Review: Ace of Shades by Amanda Foody

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Ace of Shades by Amanda Foody was a delightfully twisty tale of murder, magic and mayhem and I couldn’t put it down! I feel like I’ve definitely found a new all-time favourite! This book is an ode to schemes and cons, full of street lords and mysteries and the addictive love of playing a game where the stakes are: win or die. You won’t be able to stop yourself falling in love with these characters or not accidentally toppling into the City of Sin to stay.

It follows the journey of Enne Salta, who’s enter the City of Sin to find her missing mother. She’s a prim girl from a proper finishing school and tumbles head-first into this tumultuous world of casinos and street lords and backalley fights and the kind of magic where you can bet your soul in a card game and play to win or die. She meets a very young street lord named Levi Glaisyer, who’s in deep trouble from a con scheme gone wrong, and together their lives entwine as they look to find Enne’s mother and Levi hopes the reward payout will stop him dying. Except Levi’s enemies are tightening his noose fast, and despite his flashy smile and smooth card skills, they’re not playing around anymore.

It mixes magic and con artists to perfection. I see a lot of comparisons with this to Six of Crows, and yes! It works! But also this isn’t a heist book. It’s about con schemes and card games.

The world building was so detailed and exquisite, utterly flawless. It’s set in city with a 1920s vibe, so it’s all gangsters and casinos and grubby crime kids running around. But with MAGIC. Now it took me a while to get the hang of what the orbs/volts were, but I caught up. But everyone basically has talents, or two, and it’s just super cool how it’s a whole world of magicked people and how they use that. And how it affects everything. It’s impossible not to get caught up in the City of Sin and I couldn’t look away. Plus the writing is so visual and delicious that you can really see the whole thing.

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The characters totally stole the show too, with their fantastic and complex personalities, plus detailed and heart-wrenching character arcs. I’m absolutely smitten with both Levi and Enne. Usually with dual-narrating books I have a favourite: but not this time. They were both a fantastically stunning mix of conniving and softhearted sweethearts. Their stories entwine so beautifully, with them using each other but then needing each other…and then a longing for more sparking between them. The book’s set over 10 days and romance is definitely not the focus, and I really loved how their relationship played out.

Levi was an absolutely precious masterpiece, a crime lord who’s gang is failing because he’s neck-deep in debt for a scheme he didn’t even want to run. He’s cursed to work for one of the biggest crime families, but what does he want? He wants to get to the top of his own game. He’s a card dealer and super smooth…but also absolutely adores his gang and is very loyal and sweet.

Enne Salta was also a fantastic delight, and her character development just swept me off my feet. She starts off as a “proper lady” but quickly develops into someone who’s witty, ruthless, and quite cunning (while still being gloriously polite!) and basically, by a few chapters in, she was an accidental badass.

I also just loved the writing and pacing. The writing just sweeps you up and the pacing of the book was also amazing, always luring you in deeper to the complicated plot that unwinds disasters for our favourite narrators. The plot is full of twists and turns, the foreshadowing is excellent, and it sets the scenes so well: murder card games, con schemes gone wrong, cabarets, magic and mayhem and murder, casinos and card games and gangsta hats and cherries and lush hotels and absolutely disastrous curses.

I can’t recommend Ace of Shades enough! It was everything I wanted and more, plus it included mountains of respectful and lovely diversity rep, and balanced characters you can’t help but fall in love with, plus a plot that will turn you inside out. High stakes. Magic. Wicked city schemes. Villains who never stop. And antiheroes leading the way. A fantastic adventure not to be missed!

Flights of Fantasy – Imaginative Picture Books

Perhaps one of the most fulfilling perks of writing for kids is the time spent flitting around in my imagination. It’s a weird, boundless place, which allows me to harness old memories and reinvigorate them into wondrous dreams-come-true. These next few picture books are glorious examples of tapping into imaginative flights of fantasy and exploring the possibilities.

Young MacDonald by Giuseppe Poli

When I was a kid, I trussed up my trusty bicycle with the dog’s lead so that I had my very own ‘horse’ to ride around the backyard. I jumped my Malvern Star-steed in Gymkhanas, rode for days through dusty paddocks and occasionally found a hut high in the Snowy Mountains to hunker down in and ride out a storm. A remarkable amount of miles covered for a 12-year-old.

Young MacDonald, son of the much loved, Old Mac, is no different. We first meet Young Mac after he gets his own little red bike. To the familiar refrain of this well-known nursery rhyme, Young Mac goes a ting-a-linging everywhere on his bike. Encounters with a variety of vibrant characters on the farm, slowly transform his bike into a bike-digger-pirate-ship-chopper-sub-rocket that fills his day with ‘fantastical adventure’ (albeit no ponies but there you go).

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Review: Tiffany Sly Lives Here Now by Dana L. Davis

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TIFFANY SLY LIVES HERE NOW by Dana L. Davis is an incredible book that’s absolutely ladened with complex emotions and a story so filled with tension that it’s impossible to put down. This book made me very angry at times, but also I’m intensely impressed with it. I absolutely loved Tiffany like nothing else!! I raged at the bad and cheered for the good.

The story follows Tiffany Sly who’s going to live with her estranged dad after her mum died. She’s never met him in all her 16 years and, worse, didn’t even know he existed. But to complicate things, a man turns up at her front door also claiming to be her dad…and Tiffany is terribly confused. This other guy seems super nice and he definitely was dating her mum at the right time, but she’s on her way to live with the Stones and change is really eating her up inside. She has 7 days before it all collides. And when her new family turns out to be super strict and somewhat awful, she wonders if maybe the option of a different dad is a good thing?

When Tiffany moves in with the Stones, she doesn’t actually know she also has four new sisters. So it’s like, boom, she gets hit with an instant family. Her dad is an absolute jerk though, hiding in this “holier than thou” attitude but he’s controlling and terrible. He makes me so angry! He’s borderline abusive under the guise of being a “good strict parent” and will definitely have you raging. He hasn’t even met Tiffany for 5 minutes before he’s throwing rules at her and Tiffany is so not having this. My levels of frustration were extremely high and I will say trigger warning for abuse to an autistic toddler under the guise of disciplining her. It was pretty awful but just there to underline how poisonous it can be when you don’t listen or care.

However there is intense levels of character development, and I was really impressed with how it was all handled by the end!

Can I say how much I loved Tiffany!? She has anxiety and OCD and I just so felt for her, and also thought the mental health was written excellently and respectfully. There’s so much heart on every page! Tiffany just bursts off the page with her love of rock ‘n’ roll (she also plays guitar) and her cleverness, complexities, and also wants and wishes. She’s grieving but also trying to make it work with this family that horrifies her a lot. But she also kind of likes her new sisters! Wants a nice dad! She doesn’t get crushed and crumpled by the superstrictness, but it definitely torments her the entire time.

It also discusses religion and beliefs very deeply. There’s a lot of discussion about Jehovah’s Witnesses and also the kind of belief system where you are your own god. Books are about expanding your horizons, so it was interesting.

The writing absolutely kept me captivated! Perfect pacing and I never wanted to look away. Plus it just kept the emotional tension up so high. I felt engaged the whole time.

TIFFANY SLY LIVES HERE NOW is definitely the kind of contemporary that’s going to stay with you! It’s an emotional explosion, always interesting, and with characters you want to know more about!

Beautiful Books for the Beauties in Your Life

Mums, Grandmas, Sisters, Aunties or any other special person in your life, all deserve a show of gratitude and love. Mother’s Day is a day to reinforce those bonds, to share memorable moments, or simply just to connect with those who make a difference. Dimity has already covered some ‘marvellous’ picture books here, so I’ll reinforce these beauties, and add more of my own treasures to the list.

The Dream Bird is an absolutely exquisite visual and imaginative treat that takes its readers on a fanciful flight from a state of playful awakening to the cosy slumber of dreamland. Such a memorable and warming story by picture book expert, Aleesah Darlison, mesmerisingly illustrated by talented newcomer, Emma Middleton. I love that it is Gran who, despite the other family members’ efforts, is the comforting soul of this story that helps young George to fall asleep. And the soft shading and infused deep reds and maroons are just the perfect choice to represent a mature and tender sophistication. When Gran begins her tale of the graceful Dream Bird, a snowy scene transports us to a wondrous land of majestic snow leopards, kingdoms made of lollies and treasures hidden amongst magical mermaids. Then a peaceful George conjures his own favourite dream as a loving Gran sings and leaves him with a gentle kiss. The Dream Bird is an idyllic symbol of beauty, warmth, whimsy and unconditional affection that children from age three will need as part of their daily bedtime routine.

Wombat Books, April 2018.

A gorgeous book for wonderful mums is Marvellous Mummy, written and illustrated for the first time together by husband and wife team, Katie and Giuseppe Poli. In this tender and playful story, mummy elephant takes on many personas and behaviours that are highly relatable for young children to recognise with their own mums. From sneaky and quiet to noisy and loud, friendly to grumpy, skilful and brave, caring, snuggly and most importantly, perfect (in her sometimes unperfect way). A joyful book shared between mother and daughter of many adventures and everyday routines, with bright and airy, energetic and gentle illustrations. At the same time, Katie’s short phrasing and regular use of absorbing verbs compel interaction and repeat reads. Marvellous Mummy is a marvellous reminder of just how strong, special and versatile our mummies really are.

New Frontier Publishing, May 2018.

Another absolutely glorious collaborative creation is The Silver Sea by the young people at The Royal Children’s Hospital, their teachers and the masterful and much-loved Alison Lester and Jane Godwin. This book is such a treasure filled with glimmering magic amidst a palette of silky words and images in a sea of spectacularness. The team, together with the unwell children, have created a marvel of colourful ocean pictures with creatures that make the pages come alive. The poetic narrative leads us with two characters – a mother-like figure and her child – into a shimmering world of waves, splashing with dolphins and seals, flying with sharks and leafy sea dragons, further into the deep with a whole underwater aquarium until they reach the pale morning sky. The Silver Sea, curious, imaginative and enriching, developed out of such inspirational foresight, and with profits returning to the RCH it is a must-have to cherish in any home, school or hospital.

Affirm Press, February 2018.

This one’s to share with the wild, spirited granny in your life! You’ll never have to have another ordinary day after you’ve read Grandma Z. Debut picture book author-illustrator Daniel Gray-Barnett brings life to town when Grandma Z rolls in on her motorbike. Albert is celebrating his birthday, except it’s not much of a celebration with his ordinary, boring parents living a life of ho-hum and melancholy blandness. But when his grander-than-life grandmother in her bold, blue coat enters the scene, the pair enjoy a day of adventurous, curious, daring, imaginative and exotic goodness, conjuring up all of Albert’s favourite things. The narrative suitably ties in with the plot with its quirky and unpredictable phrasing. Equally, with a Scribble-flavouring in an Allison Colpoys style, the illustrations make a bold statement with their neon blue and orange and black line tri-colour palette and retro look drawings. Grandma Z encourages a thrilling realisation that life is what you make of it, not only on your birthday, or Mother’s Day, but every day.

Scribble, February 2018.

Another special lady in your life may be your sister. Perhaps you’d like to send her affirmations of appreciation and love for all the things she does for you. In this adorable picture book by Joanna Young, My Sister represents laughter, teamwork, care and the ultimate friendship. Sisters from age two will adore the sweet, heartwarming illustrations in calming watercolour tones and tidy visual appeal dedicating one image to each question of ‘Who…’ ‘Who is the one who sits next to you… grows up with you… and is always on your side?’ The sisters in the story show a story of their own with their cute, amusing and oh-so-sweet little antics. My Sister is a book of pure joy and love, that surely mums with daughters would delight in sharing together this Mother’s Day.

New Frontier Publishing, February 2018.

Happy Mother’s Day!

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Review: Anger Is a Gift by Mark Oshiro

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Anger is a Gift by Mark Oshiro is an incredibly powerful and needed book. It’s also so completely applicable for 2018, the kind of book everyone needs to read because these things are happening right now. And I think this book does an excellent job at bringing awareness to #BlackLivesMatter but also encouraging kids who are going through this. It’s also so well written with amazing characters and it just sucks you right in so you’re there, experiencing this horribly unfair and frightening world of police brutality and racism…and also strong friendships and love.

This is Moss’ story, about how his father was murdered by a police officer and Moss has had to live with the anxiety, the grief, and the life-changing fear that comes with that. There was no justice for his father and Moss is just struggling to stay afloat while he battles terrible panic attacks and also a school that’s (quite literally) falling apart around him due to terrible funding. When Moss and his friends decided to do something about their school — starting with a peaceful walk-out protest — things escalate wildly. The kids get hit with unspeakable brutality, like random and rough locker and body searches + a horrible metal detector + and police stalking on campus to intimidate them in the halls. It’s hard enough to get up in the morning let alone fight this, but Moss can’t sit back this time. And even when things turn nightmarish with friends and loved ones getting brutalised, Moss puts his anger to use and fights.

Moss was such an amazing narrator! It’s written from a super personal 3rd person perspective and you really get into Moss’ head for his journey. He starts off this super anxious kid with panic attacks and he shuts down if he sees a cop. He can’t imagine a life where he won’t be ruined like this, but he also has a super supportive mum and friends. He also meets a super-cute-boy on the subway who he might have some serious feelings for. If he can trust himself to express them. But things are spiralling at school and you just ache for Moss as he watches his friends’ brutalised and knows that he could very well be next.

Also just seeing the school falling apart around them was so devastating. These kids just want to learn and do their best, but how do they stand a chance when their textbooks are photocopied and colleges overlook them instantly for submissions. And the police violence on campus was insane and mindblowing.

This book is about horrible things happening to good people and it will make your heart pound with how unfair it is.

I particularly enjoyed the close-knit relationships this book featured! Moss and his mum are so so close! It’s the sweetest thing ever, plus she supports him through his anxiety and has no qualms at all about him being gay. She supports him and Javier immediately (and absolutely teases him too, like good family should when their son catches a cutie’s eye). Moss also has a huge expanse of friends at school, and I loved the diversity of their group. There was representation from nonbinary, immigrant, black and brown kids, and also disabilities and queer kids.

Moss and Javier are also just too cute for words! You’ll absolutely ship them in a matter of seconds. They fit so well together and want to understand each other, not change each other. Plus Javier is a dork and Moss is super anxious and this is the quality kind of couple you want to read about.

It doesn’t hold back from the heartbreak either. Because this book is nothing if not showing you the non-sugar-coated version of parts of the world people often want to overlook. It does balance uplifting hope with devastation and heartbreak, though, but ohhhh if my heart wasn’t in a puddle half the time.

Don’t miss Anger Is A Gift, alright!? It’s an excellently written masterpiece that should sit right alongside books like The Hate U Give and Dear Martin! I’m glad books like this exist and hope it is another spark that will help change the world.

Double Dipping – Middle Grade Novels that Defy Belief

Novelists use the art of suspension of disbelief in an attempt to encourage readers to surrender logic and sacrifice realism for the sake of enjoyment. Children are naturally more susceptible to stories that defy belief purely because their imaginative acceptance is less eroded than ours is. What I admire about these two middle grade novels is their easy ability to captivate the imagination and suspend disbelief, pressuring readers to levels of discomfiture whilst retraining a sense of irrefutable realism. At the end of both, you walk away loving the characters just a little bit more and happily consider risking life, limb and sanity to walk with them all over again.

The Endsister by Penni Russon

Words flow like silken cream from Russon’s pen in this entrancing tale of ghosts, family disintegration and returning to ones roots. Told in alternating points of view from each family member and a couple of resident ghosts, this story heaves readers from the gumtree-clad hills of Australia to the history-rich, leafy suburbs of inner London with mysterious charm and grace.

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Review: Tyler Johnson Was Here by Jay Coles

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Tyler Johnson Was Here by Jay Coles is such a heart-wrenching (and important) read. It definitely hits hard and it’s such a vital book for everyone to be reading, especially in this day and age, where police brutality and racism are huge topics in the USA. It’s the type of story that needs to be told again and again until the world changes. Possibly stock up on some tissues and chocolate before you start though.

The story follows Marvin Johnson, who’s brother Tyler goes missing after a fateful party that neither of them would usually attend. Marvin is ruined with worry for his brother, who’d been pulling away in the weeks earlier and not sharing everything with his twin like he used to. And when the cops aren’t interested in helping much, Marvin takes the search into his own hands. With police brutality being a terrifying theme in his life, Marvin fears for the worst…and then a video is leaked online showing his brother being murdered by a cop. Tyler isn’t missing: he’s dead. And no one cares about justice unless Marvin fights tooth and nail for it.

The book focuses on police brutality, but it also delves into the “everyday” parts of racism in the USA. I cannot comprehend how it would be to live like these black teens have to live. When Marvin is going to a protest his mother literally says don’t have anything in your pockets, not even a phone, so he can’t be mistaken for being armed. And another time, Marvin and his friends are nearly arrested for buying food at a store, just because they’re black and the clerk thought they might shoplift. Being Australian, this is mind-boggling to me and a good eye-opener for what life is like for other people. I felt the devastation on every page of this book about kids who don’t deserve this blatant racism. You can really feel the author’s heart and emotions in the writing.

It does mix hope with the sadness though. I’m glad that’s in there. I can imagine this book will be so important to so many, and it’s important that it has room to cry and be angry and be encouraged. It also features a boy, Marvin, who is not afraid to cry and will be emotional…and that’s such a good dialogue to open up in YA too!

The story features so many other great things! There’s a cast of interesting and complex characters, including Marvin’s friends and a girl he meets, Faith, who helps him try to find Tyler and sticks with him when things grow dark. Marvin is also trying to get into a good college while all this is happening, and there’s a lot of talk about mental health and grief and learning to move through sadness and not lay down and give up.

Tyler Johnson Was Here is definitely the book that will leave you thinking, which is exactly what books are supposed to do. Start discussions and spark fires in people! This is a book with a tumultuous and heartbreaking journey, told in a raw and emotional voice.

Keep Calm and Embrace Challenges – Picture Book Reviews

For young children, and their parents, keeping calm is an important skill, particularly in noisy, excitable and sometimes stressful situations. Learning new exercises, growing independence and changes in family dynamics are some examples of times where patience and acceptance are absolutely essential. Here are a few picture books that demonstrate the skill in embracing challenges and remaining positive. And this goes for bubs and their mums! These books also highlight the important roles of our engaged, busy, guiding, and patient (!) mums and other special persons. Lovely books to share on Mother’s Day, and everyday to master those routines!

It doesn’t get more relaxing than a yoga session for little bodies and little friends! Yoga Babies by UK’s TV and radio presenter, Fearne Cotton, is a delectably pacifying experience that encourages strong and healthy minds and bodies for all ages. Sheena Dempsey perfectly demonstrates the art of movement, position and vitality when it comes to the illustrations. And the combination of words and pictures beautifully promotes audience participation with their variety of active role modelling guides.

We meet many yoga babies and their diverse families throughout this romping, rhythmic, straightforward text that connect to one another with a series of poses. Each spread is different with a culmination of family-friendly settings and pets, which help to demonstrate the given skill. For example, a dog accompanies Rex as he makes the ‘downward dog’, two mice appear with Tom and Sam’s dormouse pose, and Emily stands tall and straight like a tree in her garden. By having adults feature alongside the babies, the book encourages their initiation for a fun, calming family activity, as written in the forward message.

Colourful, cheeky and soothing, Yoga Babies is a refreshing and engaging delight of a book that children from age two will be pro-’posing’ become an habitual routine.

New Frontier Publishing, February 2018.

“In a little pink house on the edge of the town lived a baby who made some unusual sounds.” This is the opening line of Alison Lester’s rollicking, bumptious story, The Very Noisy Baby. A cacophony of sound effects proceed in this lively narrative with a tiny bub and her enormous voice box!

Coco the zoo keeper is looking for her escaped tiger, and when she hears a GROWL! coming from the little pink house she assumes it’s there. “No”, says the mother. “We just have a very noisy baby.” A hilarious string of animal onomatopoeia follows as more people search for their missing pets, only to discover it is in fact the very noisy baby. The layout of illustrations is perfect with vignettes of the house and the scouting people (Alison, as Frances the farmer, and her dog Bigsy, appear in there, too!) on one side, and a dedicated page to the small baby on the next. Lester then showcases her much-adored watercolour and line artwork as full spreads when all the people come together to find the lost creatures. And there they appear, just as our little noisy baby calls them out one by one.

Brimming with lyrical repetition, animal sounds, active encouragement and plenty of jovial humour, little ones from age two will be giggling throughout and getting carried away with the surprises jumping out at them. The Very Noisy Baby is the perfect read aloud that also reinforces the themes of working together, animals and families in the most eye-pleasing, positive and captivating way.

Affirm Press, November 2017.

Wittingly taken from the popular song / game, ‘Skip to My Lou’, this title is just as naughty and delightfully fun. Skip to the Loo! A Potty Book is a whimsical play on words that rhyme and a learning skill that all toddlers achieve, all in a lively game to the potty. With bouncy text by Sally Lloyd-Jones, and the iconic style of illustrations by Guess How Much I Love You’s Anita Jeram, this little board book couldn’t get much cuter.

A group of forest friends are attending a party, with Bunny in the lead to find his potty. A subsequent line-up of animal attendees join in, each one with a personable character of its own. We’ve got a lonely dodo, a smiling frog on tiptoe, a ballerina elephant, Lord and Lady Huff-Puff, a naughty big fat monster, plus more. Each line ends in a rhyme to ‘loo’, with some gorgeously inventive terms like ‘Wibbly Woo’ and ‘stinkaroo’ to add to the leisure. Their destination expels a highly amusing tone with everyone on their assortment of different shaped and sized potties (’POO! POO! POO!’), and there’s even another little encouraging surprise on the last page.

Skip to the Loo! is the ideal book for toddlers to hold, sit with and read whilst gracing the little throne in comfort and calmness, reassurance and joy. A life-saver for weary mums!

Walker Books UK, Feb 2018.

Monster Baby by Sarah Dyer captures a little piece of a young child’s thoughts and feelings when a new baby enters his or her world. All the trepidation, jealousy and sometimes disappointments that can exist when focused attention and family dynamics change. This young, orange, horned monster has plenty of questions running through his mind as he narrates the story in first person. Dyer cleverly weaves in a child’s perspective as her character attempts to grasp the concepts of Mum’s growing belly, why she rests so much, eats too healthy but doesn’t get any thinner, and can’t pick him up anymore. But there are positive aspects, too, like seeing the baby on the ultrasound and the excited anticipation of its arrival. The confusion continues when monster baby is born, like why the boy needs to be quiet when the newborn can make a lot of noise. Eventually, he adapts and grows to love his baby brother, as most older siblings do.

Dyer’s characters, whilst monsters, are nothing but gentle and friendly creatures, illustrated with uncomplicated line drawings and added textural and collage media for warmth and familiarity.

Highly relatable and witty, Monster Baby is perfect for preschoolers as an encouraging book on being open with their questions and feelings yet seeing the positive side to adapting to change. Perfect also for mums expecting bub number two!

Otter-Barry Books, April 2017.

Happy Mother’s Day!

Mummies are Marvellous – Mother’s Day Picture Book Reviews

Mother. The person who mothers you, nurtures you, Band-Aids your grazed knees and kisses you to sleep at night; the person who is always there to listen to you, has cuddles to spare, and tugs you back in line when things go askew deserves every ounce of recognition and celebration we can muster. These next few picture books do just that and more. Sit down with your mother, child, or grandchild this Mother’s Day with one of these touching picture books.

Marvellous Mummy by Katie Poli and Giuseppe Poli

Discovering the creative picture book chemistry of a new picture book team is akin to embarking on an exciting new adventure for me. When the team is a husband and wife collaboration, the intrigue doubles. Marvellous Mummy is the first creation of Katie and Giuseppe Poli and manages to tick many of my ideal picture book boxes. It’s bright and breezy in appearance, possesses narrative that is succinct and able to endure the rigors of repeated reading and evokes warmth and identifiable situations that even very small children can recognise and love.

The narrator’s mummy, represented as a capable, caring and sometimes feisty she-elephant, is many things, just like real-life mummies. She is silly and fun and goofy at times. She is not beyond being rambunctious and playful, sneaky and knowing and sometimes grumpy and grouchy, either. However, she is always kind and loving and of course, the best mummy of all because she is yours. Katie’s repeating phraseology and use of strong verbs to emphasise this mummy’s characteristics and engagement with her offspring provide the opportunity for little readers to interact and anticipate her qualities. This prompts them to recognise the same qualities in their own mothers, perhaps encouraging them to search for more.

Giuseppe’s illustrations are playfully exuberant. Each page is awash in pretty pastels creating a soft, gentle mood that is both childlike in appearance yet focuses powerfully on mama elephant and her child. Mummies are not perfect every minute of the day nor are they invincible but they are strong and beautiful and capable in every conceivable way in the eyes of their young children. Marvellous Mummy portrays this simple concept well. A delight to share with pre-schoolers and to remind all those mummies out there how special they are.

New Frontier Publishing May 2018

Continue reading Mummies are Marvellous – Mother’s Day Picture Book Reviews

Review: I Have Lost My Way by Gayle Forman

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I Have Lost My Way is the latest book by the famed Gayle Forman and it definitely doesn’t disappoint! It features her typical “set in 1-day” timeline as well as packing an emotional punch full of angst, change and emotion. It’s the kind of book you chew through in one day but keep thinking about it for a long time after.

The book follows 3 narrators: Freya (a singer who’s lost her voice) and Harun (a closeted quiet boy who’s broken his boyfriend’s heart) and Nathaniel (neglected and disillusioned with the disappointing world after an accident). The book follows them as they all meet in New York City, actually…they meet because Freya tumbles off a foot-bridge and lands on Nathaniel’s head, gives him a concussion, and then ropes a nearby Haran into helping them to hospital. Harun recognises the famed-Freya-singer and wonders if hanging around with her will somehow get him his boyfriend (who loves her music) back. And Nathaniel feels all his paths in life have folded to a close…and then he meets these two strangers who help him and stick with him, even when they could’ve left.

I loved Forman’s previous books, If I Stay and Where She Went, so I was super excited for this new one. I Have Lost My Way tugged at those heart strings and also incorporated such a complex and interesting cast and plot into such a small amount of space!

I really liked how the “told over one day” plot was handled. It was short and powerful and I got so so attached to these characters after just seeing them over one day! However the romance in these 1-day stories always does feel a bit rushed…although I liked that Nathaniel and Freya weren’t spouting any “destiny” lines…they just liked each other and were keen to see where it would go. It was instalove but not cliche! And they were so cute!

It’s written so their backstory comes in 1st person chapters, but the bulk of the book (set in the present day) is written in 3rd. I liked this unique formatting and storytelling style and I think it worked well for the book. I thought Harun’s narrative didn’t slot so easily with the others, but he was still such a winning character and I was just as invested in his life.

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A quick glance at the characters?!

  • FREYA: She’s a rising-star singer who suddenly can’t sing. It could be medical?Or nerves? But she just stops being able to sing and she’s contracted by an austere man she can’t disappoint and she’s scared people will forget about her if she never sings again. Fame only lasts if you’re giving to your audience after all. She feels so lost with all of this and the pressure is crushing her.  She’s also biracial/Ethiopian and her culture plays into her music loves a lot.
  • HARUN: He’s very gay and very closeted being from a strict Muslim family that he loves dearly and doesn’t want to disappoint. A lot of his narrative is wrestling with what he knows to be good and true vs what he knows his parents would do if they found out. He has an amazing black boyfriend, James…but who doesn’t want to be Harun’s shameful secret anymore. Then Harun agrees to do something his family wants that is…not good for him. And things with him and James turn sideways really fast. When the book begins he’s just broken his boyfriend’s heart and is totally lost and alone.
  • NATHANIEL: He is the most mysterious of the bunch and grew up really secluded and neglected with a father who was very childish and never took proper care of him. As a kid, Nathaniel found that exciting…as an older teen? He feels overlooked, unwanted, and forgotten. He ends up in New York City after a tragic home event and he feels like his world is collapsing around him. He’s very depressed and finding Freya and Harun kick-starts him out of a downward spiral. He’s also so very soft and kind and also starving so they spend a lot of the book feeding him. As they should.

It’s definitely got the emotional edge I’ve come to expect from Forman books! I was super caught up in the story and just wanted to know if something (or anything!) would work out for these characters who were so lost and also stuck in their own mire of aloneness.

I Have Lost My Way is an amazing story that takes a lot of twists you won’t expect. It deals with grief and loneliness and isolation and how important it is to confide your struggles with people you love and trust.

Neverland by Margot McGovern

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Neverland by Margot McGovern is part homage to the famed Peter Pan tale and part a story of mental illness and learning when to let go and when to hold on. I’m a huge fan of Peter Pan, so I was excited to see the influences swetp through this (although it’s not so much a retelling as just lots of references). Kit calls her childhood-island-home “Neverland” and it’s been converted into a mental illness type hospital for kids at risk. The entire book is about mental health and it can get pretty dark at times, and it’s about facing your monsters.

The story follows Kit Learmonth has had a pretty tumultuous childhood. From parents who didn’t really take care of her, to struggles with health, to an overactive imagination which she often retreats into instead of facing her past. After a suicide attempt at her boarding school, she returns to her childhood island home, nicknamed “Neverland”, where her favourite uncle runs a lowkey psychiatrist hospital for kids who aren’t quite sick enough for a mental institution but who definitely aren’t coping in the real world. The island functions as part school, part hospital, and there’s plenty of chances for the teens to sneak around the laws and enjoy the wonders (and self-invited dangers) of the island. There are some definite illegal nighttime adventures, as well as the more above-board sailing, school, and close friendships. Then Kit meets a new resident: Rohan. He’s very quiet and charming and Kit falls to his friendship…except he might be more sinister than he seems. All the while her suppressed childhood memories are poisoning her inside and out, while she prefers to “play Peter Pan” where life will all turn out okay so long as you keep flying and don’t deal with your problems. That…isn’t going to work out, Kit.

I did so like the setting with the island vibes with a dash of mystery and adventure! Although I didn’t find the island completely believable because it seemed extremely well funded (who could afford to send their kids here?!) but at the same time extremely badly supervised! The amount of times the teens sneaked off to drink and do drugs was downright impressive. Welcome to fairyland as well. But I do think it’s nice to acknowledge that it’d be great of there were places like this for at-risk teens! They definitely needed help and support and the island did provide them with a chance to help themselves…if they chose.

It also explores different types of mental illnesses. I felt it did it quite well. Kit, the narrator, has depression and she severely self harms. Her friend (with benefits) is Alister and he’s a psychopath. Then Gypsy has a severe eating disorder and is recovering from a bad relationship. It doesn’t exactly diagnose Rohan but he had a lot of underlying issues going on. It also portrays therapy in a positive light! We get to read about therapy sessions and some coping mechanisms and some really gritty conversations etc. It definitely attempts to deal with diagnoses instead of just dishing them out.

Kit’s also really big on telling verbal stories too. This is definitely one of her coping mechanisms: tell a story and avoid the real world! Not…healthy, um, Kit. But I did like the magical feel it gave the book, which is definitely a solid contemporary, but with Kit talking about faeries and selkies and Peter Pan, it just added that layer of enchantment to the story.

Kit herself was an interesting character, who definitely spent a lot of the book growing. She makes a sheer bucket-ton of mistakes and a lot of the time she’s downright awful as she battles her own illness and the denial of how serious it is to cut herself. The psychology behind why she did what she did was very clear, even though it was difficult to feel for her when she was so mean to her loving uncle and caring friends. But it’s so important to explore this “unlikeable” part of mental health, because it DOES affect those with it so so much and it’s a topic that needs unpacking.

Neverland is definitely a story that is part fun and whimsy, part darkness and warnings. It’s not a light read by any means, although I think it does show sunshine through the darkness.

YA Urban Fantasy: The Sentinels of Eden with Carolyn Denman

Carolyn Denman was a horse-loving child who grew up in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne, inventing all sorts of fantasy worlds in her mind. She completed a Bachelor of Science and worked in finance before realising her love of writing, which very soon became an addiction. 

Carolyn’s debut The Sentinels of Eden speculative fiction series grounds a refreshing blend of Australian and Aboriginal heart with biblical roots in a thrilling and transcendent fantasy allegory, with elements of real life compromise and sacrifice. In Book One: Songlines, the journey to Eden is marked with the discovery of secrets and supernatural powers that begin a changing fate for a cast of complex characters; navigating the prosperity and protection of two sacred, opposing worlds. Denman explores the symbolism of Eden and the realities of adolescence, identity and lust through her fictional fantasy in a sensitive, tasteful way. These engaging page-turners and nail-biter endings will leave their young adult readers wanting more.

Carolyn has generously answered some questions about the series for Boomerang Books readers. 😊

How did you come to be a writer?

Where most writers say that they’ve been writing since the day they could hold a pen, that’s not my story. I wrote one awesome short story in Year 7 that my teacher hated and that was the end of that, at least until that day a few years ago when I told my daughter I’d help her write a story. She got bored after the first couple of chapters. I got addicted. Seriously, I started pulling books from my shelf to remind me when you were supposed to do things like start the next line when writing dialogue. I’ve always been an avid reader, but never taken much notice of technique. Thank God I have some really gentle beta-readers. Some of them are even teachers, which is handy, and they’re nice teachers.

What is the significance of your series’ title; The Sentinels of Eden?

As you’ll see from the third book, the series isn’t just about Lainie. It’s about the long history of the Cherubim who have made sacrifices for Eden. This series is about the ones who stand guard over the land. Who hold it sacred and are born to serve it. Yeah, there’s a metaphor there, but I have no right to tell those stories. I can only try to honour them with my little allegory. That’s what makes the series title significant.

The star of Songlines (Book 1) and Sanguine (Book 2) is young teenager, Lainie. What can you tell us about her? How have you developed her intriguing personality and her special secrets?

Lainie has become a great friend, and I’ve really enjoyed seeing the world through her eyes. She’s really made me explore what it would be like to live in a world with no tears. Sure, paradise sounds great, but what would it really mean for someone who has grown up in our world? Throughout the course of the series, Lainie has grown up and yet in some ways has also become more child-like. The duality of her journey has been a wild ride, and one that everyone should think through. Growing up shouldn’t mean becoming boring. There should always be room for whimsy, and I wish I could be more like her.

All of the Sentinels books in the series deal with navigating adolescence and identity, loss, truth and protecting the environment. What other themes / issues underpin these books?

I feel that there is an underlying exploration of the nature of free will in each story. Some people don’t believe in the concept at all, which is fine, but whether we are the sum of our free choices or the inevitable product of our previous choices, we must still grapple with decisions. Especially when we’re faced with completely unexpected situations. If you want to delve even deeper, I could discuss the concept of shame. That ‘unsolvable problem’ that goes beyond guilt and underpins so many mental health issues (although I’m certainly not implying there’s a simplistic cause for any of those). There is no room for shame in Eden. In fact, it’s the one corruption that the Tree of Life can’t simply heal, which is why ‘tainted’ humans aren’t allowed in. Shame is a complex issue, and I’ve only brushed across the surface of it as a theme, really.

How do each of the covers reveal a snippet of the magic inside the books?

Each of the covers has an image which symbolises an important concept in that story. The Tree of Life, the eagle, the shell – all these hold meaning to the main characters and represent their journeys. The illustrator also gave the covers an opalescent feel. Opals are the perfect mix of earth and hidden fantasy, don’t you think?

You’ve written a short prequel to Songlines, called Barramundi Triangle (read more here). Can you tell us a bit about that?

Barramundi emerged from a throw-away line near the start of Songlines. Lainie mentioned that she’d always been a little bit afraid of the police sergeant, ever since ‘that incident with Noah and the ride-on mower’. I couldn’t help it. I had to find out what insane situation Noah had got them both into that involved a mower and the police.
Also, as a debut author I felt it wasn’t fair to expect people to take a risk on buying my book if they hadn’t read anything I’d written, so I wrote something for them to nibble on first.

Thanks, Carolyn!

To see more from Carolyn Denman and to celebrate her third and most recent book in The Sentinels of Eden series, Sympath, you can join her blog tour here.

Odyssey Books, 2016 – 2018.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Lest We Forget – New Picture Books

The amount of empathetic, engaging titles that surface each year to commemorate ANZAC Day never fails to impress me. Touching, sympathetic stories like those below permit young children to open their hearts and minds to the true essence of courage and sacrifice, allowing them to connect with a history that for the sake of humanity, we should never forget. There is a huge number of praise-worthy picture books to share with your youngsters this ANZAC Day. Here are a few newer titles that are also excellent for classroom inclusive discussion.

Message In A Sock by Kaye Ballie and Narelda Joy

Thousands of care packages were sent to our Aussie Diggers during the Great War of 1914. Dozens upon dozens of hand-knitted socks made up a part of these packs not only providing warmth and comfort for ‘war-weary feet inside heavy boots’ but reminding our troops that their loved ones at home were thinking of them.

Tammy learns how to knit socks to send overseas. She tucks special messages into the toe of each sock for the soldiers to find. One message, written especially for her Daddy serving at the warfront, returns with a reply from Lance Corporal A McDougall who was the recipient of her heartfelt gift. His reply connects her with her father, fills her with pride and instills a hope that someday soon he will return safely to her.

This story highlights the female wartime effort in the most glorious and tender way. Baillie’s narrative is affectionate and informative; addressing younger audiences in a way that is both direct and appealing given that many of them might struggle to understand the concept of caring for others in such an express, person-to-person way. Joy’s collage inspired illustrations are a mosaic of love and charm, layered with texture and colour so persuasive and rich, you’ll want to reach out and stroke each golden strand of Tammy’s hair. It’s this depth of sensory allure that draws you back to this story again and again, making it the perfect book to honour the centenary of the end of WWI. A must share.

MidnightSun Publishing 25 April 2018

Continue reading Lest We Forget – New Picture Books

‘Michael Wagner & Jane Godwin: talented literary partners’

Michael Wagner and Jane Godwin are a talented husband and wife literary couple.

One of the first times I was aware of Jane Godwin’s work was when she was CBCA shortlisted for The True Story of Mary Who Wanted to Stand on Her Head. This and her other books are wonderful, and I particularly love the picture books Today We Have No Plans, Starting School and Go Go and the Silver Shoes and her YA novel Falling from Grace.

I clearly remember meeting Michael Wagner in Brisbane when I was consultant for an Indie bookstore there. Penguin Books were taking him around to talk about his unique series ‘The Undys’. I loved the games that the father and son played in these books and the love, as well as pathos, in their life and relationships in the housing commission apartment where they lived.

Thanks for speaking with Boomerang Books blog, Jane and Michael.

What are your professional roles in the book world?

We’re both full-time authors and part-time publishers. I (Michael) have my own small imprint, Billy Goat Books, which allows me to dabble in publishing by releasing a book or two a year, while Jane freelances for a couple of different publishers.

What have you written together and how do you help each other with your work/writing?

MW: We’ve actually only collaborated once, on the picture book Bear Make Den, the text of which is about 50 words, so much of our effort went into reducing the number of words in the text. It’s funny, you might think that two authors would double the prose, but in that instance, we helped each other create the most economical prose possible.

But we’re also slowly working together on a series of early readers. It’s an idea that I came up with, that would probably work as a series, but which really plays more to Jane’s strengths (i.e. her understanding of very young children), so it makes sense for us to work on it together.

When we’re not working together, we help each other with feedback and encouragement. It’s hard for ‘life-partners’ to be too critical of each other’s work – we’re meant to be our number one supporters, really – but whenever we get stuck, we seek help from each other.

What other literary/illustrative partnerships do you have and what books have these produced?

MW: There are actually too many of these to list, but an author-illustrator partnership I’m particularly enjoying right now is with my friend Wayne Bryant in the creation of the So Wrong series. He and I both love Mad Magazine, and we’ve created something similarly subversive and naughty, but in book format, and aimed more squarely at primary kids. I’m really proud of what we’ve achieved, although I know many would wonder why. J

JG: Anna Walker and I have created 6 picture books together, and we’re working on our seventh.  I am also Anna’s publisher of her books that she writes and illustrates herself, so we are quite connected!  I feel very lucky to have the partnership with Anna.  We have become good friends through working and exploring ideas together, and I think we each have an understanding of how the other works, and sees the world.

I’ve also made 3 books with Andrew Joyner, and we’re working on a couple more at the moment.  I love working with Andy – he is a genius at character and gesture, and he’s also very insightful with text, and gives great advice and feedback about the narrative and story.  He’s interested in the words as well as the visual world of the story.

Alison Lester and I have collaborated in many ways as well.  I’m her publisher, we’re great friends, and we’ve made many books together in Aboriginal communities with the kids and sometimes with the adults, too.  Recently we collaborated in creating a picture book called The Silver Sea, which we made with young patients at the Royal Children’s Hospital, Melbourne.  This was a really wonderful project to be involved in, and all proceeds go to the Education Institute at the RCH.

My friend Davina Bell and I have also collaborated in various ways.  Together we created the Our Australian Girl series when we were both working at Penguin. Davina and I have also co-written two books, and both have been illustrated by Freya Blackwood.  The three of us really enjoy working together, and usually this involves a trip to stay with Freya in Orange, where Davina and I camp in her beautiful studio.

Could you give us examples of your books across age-groups and forms, from picture books to series and novels.

JG: I’ve written picture books, junior novels and also stand-alone novels for middle readers and teenage readers.  I wrote many titles in the Aussie Bites and Aussie Nibbles series, and over the past 10 or so years it has been mainly picture books.  Part of the reason for this is that I adore the picture book genre – it fascinates and inspires me – and the other part is that I had a very busy and demanding job as a publisher so never had the time to write novels.  Now that I’ve left Penguin, I’m working on longer stories as well as picture books.

Which of your books’ longevity in print are you particularly pleased about?

MW: I’m most thrilled about the Maxx Rumble series, which, so far, has been in print for 14 years. It was my first proper attempt at writing for children and remains my most enduring work. I had no idea what I was doing when I wrote it, which I think, is why it’s worked so well. J

JG: I’m pleased that the novel I wrote over 10 years ago now, Falling From Grace, remains in print and is set at Year 8 level in secondary schools.  I still receive letters about that book from readers both here and in the US, so I feel happy that it’s still being enjoyed and hopefully hasn’t dated too much!

When in Brisbane, Michael and I also talked about his being in a band and about Jane’s YA novel Falling from Grace (2006), which I loved and have kept all these years. I still have the post-it note on the cover, which I wrote recommending it to one of my twin sons, who was then 14 years-old. The key character for me, Kip, was also 14 in the book, looked older than his years, played music, had given up swimming even though he was a champion and suffered anxiety – all like my son. He seemed like such a real person.

If I recall correctly, Michael mentioned that Jane had written the character with the help of their son, Wil.

After all these years, Falling from Grace is deservedly still in print and I highly recommend it.

JG: Oh, that’s lovely, Joy – thank you.  Wil didn’t help me with the actual writing, but I was certainly observing him and his world when I was writing that book!

It’s perhaps not surprising that the son of such a creative couple is now the lead singer, lyricist and muso in famous Oz band, The Smith Street Band.

How did you nurture Wil as a writer? Which song of his are you most proud and why?

JG: Wil was always interested in music and rhythm, from a very young age.  He was also always interested in language.  He spoke at a very early age, and also loved reading and books.  I read to him a lot, until he was quite old!  A passion for music is also something that Wil and Michael share.  I’m proud of a lot of his songs, and I have my favourites.  A sentimental favourite is My Little Sinking Ship, which is a song he wrote for his sister, our daughter Lizzie, when they were both teenagers.  I also love Laika, which is a very sad but beautiful song about vulnerability, really, based around the story of the Russian dog that was sent into space.  Lizzie and Wil have actually collaborated on both those songs – Lizzie made a little animation film clip for My Little Sinking Ship when she was in secondary school, and they made a handmade book, illustrated by Lizzie, for Laika.  We printed a limited quantity and they sold it at gigs. Recently, Wil received an email from a teacher at a Melbourne primary school, who said that her grade 5 and 6 students studied the Laika song, and it really inspired them in different ways. I found this very moving.

MW: All I can add to what Jane’s said is that I’ve been semi-obsessed with music since I was in primary school and I think that sort of passion from a parent is often absorbed by his/her children. I was also in a band that almost became famous, so perhaps Wil is living out a part of my life that was never quite fulfilled. I should also say that I never consciously pushed him in that (or any other) direction, we just responded to his interests, whatever they were at the time.

Which literary award has meant the most to you?

JG: I won the QLD Premier’s Award with my first novel, and this probably meant the most because it was very affirming when I was just starting out.

What are you reading and enjoying at the moment or recently?

JG: I’m reading George Saunders’s short story collection The Tenth of December. I recently read Lincoln in the Bardo and loved it, so I’m reading everything else of his now!  (Wil is also reading the same book, btw!)  I recently read Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo.  I love her writing, and can’t wait for her next book to come out.

MW: I’m almost always reading books about psychology, philosophy or human nature. I guess I’m hoping to become wise some day.

What are you writing now or next?

MW: I’m writing a few different picture books at the moment, but also trying to master a middle-reader series idea I’ve had hanging around for about five years. It has a catchy title and some decent enough plot ideas, but I’ve never been able to find the main character’s voice. Luckily, I think I’ve just started to find it recently. I sure hope so!

JG: I’m writing lots of picture books, and also a novel.

There do seem to be many books rushed through publication at the moment, particularly novels with misprints and with plots, characters and structure that could benefit from more care. This is actually preventing books from being shortlisted for awards. Why is this rushed writing and publication process happening and is it going to improve?

JG: When I remember back in the dark ages when I was working as an editor, we had a lot more time to work on each title.  We could give each book, and each author, the time they needed.  Many publishers and editors still really try to do this now, but the world of publishing and the economics of publishing have changed so much, and books often tend to be rushed through.

What would you both like to be remembered for?

MW: As someone who did his best. And perhaps made the world slightly better – be that through my books, or talks and workshops, or even through our children.

JG: I like Michael’s comment here, so I’ll echo that, I think – as someone who did her best!

Michael Wagner’s website

Jane Godwin’s website

‘White Night’ and interview with Ellie Marney

Ellie Marney’s new YA novel, White Night (Allen & Unwin) has an authentic Australian feel. It is warm-hearted with a welcome edge of rawness. Male protagonist, Bo, is a triumph, with his blend of masculinity, compassion and love.

Where are you based, Ellie, and how do you spend your time?

Ellie Marney

I live near Castlemaine, in north-central Victoria. I usually spend my time writing or reading! But I also have four kids, and a couple of day jobs, so life can get pretty busy.

How are you involved in Australia’s YA community?

In 2015, when the ALIA lists came out and OzYA was barely a a blip on the radar, a group of lit sector professionals – authors, librarians, booksellers, bloggers, publishers – got together to form the #LoveOzYA movement, to advocate for and promote Australian YA, and I was lucky enough to be at that first meeting. I’ve never really stopped flag-waving for OzYA since then!

Oz YA is thriving but why do there seem to be few Australian novels written for males at the moment?

I actually think Australian YA caters pretty well to males! There are plenty of great YA books written by male YA authors, or featuring male protagonists. But I also believe it’s good for boys to broaden their horizons (and maybe learn something new) by reading books with female protagonists, or written by female authors – I certainly encourage my boys to pick up books by authors of all stripes, with a range of protagonists. We don’t seem to worry so much about girls reading books written by men, or focusing on boys – Harry Potter, for instance – which makes me think it’s a bit of a double standard.

Could you tell us about your other books, particularly your very popular ‘Every’ series?

The Every series is based around the question of ‘What would a contemporary teenage Sherlock Holmes be like?’ (or as the tagline says, ‘What if Sherlock Holmes was the boy next door?’) and is my most popular series to date. People liked my take on Young-Sherlock-and Girl-Watson-in-Melbourne so much I wrote a companion novel, No Limits, which I self-published last year – Harris Derwent, one of the secondary characters in the series, had his chance to shine in a darker-edged story about drug crime and high-stakes romance in regional Australia.

Now this year I’m releasing White Night, and in a few more months, Circus Hearts, a 3-book YA romantic crime series set in a circus – the first book, about a teenage trapeze artist and an apprentice strongman on the run from a terrible crime, will (if all goes to plan!) be out in September.

What is the significance of the title of your new novel White Night?

It refers to a a number of things actually – I’m glad you asked! White Night is the name of the lightshow festival that the students in the book want to stage to raise funds for their local skate park; it’s based on the worldwide festival of lights that has taken off so well in Melbourne. But ‘White Night’ also has darker connotations: in the Jonestown Peoples’ Temple cult, the name was a code for the ‘revolutionary suicide’ practise runs that Jim Jones forced all his followers to perform to prove their loyalty.

But also – and this is a little Easter egg for readers! Because my brain is funny like that – there are a lot of references to the Sleeping Beauty story in White Night. The names of the characters (Bo and Rory – in the old legends, it was Prince Beau and Princess Aurora), the idea of a handsome suitor who rescues a damsel from a tower (in this case, an ideological tower) which is surrounded by greenery… So White Night is a play on the old references to a ‘white knight in shining armour’. I liked threading little bits of the story into the book, and flipping the idea too, with a headstrong princess who sort of rescues herself…

Could you tell us about your major characters, Bo and Rory, including their relationships with their parents?

Bo is sixteen, and focused on footy, friends and family – his dad, Aaron, his pregnant mum, Liz and his younger brother, Connor. Bo’s parents are strict but fair, and he feels like he’s cruising along – except for some nagging concerns about what he’s going to do at the end of high school. Rory, on the other hand, has no plans, because her life isn’t lived in a conventional way – she lives in Garden of Eden, an off-the-grid radical environmentalist commune with a very alternative family arrangement. This is her first attempt at real high school and ‘outside’ life, and when she meets Bo, the two of them rub up against each other in curious, life-changing, spark-creating ways.

I think I’d better leave it there – if I give too much away, I’ll be sharing spoilers!

Which of Bo’s school friends would you like to write about further?

Hm, that’s a hard question! Bo’s best mate, Sprog Hamilton, starts out as a total bogan footy bloke and then evolves to have so many layers – Sprog has a wonderful story arc, and I do love Sprog as a character. But Bo’s other friend, Lozzie D’Onofrio, is equally lovely – and maybe has a lot more backstory to explore… I’d happily write about either one of them!

You’ve mentioned the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in White Night. What environmental messages do you want to share?

When I was researching White Night I read an incredible book: The World Without Us by Alan Weismann – it poses the thought experiment of how would nature recover and go on if all the humans in the world just disappeared overnight? That book was mind-blowing and fascinating, and threw out lots of amazing and terrifying facts about the impact of human beings on the planet. I’d love more young people to think hard about the environment and contribute ideas for solutions to some of the problems – it’s their planet too, and I think young people have much to give on this issue, considering they’re so invested in it. We just need to start listening, and acting on their ideas, before things get too urgent.

How have you incorporated the book The Ruins of Gorlan into White Night?

Oh, that book is so great! Every single one of my sons has read The Ruins of Gorlan by John Flanagan, which is the first book in the Ranger’s Apprentice series. That series… It’s so good! And it seems to really appeal to my kids, especially the idea of being a boy (like Will) with an older male mentor (like Halt) and learning all the survival and craft skills necessary for living on the land. I just thought it was a natural fit for Bo and Connor’s story, with echoes of what it’s like being a young boy growing up and searching for male role models.

What have you been reading recently?

I’ve actually been so immersed in writing I haven’t had much reading time – but when I’ve had a break, I’ve been reading Obsidio by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff (O.M.G. that whole series is so incredible!), LIFEL1K3 by Jay Kristoff (I have an ARC! Yes, it’s just that good, I had to steal it from the Allen & Unwin offices!) and also a few books I’m reading for #LoveOzYAbookclub – Gap Year in Ghost Town by Michael Pryor, and Valentine by Jodi McAlister.

And of course, I often grab a romance read when I’m tired or flat – I love Penny Reid, Sarah Mayberry, Kylie Scott and Sarina Bowen. Those ladies bring all the feels!

Thanks very much, Ellie, and all the best with White Night. It will no doubt find a wide and appreciative readership.

Thanks Joy! I hope people enjoy it, and thank you so much for having me to visit!

Ellie Marney’s website 

See Cait’s great review of White Night on the blog.

Review: White Night by Ellie Marney

BUY HERE

White Night by Ellie Marney is a slowly uncoiling tale of highschool and first-love and lowkey cults and the realisation that growing up is very out of your control. I will always and forever be in love with Marney’s writing, and her Sherlock Holmes retellings, Every Breath, Every Word, and Every Move, are some of my absolute favourite Aussie literature. White Night definitely doesn’t disappoint, with a good serving of Australian outback life and the complications of falling for a girl in a cult.

The story follows Bo Mitchell, who is just a typical boy, although slightly internally warring between wanting to please his dad and be a footie star and…well, he also loves to cook. His life consists of the drudge of highschool and farm chores, amongst a backdrop of his mates who love to mess around, and are currently on a fundraising rampage to save the local skate park. But then life shifts a little as a new girl comes to school: Rory Wild. She’s from a local self-sustained closed community that believes humans are ruining the world and they just want to live in peace in their gardens. Rory tiptoes into school searching for something more and while she’s met with hostile bullying for her wild clothing and weird mannerisms and beliefs, she does find Bo. And Bo falls a little bit in love with her free and unhindered way of living too…until he learns what sinister things are going on under the surface of this supposed “Eden”.

It was definitely a book I couldn’t look away from! The pace at the beginning is rather meandering and quiet (but always interesting) but by the end, you have this sick feeling rising and just keep flipping pages wondering if it’ll end in your worst nightmares.

Bo’s narration is a fantastic collision of contrasts. He’s torn between being super blokey to please his farmer dad, and his slang is very typically your outback Aussie, but he also likes taking care of people and he’s interested in food and organic things. He’s so open minded! And this was really refreshing to read?! WE get this 16-year-old boy who’s realistic and makes mistakes and has messy reactions to family strife…but underneath it all he’s the driving force of his own character development. SUCH good news.

Bo also meets this super nice girl called Rory who’s part of a local self-sustaining hippy community. Rory was homeschooled but she decides to try school and Bo becomes besotted with her. It’s slow and sweet and there’s so many “will they/won’t they” moments and I loved their relationship.

The community is called “Garden Of Eden” and it was really interesting. At first it seems such a harmonious and idealistic place, very calm and nice, and everyone was so welcoming…but the further the book progresses the more you see the cultish undertones. The community grows their own food. Uses solar. Makes pottery and weaves and makes anything they actually need. Rory is fantastic person who’s equal parts whimsical and free-spirited, but also realistic and full of deep and complex feelings. You can’t help but root for her to have a good life…even if that might not be the one she’s living now?

The book isn’t a raucous action/adventure, but I did love the quiet feel. There’s lots of school, pottery making, conversations, frolicking about in gardens, bike rides, etc. etc. Bo had family drama, but it wasn’t life-or-death so I wasn’t too strung up about it. I loved his bogan friends, particularly Sprog, who is presented first as a total clown and potential low-life…but he actually has ambitious and ends up picketing the council for a chance to keep the local teen hang-out of the skate park open. His character development was so good I really wish he got his own novel!

White Night is a fantastic story from a not-to-be-missed Aussie author! The ending is a slow build up of intense excruciating feelings and the writing is just delicious and so engaging.

The Perfect Combo: Star Wars + Little Golden Books

There are arguably few greater kids-book combinations than the Little Golden Books and Star Wars. The Star Wars Little Golden Books six-book boxset is the gift I’ve just purchased for, ostensibly, a small child’s birthday.

The reality is that the books are as much for my brother, a giant Star Wars fan, as for his one-year-old daughter, who is way too young to truly appreciate them. That’s both because she can’t yet read and because her consumption of books largely revolves around eating them.

Still, my hope is that these books will be ones to treasure. And yes, it’s the start of me buying books I’d like to read or that hold sentimental, childhood-throwback value.

The boxset contains six of the iconic Star Wars tales:

  • Attack of the Clones
  • A New Hope
  • Return of the Jedi
  • The Empire Strikes Back
  • The Phantom Menace
  • Revenge of the Sith.

‘The epic Star Wars space saga—finally retold in timeless Little Golden Books! Read them all, you must,’ Yoda tells us on the books’ back covers. And really, is there not a more ingenious way of introducing a new generation of potential fans to Star Wars than through the tried and trusted Little Golden Books? Whoever came up with that combination deserves a marketing medal.

The illustrated books feature the most iconic opening line—A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away—and most of the tales’ iconic scenes. That includes the trash compactor one, the Han Solo freezing one, and the ‘Luke, I am your father’ one—scenes that always terrify me in the films and that I can safely say are similarly accurately conveyed in book.

The Ewoks, tauntauns, and AT-AT walkers feature too. Unfortunately, Jar Jar Binks makes an unavoidable appearance, but it’s thankfully brief and contained to only the elements crucial to progressing the story.

In some ways, these versions give a simplified-but-not-too-simplified overview handy for people not overly familiar with the Star Wars universe and its complexities. Or for people who need a quick refresher. And, at roughly 20-ish pages long each, they offer a self-contained pre-bedtime tale that won’t take hours to read.

The question is: I’ve set the bar high for book present purchases. What do I go to next and how can I possibly top Star Wars? Pig the Pug, Thelma the Unicorn, and Piranhas Don’t Eat Bananas are stashed away as next book cabs off the rank. But beyond that, I’m out of options as The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Clifford the Big Red Dog, Hairy Maclary, and Spot are already well and truly covered.

Indigo Blue by Jessica Watson

Jessica Watson is well known for sailing non-stop and unassisted around the world as a 16-year-old – the youngest person to achieve this feat. She also captained the youngest crew ever in the Sydney to Hobart yacht race, has been awarded an OAM and was named Young Australian of the Year in 2011.

Her memoir True Spirit (2010) gives further insight into her indomitable character and her latest literary work is a novel, Indigo Blue (Lothian, Hachette Australia). 

Where are you based, Jessica, and how do you spend your time?

These days I’m based in Melbourne, although I consider the entire east coast of Australia to be home. I’ve just finished studying an MBA and love to go sailing on the weekends.

How does writing resemble sailing?

The main way writing resembles sailing is the importance of persistence!

What is the significance of the title of your novel Indigo Blue?

Indigo Blue is the name of the little run-down yacht that the main character Alex buys, and sets about fixing up.

Could you briefly tell us about your major characters, Alex and Sam?

The main character Alex is independent and practical so she’s pretty surprised when she stumbles into an unlikely mystery.

Sam is an apprentice to the local sailmaker, he’s reserved and there’s something a little bit odd about him.

When Alex first starts at her new school in Year Twelve, her experiences are not what she hopes for. Have you had similar experiences and, if so, how did you cope?

Alex’s experiences not feeling very welcome at a new school are partly drawn from my own experience but as I spent so much of my high school years off sailing I did have to lean quite heavily on the experiences of friends and family.

John, who sold Alex her boat, is patronising at first. Has this been part of your own experience?

The character John is based on a lot of experiences I’ve had, as well as my older sister who works on boats. We’ve both come across my older guys like John who just don’t understand how much girls are capable of. But like John and as frustrating as they are, many of these guys aren’t completely terrible just a little narrow minded.

What age-group have you written your novel for?

Indigo Blue is for anyone aged 9 upwards.

Could you describe any significant response from young people when you’ve presented either of your books to them?

The responses that I’ve most enjoyed are those who say that they’ve been inspired to give sailing a go. It’s also been lovely to receive requests for a sequel.

Of all the places you’ve sailed, where would you be least surprised to find a merperson?

It’s so easy to imagine mythical sea creatures when out to sea surrounded in every direction by empty horizons, but whenever I’ve visited Lake Cootharaba I’ve always wondered what might be lurking beneath the mysterious dark tea-tree coloured waters.

As part of solving a mystery, Alex reads Captain Emanuel William Vance’s historical log and comments about him, You should have been a writer rather than a ship’s captain. What do you admire in writing?

I admire beautiful descriptions, but it’s most important to me that writing sparks curiosity and inspires a spirit of adventure.

What have you been reading recently?

Now that I’ve finished study and don’t have a never-ending list of textbooks to read I’m really enjoying having more time for novels again. I like picking up books of all kinds, but at the moment I’m particularly loving stories with a little history that give me a taste for another time and place.

Jessica Watson
(photo Kate Dyer)

Thanks very much, Jessica, and all the best with your future literary and other careers.

No problem, thanks Joy!

Jessica Watson’s website

Review: When My Heart Joins The Thousand by A.J. Steiger

BUY HERE

When My Heart Joins The Thousand by A.J. Steiger was a fantastically heartfelt story of loneliness, love, finding your place alone in the world, and autism. It has a meandering pace, a slow unfolding of Alvie’s life as an emancipated 17-year-old just trying to get through life and not make any waves. She’s haunted by her suppressed past and isolated due to her PTSD and low self-worth. She also has autism and the representation of a girl on the spectrum, with accuracy and respect to her portrayal, was so wonderful! I would definitely recommend this if you want to read a super good book that includes autism.

The story basically begins with Alvie going about her daily routine of working at the zoo, getting through tedious visits with her social worker, and just trying to survive. But barely. She’s deeply unhappy but refuses to admit it. What she doesn’t want, though, is to fail in living independently and risk her temporary freedom being revoked and then being sent to a group-home. She just has to make it to 18 or get early emancipation and then she’s free. Often she feels as trapped as the animals she works with at the zoo, particularly her favourite one-winged-hawk, Chance. But then her evening routine is interrupted by seeing a boy with a cane throw his phone and have a breakdown in the park and she tentatively returns it. Midnight e-chat conversations begin. Alvie’s scared her anxiety and autism will ruin this friendship before it starts, but what if she took the risk and made friends with this boy who’s so fragile and breakable?

I’d definitely consider this one upper-YA as it focuses more on teens out-of-home. Alvie is 17 and Stanely is 19 and in college (when he’s not in hospital because of his disability). I also totally cheer for good disability rep in books because it’s very hard to find.

The plot is a quiet one. We spend a lot of time getting lost in Alvie’s mind and world, and it’s a quiet and introspective one while she sorts through her feelings and wants and figures out how to just survive. She’s very closed off, but she’s been through such a massive trauma, and the book unveils her backstory very slowly.

The book also deals with the sadder side of autism, like the ableist views of society and how autistic individuals (especially girls) are often ignored or misdiagnosed and mistreated. There’s heartbreaking lines where Alvie, only a little girl at the time, gets told by her mother that “I know there’s a real you locked in there somewhere”…which is one of the cruelest thing an autistic individual can hear. Alvie constantly feels rejected and the need to hide her autism…until Stanley. And I just loved Alvie’s depiction of life as a girl on the spectrum! It was accurate, respectful, and full of ups and downs. Alvie is woeful at social interaction (she doesn’t really care though) and an absolute master at caring for animals. Her love and passion and feelings, expressed differently to the average person, were beautiful on every page.

Alvie and Stanley’s relationship was amazing too! They start off rushing into it, but then back off and learn about each other too. Stanley is a messy character, all in pieces just like Alvie is. He has depression because of his disability where his bones break so very easily. He’s often in a wheelchair, and if not, he uses a cane. He’s an absolute sweetheart, but also crushed with so much self-loathing due to his past as well. I love how Alvie and Stanley weren’t here to “fix” each other, but rather build each other back up.

The book also majorly references Watership Down…which I confess I don’t know! But it didn’t hinder my enjoyment!

When My Heart Joins the Thousand is one you definitely don’t want to miss. It’s a fantastic glimpse into the life of an autistic girl set against the backdrop of a quiet plot about growing up and learning to care about people. It’s full of emotional roller-coaster moments, with squishy warm parts and tragic icy devastation. I loved this journey with Alvie and Stanley!

Hippity Hop – Picture Books for Easter

No, you won’t find cute, fluffy chicks or even prettily decorated eggs in these books, but you will find rabbits and some very funny antics! Rather than teaching Easter traditions, we’re going for more of an entertainment-inspired approach to play with your kids over the break. From a pencil playing hide-and-seek to a can-you-guess game of heads and tails, and a hilarious round of Chinese Whispers / Secret Message, these picture books will keep your little ones guessing til the very end.

If you want to see a bunny ‘crack it’ at Easter time then look no further than Rodney Loses It! With Michael Gerard Bauer’s rhyming narrative that enthrals, enlightens and ensnares the emotions, plus Chrissie Krebs’ boisterous cartoons, it’s no wonder this book has made the 2018 CBCA Book of the Year Shortlist for its winning qualities.

A lesson in how NOT to panic, how NOT to dramatically overreact, and certainly how NOT to lose your cool when you’ve lost something precious. This book is a prime example for children around the 4 to 6 year old mark that tantrums, tears and thumping of feet don’t always solve the problem. Rodney and his exacerbated exasperation doesn’t fail to excite and the longer he searches for his beloved pencil the more it makes us laugh. Especially because we know where it is all along!

Colourfully entertaining, full of action, frustration and utter delight, Rodney Loses It! will have its readers begging to relive this bunny’s meltdown time and time again.

Scholastic Australia, September 2017.

Starting off the hunt is the furry-eared, fluffy-tailed rabbit, on a mission to uncover the truth behind its missing other half on the following page. Heads and Tails by John Canty is a beautifully illustrated, interactive game of prior knowledge, prediction and classification that will have its young readers engaged from head to tail!

Each page delivers three colour-coded clues about a certain creature’s characteristics, accompanied by a watercoloured painting of its behind. “I have long furry ears and a small nose. I live in a burrow in the ground. I have a white fluffy tail. I am a…” Then cleverly, upon turning the page, the answer is revealed in bold black text with a more detailed, textured watercolour and black print image showing the front part of its body. Featuring a menagerie of animals, including a tiger, fish, rhinoceros, turtle, crocodile, plus more, the book continues with its repetitive, clues-and-answer format. Not to say there isn’t a little trick or two in there to keep readers on their sharp-witted toes!

Educationally fun, lively to read aloud and play, with a variety of vocabulary and animals to learn, young children will adore Heads and Tails for its spunkiness and rhythm.

Berbay Publishing, May 2017.

Everyone knows that the game Chinese Whispers or Secret Message (Broken Telephone?) usually ends up in a linguistic mess! And this one involves a highly important message about what to bring to a friend’s surprise birthday party. In What the Fluffy Bunny said to the Growly Bear, what DID the fluffy bunny actually say to the growly bear? P. Crumble and Chris Saunders send us along this whacky line of mixed-up messages that keeps us gasping for breath, and squirming with unease at the confusing, amusing calamity that unfolds.

Immediately we are drawn in with Fluffy Bunny’s valiant call for Growly Bear’s attention, and the digitally masterful prominence of the illustrations. But as soon as the characters speak the tone becomes light, and the pictures, airy and sweet, sealing the story’s playful mood and innocence. The bunny’s original instructions were to wear a hat and bring a cake for Zebra’s party. As each animal passes this on, the message becomes more and more woolly with other similar sounding words for ‘hat’ and ‘cake’, such as ‘cat’ and ‘steak’, ‘mat’ and ‘plate’, ‘acrobat’ and ‘snake’, and so on. And when the animals finally come together to deliver their surprise to Zebra, he is not the only one who is surprised…and totally confused!

The illustrations stand out with big, burly characters, just like Growly Bear, accenting a gorgeous backing softness, just like Fluffy Bunny. What the Fluffy Bunny said to the Growly Bear is a gigglicious combination of fun, rhyme, language, short-term memory awareness… and chaos, that will be ‘well-received’ by preschool-aged children these holidays.

Koala Books, Scholastic, March 2018.

Review: Let’s Talk About Love by Claire Kann

BUY HERE

Let’s Talk About Love by Claire Kann is the kind of adorable and cute book you need to brighten your life. I’ll go ahead and call it the CUTEST thing, proved by the fact that the protagonist, Alice, actually rates things on a cute scale! I mean it doesn’t get better than that. (Also it could be accused of being adorkable too.) It’s all about growing up and striking out on your own in those last years of being a teen while  you tackle college. It’s about coming-out and discovery and not being ashamed of who  you are. So wholesome and heart-filling!

The story follows Alice who’s in college and completely unsure what to do with her life. For more than one reason. For starters, she’s asexual and her ex-girlfriend just dumped her with accusations that Alice couldn’t really feel love. (Alice is so enraged at this lie.) And also Alice is under huge pressure from her parents to be a lawyer but…she really doesn’t want that. Then to top off the stress, her best friends are getting married and slowly forgetting about her and she just met this super-cute-boy at the library but how can she tell him her feelings?! After what her ex said, isn’t it better if Alice doesn’t let anyone know she’s asexual and just skips the pain of rejection?

I love how  the book deeply tackled the topic of asexuality, which is hugely underrepresented in media. Alice doesn’t want sex, but she does love romance — the cute and cliche kind too! She wants cuddles and roses and romantic walks and kisses, but she knows for most people that isn’t enough. Her asexuality is something she’s hiding, something she has to own. I think the book did a good job of discussing the fears and complications of coming out and it also dismantled a lot of horrible stereotypes and untruths people have about asexuality meaning you have no interest in romance. For some people that might be true, but it wasn’t for Alice.

The romance is definitely a huge feature in the book! Alice meets Takumi while working at the library and her cute-meter immediately explodes. She’s  scared to take it past friendship though, but these two (!!) you will absolutely root for their slowburn romance. Yes, they start off with insta-attraction and sparks, but the actual growth of their relationship is lovely and slow. Takumi himself is a total gift to this universe with how sweet and kind he is. He’s practically perfect and he fits so well with Alice…except for the part where they don’t tell each other the full truths all the time.

Seeing the world from Alice’s perspective was an adorable cuteness explosion. She is such a real and relatable character. She loves Pinterest and watching TV shows, she says “squee” and mentions tumblr. Her anxiety has her blurt out regrettable things and she believes food will cure all heartache. There is literally ONLY things to love about her.

There’s also a huge emphasis on friendship. I’m all heart eyes for friendship too, and the bond of Alice + her two BFF’s, Feenie and Ryan, will make your heart sing. too. Although  there is strife amongst these three as Feenie and Ryan are preparing to marry and Alice feels pushed out. But when Alice starts spending extra time with Takumi…Feenie and Ryan feel she’s shutting them down. Their friendships are complex and intricately woven and the dynamics just leap off  the page and make you wish you could watch a TV series with them and eat Chinese late at night.

The plot itself is pretty quiet and calm. It’s not a high-racing heart-pounding book…and it’s quite mellow and focuses solely on the characters. I loved reading the day-to-day things and just being truly Alice for 300 pages.

Let’s Talk About Love is the cute-fest you’ve been waiting for. It’s light and fluffy, but still talks about relatable and more serious topics, like pleasing your family, heavy expectations, and being true to yourself.

Turn Back Time – Middle Grade Magic

If you could turn back time, erase your mistakes, remember what you did with your car keys or even better, find those missing precious memories and loved ones, would you? These two middle grade novels explore the premise of losing someone inexplicably and the emotions produced through relentless searching for those missing loved ones.

A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L’Engle

The IBBY International Children’s Book Day logo, ‘The small is big in a book’ certainly chimes true for A Wrinkle in Time. That it has stood the test of time is testament to this tale (first published in 1963), which I had never read as a child. If I had, I might not have recognised it as a bewitching hybrid of sci-fi, adventure, fantasy, and dystopia. For those living in another dimension like me or have not seen the movie yet, A Wrinkle in Time is a story of discovery and tenacity. It also (re)defines the power of friendship and love.

Continue reading Turn Back Time – Middle Grade Magic

YA Books About Artists (Part 2)

Being a bookworm, I have a huge appreciation for art. After all, books are definitely a heartfelt kind of art! But I also do enjoy the physical drawing, painting, and textile kind of artistry, which is why books featuring artists are some of my favourites. Also probably because my drawing looks like a drunk chicken scratching lines with a teaspoon. But fine. I will come to books for my art fix.

Last year I did a list of YA books with artists, so welcome to Part 2! You can never have enough of books on your TBR pile after all.


THE DANGEROUS ART OF BLENDING IN BY ANGELO SURMELIS

PURCHASE HERE

This is a recent new favourite of mine and features a closeted Greek boy just trying to make his way in the world and avoid confrontation with his terrible abusive mother. He’s torn between wanting to please her, to be loved, and to be true to himself and not ashamed of being gay.

He uses art as an escape from his torturous life and I loved how his notebooks were so precious to him. They were truly his favourite belongings and if he wanted you to know his heart, he’d let you see his work. Such a beautiful reminder of how an artist is part of their art.

 

IT LOOKS LIKE THIS BY RAFI MITTLEFEHLDT

PURCHASE HERE
PURCHASE HERE

This is also about a closeted boy who’s 14 and only just discovering his attraction to boys. Mike is honestly one of the most soft and sweet people, but his life is about being quiet and not causing waves in his uber-religious family. After a move from his childhood home, he has to fit into a new school…something he dreads until he meets Sean, a basketball star who takes a quiet interest in Mike. They end up working on a French project together and sparks begin. But it definitely doesn’t go down well with either family. Mike also loves to draw and the cover is actually a nod to the sunset he draws as his favourite memory with Sean.

YOU’RE WELCOME UNIVERSE BY WHITNEY GARDNER

PURCHASE HERE

This is a slightly different look at the traditional artist because…hello to graffiti art! The book is about Julia, who’s super passionate about using her voice through graffiti. She’s also deaf and struggling in a new school where people treat her differently because of her disability. Since graffiti is one of her only releases in a stressful situation, she really takes pride in what she does: until someone else starts “fixing” her work. How infuriating can you get?! She has to track down the vandal to her vandalism before it turns into graffiti war.

 

STARFISH BY AKEMI DAWN BOWEN

PURCHASE HERE

This is one of my absolute favourite contemporaries, which deals with abuse and art and heartbreak. Honestly, it’ll make your feels ache for what Kiko has to go through. Her parents have divorced and her dad is off with his “new family” while Kiko is left with two brothers who ignore her and a mother who systematically emotionally abuses her. Kiko is also biracial and Japanese, and her mother is white, and the constant barbs and disgust at Kiko’s Japanese side from her own mother is really detrimental to Kiko’s life. She’s super anxious and constantly feels abandoned. Her art is her pride and joy and all she wants is to get into an amazing art school, escape, and truly live. But then her childhood sweetheart, Jamie, returns home and possibly offers Kiko a way out.

This one is so heartfelt and perfect! The art is on every page and there are snippets of Kiko’s art described before each chapter.

Everyone Belongs – Harmony Day Picture Books

Today, Harmony Day, is a day of celebration, marking the significance of community inclusion, diversity, respect and belonging. As my kids went off to school in their orange attire and stocked with their cultural lunch, they are amongst the nation representing a position of peace, togetherness and harmony. To follow on this auspicious day, we will be reading some inspiring and poignant books, a few of which are listed here.

This hauntingly stunning picture book by Margaret Wild, with stirring illustrations by Freya Blackwood, will have readers gasping with bated breath at its tainted beauty. The Feather, a symbol of redemption and hope, floats with its message of how one object can be so powerful in bringing people together, and also how quickly that faith can be lost. But with that inner light and love, it can not only be restored but also prospered.

Wild’s poetic, visual narrative is as soft, light and silky as the regal feather it represents, conjuring deep reflection and emotion within its harrowingly dark, war-torn setting. Blackwood beautifully does the same with her expert use of light and shade, highlighting the glimmers of hope amongst the grey and ghostly village. And with the strength of two inspiring children as the central characters to help signify the sense of safety, warmth and optimism with the clean feather, overcoming its muddied, spoiled shadow of life, is a brilliant concept that this superb pairing have perfected.

The Feather is a striking reminder of the importance of community and living together in harmony to reach a common goal of peace, happiness and a fighting spirit. Meaningful, majestic and masterful for primary aged children.

Little Hare Books, February 2018.

In association with Amnesty International UK, and a special foreword note by Yoko Ono Lennon, this heart rending rendition of John Lennon’s 1971 hit song, Imagine, feels poignant and powerful, empowering and inspirational. It is a beautiful book to share with every generation every day, and particularly on a day like today’s Harmony Day.

The pigeon, or dove (symbol of peace) in the book takes its readers / listeners on a journey over the waters and across the world, welcoming a colourful and varied array of birds to join him. The lyrics relay the message of living in peace without restrictions of borders, predujices against religions and cultures, or material things. Hence the wording, “Imagine there’s no countries. It isn’t hard to do. Nothing to kill or die for, and no religion too. Imagine all the people living life in peace.”

Jean Jullien is a perfectly suited illustrator for this book with his bold black line and brightly coloured drawings; simple, charismatic and impactful. His images are joyous and energetic and heartwarmingly represent how “the world will live as one.”

Our younger generation of preschool and primary school children will hopefully carry forth this valuable mission of human rights; of equality, safety, belonging and love, in helping to Imagine and ‘make the world a better place.’

Frances Lincoln Children’s Books, September 2017.

Hello!, illustrated by Tony Flowers, is a playful and exotic blend of cultures following twelve children from different backgrounds. We meet kids from Indigenous and Torres Strait Islander communities, to Asian and European heritage. Each section introduces a child and describes some special qualities and traditions like cuisine, clothing, language, recreation and holidays. The book is complete with guides on pronunciation of terms from each language and photographs adopted from various resources.

Flowers casts a wonderful representation of diversity and energy with his detailed pencil and watercolour illustrations.

Hello! is a terrific resource to have in every early childhood and primary school setting. This book certainly acknowledges, represents and celebrates our wide mix of multiculturalism in our country to encourage the value that ‘everyone belongs’.

NLA, April 2016.

Happy Harmony Day!

2018 NSW Premier’s Literary Awards – youth shortlists

The 2018 NSW Premier’s Literary Awards shortlists have just been announced. I’m enamoured of literary works across ages but am here featuring the books in the two youth shortlists because I’ve already read them all. And I’ve read them, not just because I chaired the judging panel of the Patricia Wrightson Prize for Children’s Literature with insightful co-judges Robin Morrow and Tohby Riddle, but because these are books worth reading.

Patricia Wrightson Prize for Children’s Literature (follow the link to read the judges’ reports)

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

The Patchwork Bike is a stunning, ground-breaking picture book; an exuberant fusion of words, colour and texture. It has already won a CBCA Honour book award and I’ve mentioned it several times on the Boomerang Books blog.

 

The Elephant by Peter Carnavas (University of Queensland Press)

The profound theme of a child grieving for a parent is told in finely crafted words and images, with simpatico black and white line drawings.

 

Blossom by Tamsin Janu (Omnibus Books for Scholastic Australia)

Tamsin Janu has been shortlisted twice in the Patricia Wrightson category this year. Blossom is an exciting, original novel set seemingly in the real world but with subtle sci-fi content. It brilliantly alludes to the plight of aliens and refugees.

 

Figgy Takes the City by Tamsin Janu (Omnibus Books for Scholastic Australia)

Even though very young, Tamsin Janu is an old hand at the NSW PLA. Since her first novel Figgy in the World co-won the Patricia Wrightson award a few years ago, her two subsequent Figgy books (all set in Ghana) have also been shortlisted.

Tamsin Janu will be speaking in Strathfield, Sydney, on Saturday 7th April at an IBBY event.

The Sorry Tale of Fox and Bear by Margrete Lamond and illustrated by Heather Vallance (Dirt Lane Press)

 Elegant yet mischievous, this illustrated book is the first publication by Dirt Lane Press. The Sorry Tale of Fox and Bear should become a universal classic.

 

How to Bee by Bren MacDibble (Allen & Unwin)

A timely and thoughtful dystopia set in the near future when bees have become extinct. It is engaging for children as well as being a fine piece of writing. The issue of domestic violence makes it most suitable for older children.

Bren MacDibble is also shortlisted as Cally Black in the Ethel Turner Prize.

 

Ethel Turner Prize for Young People’s Literature  (follow the link to read the judges’ reports)

In the Dark Spaces by Cally Black (Hardie Grant Egmont)

It is fantastic to see sci-fi appear in literature awards that aren’t specifically for spec fiction. In the Dark Places will open your mind and possibly change your views.

Cally Black is shortlisted as Bren MacDibble in the Patricia Wrightson awards also.

 

The Blue Cat by Ursula Dubosarsky (Allen & Unwin)

Ursula Dubosarsky’s creation of atmosphere is always masterful and her portrayal of children warm yet enigmatic. I reviewed The Blue Cat for The Weekend Australian here.

 

The Ones that Disappeared by Zana Fraillon (Hachette Australia)

A consummate thread of magic realism, including a golem creation, runs through this novel to diffuse the horror of the important and harrowing issue of child trafficking. I reviewed it for The Weekend Australian here.

 

A Shadow’s Breath by Nicole Hayes (Penguin Random House Australia)

Lovely writing style by Nicole Hayes unveils a story set in the past and present. I interviewed Nicole for Boomerang Books blog here.

 

Build-Up Season by Megan Jacobson (Penguin Random House Australia)

Megan Jacobson was shortlisted for the 2017 CBCA awards for her impressive debut Yellow. Now she tackles youth domestic violence as the NT ‘build-up’ season ignites.

 

Ballad for a Mad Girl by Vikki Wakefield (Text Publishing)

As always by Vikki Wakefield, this is writing that digs under your skin. The first scene is utterly unforgettable.  I reviewed it for The Weekend Australian here.

 

The winner of each category will be announced on Monday 30th April at the State Library of NSW. I believe tickets may still be available.

Out of This World – Junior Fiction that Take You Places

One of the reasons I always had my head thrust deep into a book as a child was because I just could not get out. Stories take you places. Great stories make you want to stay there. This trio of junior to middle grade novels allows children to slip effortlessly into other worlds to live, dare, survive and marvel at places and people far different from the ones they already know. Enjoy.

The Spectacular Holly-Day by Dave Lowe Illustrated by The Boy Fitz H

Dave Lowe’s relaxed narrative style earns plenty of laughs, guaranteeing it to win the attention of adventure-loving primary schoolers. The Spectacular Holly-Day follows on from The Incredible Dadventure and The Mumbelievable Challenge and is more fun than a barrel of monkeys. Despite the almost travelogue introduction, the story revs up once adventure seeking Holly Day sets out on her own in a strange new country, Malaysia and manages to foil the destruction of a local environmentally rich island by ruthless developers. The comical comic-style illustrations add an atmosphere of fun, yet Holly and the people she meets during her Malay stay feel real and purposeful. Conservation balances easily with themes of friendship, perseverance, habitat destruction and family. Lowe also manages to create a thick air of authenticity with the use of plenty of Malay lingo and food that will appeal to readers from seven years of age and above.

Bonnier September 2017

Continue reading Out of This World – Junior Fiction that Take You Places

YA Psychological Thriller: ‘Neverland’ by Margot McGovern

I hope it is the beginning of a trend but there are a couple of excellent Australian YA psychological thrillers around. It reminds me of former glory days when Victor Kelleher’s inimitable Del Del was published.

Margot McGovern’s Neverland (Penguin Random House Australia) is an invigorating, assured debut which blends fascinating, yet threatening, fantasy tropes; and elements from Peter Pan, into the risk-taking activities of Kit and some of her fellow ‘Lost Ones’.

Thank you for speaking with Boomerang Books Blog, Margot.

My absolute pleasure. Thank you for having me.

Where are you based and what is your background?

I’m from Adelaide and recently moved back after living in Melbourne and Perth for a number of years. I always wanted to be a writer and was accepted into the BCA writing program at Flinders University after finishing school, then continued on to do a creative writing PhD. I moved to Melbourne while finishing my thesis and worked for a (now defunct) cycling magazine. After graduating, I went part-time at the magazine to try my hand at freelancing and start work on Neverland. When my husband’s job then took us to Perth, I switched to writing full-time and also joined the book blogging community (although my blog’s been a tad neglected since my daughter was born last year).

What is the significance of the title Neverland?

My protagonist, Kit, is seeking a way back to the magical childhood of her memory; however, the harder she tries to relive that time, the more distorted and nightmarish her memories become. So with the title, I wanted to evoke the sense of a dream-like place that may or may not be real and remains just beyond reach. The story pays homage to J. M. Barrie’s Peter and Wendy and I was very taken with the way Barrie describes his Never Neverland as a place we forever yearn for but can never return to: ‘On these magic shores children at play are forever beaching their coracles. We too have been there; we can still hear the sound of the surf, though we shall land no more.’

How does the cover hint at the treasures inside?

I’m still pinching myself over the cover! It was designed by Chista Moffitt and the beautiful illustrations are by Eveline Tarunadjaja. Kit’s romanticised childhood memories are based on the stories and myths her dad invented about the island where she grew up and the illustrations represent key symbols in those stories.

Why have you set the story on an island?

There were a few reasons. I wanted to reference to Barrie’s Never Neverland and to give my characters a place where they could take a time out from the wider world. But I also wanted to isolate Kit within a specific geography imprinted with layers of memory and story. And then, because the narrative is about a girl renegotiating her relationship with her past, I wanted a landscape where I could mix in some of my own nostalgia, and being a beach kid, an island seemed a fitting choice.

Could you tell us about Kit, Doc and some of your other characters?

I have a soft spot for so-called ‘unlikeable’ and unreliable narrators, and Kit reflects that; she’s prickly and self-destructive. But she’s also deeply vulnerable—a character in crisis who is trying to figure things out but making mistakes along the way.

Her uncle and guardian, Doc, is almost the opposite. However, he was forced to grow up too quickly and is consequently quite reserved. He and Kit were once very close but there’s been a lot of miscommunication between them and they’re struggling to salvage their relationship.

Doc’s looked after Kit since her parents were drowned in a sailing accident when Kit was ten. He’s also a psychiatrist and has turned their small family island into a boarding school for troubled teens. Among the students at the school are Kit’s two best friends, Alistair and Gypsy, and a new boy named Rohan who shares Kit’s desire for make-believe.

Your main characters are about to leave school. Is this the age group of your intended readers?

The story is very dark in places and and deals with suicide, self-harm, and mental illness, so I was aiming for the upper end of YA.

Neverland has some important underpinning themes and issues. Could you share any of these.

The original idea for the story grew out of a sense of misplaced nostalgia. I was feeling apprehensive about the future and decided to comfort myself by rereading Peter and Wendy, which I’d loved as a kid. However, the book was much darker and more violent than I remembered and I started thinking about how, in times of uncertainty and upheaval, we often yearn for a romanticised version of the past and how this kind of nostalgia can prevent us from finding a way forwards.

I was also interested in the idea of who gets to tell a story, and what is reframed or omitted in the telling—and particularly in the fact that historically, women’s voices have often been silenced or ignored and their roles diminished. So I wanted to write a story where a young woman is forced to question the mythology of her world and her place within it.

How have you paid homage to other authors and literature in your plot, setting or characters? 

In the months before I started working on Neverland and while I was writing, I reread a lot of old favourites—Peter and Wendy, Treasure Island, The Odyssey, The Great Gatsby—and the story, in part, grew out that process of rereading, so it felt important to give those texts a place in the manuscript. They helped inform the story’s key themes, but also gave Kit a library to draw on as she struggles to find her voice and a way to tell her story. Then because nostalgia, and particularly a nostalgia for stories, is such an important part of the narrative, I looked for opportunities to work in little references to other favourites as well.

What have you enjoyed reading recently?

Well, now you’ve opened a can of worms! I’ve been reading some incredible home-grown YA: Tin Heart by Shivaun Plozza, The Centre of My Everything by Allayne Webster, Untidy Towns by Kate O’Donnell and Take Three Girls by Cath Crowley, Simmone Howell and Fiona Wood. Also, The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert from the US. And for something completely different, I’ve gone back to Daphne du Maurier (an old favourite) to read The House on the Strand and absolutely loved The Radium Girls by Kate Moore, even though I cried most of the way through. 

I can’t wait to get lost in your next work. What are you writing at the moment? Would you write Kit’s dad’s Kingdom by the Sea as a companion piece – perhaps with illustrations?

That’s an interesting idea (especially the illustrations part), but Kit’s world feels closed to me for the time being. That said, I loved working on the thread of magic realism in Neverland, so I’m taking that a giant leap further and currently working on a YA urban fantasy with mythological roots.

Thanks Margot, and all the best with Neverland. Your next books sounds just as fascinating.

Review: Summer of Salt by Katrina Leno

Summer of Salt by Katrina Leno was the beautifully magical time I always expect from this author! And excuse me while I sit here all starry-eyed, but this was EXACTLY as beautiful and magical as I hoped. In the past I’ve been  fully  in love with her books, Everything All At Once, The Lost & Found, and The Half Life of Molly Pierce.

The story is about Georgina Fernweh who’s on the cusp of leaving her home island to start college…and this will be  the first time she’s ever left. Not to mention she’s from a family where magic is real and is passed down through the generations. (There may be tales of grandmas who’ve turned into birds, aunts who control fire, and potion makers and ones that fly.) Her own twin sister, Mary, floats, and her mother does magical things on full moons that can make anything happen. Unfortunately Georgie is 100%  unmagical and her last summer on the island, By-the-Sea, is turning into a bittersweet farewell because: she has met Prue, the cutest girl, but also a tragedy  has struck the island and everything threatens to collapse unless Georgie can figure it out.

On the island of By-the-sea  you could always smell two things: salt and magic.

This one is slightly more magicy than the others Leno has written, with a family living on an island who actually do downright witchy things like float and turn into birds and make potions. But all in such a chill way that you kind of can look at it without looking at it. Or that’s what the other islanders do. I absolutely loved the world. And it was all The Scorpio Races vibes mixed with every Anna-Marie McLemore and I just couldn’t put it down. Whimsical but also with a really hard-hitting underlying story to make your face kind of water.

I loved the twins, Georgie (our narrator) and Mary, who are polar opposites but deeply supportive of each other. Their bond goes through the wringer, but it’s the kind of sibling story that is equal parts relatable and fantastic to read.

And Georgie and Prue were the cutest thing. Prue is visiting the island with her birdwatching brother and Georgie (obviously) lives there and her family runs the inn. But Georgie pretends to be chill at first but ohhh the crush is just THE CUTEST. It was so soft and sweet and I just loved them and how their friendship and feelings developed. Ah! I also loved  how there were solid female friendships in the background and the hint of all things mystical and maybe even sinister lurking in the shadows.

And it does have a pretty darker undertone at the end. Which I thought was addressed and handled so well.

Basically Summer of Salt will NOT disappoint! I was totally swept up in the magic of this, and the aesthetic of the quaint and weird island, and people shedding feathers and eating cake and mysteries threatening to tear their world apart. SO GOOD.

Look out for Summer of Salt coming June 5th, 2018! Preorder now!

Colour, Counting and Fun with Lucy Cousins

Legendary author – illustrator Lucy Cousins of the Maisy fame and the effervescent Hooray for… (Fish / Birds) series returns with some gloriously colourful newbies for little ones. Best known for her captivating learning books and ingenious simplicity over a range of age-appropriate topics for toddlers, these current titles are suitably superb. And here they are…

Splish, Splash, Ducky!, with its medley of bold, vibrant colours, intoxicating rhyme and adorably animated characters is like a toddler’s favourite play time come true in a picture book. The main character, Ducky Duckling, is the ultimate depiction of a curious, enthusiastic, and adventurous youngster up for anything that involves splashing in water, schmoozing with slimy critters and some playful activities. The book contains a scrumptious blend of small creatures one might find in the garden or around the pond on a rainy day, and the way Ducky interacts with them is just infectious. Cousins cleverly integrates the repetitive phrase, ‘Quack, quack, quack’ along with some onomatopoeia to add to the characters’ pure delight in their little games. And of course, no book for young children is complete without a bonding experience between parent and child as daddy duck provides the duckling with a sense of security, comfort, fun and love.
Two to five year olds will adore this playful story and happy-go-lucky Ducky, knowing after a busy adventure with friends there is always a soft spot awaiting them at the end of the day.

We’ve seen Lucy Cousins’ gorgeous counting books with Maisy and friends. In this ‘A Little Fish Book’ series, Count with Little Fish is yet another kinesthetically mesmerising board book for little hands. Exploring numbers from one through to ten, a progressive counting pattern of fish find their way swimming into our hearts and minds. Being able to touch and feel the embossed, decorated shiny numerals and their associated fish on the opposite page provides the young audience with a highly interactive mathematical reading experience. The language facet is also fetchingly engaging with its exuberant rhyme. “Three counting fish…one, two, three! Four flying fish, flapping wild and free.” “Seven scary fish, with sharp teeth to feed. Eight shy fish hiding in seaweed.” Cousins keeps the colour palette appropriately eye-catching with blue and green backgrounds to offset the vibrant, and often contrasting, cartoon fish.
Brilliant fun and learning, perfect as a first book for babies and as a repeat read for toddlers.

Where is Little Fish? is another new title in the ‘A Little Fish Book’ series. This time, it’s a game of seek and find with a lift-the-flap component. Little Fish, as featured in sparkling gold on the front cover, engages his friends, and us, to find him in amongst the underwater nursery of coral, shells and even a treasure chest. With the continual questioning, ‘Is Little Fish in the…’, or ‘Is Little Fish behind the…’, readers are encouraged to make predictions and experience trial and error as they open the flap to discover the actual identities. Naturally, it is only on the final page where we succeed, but not without a little surprise to enlighten all the senses. Friendly fishy faces grace the vivid pages set in simple primary-based colours and patterned accents to create the maximum impact. This perfectly sturdy and compact book makes for a terrific accompaniment to the other Lucy Cousins board books for children up to age three.

Walker Books UK, March 2018.

Review: A Taxonomy of Love by Rachael Allen

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A Taxonomy of Love by Rachael Allen is an entirely adorable story that mixes fluff and angst until you have a book you absolutely can’t put down. I really appreciated how it hit some hard topics too, and gave me a lot to think about, in between a slow burn romance, lots of smiles, and some super cute moments to melt into. I also was absolutely keen to read this one because it features a character with Tourette’s Syndrome, and disabilities definitely need to be more prominent in YA! There is no disappointment to be had here at all.

The story follows Spencer from age 13 to 19 and beings the day he sees Hope move in next door. She’s something special (magical!) and he’s sort of half in love with her from the moment he sees her. But life isn’t a Disney film and things don’t quite go like they have in his head. But she’s not scared off by his Tourette’s and she loves the same things he does, like hiking and climbing and planning wild adventures around the world. But as Spencer and Hope grow up, things aren’t super clear cut anymore and complications arise: like older brothers swooping in to woe a girl you like, or terrible tragedies, or medication that screws you around, or trying to fit in to a world that has no interest in catering for you. Spencer draws taxonomies to try and figure everything out, but sometimes things don’t fit in boxes, do they?

I particularly loved how Tourette’s Syndrome and disabilities were handled in this book! Spencer is such a winning and relatable character, and I really loved reading about his highs and lows as he dealt with his disability. The book does discuss medication and treatments too, the good and the bad of it. Sometimes Spencer’s tics were so bad they physically hurt him, but other times his neurodiversity was a huge plus for his wrestling. And it was also refreshing and glorious that this book gives us a character with a disability where the focus of the story isn’t just Tourette’s and it never turns into Spencer’s tragedy. Neurodiverse kids deserve fluffy amazing books too, and I’m so glad this exists.

It also takes place over 7 years. Spencer starts off as a gawky 13 year old, desperate to impress Hope who just moved in next door while she has heart eyes for his older brother. It gives about 3 or so chapters to each year and fills the book with super great formatting, like some texts, letters, and lots of taxonomies drawn by Spencer. It unwinds Spencer and Hope’s relationship, which is never simple and sometimes poisonous, and it takes you on “will they, won’t they” roller coaster ride.

Spencer’s narration was absolutely the best. He’s simultaneously dorky and nerdy but a little bit of  a jock with his foray into wrestling (which he’s super good at). As the book takes us through the years, we watch him grow up and his voice on the page matures and changes too to reflect this. It’s so well written. The message of “being different sometimes sucks, but it is also cool when you find your people and can just find a place to fit into the world in your own way” was so lovingly and respectfully woven through the pages. It just makes your heart feel full to read.

A Taxonomy of Love is definitely going on your to-be-read list. It’s a lovely story, but also hits some tough subjects like grief, discrimination, and ableism, and it does everything so well. It’s about messy people who make mistakes and second (or third or fourth) chances. Plus it’s an addictive and fun read. What more could you want?!

Food Glorious Food – Delectable Picture Books

Food glorious food – I cannot get enough of it. Nor picture books that feature it. It’s hard not to over-indulge on food-inspired stories. Fill up on these satisfying little morsels.

Food is Fun

My Magnificent Jelly Bean Tree by Maura Finn and Aura Parker

After a small boy’s imagination takes root, a magical tree grows producing mouthfuls of marvellously juicy jelly beans under a canopy of cheerfulness and fun allowing the boy to be whomever he pleases and gad about ‘rudie nude’ in the rain. Filled with Parker’s delicious linear illustrations, …Jelly Bean Tree is an exuberant testimony to the potency of imagination and belief.

Amply appetising for 4 – 8-year-olds.

New Frontier Publishing May 2016

Continue reading Food Glorious Food – Delectable Picture Books

Different Ways of Learning: ‘Found in Melbourne’ & ‘Oi Cat!’

In ground-breaking publishing, two versions of a children’s picture book will be published simultaneously in English and Chinese by a mainstream Australian publisher. Found in Melbourne is written by Joanne O’Callaghan, illustrated by Kori Song, and the Chinese edition translated by Kevin Yang. It is published by Allen & Unwin.

The two hardcover books have identical illustrations, but one has a text in English and the other in ‘Simplified Chinese’.  It is set in Melbourne and further afield with locations such as Luna Park, the State Library of Victoria, the Great Ocean Road and Puffing Billy Railway. These places and further information about them is also given at the end of the books.

Beginning or ESL readers are assisted by the simple rhyming text. For example, ‘4 Four bicycles on the path by the bay. A trip to Tasmania sailing away… 10 Ten clocks at the station where we meet for the train. Bring an umbrella, it could start to rain!’

As well as exploring Melbourne, these are counting books. Young readers have the opportunity to learn or practise numerals from 1 to 12, then the big numbers 100, 1000 and 1,000,000.

There are many interesting details such as one of Sidney Nolan’s iconic Ned Kelly paintings which makes an incognito appearance in the scene set at the National Gallery of Victoria. The girl and boy protagonists have red and black hair respectively.

Part of the rationale behind the books is that Victoria recently had almost 600,000 Chinese people visit annually, the Chinese population of Melbourne is increasing and over 75,000 schoolchildren are learning Mandarin in Victoria.

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I was excited to see a new picture book by Essex-based Kes Grey, funny man creator of laugh-out-loud Billy’s Bucket and many other books. Oi Cat! (Hachette) is another picture book where Grey collaborates with illustrator Jim Field. It follows Oi Frog! and Oi Dog! 

 Like Found in Melbourne, Oi Cat! uses a rhyming text that is perfect for young readers. The rhyme, humour and anticipation will keep children reading and their vocabulary and spelling will be extended along the way, particularly by some of the animals’ names such as ‘alpaca’ (which rhymes with ‘cream cracker’), ‘armadillo’ (which rhymes with ‘pillow’), ‘dingoes’ (which rhymes with ‘flamingos’) and ‘gnats’, which cats sit on here instead of on ‘mats’. The narrative follows the dilemma of what cats could alternatively sit on and this creates playful reinforcement of the ‘-at’ *rime. There is also sly discussion about what hogs and mogs sit on: generating many ‘-og’ words such as ‘clog … cog … jog’ and a surprise and somewhat painful-looking ending. 

*rime Separate phonemes in a syllable can normally be broken into two parts. The rime is a vowel and any subsequent consonants (for example, in the word ‘cat’ the rime is /at/). Word families can be constructed using common rimes such as /at/ in ‘cat’, ‘pat’. (from the Australian Curriculum)

Missing by Sue Whiting

Sue Whiting is a stalwart of Australian literature for young people. She writes across categories, including picture books, non-fiction and novels for children and young adults and has had a successful career in publishing for Walker Books Australia. Her most recent work is Missing, a novel for middle grade.

Thanks for speaking with Boomerang Books, Sue.

Where are you based and what is your background? 

I am based in a small coastal village about an hour south of Sydney. I started my working life as a primary school teacher, specialising in literacy education and Reading Recovery. In 2005, I left teaching to pursue a career in publishing and was Publishing Manager and Senior Commissioning Editor at Walker Books for ten years.

What led to your career in children’s books and what are some highlights? 

I developed a passion for children’s books as a young teacher and this eventually led me to want to write my own books. It took me about ten years before I was brave enough to give this writing caper a crack though. Editing, well, I fell into editing by extreme accident – through submitting a manuscript to a small start-up publisher and ending up with the job as editor of their children’s list – but once I started working in this field, I found that I loved this side of the process equally as much as writing. And I learnt a heck of a lot about writing along the way too!

Highlights! Wow, that’s really tricky, because there have been so many. Holding your book baby for the first time is always very special, but the unexpected letter or email or message from someone who has been touched by your work in some way is without doubt the best feeling ever. Just last week, I received a video message from a three-year-old boy telling me how much he loved one of my early novelty books. That was pretty awesome.

In terms of my publishing career, I think nurturing the early careers of wonderful writers such Meg McKinlay, Sandy Fussell and Anna Branford, to name but a few, stands out as a highlight and what I am most proud of.

Could you tell us about some of the books you’ve written? 

I write across many age groups and genres, from picture books through to YA. My bestseller is The Firefighters, illustrated by Donna Rawlins. It celebrates its tenth year in print this year, which is wonderful, as books don’t tend to stay in print for very long these days. My award winner is A Swim in the Sea, illustrated by Meredith Thomas and my last published book was the nonfiction picture book, Platypus, illustrated by Mark Jackson. It was such a joy to write because I was able to write lyrically about this unique Australian animal. The Firefighters, Platypus and my YA novel, Portraits of Celina have all been published in the US and Platypus has just recently been published in Korea. Missing is my first middle grade novel since Get a Grip, Cooper Jones, which was published eight years ago

What genre is your new book Missing and what is the significance of its title?

Missing is a contemporary mystery/suspense novel for readers 10+. The story revolves around the disappearance of the mother of my central character, Mackenzie. So the title refers directly to the fact that Mackenzie’s mother is missing. But the word “missing” has many connotations. I love that it also relates to Mackenzie missing her mother, her missing out on so many things because her mother is missing and also her quest to find the missing pieces in the puzzle of her disappearance.

Could you tell us about your protagonist Mackenzie and some other characters?

Mackenzie is a pretty typical twelve-year-old girl. She lives in southern Sydney and is caught up in the excitement of the last weeks of primary school when her mother goes missing. She loves art, particularly working in black and white.

Maggie da Luca is Mackenzie’s mother. She is a bat biologist and academic who works for a scientific magazine. She often travels to remote corners of the globe to study and photograph bats for the magazine.

Joe is Mackenzie’s father. He is an insurance salesman. He falls to pieces when Maggie goes missing. He is a man with many secrets.

Lois Simpson is Mackenzie’s gran. She is a scientist and academic and is the person who Mackenzie leans on as she tries to deal with this tragic situation. She too has secrets.

At high school, Mackenzie befriends Billie. Billie is lively and impetuous and a great foil to Mackenzie’s grief. In Panama, Mackenzie meets Carlo. Carlo is fourteen and helps his uncle at the hotel Mackenzie and her father is staying at. His indifference infuriates Mackenzie, but she eventually discovers that he is someone she can trust.

Why have you given Mackenzie a gift for art?

I wanted Mackenzie to have a passion that was in opposition to her mother and grandmother’s love of science. Art was the obvious place and very early on I saw Mackenzie, in my mind’s eye, sketching bats. A trip to the NSW Art Gallery where I happened upon a sculpture of fruit bats hanging from a washing line was the moment that sealed the deal.

Much of the story is set in the jungles of Panama. It’s hard to believe you’ve never been there. How did you create such an exciting and authentic-seeming setting? What was your most surprising discovery about Panama?

I have to admit to feeling a tad guilty that I didn’t jump on a plane and spend weeks in the country to ensure I got it right, but truthfully, I just didn’t have the funds to do that. So I resolved to do everything I could to bring Boquete and Panama to life on the page through diligent research from afar. I researched Panama for about a year – mostly through the Internet. Boquete is a tourist town, which also has a large expat community, mostly American retirees. This worked in my favour as there were many blogs and vlogs I could access depicting everyday life in the town.

I also had two really lucky breaks. One was making contact with Dianne Heidke (sister of Australian author Lisa Heidke) who has lived in Boquete for a decade or more. Dianne was able to answer those questions I couldn’t find answers to on the Internet, and was able to give me access to that all-important local knowledge. She also read the final manuscript and acted as my sensitivity reader.

My second lucky break was the discovery that the local council streamed 24-hour feed of Boquete’s main square live on the Internet. I was able to watch the comings and goings across the square day and night. It felt slightly creepy and very stalkerish, but it really helped me to understand the rhythms of the town.

My most surprising discovery was the lack of resources of the police force in Boquete – to the point that sometimes they don’t have enough petrol to run their police car!

Why have you structured the story as ‘then’ and ‘now’?

Initially, I chose to structure the story this way so that I could move the story on from those early days when the family had just learned of the disappearance and when their grief would be too raw and impossible to bear. But as the story idea progressed, I quickly realised that the ‘then’ and ‘now’ structure was allowing me to create suspense and tension in an intriguing way. It was challenging to maintain, but I loved slotting in key information at just the right places.

How have you used bats as a symbol?

I used bats more as a link between Mackenzie and her mother than as a symbol. It was Mackenzie’s way to stay connected with her mother and her mother’s passion. However, bats do symbolise our ability to see our way through even the darkest times. Mackenzie and her family have to navigate through some very dark days through much of the story, but by the end, I hope to show them stepping out into the light. This was a happy accident that gave extra meaning to the final pages in particular.

During the novel you tantalise characters and readers with mention of gelatos. What’s your favourite flavour?

The gelatos were a nod to my time at Walker Books. There was an excellent gelato bar at the bottom of the building and we often had Gelato Fridays. My favourite was definitely salted caramel Greek yoghurt.

You are known for promoting your books in interesting and skilled interactions with children. How will you be promoting Missing?

Thank you for that! I love sharing my books and stories with groups of kids – it’s my favourite part of my job.

I am about to embark on a schools tour of Brisbane and Sydney, so have been busy preparing my presentations. My reasons for writing the story and my research and how I have used it will be the centre of my talks, as well as some scene-setting with a bit drumming, a lot of drama, and concluding with a “breaking news” report. I will also be doing writing workshops in Sydney and Melbourne – exploring how to create suspense in stories.

What have you enjoyed reading recently? 

I have just reread (for the fifth time) A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness. It is one of my favourite books of all time – so beautifully crafted and emotive. I also recently enjoyed The Golden Age by Joan London and All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr.

What’s next workwise for you?

I am working on a new middle grade novel with the working title of Chance. It too has a core mystery and is about truth and lies and the grey area between the two.

I also have a new picture book Beware the Deep Dark Forest illustrated by Annie White, which is due for release in October.

Thanks for your generous and enlightening answers Sue, and all the best with Missing. It is a gripping and original work with great appeal for young readers.

Review: Someday Somewhere by Lindsay Champion

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SOMEDAY, SOMEWHERE by Lindsay Champion was an absolute excellent and heart shredding book. All I knew going in was it’s about music, and being a musician who writes about music and also spent my entire teenagerdom listening to Beethoven on repeat…oh hello there book. You are mine. It absolutely didn’t disappoint and I was so teary at the end. It balanced emotion and complex characters and had such tight pacing that I couldn’t stop reading. I could feel myself speeding up with the book, like a classical piece just going faster and faster, until the string snaps at the end.

The story follows two teens, Ben and Dominique, who meet at a Carnegie Hall concert and a spark is lit. They both have their passions, music and dancing respectively, but connecting proves difficult as they go their separate ways without knowing even each other’s names. But finally they find each other again and Dom spins some impressive lies, thinking famous-music-prodigy-Ben won’t like her if he knows she’s super poor and works at her mum’s laundromat. And Ben’s obsessive need to conquer a Beethoven piece is breaking him into pieces, as much as he denies it. Their lives tangle and splinter as secrets and obsessions collide.

It’s about music and mental illness and wanting more. I think the music aspect was done nicely and felt authentic enough even though the author wasn’t a musician. I loved the parts where Ben was so into his music that nothing else mattered, because I really felt THERE with him. Even though I also ached for how unhealthy his obsession was and wanting someone to help him.

It’s dual narrated by Ben and Dominique. Ben is a rich musical prodigy and Dom is super poor and watching her mum struggle to run a laundromat and has had to give up her dream of being a dancer due to money. (She’s also half Ecuadorian.) Dom and Ben meet at a concert and then — SPARKS. Their get-together-story was super cute and I loved how they had to find each other with no information. It wasn’t instalove at all, but insta-connection, and it was perfectly done. They were also both equally winning, although Ben was a bit conceited (but there are reasons for that) and I rooted for Dom to have a better life and for Ben and her to work out.

I also loved the writing! It had a lot of cute and fun dialogue, some banter, some excellent side-characters (Cass was great and I hope he has a wonderful life too!) and how real it all felt. The details made the settings leap off the page. And every character felt real and complex, even if they weren’t mentioned very often.

Honestly SOMEDAY, SOMEWHERE is amazing and I totally loved the combination of music and #meetcutes and two teens who just want more from their life. I’m just sitting here with heart eyes. It’s definitely the kind of story that is quick to read but stays with you long after you finish the last page.

Cheers for Women on International Women’s Day – Picture Book Reviews

International Women’s Day is celebrated annually on March 8th to commemorate the women’s right movement. Surrounded by much controversy over the years, global marches still signify and stand for a shift in gender equality and mistreatment. So, with a strengthening power in facilitating strong girls and women, and equally credible boys and men, let’s celebrate this significant day with a couple of influential and empowering picture books for children in the early years.

Inspired by one of the largest political demonstrations in history, the Women’s March in January 2017, The Pink Hat by Andrew Joyner is a jubilant celebration of women’s rights in a subtle and playful tone. This is not a book that shoves political issues at children, but rather a quiet sentiment of coming together as a community with a sound common ground and purpose. The entirety of the book culminates with the focus on the pink hat, the symbolic object uniting the town – the women, the children, the mixture of cultures and races, and ages, and even some men. All of Joyner’s superlative illustrations present in shaded black and white line drawings, except for the pop of the fuchsia pink beanie and some pink rosy cheeks.

The hat begins with a grandma, a beautiful representation of a dignified, and very tech-savvy, woman who loves to knit. The cosy knit is then transported on its progressive journey as it is passed from the paws of her playful cat, to a ‘hard-to-reach’ place, acts as a comforter for a baby to the snatching jaws of a runaway dog, and into the hands of a young girl who enjoys its many uses. And one day the girl discovers that her beloved pink hat has begun a movement of its own, with a rally of pink hat-wearing people gesturing placards with “Women’s Rights are Human Rights”, “Girl Power”, “The Future is Feminist”, plus more.

The Pink Hat is a story that promotes awareness and discussion of the events of the social campaign, without being didactic or heavy-handed. It is rather an engaging and enlightening read that sparks the thought for cause and effect, in more ways than one.

Random House Australia, January 2018.

Now here’s a book that celebrates women! With over 70 inspirational women in history, it’s Three Cheers for Women! by Marcia Williams. This large face non-fiction title is jam-packed with fascinating information, vivacious cartoons and fun commentary by supporting characters. It is a terrific resource for the primary classroom or bookshelf at home, with so much to pore over and discover.

Beginning back in Ancient Egyptian times, the first female to feature is Cleopatra VII, Queen of Egypt c. 69 BC – 30 BC. In comic-style, illustrated text boxes and speech bubbles we learn about how Cleopatra came to rule at eighteen years old, to be overpowered by her younger brother and then regained the throne by raising a winning army until her death at age 39.

To follow in the same page formatting are fearless fighters like Boudicca; Warrior Queen of the Iceni, and Joan of Arc; the Teenage Warrior. As eras progress we meet queens such as Elizabeth 1, legendary authors like Jane Austen, pioneers in health including Florence Nightingale and Marie Curie. There are the Human Rights Activists, Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962), and Malala Yousafzai (1997- ) who became champions in helping underprivileged people and standing up for equal rights. Our own Cathy Freeman features, too, as Olympic hero for uniting a nation and fighting for the rights of Indigenous Australians.

The book concludes with pages identical to the classifieds section of the paper, listing more amazing women in leadership, sports, creative, pioneering and scientific roles. And a final note from the author leaves a task for the reader; many women had to be left out of the book, but who will you add to your list of inspirational women and girls?

Three Cheers for Women! is absolutely fascinating, written with a mixture of factual interest and candid anecdotes to keep readers engaged at their own pace. Never discounting the achievements or abilities of boys, this one really empowers girls with the power to do something world changing.

Walker Books U.K., November 2017.

Happy International Women’s Day!

Small Spaces by Sarah Epstein

Small Spaces is such a riveting, scary story, I was worried that I would still be reading when night fell. I was still reading … but had to keep going even though I knew I would be terrified. Congratulations on your stunning thriller, Sarah, and thanks for speaking with Boomerang Books blog.

Thanks so much! It’s a pleasure to be here.

Where are you based and how are you involved in the YA literary community? 

I live in Melbourne, which has a thriving bookish community. There are always so many fantastic events, book launches and meet-ups happening, and I try to get along to as many as I can because I always come away feeling more connected and inspired. I’ve also been involved with the online YA community for the last decade, which is how I’ve met some wonderful critique partners and writing buddies, as well as participating in online conferences and pitching contests. Facebook groups and Twitter have been a fantastic way for me to connect with other kidlit writers and readers, not just in Australia but internationally.

What is the significance of the title, Small Spaces

For Tash, the protagonist of the story, it’s a very real phobia stemming from incidents that happened to her as a child. But from the opening lines of the novel it’s clear that it also refers to Tash’s psychological state and whether she can trust her own mind – the small space inside her head. In broader terms, it’s a reflection of how we all can sometimes feel isolated, lonely and vulnerable in our own small spaces, and forging connections and trusting others can often be challenging and scary.

You’ve used a distinctly Australian setting. Where is it set and why?

The story is set in two fictional locations – the small coastal town of Port Bellamy, and the rural area of Greenwillow and Willow Creek – which are about an hour’s drive apart on the NSW mid north coast. When I’m brainstorming a novel, I picture scenes very cinematically and start writing before I know exactly where the story is going to be set. Then I have to stop and start researching areas that tick all the boxes of my fictional setting and can feasibly accommodate all the major plot points and any secondary locations that are referenced in the story. I was born in NSW and wanted to set a story there, and having visited the mid north coast a number of times, it really helped me narrow things down, and became the perfect setting for the story.

Could you introduce your major characters to us …

Tash is seventeen and in her final year of school, craving independence and planning her future at an interstate university. But earning her parents’ trust is difficult because of childhood behavioural issues that seem to be cropping up again. Sadie is Tash’s best friend, the one who knows her best and her fiercest ally, trying to help Tash navigate through her phobias and unsettling memories. Two of those unsettling memories return in the form of Morgan and Mallory Fisher, a brother and sister who shared a disturbing day at the carnival with Tash nine years ago during a summer holiday at her Aunt Ally’s house. And then there’s Sparrow, Tash’s imaginary friend from childhood who looms heavily throughout all aspects of the plot, past and present.

Why have you given Tash an interest in photography and Morgan a gift in the visual arts?

This stems from my own creative background and the design degree I completed at university which included both visual arts and photography. I knew I wanted Tash and Morgan to collaborate on a project that played into the themes of the novel, and art was such a huge part of my life when I was a teen. It came very naturally to give Tash, Morgan and other characters in the story a creative outlet to express themselves.

Could you tell us about the ‘Now’ and ‘Then’ structure?

As soon as I started writing, I knew a large number of flashbacks would be required to properly explain what happened in Tash’s past. But I didn’t want to tell all of these in the passive past-tense voice of Tash recollecting them, because I felt this would dilute the tension and affect the pacing. Instead, I wrote these chapters in present tense using Tash’s childhood voice so the reader can see how things played out in real-time through her eyes. I also introduced therapy session transcripts and newspaper articles written in a clinical tone, so readers can form their own theories about what happened based on other evidence that isn’t skewed by Tash’s point of view.

As you wrote, how were you able to lay out the plot without giving too much away?

It wasn’t easy! I really had to think about the order I wanted snippets of information revealed because of how the past and present chapters feed into one another. There was a lot of shifting scenes and chapters around, and I had a large colour-coded plot outline which I’d lay out across my desk to give me a clear overview of what was happening and where. I had to pare back scenes and dialogue in revisions so as not to be too obvious, but at the same time reveal enough so that readers wouldn’t become frustrated about the storyline being too vague. It’s a real balancing act, and some days I cursed myself for choosing such a complicated narrative structure.

Without causing you to give away spoilers, which part of the plot, characterisation or symbolism was difficult to resolve?

I found the climax the most challenging part to write – I wanted it to do so many things while at the same time be fast-paced and absolutely gripping. I think endings are always tricky – they need to feel completely satisfying for the reader while tying up all the loose threads and illuminating the story’s themes. I never start writing a story until I know how the ending is going to play out. Then my challenge is figuring out how I’m going to get my characters there.

Carnivals and funfairs are some of my favourite locations in literature. They’re supposed to be fun but often are the opposite. What is so creepy about these places and what gives them (particularly derelict ones) such potential for horror?

I think for me the crowds and bustle of a busy carnival always poses the threat of a lost child, or the potential for someone to be swallowed up by it all before their companions even notice they’re missing. There are so many nooks and crannies to lurk and hide in! The noisy rides and all the squealing is so distracting and jarring, and there’s always exaggerated character art leering at you everywhere you turn. Carnivals are a bit too much of everything all at once, which makes us feel a bit queasy and disorientated. Derelict places add a whole other layer of creepiness because they conjure up ideas about ghosts and dead things. Plus, they’re deserted, so if anything bad happens, nobody’s coming to help!

What sort of movies do you watch?

I don’t read a huge amount of science fiction, but I absolutely love watching sci-fi movies! I also love anything with zombies, ghosts or aliens. I’m a big fan of bingeing a good Netflix series, and mostly enjoy intriguing supernatural shows like Stranger Things and The OA. I also love Nordic crime thrillers. I have a tendency to lean towards darker content.

Who have you written this book for?

It might be a cliché, but I definitely wrote this book for teenaged me. This is exactly the sort of story I was craving when I was a teen but had difficulty finding – something twisty and gripping, but with characters my age and themes I could relate to. I loved Christopher Pike’s books but struggled to find them in my school library and local bookshops (which was my whole world since the internet and online shopping didn’t yet exist), so I read a lot of adult crime and horror novels in my teens. But many of those stories were a hard slog with themes and situations that were very adult. I wrote this novel for teen readers who enjoy thrillers and creepy stories, but want characters and situations they can see themselves in.

What books are you reading at the moment (or recently)? 

I recently finished The Dry by Jane Harper and Wimmera by Mark Brandi, both of which I thoroughly enjoyed, especially since I am working on another suspenseful mystery set in a small Australian town. I’m currently reading two #LoveOzYA novels: The Fall by Tristan Bancks and Untidy Towns by Kate O’Donnell. My favourite genres to read are contemporaries, thrillers and domestic noir, and I have Sarah Bailey’s Dark Lake and A.J. Finn’s The Woman in the Window next up on my reading pile.

Thanks for your illuminating answers, Sarah and all the best with Small Spaces (Walker Books Australia) and your next book.

Thanks so much, Joy. Great questions! I’ve really enjoyed answering them.

Review: Boomerang by Helene Dunbar

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Boomerang by Helene Dunbar was one of those beautifully written books that sort of creeps up on you. I can’t even stop thinking about it! It was actually also quite stressful, because there’s lots of complicated relationships going on here and you can’t help but panic a little hoping it all works out. It’s about messy kids and messy feelings and the heartfelt angst of brokenness. Definitely a book I’d recommend in a heartbeat!

The story is about Sean Woodhouse who’s returning home after 5 years of being “kidnapped”. Except he wasn’t kidnapped…he ran away from a neglectful mum and found an old loving couple who took him in and kept him safe. He fell in love with the boy nextdoor and he liked his new life. But something happens and Sean realises he has to go home. He’s #1 goal is to see if he can get use of his college fund and then leave again, but things get messy as his mother has changed and is a good person now and his whole town treats him like this poor rescued child. He’s torn between staying and going. Staying may be the “right” thing to do, but there will be brutally heartbreaking consequences if he doesn’t go.

The tension is the top thing I’ll rave about for this one! It had me so hooked I couldn’t do anything but keep reading. You just desperately want to know if Sean will stay or go, and as things escalate with the boy he left behind, Trip, who has a terrible life and needs Sean to come back…you just don’t know what the right choice will be.

I also liked that it was this “missing child” story, but with a twist. Admittedly I have read this twist before, but not for a while! And it was done SO well. And it was bittersweet knowing how much Sean needed to be loved, and that’s why he ran, but all the while his true family and childhood friends thought he’d been murdered. Imagine living with that?!

I also adored the love interest, Trip Marchette. He’s the boy next door and Sean’s childhood crush, but it’s complicated. It’s messy and their feelings for each other are unnamed and sometimes their relationship is downright poisonous. Trip’s abused by his uncle, but won’t leave. And Sean gets caught up in his own self-righteousness of not understanding the situation. I got hair-tearingly frustrated at BOTH of them. But madly wanted it to work out.

There is a little love triangle, which I found a huge drawback, except that it was really well written! Sean, back at home now, meets Emery who is absolutely lovely and dynamic and complex. It was hard to be mad at her for stealing Sean’s attention, when she was a fantastic person! It added another layer of tension to the story too, wondering if their relationship would unfold or if Sean wouldn’t lose focus of what he came home to do.

I also appreciated the diversity! There’s no labels, but most of the characters would probably identify as queer, plus Trip has dyslexia and it was portrayed so well.

Boomerang is seriously the kind of book you can’t put down! It’s complex and really unpacks thoughts about consequences and actions, what love means, and the difference between selflessness and selfishness. The pacing will keep you glued to the page and the characters will make and break your heart.

Lessons in Acceptance – Picture Books About Self-Love

For small children, many life-firsts can be a harrowing and daunting experience. Starting school is a prime example. However, many other situations also call for emotional resilience and understanding. These next few picture books provide helpful lessons in acceptance, each demonstrating for youngsters that is it okay to doubt, fear and ultimately embrace who you are.

Glitch by Michelle Worthington and Andrew Plant

Glitch is a nervous, twitchy kind of bug who trembles through his days in the rubbish heap, always full of self-doubt. June is his best mate who exudes calm and reason. Together they make a formidable team, building and racing billycarts. However, they have never won a race thanks to Glitch’s inability to handle the pressure and his severe lack of self-belief. It is not until he is forced to take the reins, aka steering wheel in their next big race that Glitch learns that it is not about winning or losing, but rather being brave enough to give it your best and enjoy the ride. Glitch is an exhilarating tale spiced with plenty of entertaining alliteration and action to keep readers glued to their seats and cheering for their new hero until the very end. An encouraging read for pre-school and early primary aged readers.

Ford Street Publishing 2017

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School in Focus – Picture Book Reviews

We’re well and truly in to the school routine now, although some mornings seem to lack that ideal, perfect-world motivation and drive. But with these following picture books at the ready, your kids will be inspired to remember their purpose and excitement for the day ahead.

Time for School, Daddy is a gorgeously humorous role reversal-type situation, in the same as essence as the previous title by Dave Hackett, Time for Bed, Daddy. Most often than not it is in fact us parents struggling to get out of bed, greeted each morning with the bombardment of children eager to get the day started. And here, this is no different. The little girl wakes a dozy, grumbling Daddy so they can get ready for school. She gives him his favourite breakfast, which always ends in a mess. She washes and dresses him in his work clothes, not without a bit of chaos. She packs him a mighty fine lunch, a tad of grooming and then it’s time to walk out the door. But who’s going to school today?
Tonnes of energy emanate from both the text and the images, with an innocently grown-up voice from the girl’s perspective as she guides her father through the hectic routine. The bright and vibrant cartoon illustrations work beautifully in a simplistic, obvious focus on the actions, which are the perfect linchpin for the irony that makes this book so witty. Time for School, Daddy is adorable, motivating fun for children from age four.

University of Queensland Press, January 2018.

The school or public library may just be the best place to get inspired, excited and transported (figuratively) during a normally busy day. So for anyone who loves to read, a chance to dive into books would be plenty of motivation to leave the house in a hurry in the morning. But for one little girl, there is one book in particular that she can’t get enough of. Lucy’s Book, written by Natalie Jane Prior and illustrated by Cheryl Orsini, is one special story that follows one special story on many adventures as it is shared by Lucy to all her friends.
Lucy and her mum visit the library every Saturday. The enchanted red book, of which we speak, is recommended by Mrs Bruce and borrowed a multitude of times from the library. Lucy loves it so much, all her friends are dazzled by its charm and it makes its way into their hands too. The book is escorted on holidays to Honeycomb Bay and China, to the zoo, and even made into a banana sandwich. But what happens when the book is no longer available for borrowing? Do you believe in destiny?
Just like the premise of this story, the lively illustrations pronounce a real community feel; one of shared values, togetherness and spirit. With influences from real people (Mrs Bruce is a friend of the author and also the image of Megan the librarian at the local school), Lucy’s Book feels like a real-life fairytale where everyone gets to be involved in the swirl of magical bookishness and where fate is a reality. Dreamy for book lovers of any age.

Lothian Children’s Books, February 2017.

Ruby Lee is a highly enthusiastic student with a big imagination. But when it comes to being chosen as classroom helper, she’s not always the most efficient. Hark, it’s me, Ruby Lee! is a wild and animated tale of learning patience, working to your skillset and being yourself.
Award-winning author Lisa Shanahan, together with graphic illustrator Binny, provide a linguistic and visual treat with their eccentric blend of humour and design. Shanahan’s quirky names are just the beginning of the literary goodness, with dialogue that perks in all the right places, and a storyline that is so authentically realistic despite all the crazy and creative figments Ruby Lee imagines in her mind. And flawlessly, Binny’s fantastical, detailed illustrations with blocks of colour and line work add that extra depth and meaning to both Ruby Lee’s real and made-up worlds.
Preschool and early years children will adore being taken into Ruby Lee’s school life as messenger as she discovers not how to be like someone else, but where her own strengths lie. Hark, it’s me, Ruby Lee! plays out like a set of comical and whimsical scenes that will be requested to be delivered over and over again.

Lothian Children’s Books, July 2017.

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Review: Stalking Jack The Ripper by Kerri Maniscalco

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Stalking Jack The Ripper by Kerri Maniscalco was a fabulous story full of science and cadavers and a spot o’ tea, which is such a nice compilation. I just need a moment to shout out to the finale where Audrey Rose tries to calm everyone down by getting them all to have tea…and she is the only sensible person around. But that aside! It was just epic to see a book centring around the infamous murderer, Jack the Ripper, and also covering topics of feminism and female scientists back in an era where that wasn’t acceptable. Audrey Rose is a fantastic heroine!

The story follows Audrey Rose who is desperate to become a forensic doctor, dissecting corpses to ascertain the cause of death. She wants to solve crimes and help people…but it’s unheard of for a lady of her station to even attempt it. She works (secretly) as her uncle’s student, but things get complicated when a serial killer is on the loose, attacking girls very close to home. And her uncle also has a very cocky and extremely clever new assistant, Thomas, who is as insufferable as he is distracting. The two together start unravelling the mystery while Audrey Rose’s home life falls apart around her and the killer closes in.

I really enjoyed the look at forensic doctors in the 1900s here! It was such a new thing that most police didn’t even take the job seriously and Audrey Rose’s uncle’s love of cutting up corpses was just seen as disturbing, instead of helpful to science and crime solving. The book does get a little gruesome in these parts, but you learn so much! And I loved that it wasn’t afraid to share details of how injuries can tell the story of the crime.

It’s also completely feminist, which was so refreshing. Obviously sexism is stampeding through the streets because it’s women are “too delicate” to do anything but cross-stitch. It was annoying to read, but also fascinating as Audrey . Rose dismantled those notions and kept on just being herself. I also appreciated that femininity wasn’t aligned with weakness, with Audrey Rose fully embracing makeup and pretty clothes as well as wanting to be a forensic doctor. She wants to go to medical school and wear lipstick. And why is that anyone’s business but her own?! The whole book was very refreshing!

The love interest, Thomas Cresswell, just turned out to be a sassy-mouthed gift to this world. He comes across as arrogant and vain, but he has a secretly huge crush on Audrey Rose and their antagonism turns to banter and then to something more. It was obviously bound to happen, but satisfying the whole way!

The plot is a combination of avoided tea parties, family strain, dead corpses, and a murderer running about. Which obviously doesn’t leave you much room for napping. I loved the pacing and how it felt balanced between quieter chapters and full-on exciting scenes.

Basically if you’re looking for a book about medicine and murder, look no further! Stalking Jack The Ripper is fabulously entertaining with great banter and a plot with a dark side. It also left me seriously indignant that I didn’t have book 2 on hand to start straight away. Must rectify that!