Review – The Queen’s Maid

It may be a relatively low text book but this junior fiction title by June Crebbin ticked all the boxes for me. Sophisticated writing that is totally appropriate for the book’s 7- to 12-year-old target market, this is a fabulous read, least of all for its balanced, beautifully-written and edited prose, but especially for its rollicking storyline.

Crebbin has a real knack for creating luscious imagery with her words – and yes, children also deserve such clever writing – a clarity and sophistication that is normally reserved for adults. I love how she doesn’t talk down to her readers, but uses full, glorious wording and dialogue perfectly suited to the times – that of Queen Elizabeth I and the young Will Shakespeare.

Lady Jane Hargrave is thrilled to bits when none other than Elizabeth I pays visit to their family home in Dorsetshire, England. Astride her steed, Delphine, she waits at the top of the hill for the royal procession, which descends too quickly upon the house. Panicked, Jane flees back to the courtyard where she arrives just in time to greet the Queen.

Elizabeth I takes immediately to young Jane – and wants to learn more about her languages and horse riding and interests. Jane obliges in her candidly youthful way. Little does she know her candour is something the Queen covets and – much to her horror, at the end of her visit, Elizabeth asks Jane to become her sixth maid of honour. Of course, being so young, Jane is not ready to leave her mother, but her mother gently insists, for this is not an honour anyone could turn down.

Life at court is very different for young Jane, but she soon settles in and begins many a fascinating adventure. She even befriends a young stable lad who introduces her to William Shakespeare! Jane is fascinated with theatre life and manages to accidentally take part in a play at the Globe Theatre, much to her delight.

On her way back to court from visiting her ailing mother, Jane also finds herself aboard a ship in the midst of the approach of the Spanish Armada. So much excitement for such a young lass, and such a joy to be part of her adventures – and to feel first-hand the hot breath of history through Crebbin’s work.

Warm, clever, approachable and packed with superb line drawings that will keep more reluctant readers engaged, this is one of my favourite rapid reads this year.

The Queen’s Maid is published by Walker Books and is part of their Racing Reads series.

Featured Author: Mo Willems

Sometimes it’s nice to take a little peek into the work of some of the world’s most successful authors, and in the coming months I’ll be adding a post or two on authors and illustrators I personally admire, and who continue to delight children (and adults) with their impressive line-up of work. In this first post, I’ll be revealing a little more about Mo Willems – a US author whose Knuffle Bunny books had me in stitches when my kids were really little. I hope you enjoy this profile. Email me with your author profile suggestions . . . who would you like to know more about?

Mo Willems

Mo Willems was raised in New Orleans. He studied at Tisch School of the Arts at New York University, and when he was done, he travelled the world, drawing a carton every day. This work was later published in the book You Can Never Find a Rickshaw When it Monsoons.

Mo began his career as a writer and animator for Sesame Street. He also performed stand up comedy in NYC and recorded essays for BBC Radio. Mo has worked for The Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon, and has created two animated TV series – The Off-Beats and Sheep in the Big City.

Since 2003, Mo has authored many books for children. Three of his books have been awarded a Caldecott Honor: Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! (2004), Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale (2005), and Knuffle Bunny Too: A Case of Mistaken Identity (2008).

His Elephant and Piggie books, an early reader series about a friendly elephant and pig, are a huge hit with the littlies, and Elephant and Piggie won the Theodor Seuss Geisel Medal in 2008 and 2009, and a Geisel Honor in 2011.

In 2010, Mo began writing a new series of books featuring Cat the Cat, also aimed at early readers.

Mo’s books have been translated into many languages. They have even spawned animated shorts and have been developed into musical productions. His work, including illustrations, wire sculpture and ceramics have been shown in exhibitions all over the US.

Mo married his wife Cheryl Camp in 1997 and now lives in Masschusetts.

Learn more at www.mowillems.com.

 

Five Very Bookish Questions with author Janeen Brian

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

For my own pleasure I adore reading picture books (as well as poetry and novels – just had to sneak those in – can’t bear to leave them out!). Picture Books tap into the part of my psyche that loves the essence, the pared down selection of words and text combined with art: colour, flow, energy and an emotional impact. It’s like fabric and thread, and the best picture books are the best woven.

Some of my favourite picture books are The Incredible Book Eating Boy (Oliver Jeffers), Pog (Lyn Lee, Kim Gamble), Wombat Divine (Mem Fox, Kerry Argent), Water Witcher and Lizzie Nonsense (both by Jan Ormerod), Belinda (Pamela Allen) and other books by Pamela Allen, Margaret Wild, Dr Seuss and Joy Cowley.

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

I wish I could give you a list but I can’t because of the lack of books at home and at school. I borrowed from friends if I could. I remember my mother once reading me The Story about Ping, and have tracked down an old copy of it because it made an impact when I was about four.

I tried to read The Old Curiosity Shop by Charles Dickens when I was about seven, because I found a copy in a little bookshelf in the lounge, but I couldn’t manage it. We had ‘readers’ at school, which we all had to take turns in reading around the class and I loved the stories and poems in them. I also remember reading titles by Enid Blyton and imagining similar adventure scenarios with friends.

Other than that it was books like What Katy Did, Little Women and Heidi, books received for birthday or Christmas.

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

– great writing (Hatchet by Gary Paulsen, The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo,)

– something that moves the heart and/or the head (The True Story of Lillie Stubeck by James Aldridge; All in the Blue Unclouded Weather by Robin Klein)

– something which the children take away with them once the book is finished. (A Rose for the Anzac Boys by Jackie French; The Illustrated Mum by Jacqueline Wilson; Marrying Ameera by Rosanne Hawke)

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

Children must have time and opportunities to read.

Name three books you wish you’d written.

 

The Mousehole Cat – a picture book by Antonia Barber and Nicola Bayley (Walker Books). Based on a Cornish legend, it tells the story of an old fisherman, Tom, his cat, Mowzer and the metaphorical Great Storm-Cat which prowled the seas creating havok. Story, language and a warm, satisfying ending.

 

Because of Winn-Dixie a novel by Kate DiCamillo. An intensely strong, moving story about a girl, her preacher father and a stray dog which changes their lives. Succinct writing and a unique voice that makes you say, Yes, that’s how it would’ve been; that’s how she would’ve felt.

 

A Ute Picnic – and other Australian Poems by Lorraine Marwood. The poems are so wonderfully Australian and yet universal. Every word and phrase is taut with perfect words and phrasing that spear straight to the emotions.

About Janeen

Janeen Brian is an award-winning children’s author and has been writing full time for over 20 years. Janeen writes all sorts – picture books, poetry, short fiction, novels, information books and short stories. She has had 75 books published and three more are due soon for release – Where’s your Flipper, Eddie Pipper? with New Frontier, Meet Ned Kelly with Random House and I’m a Dirty Dinosaur with Penguin.) She also writes for children’s magazines with approximately 200 stories, poems, plays and articles published. She is well-known for her award-winning books, Where Does Thursday Go?, Hoosh! Camels in Australia and Pilawuk – When I was Young.

www.janeenbrian.com

Review – Fredrik Goes Bananas!

Fredrik the gull lives on an icy island where everyone loves fish. Fish for breakfast. Fish for lunch. Fish for dinner. Fish of all types and sizes.

It’s clearly no wonder that one day – whilst tucking into his rotten shark fin soup – Fredrik realises something. He’s sick of fish. The townsfolk are so shocked, they think he’s gone bananas.

Fredrik knows he has to do something about his fishy problem, so he sends away for some mysterious supplies and starts building a mysterious object. It has a wooden frame and glass panels and is built directly over the hot springs that pouf warm steam into the air. What on earth could he be doing? The townsfolk are baffled, his wife is verklempt – she is so dazed and upset by her husband’s antics, she can only be revived by the smell of fresh mackerel!

After some time, a very special plant grows in the mysterious greenhouse. I won’t spoil the surprise but let’s just say it’s not only Fredrik who ends up going bananas!

This is a sweet, simple story with kooky undertones – my kind of kids’ book – and of course, it’s so easy to love Cheryl Orsini’s divine imagery, as evocative and delightful, as always.

Fun.

Fredrik Goes Bananas! is published by Scholastic.

 

Review – I Love You Book

I totally empathise with the characters in this book by well-loved author Libby Hathorn. Yes, I too love the paper smell and consistently fight the desire to take a bite from a book I truly adore. Yes books are delicious. And yes, they are lovable.

The rustle of the pages. The sound as the book shuts tight. The dreams they conjure, the magical places they take us, the short, hippety-hoppety words and the laughter and the commas, dots and question marks. Libby expresses it all in this book – so perfectly, the reader will nod in appreciation the whole way through.

Told in rhyming text, the book’s illustrations are bright, dynamic, Seussy, delight. Heath McKenzie’s divine talent shines through and he takes a flying leap into the imaginative possibility Libby has penned – and comes up with page after page of beautiful imagery both kids and adults will adore.

I love you, book.

I Love You Book is published by IP Kidz.

Review – The Terrible Suitcase

Can a suitcase can be terrible? What could be so terrible about it? Could it be the way it looks, the way it drags on the ground, its awfully bad manners? Or is it what’s contained inside?

I must admit I was little nervous about this and was intrigued to find out, but I should have known the secret would simply lie in outward appearances. Clunky old suitcases aren’t cool for just-about-to-start-school kids – no way. Everyone else has super cool backpacks. With torches and drink bottle compartments and super cute stickers.

But not our little heroine, who is inexplicably condemned to ugly suitcase hell. Golly, I truly felt horrified for this child, lumbered with this daggy old clunker for no apparent reason at all.

As her first day at school unfolds, as grumbly as can be, the suitcase soon becomes a magical focal point for our narrator and her classmates. It’s a toolkit, it’s a super computer, it’s an integral part of a spaceship game – and a vessel for those all important spacefood sticks. In this way, its super presence brings a group of uneasy first-day kids together, offering comfort as well as friendship.

This is a lovely story on not what a suitcase is but what it could potentially be, however, the ending is confusing, with no tie in to preceding text or imagery and no effective wrap-up.

Freya Blackwood’s iconically sketchy illustrations are beautifully and most typically whimsical and gorgeous, and help lend form to an otherwise charming story.

The Terrible Suitcase is published by Scholastic.

 

Five Very Bookish Questions with author Phillip Gwynne

1. Which genre of children’s books do you like most and why? Can you name a book or two in this genre that you particularly love?

Recently I’ve written quite a few picture book texts and have become very interested in this form. The interplay between text and image, the impactof rhythm, the importance of succinctness – there might not be many words but there’s a lot going on!

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

Any I could get my hands on! I grew up in a house that didn’t have many books so was always desperate to find something to read.

But looking back one of the books that had a profound affect on me was The Catcher in the Rye. In fact I think I saw the fictional Holden Caulfield as almost a friend. I think that shows you just how powerful literature can be.

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

I actually don’t read much of it at all. Instead of reading books to my kids (3 yo and 5 yo girls) at night, I make them up stories instead. Some of these stories have actually gone on – or are in the process of going on – to become picture books.

No matter what the genre, I like books that are funny and that pack a punch, by that I mean books that have something insightful to say about the world. As far as picture books go, I’ve always loved the work of Bob Graham – A Bus Called Heaven, How to Heal a Broken Wing, Spirit of Hope.

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

I’ve always thought that if kids see adults reading all the time then they are more likely to read themselves.

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

Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
Greetings from Sandy Beach by Bob Graham
Magic Beach by Alison Lester

About Phillip

Phillip Gwynne has written books for kids, young readers, teenagers and adults as well as the screenplay for the feature film Australian Rules, which was based on his highly awarded first novel Deadly Unna? Currently based in Bali, Phillip is writing The Debt, a six-part high-octane thriller series for young adult readers which will be released by Allen and Unwin in 2013.  He has also found the time – and the inspiration! – to write eight picture books, the first of which – The Queen With The Wobbly Bottom – has this year been published by Little Hare.

www.laterallearning.com/authors/gwynne.html

 

Review – Moonlight and Ashes

Selena’s mother died some time ago. She lives with her father, a nobleman of deep emotional weakness, in a grand old house with her wicked stepmother and two self-absorbed stepsisters. She is virtually enslaved to her stepmother, spending her days cleaning, sewing, running errands and copping the humiliation of a life bound with emotional and physical slavery.

Sound familiar?

Moonlight and Ashes is indeed inspired by Cinderella, but the belly of this story not only touches on fairytales, it writhes in evil magic, steeps in human deception, glimmers with enchantment, and in matters of love – transcends life itself. Set in several towns and villages of the Faustine Empire (which author Sophie Masson says is based, in part, on the late 19th century Austro-Hungarian Empire), it follows the journey of Selena and a magical cast of characters – in search of freedom from oppression.

When Selena learns she is the last of the Moon Sister blood line – a line virtually wiped out by the all-powerful order of the Mancers, she knows she may now finally find the power to escape the misery of her life. Upon the announcement that the King of Ashberg will soon be holding a grand ball in honour of Crown Prince Leopold, Selena sets about finding her way to the ball where she meets not only the Prince but his bestie Maximilian von Gildenstein – a young man she is oddly drawn to.

The Prince, however, unnerves Selena, and there sets in motion an astonishing series of events that lead Selena to a Mancer prison, a magical escape, a kidnapping, a werewolf, a giant boatman, a magical hazel tree, a long journey, a timely meeting and a plot stuffed with sophisticated turns and twists and alleyways that gather up the reader and carry them forward to an uncertain end.

I adored the opening to this book. Masson paints a visual world so evocatively with her words, and indeed, as the book unfolds, this world becomes richer and more woven, as the plot careens towards an ending that will both surprise and delight. Faced with deceit, confusion, haunting memories – even murder – can Selena set herself and her friends free? And will she snag the prince and live happily ever after?

Moonlight and Ashes is published by Random House

 

 

 

Review – Ten Tiny Things

Tessa and Zachary have a cruisy, comfy, clean and calm machine. They use it to ride to school each day. It is climate-controlled, quiet and smooth. When it’s hot, they put on the aircon, when it’s cold, they put on the heat.

It’s comfort personified. No effort required. A lot like modern life in the West, actually, most especially for our kids, who both enjoy and live snugly in the concept of Comfort.

As humans, we strive for Comfort in life. But in our eternal quest to achieve it, we quickly miss out on Life.

We miss out on the huffpuffing strain of climbing mountains, the pulse-pushing agony of running marathons, the cold-bearing discomfort of finding the perfect snowflake or the heat-crushing agony of making it across a sizzling beach to the ocean.

And author Meg McKinlay totally gets this. She pushes her characters out of their machine and out of their comfort zone and into the real world where Things reside. Strange things. Challenging things. Breathtakingly beautiful things.

And her characters respond most excellently.

I totally appreciate Meg’s voice in this book – it’s gorgeously-crafted and a delight to read. Illustrations by Kyle Hughes-Odgers are strikingly different and as enticing as chocolate. With a folksy/block-print feel and stunning knack for pattern, Kyle uses acrylic paint and stain on wood panels which lend an authentic, earthy, ecological feel to this truly beautiful book.

A must-own – not only for its beauty, but for its subtle and important messaging.

Ten Tiny Things is published by Fremantle Press

 

Review – My Home: Broome

Home to the Yawuru people, Broome was heavily populated in the 1880s by pearl-hunters, keen to snaffle their share in the rich waters around this far north-western town. People from all over the world inhabited Broome, and indeed, its population is as still as much a cultural melting pot as ever.

This glorious tour around this remotely tropical place is a feast for the senses. Fascinating snippets of text have been written by an author who spent her first ten years in Broome – in fact, she’s only spent a total of ten years in Broome, because she is ten. Yes, that’s right. Tamzyne Richardson is descended from the Yawuru and Bardi people of the Kimberley region of WA, and this amazing young girl actually penned the bones for the book when she was home sick with the swine flu when she was eight.

Taking the reader all over town, Tamzyne’s love for Broome is than apparent as she lauds the beauty of this highly-desirable destination. She also includes information on the weather and seasons, local foods and industry, history, local flora and fauna, the local people, legends and more.

The book has been lusciously illustrated with a collage-like effect of images coordinated and contributed to by author/illustrator Bronwyn Houston, a descendent of the Nyiyaparli clan of the Pilbara region. Bronwyn led a series of art workshops with school children to both learn a variety of illustrating techniques, and provide images for the book.

The result is a fine collaboration and a striking collection of varied image and style and colour that works beautifully, with that childlike appeal that warms the heart. A must-own for schools and libraries all over Australia.

My Home: Broome is published by Magabala Books.

Featured Author – Lane Smith

Lane Smith was born in Oklahoma but moved to California as a child. He studied art at Art Center, College of Design in Pasadena, California, and helped pay his tuition by working as a janitor at Disneyland. Graduating with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in illustration, he moved to New York where he began his life as illustrator, working for several publications including Time, Mother Jones, and Ms.

Lane has both written and illustrated many books but has also collaborated with authors such as the talented Jon Scieszka. The Stinky Cheese Man and The True Story of the Three Little Pigs are two striking examples of their work.

Lane has worked in other mediums, too. He was an art director for the 1996 movie adaptation of Roald Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach. He has also worked for Disney and Pixar as a conceptual designer, working on Monsters, Inc. and How the Grinch Stole Christmas.

Smith’s earlier books include Pinocchio: The Boy (2002), John, Paul, George, and Ben (2006) and his latest include the fabulous It’s a Book and Grandpa Green (a Caldecott Honor Book).

Other books include Madam President (2008), The Big Elephant In The Room (2009) and It’s a Little Book (2011).

Lane is married to book designer Molly Leach, who has designed nearly all of his books. Lane says “When she designed the Stinky Cheese Man back in 1992, folks called it a ‘watershed moment’. Suddenly every designer wanted to make books with crazy type and upside-down pages. The problem is it is very hard to do unless you know how. Molly knows how. She is also very funny and very pretty.”

Lane and Molly live in Connecticut and New York City.

www.lanesmithbooks.com

Review – Stargirl

Stargirl is one of the strangest and most memorable fiction novels I’ve read in a long time. Aimed roughly at 11 – 15 year olds, it has enormous crossover appeal – and would readily be enjoyed by younger readers and adult readers.

Author Jerry Spinelli has created a bizarre, romantic and fanciful character in Stargirl – a hippy-like teen who enters Mica Area High School one year and sparks the curiosity of fellow student Leo, a wannabe television producer who runs an in-school TV show called Hot Seat.

Leo and his friend Kevin, like the rest of the school, become emotionally embroiled in the antics of Stargirl who walks the canteen at lunch time, strumming her ukelele and singing Happy Birthday to unsuspecting victims. Who leaves congratulatory or Get Well Soon cards on the doorsteps of random people in the community. Who wears long floaty dresses and carries a bag with a sunflower on the side. Who dances on her own. Who cheers for the other team as well as her own and causes a right sensation on the basketball court. So much so, she is asked to join the cheerleading team, but when Stargirl takes it too far by helping a member of the opposing basketball team, things begin to go awry.

Things also begin to go awry for Leo, who becomes strangely attracted to Stargirl and, as the curious popularity of his love interest begins to turn to outright ostracism, Leo finds himself embroiled in a Lord of the Flies style hate campaign that boggles Stargirl and her elegantly childlike and innocent way of being.

Set in the haunting Arizona desert, this is a haunting and moving story of teenhood, of love, of being different. It’s about the Blue Eyed/Brown Eyed consequences of refusing to ‘fit in’ and be like everyone else. It is moving, a little frightening, tender and peculiar. It’s different – and Lord knows the literary world needs different.

This book is immensely rewarding and its ending is as poignantly peculiar as its subject matter. In fact, its ending left me lingering in the air – like that microsecond before freefall. I couldn’t even breathe – I just sort of sat there and waited for the ground to catch me.

If you want unusual, this is your read.

Stargirl is published by Orchard Books

News – The Famous Five 70th Anniversary

To celebrate the 70th anniversary of Enid Blyton’s much-loved Famous Five series, five of the world’s most illustrious children’s illustrators have teamed up with Hodder Children’s Books to present new special anniversary covers for the first five adventures in the series. Quentin Blake, Oliver Jeffers, Helen Oxenbury, Emma Chichester Clark and Chris Riddell have all turned their hand to illustrating the covers of this wonderful set of books.

Available in this new version of the series (published May 2012) are:

Five on a Treasure Island (Quentin Blake)

Five Go Adventuring Again (Helen Oxenbury)

Five Run Away Together (Emma Chichester Clark)

Five Go to Smuggler’s Top (Oliver Jeffers)

Five Go Off in a Caravan (Chris Riddell)

This wonderful illustration initiative is in support of the House of Illustration charity, the world’s first dedicated home for the art of illustration. Developed by Quentin Blake, the charity puts on exhibitions, runs competitions and organises events with some of the UK’s leading illustrators. It also works in schools and acts as a hub for emerging and established artists. Their ambition remains to create a permanent home to celebrate the past, present and future of illustration.

A percentage of royalties from each of the 70th anniversary edition books will go to the House of Illustration.

How well do you know your Famous Five? Head here to test your knowledge!

The Famous Five series is published by Hodder Children’s.

Review – Look, Baby!

I’m totally obsessed with Cheryl Orsini’s work, and I’m yet to encounter a Penny Matthews book I didn’t like, so Look, Baby! seemed a winner to me. And I wasn’t disappointed.

This simple and sweet toddler book follows the travails of a wee baby as he navigates his day – from waking in his cot, through dressing and breakfast, to banging pots in the kitchen, a visit to the park, dinner, bath and bed.

Rhyming text on each verso page underpins a full page illustration of baby in action, and each opposing recto page features a line-up of objects that can be seen from the main picture, each labelled.

Perfect for very young children, the book is not only designed for word comprehension but contains a lovely narrative that pulls the reader through the book.

Orsini’s illustrations are pure delight and will readily engage the very young, through to toddlers.

Would love to see this as a board book, as I’m sure it would be dog-eared in no time.

Look, Baby! is published by Working Title Press.

Five Very Bookish Questions with author Lorraine Marwood

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

I love verse novels, poetry, fantasy and historical narrative.  Ooh sorry for liking so many – I’m sure there are more also. There are so many enthralling genres for children’s books now and I love verse novels and poetry for the concentrated does of emotion and sensory experiences they bring to the reader. And fantasy novels are so rich and varied now and the writing so powerful.

Historical fiction has always been a special delight to me as the atmosphere and the unique details bring to life a rich journey undertaken by people similar to us, yet reacting and living in a differently orientated world.

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

One I especially love (and still have the copy) is Princess and Curdie by George MacDonald.  Fairy tales, my sister’s books… English school girl comics… horse books. Once I arrived at high school I was bewildered by a school library (no such thing in my primary school) and borrowed vociferously.  I remember discovering Nancy Drew there – books about Egypt, historical romance, adventure, A Wrinkle in Time – I read and read and read.

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

Atmosphere, a feisty character who draws empathy from the reader and a surprise-laden plot.

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

Read aloud to your young toddler; read aloud and share with your young child at all ages; taking trips to the local library together; sharing choices in the local bookshop; subscribing to a magazine; showing the love you yourself have for books and bookcases!!

And also starting a family diary or journal, where you all write a sentence each- about your day, your week – extra chances to read!

Name three books you wish you’d written.

Divergent by Veronica Roth

Love that Dog by Sharon Creech

The Truth about Verity Sparks by Susan green

About Lorraine

Lorraine Marwood is a poet and author. Her fifth book with Walker books will be published in 2013.  She has written two verse novels and five collections of poetry. Her verse novel Star Jumps won the Prime Minister’s award for children’s fiction in 2010. She is also the author of two Aussie Nibbles and loves taking poetry/creative writing workshops with both children and adults.

www.lorrainemarwood.com

Review – Zac and Zeb and the Make-Believe Birthday Party

Zac and Zeb are good friends. They love to paint, dance, cheer and have proper adventures together. They also love to celebrate together.

It’s Zac’s birthday. There are friends and food and games and fabulous things that go pop! Zac has a wonderful time but at the end of the party, his friend Zeb is glum. He isn’t happy for Zac. He wants his own birthday party. An upbeat Zac assures his friend his birthday is coming up next.

Of course, Zeb races home with excitement, thinking ‘next’ means tomorrow, and when he wakes the next day, he spins and dances, waiting for his friend to arrive. But nobody comes (those dratted imaginary invitations).

When Zac stops by and finds an even more glum Zeb, he gets an idea. A make-believe birthday party! complete with a space rocket present (made from a box) that takes them on a make-believe journey to the moon where they feast on an imaginary birthday picnic.

While I must admit Zeb irritated me a little, Zac is the sweetest (and smartest) little thing, and this is a story kids will enjoy for its action and gorgeous illustrations. Sarah Massini has created beautiful images, awash with cute characters. Varied typefacing is also creatively done, making for a well-rounded book.

Zac and Zeb and the Make-Believe Birthday Party is published by Nosy Crow.

Review – The Children Who Loved Books

So lovely to review another Peter Carnavas book, an author/illustrator who has been going great guns with a consistently fabulous book list for New Frontier. Peter’s emotive, subtle and visually beautiful books have enormous crossover appeal, and with the addition of ‘books’ in the title of this newbie, well – I couldn’t get it out of the envelope fast enough.

Angus and Lucy are simple kids. They don’t have a lot. No TV. No car. Not even a house. Instead, their teensy caravan is jammed to the ceiling with piles and piles of books. Now, books – they do have. Balanced, propped, stacked, teetering . . . books, books everywhere.

Of course, you can imagine what happens when the books become too much for the teensy caravan. They have to go. And what happens when books are removed from children’s lives?

The answer may surprise you.

This charming book, with its central theme of the impossibility of living without the lure of a great book, is another Carnavas winner. Iconic, whimsical illustrations perfectly reflect the tone and nuance of the carefully-edited text. bringing meaning and volume into the clean white spaces he does so well.

A must-have for your Carnavas collection.

The Children Who Loved Books is published by New Frontier.

Five Very Bookish Questions with author Claire Saxby

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

I love all the genres! No, I guess that’s not answering the questions. I love picture books because they are the starting point for new readers. They are designed for sharing and they give the opportunity for so much discovery in and beyond language. I love The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle because it is ageless, and combines fiction and non fiction in such a beautiful way. Another favourite are the Hairy MacClary books by Lynley Dodd. I love the language and the illustrations. Perhaps that’s why I don’t mind that Hairy MacClary is one of my nicknames … hmm … not sure I should own that in public!

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

Oh, that’s always a hard question. I read so many. Outstanding favourites though? A large and very heavy collection of fairy tales that I returned and returned to. I loved Heidi. I also loved adventure books. I remember a series where a boy and a girl were the main characters in a series of adventures: in jungles and a range of other settings. I wish I could remember the name of them.

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

Re-readability.
Racing start.
Twists and turns, page-turning action.
A current YA contender is The Hunger Games series. Not for really young readers, but a fast paced action story with plenty of issues for discussion. I think it would be a great series to discuss in an English class. So many themes, wrapped in a commercial fiction package.

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

Let them choose what they want to read.

Name three books you wish you’d written.

Nup, that’s too hard. There are plenty of books both recent and less so that I’ve loved for different reasons, but I don’t wish I’d written them. I’m just glad someone did. Recent loves? Crow Country by Kate Constable, Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley, Sally Murphy’s verse novels Pearl Verses the World and Toppling. Anything by Glenda Millard.

About Claire

Claire Saxby has been writing for children for about 15 years. She has been inspired by her own children, memories of childhood and by the children around her. She became an author because she loves playing with words. She will happily talk about books and writing with anyone who asks. Claire lives in Melbourne and loves it, despite what people say about the weather. Her latest books are The Carrum Sailing Club (Windy Hollow Books), and There Was an Old Sailor (Walker Books).

www.clairesaxby.com

Which genre of children’s books do you like most and why?
I love picture book biographies because they breathe life into stories about real people for young people. I recently picked about two beauties; A Nation’s Hope – The Story of Boxing Legend Joe Louis. The artwork by Caldecott winner Kadir Nelson is exquisite.  And My Hands Sing the Blues – Romare Bearden’s Childhood Journey. Illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon, she honours Bearden’s work by creating the art in collage.

Which books did you love to read as a young child?
Every Beatrix Potter Peter Rabbit book. Love that Peter was nearly as naughty as me.

Which three attributes make for a great children’s book?
Engaging, Enriching and Empowering. The The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams

What is your number one tip for encouraging children to read?
Make it fun.

Name three books you wish you’d written.
Fox by Margaret Wild
My Farm by Alison Lester
Where the Wild Things Are Maurice Sendak

 

 

About Frané

Frané Lessac joins the National Year of Reading 2012 initiative as a State Ambassador for Western Australia.  She’s the Illustrator Liaison for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators for Australia West. In 2010, Frané was awarded The Muriel Barwell Award for Distinguished Service to Children’s Literature. She constantly visits schools, libraries and festivals sharing the process of writing and illustrating books, empowering both children and adults.  Her latest book is The Greatest Liar on Earth – A True Story by Walker Books.

www.franelessac.com

Review – Darius Bell and the Crystal Bees

Darius Bell, the irrepressibly divine hero of Darius Bell and the Crystal Pool (CBCA Book of the Year 2010 winner) is back in this second installment by well-loved Australian author Odo Hirsch.

The bees are dying. And not only the bees from Mr and Mrs Deaver’s hives. All the bees in the region are carking it. They’re not swarming. There’s no suspected foul play. What on earth could be going on?

And worse – how will Mr Fisher – the gardener of the Bell Estate, responsible for feeding the Bell family and most of the township with luscious fruit and veg – harvest an unpollinated crop? An unfertilised orchard? A pollen-free field? Blossoms are poised to open, and without bees – things are looking rather dire for the entire township.

Then there’s the honey. How on earth will the Bell’s cook, Mrs Simpson, make her famous cakes and pies without honey?

Darius is desperate to help. He doesn’t want the town to lose its fresh produce crop. He doesn’t want Mr and Mrs Fisher and their daughter Margeurite to move away to find work, so with the aid of his school chums Oliver Roberts and Paul Klasky (of the warmly funny adage-repeating fame), he sets about discovering how on earth he can replace the bees.

Crashing an Apiarists’ meeting at the council chambers, Darius is heartened by the possibility that bees could be brought in from other regions for temporary respite, but as he does so villainously in the first book, awful mayor – Mr Podcock  – stops at nothing to kybosh their plans.

With a delightful subplot featuring a lovely science teacher, a prickly principal and a kooky costume parade, this is another round of old-fashioned story-telling by Hirsch. The divine, almost comical characters and dialogue are definitely Hirch’s forté – there is a real knack for creating the good, the bad and the ugly in his books, and Darius and his cast of characters are pure delight.

Plotting is similarly beautifully-executed, though I was disappointed with the seemingly endless repetition in the book – to the point of eye-rolling. Either this is an editing fault or the author is underestimating the ability of children to ‘get it’ the first time. Although the reiteration of the fact that plants need bees to pollinate them in order to fruit was aggravating, Hirsch used this repetition well when it came to the bumbling inability of Hector Bell to absorb anything on a scientific level, being that his sensibilities dwelt solely within the literary world.

I was also disappointed with the misnomer in the Crystal Bees title. I had conjured great, anticipatory images of some fantastical, magical, mechanical bees created with some of the light-as-feather magic contained in the first book, but this failed to materialise, and indeed, the only reference to crystal is that Darius gets his Big Idea for finally solving the bee crisis, whilst visiting the Crystal Pool.

Nevertheless, this is another entertaining read, with a catalogue of endearing characters and another beautifully-crafted comeuppance ending that will satisfy the humanitarian in us all.

Did you know? Odo Hirsch was born in Melbourne. His real name is David Kausman.

Darius Bell and the Crystal Bees is published by Allen & Unwin.

Five Very Bookish Questions with author/illustrator Frané Lessac

Which genre of children’s books do you like most and why?
I love picture book biographies because they breathe life into stories about real people for young people. I recently picked about two beauties; A Nation’s Hope – The Story of Boxing Legend Joe Louis. The artwork by Caldecott winner Kadir Nelson is exquisite.  And My Hands Sing the Blues – Romare Bearden’s Childhood Journey. Illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon, she honours Bearden’s work by creating the art in collage.

Which books did you love to read as a young child?
Every Beatrix Potter Peter Rabbit book. Love that Peter was nearly as naughty as me.

Which three attributes make for a great children’s book?
Engaging, Enriching and Empowering. The The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams

What is your number one tip for encouraging children to read?
Make it fun.

Name three books you wish you’d written.
Fox by Margaret Wild
My Farm by Alison Lester
Where the Wild Things Are Maurice Sendak

 

 

About Frané

Frané Lessac joins the National Year of Reading 2012 initiative as a State Ambassador for Western Australia.  She’s the Illustrator Liaison for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators for Australia West. In 2010, Frané was awarded The Muriel Barwell Award for Distinguished Service to Children’s Literature. She constantly visits schools, libraries and festivals sharing the process of writing and illustrating books, empowering both children and adults.  Her latest book is The Greatest Liar on Earth – A True Story by Walker Books.

www.franelessac.com

Review – Banjo Bounces Back

Banjo is a hoofball star. He loves hoofball so much, he can barely sleep before a game. He practises every afternoon with his friend Bella, and on Saturdays he plays with his team the Whinnies.

But one day, Banjo flies too high. He takes a tumble – and is laid up for six weeks. The worst possible scenario for a hoofball star.

During his recuperation, Banjo becomes bored. He eats too much molasses, and when he finally returns to the hoofball field, his sedentary, molasses-slurping days are on show. He gets puffed easily. His uniform is a tad too small. When he accidentally falls on the ball . . . it, er – pops.

Poor Banjo. He’s so depressed over his larger-than-life state, he becomes despondent and refuses to join in the game. It’s not until his best friend Bella gets sick and has to go to horspital, that Banjo realises exactly what must be done.

Funny and gorgeously illustrated, Banjo Bounces Back is a book with a very gentle moralistic punch. Hume’s delightful (and very equine) word play is loads of fun; his dry humour equally so. Banjo is a character many children will instantly relate to and warm to, and the spirit-of-the-team and being-there-for-each-other themes (not to mention keeping physically active) don’t present at a gallop, but rather a gentle trot.

My only small criticism would be the ending – due to the clever and humorous nature of the book proper, I had expected a similar ending, and although the ending is certainly pleasant, I just feel it could have been something ‘more’. Nevertheless, Lachie Hume, son of author/illustrator Alison Lester, certainly has book writing and illustrating in his blood.

Banjo Bounces Back is published by Omnibus.

Review – Alex and the Watermelon Boat

Alex is lounging around at home when his mum tells him not to go outside.

Of course, what does a child do when you tell them not to do something? Alex is compelled. Especially as his favourite stuffed toy, Rabbit, has hopped out the window, and of course, Alex has to go find him.

But outside, the river has burst its banks. The dam had overflowed. The water is rising and more fat rain clouds are hovering around menacingly. Binky the Cat is stuck on a roof. Merilyn Kafoops and her dog Dyson are also stranded on a roof, cooking up a storm on the barbie. But where is Merilyn’s twin? And where is Rabbit?

In search of his friend, Alex embarks in a watermelon boat, past empty shops and robbers stealing sausages from the butcher. Past pots and pans and memories being washed down the river. Past stranded people, and misplaced furniture and a shark which is blocking the freeway and causing a terrible traffic jam.

Does Alex find Rabbit or does he become terribly lost in the flooded confusion?

McKimmie’s iconic illustrations are also a flood, washing each double page spread with colour, vigour and complementary mediums that make for a striking visual feast. This collage-like effect has been created using both acrylic and oil paints, gouache, ink, pastels, pencils, pens, stamps, sticky tape and more.

First person tense and scattered, varying typography make for a layered, newspaper/journal feel to the book, which perfectly harnesses McKimmie’s childlike imagery. Although the book has a somewhat dark feel – thanks to its haunting images of the devastation of flood – it is ultimately a story of hope and renewal.

Alex and the Watermelon Boat is published by Allen & Unwin.

 

Five Very Bookish Questions with author Libby Hathorn

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

My taste is far reaching depending on mood from realism to fantasy but a recent wonderful read is the novel Jasper Jones and a hum-dinger of a fantasy is The Night Circus.

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

I adored family stories such as Seven Little Australians, was an early fan of May Gibbs Scotty in Gumnutland series and  would be transported by a story such as The Secret Garden or The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. A favourite picture book was The Red Balloon.

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

Freshness of characters (unless a sequel), a smooth flowing style that makes you want to turn pages (like the Harry Potter series) and an original idea.

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

If anyone wants to write then they must read a lot and more than that, they must write a lot, too. Journals and diaries, scraps and fragments all can build into a new idea and thus into a new story. So my tip is to both read and write a lot!

Name three books you wish you’d written.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Alice in Wonderland and The Wind in the Willows.

 

About Libby

Libby Hathorn is an award-winning Australian author of more than fifty books for children. Her stories have been translated into several languages and adapted for stage and screen. Her work has won honours in Australia as well as in the United States, United Kingdom and Holland. She was awarded a Centenary Medal in 2003. She lives in Sydney’s eastern suburbs.

libbyhathorn.com

Review – The 13-Storey Treehouse

Now, I ask you this. Who would NOT want to live in a thirteen-storey treehouse? Or a treehouse at all, for that matter. And most particularly, who wouldn’t want to live in a thirteen-storey treehouse with a see-through swimming pool? An underground laboratory? A flying machine that shoots marshmallows into your mouth?

No one, that’s who. And to top it all off (as if you could want more) – you’d get to live with Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton and their whackadoodle lifestyle, where cats fly, gorillas scale your exterior walls and sea monkeys turn into great hulking monsters (that may or may not have first made Terry fall in love with them).

This is a kooky-good book that was tremendous fun to read. I loved not only the shenanigans this clever pair got up to, but I loved taking a glimpse into the lives and working processes of two very dedicated kid-lit professionals, who clearly take their work very seriously. And making kids laugh and stretching their imaginations wide – well, that’s very serious business indeed.

Coupled with funny, scratchy illustrations that will engage even younger readers, The 13-Storey Treehouse is another triumph in the get-kids-reading junior fiction world. That is, I’m sure, until The 26-Storey Treehouse comes out this September.

Watch this space.

The 13-Storey Treehouse is published by Pan Macmillan.

Review – Let’s Count Kisses

Kisses? Koalas? Butterflies? Always a hit with the toddler set, and this adorable book, illustrated by Karen Hull is bound to be a winner – not only for its truly gorgeous images, but for its Aussie animal content, and lift-the-flap pages.

Launching into a tribe of kissing butterflies, scattered across the first double page spread, kids will delight in finding and counting said butterflies as they scatter across pages and under the right hand page flap, past a series of adorable critters. A koala, a wallaby and her joey, a galah and kookaburra, an echidna, wombat and more – all sleepy little creatures, getting ready for bed.

As each flap is lifted, kids can count the butterflies quietly, in a lovely wind-down for bedtime. Large illustrations of sleepy animals are calming and truly beautiful to look at – and the sleeping wombat at the end made me want to snuggle under the covers, post haste.

At the end of the book, kids are invited to blow kisses to the butterflies as they drift off to sleep. A visually sweet book, it would make a lovely gift for overseas friends or Aussies on post.

Let’s Count Kisses is published by Lothian Children’s Books.

Review – Two Mates

Jack and Raf are good mates. They live in Broome, Western Australia, and have lived there since they were babies.

They love their life in the Kimberley. During the dry season, it’s a little cooler  but in the wet season, it’s hot and sticky. That’s when Jack and Raf catch big green frogs on Jack’s Nan’s verandah.

Sometimes the boys go fishing with Raf’s Dad. He knows where all the good fishing spots are. Salmon is a specialty. They also hunt with Uncle Ned, who knows all about bush tucker and spotting barni (goanna). On Saturdays, both boys love to go to the Courthouse markets where they nibble satay with rice and watch the buskers. They also love to swim, ride on quad bikes and play imaginary games – flying through the cosmos, stopping off at planets along the way.

But there’s something a little different about this friendship. Although it’s not noticeable through the story, young Raf never stands or walks in this book. He is wheelchair bound with spina bifida yet this lovely, simple tale reveals nothing until the very end of the story – in so doing, proving that disability is in the eye of the beholder – and no disability can kybosh true friendship and an inherent zest for life.

This book has been written about two real life boys living in Broome, and the boys and their families are introduced at the end of the book, complete with photos. Author Melanie Prewett not only reveals the boys’ abiding friendship, she takes the reader on a delightful tour of the Kimberley that is a joy to share in, and is glaring in its polarity to the life of many modern city kids.

Illustrator Maggie Prewett has beautifully captured the vitality and mateship of these two young boys, with vibrant illustrations, awash with colour and warmth.

Both author and illustrator are descended from the Ngarluma people of the Pilbara region of WA. Melanie and Maggie are mother and grandmother to Jack, respectively. A note from Raf’s mum Kim at the end of the book adds an inspiring touch to this lovely story, encouraging kids to view others by seeing what they can do rather than what they can’t.

Two Mates is published by Magabala Books.

Five Very Bookish Questions with illustrator Cheryl Orsini

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

I’m a big fan of all sorts of picture books and have to fight my 9-year-old daughter for ownership – quite often we have to buy two copies. My favourite author/illustrator is Maira Kalman; she embraces all manner of nonsense in her writing and her illustrations are wonky and wonderful. A couple of her books include Chicken Soup Boots and What Pete Ate From A-Z.

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

Always, always picture books for me. I still have a few very weather beaten (and page eaten) copies of The Man Who Didn’t Wash His Dishes by Phyllis Krasilovsky, I Can Fly by Ruth Krauss and illustrated by the prolific Mary Blair, and a much loved copy of Babar’s Voyage by Jean de Brunhoff.

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

vanallsburgA curious surprise – I’m quietly thrilled by a story that takes an unexpected turn. A good example that comes to mind is The Sweetest Fig by Chris Van Allsburg. I won’t say much more about that, I don’t want to spoil the ending!

Quietly funny – It’s quite wonderful when a book is able to make you smile each time you read it. Big Rabbit’s Bad Mood by Ramona Badescu, illustrated by Delphine Durand.

Thoughtful detail – There’s nothing more exciting than coming to the pages in Eloise in Moscow when you open up to reveal Russia in all its glory. Amazing!

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

Let them choose want they want to read, give them plenty of time in the bookstore to browse the books and have them choose one themselves.

Name three books you wish you’d written.

Lost and Found by Oliver Jeffers, Irving the Magician by Tohby Riddle and Each Peach Pear Plum by Janet and Allan Ahlberg.

About Cheryl

With a love of colour and a weakness for a good story, Cheryl Orsini’s illustrations regularly appear in many Australian magazines including The Australian Women’s Weekly and Gardening Australia Magazine. Best known for her children’s books, Cheryl has over 20 titles to her name, her most recent being Pom Pom, Where Are You?, The ABC Book of Rockets, Planets and Outer Space and Wibbly Wobbly Street.

cherylorsiniillustration.blogspot.com

cherylorsini.com

 

Review – I Love My ABC, I Love My 123

Toddlers aplenty know and love Anna Walker’s gorgeous Ollie books, featuring a zebra-like softie and his charming friends, resplendently illustrated in Walker’s inimitable style that remind me of a soft shoe shuffle – gentle, heartwarming and so sweet to watch.

In these new board books for toddlers, released tomorrow, Ollie takes little ones through their ABCs and their 123s, with luscious yet simple illustrations that make you want to tear out the pages and pin them to your child’s wall (yes, this has been done in our house in the past, though I always stock up on a readable copy, too!).

Thick card pages mean longevity, and if your toddler is anything like the discerning modern toddler, who likes a little art with their ABCs, there will be a lot of page flicking going on. Cute.

I Love My ABC and I Love My 123 are published by Scholastic.

Review – Little Red Hood

The iconic little red is given the avant-garde treatment in this stunning book by author/illustrator Marjolaine Leray. Originally published in French under the title un petit chaperon rouge, this striking book packs a visual punch – but its clever, minimalist text is the perfect nest for a series of scratchy illustrations that can be – dare I say it, a tad unnerving.

Like the irreverent new release I Want My Hat Back, this seemingly unassuming little book pulls weight against the bully – and this nasty pants wolf is in for a big surprise after he dares throw his weight around with gutsy little Red.

When Red is snatched by this intimidating ectomorphic creature, with razor sharp teeth and rapier-like claws, Red most drily talks through the old ‘visiting-grandma-my-what-big-teeth-you-have’ rigmarole, with hilarious wolfish reaction. And when it comes to the climax of the story – something about eating someone with very sharp teeth – let’s just say it’s just so lovely to witness a bit of girl power.

Clever, funny, a tad dark, this book would suit kids aged 7+ . . . or a little younger if your kids are not a big fat chicken like me. A must-have for lovers of artistic, clever books, with morals so deeply embedded, a bloodhound couldn’t sniff them out. Perfect.

Little Red Hood is published by Phoenix Yard books.

Five Very Bookish Questions with author Ursula Dubosarsky

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

It’s hard to say as an adult, but as a child I loved time travel stories the best. The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge was one I really loved, and The Ghosts by Antonia Barber. The first children’s book I wrote was a time travel adventure for this reason – Zizzy Zing.

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

As a young child I really loved Gone is Gone by Wanda Gag. It’s a retelling of a Bohemian folk story with beautiful black and white illustrations. I seem to have preferred black and white or minimally coloured illustrations for some reason!

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

I like rich, natural child-centred language. I like books that look at life and the world through a child’s eye, rather than at childhood through an adult’s eye. I want a book to make the child reading it feel loved.

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

I think these days it’s probably important to have times where there is nothing to do but read, ie: the only entertainment around is books. If there’s an electronic device around, it’s pretty hard to get children (um, or adults) to pick up a book, but if there’s nothing else I think they can be surprised and delighted by the pleasures of reading.

Name three books you wish you’d written.

What do you say, dear? by Sesyle Joslin, illustrated by Maurice Sendak

The Mousewife by Rumer Godden

The Muddleheaded Wombat by Ruth Park

 

 

About Ursula

Ursula was born in Sydney and always wanted to be a writer. Now she has written over 30 books and won several national literary awards. Her latest books are the picture book The Carousel illustrated by Walter di Qual, the young adult novel The Golden Day and just out, the non-fiction The Word Spy’s Activity Book.

www.ursuladubosarsky.com

www.thegoldenday.info

 

Review – Sophie Scott Goes South

‘Woohoo! I’m going to Antarctica!’

Can you imagine? Hang the snow-white ice, I’m turning jungle green that this nine-year-old is in for the experience of a lifetime – something many adults would knock polar bears over for. Oh wait – make that penguins – because there are no polar bears in Antarctica, you see. Only penguins. Whales, too. And seals. And lots and lots of ice.

Young Sophie has scored big time. Her dad just happens to be the captain of the Aurora Australis – a great hulking red icebreaker of a ship that travels south to deliver supplies to Mawson Station. It takes nearly two weeks to get there, so Sophie will be away over a month. She’s so excited. And I’m excited for her!

Alison Lester has penned yet another classic picture book in Sophie Scott Goes South. Drawing from her own experiences aboard the Aurora Australis in 2005, Alison’s brand new book is not only a visual feast, it’s an information bounty, told in a diary-style format by young Sophie. Indeed, during Alison’s own 6-week voyage, she sent daily emails to schools and families around the world about her trip, and in response, children sent Alison stories and drawings which were eventually compiled into an exhibition which has toured both Australia and overseas.

An extension of this exhibition, this beautiful book contains images from the exhibition, all wrapped up in a warm journalistic story, told by a fictional girl I wish was me. From the informative photos of the icebreaker, icebergs and Antarctic scenes, to the gorgeous author-illustrations and beautiful children’s drawings, this is one enviable journey, told in a way only Alison knows how.

Threading a delightful story with stamps, diagrams, photos and notelets, this high text picture book will thoroughly engage kids – both entertaining and educating them in one fell swoop. This book is not only a delight to look at and learn from, it is one of those stories that make your pulse quicken and bring out the inherent adventurer within. I’m off to pack my parka . . .

Sophie Scott Goes South is published by Penguin.

Five Very Bookish Questions with author/illustrator Gus Gordon

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

Picture books are my favourite genre because there is so much going on. There are so many layers of story – in the visuals and the narrative and I enjoy the challenge of making it work in order to marry the two as seamlessly as possible. I like that there can be something for everybody – old or young. I also love picture books for their ability to tell a good story with rich, affective illustrations, sometimes with no words at all. Shaun Tan’s book The Arrival is a good example of the power of clever storytelling through strong visuals.

I am particularly attracted to well written picture books that are just plain funny – the nonsensical the better. Mr. Chicken Goes To Paris by Leigh Hobbs is off-the-wall in terms of silliness and the illustrations amplify the wonderful oddness of the whole thing. It’s deceptively clever and Leigh is a master of this type of book. Intelligent, funny picture books never get the credit they deserve.

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

1. Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Graham
2. Harry The Dirty Dog by Gene Zion
3. Everything by Roald Dahl
4. Busy, Busy World by Richard Scarry
5. The Lord of The Rings by J.R.R.Tolkien

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

1. For me the story has to start well; with a bang or a promise that the book is going to be a great book. The opening line (especially in a picture book) or paragraph has got to say to the reader ‘you’re going to love this book!’ Otherwise, what’s the point.

Oliver Jeffers’ opening line from his picture book Lost and Found is a good example. It begins ‘Once there was a boy and one day he found a penguin at his door.’ It asks so many questions – we have to find out what happens. Another is Tomi Ungerers’ book Adelaide. It begins: ‘Adelaide’s parents were surprised when they saw that their daughter Adelaide had wings.’ Brilliant – I’m in!

2. Well-rounded, strong character/s. The character needs to be believable, memorable and interesting if the reader is going to give them their time and invest in the story. Olivia by Ian Falconer is a great character that kids can relate to. They love her inquisitiveness and her naughty side. Plus she is interesting to look at which always helps.

3. Respect for the reader. I have trouble with books that hand feed everything to the reader, not allowing them to piece the story together themselves – spelling every detail out. It’s insulting. The reader feels much more involved in the story when they are able to form their own visuals and own summations of what they are reading. There is a greater sense of gratification for the reader when they have worked for their meal. They empathise better with the books’ characters and their journeys. They then feel more committed to turning the page.

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

Aside from reading to them, I would say ‘be seen reading.’ Children grow up mimicking their parents and if both parents read there is a greater chance that their children will want to read too. Makes sense to me anyway.

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

1. Where The Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

2. The Iron Man by Ted Hughes

3. Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Graham

About Gus

Gus Gordon is an author and illustrator based in Sydney Australia. He has written and illustrated over 70 books for children. His picture book, Wendy, about a motorcycle riding stunt chicken, was selected as a Children’s Book Council of Australia (CBCA) Notable Book in the 2010 Book of the Year Awards. His new picture book, recently sold to the US and due out in Australia in September, is called Herman and Rosie.

www.gusgordon.com

www.facebook.com/GusGordonbooks

Review – The Emperor’s New Clothes Horse

Fortunate is the author who happens to have a book illustrated by the über talented Sue deGennaro. What I love about Sue’s work is that she takes risks and uses so many varying styles and mediums – it’s like opening a beautifully-wrapped present every time you spy her name on a cover.

These striking illustrations were an absolute joy to meander through. Featuring a 1920s-Pinocchio-come-Swiss-Alps-come-Italianesque style (yes, I am taking creative license on my presumed illustration-inspiration!), the delicate shapes, lines and colours deGennaro uses are absolutely scrumptious.

But what of the story?

Happily, Tony Wilson has penned a fabulous story that no doubt provided such illustration inspiration. In his story, we meet a horse racing emperor who is so good at racing horses, he’s won every single race except the Cristobel Cup. Sending his royal trainers on a grand hunt to find a horse capable of the Cup, the Emperor is charmed by some ‘international’ trainers who wear fancy hats and smile a lot.

Hmm.

The trainers (who appear to have been heftily trained in psychological warfare) warn the Emperor – ‘This is a very magical horse.’ Indeed. It would have to be, being that it’s made of wood, and is designed to hang damp clothes on.

The moment when young Frankie the stablehand goes to mention his mum has one of those in her laundry is laugh-out-loud funny. Watching the clothes horse train for the big race is laugh-out-loud funny. But the last line of the book – post-race – is beyond that. It’s spurt-your-coffee funny.

I love this book. I love the tone, the humour, the voice, the images. I’m also absolutely loving the page layout. Obviously reluctant to place a single comma into the striking landscapes of deGennaro’s work, text columns down the page edges provide the perfect spot for wordage, while smiling eyes can scan the imagery, completely unfettered. Brilliant.

A must-have for any picture book lover. And get one for the kids, too.

The Emperor’s New Clothes Horse is published by Scholastic.

Review – Meet Snuggle Pot and Cuddlepie

So lovely to see classic characters from a classic Aussie author, consistently revised and updated and brought into the current kid consciousness. And how can anyone resist these adorable May Gibbs icons – let alone kids?

This large format, hard cover book opens with a wallpaper of character endpapers, then introduces the reader to Snugglepot and Cuddlepie, high in a gum tree, resplendent in their gumnut hats and loin cloth leaves.

Through the book, readers will be treated to an abridged version of the tale, introducing us to Mrs Kookaburra, Mr Lizard, Ragged Blossom and a trapped possum, who needs help from his new friends.

Minimal text makes this an introduction children aged 2 and up can thoroughly enjoy – and Gibbs’ gorgeous images have been zoomed in on and enlarged – with each image washing over double page spreads. I love how the book ends with a beginning – ‘And so began the adventures of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie … ‘

Meet Snuggle Pot and Cuddlepie is published by Scholastic Australia.

Five Very Bookish Questions with author Tania Cox

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

I just love children’s picture books. I love the way the words and pictures are read together to tell the story. Every word must count and not be there merely for decoration. Love it! One of my favourite picture books is Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak which I discovered when I was about six. I love every word in this book and its timelessness. Another of my favourites is Wombat Divine by Mem Fox which I discovered when I was in my twenties. Wombat is one of the most lovable characters I’ve ever met in a book.

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

Where the Wild Things Are, The Very Hungry Caterpillar and the Dr Seuss books, especially Yertle the Turtle. I would borrow these books quite a lot from the school library and my mother would complain, “Not again!” Now of course, I have my own copies of these books.

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

I believe in emotion, suspense and humour, for example – Where the Wild Things Are.

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

Read books with topics that interest you.

Name three books you wish you’d written.

Where the Wild Things Are, Wombat Divine and Goodnight Moon.



About Tania

My sixth grade teacher gave the class an assignment of creating a picture book. I loved  the entire process. The seed of being a writer was planted there but I only started writing seriously in my mid twenties. I spent about four years doing external writing courses. After I’d finished, I was extremely fortunate to be mentored by the wonderful Ann James. My new books released this year are With Nan, Millie’s Special Something, What Makes My Mum Happy and What Makes My Dad Happy.

www.taniacox.com

 

Review – The Coat

Once there was a coat, stuffed with straw and languishing in a field all alone. The coat is a proud coat – and it’s also angry. Angry to be nothing more than a quasi-scarecrow in a field. “What a waste of me!” it cries to the sun and the sky.

Soon, a man walks by. He becomes intrigued by the coat and when he puts it on, it’s far too big for him. Nonetheless, the coat says “splendid” and so does the man.

The coat also tells the man he wants to go to town, where the two feast on a beautiful café meal of Rare Glissandro and Bass Magnifico. Alas, they have no money to pay for the meal, but the coast insists they earn their supper by entertaining the patrons.

Donning a pair of white gloves and taking an accordion in hand, the previously totally untalented man becomes a masestro musician, his fingers flying across the keys of the accordion in a white blur.

The man and the coat play together – a feast of music that entrances the audience, and as they play, the man grows into his coat, his voice becomes richer and the colours on the book’s pages become more active, more vibrant and colourful.

This is a fable-like book, with a strange and magical feel to it. The book has no real ending, but perhaps therein lies the mystique, as the man and the coat disappear to who-knows-where, ready to weave another major musical spell.

Illustrations by the award-winning Ron Brooks are a fusion of reed pen, brush, ink and shellac on watercolour paper, making for a lustrous set of images. I particularly love the endpapers and gorgeously monochromatic earlier vignettes of both city and country.

The Coat is a picture book ideal for older readers, aged 7+. It’s published by Allen & Unwin.

Five Very Bookish Questions with author Adam Wallace

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

This is so hard! I love different things about different genres. And reading and writing probably give me different favourites too. Oh man, what to say? I have to lean towards picture books I think, but still, oh, I can’t decide! Can I say I like children’s books as an entire genre? Two I LOVE are Huge Harold and The BFG.

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

Well, I sort of got into reading horror books quite young, but that’s probably not the answer you were after! My favourite books as a young child (before I became a bit twisted as a slightly older child) were Roald Dahl and Bill Peet books. I love how they have the underdog coming through and finding their place. And they’re funny, and brilliant, and awesome!

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

For me, it has to have humour. It doesn’t have to be laugh out loud funny, or slapstick type writing, but I need something that gets me grinning. The Thirteen Storey Treehouse by Andy Griffiths got me straight away and had me laughing out loud. The Princess Bride, book or movie, is so funny. Inconceivable!

Number 2 attribute (he he, number 2) would be to work on different levels.

Where you can read the book and take the fun and the laughs, or you can go deeper and find the message, or deeper still and find something the author may not even have known about! It can’t just be: “YOU MUST NOTICE AND LEARN OR THIS BOOK WILL BE WASTED ON YOU!” We should be able to take out of it what we will.

Oh, The Places You’ll Go! is one where although the message is blatantly obvious, the brilliance of the writing, the funny words, the amazing rhyme make you love the story and then go, “Oh. Right. Got it.”

Another great example of this are the Bill Peet books. The main character is usually an outcast, someone different, who needs to find their place in the world. But everything about these books is story and rhythm, and then there are themes to be discussed.

Atttribute number 3 would be rhythm. This can mean rhyme, but it doesn’t have to. It can be the flow of the words, or the flow of the entire story. Stargirl has amazing rhythm. It’s in prose, but it’s like the words sing to you. In rhyming rhythm, I think The Lorax is just about number one. It is brilliant.

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

Make it fun. Don’t make it seem like something they have to do, and most definitely do not make them read things they don’t want to read. Kids are put off so easily, and understandably, when they are forced to read books that they just don’t like. Let them see that reading is something to enjoy, a whole new world to explore, and that the creation of that world is in their hands and mind.

Name three books you wish you’d written.

Harry Potter, for the obvious reason – I love the name Hermione and now it’s been taken – dammit!

The Princess Bride, because there are passages in that book where I have actually gasped out loud at how amazingly well written they are.

Stargirl, because it is a life-changing book housed in a touching, funny, heartwarming, brilliant story.

Adam Wallace was an engineer. Then he realised that writing books for kids was WAY more fun, so he did that instead. Some of his books are funny and inspiring (The Incredible Journey of Pete McGee), and some are just plain gross (Better Out Than In). With 20 books published, and more on the way, Adam is fast becoming a well-known name in the world of children’s books.

www.adam-wallace-books.com
www.youtube.com/awallace100
www.facebook.com/wallysbooks

Review – Pom Pom: Where Are You?

Loving any book set in Paris, but even better when an adorable little puppy dog named Pom Pom is involved.

Pom Pom lives in a tall building in the heart of Paris. Every day, Henriette and her parents, walk him down the Rue Sainte-Geneviève to the post office. Keen to see ‘more of the world’, Pom Pom one day escapes, trotting off into the great Unknown.

This is a simple story, following the journey of a wee dog as he blunders his way into limousines, onto boats, skateboards and bicycles, into baby strollers, through an art gallery and into the home of a well-meaning family who think Pom Pom is helplessly lost and lonely.

Of course, it’s not until Pom Pom realises how much he misses his own family, that he knows he must try to find his way home. Can he make it back to Henriette?

Natalie Jane Prior’s story takes the reader on a glorious romp through Paris (who ever needs an excuse?). Her delightful little character will enchant children, as he scurries around the pages of this beautiful book.

Cheryl Orsini’s absolutely divine illustrations are some of my favourite in a picture book this year. From the endpapers, through the book proper and the covers, too, her utterly whimsical illustrations are so eye-engaging, it’s a delight to turn each page and witness a new surprise.

If you’re someone who appreciates really beautiful picture books, then Pom Pom is for you.

Pom Pom: where are you? is published by Penguin/Viking.

Review – The Word Spy Activity Book

Okay, I’ll admit it – if there’s one book series I wish I wrote, it’s Ursula Dubosarky’s The Word Spy. And to have Tohby Riddle illustrate, too – well. Yes, I’m green.

I love Dubosarsky’s enormously clever take on the English language via her Word Spy character. Not only has she made grammar, punctuation and word structure cool, she’s made it a whole lot of fun for kids, and many’s the hour both my children and myself have pored over her extraordinary journeys into the complexity of words.

This brand new (released today) activity book is the perfect foil for those of us wanting to scribble madly in The Word Spy books, but have never dared because they’re so beautiful.

Deliciously thick and beautifully produced, The Word Spy Activity Book is a feast of wordish fun, with tonnes of brain-stretching exercises to complete – and ideas to ponder on. Divided into several chapters including Favourite Words, Words and Feelings, Words and Pictures, Words and Writing, Word and Punctuation, Riddle’s beautiful silhouetted illustrations and design layout complement a series of fun activities.

Kids can enjoy creating a shadowy puppet show or creating their own rebuses (1 of my fave things in the world 2 do). I love how the author even compares rebuses to text messaging. There are riddles, visual word play, clues, and codes to crack. Visual kids can get visual, cerebral kids can get cerebral. They can close their eyes to write, invent their own script and learn Guinea Pig language.

A must-have for school holidays, travel or just everyday, the creativity and variety in this book is so Ursula Duboskarsky – intelligent, intensely clever and so very much FUN. Brilliant, but be prepped to fight the kids for it.

The Word Spy Activity Book is published by Penguin.

Five Very Bookish Questions with author Michael Wagner

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

Humour’s my favourite children’s book genre, although I do like horror, magic-realism and sport as well. I’m not sure what it is about humour that I like so much, but it certainly does lift my spirits and make me feel happy. Maybe that’s a good enough reason to like it.

The books in this genre I’d recommend are anything by Roald Dahl, Paul Jennings and Dav Pilkey. And lots of stuff by Anthony Horowitz as well!

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

I loved reading Asterix and a series called Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators. I loved that series so much that my friends and I formed our own little trio of investigators, complete with our own business card. Didn’t get any business unfortunately – which is probably why I’m an author now rather than a private eye.

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

Lovable characters
Interesting or funny problems to solve
A believable or hilarious world

The above authors do this well – but throw in Morris Gleitzman while I’m at it.

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

Read to them every night until they’re surprisingly old – like 12 or even up to 15 (if they’ll let you). Just make reading a daily, enjoyable habit.

Name three books you wish you’d written.

To Kill A Mocking Bird
Asterix
The Big Honey Hunt

Michael Wagner is the author of 50 children’s books, including the funny, action-packed Maxx Rumble series, The Undys, Dog Wars, Destiny’s Right Hand, and the delightful new adventures of stuffed survivalist, Ted – Ted Goes Wild, Ted Gets Lost, Ted Hits Town. As well as writing books, Michael sings and composes songs for his band, The Grownups, and has previously worked in radio with the ABC, written and produced award-winning television, and written and performed comedy.

www.michaelwagner.com.au