Review: The Vanishing Throne by Elizabeth May

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The Vanishing Throne by Elizabeth May is the follow up to the first book in her Scottish steampunk faerie series, The Falconer. Since I adored The Falconer so much, I went into this one with high hopes for another amazing and heart-pounding action adventures. It did NOT disappoint! In fact, I feel thoroughly exhausted right now from just how intense and face-paced this book was. It drove us forward into a war-torn world, from wicked faerie prisons to a destroyed Edinburgh. I felt like I fought battles, wielded a sword, and unravelled faerie secrets right alongside Aileana. I think that’s why I adore this series so much! It makes you feel part of the world, taking every step and breath with the protagonist.

The story takes off several months after the events of The Falconer. Aileana is now imprisoned by the wicked and evil Lonnrach as he drains her blood and roots through her memories looking for a hidden object. And Aileana is not alone alone, she has no idea if the world survived the breaking of the seal and every monster in faerie escaping into the world. Are her friends alive? What happened to her love, her mysterious faerie warrior partner, Kiaran McKay? Every day is a torment of wondering and hating herself from failing to keep everyone safe. Until she gets a chance to escape, aided by Kiaran’s long lost sister, who will stop at nothing to get Aileana back home. Except home is not what she left. And Lonnrach will stop at nothing to get her back. Even with her Falconer lineage making her a better warrior, it’s not enough. Aileana needs to unlock her powers — but the cost of that is so very deathly high.

As a huge fan of faerie stories in general, I really loved exploring May’s Scottish variation. I’m used to the Irish strains with Holly Black, Cassandra Clare, and Maggie Stiefvater’s books. But this really pulls forth a dark and viciously monstrous breed of faerie who are very far removed from being human. Sometimes I found the rules of their powers a bit convoluted and would’ve preferred some clear-cut definitions, but overall it was nail-biting not knowing which fae alliances would hold and which were doomed from the start. We also explore more into the backstory of the Seelie and Unseelie rulers and some ancient and dark forces who have answers Aileana would do a lot for. It was also excellent to finally find out the origin of the Falconers themselves.

Aileana continues to be a collision of vulnerability and violent warrior. I love this about her! We’re not given a YA character who just bulldozes into any dangerous situation. Oh Aileana wants to fight. She will fight anything (Kiaran also is 10/10 fond of stabbing things and is frequently told to sit down). But the book takes time to explore the PTSD of the traumas she’s gone through, to talk about her fears and feelings. It made the story so personal throughout all the action scenes and plot twists. I also was relieved that the 1800s “proper society” speak and plot lines had been retired (um, due to the world turning to ash and war) because Aileana was less constricted by that and free to be her badass self.

The friendship between Aileana and Kiaran’s sister, Aithinne, was a delightful surprise! Finding female-friendships you just can’t help but root for is my favourite thing. Aithinne was also a fantastic character, a bit mad from being locked up so long, and very flippant in fighting so she’d try Aileana’s patience amazingly. She brought some humour to the otherwise intense and dark storyline. But Aithinne also had her traumas. The book touched on women bonding together and lifting each other up in the face of having been abused by a man, and it was very tone-appropriate for this day and age too.

The book also explores a lot of the backstory and history of the faerie kingdoms. It’s a lot, but it was so good to get answers…and obviously unwind more questions. Some of the story takes place in the pixie kingdom where there’s a fragile alliance with some of the fey and the remaining living humans. There are also explorations to fae realms and shadow realms, and it keeps you on the edge of your seat the whole time. Not to mention the battles! The word we’re after here is: INTENSE.

This was a very satisfying sequel, with no hint of a lagging pace, and I couldn’t have been more pleased! The unwinding romance of Aileana (a girl who causes chaos) and Kiaran (a boy who brings death) is addictive and satisfying and I can’t wait to see where it goes in the finale, The Fallen Kingdom.

A Discovery of Witches (Times Two)

Having once been a must-read-the-books-before-watching-the-show purist, I’ve come full circle, watching A Discovery of Witches before I even knew there was a book of the same name to read.

Clearly I’d missed the cultural zeitgeist memo, with Deborah HarknessAll Souls trilogy, of which A Discovery of Witches is the first instalment, being popular enough to warrant being picked up for TV.

But with the first A Discovery of Witches season just eight—albeit excellent—episodes long, and a second season only commissioned after the first series went gangbusters and therefore not yet even shooting, there’s frustratingly too little televisual offerings of the tale available.

Which is why I am, frankly, grateful for the books. Or, rather, even more so than usual.

How close is it to the book? I wondered while watching the show. And what happens after the cliffhanger Season 1 left us on?

The short answer is: very close, with the TV show staying incredibly true to the book save for some (I would argue necessary) tightening up of a few plot points to keep the story moving swiftly. The other short answer is: I’m just about to find out. I’m waiting for the second book to arrive, so will be able to report back just as soon as I have it in my hands.

For those uninitiated with A Discovery of Witches—as I was just a few weeks ago—the book introduces us to the complex crossover of the lives and politics of witches, vampires, and daemons. Protagonist Diana Bishop is an orphaned witch turned academic of alchemy who doesn’t operate as a witch.

When she unknowingly calls up a long-lost book from the Oxford library stacks—a book that is rumoured to contain answers about the three creatures’ beginnings and potentially endings—she attracts the interest and the ire of witches, vampires, and daemons alike.

In particular, she attracts the attention of vampire Matthew De Clairmont, with an attraction between the two of them crossing the traditional bounds of vampire–witch relationships. Cue much tension between the different species surrounding them and the elusive manuscript. Also much banter between all three.

A perk of coming to the series so late is that all three books in the trilogy are already available. Which means the only thing getting between me devouring the tale is the fact that I’m waiting for Books 2 and 3 to arrive in the mail.

Boomerang Books has notified me that the books have shipped and I’m eking out the final pages of Book 1 while I wait. Suffice to say I’ll be shaking down the postie every time they so much as look in my mailbox’s direction …

Picture Books to Prepare for School – Part 2

In Part 1 of the ‘preparing for school’ series, we focused our attention on themes relating to new beginnings and gentle steps towards independence and new friendships. This post will include picture books with beautifully heartwarming sentiments of embracing our own and others’ individuality, uniqueness and personal preferences, what makes us human and advocating for equality. A value-driven start to the new year will set us all up for a peaceful, harmonious future.

Beginning with P. Crumble and Jonathan Bentley’s new release; We Are All Equal, this issue-based, prevalent topic in today’s society is a terrific resource to introduce to youngsters right from the get-go. Actress, comedian and LGBTQIA rights activist, Magda Szubanski, gives it “A resounding YES!” Here’s a book that truly celebrates the richness of difference and the reinforcement of equality despite lifestyle, origin, wealth, ability, size, shape, or gender or sexuality preference. We Are All Equal uses its gorgeous illustrations of a range of animals to highlight our wonderful diversity without preaching didactic messages. Rather, it phrases each rhyming verse gently and with the opening of “We are all EQUAL…” It dispels the idea of bullying and performance-based pressures, and focuses on sharing our hopes and dreams, pride and sense of community. A must-read for children and adults globally.

Scholastic, November 2018.

Ann Stott and Bob Graham address another current topic of today in Want to Play Trucks?. Acceptance, compromise and negotiation are all qualities that make the friendship between Jack and Alex so special. Here are two boys with differing preferences that encourage us as readers to challenge common gender stereotypes. They are excellent role models for our young children who may come to the playground with already-formed preconceptions on what is ‘typical’ behaviour. The narrative involves heavy dialogue between Jack, who likes noise, action and danger, and Alex, who enjoys “dolls that dance and wear tutus”. Graham further reinforces the notion of ‘getting along’ in this diverse environment with his subtle illustrative references to culture, ability and lifestyle in and around the sandpit setting. Want to Play Trucks? shows us a very raw and real look into a non-stereotypical world of imagination and pretend play. Recommended for pre-schoolers and beyond.

Walker Books, August 2018.

The pairing of Nicola Connelly and Annie White come together again following the gorgeous My Dad is a Bear in this fun, light-hearted tale of diversity and inclusivity; it’s Is It The Way You Giggle? This is a sweet rhyming story with whimsical, soft-palette and energetic illustrations that ooze with the magical essence of joy in childhood. The narrative begs a thousand questions for the reader to ponder, beginning (and ending) with the essential premise – “What makes you special?” There are a multitude of qualities, skills and characteristics that make us all unique, and this book is a beautiful discussion starter to have with your little one upon entering the journey of new experiences – to be able to be proud of and confident in who they are, as well as recognising and welcoming the similarities and differences in others. From the colours of your eyes or skin, to the shape of your ears, the things you enjoy like singing and dancing, the way you giggle or wiggle, your interests in painting, writing, reading or swimming, or how you love your family. Big, small, common or quirky, this book allows us the freedom and celebration of being unique. Is It The Way You Giggle? is a feel-good story for preschool-aged children that will certainly bring a smile to their face.

New Frontier Publishing, April 2018.

Filthy Fergal comes delivered in a whole league of its own when it comes to books on individuality. Sigi Cohen of the My Dead Bunny fame, together with illustrator, Sona Babajanyan, unapologetically present this disturbingly witty rhyming tale of a filthy boy thriving in the repugnant squaller of rubbish and flies. In similar vein to the legendary classics of Paul Jennings, through grime and repulsion and gag-worthy moments, there is love and family and an all-important ‘twist’ that aims to melt your heart. The text’s dark humour matches perfectly with the illustrations’ ominous and grungy mixed-media, multi-layered techniques. Filthy Fergal may not overtly promote good hygiene practices, but it does clean up in the areas of exploring belonging, commonality and difference, and being true to yourself. Suitably unsightly for school-aged children.

Yellow Brick Books, October 2018.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Review: Girls Of Paper And Fire by Natasha Ngan

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Girls of Paper And Fire by Natasha Ngan is a brutal and harrowing story, mixed with gorgeous writing and a lush setting and a heroine you can’t help but adore. It’s a dark premise, but it’s handled so well, and it’s also important to discuss. And how amazing it is to see YA shelves being filled with more and more diverse fantasy tales?! This is rooted in Asian lore and myths and also has a sweet and lovely queer girl romance, along with demons and rebellions, secrets and assassins, and women who fight back.

The story follows Lei, who is a member of the Paper caste — the lowest of lows and also, disgracefully, human. The world is ruled by demons, with a demon king on the throne who has zero tolerance for rebellions. Her life is pretty quiet and simple as she lives with her father since her mother was taken by the palace some years ago. But then the palace guards return, this time for Lei. He’s heard tales of her intriguing golden eyes and he wants to own her too, nevermind how Lei feels about it. With no option but to go (or die), Lei is taken to the palace and turned into one of the king’s concubines. She and eight other girls are trained to serve him, learning to charm and be delicate ladies with manners. But Lei wants to find out what happened to her mother and she’d rather see this king destroyed instead of taking more girls. Amidst trying to stay afloat in this quiet but backstabbing world, she starts to fall for one of the other girls in the king’s consort: the mysterious and beautiful Wren, who is definitely more than she seems. Lei is determined not to lie down and let the world walk over her. It’s time to show the world she’s not made of paper, but instead: fire.

I particularly enjoyed the world building Ngan gives us. It’s intense and well-developed, making it a delight to explore as we learn the history and why the demon king is in power. It had a lot of typical average-YA-fantasy things going in, but wrote them in a captivating fresh voice. The inspiration is from the author’s own Chinese and Malaysian background and I think that’s incredibly special too. You can tell how much heart and love went into this telling!

The premise is ultimately very dark, centring around a demon king who murders humans and rapes his consorts. While it never gets graphic, it is also careful to unpack and discuss this horror. I’m actually really glad the author is dealing with this dark topic for teens because, as she said in her author’s note: While I realise these are hard discussions, especially for teens, it is of vital important we have them. Books can be safe places to explore difficult topics. While we cannot shelter young people from being exposed to sexual violence, whether through lived experience or indirectly, we can give them a way to safely engage with and reflect upon these issues. I hope Girls provides such a space.” This is so so true. Teens are aware and affected by these issues TODAY and they need discussion, not sheltering. It’s a horrible and harrowing topic, but handled with care.

I also loved the inclusion of romance between Lei and Wren! They’re so sweet together and I loved how their initial attraction grows into a deeper and lovely bond. It’s also special to see lgbtqia+ romances starring in fantasy books, because that’s still something we’re starved of!

Lei is such a winning protagonist too. She’s so real. She’s unsure and anxious, and prone to impulsive decisions. I loved her brave and fiery side, but also how she wasn’t stony or closed off. Her heart was on her sleeve and it was refreshing to have a heroine who is equal parts brave and awkward.

Honestly these girls just stole the whole book and are here to steal your hearts as well. It’s a gripping and emotional read, fantastically written and engaging. It features people who are cruel and people who are kind. It’s no light fluffy fantasy, but it’s one that will stay with you and make you think.

Slam Poetry: ‘Limelight’ by Solli Raphael

Solli Raphael is a phenomenal Australian slam-poet. I was fortunate to meet him at a Penguin Random House roadshow. He is a personable, thoughtful young man with an enormous talent. He is only thirteen.

Solli is the youngest Australian to win the all-age poetry competition, the National Australian Slam Poetry Finals, held at the Sydney Opera House in 2017. This led to a TEDx solo live poetry performance at Sydney’s International Convention Centre in front of 5000 people and a solo performance at the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast in front of 35,000 people (with millions watching here and around the world) in 2018.

He has a vision that sees people caring for all humanity, as well as for our environment. He writes and delivers his poems with thoughtfulness and engagement. You can view some of his performances online (links below). He presents his important themes and issues with developing tone and pacing, enhanced by thoughtful, apt facial expressions and gestures.

And now he has written a book, Limelight where he introduces slam poets as people who “use their personal experience to tell a poetic story”, often employing rhyme. Repetition, alliteration and assonance also feature in Solli’s work. Solli and his fellow slam poets aim to raise awareness on issues such as the environment or racism.

In Limelight Solli shares his experiences of some of his formative performances and gives writers’ tips. These include his creative discipline of brainstorming ideas at the same time each day and how he counteracts writers’ block. He explains some of the figurative speech he uses, such as similes, metaphors and idioms.

There are over 30 poems (in a range of forms) and slam poetry in the book. The title poem, ‘Limelight’ is a combination of slam poetry and song. ‘We Can be More’ is a paean to protect the planet: “realise that your litter is a bitter pinch to the earth”. Solli’s performance of ‘Australian Air’ has been viewed 3.5 million times online and is a highlight of the book. Its play on “air” and “heir” challenges us to act to save our country. Its refrain, “We breathe in, we breathe out” gives us space to physically breathe in and out and recognise the essential nature of air and breath: something we can’t survive without and we ignore at our peril. Other poems include ‘Media Literacy: Fake News’ and ‘Evolution’.

Solli has a list of upcoming appearances on his website. He is worth seeing as well as reading.

Slam and similar poetry are of particular appeal to young readers but Solli Raphael offers creative, intelligent, challenging ideas, all wrapped in hope, for everyone.

Web: www.solliraphael.com.au

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCRLfzW5wCxIqnyXaoE2nOlw

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/solliraphael/

Instagram: @solliraphael

Picture Books to Prepare for School – Part 1

Whether your little one is a school starter or not, undoubtedly, they will need to prepare themselves for a new year of friendships, challenges, opportunities and exciting adventures. There will also be chances to inquire into and discover all new domains, hence raising even more questions about the world than ever. The following picture books are the perfect guides to helping with the navigation of unfamiliar experiences and the mastering of the already familiar. All the best of luck and success for the year ahead!

Philip Bunting is such a genius! In How Did I Get Here?, this author-illustrator pro takes us on an amusing and absolutely fascinating journey through life. That is, life as we never knew it before we came into existence. But what exactly was existence like back at the beginning of time? Well, according to Bunting, “our entire universe fit into a space smaller than an orange.” And then there was a really BIG BANG, and particles formed to create ginormous dust clouds. I love the language put so simply and whimsically, yet appropriately contextual and factual as to not undermine the intellect of our inquisitive readers. Scoring through the development of Earth to the first forms of life, we come to realise that we are all related, all created equal – that “All of life is one.” Over generations life forms adapted and changed, evolution brought on many species, including Homo sapiens, whose curiosity took them to all corners of the Earth (“Except Antarctica. We left that to the penguins.”). Bunting raises an important concept, and empathetic touch, in reminding us that our similarities and differences unite us as one. As well, he leaves us with a special, heartwarming feeling that the miracle of life – that is you – is a culminated creation from those particles that were once part of the stars and Earth. But imagine if any of those occurrences happened differently… another existential query to ponder!

With its endearing storytelling narrative, and funny speech bubble dialogue amongst the enchanting cartoon-style, stone-age characters and cute diagrams, How Did I Get Here? is incredibly insightful and entertaining for ages four and up. Here is a book to be utilised on repeat with a different insight, perspective or question to be gathered each read. Perfect for new beginnings, if you know what I mean!

Koala Books, August 2018

Maddie’s First Day by Penny Matthews and Liz Anelli reminds me of both my girls when they started school. Here’s a sweet story of taking those vital little steps to independence when faced with the mammoth journey into schoolhood. Maddie is excited about her new adventure and eagerly prepares all her essential items, including her uniform, pencil case and water bottle. But she also ensures she is not without her special security blanky – secretly hidden in her school bag for the first day. The expression ‘wobbly feeling in her tummy’ so accurately portrays the myriad of emotions these small children experience. The anticipation of an unfamiliar classroom to the comfort of seeing old friends, and the enjoyment of making new ones. It’s all part of Maddie’s growth towards adjusting to big school. When she is challenged about her maturity for bringing her blanky to school, Maddie finds common ground with another and shows great resilience and confidence in her ability to move forward… although, blanky is never far away, just in case!

Matthews outlines many common aspects related to starting school in a beautiful narrative that reflects its own individuality with plenty of heart. Her character’s surroundings emanate a mix of love and support, and this is equally shown in Anelli’s gorgeous illustrations mixed with patterned collage media and soft pencil detail. Maddie’s First Day is packed with gentle touches of reassurance and the comfort of knowing you are not alone on this exciting, and often nerve-racking adventure.

Walker Books, September 2018.

Many of us have been here at some point in our lives – it’s the feeling of invisibility (in the non-magical sense). Best-selling author Adam Wallace aptly highlights a concept that many have felt but not many want to talk about. In Invisible Jerry, sensitively illustrated by Giuseppe Poli, Jerry glides through school crowds totally unnoticed. No one says sorry if they knock him over, no one laughs at his jokes, no one listens to his opinion, and getting picked for sports teams… that just doesn’t happen. Jerry feels completely invisible, until he meets Molly. This little girl lights up his world, and he lights up hers. A beautiful relationship that shows us that it only takes one person who respects and appreciates you to feel like a real person – like someone with worth and plenty to offer. And the best parting message to take away is that any ‘Invisible Jerry’ can pay it forward to other shy and self-conscious kids who don’t like to stand out, just like Paul.

I love that Wallace was inspired to write this story from listening to children’s thoughts on the matter, as well as his own childhood experiences of similar nature. I also love that he doesn’t push readers of this personality to take giant leaps of confidence to achieve greatness, because that wouldn’t be realistic. His gentle approach with the reassurance that one’s talents and opinions will be noticed in time is the perfect message to impart for those quieter kids… and it’s totally okay to be you. Poli’s fluid illustrations beautifully support the text with his depiction of a small yet bright Jerry with potential, in amongst the shadows and crowds around him. And the colour and joy that oozes from the pages once Jerry finds Molly is so brilliantly uplifting.

Invisible Jerry is an important book for the reserved child with so much potential, who simply wants to be noticed… in an unassuming manner. Eye-opening and valuable, this book should be gaining attention all over our schools and homes.

EK Books, November 2018.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

January 2019 Young Adult Releases To Be Wildly Excited About!

This first month of 2019 is already promising to be wildly exciting for YA releases! Some huge titles are releasing and getting ready to blow our minds and set the standard super high right upfront. I, for one, am cramming in desperate rereads as the old favourite authors add to their series and also trying to decide between the dozens of fresh-faced books and newer authors to try. Can we just…have them all? Please?

Here are some I’m specifically excited for!

The Wicked King (#2) by Holly Black

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If you haven’t read The Cruel Prince yet, my first question is: WHY NOT. It’s a murderous twisty tale of fae and intrigue, of betrayal and loyalty, and a enemies-to-lovers storyline that will absolutely steal (and stab?!) your heart. It ended in such a cliffhanger and I’ve been angsting desperately for this sequel foreverrrr. Now it’s finally here and I am READY.

 

King of Scars by Leigh Bardugo

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While this isn’t technically a sequel, it is a spin-off the Grisha series! Leigh Bardugo wrote the first Shadow & Bone trilogy and gradually it grew to giving us the Six of Crows duology and the Language of Thorns fairy tales. I’m not sure if it’ll be as good if you haven’t read, at least, the Grisha books, so get onto that! You still have time. I’m WILD for this series because it’s centring around Nikolai, the part-prince-part-pirate hearthrob who was a secondary character in the Grisha books. Now he’s stealing the whole page.

A Curse So Dark And Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer

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Her contemporary books are some of my all time favourites so OF COURSE I long to see what she does with a fairy tale retelling fantasy! It promises beasts and cursed princes and broken promises and a girl with cerebral palsy and towers and MAGIC.

I feel like I’ve been ready and hyped for this one forever!

Stain by AG Howard

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Another author I’ve been following since her debut series, Splintered, which was an Alice in Wonderland retelling. Now we’re back in the retelling realms with a Princess and the Pea reimagined. Which also is quite different to the usual ones that get retold?! A girl without a voice must win back a kingdom and save a prince!

The Dead Queens Club by Hannah Capin

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What if King Henry VIII was…in a modern contemporary highschool!? This is going to be such a fascinating modernised retelling and I am HERE for it. It’s narrated by a girl determined to find out why local highschool heartthrob seems to be following in the infamous terrible Henry VIII’s footsteps…and why his girlfriends (and he has a lot) often end up dead…

The Girl King by Mini Yu

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This is the tale of two sisters who become rivals in a war to claim the title of Emperor. Their father takes the title away from them, promising it to a distant male cousin instead. Both his daughters, Min and Lu, are furious and are not about to stand for this. But the accidentally become enemies in the process…because who truly deserves the throne?! It promises ambition, sacrifice and betrayal, as well as shapeshifters and swords and hidden powers!

YA Thrillers: ‘Two Can Keep a Secret’ & ‘One of Us is Lying’ by Karen M. McManus

I enjoyed Karen M. McManus’s One of Us is Lying (Penguin Books) so much I read her second novel Two Can Keep a Secret (Penguin) as soon as I received an advance copy. I’ve had to wait impatiently until now that it is published to review it and, because Karen’s style is so addictive, I’ve added a mention of One of Us is Lying as well.

In Two Can Keep a Secret, teen twins Ellery and Ezra have just moved to Echo Ridge, Vermont, to stay with their Nana. Their mother, Sadie was also a twin. She was homecoming queen, left home when she turned eighteen and is now in rehab and too unwell to care for her children. Homecoming queens seem to be the target of tragedy in Echo Ridge, particularly in the theme park Murderland, recently renamed Fright Farm.

A popular young science teacher is found dead on the road, another girl goes missing and the disappearance twenty-three years earlier of Sadie’s twin Sarah seems to hang an ominous cloud over the present. Within three weeks Ellery and Ezra have “reported a dead body, gotten jobs at a murder site, and been targeted by a homecoming stalker…” Secrets are rife.

The narrative is told from the point of view of Ellery and Malcolm – who lives with his mother, stepfather and hot stepsister – and likes Ellery. His older brother Declan was the boyfriend of a murdered girl and his return to town coincides with more trouble.

This is a place where “anything different stands out a mile.” Diverse characters are Ezra who is queer and their new friend Mia who is Korean and has “her hair buzzed short on one side and streaked red on the other”.

The setting in a town shrouded in murder and Halloween-theme park where many of the local teens work delivers chills.

Ellery is fixated on true crime and has a collection of books that includes In Cold Blood, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil and Fatal Vision. She wants to do something for the missing girls, “and the ones left behind.”

Karen McManus’s first novel, One of Us is Lying, poses the fascinating conundrum of five students sent to after-school detention. One, Simon, dies there and the other four become suspects. Bronwyn is a brain who doesn’t break rules. Addy is a beauty. Nate is a bad boy. Cooper is a jock and Simon ran the school gossip app and was about to post secrets about each of the suspects.

(all quotes from the ARC)

Review: A Very Large Expanse of Sea by Tahereh Mafi

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A Very Large Expanse of Sea by Tahereh Mafi is just a brilliant story that is here to give you all the emotions. I didn’t expect less from the queen Tahereh Mafi, truly! She’s the author of the famous Shatter Me series and I also discovered her middle-grade magical books his year, Furthermore and Whichwhood. And least to say, she’s absolutely an autobuy author. This tale is a little different to her others though, as it lacks (firstly) magic! And the style is less flowery and whimsical and more solid as we experience the world through Shirin’s eyes.

It’s a tale drawn from personal experience and you can feel that bleed through every page. The author has lived and shared so much of the pain she shows us through Shirin and as we walk in her shoes, we experience the micro-aggressions  to the outright huge racist and xenophobic actions from people around her. She hates school and how people snub or outright bully her and she aches to be loved but is certain it can’t last. It’s an important story.

It takes place a year after 9/11, and much of America’s views of Muslims has been condensed to viewing them through the lens of that terrorist attack. Shirin is sixteen and sick of being stereotyped and mistreated. She wears hijab and comes from a Persian background and is constantly moving around as her father gets job raises. Shirin is just tired…so so tired, of how casually cruel and dismissive of understanding people can be. She’s even been attacked outright on the streets so she’s built emotional walls around herself. Just get through the hellishness that is school. Listen to music. Ignore everything. Even though she has a tiny pleasant outlet through breakdancing with her brother, life quite honestly sucks…until she can’t brush off one boy: Ocean James. He sees her as a person and is determined to be kind. He wants to know her and this terrifies Shirin. Someone is going to get very very hurt, aren’t they?

The book was flawless and incredible, although I do admit I missed Mafi’s whimsical style I’d grown to love from her previous books. This was a straight-forward tone, with Shirin being very no-nonsense. But it’s also awesome to see authors conquer a wide variety of styles.

Shirin herself is prickly and snarky, and you ache as she aches. After everything she’s been through, even attacks on the street and all the bullying at school, she’s withdrawn and has rock solid walls up. She is a burnt marshmallow and I loved her immediately. Seeing what her life was like was so sobering. She’s abused for wearing hijab and treated like trash, and people have zero respect for her quiet and peaceful religion. She definitely showed signs of a lot of depression. She is just surviving. That’s it.

…and then she discovers both:
➸ breakdancing! she and her brother Navid start a club with 3 of his friends and this is wholesome badass dancing goodness
➸ Ocean James, a boy who is quiet and soft and awkward and has a desperate crush on her and makes mistakes but wants to learn to do better. Also he has really pretty eyes. Shirin tries not to notice or care about that…but she totally does.

Seeing Shirin having to work through her terror of being hurt (and eventually she worries about Ocean getting hurt) as their story unravels and spirals from a crush to deep feelings for each other, was heartwarming and also heartbreaking. These two kids just want to get to know each other better…but they have so much to overcome.

A Very Large Expanse of Sea is so well written. It’s powerful and poignant and it has such an important message to give both Muslim teens going through what Shirin is, and non-Muslim teens so they can start to understand and learn. It balances fun and uplifting moments (with the breakdancing and epic sibling bond) with heartbreaking ones where you’re livid with rage of the injustices. Definitely a book that’s not to be missed.

Guest Post Review: The Dam

 

 

 

 

Anastasia Gonis has been reviewing books for over twenty years. Her reviews and interviews have appeared in Bookseller & Publisher, Good Reading magazine, Australian Book Review, The Age, The Herald Sun, AllWrite, and many other publications. Anastasia currently writes both articles and reviews and is a revered reviewer for Kids’ Book Review. She loves all books, in particular children’s books which for her, contain beauty and joy between the covers. Today, I’m beyond thrilled to welcome her as a guest reviewer of, The Dam by David Almond and Levi Pinfold.

The Dam is at once haunting, heart breaking, exhilarating and exquisitely simple, portraying so much emotion, you’ll want to weep with the beauty of it all. Here’s, Anastasia’s review:

I am filled with awe each time I view any of Levi Pinfold’s illustrations. There is a haunting beauty about them that makes you catch your breath at his ability to create such magnificent work that can easily be taken for an exhibition of canvases in an art gallery. And that’s what you see when you turn the second page, a series of images; canvases on display.

You sigh at the sight of various sized birds – a few flying, others squatting in grass; tall wild grass, a tiny flower in the palm of a weathered hand, an eagle in flight, some blossomed wildflowers, a fox looking into the wilderness, two sheep with one grazing the other looking away, a man with a girl carrying a fiddle, a close-up of the girl’s face side-on, and one of the man’s in the same position.

They are looking at what is and what will be washed away. Because the dam is almost finished. Turn the page and more canvases are on display. They are accompanied by the memories they are connected to that the man and girl recall; of the things that were but will be no more.
Here is where you will break down from sadness as the girl plays her fiddle and farewells the building that conjures up the memories, while the father, tall and stoic, stands beneath the door frame. Their memories like ghosts, dance around them.

They go from house to empty house, filling them with music, fiddling their memories, and watching them turn into mists that float away. When they have finished, out of the valley they walked.
The dam is complete. Everything is covered with water. Within the water the music stays. It is in everything and in them. Permanent. It makes them sing and dance. That can never be washed away.

David Almond is one of the most versatile and talented writers of our generation. His body of work and writing style is most impressive. It claws at you and makes you feel things deeply. Themes address what progress steals from people, and how they cope with loss and change. These flow through the book like the dam that carried it all away.

This is a work of art both textually and visually. I doubt that anyone picking up this book will leave without it, and clutched to their heart.

 Title: The Dam

Author: David Almond

Illustrator: Levi Pinfold

Publisher: Walker Books

Publication Date: September 2018 $24.99

Format: Hardcover

 ISBN: 9781406304879

For ages: 5+

Type: Children’s Picture book

Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

 

Review: Forget Me Not by Ellie Terry

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Forget Me Not by Ellie Terry is such a sweet and heartfelt story and you will definitely not regret picking it up. It’s about friendship and the anxiety of a life constantly on the move, and it features a girl with Tourette’s syndrome based on the author’s own experiences. Which can I just say is so important for literature?! We know we’re getting an accurate glimpse at what life is like with Tourette’s, plus you can feel the emotion and love poured onto every page.

Calliope is constantly moving house…and moving her body too. She has Tourette’ Syndrome which is defined by uncontrollable tics, some that are easy to hide and others that are loud and draw attention. At 12-years-old, what she wants most is a steady life, a good friend, and for no one to make fun of her. Not too much to ask right? While she and her mother move into a new town, Calli is determined to hide her TS from the kids at school and to finally fit in. This doesn’t…go as planned. She can’t even seem to connect to her neighbour, Jinsong, who seems to like her but won’t spend time with her when they’re not in secret. All Calli wants is to be accepted. So should she be hiding her tics or talking about them?

“Wouldn’t talking about something make it better understood?”

The story told mostly in verse! Which I quite adored and didn’t know that would be the style…so it was a pleasant surprise. The unique poetry formatting and the beautiful but simple language was so easy to feel engaged with. You get to be deep in Calli’s perspective and feel her anxiety as it pours out of her lyrical writing. The verse is also easy to read and definitely a great intro for middle-grade readers.

It’s also dual narrated by Calli and Jinsong. Calli’s mother is constantly on the move, going from one boyfriend to the next, and Calli’s anxiety is at an all time high. She pulls out her hair and has strange rituals and that’s not even mentioning the tics that follow her (and often hurt). Anxiety only sets them off, but she has to hide to fit in, right?? In the new house, her neighbour is Jinsong…who seems super nice. But when Calli tries to make friends with him outside of their homes, he avoids her. Because he’s scared of being labelled and teased too if he hangs out with the “freak”. I think this brings a lot of attention to the inner battles a lot of kids face when deciding whether to befriend the outcast. It was very hard to feel for Jinsong in his chapters though, when he spent so long leaving Calli to suffer because he was too scared to reach out to her. But I do think the book properly caught the struggle to be 12 and undecided on what path you’re choosing: self-preservation or love and help.

The author so deeply unpacked the need to talk about disabilities. To shatter stigmas around Tourette’s. In the author’s note, she even mentions that, just like the scene she wrote for Calli, a doctor told her not to tell people about her TS. Because it’s misunderstood and people would just judge her for it. It took the author a long time to realise this was bad advice, and how are people ever going to accept differences if they aren’t taught about them? Reading Calli’s experiences was so amazing too. I just loved her SO much and can’t even imagine the anxiety she went through.

If Forget Me Not isn’t on your TBR pile…you should definitely fix that. It’s a joyous shout to the sky about how being different is not bad, and it’s a loving gift to the neurodiverse kids of the world who want friends and to be accepted.

Review: The Brightsiders by Jen Wilde

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The Brightsiders by Jen Wilde is a story about fame and misfortune, queer identities, and being true to yourself even when it’s terrifying. I really loved the author’s previous book, Queens of Geek, and how that one was an incredible geek-loving story featuring autistic and Australian characters from an Aussie author of our own! The Brightsiders definitely had a different feel, but if you like Wilde’s work, this is very much worth picking up still. (Although it is set firmly in America this time! Although the gang from Queens of Geek make a cameo which I thought was fun.)

The story follows Emmy King, a celebrity drummer with the rock band The Brightsiders. They’re trio of Alfie, Ryan and Emmy all exploded into fame fairly overnight and they’re still teens, trying to keep their heads above water and grapple with this intense fame, as well as make the music that they love. Emmy comes from a toxic partying family and unfortunately, when things get stressful, that’s where she slides back to. When the story opens, she’s been underage drinking and ends up in a minor accident, which the paparazzi and media gobble up like golden gossip: look at this teen celebrity falling apart. Emmy is determined to get her life back on track and she has an epic support network of friends…but she also has plenty of toxic people she needs to learn how to deal with. And as she starts slowly falling for one of her band mates (baaad idea) she has to ask if this is love or is she avoiding her own fears and anxieties?

Books centring around music, especially famous musicians, are always intensely interesting to me! It reminded me of Open Road Summer and I Was Born For This immediately, with teens making messy mistakes…but now in such public view that it has huge repercussions for their careers. Emmy is a very earnest character and you quickly feel for her as she feels smothered by the media, haunted by her awful parents, and just wants to please people and have them like her. People Pleasing does nooot go well for her in this one.

It also explores the difference between toxic vs healthy relationships and friendships. This is such a good topic to unpack, because every teen faces that horrible decisions of not knowing whether to keep people in your life (you’re used to them, grown up with them, maybe even in love with them) or break away and take care of your own mental health. I loved Emmy’s gang, wither her team mates Ryan and Alfie being intensely supportive of her, and also her best friend Chloe, showing up to smack her back into reality. The book is totally friendship-centric. And very very queer! Almost every character identifies somewhere on the lgbtqia+ spectrum, and I couldn’t be happier. It’s really nice also reading books with a genderqueer love interest!

The Brightsiders is really a story about healing and friendship, with a forbidden and intense romance on the side. It feels more upper-YA with all the teens having finished school and now working their gigs without parents (or avoiding awful parents). And it’s so refreshing to read a book so unapologetically proud of its rainbow pride!

Great Gift Ideas # 5 – Non-Fiction That Takes You Places

So you want to give something meaningful and useful and entertaining this Christmas. Well, have a look at these incredible Non-Fiction kids’ books that not only take you places but also inform, comfort, enlighten and above all keep the kids occupied while you sort out the eggnog! Enjoy.

Welcome: A Mo Willems Guide For New Arrivals by Mo Willems

This is the penultimate new-baby book for new parents. Presented as a robust board book with luxuriantly thick pages, this will endure baby’s first year and beyond. It even comes with an embedded mirror so baby can actually see what all the fuss is about. Willems’ inimitable comic touch graces each page in this direct narrative to baby outlining all the highlights, expectations and regrettable conditions that they and their new family might encounter. It reads a bit like an instruction manual and partially like a charter for a new employee. Every word is gold. This is truly one to share as a parent, a gift giving family member and then again as a parent with your growing child. Supremely clever, witty and super super cute (in a non-cutesy way),  I cannot recommend this highly enough for new parents and new humans.

Walker Books 2018

Continue reading Great Gift Ideas # 5 – Non-Fiction That Takes You Places

‘The Restless Girls’, a classic, reimagined fairy tale

“Not far from where you’re sitting right now, there exists a country called Kalia… The shore shimmers gold, the land opens like an emerald quilt, and the Kalian mountains rise up as giants to greet the sky.”

The wondrous land of Kalia and its twelve princesses come from the imagination of Jessie Burton, who wrote The Miniaturist and The Muse for adults. The Restless Girls (Bloomsbury Children’s Books) is a re-imagined fairy tale inspired by The Twelve Dancing Princesses about girls who circumvent their powerless state. It is told in sumptuous picture book form and is a perfect Christmas gift.

Award-winning artist Angela Barrett has illustrated another fairy tale, The Most Wonderful Thing in the World (written by Vivian French) as well as The Night Before Christmas (written by Clement C. Moore), Rockinghorse Land, The Orchard Book of Stories from the Ballet (written by Geraldine McCaughrean) and the awarded Can It Be True? (written by Susan Hill), a retelling of the Nativity story. She enhances Jessie Burton’s story of The Restless Girls with her whimsical, enigmatic illustrations.

The twelve princesses are introduced in The Restless Girls in order of birth: Frida is clever, ambitious and wants to fly a plane; Polina could read the stars; Lorna is kind and wise; Ariosta paints; Chessa sings; Bellina speaks five languages; Vita is happy and has a quick wit; Mariella is gifted with numbers; Delilah has green fingers; Flora is always reading; Emelia wants to be a vet and Agnes wants to be a writer.

When their mother, Queen Laurelia, dies in her racing car, King Alberto (who didn’t grow up with any females and so doesn’t understand them) curtails their artistic and other pursuits because he wants his daughters to stop thinking and prepare to be housewives. They wilt when he locks them in a small room with no distractions apart from their imaginations, their stories and a portrait of their mother. One day this picture is tilted and the princesses discover a door with a staircase behind it.

Music and light lead them across an underground lagoon and forests of silver, gold and diamonds. They discover something even more amazing and beautiful inside a tree when a sheet of vines and diamonds falls to the ground.

The princesses meet a range of animals including a fox, a peacock with a leather book and a lioness. The girls are “brave, resourceful, clever and kind” but their worn-out shoes enrage the king.

The classic style and beautiful fairy tale form makes The Restless Girls a timeless, empowering, gift. 

(It is also available in a deluxe, slipcase edition.)

Black Cockatoo & Blakwork

Magabala Books are going from strength to strength. They are perhaps most well-known at the moment for publishing Bruce Pascoe’s books for adults and children such as Dark Emu, Mrs Whitlam and Fog a Dox but Magabala has a strong backlist across age-groups and genres with great new books coming all the time.

Two new titles are standouts.

Black Cockatoo is of comparable quality to Bruce Pascoe’s writing for young people. It is written by Jaru and Kija man Carl Merrison and Hakea Hustler, illustrated by Dub Leffler (Once There Was a Boy and Sorry Day). It is a memorable story about an Aboriginal family living in the Kimberley.

Thirteen-year-old “Mia, her skin unblemished, radiated optimism and hope.” Mia loves her Country but sometimes wants more. Her grandmother tells her that she lives in both worlds. “You will be strong both ways.”

Although she is a spirited character she must show respect to her older brother. However fifteen-year-old Jy’s anger ripples “under his scarred skin”. He disrespects the family’s past and is killing birds, including Mia’s totem the dirrarn. Mia protects the injured bird for as long as she can.

Education is valued by the family and language, particularly used for bird names, is included.

Both Black Cockatoo and Blakwork are insightful, confronting literary works.

Blakwork by Gomeroi woman, poet Alison Whittaker (Lemons in the Chicken Wire) spans genres. It is poetry, memoir, critique, fiction and satire for adults or mature young adults.

‘a love like Dorothea’s’ is a reinterpretation of Dorothea Mackellar’s ‘I Love a Sunburnt Country’ and is positioned sidewards on the page. “I love a sunburnt country. That is mine but not for me.”

‘outskirts’ is a chilling tale about a woman who worked in an abattoir and ‘killwork’ is non-fiction set in the same place. ‘vote’ addresses refugees and intermarriage where “blakness” is “a code embedded in your bones – it didn’t bleed through you, it constituted you, so there was no letting out.”

‘tinker tailor’ is a satire about Blacktown in Western Sydney. There are different stories behind the naming of Blacktown such as, “‘They call this place Blacktown because it was given to two Aboriginal men.’  Seemed weird to me that the whole continent wasn’t Blacktown.” The National Centre for Indigenous Excellence in Redfern on Gadigal land is considered in ‘futures. excellence’: “For people so put out on the fringes, we blaks love the centre”. In ‘the last project’ a note on the Centre says “We’re coming back, daught. There’s work to do.”

‘bathe’ is set at Maroubra Baths. “This is a poem about not suffering.”

‘The History of Sexuality Volume III’ is a poem about desire: “two blak women [who] love each other”.

Language is used in ‘’palimpsest’ and there is some superb writing in ‘rework’. “Pull over here, watch some spinning nightly fights reach across a highway’s ribs. At the Kamiloroi Highway’s spine two signs rise and speak and re-speak…”

Blakwork has just been shortlisted for the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards. Both it and Black Cockatoo are strong, significant works.

Kids’ Holiday Reads that Make Great Gifts

Books are the gift that just keep on giving, aren’t they?! They’re worth so much more than the latest toy that lasts a whole five minutes. Here’s a small roundup of some great books for kids that make for beautiful gifts and can be shared over the festive season and well into the holidays.

Picture Books

All the Ways to be Smart, Davina Bell (author), Allison Colpoys (illus.), Scribble, October 2018.

This is the fourth time this superlative duo have come together, following the successes of The Underwater Fancy-Dress Parade , Captain Starfish and Under the Love Umbrella. Bell and Colpoys will be winning awards once again with this stunning picture book that is so intelligent in its own way. For all children wondering what their kind of smart is, this energetic rhyming guide reinforces a confidence that there is certainly more than one. From artistic endeavours to scientific explorations, using your imagination to skills in building, retaining important facts to showing compassion and empathy are all but a few. Coordination and music abilities, polite manners, ‘feeling scared but taking chances.’ The list is endless and these book creators have absolutely nailed it with their verve, humour, versatility and diversity. The language rolls off the tongue to perfection, whilst the neon colours draw your eye just the way an artist should. All the Ways to be Smart – adding much brightness to any child’s mind – in more ways than one.

What Do You Wish For?, Jane Godwin (author), Anna Walker (illus.), Penguin Random House, October 2018 (Paperback).

What Do You Wish For? puts a smile on every face and a glow in every heart. It’s that all kinds of fuzzy warmth, peace and togetherness that Christmas time really represents. Godwin’s intention for this book is for readers to understand that this time of year is, and should be, one of gratitude. The combination of her inspiring, tender words, and Anna Walker’s beautifully dreamy, intricate illustrations, is simply divine. There is an excited buzz in the air every Christmas. Ruby and her friends always put on a special show in the park, and write a wish to hang on the tree. But Ruby’s wish is too big to write on a little piece of paper. Her wish is of spirit; it’s made of smells of baking, candlelight amongst the dark, wonderful surprises and quality family time. But most of all, her Christmas wish is one of complete serenity, and a warm sparkle in the sky. What Do You Wish For? is the most magical treasure for any young reader and their family to cherish this Christmas.

It’s Not a Scribble to Me, Kate Ritchie (author), Jedda Robaard (illus.), Penguin Random House, 2018.

I always love books that encourage exploration of the imagination. In this one, it’s the walls, floors and windows that get to discover what the bear child is conjuring up in his mind – much to his family’s dismay. The little bear speaks a lyrical tongue as to what his crayon and pen scribbles represent. A red Santa makes an appearance above the fireplace, a green frog on the toilet, a black witch inspired by broomsticks, a blue frothy sea and yellow splotchy bumbley bees. It’s amazing what each colour of the rainbow can be turned into, and where they happen to turn up! But somehow, this cheeky bear is able to win over the family with his colourful, magical, whimsical, wonderful charm. A beautifully alluring, absolutely sweet, vivacious and child-centred book in its words and pictures. It’s Not a Scribble to Me is ideal for children from age three as a facilitator of self-expression, creativity and boundless possibilities.

Australia Illustrated (2nd Ed.), Tania McCartney (Author, illus.), EK Books, October 2018.

I absolutely adored this book when it was first released back in 2016. Now I (we all) get to relive the magic once again with this much anticipated 2nd edition recently re-published. Australia Illustrated is a visual festive celebration, the ultimate pictorial encyclopaedia of our beautiful land. Tania McCartney’s expansive array of detail and design, even if only a snippet, takes us on a wonderful journey around the country exploring major attractions to pockets of hidden gems we may have otherwise missed. My kids loved traveling around Australia; spotting familiarities, discovering new mysteries of the unknown, and giggling along at the cute and quirky nuances. Vivacious watercolours and a mix of media showcase the well-known to the unique. From the BIG and beautiful Queensland Mango and Big Banana in Coffs Harbour, the diverse native animals, bush tucker, sports, slang and weather, and a taste of idiosyncrasies from State to State. A gloriously scrumptious edition to pore over with the kids at home or away.

And another exquisite book from Tania McCartney that is a piece of art in itself is Mamie. Published by HarperCollins, November 2018. With her large, round gumnut eyes and angelic face, Mamie shares her story of adapting to change, fairies, pixies, elves and friendship. Celebrating the life of renowned and much-loved Australian icon – author and illustrator, May Gibbs of the Snugglepot and Cuddlepie fame, McCartney takes readers on a historical yet imaginative journey. She gently and expertly showcases the exceptional creativity, inspiration and achievements of Gibbs absolutely beautifully and with bunches of natural charm. Mamie is sure to win hearts abound, just as she has done over the past 100 years.

Chapter Books

The First Adventures of Princess Peony, Nette Hilton (author), Lucinda Gifford (illus.), Walker Books, 2018.

The attitude and tenacity of The Little Princess mixed with a quintessentially unique dialect like Lola (Charlie and Lola) together brings about this charming new face to the bookish world, Princess Peony. Partner that with the perfectly scruffy tomboy/girl-looking character in grey tones with pops of hot pink and you’ve got yourself a popular new series for girls (and boys) in the junior reader market. Princess Peony, the name which must be reminded to the audience every now and then, begins her fairy tale in front of her house, erm, Castle with her dog, no, Dragon; Totts. Her mission: to be Obeyed. But things take a wrong turn and her story is interrupted by Prince Morgan the Troll (aka, her big brother). Attempts to outsmart each other lead to some pretty hilarious events and a new mission to avoid child-eating bears. The text and pictures work brilliantly together providing plenty of visual literacy opportunities for readers to laugh about. And there is a remarkably True Princess Information and Quiz Sheet for all Princesses in Waiting to absolutely study and swear by. Just gorgeous! I will be buying The First Adventures of Princess Peony for my nearly six year old and all her friends!

The Tales of Mr Walker; a hotel dog with a nose for adventure, Jess Black (author), Sara Acton (illus.), Penguin Random House, 2018.

The Tales of Mr Walker is inspired by a real-life Labrador named Mr Walker who is a Guide Dog Ambassador and helper at the Park Hyatt Melbourne. This is an adorable book containing four enchanting stories about life working at the grandest hotel in town. Targeted at independent readers from age eight, we are delighted with the adventures this canine companion takes us on, viewed from the dog’s perspective. ‘Tracy must like parks as much as I do’. With his Guide Dog training behind him, Mr Walker is very well disciplined and loyal. But naturally, he has certain things on his mind, such as chasing balls, and food. Romp along on the fun adventures with Mr Walker. He doesn’t disappoint. Fluid and bright illustrations bounce in and around the text. The cover is appropriately high-end with its linen bound spine and gold trimmings. Royalties going to Guide Dogs Victoria is just another excuse to pick up this book as a gift for someone you love, and someone who loves dogs.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

Even more great gift ideas for kids can be found at Boomerang Books here.

An Untold, Unforgettable Story: ‘Everything I’ve Never Said’ by Samantha Wheeler

We’ve spoken previously on the blog, Samantha, particularly about your environmental, conservation stories for younger readers, such as Wombat Warriors

Thanks for joining us again to talk about Everything I’ve Never Said, an original, affecting and unforgettable work.

Thank you, and my pleasure.

There’s deservedly a big buzz about this novel. It’s for middle readers – what age group is that?

We’re finding the novel appeals to anyone from 9 to 109! It’s found in book stores and libraries on the ’middle reader’ shelves as it is published for that age, but it is suitable for anyone in upper primary to tweens, young adults and adults alike.

How is this book different from your other works?

My other stories each features a species of vulnerable Australian wildlife, and a young person trying to save them. Written for 7-10 year olds, they’re completely fictional adventure stories, (although based on real animal issues), plot driven and very animal focussed. My new story is based very much on my own family’s experience of living with a young person with a disability and the story is more character focussed. The plot allows a unique insight into a moment in time in a family’s life, and as such, probably appeals to a wider reading age and is a more emotional, heartfelt story.

Could you tell us about the major characters in Everything I’ve Never Said?

Everything I’ve Never Said is about a fictional character, Ava, an eleven year old with Rett syndrome who can’t talk or use her hands to communicate. Based on my own daughter, Charlotte, who suffers with Rett, the fictional Ava lives with her nearly fourteen year old sister, Nic, and her mum and dad, but struggles to tell them what she wants and how she’s feeling. Through Ava’s inner voice, the reader hears what she wants to say, even when her parents and sister don’t understand her. It takes the arrival of her new carer, Kieran for the family to work out a way to help her.

How do you show the authentic relationship between protagonist Ava and her older sister Nic?

My eldest daughter, Beth, helped me a lot with the relationship between the two girls. Despite having raised my daughters, and watching them grow up together, I found it hard capture their relationship on paper. Like many siblings, it’s not all hugs and love – there’s rivalry and jealousy, but when the chips are down, true love is exposed. It was important to me to accurately show how Nic would respond to her sister in various situations. I didn’t want to show  the typical eye rolling teenager. For example, when I asked Beth what Nic would say when Mum wanted to put Ava in respite, she very quickly replied, ‘She’d say no, Ava would hate that!’ This wasn’t the reaction I expected. I thought Beth would think Nic would love time without her annoying sibling, rather than consider her sister’s feelings.

Why did you write the book as fiction rather than non-fiction?

Ava’s voice was very powerful when I began writing, but having never heard my own daughter speak, I could only imagine what was going on inside her head. Right from the start, I had to use poetic licence to interpret what was happening for Ava, which meant the book naturally became a work of fiction. Many of the raw, difficult experiences in the book are based on true events, for example, being placed on hold for hours with Centrelink, Ava having a melt down in the hospital, the embarrassment of Nic and the exhaustion of Mum, but there were some things about our life I wasn’t ready to share.

Ava starts at Rosie’s Cottage, a respite home. In your experience, how accessible and worthwhile is respite care for those with a disability?

We’ve always struggled with respite. Having a non-verbal child means they can’t tell you if everything is as it should be when they stay somewhere else overnight. Also, because our daughter is so physically fragile, the other clients were often not a good match. She’d be knocked over, or just left sitting on a couch all weekend. If it is a good service, respite can be very worthwhile as it gives the person a chance to make their own friends and have experiences they would never have with their own family.  For example, we’ve never taken Charlotte to Dreamworld, but she’s been with respite. We currently don’t have a safe, enjoyable overnight respite place for our daughter, so we pay carers to care for her one-on-one in our home, so she feels safe and protected when we’re not there. 

How helpful is art for young people like Ava?

Art can be incredibly soothing. In the story, Ava’s colours in her paintings to reflect her mood, and I think my own daughter would do the same. But more than that, the art teachers and music teachers we’ve encountered with Charlotte seem to have a way of bringing out the best in their students. Perhaps it’s accessing that other side of the brain? I’ve got a feeling that would be the same for people with or without disabilities. Art and music are very therapeutic.

Many people don’t treat those with a disability well, e.g. substitute teacher Wendy. What is something you would like people to know about how to treat someone with Rett syndrome?

I often ask people to consider Stephen Hawkins. Bent and twisted in his wheelchair, how would we ever know what he had to say if he couldn’t use a speech device? So, I try and tell people not to judge a book by its cover. People with Rett syndrome and any disability are just like us. They may not be able to communicate, they may look a bit different, but talking to them like any other person, smiling, and asking how their day is going, will make them feel less isolated and more included as part of the community. Empathy is so important.

What parallel have you created between Ava’s life and what happens to her father?

In the story, Ava’s dad falls unexpectedly ill in Ava’s presence. This creates a situation where Ava feels her lack of communication more keenly than ever. She can’t help him, or even call for help. I see this in my own daughter when she tries so hard to say something; her eyes shine and her lips make the shape of a word, but no words comes out. It’s incredibly hard. Creating a situation where Dad can’t communicate for a while gives him a true understanding of what it’s like for Ava, and helps the family advocate more strongly to find a way to help her.

How has your family reacted to the story?

My husband was surprised at first, saying, ‘Is that what you really think is going on inside Charlotte’s head?’ He said the book has helped him understand her more and make more of an effort to try and understand her subtle ways of communicating. Both daughters, Charlotte and Beth, are very proud of the book, with Charlotte grinning all through the recent book launch, and any time I talk about it.

Your books have received recognition in many awards. Which has meant the most to you and why?

Recognition from your peers is so important. I’m incredibly proud and grateful for any award nomination as we have so many talented authors in Australia. I think, in particular, when my first book, Smooch & Rose was voted in the Readings Top 5, and shortlisted for the Qld Literary Awards, it really help me believe I should keep writing. More recently, winning the Environmental Award for Wombat Warriors was pretty fantastic!

What do you hope for Everything I’ve Never Said?

I hope my story will shed some light on people living without a voice. People who can’t speak up, whether they have a disability, or are shy or too scared to say what they think, need to know we do care about what they have to say. I also hoped people with Rett or other disabilities, families, siblings, carers, friends would feel less alone. We’re in this together, and while it might not be ‘Italy’, it’s a very special type of ‘Holland’ where, even with its ups and downs, we live lives full of unexpected treasures.

Thank you so much for giving us even more insight into Rett syndrome and living with disability, Samantha. It has been a privilege.

Thank you, thanks for the opportunity!

(Everything I’ve Never Said is published by University of Qld Press)

Picture Books for Christmas that Make Your Heart Sing

Looking for Christmas book gifts that aren’t necessarily festive-themed? Want beautiful stories of the heart that are perfect to share at a time of love, hope and togetherness? Here’s a little mix of brand new picture books that make your heart sing just as much as carollers on your doorstep.

Marvin and Marigold: A Stormy Night, Mark Carthew (author), Simon Prescott (illus.), New Frontier Publishing, October 2018.

Last year Marvin and Marigold did celebrate Christmas in A Christmas Surprise. This year they are exploring themes of friendship, kindness and overcoming fears when things get a little shaky. Being afraid on a wildly rainy night is a feeling many preschool-aged children know all too well. However, Carthew expertly leaves readers unrattled by this overbearing storm with plenty of reassurance and a loving message of the importance of family – very much inclusive of our beloved pets. Written with gentle rhyming couplets and sprinkled with humour, A Stormy Night takes the intensity of the swirling thunderclaps down a notch and rather reinforces the warmth of having one another and their grandparents to feel safe and sound. The final page further leaves a satisfying surprise to add to the warm and fluffies! A nice one to share with family these holidays.

Wisp; A Story of Hope, Zana Fraillon (author), Grahame Baker-Smith (illus.), Lothian Children’s Books, August 2018.

A stunningly told and illustrated book that literally sends shivers running through your spine. Beginning with a world of people alone, poor and desperate, to guiding us with an aura of ambience to a place of memory, promise and hope. Wisp is an exceptional story of a young refugee finding a whispering light that is passed around to elders, returning the glint in their eye of a life that ‘once’ was. The tales they tell swell with uplifting memories, music and magic that quells the dullness they have come to know. The illustrations are simply breathtaking. Vast landscapes where shadows meet sparks of glow and colour. For a child of primary school age to read this book, Wisp provides them with a deeper understanding of war and a beautiful impression of the power of hopes, dreams and optimism for the future. Particularly relevant at this time of year.

The Christmas Choir: Silent Night, Lara Hawthorne (illus.), Lincoln Children’s Books, September 2018.

A beautiful rendition of the traditional Christmas carol – Silent Night – adorned with paintings reminiscent of a child-friendly style of Biblical graphics. Bold blocks of colour are draped over camel-riding shepherds, kings, virgin mother and child, with dark backdrops glittering with sparkling stars. The classic song spreads throughout this tale of the calm and beautiful holy night in which Jesus was born, and is also written in full verse at the finale. A background story about the song’s original composition in 1818 in Oberndorf bei Salzburg, Austria is also provided – funnily enough written in hast by Catholic curate, Joseph Mohr on Christmas Eve because of a problem with the church organ caused by mice. Reading (and singing) Silent Night to your children is a lovely way to teach them about the faith and also gain further insights into the meaning of the world famous and beloved carol.

The Aussie ABC Christmas, Nancy Bevington (illus.), New Frontier Publishing, October 2018.

Now here’s one with a mix of the traditional and the modern, but totally classic Aussie! The Aussie ABC Christmas will make your heart swell with pride for our true-blue Australian customs, natives and way of life. Bevington has done a brilliant job culminating all the quirks and nuances of our nation with Christmas through her adorable, humorous and clever illustrations across the alphabet. An Akubra-wearing Angel, a red bucket-topped ‘sandman’ on the Beach, Kissing Koalas under the mistletoe, Anzac biscuits and Milk for Santa and plenty more. Not to mention nods to the good ol’ Hills Hoist used as an Ornament, and famous landmarks like the Opera House as a resting place for the Reindeer. This is how to make your Aussie Christmas a celebration to splash out on! So much fun for children from age three.

Find even more fantastic Christmas book gifts via Dimity Powell’s roundups and the Boomerang Books gift guide for children here.

Merry Christmas!

Great Gift Ideas # 3 Crazy Christmas Books

Before you race out to spend a fortune on the latest toy this Christmas, check out these crazy Christmas books. They are more fun than a box of crayons and can be enjoyed individually or with a loved one. How’s that for value. And there is enough Christmas spirit in each one to jingle your Christmas bells well into the new year! Enjoy the roundup.

A Miniature Christmas Anthology edited by Beattie Alvarez

Each year the good folk at Christmas Press present an entertaining seasonal anthology for kids. This year, A Miniature Christmas explores the, you guessed it, miniature worlds of all things tiny from genies, mice, elves, fuchsia fairies, even app characters! Several well -known authors and illustrators share their short stories alongside new names in the children’s literary world, each crafting tales that intrigue, entertain and make you ponder. For example:

The Funactor by Oliver Phommavanh is a clever observation of our 21st obsession with apps.

Goblin Christmas by Ian Irvine combines urban social issues with fantasy that has a touch of Harry Potter mystic about it.

George the Genie by Dianne Bates has all the form, plot and cheeky wisdom of a classic fairytale whilst Small Creatures by Rebecca Fung is just plain good fun.

The stories are short enough to share with your child each night on the countdown to Christmas, with special drawings to enhance the magic of each tale. This collection would make a jolly Christmas stocking addition for young primary aged readers.

Christmas Press November 2018

Macca’s Christmas Crackers by Matt Cosgrove

For me, this is the best of the Macca instalments by far. Funny, fast paced and full of Christmas cheer coupled with a warming message about the true spirit of Christmas, this seasonal romp with Macca the Alpaca reminds us that the best Christmases need not cost anything but love, friendship and goodwill. A cheerful lesson for kids (that is not the slightest bit preachy or forced) and a timely reminder for us big kids to slow down and regain seasonal perspective. Aztec bright and brilliant!

Koala Books, Scholastic October 2018

Continue reading Great Gift Ideas # 3 Crazy Christmas Books

Review: The Last Namsara by Kristen Ciccarelli

BUY HERE

The Last Namsara by Kristen Ciccarelli is so epically captivating that I’m mad at myself for not reading it sooner! It was deliciously good. It promised dragons and wicked magic and outcast princesses turned into hunters to redeem themselves. And it not only delivered, it excited me with the complex world and characters you can’t help but love despite their prickly disposition to stabbing things.

The story follows Asha, a scorned daughter of the king, turned into a dragon slayer to protect her people — since she’s the reason dragons attacked and killed so many of them so long ago. She wears the weight of her terrible sins, and does everything she can to please her father. But this also means she’s about to be married to a boy who’s grown into a cruel soldier. Her father does offer her a way out of the arrangement though: find the First Dragon, Kozu, and kill him and bring his head and heart to the king to pay the price for Asha’s wickedness. But in order to lure him out, she’ll have to tell stories. And telling stories is not only forbidden — it’s what threw Asha into this terrifying doom in the first place.

I am just so here for dragon stories. I always get worried they won’t live up to expectations, but this does so splendidly! Asha is a dragon slayer to start with, hunting dragons because they’re represent the Old Ways (which her father is outlawing) and they’re also dangerous to the people. Asha has a complicated relationship with dragons, because as a child she used to tell them stories and that’s what started this horror, when they turned and attacked her. She’s horribly scarred and wears armour made from their skin — but they used to be her friends. I loved how this was explored and the twists in the relationships. (So don’t fear! It’s not all dragon slaying. We love on some dragons too.)

The cast is quite varied, complex, and excellent. Asha is the sole narrator, but we also get very close to her brother (Dax) and her illegitimate slave cousin (Safire)…and of course met her horrible cruel hearted betrothed (Jarek). It would’ve been nice to have gotten to know Safire better, but Dax was loveable with his anxious inability to be a “proper” dark hearted dragon king. And I HATED Jarek.

And of course we can’t forget the one who steals Asha’s cold, fierce heart: Torwin. I absolutely adored their relationship. If you’re looking for an incredible slowburn romance = this is it! They’re so tentative at first, with Asha so locked in her shell of being hated and despised, that she can’t even fathom someone truly loving her. And Torwin is also a slave, forbidden to touch Asha, but he’s not scared to risk everything. They have a relationship of saving each other, seeing each other’s lives horribly risk, mending each other’s lash wounds or dragon wounds. It’s tentative and sweet, and your heart will melt with Asha’s as she realises maybe she can love. But not only that: maybe she deserves to love and be loved.

It’s easy to be captivated by the world too! It has a dust and desert vibe, with lots of lore woven through the book in the form of quick stories of their past. It made the world seem vast, to have the backstory legends too, and I loved the details in their clothing and customs. They also have stories that have power. If you tell a story, you can summon a dragon, and it’s outlawed, along with all the Old Ways. There’s a great deal of magic here, but not magical-wielding people. The plot is definitely on the slower side, and the book is hefty, but the characters are so entrancing it’s hard to look away.

This is definitely a book about defying society’s expectations. I loved that about it, because it’s such an important message! It’s fiercely about love and hate, how they can be powerful and destroy…or powerful and rebuild you. Asha is the badass and terrifying dragon queen we have all been longing to hear about.

The Things That Will Not Stand and other goodies for Christmas by Michael Gerard Bauer

Thanks for speaking with Boomerang Books, Michael. You have an incredible, and awarded, body of work for children and young adults.

I remember first reading The Running Man as a proof copy and knowing that this was an Australian classic; literally falling off my chair with laughter when I read Don’t Call Me Ishmael; and judging the Qld Literary Awards when Just a Dog won best children’s book.

Could you please tell us about these and some of your other books?

I often get asked at school visits which of my books is my favourite. Of course, a bit like choosing between your children, it’s probably an impossible question to answer. I’m happy to say that I love and am proud of everything I’ve written and each book has something that makes it special for me. I would never have the nerve to send them off to my publisher if that wasn’t the case.

The Running Man of course will always be special to me. It made me a published author, won the CBCA Book of the Year and changed my life in ways that I’d only ever dreamed about. It also says some things that are important to me – like how we often judge and label people and put them in a convenient box, without really knowing them or seeing the human being behind the label. I was writing it back in the early 2000s when the issue of refugees was very much in the news and they were being demonised by some. Sadly not much has changed.

Some people might think it strange, but of all the things I’ve written, I’m probably most proud of the Ishmael trilogy. I’d happily be judged as a writer just on the basis of those three books. I love the mix of comedy with more serious moments and the way the characters grow and develop and reveal different aspects of themselves as the series unfolds. I’m also pleased with how the series ends and that ultimately it’s all about the saving power of love and friendship. It was a sad day for me when I wrote the final scene and said goodbye to characters I loved. I have a special place in my heart for readers who take the time to follow the journey of Ishmael and his friends all the way from year nine through to graduation. Some of the loveliest emails I’ve received are about these books.

I loved writing Just a Dog. I enjoyed the challenge of trying to write a powerful story in the simple language of a young boy. It took quite a few drafts to get there but I was really pleased with the way it turned out. A number of Corey’s and Mr Mosely’s stories were based on childhood memories of dogs I grew up with. The response to this book has been overwhelmingly positive and beautiful but because of the serious and ‘more adult’ issues it also touches on, it’s had a bit of a polarising effect on readers. One lady said after reading the book that it was going ‘straight in the fire’! I remember when I submitted it, my publisher asked me who I thought the story was for. My answer was, ‘I’m not sure. Maybe it’s just for me.’

Like I said at the start, I could give reasons why each of my books is special to me – but don’t worry I won’t do that! However I have to mention what a joy it was to work on the Eric Vale and Secret Agent Derek ‘Danger’ Dale series with my beautiful (and genius!) son Joe. (AND you can check out Joe and wife Rita’s ARTSPEAR ENTERTAINMENT YouTube channel to see for yourself why this super-talented couple have 1 MILLION subscribers.)

Where are you based and what’s your background in children’s and YA literature?

I’m based in Brisbane. I’ve lived most of my life in the suburb of Ashgrove which was the setting for The Running Man. We now live in the bordering suburb. Look how far I’ve come!

I was a secondary school teacher of English and Economics for quite a few years and dreamed of being a writer. I had what amounted to a quadruple major in English Literature from Qld Uni but my awareness and depth of knowledge of children’s and YA literature was quite limited until I got a job at Marist Ashgrove (the school St Daniel’s is based on in the Ishmael books). The wonderful English co-ordinator there who interviewed me and who was ultimately responsible for me getting the job, said I needed to know more about what young people were reading. She handed me a stack of YA and middle grade novels to read over the Christmas holidays. It opened my eyes to a whole new world of stories.

How are you involved in this community at the moment?

I’m very fortunate living in Brisbane as we have a very vibrant, active and enthusiastic writing and illustrating community. It’s a large and supportive group and I’m often in contact with other local writers and illustrators through book launches and other literary function and events. My involvement comes about mainly via such organisations as the Queensland Writers Centre, ASA, Book Links and the local branch of the CBCA. I’m also a member of the May Gibbs Children’s Literature Trust where I’m on the selection committee for their Fellowships and Residencies.

Could you please tell us about your new novel, The Things That Will Not Stand?

Well if you insist! The Things That Will Not Stand is a YA novel set over just nine or so hours at a University Open Day for senior school students. It is told in the first person, present tense by a year eleven boy called Sebastian, who is attending the day with his best friend (and perhaps mentor) Tolly. Sebastian is a bit of a lost soul as well as a romantic and when he has a brief encounter with the ‘perfect girl’ he can’t help himself hoping and dreaming that they might make a connection and his day will pan out like some feel-good, rom-com movie. Instead, he meets Frida – the ‘wrong’ girl – and his and Tolly’s day takes a very different and much more unpredictable, turn.

It’s a story about two teenagers who are both hurting and damaged in their own way. It’s about the stories they tell, the secrets they keep and the courage and faith it takes to share their real selves. The novel is a mix of comedy and drama because as Sebastian says about life, ‘It’s never just one type of thing … It’s all over the place. One minute it’s tears. Next minute it’s laughter. Then, just when you think you’re headed for a happy ending, the monsters turn up.’ I hope readers enjoy spending the day with Frida and Sebastian and Tolly. I certainly did.

How important is an opening scene and how did you write it here?

An opening scene is crucial. First impressions count, as they say. I think a good opening scene feels like the curtains are suddenly drawn back and you find yourself as the reader in the centre of someone else’s world. A world that hopefully draws you in and hangs on. TTTWNS opens with Sebastian standing in a cinema foyer staring at a set of big sliding doors, hoping and praying that soon they will glide open and the girl of his dreams will walk through. I chose to start here because it’s a dramatic and pivotal moment that could go either way. It also a scene that reveals a lot about Sebastian’s character and personality.

How does Sebastian represent a “Very Ordinary Guy”?

This is Sebastian’s description of himself and it reflects the doubts and lack of confidence a lot of young people – both male and female – have about themselves, especially when they compare themselves to others around them and (unfairly) to larger than life celebrities. In that way he is an ordinary teenager because like most teenagers, he doesn’t see or appreciate the extraordinary and admirable qualities he actually does have. But I’d like to think that readers will see them.

Frida has a sharp wit. How did you form her dialogue?

I enjoy writing dialogue and I loved creating the exchanges between Frida and the boys. I can’t explain the process of writing the dialogue or where the ideas come from. I think knowing the character well and seeing them as real people helps. Because of Frida’s connection to Frida Kahlo I imagined her as someone who was creative, fiery, intelligent and strong-willed but also with a sense of fun and humour and compassion. I tried to channel that. Writing for me is often like picturing a scene in my head and watching it like film and then trying to capture in words what I see and hear.

I think everyone loves humour but it’s so difficult to write. It’s something you do well! How do you pull it off?

I often get asked how I come up with the jokes and humour in books like the Ishmael series and the Eric Vale series. I can never answer those questions. I sometimes do workshops on writing humour and talk about how the key to all humour is ‘surprise’ or the ‘unexpected’ and how you can apply this to creating surprising and unexpected characters, situations, storylines and language use. But I must admit that I don’t have a conscious process I go through or a formula in my mind when I’m writing comedy. I just try to think of things that I find funny. Pathetic explanation, I know! I was never extroverted or a ‘class clown’ at school, but I could always make my friends laugh. I think it helps that I’ve loved comedy and have devoured funny movies, TV shows, cartoons and books ever since I was a little kid. One of the strengths I think I have as a creator of stories, it is that I often see connections and links between things. Perhaps being able to see surprising and unexpected connections between words and ideas and situations, helps with producing humour and witty dialogue.

What is the significance of the movie Casablanca and other movies in the novel?

Like The Big Lebowski, Casablanca is one of my favourite films. Best dialogue ever. It’s significant in the novel because as a love story it stands in contrast and challenges Sebastian’s happy ending rom-com fantasies. The final scene of Casablanca shows that love is not a selfish thing, that sometimes it involves pain and sacrifice. After watching the film together, Frida comments jokingly that Sebastian is nothing like Bogart’s character Rick in the film. I like to think that by the end of the novel she might not be so sure.

How are Sebastian and his mate Tolly actually not Ordinary Guys, but superheroes?

Aren’t most superheroes ordinary people most of the time until those crucial moments when they are called on to reveal their alter-ego? Sebastian and Tolly don’t have superhero costumes but they do have those moments when they reveal who they are through their words or actions – such as when Tolly takes on Frida’s tormentor in the lecture theatre. But they’re not your classic superheroes. If they do possess any ‘superpowers’ it’s just their essential decency and empathy.

The Things That Will Not Stand is an engaging read that, at first, conceals scars and depths in the character’s lives. How do you unpeel these layers?

Every time you have a character in a scene they are revealing something of themselves – how they act, their appearance and mannerisms, the words and images they choose to use, how they react to other characters, other situations and ideas, their thoughts and feelings and attitudes – all of these things and more help readers’ build up an understanding and appreciation of a character.  Even if the character is trying to hide or disguise who they are, their real nature can be shown to seep through.

Sometimes in TTTWNS hidden layers are exposed when cracks and inconsistencies appear in a character’s story.  More importantly, layers are peeled back when trust grows between the characters – when they feel brave enough to place some of their secret pain and hurt in someone else’s hands. The various events of the day provide the opportunities for the trust and connection between Sebastian and Frida to grow and strengthen.

What is the significance of the title?

The title is a line from the movie The Big Lebowski – a big favourite of mine. The main character in the film, The Dude (Jeff Bridges) says at one point, ‘This aggression must not stand, man.’ In the book the statement ‘It will not stand’ is used by Sebastian and Tolly as a declaration of intent, a call to action against some perceived wrong or injustice or any unacceptable situation. A bit like how recently all those amazing school kids around Australia saw the lack of commitment by our country’s leaders in dealing with Climate Change and took to the streets. To my mind, that was a big ‘It will not stand’ moment. I could well imagine Sebastian and Frida being there, with Tolly leading the way.

What are you writing next?

There might be a sequel to Rodney Loses It. I hope so anyway. Winning the CBCA award this year as well as the Speech Pathology of Australia award and sharing that success with the amazing Chrissie Krebs has been such a great thrill. I’m pottering around with some ideas and verses at the moment, but I won’t submit anything to my publishers unless I think it’s up to the standard of the first book.

The main thing I will be writing next year is a serious YA novel (my first completely serious book since The Running Man). I was very fortunate recently to receive a Queensland Writers Fellowship to support this project. The working title of the book is Gaps and Silences. Like The Running Man, it will be set in Ashgrove, but further in the past. There might also be some slight connections between the two stories. Haven’t quite worked that out yet. There’s still a lot of pieces of the jigsaw puzzle of find and assemble before I get a clear idea of the full picture.

Anything else you’d like to mention?

I have a blog/webpage at michaelgerardbauer.com and I’m on Facebook at Michael Gerard Bauer Author, Twitter @m_g_bauer and Instagram at mgbauerpics.

Thank you, Michael, for your generous and insightful responses. 

Michael writes across age-groups – so seek out his works for Christmas gifts. I highly recommend The Things That Will Not Stand for teen readers.

(Books published by Scholastic Australia)

Prime Minister’s Literary Awards 2018

It was a great privilege to attend the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards in Canberra yesterday. I was on the judging panel of the Children’s and Young Adult categories and we were thrilled with both our shortlisted and winning books.

It was wonderful to see the value that Prime Minister Scott Morrison placed on Australian literature in his speech, citing David Malouf’s Johnno, for instance, and the importance of children’s books.

All of our Children’s shortlisted authors and illustrators attended as well as a number of our YA authors. It was such a treat to speak with Lisa Shanahan and Binny Talib, creators of the highly engaging and layered Hark, It’s Me, Ruby Lee! (Hachette); and Sarah Brennan and the legendary Jane Tanner (Drac and the Gremlin, The Fisherman and the Theefyspray, Isabella’s Bedroom and There’s a Sea in My Bedroom) – creators of Storm Whale (Allen & Unwin); and the winners of this category – some of children’s lit loveliest and most talented people – Glenda Millard and Stephen Michael King for the stunning Pea Pod Lullaby (Allen & Unwin). This is a lyrical directive to everyone to care for refugees and anyone needing help.

 

Scholastic Australia was very well represented, with a table full of shortlisted authors and illustrators hosted by publisher Clare Halifax. Beautiful picture book Feathers was written by the ever-smiling Phil Cummings (Ride, Ricardo, Ride!, Bridie’s Boots,  Boy, Newspaper Hats) and illustrated by Phil Lesnie (Once a Shepherd).

 

 

Rising star Tamsin Janu was again awarded for her Figgy series set in Ghana. This time for Figgy Takes the CityHer novel Blossom, about a girl who looks after an alien, was also entered and she has another original work due to be published next year.

 

In the YA category, Bruce Whatley’s extraordinary graphic novel, Ruben, was shortlisted. Bruce was accompanied by his exuberant wife, Rosie Smith (My Mum’s the Best).

And Scholastic published the winning YA work: the delightful Richard Yaxley’s originally-constructed holocaust novel, This is My Song.

Authors don’t know in advance if they have won so it was an emotional time for all as the winning books were announced.

I also loved catching up with some of the poets, such as eminent writer Judith Beveridge; genre-crossing Adam Aitken, shortlisted for Archipelago (Vagabond Press); and Brian Castro who won with Blindness and Rage: A Phantasmagoria (Giramondo) and appropriately read a poem-speech. His prose work, The Bath Fugues, is a personal favourite.

Gerald Murnane, winner of the fiction category for Border Districts (another winner for Giramondo) is known as a recluse. He tried hard to get to Canberra but just couldn’t manage the distance. It is great to see his work recognised further with this prestigious award.

The ceremony was a very special and memorable event. Sincere thanks to the awards committee.

The complete list of winners, shortlisted books and judge reports can be found at the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards website.

Greats Gift Ideas # 2 -Tweens and Teens

They may think they’re too old for Christmas but thrust one of these great reads into their Christmas stockings this year and your tweens and teens will love your forever, or at least have something incredible to tie them over until the turkey is ready. Here are some recent must-read middle grade and young adult fiction titles that make ideal gifts this season. There are literally dozens more, some featured already as full reviews this year. Check them out, here. Alternatively, visit the Boomerang Books Christmas gift books list for more literary inspiration.

His Name Was Walter by Emily Rodda

Historic, mysterious and crawling with supernatural scare. This is a consuming story within a story of love, embezzled fortunes and trust and old mysteries. Rodda enchants with her ability to knit the past with the present and overlay it all with a good old fashioned fairy-tale that lances kids’ hearts with imagination. Highly recommended late night reading for tweens and lovers of twisted fairy tales.

HarperCollins Children’s Books August 2018

Continue reading Greats Gift Ideas # 2 -Tweens and Teens

Furthermore and Whichwood by Tahereh Mafi

If I ever crave gorgeous worlds and perfectly delicious writing, I always take myself over to a Tahereh Mafi book. She just has such a way with words! It makes you feel like you’re in the story, due to the sensory elements and the magical creativity. I’ve always loved her YA Shatter Me series, so I was very keen to try her children’s duology, Furthermore and Whichwood. To say they are an exquisite delight is an understatement! I thought I’d give you a little introduction to both books because you absolutely need them in your life. (True, now.)

Also technically Whichwood is a sequel, but can be read on its own!

FURTHERMORE

BUY HERE

We tumble into the world of Ferenwood which is a cosy small town where magic is colour and when one turns twelve, they Surrender their chief magical talent and are given a quest to help others. But Alice has this one problem: she is colourless. She’s so so pale and milky white and, since her father took a ruler and disappeared one day, she’s been entirely alone. Books giving us oddball and misfit protagonists isn’t anything new, but Alice is so winning. I love this trope and I think it’s so endearing because it’s so easy to feel like the “odd” one out. And Alice is delightfully firm in her opinions, disagreeable to those who are mean to her, and extremely passionate. She’s not always “nice” and she’s not perfect, which makes her even more loveable.

The adventure takes off when she and Oliver (aka her childhood nemesis) end up thrown together to find Alice’s father. They have to travel to Furthermore, which is also a magical land, governed by ridiculous and impossible rules. And if you mess up? Well people will eat you. No pressure for sure.

It has everything you want in a story! Magic! Adventure! Unlikely friendships where they bicker and also save each other! And the writing is this entrancing delight, where every word is weighed in colour and smells and Alice eats flowers and Oliver tells lies and everything goes horribly wrong before it goes right.

WHICHWOOD

BUY HERE

Now we trot over to Whichwood and you will absolutely fall in love with this one and it’s frosty setting and sharp lemony protagonist named Laylee. She washes the bodies of the dead and, with her magical Mordeshoor abilities, sends them on to a restful afterlife. Grim? I think yes. But somehow it’s macabre and gorgeous, with Laylee eating sugared snowflakes and every description making your heart glow with wonder at this strange world where a little girl is forced into such a dark job (but she secretly loves it). She’s all alone after her mother died and her father wandered off, driven to madness from his grief.

And she’s dying. Laylee is turning silver from overwork in a thankless job since the people of Whichood barely pay her — in money or respect. What they don’t know though, is that if Laylee doesn’t do her job, the dead will get antsy and go find their own skins to try and relive again. They’ll unzip skins from the living and wear them instead.

What I adore about this one, is how dark it is — but it’s written in a hopeful and often whimsical way. Laylee’s ghosts are quaint and, yeah dead, but they actually love her. And Laylee is a fiercely gorgeous and sharp girl who’ll bite your hand off before accepting help. But a fingertip away from death…maybe she’ll accept the help from two strangers (named Oliver and Alice!) before she collapses and her dead go walking.

Brimming with Bounce: Interview with Robyn Osborne

Robyn Osborne is a children’s author and early childhood teacher from sunny Brisbane. She also happens to be a huge animal fanatic, with a particular love towards the canine variety. That’s why you’ll find dogs featuring in almost all of her books, including Dog Logic, award-winning My Dog Socks, and her latest bouncy tale, Bruno, the Boisterous Blue Dog from the Bush.

Today Robyn is here to discuss her writing adventures and to celebrate the release of Bruno; a book of busy alliteration and beaut Aussie slang, all bundled in a bold and bubbly tale of mateship and appreciating the simple life. Find Dimity’s bonzer review here.

Thanks for joining us, Robyn! 

Robyn, have you always been passionate about writing? How did your career path lead to becoming an author?

Like many authors, I was a keen reader from an early age and I was always going to become a writer when I grew up. My first publishing success came in my final year at high school when my angst ridden poem (I was a teenager) appeared in the yearbook. While university beckoned, I opted for a job in the public service, still dreaming of being a writer one day. Unfortunately, life got in the way, and it wasn’t until I became a teacher that I reignited my love of words and started to write in earnest. The release of my junior novel D.O.G. in 2005 was a huge confidence boost and I have gone on to have seven books published since then. At the beginning of 2018 I took a leap of faith and resigned from teaching to devote my time to writing, so after many, many years, my childhood dream has come true.

You’ve written a mix of short stories, picture books, junior fiction and young adult titles, many that have been influenced by your love of dogs. Do you have a genre you feel most comfortable with? Why are dog-themed stories such a strong influence in your writing?

There is no particular genre I prefer to focus on, but certainly my four legged furry friends are a common theme throughout most of my writing. As a self-confessed dogaphile, it seemed natural for me to incorporate them into my writing. I often wondered what went on in the heads of my two rescue dogs, Socks and Snowy. This pondering eventually led me to a couple of co-pawthored books. First up was the canine created and related Dog Logic: a pooch’s guide to dogs behaving badly (Big Sky Publishing, 2011). Dog Logic is a training book written from a dog’s perspective. I enjoyed the process of channelling my inner dog immensely, and in 2014 Snowy’s memoirs (Midget Bones’ Diary) were released. My latest two picture books (My Dog Socks & Bruno, the Boisterous Blue Dog from the Bush) were inspired by dogs I have known. The experts do say to write what you know, so I’m sure there are a few more dog stories to come.

You have won many accolades for your writing and books, including outstanding awards for My Dog Socks with the prestigious CBCA Notable Book 2018 and Speech Pathology Australia Book of the Year Shortlist Book 2018! Congratulations! How did you come to learn of these nominations? How did you feel, and how have these awards boosted your authorship status?

Thanks very much for your kind words. I have been thrilled with the continuing success of My Dog Socks. The CBCA Notable Book award came through via my publisher, Ford Street, as did the Speech Pathology Shortlist. It is hard to gauge what impact these awards have had on sales of the book, but I do love to see the stickers adorning the cover.

Your latest release, Bruno, the Boisterous Blue Dog from the Bush (Big Sky Publishing), challenges the tongue with its bouncy alliteration and embraces our national culture with its Aussie colloquialism. What teaching and learning experiences can you suggest for parents and educators of young readers? What is the most significant point you’d like children to understand from reading Bruno?

First and foremost, I want the book to be enjoyed. Teaching and learning experiences should flow on from what the children are interested in. If it is alliteration, have fun making up nonsense sentences using the letters from their names. Discussing the meaning of the slang terms could lead to exploring more of our wonderful Australian colloquialisms. There are free downloadable teaching notes for Bruno the Boisterous Blue Dog from the Bush available on the publisher’s website. I can vouch for their quality, as I wrote them!

Did Bruno go through many re-writes or did you have it nailed pretty quickly? How easy or challenging was it to include a book full of alliterated ‘b’ words? Are you a natural at the Aussie slang or was a dictionary on hand?

Combining my love of alliteration with a main character called Bruno Bright meant the rough draft went down quickly. Once I had this basic story, I tinkered with it over a number of years. My thesaurus and dictionary became invaluable for helping me find additional ‘b’ words and appropriate slang. The story was quite long, and when Big Sky Publishing said they were interested in the manuscript, I had the difficult job of cutting it down in size. Indeed, there were bountiful ‘b’ words that were banished from the book!

Fun Question: If you could describe yourself in only words beginning with ‘b’, what would that be?

‘Bright’ – it is my maiden name and my teacher’s enjoyed saying ‘Bright by name, bright by nature’. My husband suggested ‘boring’, as I do spend considerable time at the computer ignoring both my pets, i.e. him and the dog.

Anything else of excitement you’d like to add? News? Upcoming projects? TBR pile?

No book news, but I am very excited to be heading off to Tasmania very soon for three months. Jack the dog and writer’s muse extraordinaire will be accompanying me, along with my trusty laptop, so I am hoping to get some creative inspiration while taking in the delights of the Apple Isle.

Brilliant! Thanks very much, Robyn! It’s been a pleasure! 😊

You can visit Robyn Osborne at her website here, and on blog tour here.

Big Sky Publishing

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Review: Empress of All Seasons by Emiko Jean

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I was absolutely drawn into Empress of All Seasons by Emiko Jean from the moment I started chapter one. It presents such a lush and dimensional world, full of monsters and oppression and girls hiding their true forms. It’s also based on Japanese mythology, by an ownvoices author, and just getting lost in the legends, weapons, food and monster lore was fascinating and brilliant.

The story follows Mari who’s off to enter the contest of the seasons to win the prince’s hand. Except she’s actually a yokai, a supernatural monster, and it’s her nature to destroy. She’s been trained by her family for this exact moment — succeed in the trials of Winter, Spring, Autumn and Summer, and marry the prince before stealing his fortune and fleeing back to her family. But there are tangles in the plot, which Mari soon finds as she enters the palace. The prince, Taro, doesn’t even want the throne, and Mari discovers she’s been followed by her half-blood yokai friend, Akira, who is getting mixed up in people craving rebellion. And as much as Mari needs to help them, she also has to focus on just surviving the rooms of death with other contestants who will do anything to beat her.

The world building is a standout in this one. It takes time to show us the world, from the reclusive mountains where Mari originally lives, to the gorgeous and lush emperor’s places. There are four magic rooms, each built to reflect a season, and filled with deathly trials for the girls to compete in and I loved how creative and intriguing they were. Stakes were high. Girls were dying. It reminded me of The Hunger Games!

I also loved the twist of how it was the girls competing for the prince’s hand for once! It’s a nice twist on an old tale, and the whole concept was done fantastically from the fights to the secret rebellions to the prince who doesn’t fit in and Mari masquerading as human when she’s not.

We have three narrators to cover the whole tale: Mari, Taro and Akira. Mari was the standout for me, and I adored her right from the start. She’s not afraid to get bloody, but she’s still a really soft and sweet person. She’s an Animal Wife, a type of yōkai who basically woos men into marriage and then runs off with their fortune. She’s incredibly good with weapons and is also a strategist. She’s the complex and intriguing kind of character you can’t help but root for (especially when she sighs at the annoyingness of men) and I also liked that she enjoyed being feminine and carrying a sword. You go, girl, smash the stereotypes.

Taro is the emperor’s son and he’s into inventing things, not oppressing the monsters. He makes adorable mechanical birds and tries to just stay out of his snarky father’s way, but when he meets Mari, he starts to think getting married might not be horrible after all. (Mwahah he has no idea she’s a yokai herself.)

Akira was an intriguing narrator, with less space to tell his tale then then the others. He was scarred and quiet, a tortured monster who’s just trying to find his place in a world where he is half yokai and half human.  He does have a bit of an obsession with Mari, though she has no interest in him.

The plot is exciting and full of twists! No dull moments and you’ll honestly fly through the chapters.

Empress of All Seasons is a Japanese-inspired fantasy of monsters, murder and mayhem. It’s clever and exciting and if you have a heart that melts for tragic monsters and badass heroines? This is for you.

Meet Princess Peony this Christmas

Nette Hilton is a much-loved and rather wickedly humorous creator of books for children and young adults. She lives in northern NSW.

Her titles span the award-winning The Web, to picture books A Proper Little Lady, The Smallest Bilby and the Easter Tale and Little Platypus; junior novels Sprite Downberry, Star of the Show, Adventures of a Late-Night Swearer and the excellent, but disappointingly out-of-print, YA novel The Innocents.

Her latest book is The First Adventures of Princess Peony, illustrated by Lucinda Gifford and published by Walker Books Australia. Of all Nette’s books it is most like the evergreen A Proper Little Lady, illustrated by Cathy Wilcox. It is a little Dr Seuss-ish in size and style and could also be read alongside Babette Cole’s Princess Smartypants tales.

The First Adventures of Princess Peony is sub-titled ‘In which she could meet a bear. But doesn’t. But she still could.’ This adds intrigue to the tale because bears don’t feature at all as the story is set up. Instead we get to know the ‘dear little girl called Peony’ but it is Peony who is telling us that she is a ‘dear little’ girl. She is actually very bossy and one of her favourite things is ‘being obeyed!’. Peony is an unreliable narrator, full of personality, who addresses the reader at times.

 

The First Adventures of Princess Peony (copyright Nette Hilton & Lucinda Gifford)

Lucinda Gifford’s lively black, grey, white and pink illustrations tell another side to the story as well. Princess Peony tells us that she lives in a castle with her dragon Totts but the pictures show something else. She says that princesses ‘never lose their temper when things go wrong’ but the pictures show her looking far from serene.

She has trouble with Prince Morgan the Troll who is always interrupting, pats the Dragon under its wings and is building a bear trap. This is the catalyst for Princess Peony’s possible encounter with a bear. The illustrations again add to the humour with expressive eyes and partly hidden bears peering from the hedge. A chook also has a lively cameo.

This is a book to read multiple times. It is so engaging children will want to rush through it the first time but it is also a book to savour. The plotting, characterisation and humour are superb. It is a wonderful place for young readers to share and develop imagination and revel in pretend-play and role-play alongside Princess Peony. The First Adventures of Princess Peony is fun and exciting and has a most satisfying story arc. It is a triumph.

Great Gift Ideas – Entertaining Picture Books

There is no denying it – the countdown is on. We’ve got you covered for Christmas, though. Discover the fantastic array of kids’ stories between these covers. Every week until Christmas, I’ll be listing a selection of new releases and top-rate reads for children from pre-schoolers to new young adults. Here’s a swag of super entertaining picture books just right for sharing this summer.

The First Adventures of Princess Peony by Nette Hilton and Lucinda Gifford

I detest the colour pink and princesses who like to adorn themselves in it. However, I LOVED this supremely funny tale about a little girl named Peony who lives in a castle with her dragon, pink bits and all. Beautifully told from Peony’s unabashed point of view and illustrated with striking tri-coloured drawings, this is a joyful read about giant imaginations, dogs, family and princesses, of course. Highly recommended for pre-schoolers, early primary schoolers, emergent readers and those of us struggling to accept the little princess within. Watch out for following titles in this illustrated series.

Read Joy Lawn’s full review, here. It’s a corker.

Walker Books Australia October 2018

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Review: Real Food Kids Will Love – Great Gift Ideas

There is absolutely no need to panic this Christmas. Books make great gift ideas in case you didn’t already realise because just about every taste is satisfied between the covers of a book. Today’s, non-fiction title is a book that kids and adults alike will find an absolute treat. Cooking is a perennial, not to mention essential favourite pastime. Cookbooks make fine additions to any Christmas gift list with the dual bonus of practical functionality coupled with luscious beauty – I adore pouring over food photos for inspiration. Have a look at my new favourite…

Real Food Kids Will Love by Annabel Karmel

English author, food pioneer and mother of three, Annabel Karmel has added another title to her long list of enticing family-orientated cookery books. This one featuring ‘over 100 simple and delicious recipes for toddlers and up’ is a standout crowd pleaser. I am not normally overly enthused by cookbooks for kids, often finding the recipes too diluted or dumbed down and whilst straightforward enough for little chefs, woefully lacking in imagination and taste.

Real Food Kids Will Love is a truly delectable exception! And it delivers exactly what the title promises.

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A Telling Future with Cameron Macintosh

Cameron Macintosh is the author of the exciting fantasy adventure series for future detectives in the making, steadily churning them out with number three being recently released. Having qualifications in Psychology and Professional Writing, and specialising in the educational publishing market for almost two decades, it is no wonder Macintosh knows exactly what makes an engaging and perfectly suited read for the junior to middle grade audience. With over 80 books released for the education field under his name, his break into trade publishing has been both rewarding and well-received.

The three Max Booth Future Sleuth books are a fun trip set 400 years into the future, including uncannily relatable characters (a history-buff youngster Max on the run with his robotic, yet loyal dog Oscar). They have demonstrated their keen interest in all things ‘ancient’ and ‘vintage’; sleuthing out the mysteries of objects from the past like a cassette tape in Tape Escape, photos on a mobile phone in Selfie Search, and an old postage stamp from 2019 in Stamp Safari. Macintosh has carefully weaved in suitable language, plenty of humour and suspenseful quests that will hook any tech-loving, sci-fi and mystery-hunting fans, with a clever enticement to finding out about artefacts and technology from the past. Imaginative, creative, the ability to emotionally connect, and so much relevant and important learning potential – the Max Booth series certainly tick all the boxes.

Big Sky Publishing

Cameron Macintosh is back for yet another amazing interview (here’s the last one) to discuss his books and writing life with us once again. 🙂

Coming from a background in writing for the education market, did you have teaching and learning purposes in mind when you started writing the Max Booth series?

Initially, I was trying to avoid any particular educational purpose beyond just getting kids reading – a major educational objective on its own. I just wanted the stories to be page-turners with lots of laughs along the way. But it didn’t take long before I realised they had their own educational potential – not in a didactic way, but in the possibilities they offered for classroom discussions about technology and sustainability, and a range of other issues. The stories deal with future people looking back at objects from our present day, so I figured pretty quickly that they’d offer teachers some interesting angles to discuss technological development, and the positives and negatives that go along with it.

How did you decide what kinds of technological developments to incorporate into the series?

I always intended the series to be episodic, so that any title could be plucked off a shelf and read without any prior knowledge of the characters or their world. I’m glad I chose this option, but it does mean that a little bit of world-building needs to be done in each book. Because of that, I haven’t pushed the technological changes too far, except for a few very big ones that don’t need too much explanation, including hover-vehicles, floating suburbs, robot companions, and the rarity of a few presently common things such as paper.

Who is the series aimed at?

As far as interest level goes, it’s aimed at readers around 7 to 10 years of age. I’ve tried to make the vocab manageable for less confident readers too, so I especially hope the series can be helpful in encouraging these readers to tackle longer texts. The Max Booth books are all around 12,500 words each.

How did you find the gap to write technology / futuristic-based junior fiction?

Before I fully drafted the first Max story, I did some research to see what future-based books were already out there in the marketplace. Although there was plenty of brilliant futuristic stuff, I couldn’t find anything that used the future as a lens to look back at our present day, so I figured I’d potentially found a bit of niche there.

The Max Booth Future Sleuth series makes a great point for readers to connect past and present technology with the possibilities of the future. What are the most significant aspects you’d like your audience to take away from the series?

I’d love readers to think about what a wondrous time we’re living in, with regards to the staggering pace of technological development. I’d also love them to consider the potential pitfalls of this development, in terms of environmental ramifications, and also in terms of the potential that technology holds to bring humanity closer together, or possibly divide us further.

I also really hope the series will spark lots of interesting discussions about technology between kids and their parents, grandparents and teachers – particularly about the way some items or ways of life have evolved over the last few generations, and others have remained pretty much the same. (Although, I don’t recommend describing pre-internet life to a school-aged person unless you want to feel extremely ancient!)

Do you think that setting stories in the future presents any disadvantages to a storyteller?

There’s always the risk of an emotional disconnect with the reader if you let the technological side of things take too much precedence. I’m constantly getting frustrated by sci-fi movies that are so clever and complicated that I lose any real empathy for the characters. And even though you have a lot of freedom in world-building in sci-fi, readers will still expect the world of the story to be believable, and to have its own logical consistency, so there’s a lot of balancing to be done along the way.

The Max Booth series is brilliantly and shrewdly illustrated by the talented Dave Atze. By Book 3, was there anything in particular you needed to collaborate on or did he basically have it all covered?

Dave’s incredible, isn’t he! We’re so lucky to have him on board – to have an illustrator who amplifies the pathos, action and humour is a massive privilege. It’s always very exciting to see how he interprets the illustration briefs, and to see what fun surprises he adds in. Dave had all of this stuff well and truly nailed in the first book (Tape Escape), so by book 3, it was really just a case of keeping out of his way!

Anything else of excitement you’d like to add? News? Upcoming projects? TBR pile?

Well, the wheels are currently turning to make Max Booth book 4 a reality. I’ve already seen the cover, which is always a big moment in the journey. As expected, it’s rather brilliant – thanks again to Dave, and the incredible team at Big Sky Publishing.

The TBR pile is getting out of hand but it’s not a bad problem to have! At the top of the pile is Ottilie Coulter and the Narroway Hunt by Rhiannon Williams, and Jane Doe and the Cradle of All Worlds by Jeremy Lachlan, and Markus Zusak’s Bridge of Clay (Aussie authors are really knocking it out of the park at the moment). Also, Joyce’s Ulysses has been sitting there for five years daring me to tackle it (I have a feeling it’ll be sitting there at least five more).

Thanks so much for your thoughtful responses, Cameron! It’s been a pleasure! 🙂

It’s been my great pleasure too. Thanks for such an interesting chat!

Cameron Macintosh can be found at his website, and on blog tour here.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Unforgettable Children’s Books

With so many memorable children’s books flooding our bookshelves, it’s easy to allow one title to melt imperceptibly into the next. This collection of stories however possesses qualities that make them virtually unforgettable. Embrace these haunting experiences that will linger with you long after the final page.

Parvana: A Graphic Novel by Deborah Ellis

This graphic novel rendition of Ellis’ acclaimed novel, The Breadwinner (US name of Parvana), moved me to tears. Emotionally charged and visually gratifying, this graphic novel ignites a need to know more and venture further.

I have not read The Breadwinner yet but was so enamoured by this portrayal of Parvana’s story that I am now compelled to do so. There is a movie rendition too although I may not have to see it. This sombre tale about a girl who disguises herself as a boy to make a living in the stricken city of Kabul to support her family and reconnect with her imprisoned father is so convincingly expressed through Elllis’ stirring narrative and dramatic artwork (from which this version was adapted) that it leaves nothing wanting apart from a desire for Parvana’s salvation.

The muted colour palette of dusty browns and ominous greys belie the hope that blossoms below the veneer of fear and repression. Orange flowers (the colour of hope) appear in many of the frames featuring Parvana and most strikingly, on the last page where they are seen springing from the crust of the desert. Parvana’s vibrant red blouse, the one she has never worn, representing hope and love, and a desire to be free of fear, is the catalyst for change.

Dramatic, poignant and inexplicably beautiful, like Afghanistan’s people, this story is itself complete and will appeal to many even those (children) who are unaware of the historic atrocities leading up to Parvana’s story. Especially useful for those resistant to learning about history and reading full scale novels.

Allen & Unwin Children’s Books January 2018

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Sharing the Spirit of Australia Remembers with Allison Paterson

Allison Paterson has always had a deep connection to Australian history and culture, and her writing reflects more than just research or fiction. Her picture books include Granny’s Place and Shearing Time; reminiscent of her childhood memories of growing up on a farm. Allison also immortalises her ancestory with her wartime, award-winning books, Anzac Sons; based on letters written on the Western Front.

Using her teacher-librarian status and forseeing a gap in the market, Allison has gone on to produce a new series for primary school students. The first of the nonfiction titles includes Australia Remembers: Anzac Day, Remembrance Day and War Memorials. This is an absolutely stunning documentation of colourful facts, phenomenal photographs – old and new, illustrative posters, quotes and glossary, all presented like a beautiful magazine with easy-to-digest and visually engaging chunks of information across twelve short chapters. The book covers topics and proposes readers consider commemoration and showing gratitude, what ANZAC and its spirit means, the importance of annual ceremonies and the significance of symbols and traditions. It also includes relevant hands-on learning activities to further deepen the readers’ understandings. Australia Remembers is an important resource that emanates with a sense of engaging the community spirit and extending the legacy of those we ought to always remember. A must-have for Remembrance Day and Anzac Day.

Allison Paterson discusses her writing life and tribute to her ancestors with us today!

How did you come to be a writer? How have you managed the shift from teacher-librarian to author and presenter?

Writing has always been in my life, but the decision to resign from an awesome job as a teacher-librarian to pursue writing as a career came only a couple of years ago. It all began with the publication of Anzac Sons – the story of my ancestors in WWI and a collection of hundreds of letters they wrote from the Western Front. I quite firmly believe that I wouldn’t be a full-time writer today if it had not been for my grandfather and his brothers – they were writers too!

The transition from being a teacher-librarian was not difficult. I’m very comfortable with author talks and workshops in schools. I love inspiring kids to write! Being prepared to diversify and look for opportunities, such as mentoring, editing and writing for magazines all helped the financial shift. The toughest things for me are marketing, and I’m slowly learning how to run a business! I also found that being available and saying ‘Yes!’ opens more doors as well, including doing some casual educational consultancy work with Big Sky Publishing.

You’ve written several non-fiction titles on the Anzac history for children and adults, as well as fictional picture books that tie memories together with a great Aussie flavour! Do you have a style or genre you feel most comfortable with? Why is the Australian culture such a strong influence in your writing?

I spend most of my time lurking around in the past so historical fiction and non-fiction are certainly my favoured writing genres and where I gravitate to in a book shop or library. I’m a very proud Australian. I love the people we have become and our awesome landscape. I feel very connected with the land and when I travel to the place where I grew up it always feels like going home. My place!

Australia Remembers: Anzac Day, Remembrance Day and War Memorials is a valuable resource for primary students to be able to connect with the traditions of Anzac Day and Remembrance Day, in essence, to keep the memories of war and its recipients forever alive and celebrated. What are the most significant points you’d like your readers to take away from this book? What do you hope it will achieve?

I hope that readers develop both an understanding and respect for the role that our armed services have in the development of our wonderful country and the way of life we enjoy today. It is designed to ensure that the next generation shares the history and traditions of our important commemorative occasions. I also hope it encourages children to find out about the experiences of their own ancestors.

There are bountiful resources available for teaching and learning about Australian war history. What are your favourite educational lessons or resources to suggest for parents and educators following the reading of Australia Remembers?

Australia Remembers has inbuilt activities and discussion starters and is supported by extensive teacher notes which are available on my website, or on the Teachers page at Big Sky Publishing. My favourite lessons can be found in the notes, but if there was one I would pick it would be to explore your local memorials. Find out about the service of those in your local community.

The next book in this marvellous series is Australia Remembers: Customs and Traditions of the Australian Defence Force. What can you share about your research for this title? How many more titles in the series have you got planned?

Australia Remembers: Customs and Traditions of the Australian Defence Force is underway and will be released in 2019. It explores the history of the Army, Navy and Air Force in Australia, along with the shared and specific customs and traditions which have developed, sometimes over centuries! It will be a terrific resource for answering the questions which arise around our commemorative services. The whole series plan is a work in progress and we have lots of ideas that we are exploring for future titles.

Anything else of excitement you’d like to add? News? Upcoming projects? TBR pile?

I’m very excited that my first YA novel will be released early in 2019 with Big Sky Publishing. We’ve just finished the edit and the cover is awesome! Follow After Me is about finding a lost part of yourself in the spirit, words and actions of those who came before. Its themes include family, Anzacs, the Australian landscape, rural life and the past! This time though there are two coming-of-age protagonists, one of today and one enduring the events of World War I. It is written in a parallel narrative that converges with the discovery of a collection of WWI letters and a growing sense of connection to place that cannot be ignored. Here’s a snippet from the blurb:

A war to end all wars, a tiny key and a rural Australian property that binds across the generations. Two young women living a century apart discover who they are and where their hearts belong.

Wow! Brilliant! Thanks so much, Allison, for your generous answers to our questions! All the best with your writing! 🙂

Visit Allison Paterson at her website, and on her Australia Remembers book blog tour here.

Big Sky Publishing

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Review: Furthermore by Tahereh Mafi

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Furthermore by Tahereh Mafi was such a spot of delightful whimsy and nonsense! It was so easy to get swept into this magical fantasy land where everyone devotes their life to magic and colour…except for one girl named Alice who was born without the colour that makes their world so special. The story felt like a little ode to Alice in Wonderland while still being it’s own different and exquisitely told tale. It also reminded me a lot of The Phantom Tollbooth which I was obsessed with as a kid, so this was a little throwback down memory lane for me too.

The story begins with Alice Alexis Queensmeadow who is desperately awaiting her twelfth birthday when she’ll receive her life’s quest. She’s had a rough go of it so far: with her dad taking a ruler and disappearing, her mum being exasperated with her all the time, brothers who don’t care about her, and a world who views her as a disappointment already simply because she was born looking like a washed out painting. Alice is also a rule breaker and dreamer, whimsical and stubborn, outspoken and determined. And when everything goes terribly wrong at her ceremony, she decides to strike out to find her father and return him home. But this means going to Furthermore where magic is colour but there are no rules (you could be eaten!) and also work with her mortal enemy: Oliver…who’s own life quest might just tie tightly to Alice’s whether they want it to or not.

There are beautiful themes of self-acceptance in here too! I always love books that champion messages of ” you are worthwhile as you are” and encourage kids to accept themselves and also others, differences and all. Alice really sticks out in her town, but she’s convinced if she covers herself with as much brightly coloured cloth as possible, she’ll fit in. She’s scared her magic is weak (since magic = colour) and she’s very lonely and isolated because of how she looks. The story isn’t about fixing Alice, it’s about changing Alice’s view of herself. I feel this is so important.

The story does have a slow meandering start, but this is crucial to set up Alice’s world. And it’s such a pretty world that you really wouldn’t mind spending forever in it. Then we enter Furthermore, which turns rules on their heads and where stealing magic isn’t taboo. Alice and Oliver stop in a ton of towns and each is more odd and delightful (and a little scary?!) than the last.

The writing felt like a taste of art itself! It’s so beautiful and magical. Everything is talked about in colours and tastes which turns the story into a sensory picnic. When Alice and Oliver are in the nonsense realms, we meet Time (who currently looks like a seven year old boy) and an origami fox and people who charge you for being alive by the minute. The writing weaves us this lush and exquisite scene that you can fall into because it feels so real.

And of course, seeing Alice and Oliver go from enemies-to-friends was lovely! It was a natural and easy progression (even if they started off with Oliver teasing her and Alice smacking him in the guts).

Basically Furthermore is for those of us who are into whimsy and wonder. It’s a starburst of rainbow in your mouth and you’ll enjoy every minute of this adventure with Alice who is complex and boisterous and determined the world will not flatten her for being different.

Kate DiCamillo & ‘Louisiana’s Way Home’

Kate DiCamillo has given us an inspiring legacy of novels for children, beginning with Because of Winn-Dixie in 2009.

I heard her in conversation with popular author Sally Rippin at Melbourne’s Wheeler Centre last year and blogged about it here. She spoke about her 2016 publication Raymie Nightingale, an unforgettable tale about three girls, Raymie, Beverly Tapinski and Louisiana Elefante, who enter a beauty pageant.

Louisiana is, of course, the star of DiCamillo’s new novel, Louisiana’s Way Home (Walker Books/Candlewick Press). Told in first person through Louisiana’s written account of what happened when her Granny whisked her away in the middle of the night, we experience her confusion and angst.

The family story begins when Louisiana’s magician great-grandfather sawed her great-grandmother in half and refused to put her back together again. Louisiana’s Granny believes that the day of reckoning has arrived and they must leave to confront the curse and face their destiny.

Louisiana frets about Archie her cat and doesn’t believe that Granny has left him in good hands. When they run out of gas on the Florida-Georgia state line we learn that Granny not just imposes on people but borrows or steals. Her desperate need of a dentist forces 12-year-old Louisiana to drive the car and find help.

They recuperate at the Good Night, Sleep Tight motel and, even though Granny absconds, Louisiana finds varying degrees of goodness in people’s hearts: in some hearts, many hearts and even most hearts. Bernice, the motel manager, is hostile and suspicious but others such as dental patient Carol Anne, give Louisiana cookies and the boy with the crow, Burke Allen, gets her peanuts from the vending machine and makes her bologna sandwiches. “He was the kind of person who, if you asked him for one of something, gave you two instead”.

Louisiana believes that she must rescue herself. Granny trained her to be resourceful and capitalise on her gifts, such as singing.

The tale of Pinocchio with his nose growing when he lies; the Blue Fairy who appears at the darkest times; and the singing cricket Pinocchio kills at the beginning of the story and who then reappears as a ghost, reflects some of the circumstances and emotions of Louisiana’s journey. This may be a tale of desperation and despair but Louisiana loves stars and sees beauty in the world. Like many of Kate DiCamillo’s works, hope and forgiveness prevail.

Mentors in Writing & Illustration: Liz Anelli & Sheryl Gwyther

Liz Anelli and Sheryl Gwyther will be sharing their knowledge and experience of writing and illustrating with aspiring children’s book creators and other interested people in an event organised by CBCA(NSW) this week, the Aspiring Writers Mentorship Program.

Liz Anelli has been achieving recognition for her distinctive illustrations. Her picture books include Desert Lake, written in Pamela Freeman’s assured text. It’s published as part of the Walker Books ‘Nature Storybook’ series and shows how Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre changes when the floods arrive using texture, pattern and colour. It has been shortlisted for several awards, including the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards and the Educational Publishing Awards.

Ten Pound Pom, written by Carole Wilkinson (Black Dog Books, Walker Books), is another well-designed book from the illustrated ‘Our Stories’ series. It is a Britain-to-Australia immigration story.  Liz Anelli has created authentic detail, even using fabrics from her family to fashion the clothing.

Maddie’s First Day, written by Penny Matthew and also published by Walker Books, looks at the evergreen subject of a child’s first day at school.

Grace and Katie written by Suzanne Merritt (EK Books) is a wonderful vehicle for Liz’s skills as she shows the differences between these twin sisters. One is creative and messy. The other is ordered and tidy. Their map-making is a triumph.

Liz Anneli’s website

Sheryl Gwyther is an incredible support to the Australian children’s literature world. I know Sheryl from my years living in Brisbane and she is a wonderful advocate of children’s book organisations and those who are part of them. She is an active member of SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators), an excellent organisation for children’s book creators.

Sheryl’s work appears in the School Magazine and elsewhere.

Her books include the engrossing Secrets of Eromanga (Lothian Books, Hachette) about Australian dinosaur fossils and Sweet Adversity (HarperCollins), a historical novel set in Australia during the Great Depression with Shakespearian and theatrical touches.

Sheryl Gwyther website

Both Liz Anelli and Sheryl Gwyther will be speaking tomorrow night (Thursday 8th November) at an event for aspiring writers at HarperCollins in Elizabeth St, Sydney. Full details and booking information are in the flyer below or follow the link.

HarperCollins keeps our Australian children’s book heritage alive by continuing to publish and promote the works of May Gibbs and Norman Lindsay.

They recently published Emily Rodda’s The House at Hooper’s Bend, a brilliant book, which has been shortlisted for several awards including the 2018 CBCA Children’s Book Awards and the Qld Literary Awards. It is followed by His Name Was Walter, which I look forward to reading.

My other recent favourite from HarperCollins is Jackie French’s Just a Girl. It’s one of the best books I’ve read this year.

 

 

 

 

 

Stories for the Soul – Picture Books that Tug the Heart – Part 2

Here are a few more stories with heart that encompass the three pillars of great picture books: to enlighten, educate and entertain.

Finn’s Feather by Rachel Noble and Zoey Abbott

It’s wrenching when something or someone you love is lost. No one knows this better than Rachel Noble who was inspired to write Finn’s Feather after the loss of her son, Hamish. However if you think this story is a maudlin narrative on grief and loss, think again.

Finn’s Feather embraces all the love and joy families share for one another. It is a sublime examination of the emotions of heartache, anguish and sorrow expressed through the eyes of a child, which makes it immediately relatable and real. When a parent carries the burden of grief, children often slump along beside them under the same weight but unsure of why they are even there. The way they might experience the loss (of a sibling) understandably has to be different from the despair their parents are experiencing. This is precisely what Finn is going through after he discovers a pristine white feather on his doorstep one morning.

Continue reading Stories for the Soul – Picture Books that Tug the Heart – Part 2

Belinda Murrell, Pippa’s Island & Other Treasures

Belinda Murrell is a much-loved author of children’s series fiction and time-slip and historical novels. Her series include ‘Pippa’s Island’, ‘Lulu Bell’, ‘The Sun Sword’ trilogy and ‘The Timeslip’ series. Her books are warm and rich with appealing characters and captivating storylines.

Thank you for speaking with Boomerang Blog, Belinda.

What is your background and where are you based?

I grew up on the North Shore of Sydney in a rambling old house full of books and animals. I studied media, writing and literature at Macquarie University and worked for many years as a travel journalist and corporate writer, before becoming a children’s author. Now I live with my family in a gorgeous old house, filled with books, overlooking the sea in Manly.

What led to your writing books for children?

About 14 years ago I started writing stories for my own three children, Nick, Emily and Lachlan. Some of these stories became The Sun Sword Trilogy, a fantasy adventure series which was published about 12 years ago. I’ve been writing for children of all ages ever since.

What else do you enjoy doing?

 My favourite things to do include walking my dog along the beach, riding my horse at my brother’s farm, skiing, reading books and travelling the world having lots of adventures with my family.  

What themes or issues appear across some of your books?

Finding your courage, being brave and kind, standing up for what you believe in, accepting people’s differences and the importance of family and friends are all themes which I explore in my books. Another issue which is very important to me is creating strong, inspirational female protagonists which girls can relate to. When my daughter was younger, I was disheartened by the number of children’s books which always had boys as the heroes. “You cannot be what you cannot see” and so I strive to create lots of different, interesting and aspirational female characters.

Could you tell us about your books, particularly your latest series, ‘Pippa’s Island’?

The Lulu Bell series is about Lulu and all her animal adventures, living in a vet hospital, inspired by my own childhood as the daughter of a vet. The 13 books have been hugely popular with younger readers, aged about 6 to 8.

My new series, Pippa’s Island is for readers about 8 to 10 years old, and includes five books about friendship, families and seaside adventures. Pippa and her family move halfway across the world to start a new life on gorgeous Kira Island, where Pippa’s mum has the crazy idea of buying a rundown old boatshed and turning it into a bookshop café. Pippa makes friends with Charlie, Cici and Meg, and they form a secret club, called The Sassy Sisters, which meets after school in the tower above the boatshed. Their motto is “Be Brave. Be Bold. And be full of happy spirit.”

For older readers, aged about 10 to 14, I have written a series of seven historical and time slip novels, such as The Ivory Rose, The Lost Sapphire and The Forgotten Pearleach with a modern-day story woven together with a long-forgotten mystery or family secret from the past.

What is Pippa dealing with in the new ‘Pippa’s Island’?

Pippa’s noisy family have been living crammed into a tiny caravan in her grandparents’ back garden and money has been super tight. Pippa’s can’t wait to move into their new apartment right above the Beach Shack café but the builders are taking forever! Pippa’s feeling frustrated until she comes up with a genius plan to make some pocket money: Pippa’s Perfect Pooch Pampering. With a lot of help from her best friends, Pippa starts her own dog walking business. Soon she has her hands full with adorable but pesky pups. What could possibly go wrong? Puppy Pandemonium!!

Which character has most surprised you in ‘Pippa’s Island’?

I absolutely fell in love with my main characters – Pippa and her best friends Charlie, Cici and Meg, who are all so different yet so caring of each other. Yet I also enjoyed discovering how some of my other characters developed over the series. Pippa’s arch rival is Olivia, who is good at everything, whether it’s winning the class academic prize, gymnastics or dancing. Olivia is popular and a natural leader but can be very competitive. At first, Olivia and Pippa seem like they will be friends, but when Pippa tops the class in a maths quiz, Olivia feels threatened and tries to exclude her. Over the course of the series, the girls have a prickly relationship but gradually they work out their differences and learn to appreciate each other.

The ‘Pippa’s Island’ books are full of delicious cupcakes. What is your favourite flavour?

Initially my favourite was Cici’s lemon cupcakes in book one, but then at a Pippa’s Island book launch, a gorgeous librarian baked dozens of divine strawberry cream cupcakes. They were heavenly, and of course starred in book 2!!

Who are your core readers? Where do you have the opportunity to meet them, and have any of their responses been particularly memorable?

My core readers are girls aged between 6 and 14 and it’s been lovely to see readers growing up reading my books, starting with Lulu Bell, then Pippa’s Island and then the time slip books. One of the greatest joys of being a children’s author is meeting kids who love my books at schools, libraries, bookshops and festivals. They get so excited! Every year I spend about four months visiting schools and book events all over the country. This year I’ll visit schools in Adelaide, Melbourne, Brisbane, Tasmania, all over Sydney as well as many regional areas.

The most memorable and humbling experiences have been hearing from readers, particularly of my time slip novels, who feel that my books have changed their lives. A year 12 student wrote a heartfelt letter to thank me for writing her favourite book, The Ivory Rose, that “she’d held so dear for so long”, that helped her decide what she wanted to do with her life. Another 18-year-old girl wrote to say that the adult she’d become and the values she treasured were inspired by my books that she’d read over and over. These letters are so beautiful and make me cry.

What is the value of series fiction, particularly in comparison with stand-alone works?

Kids love reading a whole series of books because they have the chance to really get to know the characters and see how those characters develop and change. It is also comforting for younger readers to know what to expect in a book – that they will love the setting, the style and the writing, so it’s much easier for them to become lost in the story. A series that you love can be completely addictive, whereas a stand-alone book, even a brilliant one is over too soon!

What have you enjoyed reading recently?

For my book club, I’ve just finished reading Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman, which I’ve been wanting to read for ages. It was fantastic – so funny, witty and moving. I absolutely loved The Peacock Summer by Hannah Richell, set in a crumbling old English mansion, about a modern-day character called Maggie, trying to discover the secrets of her grandmother’s mysterious past. Another historical book which I loved was The Juliet Code by Christine Wells, about Juliet Barnard, a British spy parachuted into France during World War 2, to help the French Resistance in occupied Paris and her turmoil in dealing with these experiences when the war is over.

What are you writing about now or next?

I have two completely different and new projects that I’m very excited about. The first is a middle-grade children’s fantasy novel set in a world inspired by Renaissance Italy. I’m in the early stages of writing the story and am heading to Tuscany in the New Year to explore tiny fortified hill towns, medieval towers and secret tunnels. The other project is very special – a book which I’m writing with my sister Kate Forsyth, to be published by the National Library of Australia. It is a biblio-memoir about growing up in a family of writers and the life of our great-great-great-great grandmother Charlotte Atkinson, who wrote the very first children’s book, published in Australia in 1841.

Thanks Belinda, and all the very best with your books.

Funny Books for Children

Children adore funny stories so thanks to the publishers who are commissioning them and authors who are writing them.

Penguin Random House Australia has recently published the brilliant Oliver Phommavanh’s new novel Natural Born Leader  Loser; Mr Bambuckle’s Remarkables Fight Back by Tim Harris, where the exploits of Mr Bambuckle and his class continue; and Total Quack Up!, an appealing anthology edited by Sally Rippin and Adrian Beck.

Pan Macmillan Australia has extended its popular comedy series with Laugh Your Head Off 4 Ever, illustrated by Andrea Innocent. Highlights here include Felice Arena’s ‘Dad Dancing’ about Hamish’s dad who dances cringeably at the end-of-year formal. Bully, Craig Dickson, films it on his phone until the music changes … Penny Tangey’s ‘Use Your Words’ is about the power of words and could also be used in schools to illustrate this in a fun way.  James Roy’s ‘Evil Genius’ is a clever comeuppance featuring jelly snakes. Lisa Shanahan has an alien tale in ‘Harriet’s Spacey Friend’. And Andy Griffiths’ ‘Runaway Pram’ has been published previously but is a superb slapstick piece. The bright yellow cover with contrasting pink makes this book stand out.

Another anthology is Total Quack Up! It’s edited by Sally Rippin, much-loved writer of ‘Polly and Buster’, ‘Billie B Brown’, ‘Hey Jack!’, awarded picture book The Rainbirds (with David Metzenthen) and stunning middle-grade novel Angel Creek; and Adrian Beck, author of the ‘Champion Charlies’ and ‘Kick it to Nick’ series. It’s illustrated by James Foley of My Dead Bunny fame. Deborah Abela uses the hills hoist to dramatic effect in ‘How to be a Superhero’. Tristan Bancks has a funny take on a football game in ‘The Pigs’. Jacqueline Harvey will scare anyone off pet sitting in ‘Pet Sit Pandemonium: Operation Snowball’. Using a clever play-on-words Sally Rippin shows what could happen to disobedient children in ‘Do Not Open’. The hilarious R.A. Spratt has another funny Nanny Piggins story in ‘Pigerella’. And Matt Stanton has a selfie-inspired cautionary tale in ‘What Hippopotamuses and Sharks Have in Common’. The only story published previously is Paul Jennings’ ‘A Mouthful’. It’s a very funny Dad tale.

Tim Harris’s ‘Mr Bambuckle’ stories (illustrated by James Hart) are incredibly popular. In Mr Bambuckle’s Remarkables Fight Back we meet his class of 15 students again. They get the better of horrible teachers and Scarlett has an original plan to get rid of the dire Miss Frost. Mr Bambuckle inspires creative ideas, such as asking students to think of “a ridiculous use for a cake” and “an imaginative way to enter the classroom”. As a bonus, books with illustrations are championed as a way of managing the terrible behaviour of a kindergarten buddy. It’s followed by Mr Bambuckle’s Remarkables Go Wild.

Raymond in Oliver Phommavanh’s Natural Born Leader  Loser is a memorable character to whom children will relate and cheer on. He is in Year 6 at apathetic Barryjong Primary.  Bullies run rife. New principal, Mr Humble who looks like a retired wrestler, wants to change the culture and selects four prefects: energetic soccer star Zain; forthright, hijab-wearing Randa; artistic Ally and Raymond who believes he’s a nobody. He doesn’t want to be in the spotlight but he does want to make the school better. As he challenges, and dares, himself he starts to make more difference than he could have imagined. The process is agonising at times but also full of fun, wildly creative ideas, jokes and wonderful emerging and changing friendships. I would love to see all children in primary school, including quiet achievers like Raymond, read this book. It could change negative cultures and transform the timid into confident leaders without spoiling their natural personalities.

Review: Satellite by Nick Lake

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Satellite by Nick Lake reads like a quietly soft contemporary…but set in space. I just loved this combination, and how unique it felt. It’s the perfect collision of sci-fi vs contemporary with a little dystopian dashed in as well. You probably have to suspend a bit of disbelief with the technical aspects of raising a baby in 0 gravity (but hey it is in the future!) but as someone who doesn’t know a lot about space anyway, it didn’t bother me. And I was totally entranced by the characters and the conspiracy theories! It’s speculative fiction at its greatest!

The story follows Leo who was born on Moon 2, a space station that orbits the earth every ninety minutes. He’s lived up here forever with twins, Libra and Orion, and they can’t go down to earth until they’re strong enough to endure the change (considering they’ve grown up in 0 gravity all their lives). Chances of surviving the descent are actually dubious since these three teens are living what no one has ever experienced: a life where they’ve never touched earth. But getting down to earth isn’t the only struggle they’ll face, with bodies ill equipped to handle gravity, and some darker secrets about their existence that they never guessed and Leo is finding hard to face.

One things that I really enjoyed was: the unique formatting! It took a bit to get used to, but then I got into the flow and it worked. It has very few capital letters (barring names) and it reads like text-speech, so basically: “i c u spinning around in 0 g in space.” At first I was like “grit teeth and bear this” but it actually leant a very specific voice to the story and makes you feel close to the characters.

Leo is the narrator and he is the softest boy, kind of a genius, and also quiet and intense. I mean, the kid’s grown up in a space shuttle, so he’s definitely different. He’s never never felt gravity. He adores science and he wants to be an astronaut…like his mother and also grandfather. although he has a super strained relationship with his mother. She’s colder than a refrozen ice cube, while his grandfather (an ex-astronaut and now farmer) is loving and can’t wait to meet him for the first time. His relationship with the twins is super sweet too! Orion and Libra are very close and they all function basically as siblings since they’re all each other has ever known — barring the people who’ve raised them and their occasional visits from their parents. (Most people can’t live in 0 gravity for long! So their parents hardly visit.) I also loved the fact that Leo was gay and it was just there. I wish more books would include diversity like this and stop acting like straight is the default! The story actually has very little romance in it though, since Leo was…well…distracted by not dying.

The plot is rife with conspiracy theories and questions. And the chapter ends like to throw you lines like “I thought everything was going to be fine…it wasn’t.” (Paraphrased, ha.) Which is, wow, thank you for that added STRESS. It’s quite a thick book, but you really whip through it fast just to find out the whys and hows of these kids born in space. And though it reads like a contemporary, there are quite a lot of science sections which were intense but very interesting.

Overall? I really enjoyed Satellite! I’d had it on my wishlist forever so finally reading it and having it live up to expectations was amazing! It is all teens and space and conspiracy theories and broken families and lies and secrets and stress! Such an inventive, heart-wrenching, and clever story too!

Leave Taking by Lorraine Marwood

Author-poet Lorraine Marwood won the Prime Minister’s Literary Award for Children’s Fiction in 2010 for Star Jumps. Her new verse novel Leave Taking (University of Qld Press) is just as good. Both are set on a farm and are for primary-aged readers.

Leave Taking refers to both the title and Toby’s experiences as he and his parents pack up their dairy farm and the belongings of Toby’s younger sister, Leah, who recently died from cancer. Of course, such weighty themes are sobering but grief is recognised and faced through the natural rhythms of Australian rural life, Toby’s steps around the property and loving memories of Leah’s tangible and intangible footprints.

The map of the farm on the front endpaper has changed by the end of the book as Toby revisits and labels special places: the machinery shed where both children scratched their initials in the concrete; the old red truck where Leah wrote pretend bus tickets during their last game there; and Memorial Hill where they buried pets and other animals and birds.

Toby camps at significant places on the property but is always close enough to the farmhouse to help with the cows or have a quick check in with his mother. He is also comforted by the company of his dog Trigger.

Leah was a gentle girl who loved stories and taking photos, shared jobs, delighted in April Fools’ jokes and left so many drawings that some will be taken to the new farm and the rest placed in the heart of the bonfire – which would have made her happy.

The writing is often sensory and poetic, beginning with a contrast between the light of the “faint silver of dawn” and the dark shadows outside Toby’s tent. The author sketches the natural world of magpies and native trees and gumnuts with evocative strokes. She uses figurative language to describe the huge milk vat purring “like a big-stomached cat” and personifies the bonfire as a dragon.

There is a supportive, although laid-back, sense of community and hope of new life with the imminent birth of a new baby as Toby maps his goodbye to his home and much-loved sister.

The cover illustrations and line drawings are by Peter Carnavas, who has just won the Griffith University Children’s Book Award in the Queensland Literary Awards. After creating a number of thoughtful picture books, Peter illustrated his first novel, The Elephant, a brilliantly executed study of a family’s grief and path to healing. I will always remember this outstanding novel when I see jacaranda trees in flower.