Farewell, so long . . . + introducing Dimity Powell

In case you hadn’t worked it out yet, one of my favourite things to do in the whole wide world, is read. And because I simply can’t help myself, I also love to talk to others about what I’m reading. This is why I review. I simply love to review . . . but I also love to write – and the creative powers that be {ie: my brain + heart} have made recent writing demands that are now outstripping my ability to review. This means that – with much regret – I am moving on from the Boomerang Books Blog in order to dedicate even more time to my craft.

I have simply adored my time with the fabulous, book-loving team at Boomerang. I have managed to accumulate an even larger library of books {if that’s at all possible} thanks to Boomerang’s stunning catalogue of highly-addictive titles, and I have so enjoyed bringing you news, reviews and interviews – from board books to YA.

I am leaving the children’s book part of this fabulous blog in the very capable hands of Queensland-based author Dimity Powell, whose adoration for literature and the written word will shine through in her posts. That’s Dim {above right} with me at my book launch in Brisbane earlier this year and she is quite simply the perfect person to bring you kids’ book news. I know you will love her as much as I do.

Wishing you all a blissful festive season and an intensely bookish 2013. I will be going on a long-yearned-for trip with my family at the end of the year, and will then be throwing myself into a series of books I’m very excited about. You can see what I’m up to at www.taniamccartney.com {with links to my blog, facebook, twitter, instagram, etc} and of course, I’ll still be active at Kids Book Review.

Thank you so much for following along – I hope you’ve had as much fun as I have.

Happy reading!

Five Very Bookish Questions with author Sheryl Gwyther

Today is my second-last day at Boomerang Books – tomorrow I shall introduce my sensational new replacement! – but until then, it feels very fitting to feature Sheryl Gwyther in my last Very Bookish Questions. Sheryl is a talented, beautiful writer with a deep passion for children’s literature and literacy. She is also a dear and supportive friend. I hope you enjoy this wonderful peek into her bookish world.

1. Which genre of children’s books do you like most and why?

Tricky question. I’m like a Will o’the Wisp … slipping between genres to whatever takes my fancy. At the moment, I’m into fantasy – YA fantasy, with the books of Juliet Marillier, in particular, Son of the Shadows (glorious, gripping story that I can’t put down). I also love stories for the 9-13 age group – after all, it’s for this age I most love writing.

2. Which books did you love to read as a young child?

Adventure, and fantasy too! Like The Secret Seven and The Famous Five, and the Narnia series, The Hobbit, and being a precocious reader that I was, those huge books of James Michener‘s from my mother’s bookshelf – didn’t understand a lot of what was going on in them, luckily!

3. Which three attributes make for a great children’s book?

Characters that make you fall in love with them. A plot that never falters. Words that force your imagination into overdrive. Philip Pullman’s The Subtle Knife; Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by JK Rowling; Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book (suitable for older children).

4. What is your number one tip for encouraging children to read?

Show them by example how enjoyable reading can be; read to them and make it interesting; make the weekly trip to the library a time of excitement and pleasure.

5. Name three books you wish you’d written.

Ha, that’s easy! As well as all of the above in question three, I choose Michael Gerard Bauer’s The Running Man and Jonathan Stroud’s The Golem’s Eye, and Fox, a picture book by Margaret Wild and illustrated by Ron Brooks – it’s my favourite picture book of all time for its sparse, heart-rending storytelling and for Brooks’ brilliant art work. With an artist eye, I’ve examined with forensic detail the skilled techniques of his mark-making, right back to the ground he laid before he touched it with colour. Brooks is a master of his art.

About Sheryl

A children’s author from Brisbane, Sheryl writes novels, school plays, short stories and articles for children’s magazines, chapter books for educational publishers, and the odd ‘flash-fiction’ for adults. She’s the Assistant Regional Advisor for SCBWI Qld, and is also on the Board of Directors of the Australian Society of Authors. Her awards include two ASA awards (both before she became a director!) and a May Gibbs Literature Trust Fellowship.


Review – My Big Photo Activity Book

In the vein of Herve Tullet, this stunning, large-format activity book is stellar quality for kids who are serious about their art. And squiggles. Author/illustrator Pascale Estellon has created a stunner of a book that’s as much a coffee table tome as it is a magnificent stack of pages designed to send your child’s creativity into overdrive.

Featuring a plethora of photos and squiggles to make anyone smile, kids are invited to first turn a scouring pad and a sponge into an animal. They are then invited to draw the other half of photographed faces. They are invited to fill in the gaps between fox ears and some ruby red lips. They can make a class photo out of rubber band heads and decorate shop bags and t-shirts. They can even create book covers.

Let me at it!

Many will be tempted to sit this gorgeous book in the centre of glass coffee table for much admiring – and not much else. Before reviewing it, my 12-year-old daughter begged to start scribbling and sticking. When told she’d need to wait – her response? “What’s the point of a book like this unless you can use it?”

Indeed. I guess I have to get over it.

My Big Photo Activity Book is published by Thames & Hudson.


Review – Unbored: The Essential Field Guide to Serious Fun

Got bored kids? Unbelievable, right? I don’t remember being bored as a kid and that’s probably because I spent my childhood doing many of the fabulous, creative, imagination and soul/brain/heart/body fulfilling things in this book. Admittedly, most of them were less high-tech versions! but they were creative nonetheless.

I’m not saying I wouldn’t have loved the opportunity to make green screen short films from an iPad or travel the world on my PC, but we still can’t underestimate the benefits and sheer enjoyment of free play. Although many of these ideas do incorporate technology (how could they not?) the projects still give kids free licence to use their brains in a way they may not usually enjoy.

In Unbored, authors Joshua Glenn and Elizabeth Foy Larsen open their impressive tome with a quote by Mark Frauenfelder – Use the world, or the world will use you. Indeed, kids are quickly encouraged to get busy with it – in a series of wonderful ideas, broken down into four chapters – You, Home, Society and Adventure.

In You, kids can indulge in such delights as making LED graffiti and geyser rockets. They can train the adult in their life to be a ninja. They can partake in freaky fitness or farting games.

In Home, they can live in a tree or learn about architectural styles and details. They can learn how to short sheet a bed or decoupage a skateboard.

In Society, they can eliminate bullying, learn some cool counting-out games, read up on banned books they really must read, and how to tell politicians what they think.

In Adventure, readers will love learning about Cryptozoology (don’t ask), garden science, geocaching and how to disguise themselves.

And much, much, much more.

This is a treasure trove of a book, spattered with fascinating insight and information that will readily sate the natural curiosity of kids. And the best thing of all is that adults will love learning from and partaking in these super cool ideas, too. Well, other than the farting games. Maybe?

Philanthropic, creative, smart, interesting – this is a book all kids should own. And use.

Unbored: The Essential Field Guide to Serious Fun is published by Bloomsbury. Recommended for kids 10+.

New Release Picture Books

Looking for some new-release picture books to stash away for the Christmas stocking? This gorgeous selection will delight both kids and adults with a wide range of themes, striking illustrations and stories to touch the heart or tickle the funny bone. Enjoy!

Tree: A little story about big things by Danny Parker and Matt Ottley

(Little Hare)

Henry is a small sapling who grows into a big strong tree under the protection of an even bigger and stronger tree. But then comes the longest night with drenching waters and howling winds, and the biggest and strongest tree falls. Henry is alone and his heart is hollow until he hears the small voice of a new sapling growing amongst his strong roots.

What’s the Time, Mr Wolf? by Debi Gliori


Accompany Mr Wolf as he goes about his daily routine from breakfast to bedtime – and get to know the real Mr Wolf. Little ones will enjoy recognising familiar faces from a plethora of nursery rhymes, including Little Red Riding Hood (masquerading as the post girl), three cheeky little pigs (who make prank calls), a cat who’s a dab hand at the fiddle, plus four and twenty blackbirds. Beautiful artwork reveals something new with every reading.

It’s Not Fairy by Ros Asquith

(Frances Lincoln Children’s Books)

The It’s Not Fairy flaps round all night, sorting out what’s wrong or right. But there’s so many kids saying it’s not fair – she’s ranting and raving and tearing her hair. Billy and Mary say they don’t believe in the It’s Not Fairy – but that’s before she turns up at their house! This is a wonderful, hilarious fantasy starring a very feisty fairy on a mission, which will have the whole family laughing out loud.

Poopendous! by Artie Bennett and Mike Moran

(Blue Apple)

Rhyming couplets feature Professor Poopdeck and two young friends as he takes them on a poop safari. Words for poop (guano, number two, ca-ca), its forms and styles (cubes, tubular, wet and dry) and myriad uses (souvenirs, a means of tracking and marking, housing insulation, food, fertilizer, fuel) are all conveyed with humor and a certain demand for respect. It’s a book that says: Don’t just flush this stuff away! While it may dismay and stink, there’s more to this stuff than you might think.

Looking for Rex by Jan Ormerod and Carol Thompson

(Little Hare)

Gramps longs for a dog. All of his grandchildren agree. They decide his name should be Rex. But, where to find Rex? And what does Rex look like? Gramps plays along with their game of ‘Looking for Rex’. They point out dogs on their way home from school – but none of them are Rex. They are too small, too big, too
smelly… Why can’t they find the right Rex?

The Captain Pugwash Comic Book Collection by John Ryan

(Frances Lincoln Children’s Books)

This great value paperback collection brings together three classic stories about the much loved bumbling pirate told in comic book format. In the style of Tintin and Asterix, these stories will delight all Captain Pugwash fans as well as make a fantastic introduction to the cowardly captain, his greedy crew, their deadly rival Cut-throat Jake and the clever cabin boy Tom.

Marty’s Nut-Free Party by Katrina Roe and Leigh Headstrom

(Wombat Books)

Marty loved to party. At every party, Marty was the first to arrive and the last to leave. That was before Marty found out that peanuts make him sick. Really sick. Parties aren’t so much fun for Marty now that he keeps ending up in hospital. How can Marty and his friends make their parties safe and fun for everybody?



Five Very Bookish Questions with author Peter Taylor

Which genre of childrens books do you like most and why?

Picture books – because those for young children are written to be a true delight for an adult to read out loud as a performance. I miss sharing them with my son and daughter, now in their 20s, but I do love reading picture books to other peoples children whenever possible and the pictures can be seen pictures as well, which are hugely important.

I could give a long list of favourites – Old Tom’s Holiday by Leigh Hobbs, Gordon’s Got a Snookie by Lisa Shanahan and Wayne Harris, Mummies are Amazing by Catriona Hoy and Annie White, the classic Fancy That by Pamela Allen – how many pages worth do you want?

And I’m equally fond of those written for older children – Mending Lucille by Jennifer Poulter and Sarah Davis, Do Not Forget Australia by Sally Murphy and Sonia Kretchmar, Photographs in the Mud by Dianne Wolfer and Brian Harrison-Lever, Winston of Churchill: One Bears Battle Against Global Warming by Jean Davies Okimoto and Jeremiah Trammell.

Which books did you love to read as a young child?

I can’t remember being surrounded by a wide variety of picture books, but I do have fond memories of reading – Beatrix Potter’s books, the Rev. Awdry’s Thomas the Tank Engine series, Enid Blyton’s The Secret Seven books and the Jennings series by Anthony Buckeridge and William series by Richmal Crompton. And children’s encyclopeadias.

I think I also had a fascination for the most dreadful children’s book ever written in the whole history of literature – Struwwelpeter by Dr. Heinrich Hoffmann, written and first printed for his 3-year-old son in 1845, and its still being re-published and re-printed. I believe there is a whole museum dedicated to it in Frankfurt.

Which three attributes make for a great childrens book?

There are more factors than these, but for young children:

1. A hook within the first two pages – the main character is not yet aware of it, but the reader knows that there’s going to be a major problem or trouble of some kind – A Year with Marmalade, the very new and wonderful book by Alison Reynolds and Heath McKenzie, and Old Tom books by Leigh Hobbs.

2. The character solves the problem by their action or making changes (the problem is not solved by an adult), leading to a happy ending. Ruby Roars by Margaret Wild and Kerry Argent.

3. Surprises. If you haven’t read Gordon’s Got a Snookie by Lisa Shanahan and Wayne Harris I wont spoil any surprises – but its also funny, poignant, fabulous to read, things happen in threes, there’s repetition, the ending relates to the beginning… I better not go any further past 3. Oops!

What is your number one tip for encouraging children to read?

I don’t have a perfect answer. When two children are treated identically and have the same experiences, one may end up a keen reader and the other reluctant. So, I’ll say don’t discourage a child from reading what they enjoy, even if you think they should read something else. Just let them enjoy reading.

I have always read more non-fiction and poetry for pleasure than novels. As a young child, I most wanted to read facts. By 11 years old I could have passed biology exams designed for 16-year-olds. At 13, I read all Gerald Durrell‘s adventures in exploring African jungles and Corfu, and books about mountaineering feats and conquests – still good stories.

Name three books you wish you’d written.

How many possibilities are there apart from the obvious, like works of Shakespeare, or any recent picture book (I’m still trying to write one that editors like enough to publish)?

1. Relearning the Alphabet by Denise Levertov – poetry I keep revisiting.

And I love page-turners, so:

2. Any book by Geraldine Brooks – perhaps People of the Book

3. The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak.

About Peter

Peter Taylor is a writer and occasional illustrator who lives in Queensland. After qualifying as an ecologist and teacher, and studying printmaking, book arts and calligraphy, Peter initially taught science and art in schools. He completed a Diploma in Professional Children’s Writing in 1999 and has since been highly active in the world of children’s book organisations and publishing in Australia.

His third calligraphy book for older children and adults, his latest, Calligraphy for Greetings Cards and Scrapbooking was released in May 2012, but he also writes in other genres including umorous verse for the young (to appear shortly in an anthology), mid-grade and YA, and contributing the Science and Survival sections of 101 Things To Do Before You Grow Up. Peter gives talks and workshops that encourage people of all ages to read, write and be creative.




Review – The Man from the Land of Fandango

The recent loss of legendary Kiwi author Margaret Mahy made me realise something. I had never, ever read any of her books. So remiss of me because this beautiful picture book is testament to a long and glorious authorship I’d completely miss out on – until now.

The man from the land of Fandango is coming to pay you a call. That’s right. The man who’s given to dancing and dreams is on his way, decked out in his tri-colour jacket and polka-dot tie and his hat with a tassel and all. Whenever he dances, bison and bears join in. Baboons play bassoons. Kangaroos hop and bound, and even dinosaurs join in the din.

Rhythmic, dynamic and straddling that delicate balance between classic, old-fashioned storytelling and the use of a modern, totally unique writer’s voice, this gorgeous book has been illustrated by Polly Dunbar, who uses striking colour and movement to bring this delightful character and his young friends alive. I’m loving the use of delectable onomatopoeia in this book, as well as the curling, swirling typeface.

This adorable, energetic, rainbow-filled character only appears every five hundred years – so when he calls, you’d better make sure you’re home. Love.

The Man from the Land of Fandango is published by Frances Lincoln Children’s Books.


Five Very Bookish Questions with author/illustrator Katherine Battersby

1.      Which genre of children’s books do you like most and why? 

Trying to choose a favourite genre would be like asking me to choose a favourite dessert (I have a sweet tooth). When it comes to books I have a restless mind, so I read widely. I love so many different genres for different reasons. I love to laugh and cry and sigh and have my heart race and feel terror and desperation and longing and wistfulness all those things – these are the joys of sitting in another’s shoes through books.

I love picture books that are playful and yet still full of heart – Oliver Jeffers has to be my favourite creator, with books like How to Catch a Star and The Book Eating Boy. I love picture books that make me laugh (Mo Willems Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus‘) and ones that make me cry (Margaret Wild’s and Ron Brooks’ Fox). I love fantasy novels for younger readers like Isobelle Carmody’s Little Fur series. And I adore young adult books: my recent favourite is Glenda Millard’s stunning A Small Free Kiss in the Dark.

I can’t read while I’m writing a new story, so at the moment I have two novels waiting as rewards on my bookshelf for the day I finish: A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness and Sea Hearts by Margo Lanagan. The day I first open their pages, I will disappear into them and not emerge for several days . . .

2.      Which books did you love to read as a young child?

As an early teen, my mum started work quite early in the morning so I was often the first at school. I quickly learnt the only building open was the library, and would sit amongst the book shelves and pull down whatever looked interesting. I read everything from literary novels to thrillers, but my favourite quickly became fantasy.

I fell completely in love with Isobelle Carmody’s stories (starting with the Obernewtyn Chronicles). I also enjoyed real world teen novel with a twist – I adored John Marsden’s Tomorrow When the War Began‘ series. Plus, I liked things that were a bit strange and just a teensy bit dark, like the artwork of Brian Froud (who has put out several books).

3.      Which three attributes make for a great children’s book? 

An intriguing main character. A situation looked at differently. Heart.

Anything by Neil Gaiman perfectly captures this – favourite of mine being The Graveyard Book and Stardust. Also The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness – such a fascinating concept and at times absolutely heart stopping.

4.      What is your number one tip for encouraging children to read?

Let them choose their books. And take them to the library – that way they can experiment with what kind of books they like, and then in bookstores they’ll start to get more confident with knowing which section will hold their favourite books.

5.      Name three books you wish you’d written.

I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen. So clever and so cheeky!

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. Such stunning writing and I fell in love with each and every character. Oh . . . and boy did I cry.

Surrender by Sonya Hartnett. Dark but beautiful.

About Katherine

Katherine Battersby is the critically acclaimed children’s author and illustrator of Squish Rabbit, which was shortlisted for the 2012 Crichton Award and was released in Australia, the US, China and other countries. Her second picture book, Brave Squish Rabbit, came out in September, and she has had many short stories published in magazines and anthologies. She adores reading, rabbits and anime, and thinks exclamation marks are evil.



Review – The Dreadful Fluff

Oh my. Watch out. Belly button fluff is not reserved for the hygienically-challenged, no no. Even pink and perfect peeps like Serenity Strainer find the odd thatch of fluff in said navel – and sometimes, just sometimes, that little thatch can be . . . queue dramatic music . . .


That’s right. Meet Serenity’s evil belly button fluff. He’s bad and he’s hungry. And every time he ingests something, he grows exponentially. First, it’s the cat. Mm-mmm. Delish. Then it’s Mum. The only thing left are a pair of pink fluffy slippers.

Next it’s Serenity’s pimply older brother, Tug, headphones and all. Then, the Fluff sets his sights on the baby.

Nooo! Can Serenity stop that nasty ball of crud in its tracks?

Aaron Blabey’s characteristic dark, dry humour shines in this fabulous, action-packed and monsterly new picture book. His writer’s voice is yet again original and utterly child-friendly – with plenty of kid-guffaws guaranteed.

Kooky, vibrant illustrations round out a brilliant new addition to your picture book collection. Be prepped for repeat bedtime reads.

The Dreadful Fluff is published by Puffin.

Five Very Bookish Questions with author Oliver Phommavanh

Which genre of children’s books do you like most and why? 

I love humour because they’re wacky, weird and make kids laugh (which is very hard to do in books, hehe). Anything by Andy Griffiths is the perfect example, particularly the Just books. I based my first book Thai-riffic! on Andy’s formula of short stories about the same character.

Which books did you love to read as a young child?

I loved Paul Jennings’ Un books and Morris Gleitzman’s Blabber Mouth and Sticky Beak. Robin Klein’s Hating Alison Ashley is also a personal fave. I snapped up heaps of ‘choose your own adventure’ books too.

 Which three attributes make for a great children’s book? 

Humour, heart and grounded characters. My book Con-nerd has all three – haha. It’s about a boy who wants to be an artist but his mum wants him to be a doctor and study hard. While it’s a funny book, there are some interesting themes and issues being brought up in between jokes.

What is your number one tip for encouraging children to read?

Let the kids choose a book they want to read, even the ones that you make you squirm. Kids love the freedom of choice. There are books for every interest and/or hobby out there, so tap into your kids’ likes and lead them to books about that subject. For example, if your kid wants to learn how to be a stand up comedian, they should read my novel, Punchlines, which is about a boy who loves to make people laugh.

Name three books you wish you’d written.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney

Fantastic Mr Fox by Roald Dahl

Spud by John Van De Ruit

About Oliver

Oliver Phommavanh loves to make people laugh, whether it’s on the page writing humour for kids or on stage as a stand-up comedian. He also shares his passion for writing with the kids he teaches at a primary school in Western Sydney. As a comedian, Oliver has appeared on stage, and on national TV and radio. He has also appeared in the anthology, Growing Up Asian in Australia. He’s a die-hard Nintendo fan and cheers for the Wests Tigers! His books are Thai-riffic!, Con-nerd and Punchlines. His new book Thai-no-mite! explodes onto bookshelves this October. www.oliverwriter.com




Review – Today We Have No Plans

The life of a modern day family is buzzing and full to capacity – swimming lessons, practice for the spelling bee, signing the homework book, playing the violin, getting the grocery shopping done, working late . . . It’s a whirlwind of activity almost all of us know so well. Some of it is a chore. Lots of it is fun.

But when do we find time to stop? To pause? To just Be?

For the family in this gorgeous book, that day is Sunday. A day when the hands on the clock slow down. When mum says they’re not going out. They have no plans. There is nothing to do but . . .

Swing. Climb a tree. Wear pjs all day long. Build a cubby. Bake a cake. Notice all the little things. And plan on doing . . . nothing at all.

Jane Godwin has penned a book we can all relate to – especially our kids – and one that reminds us it’s the little things and the nowhere-to-be that can be the most fun of all.

Anna Walker’s typical stunning illustrations are beyond joyful, and perfectly complement the message in this book – from harried to peaceful, from paced to languorous – and the sheer delight of doing nothing much at all.

Today We Have No Plans is published by Penguin/Viking.

Review – Gorilla

Hannah simply adores gorillas. She begs her father to take her to the zoo to see her favourite animal, but Dad is always too busy. During the week he is too busy. On the weekends, he is too busy.

The night before Hannah’s birthday, she asks her father for a gorilla and when she wakes, she does indeed find a gorilla on the end of her bed. A toy gorilla. Hannah is disappointed, but that night, something magical happens.

The gorilla becomes Dad-sized.

And he dons Dad’s coat and he takes Hannah on a nighttime adventure – to the zoo – to see the gorillas and all the other primates encased behind bars – so beautiful and yet so utterly sad. And then to the cinema and then for cake and ice cream and then dancing on the lawn.

Hannah has never been so happy. Until the next morning . . .

Anthony Browne’s iconic illustrations beautifully highlight the inherent magic in making wishes come true. Gorilla is subtle, tender, whimsical and engagingly beautiful.

Gorilla is published by Walker Books.

Review – Australia’s Greatest Inventions and Innovations

Love a good inventions book, me, and this wonderful compilation of fascinating info had my heart racing. If it can do that to a comparably jaded adult, just imagine what it would to for kids.

Chris Cheng and Linsay Knight have put together an impressive catalogue of uniquely Aussie creations, sorted into categories like Communications and IT, Health, Household and Office, Leisure, Transport and Research. Each entry within these categories is introduced by way of a ‘problem’.

Problem: How to enable a profoundly deaf person to hear everyday sounds when hearing aids don’t work for them.

Solution: Cochlear Implant

Kids are then treated to a fascinating serve of info, explaining the inspiration behind each creation, its history, its function, who creates them, how they are made and how they benefit mankind. Diagrams and photographs add depth to the text, and give readers a unique view that may not have been seen before. I know I had never seen a chochlear implant up close and personal.

Australia’s Greatest Inventions and Innovations is a beautifully designed and well-laid-out book with colourful typeface and gorgeous design elements. It will attract both the young and jaded alike, and would make for a fascinating addition to both libraries – and the Christmas stocking.

Australia’s Greatest Inventions and Innovations was produced in association with the Powerhouse Museum and is published by Random House.

Favourite Vintage-Inspired Books

I’m a sucker for vintage books but I’m also loving modern books with that delectable retro edge. Here are some of my very favourite vintage-inspired children’s picture books. Leave a comment and let me know yours. You can see some of my favourite vintage books right here.

Next Stop Grand Central by Maira Kalman

At Grand Central Station, Chief of Police George Coppola finds lost people, and Mr. Chidchester, head of the Lost and Found, finds lost dogs. Marino Marino makes oyster stew, while thinking up interesting math problems. A man in a porkpie hat buys cherry pies. Maira Kalman’s stylized artwork, along with entertaining text, brilliantly captures the excitement of Grand Central Station, “the busiest, fastest, biggest place there is”.

Iggy Peck, Architect by Andrea Beaty and David Roberts

Iggy Peck has been building fabulous creations since he was two. His parents are proud of their son, though sometimes surprised by some of Iggy’s more inventive creations (like the tower he built out of used diapers). When a new second grade teacher declares her dislike of architecture, Iggy faces a challenge. He loves building too much to give it up! With Andrea Beaty’s irresistible rhyming text and David Roberts’ unique and stylish illustration, this book will charm creative kids everywhere.

Stop Snoring, Bernard! by Zachariah Ohoroa

Bernard loves curling up to go to sleep. But there is one little problem. Bernard snores…LOUDLY! So loudly that he keeps all of the otters awake during naptime. So loudly that Grumpy Giles tells Bernard to move his snoring somewhere else!Sad and lonely, Bernard tries sleeping in new places far away from the other otters: in a lake, in puddles, in a fountain. But no matter where he tries to nap, somebody complains. He just wants to hear two words: “Goodnight, Bernard!”

A Walk in London by Salvatore Rubbino

A wide-eyed girl and her mother explore London’s busy streets and towering views in this child-friendly tribute to an incomparable city. Follow them as they alight the classic red bus and begin a whirlwind tour of some of London’s most iconic land marks. In this ode to Britain’s bright and bustling capital city, Salvatore Rubbino’s fresh, lively paintings and breezy text capture the delight of a young visitor experiencing the wonders of London firsthand. And of course, what’s London without a little rain? It is visually stunning, evoking all the colour and excitement of the capital from a child’s perspective. It is packed with nuggets of information about London that both enlighten and entertain.

10 Little Insects by Davide Cali

10 Little Insects is a hilarious riff on that celebrated whodunnit, Agatha Christie’s 10 Little Indians. In this innovative graphic novel for younger readers, ten very different insects, each with something to hide, are brought together to a mysterious house on a secluded island for the weekend. Then, one by one, they start dying in very unusual circumstances. But all is not as it seems, as Cali and Pianina delightfully subvert the whodunnit genre with a story that is at once brilliant, baffling, laugh out loud funny and somewhat surreal.

Where’s Walrus? by Stephen Savage

Bored with life at the zoo, an adventurous walrus escapes to the outside world. With the zookeeper in hot pursuit, Walrus cleverly tries on all sorts of hats to disguise himself. Will a yellow hardhat point to a new life as a construction worker? Or will a red swimming cap reveal his true talents? Follow the happy-go-lucky runaway as he hides amongst firefighters, businessmen, and even high-stepping dancers in this delightful wordless picture book.

ABC Apple Pie by Alison Murray

When an apple pie arrives piping hot on the kitchen table, a little pup does everything from A to Z to get his paws on it. He Ogles it. He Pines for it. But will his ABC antics land him a slice? Apple Pie ABC is a delicious twist on traditional verse brought to life by Alison Murray’s simple words and whimsical illustrations. Sure to delight readers of all ages, it’s a book to savor again and again.

My Name is Elizabeth by Annika Dunklea and Matthew Forsythe

Meet Elizabeth. She’s got an excellent pet duck, a loving granddad and a first name that’s just awesome. After all, she’s got a queen named after her! So she’s really not amused when people insist on using nicknames like “Lizzy” and “Beth.” She bears her frustration in silence until an otherwise ordinary autumn day, when she discovers her power to change things once and for all. The cheeky, retro,  two-toned illustrations reflect the story’s energy and sass, and the comic-book-like format makes it easy to follow.

Paul Thurby’s ABC

This is a highly collectible picture book with each spread a unique and highly-collectable artwork from acclaimed graphic artist Paul Thurlby. Thurlby creates a stunning alphabet that helps to make the shape of each letter memorable and fun. From ‘A for Awesome’, to ‘Z for Zip’, this is a stunning book from a unique artist.

You Will be My Friend by Peter Brown

Today is the day the exuberant Lucy is going to make a new friend! But she finds it’s harder than she had thought–she accidentally ruins the giraffe’s breakfast and is much too big for the frogs’ pond. Just when she’s about to give up, an unexpected friend finds her, and loves her just the way she is. This heartwarming story offers a unique and humor-filled spin on the all-important themes of persistence and friendship.

The High Street by Alice Melvin

Sally has a list of 10 items she needs to buy. Open the flaps to see inside the shops, where unusual things are going on. Should those wild animals be upstairs in the pet shop? Will the plates fall off the wall in Mr Cooper’s China Shop? And can Sally find everything on her list? Each shop is depicted through this charming story in Alice Melvin’s trademark, highly detailed illustrations, that both hark back to a previous age and remain strongly contemporary.

Sam and His Dad by Serge Bloch

Young Sam talks about his little brother, his mother, his life at home, and especially the time he spends with his dad and how he wants to be just like him when he grows up.


Review – Mortal Combat: Time’s Running Out

What do Adolf Hitler, HG Wells, Leonardo da Vinci, Genghis Khan and dinosaurs have in common? They all find themselves in a rather precarious situation in this hoot of a book from the masterful Martin Chatterton.

Mortimer DeVere and his sister Agnetha are 10,000 years old. Residents of Unk Island, the duo are tasked with some serious fast-forward living, not to mention the coolest capability of returning to the past in Retro, their time-travelling machine.

In this sequel to Mort, our young heroes find themselves stranded in the midst of World War II, along with Trish Molyneux and her assistant Nigel from the Unk Shire Education Department (who are both intent on dragging Mort and his sister back into the schooling system). Confronted by machine-gun wielding Nazis, the team are aghast to find themselves facing a divinely camped-up version of Adolph Hitler.

When Hitler insists on taking a ride in Retro, no one could have predicted the time-machine would end up in dino territory – let alone the most gruesome fate that unfolds for the notorious Nazi leader. Let’s just say the dinosaurs are hungry! But what does this mean for the linear properties of time?

Kids will delight in the chaos that ensues from Mort’s ‘messing with the past’.

I love the clever combination of fiction and history Martin Chatterton uses in this hilarious series of books for kids aged 8 – 12. The author uses a fine balance of action that would suit both girl and boy readers (naturally, Agnetha is the smart, rational one who ends up saving the day) and I simply adore his ‘voice’ and witty use of dialogue and kooky settings.

The author’s fabulous ink drawings add priceless visuals to the storyline, and only add to the dry humour.

Mortal Combat: Time’s Running Out is published by Random House.


Five Very Bookish Questions with author Kathryn Apel

Which genre of children’s books do you like most and why?

I love picture books and their deceptive simplicity. They’re short… but they have many layers, so you can read them over and over again, finding new things. They’re also warm and inviting for sharing. I read picture books to myself, to babies, to school kids, to my husband, to co-workers, to high schoolers… to anyone!  (I’d read one to you, if I could.) And the thing I notice? Everyone enjoys them! Even though they might not have picked the PB up to read it for themselves.

In a sense if you read expressively, you draw people in no matter WHAT you read. But a great book, like Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus is begging to be read with expression. Duck in the Truck by Jez Alborough is a laughable winner, with voice effects and the added attraction of rhyme.

Which books did you love to read as a young child?

I can’t remember!!! I truly honestly can’t remember much of when I was a young child – which seems an awful waste of memories! Thinking, thinking… I remember loving Lennie the Lamb’ out of the collection, Favourite Fairy Tales – and was soooo excited to discover a copy of the book in a reading corner at a little shop, recently. It wasn’t for sale – was there to keep kids occupied while adults shopped – but my delight must have shown, because the lady in the shop offered me the tatty, well-read book with pages all adrift… and I couldn’t say no.

Oh. And I also remember The Cow Who Fell in the Canal by Phyllis Krasilovsky – but I’m not sure if I remember it for the story (which I liked) or the fact that it was MINE, given to me at the end of preschool. (I also remember the chorus to the little drama we acted out the night I received it, about the fox and his feathered ‘friends’… “And a couple of you will grease my chin before we reach the town-o.”).

AND what is more, I have that picture book now, too… quickly snaffled up at a library cull recently. Goodness. It seems I remember more than I had realised. Maybe these recent re-encounters have proved as good memory jogs.

Which three attributes make for a great children’s book?

Heart (The Lion Who Wanted to Love by Giles Andreae) or humour (Duck in the Truck)

Wordplay (all Lynley Dodd books)

Illustrations – three illustrators who stand out for me: David Miller’s exquisite paper craft, Barbara Reid’s plasticine art – fun to read AND do! And Jeannie Baker’s meticulously detailed collage.

Combined, I think the elements of heart or humour, wordplay and illustrations make for an engaging read for children and adults.

What is your number one tip for encouraging children to read?

Just do it! And find friends you can read with and talk to about reading. At first, reading may seem like a chore, as you’re stumbling over difficult words… but if you keep at it, reading becomes as natural as breathing and it almost sucks you into a magical world of its own.

My son wrote a snapshot poem recently about reading. I think it’s perfect:

around the world

and anywhere –

with a book.


Name three books you wish you’d written.

The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson (love it! So perfectly simple.)
Hairy Maclary by Lynley Dodd (any of these books)
Fred Stays with Me! by Nancy Coffelt (Perfect!)

And also special mention to Dog In, Cat Out by Gillian Rubinstein (four words perfectly, playfully placed).

About Kathryn

Kathryn is a children’s author/poet who writes too much. Her goal is to find the perfect word for every situation. Sometimes that’s tricky! Kat co-ordinates the worldwide January Month of Poetry for kids and adults. Her picture book, This is the Mud! has been read on PlaySchool.


Review – Heather Fell in the Water

Heather is a little accident-prone, especially when it comes to water. If there’s a lake, a puddle, a pool, seaside or drip, she’ll tumble into it, coat and hat and shoes and all.

Her parents worry for her safety. They worry so much, they make Heather wear floaties day in and day out. Just in case.

Heather is too scared to go to swimming lessons. “The water hates me,” she says. But her parents believe that throwing her in the deep end may be just what the swim instructor ordered. So, off they go to the pool.

To her surprise, Heather likes it. She likes the feel of the water on her arms and legs. She likes the way it splashes. She likes it so much, her floaties soon get the old heave-ho, and little Heather fast becomes a swimming champ, much to the delight of her proud, no longer-paranoid parents.

Based on author Doug MacLeod’s real life sister who always fell in the water, this is a charming story with – hurrah! – a great ending. Illustrator Craig Smith’s bright yet watery illustrations are delightfully funny – I particularly love the ones of Heather finally claiming the water.

This is a really large format book; I personally think it would have worked better slightly smaller. Nonetheless, it’s a wonderful stand-alone book but also one that’s priceless for schools and daycare centres – and anyone who has certain challenges with the wet stuff. Gorgeous.

Heather Fell in the Water is published by Allen & Unwin.

Review – Nicholas, Where Have You Been?

Nicholas is hunting for sweet juicy berries with his friends but all the best berries have been gobbled by birds. Determined to find some of his own, he sets off into the field where’s snatched by a big ugly bird. Fearing for his life, he wriggles until the bird drops him – right into a bird’s nest.

“Stay with us,” say the baby birds in the nest, keen to learn more about mice and their ways. When the mother bird returns with a worm, she’s happy to let him stay. She asks Nicholas what field mice eat – and of course, Nicholas tells her he simply adores the sweetest and juiciest berries. So, the mother bird flies off and returns with the very same.

Nicholas can’t resist staying on. He sings and chats and gobbles berries with the birds, until one day he wakes to find his friends gone.

Climbing down the tree carefully, he returns to his mice friends who ask him where on earth he’s been – and when Nicholas tells him he was snatched by a bird, they become enraged. Asking them to be patient, he soon explains about the mother and her babies, and that not all birds are bad.

Which, of course, is the moral of the story.

Leo Lionni created this sweet, retro book in 1987, when he was 77 years old. Resplendent with classic storytelling and striking, graphic imagery, it’s one of several animal-inspired tales the author is famous for, many of which feature mice.

Nicholas, Where Have You Been? is published by Dragonfly Books.

Five Very Bookish Questions with author Michael Pryor

Which genre of children’s books do you like most and why? I like Fantasy and Science Fiction most of all, and that’s because I call these ‘Literature of the Imagination’. The boundaries are limitless, the horizons are extended, and the stories are grander. Kate Forsyth and Garth Nix are great examples of the sorts of writers I’m talking about, as is DM Cornish. His Monster Blood Tattoo series is wondrous indeed. I ended writing things like my Laws of Magic series and the peeking into the hundred years ahead of us in 10 Futures because I love this sense of imagination unbounded.

Which books did you love to read as a young child? As a young reader, I was first caught by books like The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and The Hobbit. After I read these, I wanted more, and eventually found The Lord of the Rings and Robert A Heinlein’s YA Science Fiction books – Time for the Stars, Red Planet and many more. I also loved the whimsicality of The Wind in the Willows and The House at Pooh Corner’, while my all time favourite picture book is Where the Wild Things Are.

Which three attributes make for a great children’s book?

1. The book must engage the reader.

2. The book must linger with the reader once the reading is finished.

3. The book must introduce the reader to something new. An example? Terry Pratchett’s The Wee Free Men. It’s funny, exciting, a real eye opener with its magic, and it makes you think about who you are and your place in the world.

What is your number one tip for encouraging children to read? Read good books. That is, books that appeal to you, that are fun, or scary, or thoughtful, depending on the sort of thing you like. It’s easy reading good books, and enjoying good books lets you know that reading is fun.

Name three books you wish you’d written.

1. Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer

2. Coraline by Neil Gaiman

3. The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien

About Michael

Best-selling author of the Laws of Magic series, Michael Pryor was born in Swan Hill, Victoria, and currently lives in Melbourne. He has worked as a drainer’s labourer, a truck driver, a bathroom accessories salesperson, an Internet consultant, a software developer, a textbook publisher, in a scrap metal yard and as a secondary school teacher.

Michael has published more than thirty popular and critically acclaimed novels, more than fifty short stories, and has over one million words in print. His work has been longlisted for an Inky award, shortlisted for the WAYBR award and six times shortlisted for the Aurealis Award. Seven of his books have been awarded Children’s Book Council of Australia Notable Book status.





Review – Clementine Rose and the Surprise Visitor

As a fan of Jacqueline Harvey’s Alice-Miranda books, I was delighted to see a new little poppet land in my mail box – Clementine Rose – a precious and adorable 5-year-old who is delivered, as a baby, to the door of her heiress mother in a basket of dinner rolls. No one knows where young Clementine came from, but Lady Clarissa Appleby fell in love with her on sight, and Penberthy House quite soon became the young girls’ home.

Containing sixty rooms in an increasing state of disrepair, Lady Clarissa is forced to open a bed and breakfast in the home of her ancestors, in order to maintain upkeep of the house. It’s not easy but, with help, the mother and daughter team get by.

In this first Clementine adventure, Clarissa’s prickly Aunt Violet comes to Penberthy House, nursing a sordid secret. After gazing at her great aunt’s portrait in the halls of Penberthy House for years, Clementine is quite disarmed by her aunt’s cold, real life disposition – not to mention her bizarre hairless cat, Pharaoh. Demanding and difficult, Violet makes for a testy addition to the household. Clementine patiently attempts to befriend her aunt, but what is this secretive fashionista hiding?

It’s a delight to follow young Clemmie and her teacup pig Lavender along on this adventure with Aunt Violet. Harvey once again writes with a classic storyteller voice, painting an eccentric cast of characters and a charming storyline with the merest dusting of fairytale magic. A gorgeous new series best suited to children aged 5 to 9.

Clementine Rose and the Surprise Visitor is published by Random House.

Favourite Vintage Books

I have quite the obsession with vintage books – it’s absolutely no secret. And no surprise. Vintage children’s books are at once inspiring and overwhelmingly beautiful – harking back to a time when book creation was more about genius than sales. Here I’m sharing some of my favourite vintage books – and I would love to hear about yours. Leave a comment! and do see my favourite ‘vintage-style books‘ – or modern books with that delicious retro twist.

Eloise Takes a Bawth by Kay Thompson and Hilary Knight

While Nanny dear unsuspectingly watches her soap opera, and Mr Salomone, the Plaza’s manager, prepares for the charity event of the year, Eloise takes a bawth. She bolts the bathroom door with a backbrush and turns on every tap in sight and begins her wilful water mischief in a glamorous fantasy bath world complete with Skipperdee and Weenie to boot. SLAWSH! The Plaza has flooded! The Grand Ball Room is in pandemonium! Who? Who? Who is the culprit? Mr Salomone and the Plaza head engineer follow the flow of water and discover that the trouble began with a certain precocious little girl up on the very top floor – none other than our very own favourite Eloise!

A Balloon for a Blunderbuss by Bob Gill and Alastair Reid

This book takes the reader on an imaginative, inspiring journey around the world. It all begins with a drawing of a pair of hands, gently cupped around an unseen object: I have a butterfly in my hands. What will you give me for my butterfly? “I will give you a wishbone.” What would I do with a wishbone? “Well, you could trade it for a kite with a tail…or a Chinese Lantern . . .” From the unseen butterfly in the hand to the blunderbuss, the balloon and beyond, Bob Gill lovingly illustrates an ever-expanding list of items, which grows to encompass, among other things, two rocking horses, a small zoo with a lion, a little town and eventually a whole forest with thousands of trees, which you could possibly trade for two stars, if you wanted to. But it would be even better to trade it for an island, and the ocean all round, until in the end, after many, many more trades, you would have everything.

A Kangaroo for Christmas by James Flora

The day before Christmas, Kathryn’s present from Uncle Dingo arrives in a big box. Naturally, it’s a lively kangaroo. Kathryn can’t wait to show grandma, so she hops onto Adelaide’s back and off they go! But getting to Grandma’s proves more difficult than expected. Honking horns and screeching breaks frighten Adelaide into taking off on her own. In good Flora fashion, chaos and pure silliness ensue. When Kathryn and Adelaide finally arrive at Grandma’s house, a very cool and collected Grandma sees there’s nothing to be done but to get them home as swiftly as possible. A rumpus of a read, Kangaroo for Christmas is a merry Christmas tall tale full of witty illustrations that are sure to draw laughs and hoots of pleasure.

Sunday Morning by Judith Viorst and Hilary Knight

It’s Sunday morning, very early Sunday morning. Anthony and Nicholas are not supposed to wake their parents before 9:45 am. (Whenever that is) Certainly, three puzzles falling off a shelf isn’t enough to wake them. And what about some music or a game of boat in the living room? These wouldn’t wake them up, would they? But when Nick really yells help, the know they’re in trouble. Then the boys and their parents discover something they never would have imagined.

Crictor by Tomi Ungerer

Crictor the boa constrictor lives with Madame Bodot. He is a very helpful pet – especially when there are burglars in the neighborhood.

Chicken Soup with Rice by Maurice Sendak

“Each month is gay, each season is nice, when eating chicken soup with rice”. It’s nice in January, April, June, and December–here’s the every-month dish for everyone to remember. Stunning three-color illustrations.

This is Paris by Miroslav Sasek

This facsimile edition of Sasek’s original title features brilliant, vibrant illustrations that have been meticulously preserved and remain true to his vision. With timely and nostalgic appeal, the This Is… books have an elegant, classic look and delightful narrative that will charm both children and their parents. This is Paris, first published in 1959, brings Paris, one of the most exciting cities in the world, to life. There are famous buildings, beautiful gardens, cafes, and the Parisians-artists, concierges, flower girls, and even thousands of cats. Take a tour along the banks of the Seine, through the galleries of the Louvre, and to the top of the Eiffel Tower.

The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton

The little house first stood in the country, but gradually the city moved closer and closer. An engaging picture book, well ahead of its time.

Are you my Mother? by PD Eastman

A little chick falls out of its nest and goes in search of its mum, searching high and searching low and questioning a series of animate and inanimate objects along the way. Eastman is a A protégé of Theodor Geisel (Dr. Seuss).



Five Very Bookish Questions with author Belinda Murrell

1. Which genre of children’s books do you like most and why?

My bookshelves have literally thousands of books across lots of different genres so it’s hard to choose! But I think my favourite genres are adventure, history and a twist of magic – so much like the books I love to write myself. Some of the children’s books I enjoy are the Chrestomanci series by Diana Wynne-Jones, Ranger’s Apprentice series by John Flanagan, Cornelia Funke’s The Thief Lord, Eva Ibbotson’s The Star of Kazan, and books by my sister Kate Forsyth such as The Puzzle Ring and the Chain of Charms series. Of my own books, I particularly love the time slip adventures such as The Ivory Rose and The Locket of Dreams.

With these books, I was intrigued by the idea of taking a modern day girl and whisking her back to the past, where life was so different, and seeing how that modern child would cope and react. These heroines have all sorts of thrilling adventures and find strength they never knew they had.

2. Which books did you love to read as a young child?

Almost anything and everything!! As a young child, I must confess I was an avid Enid Blyton fan. Her books had humour, adventure, excitement, magic, friendship and a delightful absence of interfering adults, which I still believe are all wonderful ingredients for an enthralling children’s book

I adored the Narnia series by C.S. Lewis especially The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe and The Horse and His Boy. With these books, I loved their 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.

When I was a bit older I loved lots of the classics such as Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, Seven Little Australians by Ethel Turner and My Brilliiant Career by Miles Franklin, as well as The Lord of the Rings series by J.R.R. Tolkein.

3. Which three attributes make for a great children’s book?

Lovable characters, who aren’t perfect, that you truly care about. Exciting and adventurous action, which keeps you reading late into the night. A vivid and exotic setting which seems so real you think you are actually there. Most of the books I’ve mentioned above would cover these key attributes but one of the best examples would of course be the Harry Potter series.

4. What is your number one tip for encouraging children to read?

Make reading a huge part of your family life. Share books with your kids and talk about them. Create inviting reading nooks such as a comfy arm chair by the fire, with a pile of books beside it. Take turns reading out loud in the car or in the kitchen while cooking. Let your kids see you reading. Buy books as presents and rewards. Turn off the TV and make time in your routine for children to read for enjoyment every day. Make sure it’s fun!!

5. Name three books you wish you’d written.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer

Possession by AS Byatt

About Belinda

At about the age of eight, Belinda Murrell began writing stirring tales of adventure, mystery and magic in hand illustrated exercise books. Now, Belinda Murrell is a bestselling children’s author currently writing her fourteenth book, which range from four picture books for pre-schoolers, to junior fiction. These include the fantasy-adventure series for boys and girls aged 8 to 12 called The Sun Sword Trilogy (The Quest for the Sun Gem, The Voyage of the Owl and The Snowy Tower). Her time-slip series includes The Locket of Dreams, The Ruby Talisman and The Ivory Rose – a 2012 CBCA Notable Book. Belinda’s new book, The Forgotten Pearl is an exhilarating wartime adventure set in Darwin and Sydney. Belinda’s books have been shortlisted for various awards and selected for the NSW Premier’s Reading Challenge.



Review – The Family Hour in Australia

Just loving the gorgeously retro illustrations in this book that send one winging back to the 1970s. Author/illustrator Tai Snaith has created a timeless peek into the typical Aussie family life . . . of our native fauna.

The sun has risen and a colourful Gouldian family gobble their breakfast. On a nearby branch, retro canisters are lined-up and labelled – Flies, Snails, Bugs and Ticks. Baby numbats take a ride on mum’s back, flicking out sticky tongues to catch a snatch of termites.

In the supermarket, a roo and her joeys snaffle Joey Juice and Kangamite from the shelves while a puggle slurps pink milk and baby cygnets cuddle into baby-bjorn style pouches on their parents’ fronts. Tassie Tigers don thrash metal tshirts and play the drums in the garage, and wombats snuggle in to watch tele under stripy blankets.

I love the kooky, totally disjointed nature of this book – it’s pure fantasy and the illustrations are a joy to wander through, however, in a purist sense, the blending of animal fact, highly-imaginative fiction and quirky illustrations are a little fractious at times – mostly in terms of the voice the author uses. It would have perhaps been more effective had she used language as original and fun as the book’s overall concept.

Hidden clocks denote time as the story unfolds – from early morning to late at night, and Family Facts at the end of the book expound on a series of animal facts. A great book for schools and libraries.

The Family Hour is published by Thames & Hudson.

Review – A Hare, A Hound and Shy Mousey Brown

Shy Mousey Brown is watching a sweet, bounding hare, hopping all around, welcoming in spring, totally unaware of the surly old hound, lying in wait. Shy Mousey Brown knows this hound; he’s seen him before. How can he warn the bunny of the hound’s rather sinister motives? He’s so small. He can hardly be heard.

Then – suddenly – the hound is upon the hare! He has her pinned to the ground, ready to make her his lunch. So what does Mousey Brown do? Armed with a feather, he resorts to a good old round of tickling, of course! And Mousey Brown and the hare are free to become the best of friends.

Although this is a beautifully written book – with lots of suspense and a cute ending – I did find the words and rhythm a little difficult to navigate at times. I think perhaps reading it aloud would help.

Illustrations by Jonathan Bentley are totally engaging and full of luscious movement and charm.

A Hare, A Hound and Shy Mousey Brown is published by Little Hare.

Five Very Bookish Questions with author Anna Branford

1. Which genre of children’s books do you like most and why?

I’m not sure if it quite counts as a genre, but I love children’s books that work with ideas you can wonder about all your life because of a sense that, without recourse to any clunky symbolism or a deliberately placed moral, something important has been said. One book that comes to mind straight away is Jenny Wagner’s John Brown, Rose and the Midnight Cat and another is Raymond Briggs’ The Snowman. Both are books I had as a child and still have in my collection now and I expect I will still be mulling them over when I’m an old lady.

2. Which books did you love to read as a young child?

When I was very young, my favourite books were Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Margaret Mahy’s A Lion in the Meadow and The Nuns Go West, by Jonathan Routh.

My family moved a lot when I was a child and there was another book I lost and never found another copy of, called Ellen Climbs a Mountain. I don’t even know who wrote it and I always hope someone might be able to tell me!

3. Which three attributes make for a great children’s book?

One of my favourite attributes of children’s literature is its capacity to show people how to enjoy things that might otherwise have seemed ordinary. It was Beverley Cleary’s Ramona Quimby who taught me that there was a special pleasure in having new flannelette pajamas and in being the first person to use a fresh tube of toothpaste and it could have been any one of Enid Blyton’s boarding school girls who introduced me to the fine practice of midnight feasting.

I also like the way children’s books can sometimes, without being preachy or moralistic, help readers of any age to understand certain sorts of kindness that are probably too complicated to explain directly.

In C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, I love the way Lucy intuits that Mr Beaver is shyly proud of his dam and that her praise would mean a great deal to him.

In Kenneth Graham’s The Wind in the Willows, I like the way Rat comes to understand that Mole is being a pest only because he is terribly homesick and that compassion would be a much better response than impatience.

Finally, although it’s not right for every book, I think funny illustrations have a very important place in children’s stories. I can never read Roald Dahl’s Matilda without an indelicate snort at Quentin Blake’s first portrait of ‘the Trunchbull’.

The other day I was book shopping and had the same reaction to the dogs’ faces in Say Hello to Zorro, written and illustrated by Carter Goodrich. Hilarious.

4. What is your number one tip for encouraging children to read?

In my opinion, lots of choice and not too much policing. The real joy of reading doesn’t properly begin until that amazing moment when you find that floating your eyes over a string of words can actually change the pictures you’re seeing in your mind. But you have to be a pretty accomplished reader to get to that point.

Once you’ve found that near-magical reading capacity, you can use it to explore all kinds of books, but I think children often get there via books that look a bit rubbishy to adults. So I think it’s important to be very tolerant of glitter, kittens, silly humour and anthropomorphic diggers and dinosaurs, and not risk dampening a delicate spark of interest by proffering Watership Down and David Copperfield (excellent though those books may be) too early.

5. Name three books you wish you’d written.

Ooh, what a good question! Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett, Tom’s Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce and Betsy Byars’ The Eighteenth Emergency.

About Anna

Anna Branford is a doll-maker, a sociologist, a collector of small things and the author of the Violet Mackerel books.


Review – Dotty Inventions and Some Real Ones, Too

Professor Dotty Dabble and her laboratory assistant robot Digby (43 light years old) are opening the mail. There is an invitation from Mad Inventor’s Monthly to enter their best invention, and win the holiday of a lifetime. But how can they possibly choose which amazing invention to enter?

Should it be the chocolate cup (simply add hot water and drink before the chocolate melts) or the voice-activated socks, for troublesome pairs that like to separate? Should it be the thermal dentures (that keep the mouth warm in cold climes) or the nasal floss (don’t ask)? They simply can’t decide, so they pack a series of inventions into their Gizmobile and set off for the National Science Museum.

On the way to the museum, Dotty and Digby encounter several world famous inventions – the windscreen wiper, the parachute, the ballpoint pen, just to name a few. As each invention is mentioned, kids are treated to a double page spread of information on each one, outlining fascinating points on its creation.

By the time this dynamic duo make it to the competition, Dotty is feeling a little disheartened about entering her substandard inventions – so you can imagine her surprise when she wins! You’ll just have to read the book to discover her winning entry.

I love the combination of fact and fiction in this gorgeous book – the type kids will pore over and over and over again, picking up more information with each visit. Illustrations are bright, kooky and a joy to behold, combining modern styling with that lovely retro touch.

I’m also loving the super clever, twisted, and highly satisfying ending – something so often missing in picture books nowadays. Great fun and perfect for kids of many ages.

Dotty Inventions and Some Real Ones, Too is published by Frances Lincoln Children’s Books.

Featured Author/Illustrator – Quentin Blake

Quentin Saxby Blake was born in Sidcup, Kent, in 1932. His first published drawing was for the satirical magazine Punch, at the tender age of 16. Studying English Literature, he went on to complete a post graduate teaching diploma before studying at the Chelsea School of Art, and eventually taught at the Royal College of Art for over twenty years.

Blake has illustrated more than 300 children’s books, some his own, and some for other authors like Roald Dahl, Russell Hoban, Elizabeth Bowen, Jane Aiken, Michael Rose, John Yeoman and Dr Seuss. His very first picture book was A Drink of Water by John Yeoman in 1960.

Making his living as an illustrator, lifelong, he has also been a BBC presenter on a children’s story telling programme – Jackanory – where he told stories and illustrated them live.

In 1993, Blake was commissioned to illustrate five Christmas stamps for Royal Mail, featuring scenes from Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. In recent years, he has worked as Curator for such esteemed organisations as the National Gallery, the British Library and the Musée du Petit Palais in Paris.

Illustrating David Walliam’s debut book – The Boy in the Dress – in 2009, as well as Walliam’s most recent book is Mr Stink.

Books both written and illustrated by Quentin Blake include:

Quentin Blake’s Ten Frogs

Quentin Blake’s Nursery Rhyme Book

Mister Magnolia – winner of the Kate Greenaway Medal

The Green Ship


Fantastic Daisy Artichoke

Mrs Armitage, Queen of the Road

Quentin Blake’s work has won numerous awards including the Kate Greenaway Medal, the Whitbread Award, the Emil/Kurt Maschler Award, the international Bologna Ragazzi Prize and the Hans Christian Andersen Award for Illustration in 2002. In 1999, he was appointed the first ever Children’s Laureate, and his book Laureate’s Progress recorded his many activities during this two-year tenure.

This formidable talent loves drawing things that move, although he says cars can be difficult unless they are a bit ‘broken down’. He loves to interpret emotion in his characters by imagining the very same things happening to him, though this does cause him to pull faces as he draws. He never married and has no kids.



Review – Green

Seeing colour through the eyes of an artist is vital for children. It expands their visual horizons, especially when done with the raw simplicity of Laura Vaccaro Seeger.

Green is just that. Green. Green in all manner of shades and hues, tints and tones. There’s forest green. Lime green. Sea green and fern. There’s slow green, wacky green, glow green and never green.

There’s green in ways you never thought green could be – and all smooshed and slapped and scraped and scratched into imagery that’s so completely touchable, little hands will surely smooth their way over the fingerpainterly texture of each page. Even grown ups, like me, will smooth their hands over the fingerpainterly texture of each page.

To add to the textural delight, Vaccaro Seeger has added cleverly-placed cutouts that show through to preceding and upcoming pages, tying the colours and themes together perfectly.

Her use of abstract concepts are also clear and simply done, bringing a level of sophistication and emotional connection that could have been so easily lost in a book for ‘toddlers’.

Indeed, this book is perfect for toddlers but it’s also perfect for retirees – and therein lies its magic.

Green is published by Roaring Brook Press.

Five Very Bookish Questions with author Martin Chatterton

1. Which genre of children’s books do you like most and why?

Surrealistic comedy adventures. One thing most of the best ones have in common is that they don’t patronise children. I’ve always believed in reading (and writing) ‘up’. If there’s something a reader doesn’t understand then that’s okay. I avoid whimsy, fantasy and ‘issue-based’ fiction like the plague. Also anything with cats. Apart from the The Cat in the Hat.

2. Which books did you love to read as a young child?

I don’t read any children’s books now so all my choices would be books I read as a child. I LOVED Dr Seuss and still do. Apart from comics (which I lived for), I devoured adventure books like The Famous Five and Secret Seven by Enid Blyton and the Biggles books by Capt WE Johns, without ever thinking they were ‘great books’.

The first works that I thought were both enjoyable and genius were the Molesworth books by Geoffrey Willans and illustrated by Ronald Searle. Funny, original and fresh, they tell the story of Nigel Molesworth and his various schemes at St Custards. Wonderful.

I loved the Just William books by Richmal Crompton, the Professor Branestawm series by Norman Hunter. I loved these books and they were a big influence, as was The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster (which I had the pleasure of illustrating a cover for a Harper Collins edition).

The Alice books I also loved (and still do). I suppose my taste ran to absurd comedy and adventure which is pretty much what my children’s stuff is now, Mort being a prime example.

3. Which three attributes make for a great children’s book?

Wow. OK, I’ll try.

Number one: It must be a page turner. As a child – and now – I have no patience with books that feel like eating muesli without milk. I don’t care about the angst, just give me smugglers and pirates and monsters and comedy and danger and cliff-hanger endings and miraculous escapes and weird powers. An example of a perfect page turner might be something like the Stormbreaker books by Antony Horowitz or Eoin Colfer’s Artemis Fowl‘ stuff (I lied about never reading children’s books). I felt that Harry Potter should have been like this but, for me anyway, wasn’t.

Number two: Someone should die. All my favourite children’s writers killed characters off (often, as with Roald Dahl, before the narrative begins). Children need to find out early that life can be tough (even if they only read about it). If no-one dies, then bad things should be allowed to happen. If there’s no believable danger, there’s no thrill.

Number three: It shouldn’t be a picture book. This is a very selfish one. I know there are lots of great picture books. It’s just that I (and bear in mind I’m an illustrator) always feel that picture books are for the parents. Other than Dr Seuss, I think all picture books are really aimed at parents not children. Even Where The Wild Things Are, which is probably loved by millions is really for the adults. My kids enjoyed some great picture books as youngsters but the books they loved were ones they chose, or found. A case in point is Shaun Tan. As an artist I love his work. I’m not sure I’d find a single child who would enjoy his stuff. But I’m bitter so maybe my opinion doesn’t count.

4. What is your number one tip for encouraging children to read?

Don’t make them read boring books. My brother was forced to read Northanger Abbey at school at the age of (I think) about 11. He never recovered.

5. Name three books you wish you’d written.

I’m assuming these would be children’s books? If so then they’d be: Harry Potter, for obvious reasons (although mine would have been better). For anyone who has been living on Mars, that’s by JK Rowling. Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. Lastly, it would probably be Horton Hears a Who by Dr Seuss.

About Martin

After time spent as Creative Director with the London design company he co-founded, Martin moved between the US and UK for five years before eventually emigrating to Australia where he has been based since 2004. In addition to his books for children, Random House will be publishing his debut crime fiction novel in 2012. He lives in Lennox Head in northern NSW and is married with two teenage children.


Stay tuned for my review of Mortal Combat: Time’s Running Out.

Review – Ned Kelly’s Secret

It’s the Gold Rush in Australia – a time when bushrangers are rife and travellers, both local and international, are aplenty in the harsh buslands of northern Victoria and New South Wales. Young Hugo Mars and his wealthy Papa are on an intrepid voyage to Australia to research stories for a French magazine (edited by Jules Verne), when their coach is held up by none other than the infamous Harry Power – the gentleman bushranger.

Brave, smart and clever, Hugo Mars is as intrigued as his Papa by this odd, self-inflated bushranger – and this event is the catalyst for a series of incredible encounters that will take a curious 15-year-old boy into the lair of the Kelly gang and their infamous inlaws, the Quinns . . . but as a friend, not foe. It also take us through the plotting and eventual capture of Harry Power, and the convoluted associations that kept him in business so long.

This intriguing book does indeed hold a Ned Kelly secret – but even more than that, it holds close a tale of commitment to family, to betrayal and honour. Its central theme may be the power of friendship but its cleverly-crafted plot and insightful, fascinating relationships – all based on fact and factual characters – is multi-layered and richly rewarding.

Author Sophie Masson has herself admitted in her author’s notes that the aim of this book was not to laud Ned Kelly and his questionable career, but rather present an open-ended question about how, where and why, a smart, spirited, 15-year-old Ned Kelly (the juvenile bushranger) eventually turns from mere horse wrangler to murderer and questionable ‘hero’. Masson asks what the pressure of saving face and strong family ties plays in his downturn and eventual violent end – and Ned Kelly’s Secret indeed perfectly addresses this question through historical conjecture and with much diplomacy (and perhaps with a wee dram of tenderness).

I loved this book. Well-written, balanced, meticulously researched and with a cast of brilliant characters – mostly real but some imagined – I adored how Masson ran her foreign Hugo Mars character – a kid with enormous hope and promise – alongside his age-contemporary friend Ned, whose destiny was as sordid as his early days of crime. But did it really need to end this way? Is a life of crime really in the blood or is it driven by need, greed and betrayal by others? Could things have been different for young Ned Kelly?

This book makes you think, it makes you wonder. It opens your heart and it’s just all round great reading. I am only hoping Masson brings us another Kelly tale – perhaps this time about the fate of the remaining Kelly clan, whom she paints with sheer wonder.

Ned Kelly’s Secret is published by Scholastic.

Review – Wild Alphabet

If you’re anything like me – completely obsessed with pop-up books, you’ll need only take a peek at the very first page of Wild Alphabet to know it’s a must-add to any collector shelf.

Yes yes, I’m ashamed to say it’s one of those books you’re reluctant to hand to a child under 12 – not lest they get too much joy from it, because that’s a given – bur rather because they might want to tug a little too hard at it or even eat it.

Indeed – I want to eat it.

So, if you’re happy enough to buy two copies – one for eating and tugging, and one for standing on a shelf to pluck and hold and gently turn pages and ooh and ahh over before replacing on said shelf – you will thoroughly enjoy this book without a heart-wrenching page rip in earshot.

Featuring animals from A to Z, each letter of the alphabet magically pops open to reveal a beautifully-crafted, artistic pop-up of said animal. Each left hand page also features a full animal drawing and jaunty text on that animal, complete with delightful typesetting.

With concept and design by Mike Haines and paper engineering by Julia Frohlich, this is true gorgeousness. And it’s fun. Even for kids.

Wild Alphabet is published by Kingfisher.


A Cool Dad’s Day

Happy belated Father’s Day, dads! I hope you were spoiled and adored, as Dad should be on this very special day. In celebration of fathers everywhere, here are my picks for the best new release Father’s Day books.

My Dad’s the Coolest (Scholastic)

Rosie Smith and Bruce Whatley are back in this sequel to My Mum’s the Best – this time featuring ultra cool dads of all shapes, sizes and orientation, from a strutting rooster (with tickly feathers) to a mouse-shy lion, a mud-rollicking pig and a kooky-looking penguin.

Ideal for the very young, Bruce Whatley’s divine animal friends parade across the page with typical humour and charm. Simple text makes this ideal for a bedtime read.

Dads: A Field Guide (Random House)

Justin Ractliffe’s striking, modern and totally funky book on dads is taken to great heights with Cathie Glassby’s kooky, childlike and immensely whimsical illustrations.

Dads, en masse, are totally represented in this low text book, making it ideal for tots, and I love how they are represented in totally out-there ways – from a dad who wears undies and one who wears boxers, to a dad who’s ever-smart and one a little scruffy.

Charming, colourful and fun.

What Makes My Dad Happy (Allen & Unwin)

What makes had Happy?

Well, a lot of different things, for it really depends on what dad you have.

Maybe it’s building towers or picking flowers. Maybe it’s a note, strategically placed in a coat pocket, or when he becomes a launching pad for little aeroplanes. Every dad is different and that’s what makes them special.

Loretta Broekstra’s charming illustrations make for a sweet book for the younger set.

Also in this series by Tania Cox – What Makes my Mum Happy.


Five Very Bookish Questions with author Sophie Masson

Which genre of children’s books do you like most and why?

I can’t just pick one genre: my top four are fantasy, adventure, history and mystery – and if these can be combined in the one book, that’s the best of all! I also love a little tingle of romance in the blend.

So here are some titles as example: the Harry Potter series; Northern Lights, (Philip Pullman – this is my top favourite of His Dark Materials series – the other two fall off considerably), The Hunger Games; Leon Garfield’s novels (especially Black Jack and Devil in the Fog), Alan Garner’s books, especially The Owl Service, the Narnia series, the Moomintroll books, Allan Campbell McLean’s The Hill of the Red Fox, Nicholas Stuart Gray’s The Stone Cage. And more. Lots more!

Which books did you love to read as a young child?

All the above (of course, excluding the modern titles), plus books of fairytales and myths: Roger Lancelyn Green’s Tales of the Greek Heroes, the Hamish Hamilton collections of stories of  fairies, dragons, mermaids, giants, etc, stories of King Arthur; all the Tintin books in English and French, plus heaps of French titles in abridged form, such as Michel Strogoff by Jules Verne, The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas and Capitaine Fracasse by Theophile Gautier.

Enid Blyton’s Famous Five and Secret Seven were big favourites (but I didn’t much like her school or fantasy series, for some reason.) I also loved Nancy Drew and Donna Parker mystery series.  I loved ghost stories too and scared myself silly reading them till late at night!

I also remember reading also lots and lots of random books I loved, such as James Thurber’s The 13 Clocks, Cynthia Harnett’s The Wool-Pack, Mary Mapes Dodge’s Hans Brinker or The Silver Skates.

Which three attributes make for a great children’s book?

All these books I’ve quoted have the right attributes: gripping stories, vivid characters, memorable voice. Pretty much the same attributes as for any great book full stop!

What is your number one tip for encouraging children to read?

Let them read what they want but don’t be afraid to introduce them to new things. And show them by example rather than lecture how exciting reading is!

Name three books you wish you’d written.

You mean, apart from Harry Potter? Black Jack by Leon Garfield. Northern Lights by Philip Pullman. The Seven Crystal Balls, by Herge.

About Sophie

Born in Indonesia of French parents, Sophie Masson came to Australia at the age of 5 and spent most of her childhood shuttling between France and Australia, an experience which underlies much of her work. She is the author of more than 50 books, mainly for children and young adults, published in Australia and internationally. Her recent historical novel for children, The Hunt for Ned Kelly, won the Patricia Wrightson Prize for Children’s Literature in the 2011 NSW Premier’s Literary awards. Her most recent novels are The Boggle Hunters (Scholastic), Moonlight and Ashes (Random House) and Ned Kelly’s Secret (Scholastic).



Review – Belonging

Next to Mirror, this is possibly my favourite of Jeannie Baker’s incredibly beautiful picture books. Not only is the imagery stunning, but the power of its wordless form is something Jeannie does with consummate style.

Belonging is deceptive in its simplicity. It features repeat double page spreads of a square window, showing an outdoor scene that truly affects the heart.

In the first double page spread, we see a young couple in the backyard with a new baby. There are lacy knickers on the line and a neighbour is planting in his garden next door. Behind the fence line of the house, we see an inner city scene, complete with a Smash Repair and a Pizza Hut.

As time goes by, the grass grows and so does the child and so does the city skyline behind the house. The weather changes, the toys in the window change. The hand-drawn height chart on the wall next to the window gets higher and higher as our young baby turns into a fine girl and then young woman, who one day has a child of her own.

So much changes over time – and our emotions change, too. We grow and feel and move with each and every page.

I love the cyclical nature of this book. I love the iconic detail which is truly astonishing in its variety, from a Picnic chocolate bar wrapper on the windowsill to the updated buses on the street. This 2008 version of the book – originally published in 2004 – has even been updated with some sky writing . . . the word SORRY appears in the sky on one page.

I most especially love the fact that as the story goes along, the streetscapes become more and more ‘green’.

This is a book of change, growth and hope. It is a wordless book but it speaks volumes about life and all its idiosyncratic beauty. It is a celebration of Australian life, of all life  – and it can be viewed and reviewed over and over – and each time the eyes are filled with more.

If you haven’t Jeannie-Bakered your life yet, start with this book. You won’t regret it.

Belonging is published by Walker Books.

Hot New Junior Fiction Titles

It’s a delight to see a flood of brand new fiction titles for kids in recent months. If your children devour books like mine do, you’ll be thrilled with this line-up of new releases. There’s truly something for everyone. My only problem is trying to wend these copies out of my kids’ clutches. These titles will suit children aged anywhere from 8 to 16. Enjoy!

Fizzlebert Stump: the boy who ran away from the circus and joined the library by A F Harrold (Bloomsbury)

There are many boys in the world, all slightly different from one another, and most of them are referred to by names. These are often John or Jack or Desmond, but sometimes they are James or Philip or Simon. Once, and once only, there was a boy whose name was Fizzlebert.

Fizzlebert Stump lives in a travelling circus. But although he gets to hang around with acrobats, play the fool with clowns, and put his head in a lion’s mouth every night, he’s the only kid there – and he’s bored. But then Fizz decides to join a library, and life suddenly gets a lot more exciting, when a simple library card application leads to him being kidnapped by a pair of crazed pensioners! Will he ever see the circus again?

Girl V the World by Chrissie Keighery (Hardie Grant Egmont)

There’s something wrong with Hazel Athertons he just knows it. She’s not a kid anymore, but she’s not grown-up either. Hazel hasn’t even kissed a boy and she’s not sure she ever will. Although that doesn’t stop her from thinking about Leo in the year above…

Hazel wishes she could talk to her mum about it u but these days her mum is too busy doing hanging out with her new boyfriend. Does anyone understand what’s going on with Hazel?

Part of a four-book series.

Artemis Fowl and the Last Guardian by Eoin Colfer (Penguin)

The unbelievable finale to the multi award-winning Artemis Fowl series. Will the thrilling climax to this globally bestselling series end happily ever after?

Eoin Colfer was born and raised in the south-east of Ireland. Artemis Fowl, his first book featuring the young anti-hero, was an immediate international bestseller and won several prestigious awards. It was followed by The Arctic IncidentThe Eternity CodeThe Opal Deception and The Lost Colony.

Phyllis Wong and the Forgotten Secrets of Mr Okyto by Geoffrey McSkimming (Allen & Unwin)

Conjuring is in Phyllis Wong’s veins. It was passed down from her great-grandfather who, before his mysterious disappearance, was one of the world’s most brilliant and successful magicians.

Now Phyllis lives in what was his grand old home, converted into a number of apartments, in the middle of the city with her father and her loyal dog Daisy.

When a series of incomprehensible robberies takes place in the city, Phyllis realises there is much more to the crimes than meets the eye. It may be baffling her friend Chief Inspector Inglis, but Phyllis is determined to find out more. Who is this thief? What does he want? And how is he achieving the impossible?

The Terrible Thing That Happened to Barnaby Brocket by John Boyne (Doubleday)

There’s nothing unusual about the Brockets. Normal, respectable, and proud of it, they turn up their noses at anyone strange or different. But from the moment Barnaby Brocket comes into the world, it’s clear he’s anything but ordinary.

To his parents’ horror, Barnaby defies the laws of gravity – and floats. Desperate to please his parents, Barnaby does his best to keep both feet on the ground – but he just can’t do it.

One fateful day, the Brockets decide enough is enough. They never asked for a weird, abnormal, floating child. Barnaby has to go … Betrayed, frightened and alone, Barnaby floats into the path of a very special hot air balloon – and so begins a magical journey around the world, with a cast of extraordinary new friends.

Louis Beside Himself by Anna Fienberg (Allen & Unwin)

Louis’s best mates, Singo and Hassan, are into basketball and skateboarding, and his dad is into arm-wrestling. Dad wants to build Louis up with wrestling moves like the Walls of Jericho or the Five Star Frog Splash, but Louis is better at flexing words than flexing his muscles.

This summer Louis is put to the test, starting with the Phenomenon of the broken mirror, leading to the Paralysing burglar incident, and finally the night when he comes face to face with Peril. It’s a larger-than-life week when the friends hide a runaway girl named Cordelia in the backyard tent, Dad falls for Doreen, and Louis tries the Top Roll Move on a big burly burglar.

Alice Miranda Shows the Way by Jacqueline Harvey (Random House)

Alice-Miranda has a birthday to celebrate and a village show to look forward to! Miss Grimm is allowing the girls to attend the annual Winchesterfield show for the first time.

One of the highlights of the Winchesterfield show is the Queen’s Cup horse race. But Aunty Gee’s prize racehorse, Rockstar, is refusing to leave the stables. That is, until Alice-Miranda introduces him to her own naughty pony, Bonaparte.

Preparations are coming along well until a series of thefts rock the community. Things quickly go from bad to worse when Alice-Miranda’s beloved Bony is horse-napped. Can Alice-Miranda uncover the culprit and get her horse back in time for Rockstar to compete in the race?

S.C.U.M. by Danny Katz (Allen & Unwin)

It’s just an ordinary day for Tom Zurbo-Goldblatt. The possibility of romance with his dream girl. Powerful friendships to forge. Wrongs to right. The ultimate test of survival against the Badass Ninjas of Stupidity of Death. And his first-ever sighting of a girl-pube.

Who says you don’t learn anything at school? The Students Combined Underground Movement (S.C.U.M.) is a society for outcasts, weirdos and massive losers. At their headquarters on the bench beside the bin behind the canteen, they plot their revolutionary ideas for a better schoolyard. Divided they may be weak, but as S.C.U.M., they’re still weak; but at least they have somewhere to sit.

The Beginner’s Guide to Revenge by Marianne Musgrove (Woolshed Press)

As a soldier’s daughter, Romola’s been to six schools in eight years, always having to make new friends a and now enemies. Meanwhile, Sebastian’s mum is about to make the biggest mistake of their lives, unless Sebastian can find his dad in time to stop her.

Thrown together by chance, these two thirteen-year-olds set out to even the score. But once that big old ball of revenge starts rolling down the hill, there’s not an awful lot they can do to stop it a or is there?




Review – Too Many Elephants in this House

Author Ursula Dubosarsky? Check. Illustrator Andrew Joyner? Check. Elephants? Check. But not too many at all. In fact, this book wouldn’t be even half way as cool if it didn’t have simply too many elephants, which raises the question: can anyone really have too many elephants?

Eric really likes elephants. He has them everywhere. In the living room, in the kitchen, in the hallway, bathroom and bedroom. There’s an entire herd of rollicking elephants delighting and engaging this young lad from dawn ’til dusk.

BUT his mother doesn’t like it. Not one little bit. ‘There are too many elephants in this house,’ she says. ‘They’ve got to go.’

Naturally, Eric is devastated and will try anything to keep his baggy friends safe, including thinking up a very efficient means of elephant storage.

Dubosarsky’s penchant for childlike fun shines through in this adorable book, with Andy Joyner’s timeless and joy-filled illustrations taking her text to even greater heights. With a deliciously retro feel, this is imaginative, childhood magic at its best.

A must for picture book collectors – and kids.

Too Many Elephants in this House is published by Penguin.

Five Very Bookish Questions with author Sally Odgers

Which genre of children’s books do you like most and why?

I like fantasy and science fiction best – and a lot of my favourites are cross-genre. I generally like books for readers of 10 and up, and especially the ones where authors have thought out their settings rather than just grabbing something someone else has invented. Below are some specific titles and what I like about them.

Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones. I love this one for the writing style (DWJ has such a way with words) and for the characters of Howl and Sophie who are so far from the generic hero/heroine but still so much fun to be around. Love the humour, too, and the way Sophie discovers the ‘givens’ she believed were not really so.

The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope has another staunch but odd heroine and another flawed but ultimately likable hero. It has one of the best descriptions of love I’ve ever seen – one that goes way beyond ‘romance’. I love the way the setting (Tudor era) plays with ideas and the way the truth shifts as you look at it.

Polymer by Sally Rogers Davidson. Polly Meridian goes from a cheerful high school graduate to someone who has to think on her feet and learn a lot about relationships. She’s utterly determined to get back something taken from her but manages to stay human through it all. This is a wonderful (Australian) take on the sf invasion theme.

Memory’s Wake by Selina Fenech is another cracking story by an Australian author. Memory has lost her memory and when she finds herself in a fantasy world with a princess, fairies, a thief and a wild boy she has to find a way to survive with the tatters of her self intact. Mem, like Sophie, Kate and Polly in the stories above, is a powerful character in more ways than one.

Replay by Sally Odgers. Okay, so I wrote this one myself, but if a writer can’t write a book she loves herself why is she writing? Replay‘s heroine is Aelfthryth, a Saxon girl who is blessed or cursed to never live beyond the age of fourteen. Her husband Harry can never get beyond sixteen, but in every generation for over a thousand years they have met and loved in different places and different guises. This time round, Ellie is an Australian cancer survivor and Harry is a schnauzer…

Halloween Romance by Donaya Haymond. This is the first of the Laconia series and is the funny, odd story of werewolf Selene Davidson who just wants to get through college without biting anyone by mistake. She’s drawn to melancholy Ferdinand Anghel who has a strange aversion to some kinds of cuisine.

For younger readers . . . The Angel of Nitshill Road by Anne Fine is a lovely funny story about bullying in a primary school and how a new pupil sorted out the problem. This one is for younger children and I’d love to see it in every primary school in the land. It is so utterly different from most books on this theme and treats adults and children with a clear-eyed honesty.

The Jack Russell series – Darrel and Sally Odgers. Once again, I had a hand in this, but the same argument (as for Replay) applies. Jack is a dog who acts like a dog. His concerns are doggish ones and although he talks to his canine pals (he thinks of them as colleagues) he has to use every bit of wit he has to get his point across to his beloved humans.

Poppy and Max by Amanda O’Shea is a glorious AE Wakefield-ish adventure through the Australian bush by Poppy the possum and her companion Max the echidna. Poppy is selfish, scheming and shrewd as a Swiss watch… and great fun.

Which books did you love to read as a young child?

I enjoyed books by Monica Edwards (who wrote two long series set in Sussex and Surrey), historical stories by Geoffrey Trease, the Pippi Longstocking stories by Astrid Lindgren and the Narnia stories by CS Lewis.

Which three attributes make for a great children’s book?

For me, the attributes are – first, an innovative but not over-strange writing style. I like precise description and tend to remember specific passages that appeal to me. For example, in Howl’s Moving Castle, Sophie “weedkills her way along the drive”… and can tell her disguised sister’s identity because of the merry whirl of her thumbs.

Next comes characterisation. I don’t EVER want generic characters. I want them to be individual and a convincing mix of flaws and virtues.

Finally, I want sparkle. This is difficult to describe, but it’s the aspect of a book that makes it instantly memorable. It is like hitting just the right note singing, or that flawless dive into water, or a swift canter across a paddock when the pony is eager but not pulling. Every one of the titles above has this for me. (Yes, even my own two examples. As I said before…)

What is your number one tip for encouraging children to read?

Give them interesting stories, not EVER stories that are thinly disguised therapy. Reading should be a joy. Just like food, it is perfectly possible for books to be wholesome, healthy AND tasty. My grandson loves grapes. No doubt he loves lollies too, but it’s the grapes he takes from the fridge where his parents thoughtfully store them low down so he can reach them. He’s two years old. He loves books with rhythm, action and bright pictures.

Name three books you wish you’d written.

Any of the above that I didn’t in fact write! Kate Thompson’s The New Policeman and Kate Forsyth’s Chain of Charms series, too.

About Sally

Sally Odgers is a Tasmanian writer and manuscript assessor. She loves reading, writing, walking, Jack Russells, flowers, names and naming and her family which consists in order of acquisition of one (living) parent, one sister, one husband, one son, one daughter, one daughter-in-law, one grandson and one granddaughter.


Review – Katie and the Lephrechaun

Katie is running late for school. Again. Dashing through the park, past the nooks of huddled trees, Katie trips on a tree root and falls sprawling to the ground. That’s when she hears the voice.

A high-pitched squeaky voice – with a funny accent. Katie can hardly believe her eyes when a little man with a red beard and lawn green ensemble appears before her, sitting on a tree branch, swinging his legs merrily. It’s Patrick Fitzpatrick – a cheeky sprite who bamboozles young Katie with his fast talk and jittery ways.

Patrick tells Katie he is indeed a leprechaun – or leith broghan, as it’s known in the magic trade. It means ‘one-shoe maker’ and of course, Katie can’t for the life of her understand why  anyone would be employed to make only one shoe. Patrick, of course, explains that many one shoes make up plenty of shoe pairs – and so begins a mind-bending banter for poor Katie, who finds herself both frustrated and oddly intrigued by the little green man. Is he for real, or is this all a strange dream?

Katie and the Leprechaun is part of the new Little Rockets reader range from New Frontier. Kids will giggle along with Katie and her magical new friend as she helps him find the perfect model shoe . . . a shoe that may surprise you. At the end of the book, kids can pop out a cute cardboard rocket to make for themselves.

A gorgeously-written story, colourful illustrations on almost every second page will help keep reluctant readers engaged, while advanced readers will equally enjoy this magical little tale.

Katie and the Leprechaun is published by New Frontier.

Review – The Wattle Tree

Molly misses her grandma. It makes her feel awfully sad. She misses her hugs, her smells, her baking scones and biscuits in the kitchen.

Molly’s mum is also sad. How Molly wishes Grandma would come back again.

One day, Molly finds Grandma’s big straw hat. She puts it on and wanders into the garden where she finds a beautiful wattle tree with dark green leaves like a dress her gran used to wear, and gentle curves like the curls of her hair. Molly feels at peace here.

The next week, she returns to the tree, which is now covered in blousey, golden wattle flower. Molly puts her arms around the trunk and hugs it tight. It becomes her special place for Grandma and she liked keeping it secret.

Until one day when she sees Mum crying over Grandma. So she decides to share her special place.

This is a heartfelt, sweet book about loss but also about remembering, and finding solace in both the objects that once belonged to someone we love – and the comfort to be found in nature.

This book was particularly poignant for me, as I have my own very special tree that brings back the fondest memories, and connects me to those long gone. This book shows children there is a way to honour our dearly departed, and therefore keep them close.

Beautifully warm, pastelly illustrations by Ben Wood perfectly convey the tender emotion of this book – illustrations that are firmly carving this artist a place in the beloved Australian children’s book niche.

The Wattle Tree is published by Lothian. Published tomorrow.

Review – Florentine and Pig Have a Very Lovely Lunch

The sun is sparkling in that lovely way it sometimes does, and Florentine suggests some fun outdoors. A picnic sounds wonderful and Pig agrees. Florentine begins taking comprehensive notes and Pig’s eyes boggle at her picnic schedule – apple and carrot muffins, rainbow sprinkle cookies, green pea tarts and pink lemonade, just to name a few delectable treats.

But there’s a problem. Pig has eaten the last of the apples – how on earth will Florentine make those apple and carrot muffins? Pig has an idea. He runs for his telescope and spies not one but three juicy apples at the tippety top of their apple tree. But how will they reach them? Pig – the clever solver of all problems – knows how.

Very soon, with apples in hand, Pig and Florentine are whipping up their picnic feast, which they enjoy on a blanket under the apple tree.

This is a basic plot in terms of storytelling. Its strengths are in the striking artwork and the author’s lovely ‘voice’ and creative use of words. I particularly enjoyed the use of onomatopoeia, especially when it came to whipping up that menu.

Kids will adore the galloping, super sweet illustrations, not to mention the recipes at the end of the book, and instructions on how to make Pig’s very pretty picnic bunting.

Florentine and Pig Have a Very Lovely Lunch is published by Bloomsbury.