CBCA 2017 Picture Books

Congratulations to all the authors, illustrators and publishers who have been shortlisted for this year’s Children’s Book Council of Australia (CBCA) awards.

I am very fortunate to have copies of the following picture books, with thanks to the publishers, and have written a short exposé of most here.

My Brother written and illustrated by Dee Huxley, character creation and illustration by Oliver Huxley and design by Tiffany Huxley (Working Title Press)

This is a stunning, moving picture book about loss and grief, grief shared by the three creators due to the death of a loved one. The written text is minimal and carefully placed on each page. Vignettes of a small donkey lead the viewer through most of the text. Graphite pencil creates a monochromatic effect for most of the book, becoming warm, yellow-suffused watercolour towards the end.

Teacher Notes are available at the publisher’s website.

One Photo written by Ross Watkins, illustrated by Liz Anelli (Penguin Random House Australia)

One Photo is a touching look at the effects of early onset dementia on a family. Dad comes home with a camera to record his memories and help him remember things. Liz Anelli is growing in power with her illustrations, here using sensitive, child-appealing drawing of the photos as well as of the family.

Mechanica: a beginner’s field guide by Lance Balchin (The Five Mile Press, Bonnier Publishing Australia)

Mechanica is a magnificent, innovative pseudo-scientific study of mechanical (mainly winged) insects and other creatures. It reminds me of Gary Crew’s The Lost Diamonds of Killiecrankie and James Gurney’s Dinotopia in the way that a character embarks on a fictional enterprise in a factual, imaginative style. The book champions the protection of our world and its living creatures and is distinctive because of its fine technical/inventive drawings. The sequel, Aquatica, is on the way. Author-illustrator Lance Balchin, has proved to be a popular presenter at festivals and other events.

The Patchwork Bike written by Maxine Beneba Clarke, illustrated by Van T Rudd (Hachette Australia)

Maxine Beneba Clarke is currently one of Australia’s most exciting authors. She also tells the story of a patchwork bike in one of her books for adults and it is interesting to compare it with this sensory, lively version for young children. The illustrations are by street artist Van T Rudd and they are exceptional in their use of media such as corrugated cardboard and smears of paint to show movement. (I will be writing more about Maxine Beneba Clarke’s work in a future post.)

 

Out is written by Angela May George and illustrated by Owen Swan (Scholastic Press)

It is a simple refugee / asylum seeker – ‘but that’s not my name’ – story for young readers told from the point of view of a girl. The agonising trip by boat is not glossed over but is told at an appropriate level. The pencil illustrations also make it accessible for the young.

Congratulations also to Bob Graham (Walker Books Australia) for Home in the Rain. I’ll write about this picture book next week. 

Love Ever After – Picture Book Reviews

If all you need is love, added with delicacy, beauty and tenderness, then these two gorgeous new titles from the home of New Frontier Publishing are for you. A classic fairy tale and a global sensation, both possessing the ability to melt your heart.

Happily Ever After: Beauty and the Beast, is another beautiful book in New Frontier’s (Alex Field) series of classic tales with a twist. The story of a young woman, regretfully sacrificed by her father to an unrelenting Beast, has been told with reverence and endearment. It also enlightens girls with a sense of power, evincing Beauty’s strength and courage in facing her fears and standing up for her rights. The story further relays a message of trust and loyalty as the relationship between the unlikely pair evolves. And finally, the ultimate commitment is made when Beauty agrees to live forever with the Beast and he is transformed into a prince. A true display of unconditional love.

Helene Magisson has unequivocally supported this sweet tale with her soft-paletted, fluid and gentle illustrations. She has created magnificent atmosphere with the muted tones of blues and oranges, beautifully depicting both the contrasts between Beauty and the Beast as well as their tendency to naturally complement each other. The subtle symbolism of the caged butterflies, eventually trading places with the wicked fairy, is clever, and most intriguing for its astute readers.

Happily Ever After: Beauty and the Beast has a modern edge whilst retaining the charming essence of the classic. A keepsake treasure for any princess-loving youngster, and especially perfect timing with all the current ‘Beauty’ hype!

I Love You, written by Xiao Mao and illustrated by Tang Yun is a special picture book specifically about three special, little words. It has a universal appeal that any preschool-aged child, around the globe, can relate to. It is fun-loving, pure, reassuring and irresistibly adorable.

‘I love’ how this book encourages a sense of humanity and togetherness, where we can all, including the animals, live in a world of peace and fondness towards one another and our environment. When the tall-necked Ms Giraffe writes words in five different languages on the board at school, Little Badger takes a particularly keen interest. As it turns out, each phrase translates into the same meaning: I Love You. With her best Chinese, Italian, French, German and Spanish, and English, Little Badger professes her love for everything around her, including Mum and Dad. ‘Ti amo, little tree.’ ‘Te quiero, pretty flowers.’ ‘Wo ai ni, cloud.’ ‘Ich liebe dich, rice.’ ‘Je t’aime, underpants.’ Once she is fluent she can finally rest. Now Mum and Dad can practise, too!

Wonderfully dense, textured paintings fill the pages with natural, warming tones, perfectly suiting this wholesome, meaningful story of love, appreciation and cultural integration. There is also a sense of cheekiness and humour that certainly reflects the age of the readers and the engagement when learning something new.

If any book can send good, loving vibes your way, it’s I Love You. It provides opportunities to explore dialect in one’s own community and beyond, and reinforces that universal bond between children and their carers. So let’s celebrate our world’s rich diversity, and affections, one language at a time!

New Frontier Publishing, 2017.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Review: This Is Our Story by Ashley Elston

BUY HERE

This Is Our Story by Ashley Elston was an amazingly intriguing murder mystery. I didn’t want to put it down! It’s set in a small town where controversies are often hushed up, but this time a teen who aspires to be a lawyer is determined to get to the truth of what happened when five boys when hunting and only four came back. And that premise entirely captivated and intrigued me! There’s nothing like a bit o’ murder amongst friends and a teen girl who is going to see through the lies and bring justice. I am a fan.

Basically the story takes off with Kate’s boss taking on this case of a “hunting accident”…although he’s suspicious that it’s murder. Due to failing health, he has Kate doing a lot of the footwork to gather evidence and get to the bottom of which of the 4 boys shot their friend, Grant. Was it an accident? Was it on purpose? Kate’s life is further complicated by the fact she had a secret friendship with Grant…and now he’s dead. She wants justice for him and sees the other 4 boys involved as rich, entitled, and cruel fiends. Or are they?

I’m really pleased it featured quite a lot of the lawyer/case working side of the tale! Usually that’s the part that’s brushed over in the YA crime novels I tend to find…so it was great to get a behind-the-scenes glimpse of that part of the case solving. All the attorney storylines felt really realistic and intriguing!

Kate was a very winning protagonist too. Although she did make a lot of dumb decisions, including getting involved with one of the boys when she’s explicitly told not to talk to them. Obviously that’s going to happen and obviously that’s going to go badly. But despite the slight clicheness of that aspect, I still enjoyed it! I liked getting to know the boys, even though they all seemed pretty evil. I also enjoyed the fact there was no instalove, but actual developed friendships and relationships. Such a relief! And on top of that, Kate actually had a really epic female friend, so the book was winning for positive girl relationships too.

I, of course, was very interested to know the killer. There are four boys alive and despite their jerky behaviour, they all have complex layers that Kate has to unwind to figure out what they’re hiding. I would’ve liked to got to know the boys deeper?? But the mysteriousness of them did keep the “but whodunnit” aspect of the story fresh and full of pressure. One of the boys anonymously narrates every second chapter, too, providing us with clues to try and figure it out. I loved that! Just let me get my Sherlock Holmes hat.

The writing was engaging although on the slower side. But if I couldn’t stop reading, that makes it a solid win right?? It made sure to include lots of details and also frequents trips to eat fast food because lawyers don’t sleep apparently. Seems legit.

In summary: This Is Our Story is an engaging murder mystery that leaves you freaking out till the last page. You won’t get answers until the last minute and then you’ll be thrilled how it all comes together. It’s full of surprises and plot twists, with a cosy setting that is more sinister than it seems, and a protagonist you can’t help but root for!

Double Dipping – Unleashing Imagination

A well-known writer for kids once stated, ‘Imagination is simply Image – Nation’ meaning, you fill your ideas well from all the images pooled from your life experiences, the world around you, and your impressions of it. That is what really constitutes imagination. However it occurs, unleashing it is the penultimate fun part. Here are two imaginative new picture books that do not hold back.

The Leaky Story by Devon Sillett and Anil Tortop

There is a veritable shipload of things to like about this rollicking tale of adventure and mayhem set incongruously within the confines of the Blossburn’s family lounge room. Sillett’s surreal tale about a book with a mind of its own explodes with mirth and mystery the kind of which pre-schoolers love to wallow in. It’s not just wallowing that they can indulge in either. There is enough onematapedic dropping and plopping, sploshing and splashing to have little ones dashing for their gumboots.

Continue reading Double Dipping – Unleashing Imagination

Agent Nomad and Skye Melki-Wegner

Skye Melki-Wegner‘s new series is ‘Agent Nomad’  (Penguin Random House Australia).    

Thanks for speaking to Boomerang Blog, Skye.

Where are you based and how are you involved in the Australian children’s and YA literary community?

I’m based in Melbourne. I write fantasy/ adventure novels for young readers (and the young at heart). I also regularly visit schools and teach writing workshops. It’s such a joy to work with students and to encourage their creativity.

Your writing has a singular, imaginative style. It’s also thrilling and unexpected.

I really loved your stand-alone novel, The Hush, and reviewed it for the Weekend Australian here.

How do you think your creative brain works differently from the brains of other people?

Thanks Joy, that means a lot to me.

I’ve always had an urge to tell stories and to ‘make believe’. My parents have countless videos from my early childhood, full of me babbling about fairies or dragons or making up alternative endings to fairy tales.

Having said that, I believe everyone has the potential to be creative. When we are children, all it takes is a plastic toy or a pile of sand to craft a wildly imaginative universe from scratch.

Many people lose touch with their childhood creativity as they grow older. However, I think the potential for wild imagination still lurks within all of us, whether we are authors or accountants! All we need is a chance to express it.

Have you had any particularly memorable feedback about The Hush?

I recently received an email from a young reader who used The Hush as inspiration when playing her various musical instruments. She said that she liked to pretend she was conjuring sorcery through her music, just like the characters in The Hush.

I loved this idea, since it reminded me of my own childhood. When I was a kid, I used to pretend to be various literary characters to inspire myself during daily tasks. (When we did fitness tests in PE, I secretly pretended I was training for a quidditch match!)

It was incredibly touching to hear that my own book could have a similar effect for a reader.

After such a powerful novel, why are you now writing a series?

In a fantasy novel, it often takes a while to establish how the magic and society function. This can sometimes take up a significant chunk of the book. By writing a series, I can cover most of this ‘world building’ in the first book. Then, in later installments, I get to have fun exploring the characters and world more deeply.

I also love the fun of plotting out a series in advance and hiding secret clues about future titles. In the Agent Nomad series, there are moments in Book One and Two with hidden significance that won’t be revealed until later… but of course, my lips are sealed!

Could you tell us about The Eleventh Hour, the first in the Agent Nomad series?

It’s about spies and sorcery — and unlike my previous books, it’s set in the modern world.

The protagonist is a 15-year-old called Natalie. When the book begins, she’s an ordinary Aussie teenager, worried about homework and Maths tests.

One night, however, it all changes. A pair of deadly strangers invade Natalie’s home and she barely escapes with her life. In the aftermath, she is recruited by a sorcerous spy agency called HELIX.

As a HELIX cadet, Natalie must train to use her own magical abilities. She adopts the codename ‘Nomad’ and prepares to fight against a cabal of ruthless sorcerers called the Inductors.

Before her training is complete, however, Nomad and her fellow cadets are sent to London, risking their lives to thwart a ruthless Inductor plot before time runs out.

Could you describe each of the three main protagonists, Nomad, Riff and Phoenix, in a phrase or sentence?

 Nomad is an artist and a born traveller, who yearns for adventure and to explore the world.

Riff is a jokester with a love of fun, food and rock music – but he also has real talent and a deep love for his friends and family.

Phoenix is a talented fighter, who hides the trauma of her past behind the façade of an emotionless warrior.

I liked both the Australian and London settings. How do you create a sense of place without excessive description?

I think a few carefully chosen sensory details can be more effective than overloaded paragraphs of description.

In the school assembly scene, for example, I needed to describe an Aussie high school gym on a scorching February day. I snuck in snippets of sensory detail: the stink of sweat and cheap perfume sprays, the buzz of a blowfly, the whispering students and glaring teachers etc.

A few of these little details should be enough. If they’re strategically placed throughout a scene, they should prompt the reader to subconsciously fill in the rest of the setting with their own experience and memories.

The pace moves quickly. What’s a favourite scene or ‘inventiveness’ you’ve created?

For personal reasons, I’m quite fond of the chase scene on the train into Melbourne. I’ve spent countless hours sitting on Melbourne’s public transport, daydreaming about magic and excitement. It was fun to incorporate a mundane location like Caulfield Station into a fantasy book. I felt a bit cheeky doing it, actually!

(In reality, I associate Caulfield Station with travelling to university exams. Not quite as thrilling as a magical chase scene!)

Your writing style is a highlight. How would you describe it?

It varies a bit from book to book. In Agent Nomad, I’m speaking through Natalie (a teenage first person narrator). It’s an interesting balancing act to weave in descriptive detail without losing the flavour of her narrative voice.

Danika, my narrator in Chasing the Valley, has a slightly different voice. She’s more cynical and hardened at the start of the series, so her style of self-expression is different. Also, since she’s from a fictional dystopian world, she narrates with different vocabulary and colloquialisms.

By contrast, The Hush is written in third person. I had fun incorporating fancier descriptions (and more complex figurative language) into this book, since I didn’t have to worry about a first person narrator’s style or vocabulary!

Science or magic? Magic or science?

Science in the real world, magic in fiction.

What have you enjoyed reading recently?

In SFF, I’ve really enjoyed Illuminae and Gemina by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff – it’s such a brilliant idea to write SciFi in an epistolary format.

In contemporary YA, I’ve recently loved A Shadow’s Breath by Nicole Hayes and Black by Fleur Ferris.

Are you writing something else at the moment? If so, could you tell us about it?

I must confess I’m writing too many things! Needless to say, they’re all fantasy projects. Every time I finish a manuscript, a new idea starts itching at me… and before I know it, I’m halfway through another one! Oops.

All the best with ‘Agent Nomad’, Skye. It should create a unique niche in the market.

Thanks so much, Joy!

Review – Home of the Cuckoo Clock

‘There’s a sad sort of clanging from the clock in the hall and the bells in the steeple too. And up in the nursery, an absurd little bird is popping up to say, “Cuckoo, cuckoo!”’

So marks the passing of time as decreed by Rodgers and Hammerstein. Time, we often complain about its restraints and resist its ravages but to ignore it completely results in chaos. At least it does for the village of Schoenwald in Home of the Cuckoo Clock.

Home of the Cuckoo Clock is Robert Favretto’s first venture into the picture book world, one he makes with considerable assuredness and aptitude along with illustrator, David Eustace. Together they navigate the difficult yet supreme landscape of telling stories in pictures against the stunning backdrop of Germany’s Black Forest region.

Schoenwald is caught in a peculiar metaphysical time warp, in other words, frozen in time. It’s not a bad thing ignoring the passing of time however complete deprivation of any time keeping results in some devastating situations for the villagers: children are late for school, the shops do not open on time, and cows are not milked. The problem? No clocks.

Continue reading Review – Home of the Cuckoo Clock

Review: We Are Still Tornadoes by Michael Kun and Susan Mullen

PURCHASE HERE

We Are Still Tornadoes by Michael Kun and Susan Mullen was such a delightful surprise for me! I had basically no expectations going in, because I’d seen my bookworm friends reading it but not a lot of buzz or hype. Yet, it turned out to be spectacular?!? I adored it. And it sealed the deal of Pure Awesome by being in letter format, which reminded me of one of my favourite books ever: The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Excuse me, I’m having all kinds of feelings about this book. It was sad and funny and emotional all at once and I’m so glad I spontaneously tried this one!

Basically the story is about two childhood best friends, Cath and Scott, who have just finished highschool and are now facing the terrifying prospect of being adults. It’s set in the ’80s! Cath is off to college and Scott is working in his dad’s clothing store due to basically flunking highschool. He puts together a band but is really struggling with self-worth. Cath is enjoying college but having quite a bad string of boyfriends and also trying to cope with her parents breaking up due to an affair. They both send regular letters to each other about lives and feelings and hopes and dreams. Sometimes they letters go very badly with Scott never taking anything seriously and Cath being super sensitive. But their friendship just keeps growing until — is it something mooooore?!? We must know.

As I mentioned, I particularly enjoyed the letter format! The story had so much voice and each letter was full of Cath or Scott’s personality. I felt like we were all BFF after only a few pages. And anyone who can make mere letters full of emotion and feeling is clearly a writing wizard. Plus it was really encouraging to read about two teens keeping up a long distance friendship!

Scott and Cath were also fantastic to read about. Scott was my favourite, being an absolute adorakble idiot, who tended to make self-depreciating jokes and always underestimate himself. I adored his character development and how he learned that life wasn’t just your highschool test score and, no, flunking highschool does not have to ruin your life. Plus the fact that he was secretly searching for more felt very poignant and understandable. Any teen finishing higschool asks the questions Scott is floundering with. #Relatable

Cath’s college experience was a bit more alien to me, since the book was set in America. And I often got frustrated at how Cath automatically assumed everything was about her and ended up offended a lot. But in the end? She was so sweet and the way the friendship developed into romance with Scott was absolutely adorable. I also liked how she learned to stop judging people on face value and made some epic girl-power friends in her class.

Obviously the “what do we do now that highschool is over” theme is ALWAYS going to be applicable. Even if this is set in the ’80s! (Ancient history, obviously, har har…hush now.)

The humour was also absolutely on point. It mixed sass and witty banter with pure dorkiness that just had me laughing out loud as I devoured the pages. Cath often complained that Scott’s letters made her crack up in class…and, same, sister…same.

I also was surprised at how emotional the story got! There’s a plot twist that had me sniffling, because I honestly expected it to just be a light/happy contemporary. But no. It had depth and feelings too, so be prepared to have your little heart punched a few times. Which is absolutely excellent.

I definitely think We Are Still Tornadoes is a must-read! It’s completely underrated! It’s relatable and funny and poignant and tackles some difficult topics head-on. And a book that makes me laugh is always going to get an A+ from me.

Especially for Boys

I know that some people prefer not to have gender labels about books. Regardless, the three following books will be enjoyed by boys, and will no doubt also appeal to a wide readership.

The Grand Genius Summer of Henry Hoobler by Lisa Shanahan (Allen & Unwin)

Lisa Shanahan wrote one of my all-time favourite YA novels, My Big Birkett (published 2006). I have loved talking about it over the years: laughing out loud at the animals that ‘mate for life’ and rattling off the many meals that Raven De Head could make with mince; admiring the correlation with Shakespeare’s The Tempest and adoring the two main characters, Gemma and Raven. It was shortlisted for the CBCA.

Lisa Shanahan has also written picture books, which include Bear and Chook, Bear and Chook by the Sea and Daddy’s Having a Horse (all illustrated by Emma Quay); Big Pet Day (illustrated by Gus Gordon); and Sleep Tight, My Honey (illustrated by Wayne Harris). Many of these have received awards.

Her new novel, The Grand Genius Summer of Henry Hoobler, is best for mid primary-age readers – it’s rare to find a high quality Australian stand-alone novel for this age-group. It is set during a quintessential Australian beach camping holiday. Henry is ‘Mr Worst Case Scenario’. He worries about the adventures and feats (particularly by bike) that most book characters would embrace. The author is perceptive and empathetic in how she addresses Henry’s concerns. The writing and characterisation is impeccable for the intended age group.

Harry Kruize, Born to Lose by Paul Collins (Ford St Publishing)

Another Australian author is Paul Collins, who established Ford St Publishing and has specialised in writing speculative fiction. He has also edited two well-received anthologies, including Rich and Rare.

My favourite of his books was The Dog King, which has been inexplicably out of print for years until now. The author has taken the wonderful essence of The Dog King, added to it, and re-formed it as Harry Kruize, Born to Lose. The core story is about 13-year-old Harry, nicknamed ‘Hobbit’ because of his height, who is bullied by THE BRICK (there are lots of capitals and bolded strategic words in this new version). The beauty and wonder of the tale is the relationship between Harry and the old tramp, Jack Ellis, who moves into the shed behind Harry’s mother’s boarding house. He tells Harry tales about dogs. Some of them seem familiar … The denouement is as breathtaking as when I first read it.

The Light That Gets Lost by Natasha Carthew (Bloomsbury)

The Light That Gets Lost is an accessible, well-written novel for older readers from the UK. 15-year-old Trey deliberately gets himself incarcerated so that he can avenge his family. ‘Camp’ life is tough and he is focused on finding his parents’ killer, who he believes is one of the adults working at Camp Kernow. Sinister secrets are uncovered as Trey draws close to his target.

Two Australians Shortlisted for the CILIP Carnegie Medal

No surprises that Australian YA literature is up there with world’s best. The prestigious UK 2017 CILIP Carnegie Medal shortlist has just been announced and two Australians have been included: Glenda Millard for The Stars at Oktober Bend (Allen & Unwin) and Zana Fraillon for The Bone Sparrow (Hachette). The writing in both these YA novels is sublime.

The Carnegie Medal is awarded for writing and the Kate Greenaway Medal for illustration.

I reviewed The Stars at Oktober Bend for the Weekend Australian . A memorable scene is of beautiful, damaged Alice Nightingale perched ‘on the roof of her house at Oktober Bend, “like a carving on an old-fashioned ship, sailing through the stars”. She is throwing fragments of a poem into the night.’ Her new friend, Manny, is a former boy soldier.

I also reviewed The Bone Sparrow, about young Subhi in an Australian detention centre, in another Weekend Australian YA column, describing it as a ‘universal refugee tale’ and an ‘exalted, flawless book’. They were both in my top 6 YA books for 2016 and both are currently CBCA Notables (the Children’s Book Council of Australia’s long list). The Bone Sparrow was also shortlisted for the 2016 Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize.

It does sound as though Mal Peet and Meg Rosoff are favourites to win the Carnegie. I haven’t yet been able to finish reading Beck, which Meg Rosoff completed after Mal Peet’s untimely death. The pedophilia scenes are so confronting I fear the images won’t be erased. Mal Peet was a raconteur. I chaired a wonderful session at the Sydney Writers Festival with him and Ursula Dubosarsky, whose new novel, The Blue Cat, will be published soon. I was fortunate to have an entertaining lunch with Meg Rosoff and a colleague when working in Brisbane. She is a spectacular, unconventional writer. The other international shortlisted authors (and illustrators) are also stars. Fingers crossed for our Australian writers, of course though.

Other Australians to have won the Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medals are Ivan Southall with Josh (our only Carnegie winner so far and that was in 1971- but we have won other major international awards since then), Bob Graham for Jethro Byrde Fairy Child, Freya Blackwood for Harry and Hopper (written by Margaret Wild) and Gregory Rogers for Way Home (written by Libby Hathorn). I believe Levi Pinfold (Black Dog) lives in Australia. A number of other Australian illustrators, including Jeannie Baker, have been shortlisted for the Greenaway.

See the complete shortlists from the official website below.

SHORTLISTS FOR 2017 CILIP CARNEGIE AND KATE GREENAWAY MEDALS ANNOUNCED

  • Children’s Laureate Chris Riddell could win record-breaking fourth Kate Greenaway Medal in 60th anniversary year
  • Dieter Braun’s Wild Animals of the North, shortlisted for the Kate Greenaway Medal, is first ever book in translation to feature on either shortlist
  • Mal Peet’s final novel Beck, co-authored by Meg Rosoff, could posthumously win the 80th anniversary Carnegie

www.ckg.org.uk / #CKG17 / #bestchildrensbooks

Today (Thursday 16th March), the shortlists for the 2017 CILIP Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medals, the UK’s oldest and most prestigious book awards for children and young people, are revealed.

The Kate Greenaway Medal, which celebrates illustration in children’s books, sees award-winning writer and illustrator Chris Riddell, the Children’s Laureate, in the running to win an unprecedented fourth Kate Greenaway Medal just a year after his hat-trick in 2016. Riddell is joined by another potential record-breaker in the form of Dieter Braun’s Wild Animals of the North. Originally published in German, this is the first ever translated title to make the Kate Greenaway shortlist following the Medals opening up to translated works in English in 2015. They are joined by former Kate Greenaway Medal winners Emily Gravett, William Grill and Jim Kay and first-time Kate Greenaway-shortlisted authors Francesca Sanna, Brian Selznick and Lane Smith.

The Carnegie Medal, which celebrates outstanding writing for children and young people, sees a range of YA and Middle Grade books make the shortlist. Mal Peet’s final novel Beck, co-authored by Meg Rosoff, could be the second book to win the Medal posthumously, following Siobhan Dowd’s Bog Child in 2009. Peet and Rosoff are joined on the list by fellow former Carnegie Medal winners Frank Cottrell Boyce and Philip Reeve, previously shortlisted author Ruta Sepetys, debut authors Lauren Wolk and Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock and first-time Carnegie-shortlisted authors Zana Fraillon, Glenda Millard and Lauren Wolk.

The 2017 shortlists are:

The CILIP Carnegie Medal 2017 shortlist (alphabetically by author surname):

  1. Sputnik’s Guide to Life on Earthby Frank Cottrell Boyce (Pan Macmillan)
  2. The Bone Sparrowby Zana Fraillon (Orion Children’s Books)
  3. The Smell of Other People’s Housesby Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock (Faber & Faber)
  4. The Stars at Oktober Bendby Glenda Millard (Old Barn Books)
  5. Railheadby Philip Reeve (Oxford University Press)
  6. Beckby Mal Peet with Meg Rosoff (Walker Books)
  7. Salt to the Seaby Ruta Sepetys (Puffin)
  8. Wolf Hollowby Lauren Wolk (Corgi)

The CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal 2017 shortlist (alphabetically by illustrator surname):

  1. Wild Animals of the Northillustrated and written by Dieter Braun (Flying Eye Books)
  2. TIDYillustrated and written by Emily Gravett (Two Hoots)
  3. The Wolves of Currumpawillustrated and written by William Grill (Flying Eye Books)
  4. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stoneillustrated by Jim Kay, written by J.K. Rowling (Bloomsbury)
  5. A Great Big Cuddleillustrated by Chris Riddell and written by Michael Rosen (Walker Books)
  6. The Journeyillustrated and written by Francesca Sanna (Flying Eye Books)
  7. The Marvelsillustrated and written by Brian Selznick (Scholastic)
  8. There is a Tribe of Kidsillustrated and written by Lane Smith (Two Hoots)

Hooray for Lucy Cousins!

Lucy Cousins is much-loved, highly acclaimed international author-illustrator best known for her beloved Maisy series. She is also creator to Peck Peck Peck, and Hooray for Fish! And there is always much excitement when her new releases are revealed, even if they are simply new editions of the old. Go wild for Cousins’ latest books! They will keep your little ones entertained for hours.

Hooray for Birds! is the extravagantly captivating sequel to Hooray for Fish! Not only is there an immediate hook with endpapers containing a wonderfully colourful menagerie of beaks a-squawking and wings a-flapping, but then read the opening line: “Can you imagine… You’re a busy bird?”. Well, can you imagine?! Those little minds will be racing, hearts fluttering and arms ready to soar! Reading and acting this book out with my four year old has been a pure joy, every time!

With the most vibrant, solid colours, enlarged bold text and a patterned array of bird species engaging every page in this large format book, it’s no wonder Hooray for Birds! is an absolute winner with young children. Its rollicking rhyming text almost literally escalates its readers to new heights, effortlessly inspiring them to perform in a fun-filled mimicking and imaginative role-play experience. Included are shouts of “cock-a-doodle-doo!”, there are hopping birds, pecking birds, ones with tall necks. There are parrots that talk, starlings that swoop, fly-catching birds, and ones that lay eggs. The list goes on with a cascade of onomatopoeia and lively action words, enough to make one exhausted as we reach a suitable ending when it’s time to say goodnight.

What a fantastically playful book with the massive potential for teaching and learning moments on the study of bird names, habitats and characteristics. Highly recommended, jubilant fun for all preschool aged children.

Maisy Goes Swimming was originally published in 1990, but here today we have a magnificently interactive new edition that is perfect for children from age three.

Your child may be a confident swimmer, or completely new to the experience. Either way, this book can be adopted as a familiar reference or as a simple introduction, both encouraging independence. Maisy is preparing for her visit to the pool, and with the reader’s help, she can dress appropriately for the occasion. The ideal size board book for small, busy hands, Maisy Goes Swimming is brimming with tactile goodness to entertain again and again. Large bold text in colours that match the clothing item of attention help little ones identify the correlation between word and picture. And most likely after just one adult read-aloud they will be able to ‘read’ it all themselves. From a wintery outfit of jacket, hat, scarf, gloves and boots, slowly but surely flaps are lifted, strings are pulled, parts are slid up or down and folds are opened. Watch out for the rudey-nudey Maisy when her layers are all off! Quickly slide that recognisable striped swim suit on and take Maisy for a swim.

The sturdy and high quality pages provide great comfort in knowing that for a book that your children will never get tired of, Maisy Goes Swimming is sure to be a classic for another 25+ years!

Maisy Goes to the Bookshop is still as relevant today as it was all those years ago. And we’re all for encouraging a love of books, right?!

When Maisy enters the bookshop with teddy in tow, she is delightfully greeted with an abundance of colourful books filling the shelves. Immediately both Maisy and the reader are confronted with a very real circumstance in the need to make decisions. Which book will she choose to buy? Exploring the range from bears, to fish, trucks and art, it is the book about birds that catches her eye…it’s a book to share with her friend Tallulah. Some books are factual, and some can spark one’s imagination. This concept is neatly woven into the story as Maisy and her friends at the bookshop discover topics that fill their minds with wonder and excitement, and a bit of humour too. After storytime and a bite to nibble, Maisy makes her purchase and delivers her present to its new owner for a fun shared reading afternoon.

Making clear the benefits and many ways to enjoy books, Cousins’ text and illustrations prove equally as enthusiastic and simple. Maisy Goes to the Bookshop is obviously a pleasurable reading experience about a pleasurable experience with books! For book-loving children from age three.

Walker Books, 2017.

The ANZAC Tree by Christina Booth

Christina Booth is a talented author and illustrator. She began her career illustrating books written by Colin Thiele, Max Fatchen and Christobel Mattingley and then graduated to creating her own picture books, which include Purinina – A Devil’s Tale and Kip. Kip won a CBCA Honour award.

We have a fine backlist of picture books about the ANZACS and my review of some top titles in recent years appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald/The Age http://m.smh.com.au/entertaining-kids/parenting-and-childrens-books/gallipoli-books-for-children-open-an-enlightening-window-on-the-reality-of-war-20150420-1mmcfl.html .

Christina Booth has added to the canon by writing and illustrating The ANZAC Tree (Scholastic Australia) ready for this year’s ANZAC Day.

The ANZAC Tree is set on a farm in Tasmania and traces generations of soldiers from the one family. Phillip, the young narrator at the beginning of the story, likes to climb the big hill and look out at forever. His older brothers each planted a tree on the hill before they left for the Great War. Phillip waters the trees. Roy’s survives but Percy’s tree is dying, foreshadowing his fate.

The narration quickly changes from Phillip to Kenneth, who is Roy’s nephew. Kenneth farewells his father (probably Phillip as an adult), who is going away to fight Mr Hitler. When the family don’t hear from him, Kenneth waits under Uncle Roy’s tree.

In the next section it is implied that Kenneth is the soldier fighting with Uncle Joe in Korea. His daughter, Sophie, takes over the narrative. The psychedelic Sixties follow and Emily witnesses her brother Kevin being drafted to fight in Vietnam. He later has a Vietnamese girlfriend and watches the sunset under Roy’s big pine tree rather than attending the ANZAC parade. Then Chris sees his cousin Jenny go to fight in Iraq and Jack skypes his father in Afghanistan. The story culminates with family members united once again under the pine tree planted by great-great-grandfather Roy a hundred years earlier, appreciating that war isn’t something to be proud of, but being brave enough to fight in them to protect other people is.

Children will enjoy the challenge of deciphering the family relationships and following the recurring symbol of the tree in this powerful, soulful story inspired by real people and events. The illustrations, including the drawings of photos, extend the narrative. The structure is sophisticated but executed skilfully and seamlessly in words and pictures. The ANZAC Tree is a commemoration of one family’s fallen, and is also an excellent picture book for primary schools to use to observe ANZAC Day.

Getting Serious About Series – Junior Novels for Little Misses

When it comes to captivating reads that snag interest and capture long-term readership, serial stories take the cake. Relatable incidents, swift moving plot lines and plenty of reasons to hang out with characters who become as close as real life friends all add up to serious series appeal. This winning combination works just as well for readers new to chapter books, too. Here are a few junior novels for younger children, chapter books if you will that are sure to tantalise.

Ginger Green Playdate Queen by Kim Kane and Jon Davis

Ginger Green is a foxy little minx in her first years of primary school. The thing she is most adept at this age is throwing playdates. Her winsome and extrovert personality allows her to make friends easily although not every person she tries to befriend has similar virtues.

Continue reading Getting Serious About Series – Junior Novels for Little Misses

Review: Gemina by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

PURCHASE HERE

After the amazing phenomenal experience that was reading Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff, I was obviously desperate to get my clammy paws on the sequel. I get nervous reading sequels, because what if it doesn’t live up to the incredibleness that was the first book?!? But Gemina was an absolutely mind-blowing book. It had gut-punching plot twists, blood and bullets, and that gorgeous and complicated visual formatting we know and love from this series.

And I think it probably has left many readers screaming into the void in pain and agony while waiting for the finale. I just have this hunch.

Gemina begins with two new characters from those in the first book. This time we have Nik and Hanna. Their relationship is love-and-war as Nik has an insurmountable crush on Hanna, but she, as the captain of the station’s daughter, is dating a respectable officer. Nik is son of cutthroat Mafia organisation that sells drugs (which Hanna buys covertly) so you can imagine that getting them together is not going to be easy. Since the story takes off outlining what’s happening at the Heimdall Jump Station while the journey in Illuminae is still going on, we get to see the evil Baytech company infiltrating the station and trying to take it down. Except they didn’t count on Nik and Hanna being a lot better at fighting then their given credit for.

I was worried I wouldn’t love these new characters as much as I adored Kady and Ezra from Illuminae…but I shouldn’t have been concerned! Hanna and Nik were fantastic and complex and dynamic. One of my favourite things about Hanna was how she drew quirky things in her journal, liked fashion, and did things like draw hearts around her and her boyfriend’s name…but then she was also skilled at physical combat training and military strategy. She was absolutely full of badass surprises.

PURCHASE HERE

Nik was equally wonderful, with a dash of tragic bad-boy on the side. As part of the Mafia, it’s dubious as to exactly what illegal activities he’s been involved with. Which does create some questions. And tensions. He’s about 90% sass and 10% sadness, which he covers with sass, and his crush on Hanna was equal parts adorable and pathetic. This is unrequited love at it’s finest. I also loved Nik because when something bad happened, he reacted like any normal teen would. He’s not bullet proof and he’s emotional.

And bad things happen to everyone all the time, so this book is, in a word: stressful.

The plot has a similar set up to the first book: two teens have to save a lot of people on a dire countdown. This time we have psycho soldiers from Baytech sneaking about and trying to utilize the wormhole for their own dark needs. There are freaky monsters in the vents and clever guerrilla warfare tactics.  Nik and Hanna are trying to save people and also stop the jump-station from exploding as the wormhole collapses. There’s clever traps, traitors, child computer geniuses, Mafia families, an irritating pop song, explosions, murder, and plenty of sass.

The plot twists are also my favourite part! This series never fails to blow my mind with the genius creativity. Although be ye warned: the cliffhanger is not kind.

And of course I must mention the art! This series is done in a very unique type of formatting, which involves pages of art, interestingly done typography, transcripts, interviews, and amazing galactic explosions across the page. The added affect of art by NYT bestselling author, Marie Lu, was also incredible and so cute. I would also thoroughly recommend the audiobook as it’s dramatised and features many actors and sound effects that makes it feel like a movie in your head!

Gemina was everything a sequel should be. It was exciting and terrifying and had my heart pounding several times wondering who’d make it out alive. The kill-count is high and the nerves are exploding. It’s not your traditional sci-fi story, which I think makes it the best kind.

Review: Allegedly by Tiffany D. Jackson

PURCHASE HERE

Allegedly by Tiffany D. Jackson is one of the most amazing and mind-twisting thrillers you’ll read this year! It’s thoroughly messed up — in the best possible way for a thriller. I was hooked on every word of the novel as it unfolds the story of a 9-year-old girl who allegedly killed a baby. It’s also heavily inspired by a true story (although I don’t believe this is based on the story) which makes it all the more chilling. Psychopaths have to start somewhere, don’t they? And there’s such a thing as a child psychopath.

Or, in this book’s case….is there? Did she do it?

The story follows Mary Addison who’s been in jail since she was 9 and, at 16, is is now released. She’s living in a group home from hell, filled with nasty vicious girls who make her life miserable for fun, and overseen by a malicious and negligent guardian who is content to let the girls abuse each other so long as no one gets murdered. Mary has no rights. She has no future. She has no hope. And she says she never killed that baby.

Her life because more complicated when, while working in a community service job, she meets a boy named Ted whom she loves incredibly much and they accidentally get pregnant. Now Mary is faced with the realisation that she’s never going to be allowed to keep her baby, no matter what she says or does. Not unless she can clear her name.

So the story follows her digging up the case again, even though she’s tired and beaten and despondent. She’s trying to get her SAT score so she can get into college and better herself. But only a million and two obstacles stand in her way, which makes for a completely harrowing tale because you can’t help but root for Mary to succeed — even if, all the while, you’re wondering what really happened that night the baby died.

The writing is absolutely incredible! It’s poignant and rich and so real that you can’t help but feel you’re living the story instead of just reading words off a page. I could scarcely believe it was a debut with the sheer skill of the word-wielding here!

And, as all good thrillers, this one never gives you all the information. Mary is an unreliable narrator, but then so is absolutely everyone. This story excels in the plot twists. You never see them coming! It makes you question the world and the justice system and humanity.

I will say it’s a very hard book to read for the sheer darkness of the tale. It’s heavily spattered with abuse too, of course, from flashbacks to Mary’s childhood where she was sexually and physically abused to all the cruelty happening to her in the present day. Living in the group home literally means she fears for her and her baby’s life. And as a convicted-murderer and a black woman, she faces terrible racism and abuse at every turn for that too. The book doesn’t shy away from giving you a really brutal view of Mary’s life.

I absolutely recommend this book! It is a beautiful display of talented storytelling and excellent writing and a captivating story of brutality and mystery. It talks very fiercely about how judgemental people can be and whether people deserve forgiveness. Even when I finished reading it, I couldn’t put it down after that mind blowing ending. Wow, dude, wow.

For the Love of Dogs – Picture Book Reviews

A little while ago I dedicated a review article to man’s best friend. Today I have another brilliant collection of dog stories that highlight their boundless vivacity, loyalty and dedication, not to mention their occasional misdemeanours, that truly make our pets so loveable.

The 12th Dog, Charlotte Calder (author), Tom Jellett (illus.), Lothian Children’s Books, Jan 2017.

To adoring cricket fans, and of course dog lovers: this one’s for you! Oh, and you have the added bonus of the eye-popping, crowd-pleasing illustrations by the legendary Tom Jellett!

Combining his three favourite c’s; chewing, chasing and catching, Arlo the dog loves to play cricket. Except he never gives the ball back. Struggling to play for the team, Arlo is sentenced to the pavilion (the kennel) by the children as the 12th dog. But he makes a come-back to form. Skilfully integrating cricket terminology into an everyday, Aussie backyard scene sees Arlo score the winning run and he is crowned the best fielder in the street… but is he?

Brilliantly characteristic of ball-loving dog behaviour in an exciting pitch of teamwork and sportsmanship, The 12th Dog marvellously bowls out humour, cricket knowledge and a beaut Aussie flavour. Any fan from age four will be cheering for more. Howzat!?

Gus Dog goes to work, Rachel Flynn (author), Craig Smith (illus.), Working Title Press, Jan 2017.

This book both melted my heart and had me laughing out loud. What a gorgeous representation of a loyal working dog, with a big personality. The narrative and the illustrations both reflect these aspects beautifully. Gus Dog goes to work is uncannily relatable and articulately universal, even if the setting is in rural Australia.

Tom the farmer belongs to Gus Dog, and together, they have the perfect formula for a good working relationship – A mixture of special, ‘formulated’ breakfast with the commonality of an understood language. One day Gus awakes to the disappearance of Tom, and so off he sets on his explorative journey to find him. Using his natural doggy instincts, Gus sniffs and looks and listens and chases and rounds up and rolls in everything he comes across, only the townsfolk are highly unimpressed with his antics. He doesn’t understand everything, but drawing on some of his human-word-knowledge, he knows what ‘getoutovit’ means. Gus also recognises ‘goodboy’ and ‘gohome’, which are music to his ears when he’s finally reunited with Tom.

With fluid pencil work combined with digital painting, Craig Smith has sensationally captured the energy, wit and idiosyncrasies of this working dog and the special bond with his owner. The narrative has elements of a mocking humour matched with a visceral innocence, which superbly depicts the dog’s point of view.

Loyalty, friendship and communication between man and dog faultlessly combine in this funny and loveable story. Gus Dog goes to work will be received with pleasure, compassion and relatability by its preschool readers.

Blue the Builder’s Dog, Jen Storer (author), Andrew Joyner (illus.), Penguin Random House, Aug 2016.

In another tale of a working dog with a mind of his own, Blue the Builder’s Dog is delectably sweet and fiercely passionate in all matters on the building site. Jen Storer brings her quirky and charming sense of humour to this reflective and encouraging story, as does the awesome Andrew Joyner with his lively, retro-feel illustrations, representative of independence and being strong-willed.

Blue is dedicated to his job. He guards the tools, signs the concrete slabs, inspects the works (often) and keeps stickybeak cats away. He is friends with everyone on the team. Except Blue wants more. He wants to be able to go up high, wear a hard hat, and most of all, a home of his own. Living in the shed is no place for a Working Dog. So, with great building plans in mind, Blue quits his job and embarks on his own grand endeavour. His creation is nothing short of remarkable (for a dog), but it seems this kennel is short of stability, particularly in a big storm. Realising his shortcomings, Blue makes amends with his builder and the team. And there is another new and improved design too.

Blue the Builder’s Dog is an animated story of teamwork and having a voice. It shows a determined character who makes a clear statement about the importance of marking one’s territory, so to speak! Humorous with cleverly portrayed themes and insights that children from age four will adore.

My Dog Dash, Nicky Greenberg (author, illus.), Allen & Unwin, Apr 2016.

If you haven’t read this story then I’m not going to spoil it for you. But let’s just say that this dog has no problem coming out of his shell. On first read, I found this so surprising I had to do a double-take! The title, My Dog Dash, may be ‘misleading’, but demonstrates perfectly how easily something, or someone may be misjudged by preconceived notions.

Despite Dash’s inattentive meanderings, misreading of social cues and favouring for homely disorder, the girl narrator is passionate about the wellbeing of her beloved pet, even when others don’t understand. She is dedicated to training him, walking him and cleaning up after him. When Dash disappears one night, the girl is naturally devastated (however not to any dismay by her parents, by the looks on their faces). In a most satisfying ending, there is one more shocking surprise. You’ll have to read it to find out!

I love the rawness of this story; from the sacrifice of standing up for a misunderstood friend, to the natural, earthy tones and mixture of pencil sketching and textured paints in Greenberg’s illustrations.

My Dog Dash is a quirky, comical take on what is considered ‘normal’ puppy behaviour. Friendship and responsibility are at the heart of this sweet tale for preschool children. Remember, don’t judge a pet by its covering!

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Astonishing Picture Book Reads – Part 2

More picture books to make you smile squint and ponder.

Hello! Illustrated by Tony Flowers

Hello is a simple enough salutation, right. That opening phrase designed to introduce, calm, and unite two or more people. But what if those parties can’t speak the same language? Hello! is a visual and linguistic opportunity for primary aged children to meet 12 other Australian children with different cultural backgrounds and experience their different languages and customs. Many of them also speak English, which makes this introduction a breeze for readers and their carers to float through.

Each child introduces itself; Hua’s family for example comes from China. She speaks Chinese and then launches into the appropriate greetings, discusses some of her favourite foods and covers the numbers one to ten before signing off. These brief four page encounters encourage children to meet more and more people and practise more and more languages without feeling overwhelmed by the newness of it all.

Not only are we treated to new words and their characters and or alphabets, but also Flowers’ bright illustrations which take us on a fun, colourful tour of cuisines, games and traditions. This is a glorious global version of Australia: Illustrated if you like (with emphasis on cultures most prevalent in Australia). Hello! is just as engaging and equally as useful.

NLA 2016 Continue reading Astonishing Picture Book Reads – Part 2

‘Design Thinking’ and Matt Stanton

Author, illustrator and former designer at HarperCollins, Matt Stanton, opened our eyes to ‘design thinking’ and strategy in writing and publishing books at yesterday’s ‘Between the Covers’ seminar in Sydney about children’s books and publishing.

Matt is the creator of two very successful series for young readers. The first is aimed at 6-year-old boys. It is unashamedly commercial and doesn’t even try to win literary awards. It is illustrated by Tim Miller and began with There is a Monster Under My Bed who Farts.

His second series creates a funny and interactive experience for young children and their parents or carers. The first book in the ‘Books That Drive Kids Crazy!’ series is the very popular, This is a Ball and is a collaboration between Matt and his teacher wife, Beck. Now parents, Matt and Beck are ‘learning how to re-enter the space of play’ and what better than using a book to do so! The second in this series is Did You Take the B From My –ook? and The Red Book, with its bold purple cover, is on the way. 

His third series ‘Funny Kid’ will be launched around the world this year. It is aimed at middle grade readers.

Matt focuses on the ‘who’, the reader, rather than on what he personally may want to write about (although maybe these are the same thing). I found this stance fascinating and very different from the many authors who I have interviewed at writers’ festivals and elsewhere. In my experience, authors generally speak about the story that they have to tell, regardless of who it’s for. An example is John Boyne and his masterpiece The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, which has found its own audience. Matt is surprised that more authors don’t target their readerships more strategically. I believe that there is probably a place for both approaches.

Matt makes it easy for buyers and browsers to find his books on bookshelves. He uses block colours such as blue, green or purple on his covers. He recognises that yellow is the strongest colour in the spectrum and will feature this on the spines of his upcoming ‘Funny Kid’ series. The book covers in this series will all feature an enormous face to distinguish them from other funny series aimed at middle grade who show smaller characters. Our brains will also register that these faces are looking at us in bookstores and libraries, drawing our attention.

Matt’s website includes a virtual ‘Stretch Your Imagination’ book tour. He also has a YouTube channel that is very popular with his young readers.

Matt reminded us that we’re in a golden age of children’s publishing in Australia. In 2016, children’s and young adult book sales took 44% of the total book market in volume. In 2016, 9 of our 10 top authors wrote children’s/YA. Last year, 9 million more children’s/YA books were sold than in 2005.

Thanks to keynote speaker, Matt, the Australian Publishers Association, host Allen & Unwin and Fiona Stager and her team for organising this very informative event.

Review – Digby and the Yodelayhee… Who? by Renee Price

Digby and the Yodelayhee…Who?, Renee Price (author), Anil Tortop (illus.), Create It Kids, March 2017.

Strumming up a musical storm in a delicious brimful of plonks, plinks and twangs is the energetic page-turner; Digby and the Yodelayhee…Who?. Sequel to the adventurous antics of Digby’s Moon Mission, here is a seamless transition from the moonlight to the limelight.

And just like its predecessor, the themes of teamwork, curiosity and problem solving, and the teachable concepts of measurement (telling time and noise levels) are included and presented in a whole new and refreshing melodic tone.

Price’s musical background is showcased in full spotlight, incorporating not only different instruments and their sounds but also in the way the narrative has been pitched. She has written this story with a tuneful arrangement, harmonising between rhyme and prose, just like the verses of a song. Clever!

Anil Tortop’s mixed-media illustrations once again bring life, colour, vibrancy and a discernible swag to the pages, composing the opportunity for a hand-clapping, toe-tapping, bottom-wriggling romp for its audience. And to add further to the liveliness of this book, Digby and the Yodelayhee… Who? is accompanied with swinging song notes and QR code for ‘Digby’s Jam’; a lyrical composition by Renee Price (and family) herself!

Digby is perplexed by the mystery of a ‘super-duper noise’. So he sets out on yet another mission to find a conclusion. It takes five hours of careful auditory processing, watching each of his trusty friends explore a different instrument at different hours of the day. Stanley strums on his guitar at half-past one, Sophie toots on her kazoo at half-past two. Finally at half-past six the noise-o-meter makes a much-needed appearance, and when it rings out a ‘Thunderous!’ sound the gang know just where to look. With their newly acquired yodelling prowess in tow, the group enjoy a noisy jam… but there’s another unexplained sound to settle!

Euphoniously delightful as a read aloud experience, visually dynamic, encouragingly active, humorous and imaginative, Digby and the Yodelayhee… Who? will lead its preschool audience on a most exhilarating journey of resounding goodness.

For more information on this innovative and talented creator, please read my interview with Renee Price on Digby and the Yodelayhee… Who? here and through the Digby Fixit interactive website here.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Julie Hunt, the imagination behind KidGlovz

When reading a book by Julie Hunt I feel like I’m entering into an uncanny world, where imagination seeps into the interstices of reality. Julie is the author of The Coat (illustrated by Ron Brooks), which won CBCA picture book of the year in 2013.

Her other major books are Precious Little (illustrated by Gaye Chapman), the Little Else series (illustrated by Beth Norling) and KidGlovz, which features in this interview. These books are published by Allen & Unwin.

Quality graphic novels for children are extremely rare and should be cherished. KidGlovz, written by Julie Hunt and illustrated by Dale Newman over four years, is an outstanding example of the form. It won the 2016 Queensland Literary Award and Dale was shortlisted for the 2016 Crichton Award as a debut book illustrator. Although sophisticated, reluctant readers also enjoy it.

The title of KidGlovz derives from the saying, ‘handle with kid gloves’. The protagonist, KidGlovz is a talented, fragile boy who is being raised for profit rather than nurtured. With insufficient food and while virtually a prisoner in his room, he is visited by tightrope walker, Shoestring, who frees him from avaricious guardian Dr Spin, exposing him instead to an external world of danger and adventure.

I met Julie at the State Theatre Café in Hobart last week. It seemed like a fitting, although subconscious, choice by Julie because KidGlovz begins as a theatre performance by the young precocious pianist. Fittingly, the Hobart theatre and café also adjoins a bookshop.

This was the perfect time for an interview because Julie has just had the go-ahead from her publisher Allen & Unwin (great supporters of the graphic novel) for Shoestring, the companion book to KidGlovz. Julie actually wrote it as a sequel soon after completing KidGlovz. It’s now less a sequel than a discrete work even though the characters of KidGlovz and, of course, Shoestring reappear and Julie is rewriting it so that it will become an illustrated, rather than ‘graphic’ novel. She is translating potential visual images and jokes into words but there will still be 100 pictures.

Shoestring will be published in 2018 and a third book will then be in the pipeline, featuring Sylvie Quickfingers, a stolen child prodigy who has a cameo at the end of KidGlovz.

Even though writing is ‘arduous and difficult’, Julie is ‘only interested if the work excites me’. When I asked Julie if her editor and publisher need to restrain her creative brain with its original perspective and perhaps prevent her from straying too far into a wondrous strangeness, she replied that they are formative, ‘They encourage me to go further’.

Julie’s picture book The Coat has been greatly acclaimed. Its illustrator, Ron Brooks, happens to live across the river from Julie, but The Coat was not a collaborative work – Ron illustrated Julie’s story after she wrote it.

Julie’s subconscious seems to be continuously at work, with the gloves being a recurring motif in both The Coat and KidGlovz. She’s often ‘not aware of this stuff till a bit later.’

Music is another motif rising throughout Julie’s books such as Song For a Scarlet Runner, winner of the inaugural Readings Children’s Book Prize and shortlisted for multiple prestigious awards. Julie studied the trumpet and sang Bulgarian folk music, which took her to ‘another realm’ and showcased her ‘larger than life self’ when she was on stage.

Secondary characters such as Splitworld Sam from KidGlovz and Siltman from Song For a Scarlet Runner are both otherworldly figures. Names, such as in Julie’s junior series Little Else, illustrated by Beth Norling, are important to Julie. She knows she’s not on the right track if she doesn’t have the right names for her characters.

It was a pleasure to meet this extremely talented author. Julie is a delightful person, with a generous  smile and laugh. As a writer, Julie feels like the tightrope walker in the famous postcard by Quint Buccholz. She steps out and ‘hopes for the best’.

Fantasy and Adventure – Novel Escapes

 

The golden age of reading begins when youngsters develop their reading confidence around the age of seven or so, and extends into their early teens where suspension of belief is still strong and stories featuring fantasy and adventure rate robustly on the their reading radars.

It is no wonder then that junior and middle grade novels are in such high demand. These three are definitely worth adding to your list.

Trouble and the New Kid by Cate Whittle and Stephen Michael King

Trouble first flew into Georgia’s life early last year. He stole their home inadvertently absconding with her baby brother, Godfrey. Since then, he’s barely been able to stay on the good side of the behaviour books, after run-ins with Mrs Jones and her cat, Tibbles in The Missing Cat. Now, Trouble is back in all his glorious dragon-green unruliness in, Trouble and the New Kid.

Continue reading Fantasy and Adventure – Novel Escapes

The Fix-It Man by Dimity Powell and Nicky Johnston

From our very own Boomerang Books blogger / word smith extraordinaire, Dimity Powell, together with the divinely talented illustrator, Nicky Johnston, we have a very special feature here today! I have had the utmost pleasure in reviewing their gorgeous new book, The Fix-It Man, and in finding out more about their collaboration. Enjoy!

Review:

Poignant, perfectly pitched and picture perfect. The Fix-It Man is a story that so effectively and sensitively captures the heartache and love between a little girl and her father when dealing with loss. Dimity Powell’s words are paced at a gentle rhythm that allow its readers space to breathe and take in the deeper meaning at the heart of the tale. The illustrations by Nicky Johnston encapsulate adversity and strength with their unmistakable emotive intensity.

A little girl has complete faith in her dad to fix anything. “It’s what dads do.” Whether it’s super gluing kites, mending the dog’s kennel or piecing shattered teapots back together, Dad is at the heart of turning bad days into good. But even her dependable, handy father can’t fix Mama. And there is nothing more shattering than that moment. That wordless moment of grief in the slimmest of moonlight that father and daughter lay wrapped up in Mama’s quilt, sure to be the first of many sleepless nights. Hearts break and cracks widen, but with a little bit of optimism and a whole lot of love, they know they can fix things together.

Superbly narrated and delicately illustrated, The Fix-It Man is a reassuring story that gently addresses the themes of love, life and loss in a thoughtful way. Being able to embrace life and cope with death at the same time shows great resilience. And for readers from age four in similar circumstances, this book offers an invaluable sense of hope and comfort.

EK Books, March 2017.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Join us now for the interview:

Congratulations on the release of your newest picture book, The Fix-It Man!

DP: Thanks, Romi. Dancing on clouds happy about it.

Dimity, this is your debut in the picture book arena! Where did the foundation for this story come from?

DP: Like many story ideas of mine, it evolved from a real life incident, which developed into a thought, which led to a question, which resulted in a small movie inside my head. The hard part was extracting the best bits and shaping them into a picture book text. I love the belief small children have in their parents, that they can fix anything and everything. I wanted to explore the reaction of a child when this belief is challenged, when their fixer suddenly needs fixing, too.

How did you find the whole publishing process with EK Books? How much input did you have with Nicky’s illustrations?

DP: A veritable dream. Likewise, Nicky is a dream to work with. She is dedicated and meticulous and included me in just about every step of the process from rough drafts to finals. This was something I had not expected so it was a joy to correspond with her and give feedback on the images as they developed. There was never any real need to clarify the relationship between her images and my text; Nicky just seemed to know what was going on in my head. There was however, a lot of discussion between us and our publisher about the various nuances and symbols; all the tiny details used throughout the visual narrative. It was a real team effort.

What do you like about Nicky’s style? How do you feel her illustrations have complemented your text?

DP: Everything! Nicky’s current style is perfectly suited to this story and exactly the way I envisaged this family to be. The emotion projected in Nicky’s images is poignantly powerful.

Nicky’s illustrations more than just complement the story. They add a level of subtly and sensitivity without ever being maudlin. Her soft colour palette and homogeneous characters invite readers into the very heart and soul of the story: we could be that family.

Nicky, what drew you to Dimity’s story when you first read it? Did you feel a connection with the text? Did the images naturally appear in your mind or was it a process that developed over time?

NJ: As soon as I read Dim’s manuscript, I connected to it immediately. Visuals started filling my head, I sketched them all into my sketchbook (pages of them!) it was quite overwhelming actually.

The story is beautifully written, every word, every pause and every page break is a deliberate choice to ensure the flow of the story is not only read, but felt.

The illustrated scenes, the characters, the subtle visual sub stories came to me with immense ease. I worked on the first concept roughs almost obsessively. The entire developmental process from roughs to producing the final artworks filled me with pure joy.

Dimity and Nicky, you seem like a terrific team with an organic relationship, which certainly resonates through the book. How did you feel about the collaboration with one another along the journey? Were there any hiccups or surprises you can share with us?

DP: Extremely grateful and satisfied in the most fulfilling way. From the very first sample spread I saw, I knew my words were in good hands. Nicky’s ability to ‘get’ my intentions is uncanny. I think the way she is able to extract exactly how I picture the characters and scenes out of my head and capture them in watercolour (without any consultation) is true genius and just a little bit spooky. The biggest surprise for me was that everything progressed so fluidly and enjoyably.

NJ: I am amazed with the personal connection Dim and I have, given we have only ever met in person twice! I think our minds, visions and emotions are aligned in quite an authentic way. I am pleased the illustrations and the text combination demonstrates this unitedness too.

This was my first time working with EK Books and I really loved the team approach that was given to the entire project. It was fabulous to be able to bounce around my ideas and rough sketches with everyone to be sure we would create the book to the highest standard.

What has been the most rewarding part of creating this book so far?

DP: When I got the call from my publisher with the green light good news. It had been a long hard slog to get to that point so that call was a massive relief. I may have shed a few tears. Holding it (The Fix-It Man) in my hands for the first time was also a bit momentous. Oh and watching the visual landscape of my story come to life with each of Nicky’s illustrations. I still find that part of storytelling inexplicably rewarding; watching your words come alive is pure magic. Sorry to carry on but I feel very rewarded!

NJ: Seeing the illustrations and the text together for the first time was pretty special. And to be called a ‘Dream Team’ topped it off for me!

It was quite a lengthy process from beginning to end, and like all things that take time, the wait has been worth it.

DP: The dream team…still sets me aglow.

Thank you both so much for participating in this mini interview!! 🙂 xx

NJ: What great questions, thank you for having us share our collection journey of creating The Fix It Man!

DP: It’s been a pleasure, Romi. Thanks J

Purchase The Fix-It Man.

The Fix-It Man will be launched in both Brisbane and Melbourne! Check the flyers for details.

 

The Blog Burst party continues at the following websites. Check them out!

Kids’ Book Review

Creative Kids’ Tales

Dee White

GumbootsPearlz

Visit Dimity Powell at her website, and Nicky Johnston at her website.

Please enjoy one last special show, courtesy of Nicky Johnston!

Review: Queens of Geek by Jen Wilde

PURCHASE HERE

Queens of Geek by Jen Wilde is an absolutely adorable story about the fangirl life and being happy being yourself. It’s absolutely adorkable and definitely not to be missed. I also didn’t realise it was by an Australian author when I picked it up, so that just entirely made my day! Although it is set in the USA, but the two protagonists are Australian. And what could be better than reading a cute fluffy story about two best friends off to a ComicCon type of event to live their dreams of nerdom and to find love?

This book calls to you, it does. Just look at it and all that calling.

The story centres around Charley who’s a sudden star from an Aussie indie film, and how she’s at SupaCon to do press. She brings her BFF’s Taylor (who has Autism) and Jamie (who is Latino) and together they go into 100% GEEK MODE and have the time of their lives. There are famous authors to meet, movie stars to flail over, competitions to enter, anxiety to be tackled, crushes to be confessed, and the realisation that you should be unapologetically yourself at all times. Which is such a beautiful message!

The book is really rather short, but manages to pack a lot of fun dialogue and relatable scenes in. I’m not generally one to rush after fluffy contemporaries, but this was definitely a light and one! It did border on making the characters so perfect, however, that they could’ve practically sprouted angel wings and frolicked about in halos. But I’ll forgive it because these were kids I looked up to! Even if they felt a bit idealistic in the way they were written.

If you’re a fangirl, also, you’re going to love all the fandom references! It mentions Marvel comics and the TV show Supernatural. They mention the Vampire Diaries and Felicia Day, too! And it’s so centred around youtube and tumblr, which Charlie and Taylor are updating constantly. Taylor is also heavily obsessed with a fantasy series, which was made up for the show, but it easily had an “insert fandom of choice here” feel to it which made it very relatable! They were doing cosplays and book signings and film previews and zombie mazes. Basically your little nerd heart will explode with wish to go to this magical SupaCon.

I loved the inclusion of diversity too! Taylor has Autism, and it was so refreshing to see love for ASD girls here because they are overlooked so much in literature. Taylor’s ASD traits (including severe anxiety, very intense obsession interests, and struggle with change) all felt completely realistic and well represented! Also Charley is bisexual and Asian and their other friend, Jamie, is Latino.

And of course there is romance…and it’s super cute! Charley has had a crush on a youtube star, Alyssa, forever….and finally gets her chance to see if it’ll work. But she’s also recovering from a messy public breakup with a costar so putting her emotions out there is NOT easy for her. And Taylor has had a crush on her best friend, Jamie, for years…but she hates the thought of their friendship dynamic changing. And she doesn’t know how to romance. How doth one romance. So her reluctance to act on her feelings is complicating things immensely. I thought the romance was a sweet and lovely touch, and didn’t drown out the rest of the plot.

Queens of Geek is, in summary, EXTREMELY GEEKY. It made me smile with all the fangirl appreciation and the cute dialogue and fantastically winning characters! I wish they’d been a little less “perfect”, however,  but the fun storyline over a quick 3-day period definitely made up for it. I also appreciated the Aussie references and how it represented minorities that definitely need their voices heard. If you’re looking for a fun story: HERE IT IS.

Animal Antics – Part 2

Well the animals still have it. This week we encounter more of their anthropomorphic antics between the covers of a veritable zooful of picture books.

Our Dog Benji by Pete Carter and James Henderson

Although cute and compact, this picture book features the large and lovely antics of Benji, a robust Labrador looking pooch whose insatiable appetite for anything and everything becomes a catalyst of encouragement for one fussy eater.

Our Dog Benji is an animated account of a day in the life of Benji as told by his young owner. Henderson’s duotone illustrations rate highly for their detail, style, and humour illustrating Carter’s understanding of dogs well and their avaricious ways. This handy little book subtly supports the notion of eating well and exploring more food options for fussy eaters.

EK Books February 2017

Monsieur Chat by Jedda Robaard

This little picture book is oozing with charm and the exact sort of intimacy that young readers adore; they are privy to the outcome even if the story’s characters are not. Monsieur Chat is a cuter than cute little ginger puss living among the city roof tops of a French city.

Continue reading Animal Antics – Part 2

Reviews – Pickle and Bree’s Guide to Good Deeds Books 3 and 4

The gorgeous Pickle and Bree’s Guide to Good Deeds series (by author Alison Reynolds and illustrator Mikki Butterley) continues from where it left off from The Birthday Party Cake and The Decorating Disaster (see previous interview). With another two exciting books on exploring social etiquette and positive behaviour now available, we can hardly contain ourselves! Here they are:

Gently reinforcing the value of kindness, The Playground Meanies is a delightfully explorative story into managing challenging social situations in the playground. The Reynolds and Butterley team once again draw us in with their engaging script and expressive illustrations that truly allow readers to connect with these relatable characters.

It is a common occurrence for preschoolers to experience some level of bullying, even at their young age. Knowing what is appropriate behaviour, whether the instigator or recipient, can sometimes be confusing and definitely emotionally confronting. Alison Reynolds approaches this concept beautifully with her easy-to-follow and humorous narrative, and empowering ‘guide to good deeds’ notes that tie it all together.

When Pickle and the sensitive Jason are teased about their big feet by two little bears at the playground, it is Bree who shows maturity and wisdom, reminding her friends not to stoop to their ‘mean’ level. But Pickle, being loyal yet impulsive, sympathises with Jason’s sadness, and protests his vexation. And the result of his boisterous actions causes a roll-on effect. Getting along with the meanies may seem like a slippery slide to manoeuvre, but Pickle and Jason do well to compose themselves and be kind, with an effective result.

The Playground Meanies opens doors for plenty of discussion and role play, teaching children about positive actions in a sensitive, safe and playful manner.

In The Big Snow Adventure, Pickle and Bree hit the ski slopes a-sliding with aplomb. In this action-packed escapade of tobogganing-chaos, skiiing-turbulence and snowballing-frenzies, the heedless pair need reminding to respect the rules.

It’s all too easy to be unaware of invading people’s space or neglecting to check their feelings when you’re in your own world of fun and competition. That’s certainly what happened to Pickle and Bree during their trip to the snow. All the excitement of ski lifts and ploughing down the mountain makes them forget about listening to and following instructions and respecting the given boundaries. Disowned by their friends following the path of snow-covered destruction eventually leads Pickle and Bree to realise their foolhardy ways, and an exhiliranting ending to the day is had by all.

I love the consistency between books; the gentle and humorous storylines that play out like a real life scene, the strongly defined characters and the adorable multi-textured illustrations that make these books so full of charm and authenticity.

The Big Snow Adventure and The Playground Meanies are both delightfully engaging ‘lessons’ in friendship, respect, compassion and morality. Admirably empowering children from age four to harness a peaceful world, one step at a time.

Five Mile Press, February 2017.

Alison Reynolds recently completed her blog tour for her Pickle and Bree series. See her post with Dimity here and the books’ development here.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Author Roadshow: Fleur Ferris and Robert Newton

There were too many exciting books from the recent Penguin Random House roadshow in Sydney to outline in one post so here is Part 2. As well as many standout titles, we were privileged to hear from two YA authors, Fleur Ferris and Robert Newton.

Robert Newton spoke from the heart about his new novel Mr Romanov’s Garden in the Sky. It is an outstanding work, exceeding his Prime Minister’s Literary Award winning When We Were Two. It follows the sad and dangerous existence of Lexie in a Housing Commission Tower who lies to protect her drug-addicted mother. She saves old Mr Romanov from death after thugs throw his dog off the building. The story then becomes an original tale of friendship and hope.

Fleur Ferris is one of Australia’s best selling YA novelists and she is also a most delightful person. Her first novel Risk, a cautionary tale about online predators, is essential reading. It is wildly popular with teens and I reviewed it for the Weekend Australian here. I’ve also interviewed Fleur about Risk here for Boomerang Blog.

Fleur’s second novel Black was Australia’s best-selling ‘new release’ Oz YA book of the year for 2016. It is another a thriller, and incorporates a cult and unexpected ending. I reviewed it briefly for Boomerang Blog here.

Fleur’s third novel Wreck (note Fleur’s one word, one syllable titles, each ending in the letter ‘k’) will be published in July. It is also a thriller but has dual narrators and is set in two different time periods. It sounds like her best work yet and we will hear much more about it.

Other upcoming YA novels include Geekeralla by Ashley Poston from the U.S. (April), billed as a ‘fandom-fuelled twist on the classic fairytale’. Danielle encounters cos-play and her godmother works in a vegan food truck. I’ve read the beginning and can’t wait for the rest.

One of Us is Lying by debut novelist Karen M. McManus (June) is a U.K. title. There’s an omniscient narrator and one teen is murdered in detention with four others without anyone leaving the room.

Darren Groth returns after his triumph with Are You Seeing Me? in Exchange of Heart. Endearing character, Perry from the first novel returns and Down Syndrome is addressed.

Krystal Sutherland’s second novel appears quickly after Our Chemical Hearts. I’ve interviewed Krystal for the blog here. A Semi-definitive List of Worst Nightmares (September) explores phobias, particularly when Esther’s list of possible phobias is stolen, with strange results.

Juniper Lemon’s Happiness Index (July) by U.K. author Julie Israel revolves around Juniper’s file cards of happy and unhappy experiences. But one card goes missing, the one thing that people can’t know about.

What reading extravagances we have in store.

(Author photo at top courtesy Fleur Ferris. From left to right, standing: Fleur Ferris, Belinda Murrell, Felice Arena, Robert Newton)

Author Roadshow: Felice Arena, Belinda Murrell and more

It was a thrill to attend the Penguin Random House Young Readers’ Highlights roadshow in Sydney this week.

As well as being told about upcoming books, four authors (three from Victoria – Fleur Ferris, Felice Arena and Robert Newton, and Belinda Murrell from Sydney) shared their books with us. More from them later…

Picture book highlights for me were Anna Walker’s Florette, full of inviting greenery in the heart of Paris (March), The Catawampus Cat by Jason Carter Eaton and Gus Gordon (April), the retro colour palette of Stephen W. Martin’s Charlotte and the Rock (April), We’re All Wonders (April), an adaptation from R.J. Palacio’s Wonder, Deb Abela’s fractured fairytale, Wolfie: An Unlikely Hero (May), Marc Martin’s stylish design in What’s Up Top (September) and Pamela Allen’s A Bag and a Bird, which is set in Sydney (September).

Middle Fiction looks incredible. Felice Arena, author of popular series ‘Specky Magee’ and ‘Andy Roid’, enthusiastically told us about his stand-alone historical fiction, The Boy and the Spy (April). The Anglicised version of Felice (pronounced Fel-ee-chay) is Felix, meaning ‘happiness’, and Felice certainly demonstrated that.

The Boy and the Spy has family at its core, especially foster families. It is set in Sicily in 1945 and is for 10-12 year-old readers. It can be read at one level or the layers in its text can be uncovered. Felice hopes that it will inspire readers about travel, history and art. He loves writing ‘movement’ and has tried to emulate the stimulating experience given by teachers who read aloud and stop at the end of a chapter. Felice enjoyed researching and talking to relatives and has devised some entertaining Morse Code activities for school visits.

Other titles I can’t wait to read are Skye Melki-Wagner’s ‘Agent Nomad’ series (March) about a magical spy organisation with an Australian feel. I loved Skye’s stand-alone YA fantasy The Hush. Talented Gabrielle Wang has written and illustrated The Beast of Hushing Wood (April), another of Gabrielle’s original magical realist stories. I facilitated a session with Gabrielle at the Brisbane Writers Festival in the past and the children adored her. My favourite of her books are In the Garden of Empress Cassia and The Pearl of Tiger Bay.

Ally Condie returns with Summerlost (May), the irrepressible Oliver Phommavanh with Super Con-Nerd, Morris Gleitzman with Maybe (September) and Tristan Bancks with The Fall (June), a fast-paced thriller with disappearing characters. It will no doubt follow Tristan’s assured debut into literary-awarded fiction, Two Wolves. Tamara Moss’ Lintang and the Pirate Queen (September), a quest on the high seas, looks very appealing.

The charming Belinda Murrell spoke about her popular backlist of the ‘Sun Sword’ trilogy, timeslip tales and ‘Lulu Bell’ and introduced her new series for tweens, ‘Pippa’s Island’ (July), which reminded me of Nikki Gemmell’s ‘Coco Banjo’ but with more sand and sea.

And the wonderful Jacqueline Harvey’s ‘Alice-Miranda’ and ‘Clementine Rose’ series have sold 1 million copies in Australia and worldwide. We celebrated with a special cake. 

I’ll roundup YA at the roadshow in a second post.

Review: Roseblood by AG Howard

PURCHASE HERE

I grew up absolutely in love with the Phantom of the Opera musical, so you can imagine my extreme excitement at finding out Roseblood by AG Howard would be a YA modernised retelling! And it was absolutely beautifully written, with a good dash of creepy and disturbing. A glorious tribute to the original! Except far less singing. And more cats. But I’m not arguing. I’m a big fan of this author and her Splintered series is one of my top favourites of all time, so I’m so glad her new book didn’t disappoint at all!

Roseblood basically follows the tale of Rune, who is possessed with an amazing operatic voice…that she can’t control. It literally forces her to sing and is more than a little disturbing. She’s shipped off to a musical boarding school in Paris (that just so happens to be inside an old abandoned Opera House) where she meets a ghostlike boy in the garden who plays a violin and coaches her singing. But the boy is also the adopted son of the original Phantom…who just happens to want Rune for something decidedly sinister and deadly. It’s absolutely stuffed with aesthetically pleasing scenes and it rekindles theories about the original story and also adds in new and exciting twists! It reads a bit like a “sequel” and a “but what happened next”, which I absolutely loved.

Plus who doesn’t want to go to boarding school in an old opera house, right?!

It’s told in dual point-of-view, with both Rune and Thorn narrating. I loved Rune as she learns to accept her magical abilities, but Thorn absolutely stole my heart. He’s a tortured and haunted sort of boy, hiding in shadows with his brilliant violin playing. He wears a mask as legacy of the Phantom, his adopted father, too. And the two of them together were just the cutest thing of ever.

I’m pleased there was so much music too. As it should be. I’m a complete music fiend and used to play violin myself, so I adored Thorn’s capabilities (lowkey jealous of his Stradivarius) and I love how Rune was a singer.

It also has delightfully creepy elements. There are bleeding roses and ghosts staring at you behind mirrors and weird dreams and dangerous magical powers that may or may not suck all the energy out of those around you when you use it. Rune was very self aware of how creepy the opera house was, too, and I like how she punched typical horror-story cliches by knowing what she was getting into when she walked into abandoned buildings. Very meta. Very nice.

The writing is absolutely lush and detailed and beautiful. Although sometimes the description did get a bit over-the-top and took away from the action of the story. Overall, though, I loved getting swallowed into the vivid and gorgeous scenery. The plot itself wasn’t so face paced, but it kept my attention on every page. I wanted to know about Thorn’s tragic past and I needed more details about the morally grey Phantom’s plans.

Roseblood is a beautifully written retelling that does the original justice! It lacked in the action department, but made up for it with the lush writing and the winning characters and the lovely creepy factor, like roses that bleed all over you and ghostly cats. It may or may not, however, inspire you to run around your house belting out the Phantom of the Opera theme songs. You’ve been warned.

Love-Inspired Books for Kids

With all things ‘love’ on the chart for today, there’s no better way to celebrate Valentine’s Day, International Book Giving Day (aka #bookgivingday) and Library Lovers’ Day with some especially special and adorable books with your loved ones. Here are a few to make your heart sing and add a warm smile to your day.

Love Thy Babies

Hello Little Babies, Alison Lester (author, illus.), ABC Books, December 2016.

Welcoming and watching your little one’s as they grow and change in this big, wide world is a truly heartwarming and precious experience. Alison Lester expertly caresses our hearts with her divinely narrated and illustrated glimpse into the developmental stages of six babies’ first year.

With the birth of Alice, Ruby, Mika, Zane, Vikram and Tom, the diversity of cultures, traditions, abilities and behavioural routines are portrayed with a beautiful synchronicity. Sleeping habits are formed with the jiggling of cradles, rubbing of little backs and strolls by the sea. Playing involves rattles, baths, a game of peekaboo and a favourite book. I love the messy food and eating behaviours, and how the babies are beginning to move about at different levels of independence. They are exposed to the beauty of nature through exploration and observation, and then it is time to say goodnight.

With its simple sentences and individualised colour vignettes for each baby, the reader is able to identify the characters and move through the pages with ease. And Lester’s ability to highlight cultural and developmental differences speaks volumes, particularly in today’s society and for new, overly-conscious parents.

Hello Little Babies contains the perfect bundle of love to share with your perfect bundle of joy.

I ❤ Preschoolers

Origami Heart, Binny Talib (author, illus.), Lothian Children’s Books, June 2016.

I love the Asian-infused qualities in this bunny’s tale of striving for perfection, high expectations and overcoming disappointment in the name of friendship. And I also love that the guts and passion addressed in the story shows us that reaching out, sharing your heart can lead to a happy ending.

The quirkiness of Kabuki begins when he is introduced to us from his burrow in the sky. He is the neatest, most organised and pedantic bunny in town, habituated to his strict routines and obsessive behaviours. In preparation for a visit from his friend Yoko, Kabuki picks up ‘perfect’ vegetables, ‘excellent’ snow pea tea, and ‘symmetrical’ flowers from the market. Everything is set in rows and cut to exact heart-shaped proportions. He is ready. However, his scrupulous plans are set to take a nose-dive when he hears of Yoko’s cancellation. But rather than wallow in his own grief, Kabuki literally throws his heart out to the city, and guess who’s there to catch it!

There is a strong character personality and equally meticulous line drawings and simple colour palette to match, but there is also a gentleness and endearing tone with its soft, handwriting text and little details like the displayed photographs of Yoko and the tiny red birdie that stays by Kabuki’s side.

With bonus origami instructions at the back, Origami Heart will have preschoolers pronouncing their love for this book, and for each other, over and over again.

All For Primary Kids

My Brother, Dee Huxley (author, illus.), Oliver Huxley (character, illus.), Tiffany Huxley (design), Working Title Press, July 2016.

Expressing love of a different kind, this story takes us on a heavenly journey of brotherly love. Created as a team, the Huxleys’ exquisitely haunting plot and mesmerising illustrations powerfully stir up the emotions in your heart and the curiosity in your mind.

With the strong opening, “I miss my brother. I’m so lost without him.”, the gentle, horned creature immediately grabs us by the horns and locks us in to his endeavour to find his long-lost sibling. Like black and white photographs in an album, we are treated to landscapes that defy logic and immerse our thoughts in old nursery rhymes and imaginative places as the creature desperately searches far and wide, over here and over there. There is certainly no need for descriptive phrasing when the graphite pieces of art tell it all. An ‘enlightening’ finale brings joy, colour, purity, and a sense of peace when the brothers reunite once more.

This book is amazing for its endless talking point possibilities, such as the meanings of being ‘lost’, the yearning for loved ones, and reality versus the imaginary, mystical or even the spiritual world.

My Brother can be appreciated on many levels, from the simple to the complex, however ultimately it is a book of pure beauty, extraordinary wonderments and undying love.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Valentine’s Quickies – Picture Books that Melt Your Heart

In the name of love and all things sweet and sugary, here are a few picture books that will melt your heart. It is not so much that they honour Valentine’s Day, rather the notion behind the date, of love cherished and shared. Succumb to both.

Guess How Much I Love You – Colouring Book by Sam McBratney and Anita Jeram

Children across the globe will have no trouble recognising the iconic figures of Big and Little Nutbrown Hare. Guess How Much I Love You is one of those timeless picture books that somehow manage to enchant readers even as they age. In a heart-warming tale of what may be viewed as one-up-mans-ship (but of course, isn’t!), Little Nutbrown Hare endeavours to prove to Big Nutbrown Hare how fathomless his love  is. Of course, it’s an exercise in wishful thinking for Big Nutbrown Hare is always able to provide a counter example of how he loves his buddy just as much, thus, showing children that the love of an adult towards a child is limitless.

It’s a message that is simply told and beguiling illustrated and is now available as a delightful A 4 sized colouring book. Apart from full spreads, depicting the story to colour-in, and decorate with the included stickers, fans of Guess How Much I Love You can extend their artistic verve with page after page of interesting images to colour, rather like those you would find in a therapeutic colouring in book.

Fun and useful, this is an activity-based book to love and treasure.

Walker Books February 2017 Continue reading Valentine’s Quickies – Picture Books that Melt Your Heart

Nicole Hayes and ‘ A Shadow’s Breath’

A Shadow’s Breath by Nicole Hayes (Penguin Random House Australia) has just been published. Nicole spoke to Boomerang Books.

Where are you based and how are you involved in Australia’s YA lit community?

I am a Melbourne-based YA author and reader. The YA lit community in Melbourne is very open and embracing, and as an Ambassador to the Stella Schools Prize Program and a writing teacher, I get to meet lots of readers and writers at schools and festivals. When I’m not writing or teaching writing, I often work with other authors on their manuscripts.

What sports are you interested in?

A lot of sports, but I love AFL most of all. I used to play footy when I was a kid and became a rabid Hawthorn fan in my teens. My first novel, The Whole of My World, featured a teenage girl obsessed with footy, very loosely based on my experiences, and eventually led to my writing two more books about footy, and introduced me to the rest of the Outer Sanctum team – the all-female AFL podcast I’m involved in. I also watch a lot of soccer and Futsal because both my daughters are keen players.

Can you tell us about your other books?

The Whole of My World is about teenager Shelley Brown who is desperate to escape her grieving father and her own terrible secret. When she changes schools and a new friend introduces her to her footy heroes, Shelley’s passion for the game tips over into obsession, and she loses track of herself and all the things that matter in the process. 

One True Thing is about 16 year old Frankie Mulvaney-Webb whose mum is the Premier of Victoria. But Frankie hates the spotlight. All she wants to do is lay low and focus on her rock band, but her life is turned upside down when photos of her mum in a secret rendezvous with a much younger man go viral.

I’ve also written two other books about footy – one for adults called, From the Outer: Footy Like You’ve Never Heard It, and most recently, A Footy Girl’s Guide to the Stars of 2017, aimed at kids and featuring players from the new women’s Aussie Rules competition.

Could you explain the structure you’ve used in your new novel A Shadow’s Breath?

The novel has two alternating narratives, depicting two different timeframes interwoven throughout until they merge into one near the end. The Now chapters tell of Tessa Gilham’s survival story following a car accident that has left her and her boyfriend Nick stranded in the middle of the Australian bush. The second narrative, the Then chapters, go back over the last days before the accident, uncovering what drove Tessa and Nick into the bush in the first place, revealing why Tessa is afraid to go home.

It’s a fascinating title. Could you give us an insight into it?

Once I decided that Tessa would be a painter, I became particularly interested in finding a title that reflected the many issues around light and colour. My research uncovered a lot about the relativity of colour, which emerged as a powerful theme throughout the novel. I became fascinated by colour and how we see it differently, how it’s a cultural construct as well as an individual one, but also the logistics of how it works – that it’s also about how light is reflected and how our brain processes this information. In the middle of this reading I remembered an Emily Dickinson poem, “A Certain Slant of Light”, and this stanza caught me:

When it comes, the Landscape listens –

Shadows – hold their breath –

When it goes, ’tis like the Distance

On the look of Death –

That’s when the shadow made its way into the title. I played around with different phrasings, then stumbled on “a shadow’s breath”, which is also an expression that means the smallest thing, or the tiniest margin. I really liked the idea of that – because these tiny things, even as slight as a shadow’s breath – can change how we see things completely. And so often the difference between life and death is as small as a shadow’s breath – one step the wrong way, or seconds earlier or later… Whole lives can change at a whim. There’s so much power in that almost non-existent thing. I also love that it hints at something vaguely mystical and impossible to hold.

Tell us about the characters Tessa, Yuki and Nick.

Tessa Gilham is mostly a loner and feels like she doesn’t belong. She’s convinced that the town hates her and her mum, and she’s probably right to a point. But Tessa’s life is improving — her mum has kicked out her abusive ex-partner, and is sober again. Tessa wants to believe that life will be different, but she’s so fragile and damaged that she struggles to trust it to last. In the process of trying to heal, she rediscovers her love of painting and, between this therapeutic outlet and the blossoming friendships around her, her new boyfriend, Nick and the ever faithful Yuki, Tessa is beginning to find her feet.

Yuki Fraser is Tessa’s best friend and her one reliable companion. It was often the Fraser home where Tessa sought escape from her abusive home life. Yuki’s dad is the local cop, and an old friend of the Gilhams – he’s determined to protect Tessa and has worked hard to keep Ellen Gilham out of jail. Yuki’s mum and little sister treat Tessa like family. Always have. But Yuki is trying to find her own way too, and tension between the girls increases as Tessa leans more heavily on her boyfriend Nick, neglecting to be there for Yuki in the way Yuki has always been there for Tessa.

Nick Kostas is one of the “new kids” from St Catherine’s which has recently merged with Carrima High. He and Tessa have just started dating but because he’s so popular and successful, and a year ahead at school, Tessa isn’t entirely secure in their relationship, and struggles to understand why he would choose her over more likely girls. The fact that he’s about to move to the city to go to university doesn’t help the situation, despite Nick’s obvious devotion to her.

What is the importance of Tessa’s home life to the story?

Tessa and her mum are trying on this new life, and still finding their way back to each other. Ellen Gilham has only recently sent “the arsehole” packing, and is newly sober, but as it’s been so long since it was just the two of them together, Tessa and Ellen are still working out how to be a family.

Tessa has been responsible for herself for so long that she isn’t sure how to let Ellen mother her, and Ellen is weighed down with guilt and regret that she let things continue for as long as she did. A guilt that Tessa feels is, mostly, deserved. Damaged and hurt, Tessa is struggling to forgive her mother, while the fragile Ellen wants only to earn back her daughter’s trust.

How important is the concept of ‘shouganai’ (surrender) in the narrative?

It was one of the first meaningful phrases I learnt in Japanese when I was living there many years ago, and it always stayed with me. It has different interpretations – positive and negative – but when Yuki’s mum says it, there’s a certain dignity and grace attached to accepting what – or who — can’t be changed. Specifically, accepting those you love for who they are – warts and all. In A Shadow’s Breath, I twisted its use to apply to people and their situation, but I love the bravery inherent in that. The idea of stepping back and letting things play out as they’re intended.

What role does art play?

For Tessa, art is her saving grace. Through her art she is able to find her way back to her childhood and begin to process and understand what happened to her. Her painting offers an outlet but also a means through which she can develop self-belief and start to accept her own worth. It also provides a connection with her new friends, and an opportunity to express herself, to earn these new friendships, particularly with Nick, who admires her work and envies her talent. Through their appreciation and admiration, she begins to look to the future for the first time.

Have any responses from your readers particularly resonated with you?

The story idea emerged at least partly from my encounters with young people whose own homes are not the haven they’re meant to be, and I really wanted their stories to be heard too. Since the novel came out, I’ve had several readers message to congratulate me on how I have depicted the reality of an abusive family and the challenges for those left behind. It’s genuinely humbling to be told that Tessa’s experience feels authentic to those who have had a similar life.

What other books have left a deep impression on you? 

So many! The book that continues to shake me, no matter how many times I read it, is The Road by Cormac McCarthy. There are several reasons for this. Firstly, McCarthy manages to depict a harrowing and bleak world of post-apocalyptic America in such sparse and beautiful language that I have found myself rereading passages too many times to count. But beyond the writing itself, the story depicts possibly the purist kind of parental love – it is a story about a dying man and his young son attempting to travel south to avoid an almost certainly lethal winter – and yet it never once uses the word love. There’s barely an expression of emotion in the whole novel. And yet it makes me cry like a baby every time I read it. I shiver even now just thinking about it.

Thanks for your generous and insightful responses, Nicole, and all the best with A Shadow’s Breath.

Doodles and Drafts – Blog Tour with Alison Reynolds

Writing a book about bullying or indeed, attempting to instill relevant social life issues into an entertaining format for kids, is always tricky to perfect. Alison Reynolds has managed to pull off this feat of meaningful storytelling with her captivating picture book series, Pickle and Bree’s Guide to Good Deeds. You can read Romi’s review of these two new titles, here.

Today she joins us briefly at the Draft Table to discuss just how she tackled the dicey subject of bullying with The Playground Meanies. This episode with Pickle and Bree is one of my favourites as we are reintroduced to Jason, the big footed, kind-hearted panda whose good deed not only saves the day but opens the pathways to friendship in a way very young children can’t help but connect with. Continue reading Doodles and Drafts – Blog Tour with Alison Reynolds

Collecting Klassen Classics

Whenever I pick up a Jon Klassen book it seems to have that super-power magic that thrusts it into classic-dom. So delectably simple yet surreptitiously clever and charmingly funny, it’s no wonder they are so well-loved around the world. The author-illustrator is the legendary creator of winning books including I Want My Hat Back, This is Not My Hat, and Sam and Dave Dig a Hole (Mac Barnett). Today we’ll explore the third instalment in the ‘hat’ series, We Found a Hat, and a newbie with supreme author Mac Barnett; Triangle.

We Found a Hat carries on the saga with hats brilliantly, this time featuring two principled turtles…and a hat. When stumbling across this abandoned item in the middle of the desert, the high-top headpiece soon becomes the turtles’ object of great desire. However, as there is only one hat, they agree to leave it alone. But for one turtle, the temptation of his new obsession is overbearing and he attempts a sneaky act of pilferage whilst his companion sleeps. Morality and loyalty surface when he hears of the marvellous dream with both turtles enjoying their fortune.

I love that this story is played out in Parts, giving it a movie-quality feel. So clever! Klassen’s ingenuity also strongly emanates through the use of simple narrative and monochromatic, modest images that both say so much. The unspoken words captured through the eyes of the devilish turtle brilliantly evoke humour and clarity into his thoughts. The sparseness and the speckles of the scene beautifully portray the given landscape and the underlying notion of keeping life free of complication.

We Found a Hat certainly explores some complex facets of behaviour, such as enticement and immediate gratification despite ethics, as well as aspects of trust, communication and compassion that are important in relationships. Yet its beauty lies in its simplicity, wit and charm, sure to allure readers of any age many times over.

Walker Books Ltd. UK, Walker Books Australia, October 2016.

With their wry sense of humour, rich messages and unsurpassed storytelling talents, Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen enlighten us with the first in a new trilogy and more sneaky characters; it’s Triangle.

This board book style picture book with its stand-alone, wide-eyed triangle on the cover is just sublime. Again, with Klassen’s mesmerisingly textured watercolours in earthy tones and unpretentious landscapes we are immediately drawn in to the action of each scene. Barnett’s narrative is straightforward, perfectly paced and inviting, enrapturing his audience with curiosity, excitement and absolute delight.

Triangle leaves his triangle house with one naughty plan in mind – he is off to play a sneaky trick on Square. His path through a shape-laden environment leads him to Square’s door, where he plays his cruel, snake-impersonating trick. When Square uncovers Triangle’s mean joke, he intends on revenge and chases him back through the shapes and to Triangle’s door. But what happens next comes an unexpected justice for both parties. You get what you deserve!

Stunningly captivating. Brilliantly played-out comedy. Triangle shows us exactly the result of a poorly thought-out and mischievous prank. Including themes of trust and social discrepancies, young readers are also pleasured with the exploration of shape and size, and the playfulness that is childhood. ‘Tri’-mendous fun for kids from age three. Out soon!

Walker Books Ltd. UK, Walker Books Australia, March 2017.

YA at ‘Reading Matters’ and other standout novels

Some of the best YA novels I have read recently span contemporary realism to fantasy, past to future, New York City to Ireland.

Two of the authors I’ve reviewed here will be making appearances at the excellent Reading Matters conference in Melbourne (see more at the end of these reviews). Another is about to arrive in Australia.

The Call by Peadar Ó Guilín (David Fickling Books) is set in an alternate Ireland. Nessa and her cohort know that this is the year when they will be ‘called’ for a life-changing three minutes by the Sidhe, avenging fairies who have been forced ‘under the mounds’ by humans. Nessa has the extra difficulty of a damaged left leg but she throws herself into the physical and psychological training all the young people endure to give them a chance of escaping and returning. Any who return have been damaged in some way. Will Nessa be the exception? The Call is atmospheric, chilling and highly imaginative. Its originality and brilliance are unforgettable.

Peadar is about to make appearances at, at least, one Australian bookshop and the Perth Writers’ Festival this month.

The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon (Corgi, Penguin Random House) is shooting up ‘best of’ lists. Natasha and her family live in New York City but are about to be deported to Jamaica. On her way to a last minute attempt to revert the decision, Natasha meets Daniel, a gorgeous Korean-American with a ponytail who breaks the mould.

Holding Up the Universe by Jennifer Niven (Penguin Books) follows the author’s stunning All the Bright Places.

Holding Up the Universe takes us inside the life of Libby Strout, who starts high school after being homeschooled because of her obesity. She encounters beautiful Jack Masselin, who has prosopagnosia (a condition which appears in another recent excellent book which, for ‘spoiler’ reasons I can’t reveal here yet). Jack can’t recognise faces. The narrative explores both Libby and Jack’s universes, and how they intersect.

Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future by A.S. King (Little Brown, Hachette) takes us further afield, into the future, as well as the present. Glory and her best friend Ellie, who lives on a commune, drink a petrified bat, which gives them visions of the future. Like Juliet in Bridget Kemmerer’s upcoming Letters to the Lost, Glory has lost her mother and makes sense of her world through photography. Glory O’Brien is a slow-burning and original piece of writing. Exceptional.

A.S. King and Jennifer Niven are both speaking at Reading Matters conference in Melbourne in June. Link here. What an opportunity to hear these brilliant authors.

Review: The Weight of Feathers by Anna-Marie McLemore

The Weight of Feathers by Anna-Marie McLemore is a beautiful example of why Magical Realism is the best. It took me a few pages to get into the swing of this magical world where people can grow feathers and curses are very real, but after that? I was hopelessly hooked. The writing was flawlessly gorgeous. It was the kind of writing that absolutely devoured your attention so it was just you + book = everything there is. (Which is a little unfortunate if one has to, like, stop reading and go to work or whatever. Note To Self: read this book when you have a free weekend and can devour it all at once!)9781250058652

This year has only just begun and already I’ve found a few favourite!

The story is basically of two warring performer families: the Spanish Palomas family who wear mermaid tails and put on whimsical shows, and the French Corbeaus family who grow feathers and wear wings and dance in the tree tops. Their rivalry dates back generations and they believe even touching each other will cause death and curses. It has a Romeo & Juliet feel! And of course two teens from each side accidentally end up falling for each other, in a slowburn and entirely magical romance. Lace gets thrown out of the Paloma family and ends up masquerading as a nobody in the Corbeaus family in an effort to get a burned curse lifted off her arm. She doesn’t mean to fall in love with Cluck, the outsider with damaged hands and red feathers in his hair. But bring on performances, burns, terrible storms, and hopeless accidents and here is The Weight of Feathers.

This is magical realism at its finest. It mixes real world settings with dashes of magic and comes across so well written I felt like I got sucked into another land. The story is also mostly set in a small town, and I loved the aching summery vibe of stillness and loneliness. When the setting just leaps off the page, you know you’re in for a good read.

The diversity is also amazing and exceptional. Not only do we have French and Spanish protagonists (dual narrating) who are also people of colour, it also touches on disability representation. Cluck has damaged fingers which complicates his job of making wings for his family’s shows. Lace sustains massive scarring on her face and has to learn to accept herself and not view herself as damaged. It’s really beautiful how all the themes are woven together. I also loved the amount of French and Spanish words! I did have to resort to Google Translate a few times, but mostly you can tell what they’re saying by context. And it gives the cultures a deeper feel to see them using their own tongue.

I absolutely loved the protagonists too. Usually dual point-of-view and I don’t get on well. But both Lace and Cluck’s perspectives were brilliant. Lace is more logical and down-to-earth and will not be pushed around by anyone. Cluck is dreamy and an outsider even with his own family. He’s constantly abused and pushed aside by them and he wears strange clothes and is unknowable — until Lace chooses to know him. The way they ended up relying and being strengthened by each other was so encouraging to read.

I also appreciated that the romance was very slow. No instalove or falling into each other’s arms on page 5 and professing eternal love. It felt realistic! And it was more a journey of trust = friendship = love.

This is definitely a book I’ll come back to for copious re-reads. It was unique and beautifully written, with a storyline that wasn’t particularly new, but was written in such a fresh way that I was addicted to every page. Lace and Cluck are the most adorable and winning couple I’ve read about in a long time. And I rooted for their lives to get better! It features family, magic, and quite a bucketful of suffering. I only wish there were more books.

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Review: The Cruelty by Scott Bergstrom

We are barely into 2017 and I am already going to call The Cruelty as one of my top ten kids/young adult books for this year! There is really only one word to describe this novel – Kick-ass! Not the most eloquent description I know but it really is like a kick to the stomach that will leave you breathless.

Ten years ago Gwendolyn’s mother was killed right in front of her eyes. Since then it has been just her and her Dad. But nothing is really as it seems. While he is on a ‘business trip’ to Paris Gwendolyn’s father disappears. She is about to find out her loving diplomat father is actually a spy. The kindly old neighbours who she loves like Grandparents are also spies. The problem is everyone seems more concerned that her father may have defected than in actually finding out what has happened to him.

Now the only person Gwendolyn can rely on is herself. And she isn’t going to let anything or anyone get in the way of getting her Dad back. Diving head-first into the seedy European underworld of drugs, violence and prostitution Gwendolyn must decide who to trust and who to hurt. With moves and counter-moves, double-crossing and the danger escalating there is no place for mistakes.

I couldn’t help comparing The Cruelty to my all-time favourite young adult series, The Hunger Games. Not the story lines because they couldn’t be any more different. The strong female leads of Gwendolyn and Katniss, however struck me because of how confronting I found The Cruelty. In the end it all came down to the fact that Gwendolyn goes where Katniss won’t. Katniss shows a reluctance to harm and when she has to it costs her emotionally. Gwendolyn has no such qualms.

This is a coming of age story like no other. Imagine if Jason Bourne was female and sixteen. That just about sums up The Cruelty. Rocketing along at breakneck speeds it will leave you shocked, thrilled and horrified all at the same time. And with the promise of more to come Gwendolyn may be about to do for self-defence classes what Katniss did for archery.

Smart, dangerous, kick-ass (yes, really) and an absolute page-turner, The Cruelty, is sure to be one of the hits of 2017. Look out Katniss – here comes Gwendolyn and she’s about to kick your butt!

I Don’t Believe it’s a Picture Book! Astonishing reads for all ages Part 1

Picture books are a unique marriage of art and words. Occasionally, not even the words are needed. A picture book can evoke emotions so intense, you’ll wonder how so few images and words managed to resonate such an immense amount of feeling in such a short space of time. This is what I find so utterly attractive and astonishing in well-written picture books. Today, we reveal a few that not only take my breath away, but also astound me with their cleverness, humanity and sheer depth. Enjoy. Continue reading I Don’t Believe it’s a Picture Book! Astonishing reads for all ages Part 1

Review: Reckless by Cornelia Funke

With the new edition of Reckless by Cornelia Funke just having hit the shelves, I decided I had to try this dark fairy tale retelling! I had no idea what to expect since I read Inkheart when I was only a small bookworm and it’d been so long I’d forgotten most of it anyway. But I was intrigued by the idea of a book being edited and rewritten again before being released with a new cover. And, in the author’s note, Cornelia Funke seemed very pleased that she had the opportunity to make a beloved story even better. So I was excited! I dived right in!9781782691242

Reckless was stuffed with dark, twisted fairy tale-seque stories. We have monsters and mayhem and murder and evil fairies and tricks and prisons and animated dark woods. My kind of story basically!

The story follows Jacob Reckless, who discovered a world behind his mirror. He’s spent most of his life in the Mirrorworld, being a treasure hunter and getting tangled up in monsters and faeries and unicorns. He’s made enemies and friends and it’s more home to him than the human realm. Then his little brother crawls into Mirrorworld, survives a vicious attack by monsters, but ends up with his flesh being petrified to jade. Jacob has to reverse it or lose his brother forever. This will require a quest. Probably a deadly quest. Probably everyone will betray them and the cure will be the least easiest thing to achieve.

The best part of this book is obviously the magical world! I had in the back of my mind it would be a whimsical and gentle middle-grade story. BUT NO. It’s very dark, although not graphically written, so it just leaves the mayhem up to your imagination. I also appreciated all the fairy tale references! I adore fairy tales, especially from a more sinister angle where nothing is as it seems in the originals. I particularly like how the whole of Reckless had a Sleeping Beauty theme happening, but instead it was a sleeping/petrified boy who’d need to be woken by the girl’s magical kiss. Genderbent retellings give me life.

Also sibling stories are easily the best thing. I love it when brothers have to risk everything to save each other! It’s always a refreshing change from books focused solely on romance too. And even though Jacob is a rather severe, closed off, and serious type of fellow, there’s absolutely nothing that’d stop him from rescuing his brother in time. But it also has an amazing secondary cast that includes: a shapeshifting fox girl who may or may not be in love with Jacob and he in love with her though they both won’t admit it; a sassy backstabbing dwarf who would sell you for a tube of toothpaste probably; a sweet and loving girl who will give Jacob’s brother the kiss of life if only she doesn’t die before they get there in time.

Basically Reckless is an amazing story and not to be missed! It left me feeling rather inspired and excited and wanting to read more (thank you dear universe that it’s a trilogy) which is exactly the kind of feelings I want to finish a book with. I’m so glad this series got a revamp and I can’t wait to see how Jacob tackles the next volume. Full of adventure, torture, and monsters, this is a tale the Grimm brothers would be proud of.

[buy now]

‘Before You Forget’ and Julia Lawrinson

 

Meet Julia Lawrinson, author of Before You Forget, Penguin Australia

Thanks for talking to Boomerang Books, Julia.

Where are you based and what’s your background in books?

I am based in Western Australia, and I’ve published thirteen novels for children and young adults (lucky thirteen, I hope!)

I really enjoyed your 2006 YA novel, Bye Beautiful . Could you tell us about this and some of your other writing? bye-beautiful

Most of my books are realistic, contemporary novels. Bye, Beautiful is set in the wheatbelt in 1966, and so is a departure from that. It is about a policeman’s family, and what happens when two sisters fall in love with the same boy, who happens to be Aboriginal. Although it is fiction, it is based on my mother’s story: my grandfather was a policeman who became officer in charge of the North West before he retired, and his strong personality and morality has had a lasting effect on his family. I feel I work best as a writer when I have a strong emotional connection to what I’m writing about.

My earliest work was very ‘gritty’: dealing with bogan high schools and adolescent psychiatric hospitals. Those stories resonated a lot with readers, and were stories that needed to be told.

Your new novel Before You Forget has a devastating personal connection for you. Could you tell us about the genesis of this novel?

before-you-forgetThe novel was written in response to seeing the suffering that my daughter went through when her father developed early onset Alzheimer’s disease, which began as she was starting high school. It wasn’t just the loss of memory that was an issue: his whole personality changed, and he went through periods of being anxious and angry by turns, which was difficult for both me and my daughter. He would give money away, invite perfect strangers home, almost cause accidents when he was driving without the slightest awareness of it. He refused to see doctors, and when he finally did, they suspected he had depression, alcoholism and various other things until he saw a specialist. Being there with him when he was diagnosed remains the most awful day of my life.

It was incredibly painful for my daughter to see the father she knew disappear in this way, and nobody really seemed to understand. The only person who truly got it was her friend Gemma, whose mother had the same disease, and who tragically died the week the book was released. I want people to understand the impact of diseases like Alzheimer’s on the kids in the family, to have empathy for the extended grief such conditions create.

What is the most terrifying thing about Alzheimer’s?

That it strips away what defines you as yourself. Annie’s dad’s defining feature was his intelligence. It was so awful to see that disappear. Although he’s retained his sense of humour to the end.

How has the book helped your family?

It’s been cathartic, being able to describe some of the things that happened, and to reclaim some of what we lost through the story. The situations in the novel are common to most families where a parent develops Alzheimer’s or similar neurological diseases, so hopefully it will provide a sort of sense of community.

How can others help families in this situation?

By asking what they need. People often want to come in and take control, or offer what they think is best, but it’s really important to listen to what would make the family’s life easier. It will be different for everyone. Also, to be respectful of people’s emotions: taking care of a loved one with Alzheimer’s is an emotional rollercoaster. I remember someone saying to me early on that Alzheimer’s was a beautiful thing, which felt like being slapped in the face. Teenagers with parents with Alzheimer’s can become very impatient and frustrated, but this doesn’t mean they don’t love their parent. It means they are dealing with the grief of dealing with a parent who is no longer who they used to be.

flyawayWho are your favourite artists?

Visual artists? Monet, Van Gogh, Rene Magritte, Brett Whitely, Frida Kahlo, Jeffrey Smart, Margaret Olley.

The protagonist, Amelia, loves art. How have you used art to reflect Amelia’s experiences?

I tried to have Amelia’s struggle to express herself as an artist parallel her difficulties in expressing her feelings about what is happened to her and her dad. Amelia is quite self-contained, but her art shows what is important to her.

How have you incorporated 9/11 into the story?

Amelia obsessively watches 9/11 footage, reads about it, tries to imagine what it would have been like to be there. To her, it is her personal disaster writ large. Instead of having something slow and invisible up-end your life, there is something fast, immediate and visual. But she also learns that it is not just one story: there are lots of stories out of 9/11, including stories of hope and bravery and fellow-feeling.

Amelia’s best friend Gemma has a problem. Could you tell us about this?

Gemma develops an eating disorder almost by accident: she begins dieting and then finds herself on a path she can’t get off. I’ve seen this happen with a lot of young people, and it happened to me as a teenager. You can’t mess with restricting food: once you start, the problems you may have been using food to deal with get magnified. Amelia can’t understand it, because to her Gemma has everything, and she is also upset that Gemma can’t appreciate Amelia’s serious problems. They can’t help each other, in a sense, because of what’s going on in their own lives, but they do try to find a way back to each other.

I should note that I used my daughter’s best friend’s name with permission in the novel, but the real Gemma bears no resemblance to the fictional one!

1b28f-chessnutscoverAmelia’s neighbour, Will, plays chess and one of your earlier books is called Chess Nuts. Why have you used chess in your YA novel, rather than another pastime or point of contact?

Again, this was part of the autobiographical aspect of the novel: my daughter played chess, and her dad was a chess coach (which is how Chess Nuts came about). It was also one of the first things that alerted me to his mental decline: a man who remembered every move of his year seven chess final to suddenly forget how to move a knight. It was a clear sign something was wrong.

What other books have left a deep impression on you?

I read a lot of books featuring bodily or mental illness when I was a teenager. Lois Lowry’s A Summer to Die had a big impact on me, as did The Bell Jar, A Patch of Blue by Elizabeth Kata, and Second Star to the Right by Deborah Hautzig.

Thanks very much, Julia, and all the best with your new book and your family. Your story will no doubt help many others.

All creatures great and small – animal inspired picture books

Animal antics, you can’t beat them. Creatures great and small, they make us laugh, cry, and ponder. As characters in picture books, they are culturally neutral, globally recognisable conduits for expressing a range of emotions that small children (and adults) are readily able to relate to. In short, their appeal is universal. Today we get up close and personal with a few new animal orientated picture books bound to stir up the David Attenborough in you.

mopokeMopoke by Philip Bunting

Hot new author illustrator, Philip Bunting has produced a veritable winner. Mopoke’s cultivated, impossibly restrained colour palette and fierce economy of words positively exudes brilliance. It’s the genius absence of colour and preamble that snaps readers into full alert, squaring their attention on the one and only character, a small southern boobook owl, aka Mopoke (although there is an incongruous cameo appearance by a certain nocturnal marsupial, as well).

Mopoke is quiet and unassuming, clearly one who relishes peace and tranquillity. The Australian bush at night, however is rife with annoyances forcing Mopoke to assume various airs of tolerance until finally, he makes a dramatic move.

Covertly comical and clever, one could interpret this picture book as a subtle poke, pardon the pun, at our social media addictions and the intrusive way they interrupt our daily lives. Of course, none of this will matter to readers under seven or so. They will simply be enthralled by Mopoke’s milk chocolate coloured marvellousness. An experience to be savoured.

Omnibus Books February 2017

my-friend-tertiusMy Friend Tertius by Corinne Fenton and Owen Swan

Until I’d open the sepia hued covers of My Friend Tertius, I had no clue this zoo/war time story even existed. Fenton has, however not just written an historical, fact based picture book. She has encased the true-life story of a British Intelligence covert living in pre-war Hong Kong with that of Tertius, a small-orphaned gibbon into a kind of love story.

Told from Arthur Cooper’s point of view, Tertius soon becomes an inextricable part of Cooper’s life. Together they work and savour the steamy tropical pastimes of Singapore and Hong Kong until the onset of World War II finally forces Cooper to evacuate to Australia. He is loath to leave his best mate behind, though so smuggles him into the country before having to surrender him to the Melbourne Zoo.

This is a story of turbulent times, separation, and unconventional friendships that somehow endure. Despite Tertius’ imperfect circumstances, one cannot help but feel a certain warmth for his relationship with Cooper. A fascinating picture book for older readers revealing yet more amazing wartime alliances thoughtfully illustrated by Swan.

Allen & Unwin February 2017

one-keen-koalaOne Keen Koala by Margaret Wild and Bruce Whatley

Not since One Woolly Wombat have I come across an animal counting book that is so full of bounce and spirit, I thought I might have to a lie down after reading it. Wild’s wondrous way with words is so pleasing to read, you’ll wish this continues beyond the count of 12 happy possums. Light, breezy, and bristling with Australiana, her verse escorts young readers from numbers one to twelve whilst gently stimulating them with the notion that new beginnings are indeed enjoyable. The appeal for new pre-schoolers or primary schoolers is therefore ten out of ten.

Whatley’s illustrations are soft and unobtrusive albeit awfully cute and fun. He even manages to inject new life into an old favourite, the perennial wombat.

One Keen Koala is a counting / back to school book that almost makes me want to troop back off to Kindy. Highly recommended.

Scholastic Press February 2017

Stay posted for another instalment of animal inspired reads, soon.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Review: Holding Up The Universe by Jennifer Niven

9780385755924I was so incredibly excited to read Holding Up the Universe by Jennifer Niven! One of my most favourite books in the world is her YA Debut, All The Bright Places, which managed to reduce me to a howling mess of adoration, feels, and awareness about mental health matters. I was a bit nervous that Holding Up The Universe would destroy me or not live up to All The Bright Places. And you know what? It was different. And that’s okay! There was still feels, epic dialogue, and some sweet moments that absolutely melted my heart. It featured two teens who were struggling with life, who weren’t perfect, who had a lot to learn, and yet were so relatable I just wanted to squish them with hugs. I am 100% of the opinion that a good book makes you feel things. All stars of approval for Holding Up the Universe!

I feel like a big message of the book was about “being seen”. It’s equal parts about Libby (who was once known as the “fattest teen in America”) and Jack (who has prosopagnosia which is a disability that renders you unable to recognise facial features). I loved the storyline! It was so poignant and beautifully written. Here’s these two teens who have a very rocky meeting (aka they nearly get each other expelled) but slowly learn to stop making assumptions about people and listen. And give second chances. It impressed me so much honestly! I also adored all the messages of self worth and love and acceptance that were woven through the book!

Brief List Of Other Things I Loved:

  • There are so many references to the TV show of Supernatural! Of which I am a ginormous fan so thank you for all that nerdom!
  • There is a lot of dancing. Dancing everywhere! Dancing whether people think you’re good at it or not! Dancing because it makes you happy!
  • There is diverse representation of size and skin colour and disabilities.
  • Jack has a gorgeous afro and has an epic love for it that made my day.
  • There is self-love for one’s body, no matter what the size.

 

And the characters?! I loved them! Jack was my absolutely favourite, but it took me longer to warm up to Libby, as she speaks and thinks all the right things, but when it comes down to it…she body shames herself. She’s still overweight but not dangerously so like she was when they had to lift her out of her house in a crane. She also has a bit of a self-righteous attitude. But you know what?? She’s been through a lot! She lost her mother, she nearly died, and now she’s doing her best to show the world you should love yourself. THE END. No exceptions.

I just felt Jack was a pure and precious cinnamon roll. And yes his decisions in the book often absolutely sucked. He hadn’t been diagnosed with prosopagnosia so he basically felt he was falling apart, that he was crazy or broken. Since he’s “face blind” it really freaks him out that he can’t tell people apart. In a room full of kids, he can’t even pick out his own brother. I could feel his fright and anxiety on every page and I just rooted for him to discover having a disability is not shameful and doesn’t make him broken. The book handled it all so well! I can only applaud!

This is definitely a powerful story with really important themes and messages. I also couldn’t stop reading! The chapters are short and punchy and the characters are relatable and precious. What more can one want?!

[PURCHASE HERE]