5 October 2013, at 11am.

Can’t wait till then? Then stick around and visit some more of her exciting blog tour stops where you can learn more about the book and how to become an Eco Warrior.

Eco Warriors Blog Tour FINAL

View this book and purchase on line here.

Blog Tour Dates and Places

Sunday 1 September

Sneak Peek

Tania McCartney’s Blog



Boomerang Books Blog



Pass It On


Mixed Media Illustrations for Picture Books

Angela Sunde

Under the Apple Tree


Monday 2 September


Book Review

Book Giveaway

Kids Book Review


Eco Tips for Little Readers

Sheryl Gwyther’s Blog


Bringing Up Eco Warriors

The Book Chook



Books for Little Hands


Literature Supporting Sustainability

Children’s Books Daily


Author Interview

Alison Reynolds


Tuesday 3 September



My Little Bookcase



5 Multi-Media Writing Tips




Writing for the National Library of Australia




Elaine Ouston Blog




Soup Blog


Doodles and Drafts – Getting silly with Candice Lemon-Scott

Silver the Silly Sorcerer Book CoverThat instantaneous feeling of satisfaction and inability to stop reading that occurs when breezing over the first few pages of a new book is often a sign of good things to come. Kids are even more decisive, deducing from line one, what is going to work for them and what is not. That’s why the Little Rocket Series excels from the get go. With edgy compelling reads like Candice Lemon-Scott’s latest release, Silver the Silly Sorcerer.

Just when you thought you’d read all there was to read about wizardry and witchcraft and applauded the 700th Harry Potter look-a-like off the Book Week Parade stage, along comes Silver; struggling child sorcerer who simply seeks to be as sensational a sorcerer as his idol, Merlin.

Sadly Silver is less than spectacular as sorcerers go. He continuously fudges his spells and lives in the shadow of his much brighter sister, Star. After failing his Eggs test, Silver is sent to work as a magician with a travelling circus.

Cirus tentCircus life is harder and more humiliating than Silver ever anticipated. He yearns for home and dreads having to perform magic for the has-been, hard to please Ringmaster. Without the companionship and street smarts of his slick talking pet snake, Slither, Silver’s circus days would be even bleaker than the busted lights of the main-ring.

Miraculously, his clumsy magical failures become the talk of the Big Top. Silver’s silly tricks and slip ups transform him into the star of the circus until he realises he has to truly master the art of transformation and magic if he is to rescue his teacher, escape the circus and rise to Tadpole level. Will he and Slither endure the extremes of showbiz?

Humming with hysterical originality and Lemon-Scott’s hilarious imaginative wordplay, Silver the Silly Sorcerer is a sure fire bet to impress readers 7 years and above plus anyone who is thrilled by bunnies bursting from magic hats like I am. Short, captivating chapters are teeming with Janet Wolf’s full colour illustrations, so vibrant, you can almost smell the popcorn and sawdust. Top marks!

Candice Lemon-And to mark the magical appearance of this marvellous new Little Rockets title, Candice Lemon-Scott joins me at the draft table. Welcome Candice. Please, park your broom* and take a seat…

Q When did you first discover the urge to write for children? What motivates you to continue writing?

I lived in Sydney for a short while. When I first moved I didn’t know anyone (besides my husband) and I had yet to find a job. It was at that time that a children’s story idea just popped into my head one day and I started to spend a couple of hours each day writing it until I found work. It wasn’t anywhere near publishable but it inspired me to keep writing. Finding the motivation to write is easy – I love writing and it’s the best feeling to create an imaginary world where anything you want to happen does.

Q You’ve written a number of chapter books for children and this is your second title in the Little Rocket Series. What appeals to you most about this series of books? What makes them special?

I really love the Little Rockets Series because they’re perfect for kids starting to learn to read independently. They have beautiful brightly coloured illustrations which makes them a fantastic transition from picture book to chapter book. I also love the style of the series because it suits the type of story I like to write – action-packed and humorous and written for the 7 plus age group. There are also some fun things attached like the book-based activities on the Little Rockets website.

Q I am a sucker for magic tricks. How did you conjure up the idea for Silver the Silly Sorcerer? Were you magically inspired?

There was a little bit of magic involved. It began with a case of the dreaded writer’s block. Then one day I found this old story writing computer program. In the program you could mix up three parts of a sentence that were computer generated to create an opening line. I chose, ‘the sorcerer was stuck in a pile of muddy muck.’ It all went from there with the writer’s block magically disappearing as the story evolved.

Q What is your favourite magic trick, most memorable illusion or circus act?

I loved all magic when I was a kid. I remember I was so excited when I was given a magic box as a present. My favourite trick was the one where the seemingly never-ending magical scarf was pulled out of the magician’s hat – simple but fun. That’s probably why the scarf trick makes an appearance in my story.

Q Kids love quirky characters. What inspired your character choice in this book?

From my opening line I figured that this sorcerer must be pretty silly to end up stuck in the mud, which is really how Silver came to life. When I was thinking about how he could get out of the mud Slither the Snake just magically appeared to save the day.

Q Slither, Silver’s pet snake, is a useful and faithful companion. Is he based on any previous pets you had as a kid or perhaps any that you now have?

Gosh, no, I had really regular pets growing up– dogs, cats, birds, rabbits, but there was never a moment in my childhood where I was without one, which shows what an important role pets have played in my life. My eldest daughter is also crazy about reptiles, and now has her own pet blue-tongue lizard, so I’ve learned a great deal about snakes (but not the magical kind).

Q I found Silver a real hoot to read. Was it as much fun to write? Does writing humorously come naturally to you or is it a conscious thing you have work on to include in your writing?

Thanks! It was heaps of fun to write. I guess that’s probably why my kids’ stories have humour injected into them – it’s enjoyable to write it. I think the humour just comes as I write – I certainly don’t plan it out by thinking, ‘Is this funny?’ or ‘How could I make kids laugh in this scene?’ That said, I think the subject matter has to lend itself to humour for it to work.

Candice's books

Q Last year you released your first adult novel, Unloched. How does writing for primary aged children differ from other adult-aged genres you’ve published? Which do you feel more comfortable writing and why?

Technically, it’s totally different in terms of language, themes, structure, writing style etc. But to me writing for kids is no different to writing for adults in that it’s always about getting in the head of the character who the story is about. So, in this way, I don’t find one more comfortable than the other to write. If I’m writing about a ten year old boy then I’m in the head of a kid of that age but if I’m writing about a young woman then I’m thinking the way she would think. It’s a bit like role-playing for me – I’m imagining myself in someone else’s shoes, or in someone else’s cloak in the case of Silver.

Q A great kids’ story can be read faster than it takes to pull a rabbit out of a hat (unless you are Silver of course). How long does it take you to write them? Does it vary from book to book?

Usually it takes me a few months to write a chapter book. It’s more in coming up with the story idea that varies in the time it takes to create a story. Some ideas come to me in minutes – and I can see in my mind straight away what could happen in the story. Others start with a bit of a thought but can take months or longer for me to find out what the story is.

Q Tell us what fills your days apart from writing.

I have a book exchange where I sell new and second-hand books and where people can swap over the books they no longer read for something new or different. So, my life is completely about books, books and more books. I love it – I get to talk about books when I’m not writing and put any reading down to ‘work.’ Oh, and being a mum keeps me happily busy as well.

Q What’s on the draft table for Candice?

I’m currently writing a series of futuristic space adventure stories for kids aged 8 and up, the first of which will also be put out with New Frontier next year. The stories follow a group of kids (and a cyborg) who end up solving all kinds of spacey mysteries.

Q Just for fun question: If you were a better sorceress than Silver, what one magic trick would you like to perform and why?

I would like to master the art of escape, like Houdini. His tricks always fascinated me as a child – I would love to be able to get myself out of any situation like he could. That would be a pretty clever trick to perform, I think.

Thanks Candice! 

*Note Candice does not actually own a flying broom stick but should the opportunity arise to operate one, I’m sure she would park it sensibly.

Silly the Silver Sorcerer is part of the New Frontier Publishing’s Little Rocket Series.

Released this month, you can purchase the book here.






Five Faves (Picture Books) for Book Week

Here are 5 fantastic favourites you should reach out and grab onto with both hands – FAST!

Silver Buttons Silver Buttons by Bob Graham, Walker Books UK August 2013

Jodie draws a duck just as her baby brother, Jonathon, takes his first steps. An exquisite and poetic glimpse at a speck in time overflowing with life; beginnings and farewells, dramas and insignificances. Brimming with Bob Graham magic.

Banjo and Ruby Red Banjo and Ruby Red by Libby Gleeson and Freya Blackwood, Little Hero Books, August 2013 Antagonistic Ruby the chook is teasing, taunting, stubborn and disregarding. Old Border Collie, Banjo, is determined, loyal and equally as strong-willed. A sometimes smiling, sometimes heart faltering look at the love and friendship that ties two seemingly opposites together.

Omar the Strongman Omar the Strongman, by Gregory Rogers, Scholastic Australia, July 2013 A tender tale of a big man with an even bigger heart who eventually finds his perfect sense of place and value in the circus of all places. Sensitively and sublimely depicted as only Gregory Rogers can.

Davy and the Duckling Davy and the Duckling, Margaret Wild and Julie Vivas, Penguin/Viking Australia, July 2013 Perfectly orchestrated story of a duckling who imprints on a boy who becomes his everything even after the boy becomes an actual human father years later. A gorgeous cyclical life tale of enduring relationships and the power of the bond of love.

The Nelly Gang The Nelly Gang, The Adventures of Nelly Nolan, by Stephen Axelsen, Walker Books Australia, August 2013 Rousing adventure yarn presented as graphic picture book, set in the 1850’s and chock full of bushrangers, gold, and unlikely heroes.

Why are these books all worth a look? Because they are supremely strong tales, gently told by phenomenal story tellers and harmoniously illustrated by renowned illustrators.

There is something for every taste. View and buy any of these picture books simply by clicking on the title.

Happy Reading!



Review – To Get To Me

To Get to MeI love going places and reading often takes me more places than mere physical effort alone. Imagination and desire help too. Not to mention having the odd pen-friend (remember those?) in far flung exotic locations. To Get To Me is Random House’s newest picture book encapsulating the essence of getting there via planes, trains and automobiles.

Sydney-sider Peter is going to the zoo and who better to share a day amongst the animals with, than his best buddy Ahmed. Never mind Ahmed lives in far North Africa, half a world away. Friendship knows no boundaries, nor crazy distances.

Peter carefully gives Ahmed directions over the phone, detailing each method of transport he’ll have to take for each leg of the journey.

Eleanor Kerr Eleanor Kerr skilfully explores nearly every mode of transport barring hot air balloon. Even the humble camel is depicted clomp clomp clomping through the sand dunes of Ahmed’s immediate environ. Her crisp, undemanding text is simple enough for budding readers to enjoy themselves yet fused with enough action-based onomatopoeia to ensure a fun and energetic read aloud experience for the younger audience. Camels clomp, buses vroom, ferries splish splosh. Sounds ingenuous, but To Get To Me is anything but pedestrian and coupled with Judith Rossell’s ebullient illustrations, easily convinces readers that Ahmed really will be able to make the journey.

Judith RossellRossell combines collage, real photos and pencil drawings to perfectly capture the heat of a Moroccan desert, the bustle of inner-city Sydney and the serenity of Sydney Harbour.

Look closely to appreciate how both we and Ahmed, are transported seamlessly from a world of Arabic influenced dialects to a more familiar western English speaking society through the use of written Arabic and cut out newspaper text. There are even a few stock exchange listings carefully insinuated as CBD buildings.

The concept of making a small world even smaller is strengthened by Peter waiting for Ahmed at the Zoo surrounded by a delightful cultural mix of African and Aussie animals. Thanks to Peter’s conviction in his clear instructions, we and Ahmed are left in a positive state of happy anticipation; ‘see you soon!’

To Get To Me provides a warm fuzzy, hands-around-the-world experience while at the same time is suitably chock-a-block full of mobility, machines, cultural glimpses, and even Kombis! Enough to satisfy young boys in particular and geography nuts like me.

You can view and purchase this book here.

Random House July 2013


Double Dipping – Two ‘Small but Special’ Reviews

This month’s double whammy review is courtesy of UQP. From their impressive collection for younger readers comes two new titles certain to cause a stir for primary aged girls in particular; Smooch and Rose by Queensland author Samantha Wheeler and Chook Chook Little and Lo in the City by Wai Chim.

Smooch and RoseA rose by any other name would smell as sweet as…strawberries.

Like many other SE Queenslanders, I live in a fairly koala sensitive area. Over the last decade or so, the bushland the koalas call home has been more and more frequently indiscriminately removed to accommodate our urban sprawl; a subject you can’t help but be a part of. We all desire to live in this beautiful part of the world as much as they, the koalas, need to.

Smooch and Rose is the tale of one girl’s courageous and staunch attempt to stand up to the big guns of development in hope of keeping at least part of the koalas’ habitat intact.

Orphaned school girl, Rose, may be awkward and less than dazzling at school but in the presence of animals, she shines. Being a wildlife carer is her greatest desire and after rescuing a baby koala and accepting the guidance of wildlife carer, Carol, Rose inches one step closer to her dream.

KoalaSmooch, the baby koala so named because he loves to snuggle, soon invades everyone’s affections. Even after he is released back into the bushland fringing Rose and her Gran’s strawberry farm, he continues to supply Rose with friendship and happiness.

However her contentment is shattered by the news from her real estate uncle, Malcolm, that she and Gran must sell their beloved farm. Sadly, no amount of delays and setbacks can stem the tide of progress and Rose is devastated to hear that it’s not only her home at stake but Smooch’s as well.

The bulldozers soon move in heightening Rose’s desperation and resolve. It becomes a tense fight against time and the developers for Rose but she perseveres in her pursuit to save everything she loves.

Samantha Wheeler Samantha Wheeler has a natural, fluid narrative style, used effectively to weave a tale rich in inspiration, hope, drama and, strawberries. Animal lovers, conservationists and plucky eight year olds alike will adore this feel good, do good story with its gentle but firm undercurrents about the virtues of tenacity especially in matters concerning the future of our environments. Generously endorsed by Deborah Tabart OAM, CEO Australian Koala Foundation and including thoughtful guidelines and useful websites for helping koalas and native animals, Smooch and Rose should be compulsory reading for 7 + year olds and featured on all classroom bookshelves.

Chook alert!

Chook Chook Little and Lo in the CityAddressing the same age group but set in a vastly different land and culture is the second instalment to Chook Chook Mei’s Secret Pets, Chook Chook Little and Lo in the City. This time Mei’s two beloved chooks, sweet hen, Little and larrikin cockerel, Lo, accompany young Mei to the city of Guangzhou, China, in the wake of her older brother, Guo’s departure from their village farm.

Mei’s sense of stability is challenged when her widowed mother decides to marry the one-eyed butcher. The reality of a new Dad, brother and their accompanying menagerie of pets is too much for Mei, who flees with her chooks in search of Guo.

Mei’s unfamiliarity with the big city soon sours her plans of independence and reunion. By chance, she teams up with a young runaway named Cap. Together they navigate their way around Guangzhou’s questionable characters and complicated metro system until finally, Guo is located in the University at which he studies.

Wai ChimBut travelling with chooks and someone you hardly know is not as easy as Mei imagined. Can Mei salvage Guo’s grades, Cap’s sense of security and her own diminishing inner peace from this tumultuous experience? Fortunately, Wai Chim manages to find a miracle for Mei and her feathered friends. Chim’s astute use of cultural authenticities, drawn from her own Chinese-American background, gives the Chook Chook books a pleasing depth and sincerity. Heart strings are genuinely pulled when Mei struggles against mounting odds and with her brother’s love. Funny bones are seriously tickled by the incredulous antics of Little and Lo.

I love chooks and am very partial to noodle soup with barbequed pork, so it was not hard for me to enjoy Chook Chook. Feed your curiosity and enjoy it too.

Both books ideal for confident 7 + year old readers.

Available for purchase here – Rose / Chook

UQP out now.


Review – Marlo Can Fly

As we approach the beginning of the breeding season of the Australian Magpie, it feels fitting that my next review is all about one of my favourite Aussie song birds.

Marlo Can FlyHot on the heels of No Matter Who We’re With, is Robert Vescio’s newest picture book, Marlo Can Fly. But the question is; can she really?

From the moment we meet wilful magpie fledging, Marlo, we witness her in a number of situations none of them however, involving her taking to the wing. And why? Because Marlo ‘wanted to be different’.

As Marlo watches her bird friends soar and swoop, she steadfastly refuses to become airborne. Time and time again she defends her position; she doesn’t need or want to fly, reinforcing her belief that flying does not a magpie make.

Her stubborn determination to stand out from the flock is admirable if not slightly bemusing for her forest friends. Unable to convince her that as a bird, she should embrace flying, they resort to jesting and jeering each time she attempts to emphasise her difference.

Marlo wetTo prove her point, Marlo gives slithering, jumping, swimming and even crawling a go, all of which end in calamity and ridicule.

It isn’t until Marlo meets little Kev Koala, distressed and unable to locate his mother, that we suspect Marlo’s resolve to show there is more to her than just flying, is perhaps a ruse to hide the fact that she can’t fly or is too scared to fly. Suppositions Marlo has erstwhile denied but could be true…

Whatever the case, she finally casts all aspersions and doubts aside to help her friend in need. The bush creatures rejoice in Marlo’s newfound abilities and acceptance of herself, as does Marlo.

Robert Vesico Robert Vescio’s uncomplicated narrative style allows room for plenty of alliteration and action-orientated onomatopoeia. Kerthumping kangaroos, slithering snakes and cackling kookaburras give Marlo Can Fly an easy read aloud musicality sure to entertain under-fives.

Sandra Temple Sandra Temple’s modest yet striking combinations of pastels and coloured-pencil illustrations give each bushland creature a brilliant life-like appearance. They are simply beautiful to behold and lead us effortlessly to the heart-warming conclusion of a delightful Australian themed picture story.

Marlo’s triumph is finding delight in her sense of self. Yours could be not running a mile the next time one of these glorious birds loops and soars over the tree tops.

Recommended for 3 – 5 year olds and those who cherish the magnificent carolling of a magpie at dawn.

Wombat Books 2013

View or purchase any of Robert Vescio’s books here.


Doodles and Drafts – A Very Jumpy Tour with Tania McCartney

The most spectacular thing about a plain old butter cake is often its layers. Colour them, stack them and then you have a thing of unique beauty and depth. This is exactly what makes a stand out picture book for me: its multiple layers. And today I am honoured to share the latest delectable offering from a children’s author and reviewer who needs no introduction to the readers of Boomerang Blog, Tania McCartney.

Riley the Jumpy Kangaroo cover MEDIUM Riley and the Jumpy Kangaroo: A journey around Canberra, is the fifth in the adventure-laced Riley Aviator series by McCartney and illustrator Kieron Pratt. Its timely release coincides with the Centennial celebrations of our nation’s capital.

There’s been some pretty dubious and extraordinary thumping and going ons in Parliament House of late. I’m not sure if Jumpy Roo is responsible for all of them but on the occasion Riley and his colourful collection of mates from previous sojourns visit Canberra, they discover that Jumpy Roo is crazy mad jumpy about something and spring smartly after her to find out exactly what.

Riley Little AviatorRiley’ little red plane is filling up as he and his faithful league pursue Jumpy Roo all around and in and out of some of Canberra’s most iconic attractions plus some less-well known ones. Until, after a near disastrous caffeine fix, Jumpy finally comes to rest in the resplendent gardens of Commonwealth Park to literally stop and ‘smell the flowers’ and thankfully find what she was so frantically looking for.

The previous Riley journeys whetted my appetite for travel and adventure. This one truly satisfies my hunger for that exquisite multi-layering; of ingenious artwork, clever concepts, humour and subtle sensitivity.

Young readers will hardly be aware that they are absorbing the unique heart of Australia’s Capital city as they are transported through McCartney’s economical yet colourful descriptions of place-names and locations. The pace is fast and furious and thanks to McCartney’s unique sense of style and design, the pages are a vivid three dimensional feast of movement and humour. Black and white images spiked with contrasting colour work seamlessly with Kieron Pratt’s charming, cartoonesque illustrations.

Whether you have ever set foot on the ‘grassy lawns of Parliament House’ before or not, this picture book is packed with enough reasons to entice (another) visit. And enough kid appeal to ensure that youngsters from 3 – 10 at least will not let the Canberra Centennial go unnoticed.

Tania McCartneyTo commemorate the imminent release of Riley and the Jumpy Kangaroo, we’re taking off right now with Tania herself. So grab your goggles and hop on board for a blog tour, that’s sure to be as zany as riding with Riley himself and guaranteed more fun than a Federal election.

Q Tania you have dedicated a great deal of your life to writing for children and practised it in several parts of the world. How long have you called Canberra home? How much do you feel the place you reside and write in influences what and how you write?

We’ve been in Canberra four-and-a-half years, which is one of the longest periods I’ve spent anywhere. Before that, my family and I were in Beijing for four years and before that, I’d moved over sixty times, living in various places from Hobart to Paris. When I met my husband, we moved every 18 months, so this time in Canberra is a record!

The place I call home enormously influences what and how I write. I think travel expands the mind, heart and soul in ways nothing else can, so I do hope my work has evolved and improved as I’ve moved around the globe. Travel is high on our family’s priority list and I love to write it into my books—the Riley the Little Aviator series a case in point!

Q This is the fifth book in the Riley Aviator series of adventures. Why did it take so long to get around to Canberra? Was it your intention to coincide Riley’s 5th adventure with the 100th Anniversary of our nation’s capital?

I had released a Riley book every year, and yes, this fifth book took two years—mainly because I’ve been so busy with other book contracts. The Riley books also take a lot of time and energy, as they comprise photos, illustrations and text, but I also design and layout the books.

I had intended to release the Canberra book at the end of last year, in time for the first Centenary celebrations, but I’m glad it was delayed … it’s nice to bring something new to this glorious year, and the best part is that I get to launch the book at Floriade. I’m very excited about that.

Q When did the original concept for Riley the Aviator take off? Tell us what are you trying to convey with this picture book series?

I was working in Beijing as an expat magazine editor and columnist for several English language magazines and had access to a large audience. I’d been writing children’s picture books for a very long time but had never subbed them; I thought it might be fun to publish my own picture book, as printing is so cheap in China and I’ve always adored book design.

So, I set out on a self-publishing journey—because I could—and it worked out very well for me. The first book was Riley and the Sleeping Dragon: A journey around Beijing, which followed the series’ photographic format, with and a little boy flying around in a little red plane, in this case looking for a sleeping dragon.

It was very much a home-made production. I took photos of a little tin plane I found at Panjiayuan antiques market, sourced an illustrator online and set about creating this book, which was hugely successful in the capital. I was in my third print run by the time we came home in 2009.

Essentially my goal was to take kids on a journey around that amazing city, but also give them subtle clues and reminders about the cultural aspects that comprise the city. The dragon, for example, ends up morphing from the Great Wall, ‘waking up to the world’, and so he was a metaphor for this strong, powerful, ancient country, opening its doors to the world during a momentous time in history (the 2008 Olympic Games).

In my mind, this first book was a personal memento for my own kids—and other expat kids—but it became much more than that, and you can imagine my surprise and delight when the book did well back home. The way this book was embraced was the kick-starter for a series of Riley books.

IMG_6554Q Riley’s journeys allow us to explore a number of fascinating locations with some suitably exotic characters including a splendid dragon and dazzling lion. Was it difficult deciding on the star of your latest book?

It was the easiest yet! Canberra residents enjoy the surreal reality of kangaroos hopping around their urban neighbourhoods—a reality we spend so much time trying to quash in the eyes of the rest of the world! So a kangaroo was, without question, the perfect animal for Riley to trail.

I had SO much fun with this character. She really is a hoot and I love how frantic she becomes while searching for something she’s lost. I also love the poignancy of the story’s ending. In this way, it’s the most emotional Riley book I’ve done.

Kieron PrattQ Did the character choices in Jumpy Kangaroo come first in this instance or the location where Riley’s adventure takes place?

The locations always come first. I do this because I want to choose locations that are famous but also interest children. I then take the character and place them in those locations, and—essentially—the characters are the ones who *show me/tell me what they’ll get up to at each stop. Roo’s reactions were brilliant, and I think kids will really relate to her high energy and kooky nature. (*via Kieron, the illustrator)

Q How important was it (for you) to include as much of Canberra’s sights, attractions and significant monuments in this book? Did you have to leave much out? I noticed there are no petrol stations featured in this tour. I never seem to notice any petrol stations in Canberra! Why is that? (Not a compulsory question)

Oh petrol stations—don’t start me. I only know of two. Thankfully, one is close-by but we’ve had to take diversions to Kingston on many an occasion. I’m guessing that’s because the capital is so teensy (anywhere in 25 minutes or less) so we don’t need to refill our tanks often??

The thing about Canberra, other than its petrol stations, is that it has so very, very much to see and do. I adore the city for that reason. So yes, much was left out of the book. I tried to include the Big Guns—Parliament, War Memorial, Lake Burley Griffin—but also sites that attract kids, like Questacon and the Zoo. I love the aerial shot in the book because that encompasses much that had to be left out!

 Q Amongst a myriad of other scintillating past times, you have a particular talent and penchant for photography. How many of the photographs used in the Riley series are yours? Was satisfying two loves at once, writing and shutter-bugging, a tricky thing to pull off?

I do love photography, and most photos in the Riley series are mine, though I had to source a few for Riley and the Grumpy Wombat because I couldn’t get to Melbourne to flesh out my catalogue of images. The Victorian Tourism Board helped in that regard.

My Handmade Living book was filled with my photography and my next book with the National Library features my photographs of children. I’m also working on some new picture book concepts which include photos. I love it and it’s never a chore!

RQ I love the occasional quirky references you include in the Jumpy Kangaroo along with the imaginative use of language. Confuddled had me chuckling from page one. Is your reference to R U OK ? a deliberate inclusion, subtly reminding us of the importance of checking in with friends and being mindful of their problems or just a lovely play on the vernacular for kids?

The R U OK? part in the book was a conscious addition … Riley is a rampant adventurer but hisunderlying modus operandi is that he really genuinely cares about each animal he seeks. Roo is indeed frantic in this book, and it’s his concern that forces him to trail her and attempt to help her out.

This caring nature is also reflected in the animal characters that come along for the ride (along with lots of quirk and humour). I think modern kids are so gorgeous and so talented but as the world gets smaller and smaller, they become more and more desensitised. I hope my books help them understand how important it is to care.

 T MC with friends Q Finally, if you could jump into Riley’s little red biplane and fly anywhere in the world, where would you go and why?

This changes all the time but right now it would be Boston or Ireland. Hmm … must be experiencing an Irish fetish. Not sure why. Maybe I’ve just spent too much time indoors at this computer and am desperate for a slice of green. I’ve also never visited either place, and I do love experiencing the new.

Q Additional bonus question: Is the blonde lady touting too many shopping bags along City Walk who I think it is?!

Yes! And the kids on the bench are my kids—the Real Riley and my ever-patient daughter Ella. My next series will feature her!

Thank you for sharing Riley, Roo and best of all Canberra with us Tania! Hope your blog tour is as thrilling a journey as the one you’ve given us with Riley and the Jumpy Kangaroo.

But wait, there’s even more!

Jumpy Roo Blog Tour The Jumpy Roo book launch is being held at Floriade this year! Anyone living in or visiting Canberra on 15 September is invited along, but RSVPs are essential if you want a goodie bag and balloon! You can find out more here. Can’t make the launch and want to read more? Then check out all of Tania’s great books available for purchase here.

You can also visit the Riley the Little Aviator website to see updates, learn more about the places Riley visits, and see behind-the-scenes work. There’s also some Fun Activities for kids.

Learn more about Tania at her website.

And don’t forget check out the Blog Tour Schedule for the rest of Riley’s exciting touch downs.

For full Blog Tour Schedule, head here.

Ford Street Publishing, an imprint of Hybrid Publishing August 2013



Review – Alice and the Airy Fairy

Alice and the Airy FairyThe rapidly expanding Little Rocket Series more than satisfies the insatiable reading appetites of confident readers, dishing up enticing junior fiction that most notably snags the fickle attention spans of boys. Alice and the Airy Fairy, the latest in the series, has a decidedly more girly flavour.

Packed with pretty pink girl appeal, the Airy Fairy is more than a whimsical tale about fairies. It’s a story steeped in sensitivity, family relationships and the power of believing.

Alice’s second cousin, Mary, is coming to stay with them. Mary is a little eccentric and a touch mystical. She plays the flute in the middle of the night and prefers to sleep out in her ‘old blue campervan’. All of which Alice’s Dad sums up as being an ‘airy fairy’.

Alice is entranced by Mary’s presence and being a great believer in fairies herself, tries very hard to get Mary to divulge more of her ‘fairy-ness’. But the deeper she and her best friend Zoe, delve, the more inconsistencies they discover, including the revelation that all is not well in Mary’s world. She is sadder than a fairy ought to be for one; evident in her wrenching paintings, her droopy wings and her pensive music. And she can’t even remember where she left her magic wand.

BlobsAs the lines between fairy-dom and reality become as increasingly blurred and misshapen as one of Mary’s blue blob paintings, Alice and Zoe attempt to get to the bottom of Mary’s malaise and missing wand. The wand is eventually found but no amount of magical incantations issued by them is able to release its magic.

Frustrated but not defeated, Alice convinces her father to transport a selection of Mary’s abstract paintings to the Art Gallery where she was due to exhibit them. Mary is unable to do so herself because of an unplanned visit to the hospital.

In a comical turn of events, Mary’s paintings prove so popular the gallery curator asks for more to sell, which Dad dubiously concedes to. Only the first set of paintings weren’t actually Mary’s. They were the mistakenly delivered, genius brushstrokes of Bonnie, Alice’s baby sister.

But it’s not art that saves the day or even stubborn magic. It’s Alice’s unshakeable belief in Mary that finally enables her to refocus on where her true worth and value lies.

I love how Alice’s naively bejewelled determination is able to cut through diversity and adult opinion to help someone she genuinely believes in.

Margaret ClarkVeteran children’s writer Margaret Clark has created an enchanting story that encourages young readers to question everyday norms. She sprinkles just enough speculation throughout each short, easy to read chapter to ensure Alice and the Airy Fairy is as easy to love as fairy dust but is still one hundred per cent plausible, while sending a gentle reminder for us to be kind to and aware of each other.

Emma Stuart Emma Stuart’s touching illustrations add even more colour and joy to an already joyful read. And in case you are ever in the need of one; there are even instructions on how to make a magic wand. Fantabulous!

Whether you’re into fairies and Kombis (and who isn’t?) or not, Alice and the Airy Fairy is sure to charm the wings off you, especially if you are 7 – 10 years old.

Little Rockets by New Frontier Publishing July 2013


On My Bedside Table – # 2

Bedside table 2Does your bedside table feature nothing more than a sedate, sleek bedside lamp and the latest eReader? Or is an outrageous collection of self-help, kids’ lit, how-to, YA, book club, must-review-reads piled unceremoniously on top of each like mine?

I tried reading one book at a time. Found it just wasn’t for me. I now prefer the heady experience of flitting from one world to another. It’s a little chaotic and bewildering at times I admit. But the crazy excitement of reading so many varying titles simultaneously keeps me entertained and enlightened beyond words. It’s a bit like heading down Edgware Road, atop a London double-decker bus, at night. Boisterous, sublime, sensory saturation. You really should try it sometime.

Here are a few more our brightest and best Aussie authors who have and are…

Angela Sunde ~ Gold Coast based children’s author and illustrator of picture books, short stories and Pond Magic, with a strong penchant for apples.

A Small Free Kiss in the DarkI’m currently reading A Small Free Kiss in the Dark, by Glenda Millard. A beautiful evocative voice which reminds me of Morris Gleitzman’s ‘Then’ series. It could possibly be one of my favourite books.

I am re-reading the Puzzle Ring, by Kate Forsyth, looking carefully at structure this time.

I’m also reading Pen on Fire, by Barbara DeMarco-Barrett – a busy woman’s guide to igniting the writer within.

At the top of my teetering ‘to be read’ pile are: Citadel by Kate Mosse and The Wild Girl by Kate Forsyth.

On my coffee table you will find Advanced Style by Ari Seth Cohen. This is a photo book based on Cohen’s blog, Advanced Style. The images portray fabulous women and men of New York who are all silver-haired individualists. I find it inspiring and also a useful reference for characters.

Also on the coffee table is Australian Voices, edited by Ariana Klepac and John Thompson. It is a collection of extracts from diaries, letters, photos and recollections, ranging from the First Fleet to the Great War. There is a story waiting to be written on every page.

And there are many more….

Kate Forsyth ~ internationally best-selling, award-winning author of adult fiction and children’s literature from picture books to fantasy novels, with a strong penchant for fairy tales.

WonderstruckI’m reading ‘Enchanted April’ by Elisabeth von Arnim at present, and then I have on my bedside table to read:

‘Scarlet in the Snow‘ by Sophie Masson

‘The Ashford Affair’ by Lauren Willig

‘Chalice’ by Robin McKinley

‘The Fault in Our Stars‘ by John Green

Dark Road to Darjeeling‘ by Deanna Raybourne

‘Wonder Struck’ by Brian Selznick

I may not read them in this order.

Tania McCartney ~ acclaimed children’s author, editor, publisher and reviewer, with a strong penchant for photography and raspberries.

Eric Vale, Epic Fail: Super Male by Michael Gerard Bauer (Scholastic). I want to review this . . . if I can prise it out of my son’s monkey grip.

Warp: The Reluctant Assassin by Eoin Colfer (Puffin). I am most embarrassed to admit I’ve never read any of Colfer’s books; am desperate to read Artemis Fowl but I would need another week in my day in order to do this right now. So, until then, I am determined to read and review this first book in the WARP series for Kids’ Book Review.

Riley and the Jumpy Kangaroo: A journey around Canberra by Tania McCartney (Ford Street). My first advance copy. I literally haven’t had time to go through it yet!

1599: A year in the life of William Shakespeare by James Shapiro (Faber + Faber). It’s a very patient book. It’s been sitting on my bedside table unopened for about six months.

Storyteller: The Life of Roald Dahl by Donald Sturrock (Harper Press). Andy Griffiths recommended this to me but don’t tell him I haven’t even started it yet. It’s calling to me . . ..

What's Wrong With the Wobbegong What’s Wrong with the Wobbegong? by Phillip Gwynne, illustrated by Gregory Rogers. It’s not out till June so I can’t review it yet, but I just need to keep Gregory Rogers close right now


Review – The Fearsome, Frightening, Ferocious Box

The Fearsome Frightening Ferocious BoxDo you remember those Magic Eye (random dot autostereograms) 3D puzzles of the late 80s? The ones where if you stare long and hard enough at them and go into a cross-eyed kind of trance, you’d mysteriously see a world or picture in unimaginable depth and detail? Personally, I loved them and spent a lot of the early 90s staring into pages of pixelated patterns.

David Legge and Frances WattsThe Fearsome, Frightening, Ferocious Box is reminiscent of these puzzles but in a much better, beguiling way. This picture book by the team that brought us Kisses for Daddy and Captain Crabclaw’s Crew, invites you to think deep, look hard and be brave!

It all begins innocently enough. One day an innocuous looking box appears. No one knows where it comes from. No one knows what is inside. And of course not knowing is the spur of all great endeavours; as any child will tell you; curiosity must be sated at all costs and in this case, that means the box must be opened.

Monkey is the first to attempt it but is thwarted when the box begins to moan. A spine chilling couple of stanzas provide clues as to the potential occupant of the box and is followed by a cautionary, ‘open the box if you dare’ warning. This becomes the box’s mantra and pattern of riddles throughout the book.

We are also advised that our eyes may play tricks on us and that in each of the illustrations accompanying the riddle, the occupant could be one of six creatures secreted therein.

This is where the fun starts. Finding all six of the illusive animals artfully hidden within the scenes is harder than you’d imagine. It took the eyes of two adults and one seven year old to locate each of the animals and I’m ashamed to say, in spite of years of Magic Eye practise, I’m still searching for some! The animals are not in random dot stereograms by the way but hidden as craftily.

Frances WattsThe Fearsome, Frightening, Ferocious Box is utterly compelling. While I found alternating use of rhyming verse and animal narrative a little jarring at times, Frances Watts is spot on with her use of descriptive clues and creates the perfect amount of suspense and tension to keep readers guessing and searching. Watts cleverly guides us through a myriad of scenes from the wetlands, arid desert wastelands, woodland forests and even the Arctic ice floes, as we attempt to find the answer.

The fantastically detailed illustrations of David Legge allows us to linger in each scene, exploring the environment of the creatures who lurk and dwell within at least until we discover them. The drawings are bold, expressive and panoramic in their design and feel. I love the textured, stippled effect used throughout the book too, which gives the characters more tactile warmth.

As each riddle emitted from the box is solved, the creature portrayed steps up to be the one brave enough and fearsome enough to open the box. But none of them quite cuts the mustard especially when faced with a warning from the box that it will attack if they dare open it.

It finally dawns on our crew of beasties that they are collectively terrifying in their own right and if they open the box together, they will outmatch whatever is inside.

Now I’m not going to divulge the box’s contents. You’ll have to puzzle that one out for yourself. But if you are a fan of Parsley Rabbit, you are going to adore The Fearsome, Frightening, Ferocious Box and its chuckle out loud ending. My seven year old certainly did.

This is more than a simple picture book. It’s a gripping, enigmatically visual, educational experience. It’s a journey through the diversity of our natural world and the creatures that inhabit it. It’s Deadly 60 meets Graeme Base.

Does curiosity finally kill the cat? Open The Fearsome, Frightening, Ferocious Box and find out for yourself.

Recommended for the very brave of heart and 5 to 50 year olds.

ABC Books, HarperCollins Publishers Australia 2013

And just for fun:

Magic Eye Mental floss

Review – Where Are You, Banana?

Where are you BananaEver had a little buddy you just can’t live without? A certain something or someone that insinuates itself so deeply into your heart that to be without it would be like losing part of yourself? Pets especially imbue a certain sticky charm and no pet wheedles our affection better than the humble dog. This is exactly what, Roddy, the young star of Allen & Unwin’s latest picture book release, Where Are You, Banana? encounters when a pooch named Banana joins his family.

Banana and Roddy share an intimate history together. Banana was Roddy’s first word. He is Roddy’s constant companion, a devoted playmate and supreme guardian. But Banana is not without his shortcomings. One of the slight disadvantages of being so close to something is that it makes letting it go all the more difficult. Banana’s obsessive dependency results in a trail of chewed possessions, one very irate neighbour and the banning of visits to Aunt Celia, whose chooks Banana has an unhealthy predilection for.

The tale tangles when Roddy leaves Banana alone with nothing more than a bone and his own devices one day when they are at Aunt Celia’s. Her new chicks are a short-lived novelty and can’t quite stop Roddy from making mental promises to the dog he feels he has abandoned. He can’t wait to return home and make amends but when the family return, Banana is nowhere to be found.

In spite of everyone’s constant reassurances, Roddy begins to worry, a lot. The house bereft of Banana’s presence, is eerily empty. Roddy is disconsolate. Unable to sleep, he sets out to look for his dog by himself. What follows is a marvellous example of simple ingenuity and heart-warming humanity.

Sofie LagunaWhere Are You, Banana? Is an absorbing little adventure by highly acclaimed, award winning author Sofie Laguna. Laguna’s frank first person narrative weaves a story that is easy to read, easy to like and perfect to share with the whole family.

Craig Smith Craig Smith’s animated watercolour illustrations leave us in no doubt as to how excruciating it can be searching for something you’ve loved and lost. They are just the right mix of whimsy and pull-at-your-heart cute.

If you’ve ever lost a pet, even for a short time, or misplaced a beloved object, then this picture book will strike an emotive chord. Children often feel these kinds of losses in the most dramatic of ways. And indeed, this tale resonates with ‘child-trapped-down-a-well’ drama and appeal. Thankfully, Where Are You, Banana? ends happily, reinforcing the feel-good notion that tenacity and love really do triumph over adversity.

Just right for 3 – 6 year olds.

A lovely addition to this hardcover edition is the QR code inside the book’s cover. Readers can scan the code for a free audio reading, ideal for playtime and bedtime. Or they can click on the Allen & Unwin website.

Craig IllustratingMeet Sofie and watch Craig draw images from this book at the launch for Where Are You, Banana? this Saturday 6th July at Readings St Kilda, Victoria 10.30 am. Check here for details.




Double Dipping Reviews – A Book about Scary & Wanda and Dragonfly and their night-time adventure

This week’s double whammy review hails from innovative Aussie publishers, The Five Mile Press and addresses two common childhood dilemmas; refusing to go to bed and stuff that scares you.

A book about ScaryWhen I see the names Danny Katz and Mitch Vane together, my mouth twitches involuntarily into a smile. But this is A Book about Scary. So should I be feeling fearful instead of funny?

The premise is delightfully simple; everyone is scared of something. So what’s your biggest fear? Katz artfully leads us through a tidy alphabetical listing of some of the more common childhood terrors; clowns, dogs, needles as well as some not so common; quacking ducks! (Actually my toddler was terrified of the quacking toilet duck ads for years). And Katz hits the nail on the head every time. How many of us have had to resort to sugar-coated food bribes to tempt a trembling toddler onto the escalator? And why does the monster in the plughole that drinks up kids’ bath water have to sound so scary?

Danny KatzKatz tackles these curly questions with style and wit using the exact tone and voice any five year old would when faced with validating their fears. When a scary situation requires a little more explanation, Katz luxuriates in two to three pages of it, often concluding in a concise and comical one-liner; ‘clowns are pretty funny’ and ‘yummm’ – poor devoured moth.

Mitch Vane Mitch Vane’s self-confessed ‘wonky and messy’ illustrations add a fabulous sense of playfulness and just enough silliness to reassure young readers that fear is really just a state of mind.

I could hardly believe we’d covered twenty-six fears so fast. Luckily the end pages reconfirm it is ok to be frightened of something every so often, just as Katz and Vane are, and feature even more scary stuff. There’s even a generous space left for readers to draw what scares them most. Brilliant! But my 7 year old already beat me to that one.

Even if you already know your ABCs and have conquered most of your fears, A Book about Scary, will have 2 – 5 year olds trembling with laughter and agreement, and you smiling with quiet appreciation.


Wanda and Dragonfly Anna Hymas’s, Wanda and Dragonfly and their night-time adventure, explores the nocturnal world of Wanda and her favourite toy, Dragon, who is really a dragonfly. Wanda thinks the world is far too exciting to waste on sleep and she’s right.

When counting sheep fails, Wanda and brave Dragon forsake slumber and decide to take a night-time rocket flight around the universe. They stop by the moon, shoot past stars and after burning their thumbs near the sun, return to Earth to discover yet more strange and wonderful lands.

Deeply satisfied with her expedition, Wanda is not surprised to wake from a sound night’s sleep and discover a new friend in her bed secreted from ‘the land of others’.

Anna HymasThis is a whimsical little tale richly illustrated yet with an economical and subdued palette that will encourage children with aversions to going to bed that sleep can be as wondrous as wakefulness.

Good to read with 3 – 5 year olds.

The Five Mile Press –  Both picture books available now.



Doodles and Drafts – A Blog Tour Adventure with The Littlest Bushranger

I was one of those horsey girls as a kid. Loved them. Couldn’t accept parents’ refusal to keep one of them in our backyard. So I transformed my trusty bike – the one with the chopper-style handlebars – and the dog’s leather lead into the best little mare you could imagine. I actually steered the bike around for months using those ‘reins’; through pitted canons and deeply wooded forests (our backyard was large and varied in landscape).

The Littlest bushranger_FRONT COVERImagination. It’s every kid’s greatest gift and most alluring asset. And Alison Reynolds’s and Heath McKenzie’s latest picture book, The Littlest Bushranger, celebrates it in style.

The Reynolds’ / McKenzie team, with over 150 titles between them, are fast becoming a force to be reckoned with and one of my favourite picture book artist combinations.

The Littlest Bushranger is a snap shot of Jack’s first day alone without his older sister Lil, who has just started school. His day becomes anything but ordinary as he is forced to navigate through frightening terrain and outwit the crafty Outlaw in pursuit of Lil’s prized treasure.

The Littlest BushrangerThis adrenaline-charged adventure is slightly more robust and male orientated than Reynolds’s and McKenzie’s previous book, A Year with Marmalade, however it is bounding with exhilarating movement and irrepressible charm. I especially love the tactile cover and the intelligent use of perspective and colour to accentuate the drama and action of Jack’s pursuit. His steely-eyed companions; his spirited steed and ‘gang member’ Hector, are as impressively heroic as Jack who valiantly earns his title as The Littlest Bushranger.

Ideal for 3 – 6 year olds and anyone who believed their bike was the best horse ever, like me.

Alison ReynoldsTo celebrate this thrilling new release, I am joining the adventure with Alison on her Blog Tour of The Littlest Bushranger. Mount up and see what she has to say…

Q Alison, you have written dozens of books for small children and younger readers. Do you enjoy creating picture books?

I love writing picture books. The connection between words and illustrations really interests me, and how you can use both to convey ideas.

What makes them harder or easier than other genres you like to write in?

It’s harder as every word is crucial. It’s easier because picture books are shorter than some other genres.

Q What was your inspiration for this story?

I saw a bird hopping on a railing near our dog, Molly and then my imagination rambled.

Q I love the choice of Jack’s imagery persona – a fearless bushranger. Why bushranger vs. your usual sword-wielding pirate or knight?

My publisher, The Five Mile Press, suggested a bushranger book. Maybe the next books could be pirates and knights.

Q Does Jack’s situation parallel your life as a child in anyway?

I started school a year later than my friends and neighbours because my birthday was after the magic cut-off point. I can remember playing at home, until they returned. I used to spend a lot of time running around on my hobby horse.

Have you ever had to reclaim a stolen treasure and face your direst fear?

Think I was more likely to purloin the treasure myself. Once when visiting my mother’s friend I spied a very special embroidered hand towel, apparently there was a flush and no more hand towel.

Q What was the most memorable imaginary world you visited when you were Jack’s age?

My friends and I played a game called boots. This consisted of us wearing my big sisters’ much too big boots and racing around the backyard playing chasey and I think spies were involved. In our backyard my dad cut the branches of the plum tree so they supported a plank. This became at different times a stage coach, flying saucer and police car. We were very versatile!

Q What was the hardest part of bringing The Littlest Bushranger to reality?

Coming up with a story of a bushranger for that age group. I didn’t want guns but decided a sword/broom was okay.

What was the easiest?

Having Heath McKenzie as an illustrator makes everything easier. If there’s a bit of writing that won’t work, I’ve realised that I probably don’t need it and Heath will illustrate it instead!

Q What advice would you give anyone else wanting to write a picture book?

Play with words, cut, revise, cut. And do illustrations that no one need ever see, but by doing this you can check that each page can be illustrated and it can clarify what you are trying to say.

Heath McKenzieQ Was the choice to involve the uber-talented Heath McKenzie again to illustrate this book yours or just an unbelievably marvellous strike of good fortune (and decision making)?

The Five Mile Press matched me with Heath again and I feel very lucky!

Q Do Heath’s illustrations represent what was originally in your head when you first conceived the idea for The Littlest Bushranger?

Heath somehow captured what was in my head, and created something even better by adding his own ideas. When it came to the outlaw/monster I wrote in the illustration brief, “Heath go wild” – and he did! I would never have come up with such a wonderful creation!

TLB spread 2How do you think they have helped bring the story to life?

I think they work in direct partnership with the words and tease them out into something very special. I especially love Hector the dog!

Q Other than writing, what other past times do you like to indulge in – say like horse-riding?

I have a rocking horse from when I was Jack, the littlest bushranger’s, age. That’s the extent of my riding apart from my hobby horse that I loved. I’ve watched a whip cracking contest, but haven’t tried it. And I don’t really like Irish jigs and Scottish reels. So think I would be a very bad bushranger!

Thanks Alison for inviting me along on this fantastic, white-knuckle quest!

Thanks, Dimity for having me!!!

Join the gang and continue to be part of the adventure. Here are the rest of the dates for Alison’s Tour. Don’t forget the competition either. There are some wicked prizes on offer. Thanks for riding with us.

June 11 Kat Apel

June 12 Chris Bell

June 13 Angela Sunde

June 17 Interview with Melinda Beaumont

June 18 Dee White

June 19 Kids Book Review

June 20 Interview with Melissa Keil.

June 21 Heath McKenzie and Alison Reynolds interviewed by Juliet Chan, Marketing & Publicity Executive.

Monster Competition Watch out for prizes – so good they should be outlawed! These include a piece of Heath McKenzie’s amazing artwork from The Littlest Bushranger.

There are a couple of monsters in The Littlest Bushranger. One’s a bunyip, and the other an outlaw/monster who steals Lil’s telescope.

What sort of monster do you like? Send along a painting/drawing/model of a monster and you could win a piece of Heath McKenzie’s amazing artwork for The Littlest Bushranger.

Upload your best monster to or email it as a low res jpeg file to [email protected]  and we’ll upload it. If you don’t have a scanner, take a photo on a smart phone and email that!

Two categories. Under 12 and 12 plus including grown-ups. Entries close 25th June!

Jump the Slush Pile!
Win a free pass to an adult non-fiction commissioning editor’s desk. Just comment on this blog post or any other blog during the Littlest Bushranger book tour and add the initials NF. The more you comment, the more chances you have to win the draw.
Keep you eyes peeled for other prizes along the ride including a picture book assessment by Alison Reynolds, 2 free passes direct to an editor’s desk (you get to skip the slush pile), and copies of The Littlest Bushranger. Just comment on the posts. Simple!

The Five Mile Press June 2013


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: 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