Dim’s Christmas Crackers Lists – Bag the Best Kids’ Books

If you are like me, knowing there are only 41 days left until Christmas fills you with silent terror. You know it’s not about the presents. You know you’ll want (have) to give some, anyway. You’ve heard books tick all the enduring, educational, entertaining boxes as far as kids’ gifts go, but how do you choose without going crackers? During the next 41 days, I’ll share a cluster of the best kids’ books of 2017. Hunt them down for your Christmas stockings.  Hold on tight though, we’ll be going faster than a turbo-charged reindeer over black ice.

List # 1 Non-fiction Picture Books

At the Beach I See by Kamsani Bin Salleh

Striking board book series featuring elegant artwork and lyrical text. This one is useful for forging connections between our beautiful seashores and new creatures. Ideal for 2+ year-olds.

Magabala Books August 2017

Amazing Australians in their Flying Machines by Prue & Kerry Mason and Tom Jellet

Jellett’s character-filled illustrations bring this fascinating assortment of historic aviators to spectacular life. From Lawrence Hargrave to John Flynn, ‘Smithy’ to Nancy Bird, numerous significant figures in the history of flight and aviation in Australia are described using first person narrative and fact-based prose. Amazing facts are included along with modern day updates. Perfect for aeroplane enthusiasts from 8 years upwards.

Read Romi’s full review, here.

Walker Books Australia 2017

Fierce Fighters Predators by Paul Beck and Lee Martin

If you love Deadly 60, you’ll be mad for this beefy full-colour collection of some of the world’s most formidable predators. Ridiculously fearsome and astounding photographs accompany an incredible list of hunters from apex predators such as lions and sharks to the less ubiquitous platypus. Scientific facts and stats provide just enough information without obscuring the teeth baring drama and are paired in side-by-side showdowns – anglerfish vs. pelican eel, for example. An awesome addition (with stickers and poster!) for the would-be marine biologists and nature lovers aged 6 – 14.

Becker & Mayer! Kids July 2017

All Aboard the Discovery Express by Emily Hawkins, Tom Adams and Tom Clohoshy-Cole

Move over Orient Express, the Discovery Express has arrived, platform one. This is a glorious pop-up, pull, and flap creation allowing readers to embark on a thrilling journey back in time with Nancy Delaney, geographer, explorer and all-round adventurer. Choco-block with puzzles and fascinating facts, Nancy escorts you from Paris to England, the US and beyond on a spellbinding journey of discovery about trains, planes and yes, automobiles. Even submarines are included in this book, which is more of a code-busting adventure romp through history. Highly recommended and ideal for sleuths and transport spotters from 10 years+.

Quarto Group September 2017

Continue reading Dim’s Christmas Crackers Lists – Bag the Best Kids’ Books

Kids Will be Rapt to Find these Wrapped this Christmas – Part 1

It’s time to get organised for the festive season so I’ll be beginning with Part 1 of my Christmas gift suggestions today! These selections are for the busy, hands-on builders in your life. For worldly explorers, air travellers, and magical realm inquisitors, there’s an interactive gift here for you.

The Discovery Globe Build-Your-Own Globe Kit is the perfect choice for an action adventure into exploring the world. Kitted up in a neat fold-out box with World Explorer’s Guide on the left and spinning globe pieces packaged on the right, you can study the world to your heart’s content…and even make your own!

The Guide consists of easy-to-follow instructions on building your globe, which then acts as the prop for all the amazing facts, natural wonders, famous faces and topics that you’ll be finding out about. Each piece fits together to represent an Earth consisting of different types of land (ie. oceans, freshwater, tropical rainforest, etc), and icons of the animal world and human life. The completed construction measures 47cm tall, and actually spins like any other globe!

Leon Gray and Sarah Edmonds cleverly designed the book with content divided into manageable parts and informative, colourful illustrations representing graphics, keys, diagrams and maps. Sections include The Earth in Space, the Sun, Land and Water, Biomes, Natural Wonders, Endangered Animals, Travelling the World, people, arts, food, plus more.

With fascinating information, glossary, interactive questions and things to find on your spinning model, The Discovery Globe is a marvellous cultural, scientific and geographical package that will have young curious minds enthralled for hours. For ages six and up.

Quarto Children’s Books and Walker Books, October 2017.

Next to fly into your Christmas stockings is the Busy Builders Airport kit. Build your own 92cm airport play set with punch-out models to put together, and fold out runways and puzzle pieces. You can construct everything from a jumbo jet to propellor plane, helicopter and ground controllers, the terminal, baggage truck and control towers. What fun!

The Awesome Airport Action guide, written by Timothy Knapman, includes everything you need to know about life around aeroplanes. It is a child-friendly introduction to airports and what to expect when travelling. The text is energetic and engaging, but also informative enough to provide children from age five a clear concept of the different facets of air travel. The booklet begins with checking in to the terminal and handling baggage and security, moving through to planes, vehicles, their parts and preparation, the roles of ground crew, take off and the in-flight adventure, and finally landing. Cute cartoon characters with their little speech bubbles and solid graphics with the various details to peruse give the feel of a fun advertisement that entices your interest.

Gorgeously packaged with a velcro tab, Busy Builders Airport encourages young pilot enthusiasts and world travelling wannabes, or even those yet to embark on any flying adventure, with plenty of knowledge and role play action that will have them soaring to great heights.

Walker Books Australia, October 2017.

Build the Dragon is a very cool gift to give a 7+ year-old fanatical about fantasy, myths and legends. Eye-catching from any bookstore shelf, this book and model kit will certainly spark a flame amongst dragon lovers.

Dugald Steer, fanatic himself on the subject of myths and legends with numerous books in his ‘Ology’ series, presents this spectacular world into dragons. In fourteen parts over 32 pages, learn about these beasts’ anatomy, their history, their worlds and their supernatural powers. A suitably archaic-type text is interwoven between the captivating multi-media illustrations by Jonathan Woodward and Douglas Carrel. This unique combination of artists brings this book to life with their mix of exotic drawings and realistic images.

And to add even more sensation to this already captivating non-fiction/fantasy resource is the 46-piece, 3D moving model of a Western dragon that you can build yourself! Kids will fall head over heels for this magnificent addition that includes 40cm of dragon goodness with its motorised flapping wings and gnashing jaws.

Build the Dragon is a highly appealing, interactive guide to living out one’s dragon obsessions. Primary school children will surely be able to show off their expertise in all things magical realms, and engagement with their miniature dragon replica will certainly enliven their imaginations even further.

Quarto Children’s Books and Walker Books Australia, November 2017.

Stay tuned for more Christmas gift ideas! 🙂

Review: All The Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater

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All The Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater is about magic, darkness, and fighting your inner demons. I’m a huge fan of all of Stiefvater’s work, so I went in with excited expectations and wasn’t disappointed! It’s incredibly heartfelt and written in such a whimsical style that you can’t help being addicted to every page.

The story follows three cousins who live on a ranch, Bicho Raro, in Colorado, where their family gives out miracles. The trouble with miracles is that you have to accept your darkness to deal with it, and it often comes out in strange ways. Their world is populated by the weird and wonderful and magical, on a backdrop of deserts in the 1960s. The three teens are: Beatriz, who claim she has no feelings. Then Daniel, who is the resident saint, at 19, and used to be a pure child brat. And then Joaquin is the youngest and he runs an illegal radio station under the name Diablo Diablo (um, don’t tell his family, he’ll be in super big trouble). They watch pilgrims get their miracles all the time, but what happens when Daniel, the only saint who can help them, goes missing?

I loved how magical it was! The miracles are portrayed so interestingly. The Sorias family saints give the miracle and the trick is you have to deal with it yourself. If they help — everything will get dark and worse. Often pilgrims get stuck and are just living on the ranch for months trying to put themselves back together. It’s just accepted that everyone is freaking weird and magical here. Like there are girls entwined with snakes, a giant, someone who gets rained on all the time etc. etc. And everyone is chill with that.

It is written in an omnipresent style, which isn’t typically my favourite, but I loved how it transformed this book into a mythological fairy tale sort of vibe! Weget dozens of POVs and perspectives, from the Sorias to the pilgrims.  I really loved how beautiful, whimsical, and melodic the writing was. It felt so rich and extravagantly magical and the extra perspectives actually made it feel juicy and deep. The story is about miracles, not just the Saints and not just the Pilgrims.

The setting was gorgeous too. I could totally see the ranch and the desert and the box truck. You could taste the dust and see the owls and tumbleweeds!

The characters are just so amazing and complex and different. They are odd little tumble weeds and I loved them. I adored the three Soria cousins and their illegal radio station and their inner darkness. I loved Beatriz who was very firmly convinced she had no feelings and Joaquin who loved his hair and Daniel, the childhood-devil-turned-saint. I loved Pete who loved to work (what the heck is wrong with him though) and was so earnest and pure. And I loved the dogs who wanted to eat everyone alive. #relatable

All The Crooked Saints the kind of story that definitely leaves you wanting more, which is amazing. It’s whimsical and bizarre and addictive. This book is a bit like being told wild dusty folklore stories with black roses and owls with strange eyes and strange box trucks and girls who like boys’ elbows. It’s unusual and it’s slow and it’s pretty and there are SAINTS. It’s every scoop of magic you need in your life.

Review: Dear Martin by Nic Stone

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Dear Martin by Nic Stone is a poignant pocket of powerful writing that tackles racism and coming-of-age in a way that’s so needed! It’s a brutal narrative and it’s written with such care and love and emotion — you can feel the emotion so deeply on every page of the narrative it’s just incredible. This is both a #BlackLivesMatter and #OwnVoices novel, so you know you’re going into a story told by the viewpoint of someone who knows. It’s also a really small book, so it’s a powerpacket of strong words and feeling and plot twists.

The story follows Justyce McAllister who’s a straight A student at a prestigious school and he’s on his way to Yale and life of achieving what he sets out to achieve. His single-mother has sacrificed a lot to get him into the good school, and he hardly ever sees her, so he often feels really alone. His best-friend Manny is his only black friend in the school and while they get on famously, Manny’s choice of friends all dish out microagressive racism and challenge Justyce for being too “sensitive” if he has had enough of it. When he tries to help his girlfriend get home one night because she’s super drunk yet trying to drive, he’s attacked by police officers and put in cuffs without explanation. Justyce writes letters to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. about his life and confusions and wanting to be a great person, but how in a world that’s so set against you?

I love the quote in the author’s note says the book is“…an attempt to examine current affairs through the lens of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s teachings.” Which is such a good summary.

The story also is told in an interesting style, feature letters to Martin (of course! Title reference!) and the normal book-style-prose you’d expect, and also script-style scenes so you just get the meat of the dialogue without distractions. I liked how it switched things up constantly because it kept the attention riveted and also made the book really unique on the page!

Justyce was such an amazing protagonist! He’s super smart and facing a lot of struggles most teens can relate to: including what to do about his on-again-off-again girlfriend, grades, school bullies, and what his future holds. On top of that, after his arrest, he has PTSD from the experience and feels really lost. He’s on the brink of graduating highschool but he feels like his world is coming apart. He also has a crush on his long-time debate partner, SJ, but their racial differences are an obstacle.

The book, of course, is not an “easy” story. It’s meant to be eye-opening and make you think, and it tackles difficulties head on. As an Australian, some of the culture and slang was lost on me and while racism is prevalent in all countries, it looks a little different from place to place. (Australia doesn’t have shootings, for starters.) So it was good, confronting, and important to learn about what it’s like to be black in America.

I also loved how intelligent the writing and plot are! There’s a court scene that just had me go WOW WOAH WAIT while the dialogue turned you on your head. And the story is very complexly weaved in a way you don’t even realise until that scene! So full applause to the author for her writing style! It’s such an intelligent book with a lot of heart.

Dear Martin is an important narrative that can’t be talked about enough. This is powerful and full of emotion and also weaves messages of strength and hope.

“You ever consider that maybe you not supposed to ‘fit’? People who make history rarely do.”

Exchange of Heart by Darren Groth

Darren Groth‘s new novel is Exchange of Heart (Penguin Random House Australia). This is the second of Darren’s wonderful YA novels I’ve read.

Where are you based and what is your current role, Darren?

I live in Vancouver. My current role is husband, father, provider and fiction scribbler.

How involved are you in the YA community?

Not as much as I used to be when I was a teacher. My 16 year old twins keep me connected to today’s kids, though.

Could you tell us a little about your early books?

Well, they’ve all disappeared, sad to say. However, I’m proud of them and each one was notable in its own way. My first novel, The Procrastinator, got my first personal, positive rejection (still one of the very best feelings I’ve ever had in my career); my second novel, Most Valuable Potential, was shortlisted in the Queensland Premier’s Literary Awards; my third novel, The Umbilical Word, secured my wonderful literary agent; and my fourth novel, Kindling, picked up my first contract with a major trade publishing house (Hachette).   

I reviewed your excellent previous novel, Are You Seeing Me? for the Weekend Australian http://www.theaustralian.com.au/arts/review/misfits-and-misadventures-abound-in-latest-young-adult-fiction-books/news-story/12de0e5706bdc33fc03255e5660b2231. Could you briefly describe the two major characters and reveal who appears in your new novel?

Thank you for your kind words, Joy. The protagonists of AYSM are twins, Justine and Perry Richter. Justine is smart, well read, neurotypical and the sole carer of her brother. Perry is smart, sensitive, neurodiverse and hopeful of “freeing” his sister. Perry makes three appearances in the new novel, Exchange of Heart. It was a real treat to connect with him again.  

What is the significance of the clever title of your powerful new novel Exchange of Heart?

Exchange of Heart captures what this novel is all about, both literally and thematically. There’s a lot to unpack; it makes sense at a surface level then becomes deeper and richer the further you delve into the story.

Why is this book important?

Like all good fiction, I need to have told a good tale in order for the work to be assigned any importance. If readers feel I’ve told a good tale then there is some food-for-thought that can be discussed. PTSD in young adults, treatment of the intellectually disabled, use of the R-word, mental health of refugees, among others. In some ways, Exchange of Heart is a political YA novel. I embrace that label.   

Could you tell us about your complex major character, Munro Maddux?

I love Munro. I think he’s the best character I’ve ever put down on the page. So many qualities about him that I admire – his honour, his tenacity, his nuance, his care. I love his wounded heart. Unlike many other characters I’ve written, he’s not an open book. He’s not ‘all the feels’. That’s very commendable in this day and age.

Who is the Coyote?

The Coyote is less a ‘who’ and more a ‘what’. It’s a voice in Munro’s head that’s constantly at him and it’s the most debilitating symptom of his PTSD-infused grief over the loss of his younger sister, Evie. Why Coyote? In North American First Nations/Aboriginal lore, Coyote represents ‘trickster’ medicine; it is a deceiver, not to be trusted. It was the perfect motif for Munro’s nemesis.     

What is the significance of the “-er” words?

I was actually looking to create something self help-ish that was a bit cheesy. And the students of Sussex High, Rowan in particular, see it that way. In Munro’s case, though, his ‘er’ word – ‘better’ – was right on the money.   

You have a cast of minor characters who help create the assisted-living community setting. Who most pulls at your heart and why?

It changes every day! Today, I’ll say Bernie because she seeks to protect her fellow Fair Go residents from discrimination and oppression. We need more Bernies in the world!    

What would you like to see change or improve for those in assisted-living communities in the near future?

The programs that served as inspiration for my fictional Fair Go – Youngcare in Australia and Bittersweet Farms in the US – are wonderful examples of what is possible with assisted living. If there is one thing I would like to see in all situations of supported care, it is residents having a say in their work, their play, their passion, their collaboration. Generally, having agency in their lives. 

Having lived and been flooded in Brisbane myself, your descriptions of place such as Walter Taylor Bridge and South Bank resonated strongly. Where is a significant place in Brisbane for you?

There’s a few. Mum and Dad’s house in Mitchelton. Milpera State High, where I taught for almost ten years. Lang Park (I still can’t call it Suncorp Stadium). My grandmother’s house in Hawthorne which, sadly, no longer exists.

Why the quote from Leo Tolstoy and why did you incorporate the novel Picnic at Hanging Rock into the novel?

The Tolstoy quote, I felt, summed up Exchange of Heart perfectly. The love of others is the catalyst for Munro to forgive himself and heal. Picnic at Hanging Rock is a fascinating story for me, not the least of which for its commentary about the treatment of the intellectually disabled. 

What have you been reading recently?

I’ve got a number of books on the slow-go. Will Kostakis’ The Sidekicks (great guy, marvellous book), Strange Magic by Syd Moore, who just happens to be my quite brilliant sister-in-law; George Saunders’ Lincoln in the Bardo; Justin Cronin’s City of Mirrors; and, as a nod to my recent trip back to Bris-Vegas after seven years, I just finished Three Crooked Kings by the mighty Matt Condon.

Thanks very much, Darren, and all the best with Exchange of Heart and your next book.

Thank you, Joy! 

Picture Books Steeped in History

From sea to air and up into space. A substantial ship voyage. Amazing aeroplane feats. And a rousing rover exploring the red planet. Three different modes of transport literally transport us back in time with their historical significance, teaching us so much about how we got to where we are today. All inspiring, all empowering. Here are a few prodigious picture book stories steeped in history.

Ten Pound Pom, Carole Wilkinson (author), Liz Anelli (illus.), Walker Books, October 2017.

The true story of an almost thirteen-year-old Carole Wilkinson, Ten Pound Pom tells of the auspicious journey of a young girl and her family immigrating from England to Australia in the early 1960s.

Post World War II, under The White Australia Policy, a scheme called The United Kingdom-Australia Free and Assisted Passage Agreement promised emigrating British sunshine, plentiful food, higher wages and space to live. Ex-servicemen and children could travel for free, and other adults paid only £10, dubbing these migrants as ‘Ten Pound Poms’. The inclusion of facts explaining The £10 Migration Scheme, glossary, and the ship Arcadia, in which Carole’s family travelled, gives the book a depth and validity that is so neatly etched into this fascinating and personal story.

With a few packed boxes of furniture and precious belongings, and a small amount of knowledge about this foreign land, the dream of a new life for the Wilkinsons in Australia was to become a reality. A whole season and 11,397 miles sailed on the SS Arcadia later, the family had ventured into uncharted waters across the Mediterranean, through the Suez Canal, along the Red Sea, through the Indian Ocean and the roughs of the Great Australian Bight to their Adelaide destination. All the while, a young Carole learns of different cultures, experiences new sights and even makes a new friend.

Wilkinson re-lives her time on the “huge floating hotel” in her own childlike voice, and her impressions of life as a new resident in Australia clearly come from a place of fond memories. The illustrations by Liz Anelli superbly capture the elements of the era and the snippets of Carole’s diverse experiences. The pictorial features add energy and information, including maps, scenery and items of interest, breaking up the text to allow readers to absorb each part in manageable chunks.

As a part of the ‘Our Stories’ series, Ten Pound Pom is a valuable, appealing non-fiction/narrative resource for studying history and sharing migration stories. Capturing the hearts and minds of readers in middle to upper primary, and beyond, this book is perfect to pore over for the purposes of research and for pleasure.

Amazing Australians in their Flying Machines, Prue & Kerry Mason (authors), Tom Jellett (illus.), Walker Books, April 2017.

This time we travel by air as we explore the fascinating history of the development of aviation in Australia. In Amazing Australians in their Flying Machines, we are indulged with the stories of ten brave pilots beginning in 1851 through to 1935.

Ex-convict Dr William Bland patented an idea in the 1850s for an Atmotic Ship to journey from England to Australia in a mere few days, as opposed to the norm of the exhausting three month sea voyage. The balloon flight was dubbed as dangerous, and so literally never took off.

We then discover the invention of the cellular box kites that Lawrence Hargrave believed could give the stability needed for flight in 1894. Following that came the glider of George Taylor in 1909, the first heavier-than-air flying machine successfully airborne over Narrabeen Beach. The narrated and factual absorbing text and images continue to delight us with stories from the brilliant air skills of Commanding Officer of the Australian Flying Corps, Richard Williams in 1917, Ross Macpherson Smith’s winning success in the 1919 Great Race from London to Darwin, plus more inspiring heroes including Nancy Bird, the youngest woman pilot in Australia to gain her commercial pilot’s licence at the age of nineteen.

Each double page spread is littered with interesting historical aviation information, speculative personal recounts, and amazing pilot and general knowledge facts. Tom Jellett’s retro-style cartoons interwoven throughout the army-themed coloured pages add the elements of character, humour and verve to support the material and collection of photos.

The authors, Prue and Kerry Mason, inspired to research Australian aviation history after purchasing their own vintage aeroplane, have provided a sterling non-fiction volume of interest for aeroplane enthusiasts and keen history buffs. Amazing Australians in their Flying Machines carries its weight in gold (or air) as an empowering and uplifting primary school vehicle.

Curiosity: The Story of a Mars Rover, Markus Motum (author, illus.), Walker Books, October 2017.

This is the story of Curiosity; a Mars rover sent to far-off places, and I mean far-off places, to discover whether there has been, or ever will be, life on Mars. Here is another out-worldly experience steeped in history that will not only fascinate, but enrich our imaginations and ‘curiosity’ with many unanswered mysteries of the universe.

With its illustriously large landscape orientation, varied text sizes and pictorial layouts, Curiosity certainly lives up to its space-themed nature. The spreads are generously ‘spread out’, leaving plenty of ‘space’ to digest and conceptualise the given information and images. Markus Motum’s diagrammatical, clean and aerodynamic style of graphics suitably provide the book its authenticity, effectiveness and allure.

So why the desire to explore The Red Planet? Scientists believed there was once life on Mars, but for humans to travel in a rocket would take 350,000,000 miles, and the possibility of not returning. That’s where the Mars Rover comes in. With NASA’s ongoing trials and tribulations of previous missions, a more advanced rover was designed and developed in California – the process of equipment and technology inventions are explained in the book. Curiosity, as she was named, was transported across the U.S to the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida, where she was launched into space in November 2011. 253 days later the rover carefully landed with precision. “Touchdown confirmed. We’re safe on Mars!”

With the well-considered inclusion of a timeline of Mars missions from 1964-5 to present to complete the book, the study into climate and geology and the preparation of human exploration shows there is hope still of answering those curious questions of microbial life. Motum’s celebratory book of Curiosity’s fifth year of exploration on Mars is targeted towards kids and adults alike, using a first-person voice from the rover’s perspective. The inclusion of facts is so comprehensive and never compromised, making this a valuable resource to study and treasure.

Mighty Magabala Books

Magabala is a Broome-based Indigenous publisher. It publishes Bruce Pascoe, the award-winning author of Black Emu (for adults) and Fog a Dox, Seahorse and Mrs Whitlam for children. Magabala’s Greg Dreise’s Mad Magpie has just won the Indigenous category of the national Speech Pathology awards. Deadly D and Justice Jones by David Hartley and Scott Prince is an appealing series which I’ve reviewed for the blog previously and Brenton McKenna’s graphic novels, Ubby’s Underdogs are full of appeal.

And one of the most beautiful picture books I’ve ever seen is published by Magabala – Once There Was a Boy by Dub Leffler.

Big Fella Rain 

A suburb new picture book is Big Fella Rain by Beryl Webber. It traces the natural world’s wait for rain in northern Australia. The illustrations by Fern Martins are impressive and one appears above as the feature image for this post. They are lovely, evocative works of art.

Mrs White and the Red Desert 

The red cover of Mrs White and the Red Desert by Josie Boyle, illustrated by Maggie Prewett, represents the overshadowing power of the desert sand to explain in an amusing way why the children’s homework is always smudged with red. This is a highlight in Magabala’s list.

On the Way to Nana’s

Red ochre colour also sets the scene of On the Way to Nana’s by Frances and Lindsay Haji-Ali, illustrated by animator David Hardy. This is an accomplished, extremely appealing, tale of travelling to Nana’s house. Things the family see on the way, from flowers to anthills, goannas, brumbies and boabs, are counted backwards from 15 to 1, which is very useful for children who are learning to count. The numbers are shown as numerals and in words. Some of the text is repetitive, “I’m on the way to Nana’s house. What will I see?”

Molly the Pirate 

The first picture book from Magabala’s Indigenous Creator Scholarship is Molly the Pirate by Lorraine Teece, illustrated by Paul Seden. Molly lives far from the sea but imagines she is a pirate. Paul Seden takes the challenge modelled by the lively text to create vibrant, gloriously-coloured illustrations. He also does a great job with camera angles, particularly from above and below the hills hoist clothes lines.

Free Diving

Based on the song by Lorrae Coffin, Free Diving looks at the role of Indigenous free divers. It is a poignant insight into history, illustrated by Bronwyn Houston.

At the Zoo I See 

At the Beach I See

 Two board books for the very young from the new “Young Art” series are At the Zoo I See by Joshua Button and Robyn Wells (the team behind Steve Goes to Carnival) and At the Beach I See by Kamsani Bin Salleh, who uses black linework with wash backgrounds. 

Art and Music in Picture Books

Art and music feature in some recommended picture books and Christmas gifts.

Wonderlands: The Illustration Art of Robert Ingpen published by the National Library of Australia

Robert Ingpen was born in 1936 and is the only Australian illustrator to have won the prestigious international Hans Christian Andersen award. He is a virtuoso of painterly artwork and has illustrated Australian stories such as Storm Boy by Colin Thiele, Mustara by Rosanne Hawke, Ziba Came on a Boat written by Liz Lofthouse, The Poppykettle series and The Afternoon Treehouse and a long list of children’s classics such as Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (hence the title of this tribute to his work), Peter Pan and Wendy, The Wind in the Willows and The Secret Garden. The Nutcracker, The Night Before Christmas and A Christmas Carol will be perfect books for Christmas. Ingpen has also designed Australian postage stamps.

His most recent books include the awarded outback-based Tea and Sugar Christmas and Radio Rescue! (both written by Jane Jolly). Wonderlands gives a generous insight into these books and others. It is a must-have celebration of children’s literature through the lens of our maestro, Robert Ingpen.

The School of Music by Meurig and Rachel Bowen, illustrated by Daniel Frost (Wide Eyed Editions, Allen & Unwin)

Music is important for the pleasure it gives and because it’s good for the brain and can lead to unexpected friendships and opportunities. Enjoyable and useful to use in homes, schools and music schools, The School of Music is a lavish compendium of music, musicians and instruments in picture book form.

Musician characters (such as Diva Venus, a star singer, Ronny ‘Beethoven’ O’Reilly, a composer and Roxy Mojo, a percussion specialist) are introduced at the beginning of the book and feature strategically throughout to explain concepts. Section 1 looks at different types of music and instruments and how music connects with film, maths, architecture and other disciplines. Section 2 offers a musical toolbox, which enables children to write music, beginning with fun graphic scores using pictures and symbols. Section 3 is about children making music themselves. The book suggests diverse ways such as making a kitchen orchestra as well as playing a conventional instrument or singing. It concludes with tips on performing and composing.

There are bonus music samples accessed by the QR code at the end of the book and children could dip in and out of this book or use it as a Christmas holiday music appreciation and education course, ideally even alongside learning a musical instrument. 

Dance to Dream in Picture books

Four picture books I’ve enjoyed and admired this year range in subject from dance to dreams. Interestingly, they all feature a limited colour palette.

Swan Lake by Anne Spudvilas

Illustrator-icon Anne Spudvilas is known for The Peasant Prince by Li Cunxin (my teacher notes are on the Reading Australia site), Woolvs in the Sitee (written by Margaret Wild) and her first book The Race by Christobel Mattingley which won the Crichton Award for Illustration and was a CBCA Honour Book. Her new interpretation of Swan Lake (Allen & Unwin) is a sumptuous gift book. It is a retelling of Tchaikovsky’s ballet set on the Murray-Darling. The lavish illustrations are textured and allusive. Spudvilas features black and white with occasional  limited shades of yellow, and red for a few sparse dramatic and accentuated moments.

Stepping Stones: A Refugee Family’s Journey by Margriet Ruurs, artwork by Nizar Ali Badr

Stepping Stones (UQP) was published earlier in the year but remains timely with the ongoing issues in caring for and resettling refugees. Margriet Ruurs saw Syrian, Nizar Ali Badr’s stone and pebble artwork online and worked hard and inventively to contact him and gain permission to use his art to highlight the plight of those escaping the horrors of war. The text is written in Arabic and English.

Drawn Onward by Meg McKinlay, illustrated by Andrew Frazer

Another unusual and fascinating picture book is Drawn Onward (Fremantle Press), a palindromic text which can be read forwards and backwards . Meg McKinlay, who is most well-known for her multiple awarded dystopian novel, A Single Stone, uses the palindrome form to rephrase negative phrases and thoughts into positive. She calls it “optimism training for our kids”. The design is appropriately subtle and enigmatic.

Danny Blue’s Really Excellent Dream by Max Landra

Like the other books reviewed here, colour is used efficaciously in Danny Blue’s Really Excellent Dream (Lothian Children’s Books, Hachette). The story begins “Once in a blue moon, everyone has a really, really excellent dream.” Danny’s world is coloured blue and his father’s factory makes every hue of blue paint. After Danny’s dessert of blueberries one night, he dreams, not in blue, but of a red whale. Blue continues to dominate his life until he decides to create his dream colour in paint. It takes until Day 99 when “Not – Blue” appears and, even though people are suspicious, Not-Blue starts showing up where it’s not expected. This is a wonderful book about being different, dreaming and persistence in creativity.

The Full ‘I Need to Buy and Post Books’ Panic

It’s November, which means I’ve hit the full ‘I need to buy and post book presents to my overseas friends’ panic. This panic will, of course, subside temporarily and I’ll procrastinate about buying and posting said books until, oh, 1 December. At which time the panic will return with a vengeance.

It happens every. single. year.

In an effort to get out ahead of it this time around, I’m trying to publicly hold myself accountable. Also, I need some help.

One particular set of friends who are Dutch and Irish, who live in London, have an 18-month-year-old Dutch–Irish child. Their child is about as adorable as any child could be, but I know nothing about kids, much less their reading habits. I’m wondering if anyone can recommend some awesome, modern Australian-authored books for young avid readers?

I’m particularly less after slightly dated and slightly inappropriately racist Gumnut Babies, less books like Alison Lester’s Magic Beach that have been around for decades, and more modern Australian books ala Aaron Blabey’s Pig the Pug, Piranhas Don’t Eat Bananas, and Thelma the Unicorn. (Side note: How awesome is Blabey’s work?! I stumbled across the three aforementioned books a few months back and loved them so much I could barely bring myself to gift them when I headed to visit my Dutch and Irish friends in London. Their child loved the books, and I actually enjoyed reading the books to them, so it was win–win, really.)

Basically, I’m after books that showcase contemporary Australian authors and tales my friends may not have otherwise encountered. Which is a big ask given the flattening of the world thanks to the internets making everything available everywhere all the time. Think witty storylines that double as cultural critiques about ponies who stick carrots on their heads and reinvent themselves as unicorns. Think piranhas who demonstrate veganism as something interesting and fun. Think a pug with the name of another animal species whose outrageous selfishness contains abundant lessons for us all.

If you have any recommendations, I’m all ears until the 1 December freak out kicks in.

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Review: Starfish by Akemi Dawn Bowman

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Starfish by Akemi Dawn Bowman is a beautiful book about art and anxiety and dealing with poisonous people in your life. I found it equal parts brutal and brilliant, so packed with emotion and heart that I couldn’t help falling in love by the end. It also has an incredible ending that just filled my heart so much (you know…right after it finished smashing my heart into little pieces). Definitely all signs of an incredible book!

The story follows Kiko who is an artist with severe social anxiety. She’s trapped in a home where her mother is openly racist and basically psychologically torments her, all under the guise of just being a “caring parent”. Kiko feels like she doesn’t and will never belong as a biracial Japanese-American. All she can dream about is getting into a specific art school after graduation, where she get away from her mother’s torment and start a new life for herself. But what if she doesn’t get in?

It had the simple best and most brutally accurate representation of social anxiety I’ve ever read. It made my heart ache for Kiko as she battled the deeply rooted feelings of being a burden, being unwanted, being a problem to everyone. She couldn’t just “go an hang out” at a party. The anxiety levels were so intense she sometimes couldn’t even leave her car. It’s also uplifting to see her journey through it. This isn’t a story that uses mental illness as just a tragedy. It shows the dark cruel side, of course, but it also talks about recovery and finding yourself and learning to feel loved. (But there’s also no messages of “love cures all” which is refreshing!)

Kiko’s family life breaks my heart. Her mother was an utter psychopath and it was unbelievable how racist she was towards her own kids. Kiko never felt loved, pretty, validated, or cared about. Reading about it made me burn with righteous fury. Kiko just wanted her mother to acknowledge her art but her mother refused unless it gained her power. I rooted for Kiko to get her dream of being an artist and get out so so bad.

I loved the super sweet friendship between her and Jamie. They’re childhood friends who lost each other when they were 11 and now he’s back! Their lack of communication really grated on me, but they’re teens and this is just realistic. I love how slowly and tentatively they explored their feelings. And it was literally the sweetest thing how Jamie was there for her.

I loved the discussions about being biracial from an #ownvoices author. The author wrote her perspective so fluently and beautifully that it was an amazing insight to read. I felt so connected to Kiko and I loved watching her start to feel empowered by here Japanese roots, not ashamed.

The art aspect was also glorious! Every chapter ended with a little snippet of what Kiko was drawing that day and the imagination was stunning. My only wish was that the book had included some sketches! (I need fan art for this wow.) And the book really reminded me of I’ll Give You The Sun by Jandy Nelson. Total recommend for them both obviously. It explores a bit of the tortured-artist feelings, but also the empowerment of releasing your emotions through visual displays and turning something ugly into something beautiful.

Starfish was a beautiful and poignant story that really digs into your heart! It’s seriously sad and hard to read at times as you watch Kiko’s life spin out of control. But the point is, she wants to get the control back. She is an anxious character, but not a passive one. I thought this book was brilliant!

Feeling Good – Books to Increase Awareness

Getting to know oneself and understanding the world that shapes us is one of the first steps to feeling good about oneself and the world in which we live. This handful of books addresses the art of awesomeness and why it’s important to live it.

It’s OK To Feel The Way You Do by Josh Langley

Langley’s little books of BIG messages about self-help and self-esteem are house favourites. Neither overtly moralistic nor sermonic, they present beautiful messages of love, understanding and hope, accompanied with novel, cartoon-esque illustrations.

Continue reading Feeling Good – Books to Increase Awareness

The Grand, Genius Summer of Henry Hoobler & Lisa Shanahan

Thank you for speaking to Boomerang Blog, Lisa and congratulations on your recent win for The Grand, Genius Summer of Henry Hoobler at the Queensland Literary Awards. We’ll talk more about that soon.

Thank you, Joy! And many thanks for having me on the blog.

But first, where are you based and what is your background?

I live in Sydney, with my husband and our three sons, not far from where I grew up as a kid. I initially studied Communications straight out of high school at UTS, where I majored in writing and media theory, before then going on to train as an actor at Theatre Nepean, UWS. Towards the end of my acting training, I taught drama to a group of kids out at Mount Pleasant and I wrote them a play. It was then that it finally dawned on me that I didn’t want to be an actor after all, that in fact I wanted to be a writer but for young people, rather than adults. So not long after, I enrolled in a writing course with the acclaimed children’s author Libby Gleeson. That course felt both like a complete revelation and a homecoming. It was there that I workshopped a picture text I had written on my honeymoon of all places, about a little boy and his ice cream van driving dad. Libby Gleeson was a wonderful teacher and she instinctively knew how to draw out the possibilities of both a writer and a text and because of that early encouragement, here I am sixteen books later.

Do you give many presentations to children? How do you make them interesting?  Have there been any particularly memorable responses?

I’ve spoken to thousands of kids over the years, presenting talks and writing workshops. In my general talks, I’ll often share funny stories about my life, what kind of kid I was growing up and especially some of the funny stories about bringing up my boys. There’s lots of acting and hilarity, especially when I share the inspiration behind stories like Sleep Tight, My Honey or My Mum Tarzan. I always bring along some of my writing journals and I usually explore the growth of at least one book in detail, from first seed to final story. I’m keen for kids to hear about the writing process but I’m also especially passionate for them to grasp how curiosity about ordinary moments can lead to the creation of juicy stories.

Funnily enough, some of the loveliest moments happen when I’m not speaking at all, when little clusters of kids sidle up at the end of a session to confide about a book they’ve been writing, or how they’re going to go out and buy their own writing journal that very afternoon, so they can write about the idea they have for a funny story about their own crazy mum, grandpa or dog. Because just as much as I want kids to love my books, at the end of the day, I want to inspire them even more so to discover the beauty and worth of their own stories.

I adore your laugh-out-loud YA novel My Big Birkett (it’s one of my all-time favourites) and love reciting parts about the animals that mate for life, The Tempest and gorgeous Raven and the meals he makes using mince; as well as your wonderful picture books. Could you tell us about some of these books?

Thanks Joy! It makes me especially happy to know that you are a Raven fan!

I’m often asked what I prefer to write most and I always say I love writing both picture books and novels and that I couldn’t choose between them. The best part of writing picture books for me is the absolute thrill of collaboration. I’ve been fortunate enough to work with so many brilliant illustrators over the years and each one has taught me so much about the power of the visual text. Some of my picture books that have been especially well-received include the Bear and Chook books, illustrated by Emma Quay, Gordon’s got a Snookie, illustrated by Wayne Harris and Big Pet Day, illustrated by Gus Gordon, who was also on the QLA shortlist too, for his gorgeous picture book, Somewhere Else. My most recent picture book is  Hark, It’s Me, Ruby Lee! illustrated by Binny Talib. This was such a tough text to illustrate, mainly because of the fairly swift juxtaposition of the scenes of school life, with Ruby Lee’s fervent imagination. I’m just so delighted at what a marvellously beautiful job Binny has done.

I will say that one of the unforeseen joys of my writing life has been the steady, heartfelt emails I have received over the years from teen readers regarding My Big Birkett. These emails about Gemma and Raven and the De Head family have been incredibly sincere and poignant and they have often left me with a huge lump in my throat.

I know this is a tricky question but how do you incorporate humour into your writing?

This is a tricky question! As a kid, I looked into books like they were real windows. The books that spoke to me most were always the ones that captured acutely the laugh-out-loud jumbly nature of life, alongside the bittersweet ache. In terms of writing humour, I always keep an ear out for those little things that will make kids laugh. Not so long ago, my sister told me a story about how her four-year old son crept into her bed in the middle of the night and snuggled up tight to her, saying, ‘I love you so much Mummy, I want to shoot you out of a cannon!’ When I tell that story to kids, they roll around on the floor, laughing their heads off. But at the same time I know they recognise the vehemence of that kind of love, because they’ve felt it rocketing around in their own chests. I think humour has this remarkable capacity to encourage true connection and I’m always keen to incorporate it in my work, because it radically paves the way for readers to engage more fully and tenderly not only with a character’s dreams, fears, hopes and sorrows but also perhaps, with their own.

The Grand, Genius Summer of Henry Hoobler (A&U) has just won the QLA Griffith University Children’s Book award. The judge report says:

“The Grand Genius Summer of Henry Hoobler is structured as a quintessential Australian beach camping holiday but the exceptional storytelling soars to welcome the reader into both the setting and young Henry Hoobler’s rites of passage. We are given a heart-warming insight into introspective Henry. He is a genius at noticing things, surprising his fellow campers with his success in board and card games. He is also ‘Mr Worst-Case Scenario’, dreading the bugs, stingers and sharks of the beach but, most of all, dreading learning to ride his new silver bike. The bike is a symbol of fear, but its significance changes as Henry discovers courage and freedom. Courage can be found when friends are ‘straight-up and true’, embodied by free-spirit Cassie. This tale reminds us that everyone is different and everyone has gifts. Some, like Henry, prefer to learn quietly but even extroverts can be fearful.

The writing is literary and metaphorical, encompassing a vast emotional range whilst being utterly engaging for children. It is rare to encounter a novel for mid-primary children characterised by such perception and cadence.”

What was your reaction when you realised you had won? 

Lisa Shanahan, second from right, with judges

I was astonished and delighted. It took quite a few days for it to truly sink in. Then I was just overcome with immense gratitude that the judges had seen something special in Henry.

It was wonderful to meet your young son, Rohan, at the awards presentation in Brisbane (and others there loved seeing him reading The Hobbit as the night wore on). Why was he there and what was your dual experience of the awards evening?

One of the initial nudges for writing Henry Hoobler was watching Rohie develop as a reader. After a slow start, he had a very sudden and rapid acceleration over a single year and I knew he was in this slippery in-between stage, where the books he was capable of reading were still quite a huge stretch for him emotionally. I began to wonder if I could write something that would speak directly to his life. As I wrote Henry, I read chapter after chapter out loud to Rohie. When I had finished the book and before it had been published, he persuaded his class teacher that I should come to school and read some chapters to his whole class as well. I dedicated the novel to Rohan because I wanted to acknowledge just what an incredible gift it was to have his enthusiastic encouragement along the way.

Rohie is an avid bookworm and so hanging out at the QLA awards ceremony for him was suddenly like meeting all of his people, all at once. He was especially touched that I mentioned him in my speech and I was especially touched when Rebe Taylor, the winner of the QLA History Book Award asked him to sign her copy of Henry. I can safely say that if Rohie’s class teacher had seen that handwriting, he would have been granted his official pen licence on the spot!

What is the significance of the title The Grand, Genius Summer of Henry Hoobler?

Early in the novel, Henry discovers that his rather unique talent for noticing things, makes him almost unbeatable when it comes to playing cards and board games. After Henry convincingly and unexpectedly smashes all the men and the older boys at games, Patch, his rather begrudging older brother finally acknowledges that Henry might be bit of a grand genius. It’s the beginning of a radical shift in the way Henry sees himself. Although Henry has replayed every worst case scenario in vivid detail regarding his camping holiday, what he has never considered is all the ways this summer might turn out to be the best one yet, the grand, genius summer of all summers.

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

Henry is a sensitive, imaginative and thoughtful nine-year old boy. He is the middle child, slotted right in between his athletically gifted, funny, know-it-all fifteen-year old brother Patch and his rambunctious, My Little Pony obsessed younger sister Lulu. Both Henry and his mum share some anxious traits and tend towards self-reflection and to feeling things deeply. Henry is very keen to please his exuberant dad, who is a real enthusiast for life. But Henry is filled with dread at the idea of learning how to ride his new bike without training wheels, especially in front of prickly Reed Barone, another boy who is close to Henry’s age and who is prone to sneering. Eventually, Henry meets ten-year old Cassie, who lives onsite in a caravan with her Pop. Cassie is a free spirit and alive to the world in ways that astonish Henry. Finally, Cassie’s straight up and true courage rubs off and with an unexpected Lulu intervention, Henry learns how to summon up his own courage and to do a whole series of adventurous things that he never imagined.

For what age-group is this novel intended?

Henry is intended for 7-11 year olds. I’ve been really pleased though by the numbers of reviewers that have also recommended it as a read-aloud for the whole family or the school classroom too.

How did you balance fine literary writing with the other elements of the narrative?

I was keen to write in a way that was hospitable to all kinds of middle grade readers, those that were confidently independent and those newly finding their feet. As a result, the story contains lots of snappy dialogue, which helps to give the text an easy, engaging flow. In terms of metaphoric imagery, I kept in mind some feedback given to me around another novel, regarding the importance of restraint. I was conscious that any poetic moment really had to serve the story and forward the action. At the same time, I wanted the novel to contain a certain richness of vocabulary because something the American writer Madeleine L’Engle once said has stayed with me for years, ‘We think because we have words, not the other way around. The more words we have, the better able we are to think conceptually.’ So balancing all of these elements was challenging, a little like prancing across a highwire tightrope.

As well as being good fun to read, Henry Hoobler has some important underpinning themes. Could you share some of these?

I’m always a little cautious when discussing themes because I know the writer is sometimes the least insightful person on that subject! With Henry though, I was keen to explore the nature of courage, the way one young boy discovers how to be brave over the summer, by learning how to make a tiny bit of room for the worry in his life, without giving it the whole house. The novel examines the transformative nature of unexpected friendship, the contagiousness of courage, the way we need one another in order to learn how to become brave and the way courage always arrives through the actual taking of considered risks. The novel celebrates the importance of family and community and the value of perseverance, forgiveness and kindness. I was keen to write about the beauty of the natural world and how to recognise and treasure the true significance of small ordinary moments.

Which awards have had particular significance for you? 

Whenever a book of mine is either shortlisted or receives an award, I’m always extraordinarily surprised and grateful. I know it’s such a hard job to make those kinds of choices, especially when there are so many equally deserving and beautiful books out in the world. Writing a book does take a significant investment of energy and time and winning an award always means that a book will have a much greater chance of being widely read. I was particularly thrilled in 2010 when Bear and Chook by the Sea won the CBCA’s Book of the Year for Early Childhood, not just because it was a moment I got to share with my good friend the illustrator Emma Quay but also because as a kid, I drew a poster every single year for Oatley Library’s celebrations of the Children’s Book Council’s Book of the Year Awards. I was desperate to win a book prize in that poster competition, never dreaming that I would one day write a book that would win an award from such a long-established and hallowed institution.

What are you writing next?

I’ve been writing a series of picture book texts and I’m just returning now to a novel for teenagers that has been patiently waiting it’s turn.

What have you enjoyed reading recently?

I’ve loved Elizabeth Strout’s Anything is Possible, Karen Foxlee’s A Most Magical Girl, James Rebanks The Shepherd’s Life, Brian Doyle’s collection of essays Leaping: Revelations and Epiphanies and the picture books Oi, Frog by Kez Gray and Jim Field and Once Upon a Small Rhinoceros by Meg McKinlay and Leila Rudge.

Do you have a website?

www.lisashanahan.com

Anything else you’d like to add?

Thanks so much for having me on the blog and for asking such astonishingly good, stretching questions. It was lovely to take the time to reflect and ponder.

Thanks for your very thoughtful and insightful responses, Lisa and all the very best with your excellent novel, The Grand, Genius Summer of Henry Hoobler, and your other works. We greatly look forward to what your imaginative mind will bring us next.

Mind Provoking Prose – MG and YA Reads for the Venturesome

If the prospect of bored minds and restless spirits daunts you, consider these literary excursions for your middle grade and YA readers. Not only are they mind provoking and incisive, they offer experiences for the venturesome reader to revere and ruminate over long after they’ve read the last page.

How to Bee by Bren MacDibble

This is a brave story set in Australia in the not-too-distant future with global implications. Peony lives with her sister and aging grandfather on a fruit farm. Her chief aspiration is to be a Bee – the bravest, most nimble of farm workers who flit from tree to tree pollinating flowers by hand. If this concept sounds slightly askew, it’ll be one you are thoroughly comfortable with by the time you’ve experienced MacDibble’s palpably natural, narrative. Could this be the end of the world as we know it or, as I’d rather believe, just another notable chapter in the history of humans being humans – badly.

Whatever your take on climate change and the way we treat the planet, How to Bee, never wallows in despair or hindsight and neither does Peony who positively radiates tenacity, kindness and sass so loudly, her voice really will be resounding long after you read the last page. When  Peony is taken from her home by a mother who aspires for more than just the meagre country existence the rest of her family and friends endure, her brassy drive and cast-iron determination draw her right back to the home she loves, like a bee to its hive. But not before she spreads a little hope and good sense in the big scary city.

This story will make you grin, cheer, cry just a bit and want to fly with Peony as she Bees. It’s about being true to yourself, to those who love you, about living your dreams wildly and the profound power of friendship. It could also quite possibly change your whole outlook of and appreciation for fruit. More highly recommended than an apple a day for middle grade readers from eight upwards.

Allen and Unwin April 2017

Continue reading Mind Provoking Prose – MG and YA Reads for the Venturesome

Review: Turtles All The Way Down by John Green

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Turtles All the Way Down by John Green is such a highly anticipated novel of 2017 and it absolutely astounds with it’s incredible story. It’s so John Green-esque with the metaphors, quirky characters, and copious amounts of existential crises. I also appreciated the raw and personal approach to OCD that definitely makes this book a standout.  Turtles All The Way Down is about mental health and missing persons and sad rich boys and friendship. I couldn’t be happier with it!

 

The plot was really amazing! I found it on the slow side, but still thoroughly excellent. I loved that it wasn’t rife with cliches or annoying tropes, which was refreshing and just made the book more heartfelt. It was real and that makes all the difference. It’s not really a “detective” story as such, but Aza is curious about the mission millionaire because she used to know his son, Davis. She does a bit of digging…although to be honest most of her “investigative work” is on Davis. How adorable.

Aza was an amazing protagonist! She is extremely quiet. She hardly ever talks and she’s very much locked in her own head. I appreciated that spoke little and listened a lot, and the diving into her complex and messy thought process that’s coloured by her mental illness was interesting and so respectfully portrayed.  She’s obviously extremely intelligent. All John Green’s characters always are?! I love how “pretentious” they are because I was like that as a kid…hello #relatable. Let’s talk about the stars and metaphors and what poetry means and the infinite possibilities of death and life. The sheer amount of knowledge these kids spew out is just refreshing and perfect to me.

The anxiety/OCD was really brutally and honestly talked about. I do wish the term “OCD” had been used because labels aren’t things to be scared of and it would’ve honestly helped smash more stereotypes. A lot of people won’t know that Aza has OCD because it’s not on page (but John Green talks about it a lot in his vlogs and such). This isn’t the cliche portrayal of OCD either. It’s more about the anxiety of thought-spirals, the repetition to the point of endangering yourself, and the fixation on things you know aren’t a problem but you can’t stop thinking they are. You are not watching someone with OCD, you are experiencing what it’s like to have OCD while reading this book. And that’s so important.

The romance was absolutely super adorable! I loved Davis immediately. He’s rich and always thinks everyone pays attention to him solely because of his money. He’s not good at small talk either and will dive straight into complex conversation (he’s amazing) and he is the sweetest big brother. His dad is missing and so his life is tangled and sad and complicated. I loved how he and Aza slowly rekindled their childhood friendship. It’s the cutest romance, but slow and cautious and fraught with indecision and the complications of Aza’s OCD and Davis’s grief.

I loved how deep the story was too. It just wants to talk about huge matters, and some of the metaphors were extremely intense. The book feels layered and I think you could get more out of it each time you reread.

And since it is, in fact, a John Green novel…I was gut-punched with severe emotions at the end! I hated (in the best way!) and loved it simultaneously and think it was written perfectly.

I think Turtles All the Way Down is an absolutely deep and existential book that really discusses minds and who we are. It’s sad and it’s not sugar coated. There’s no messages that you need to be fixed to have a good life. Your mental illness isn’t ALL of you, but it is some of you. I really appreciated this book and its messages and its beautiful prose.

Anybody can look at you. It’s quite rare to find someone who sees the same world you do.

Review: Ramona Blue by Julie Murphy

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RAMONA BLUE by Julie Murphy is a heartfelt and beautiful coming-of-age story. It’s about growing up, discovering your sexuality, and swimming and eating a lot of delicious food. (Particularly different ways to eat your eggs, which is quality content.) I think it touched on a lot of applicable and poignant themes that a lot of teens will struggle with or relate to. And the character cast was so excellent it just took the story from being on a flat 2D page to exploding into real life.

The story follows Ramona Laroux, who is quite poor and quite unusual. She has blue hair and is super tall and she lives in a trailer park and she honestly can’t see her life ever going anywhere. Her older teen sister is pregnant and Ramona has no money for college. She wants to leave town but…she doesn’t. She has some great friends here and she honestly is too scared to want more. Then her old childhood friend, Freddie, returns to town. Ramona is still exploring a label for her sexuality, unsure if she’s lesbian or bi or pan, and as chemistry sparks between her and Freddie it opens up a lot of discussions about the fluidity of sexuality. But ultimately: is Ramona going to take charge of her own life or just let it take her?

The characters are definitely the shining glory of the book! It’s very very character driven and has quite a huge cast that all leap off the page with diversity and personality. Most of the secondary characters are queer too and the love interest, Freddie, is black. At first I was a little overwhelmed by the amount of secondary characters but they quickly became real and solid people in my mind and I enjoyed the banter and the escapades. (They literally steal into someone’s backyard to swim at some stage.) I must admit I love Saul who’s favourite audience to his shenanigans was….himself.

I think the discussion on sexuality was very important! Ramona identifies as queer but not quite sure what label she has. She kisses and loves girls but she also is fiercely attracted to Freddie. I loved their romance and also the fact that Ramona isn’t going to stop loving girls or “straighten out” because of Freddie. I think it’s an important thing to discuss fluidity and I feel the book does it respectfully.

I also highly appreciated all the food in the book since wow do these characters have excellent taste buds and enjoy their delicious snacks.

The book also takes us to a large variety of settings which was exciting and fun! Ramona and Freddie start swimming at the local pool and there’s plenty of visiting houses and cities and delicious diners. I think it’s important in contemporaries to showcase a variety of settings to keep the plot moving. And the pacing was a bit on the slow side, but still captivating, with how strongly the characters lead the plot.

RAMONA BLUE is a summery story that deals with a lot of deep issues. It has real and honest conversations and it’s poignant and well written with characters you can root for and no black-and-white answers to all of life’s questions. You have to discover them for yourself!

Katherine Rundell, Wisher & Explorer

London-based writer Katherine Rundell has sprung into prominence with her children’s novels in recent times. She has just written two more books and one is a sumptuous Christmas picture book, One Christmas Wish, illustrated by Emily Sutton (Bloomsbury). It draws on many nostalgic and loved Christmas images, such as being with family and decorating the tree.

One Christmas Wish begins on Christmas Eve with Theo sorting out the Christmas decorations. He finds four unexpected and dilapidated pieces: a rocking horse, a robin, a tin soldier and an angel. His parents are out working and his new babysitter has fallen asleep with her phone but Theo sees a shooting star and wishes to not be alone. The four decorations seem to come to life and offer to help Theo with whatever he needs. However, the decorations all need something themselves, such as the robin remembering how to sing and the soldier needing someone to love and protect. The heart of Christmas is reached when they find a nativity scene in the town square and Theo’s Christmas wish comes true soon after.

The illustrations invite you into the scenes, particularly those with full bleeds to the pages’ edges such as in Mrs Goodyere’s cosy room where she teaches the robin to sing Away in a Manger and the snowy wood where Theo and the others search for feathers to replenish the angel’s wings.

The Explorer (illustrated by Hannah Horn; published by Bloomsbury) is Katherine Rundell’s other new book and it is a rollicking adventure for primary children set in the Amazon after Fred’s small plane crashes. Two girls about his age, Con and Lila, and five-year-old Max also survive. They rescue a baby sloth, raid a bee-hive, make a raft and find a map. They resolve to venture to where the X on the map is located. Disconcertingly, there are signs that someone else has lived in the jungle too.

There is some depth in the narrative, particularly as the children undergo rites of passage. Even though their existence is difficult, at times Fred seems pleased not to be living a humdrum life: “At school, it’s the same thing, every day. I liked that it might be all right to believe in large, mad, wild things.”

The Explorer is inspired by Eva Ibbotson’s Journey to the River Sea, and these two novels do share a similar sense of adventure and freedom.

Katherine Rundell also wrote Rooftoppers, which was one of my top novels for children in 2013 (along with Kirsty Murray’s The Four Seasons of Lucy McKenzie). Rundell has published a couple of other junior novels, including the acclaimed The Wolf Wilder (Bloomsbury, 2015).

Interview with Cameron Macintosh – Max Booth Future Sleuth

Cameron Macintosh’s debut children’s fantasy sci-fi series for middle graders, Max Booth Future Sleuth, is a mind-bending, time-warping fun adventure about a boy and his robo-dog sidekick on a mission to uncover the truths about ‘ancient’ artefacts (Are the ‘80s really that ancient?!). The first book to send us looping back and forth between time zones is Tape Escape. Set in 2424, it is a comically suspenseful story that sees Max and Oscar in all sorts of strife, following the theft of the valuable, all-encompassing, legendary David Snowie-archived cassette tape from the hands of a maniacal musicology nutter. Certainly one to goggle over (or google if you’re under 20), for its fascinating reflections into technological history and advancements.

Big Sky Publishing

With a background in editing and writing educational texts, Cameron coolly strode his way into the world of children’s fiction. Thanks for sharing your writing journey and Max Booth insights with us, Cameron!

Firstly, please tell us a bit about your writing journey and how you came to write for children. What’s the best part of this career choice?

My writing journey has been very long and slow, but worth every twist and detour. Like a lot of writers, my journey started as a primary school kid. In my case it was writing rambling rhyming stories that weren’t nearly as clever as I thought they were at the time! I didn’t seriously think writing could be a career option until I enrolled in the RMIT Professional Writing and Editing course and found work as an editor out of that – in educational publishing. It took a few years, but I eventually used my contacts as an editor to leapfrog into writing educational texts. I’ve been happily doing that since 2008, but it wasn’t until 2016 that I made the much longed-for leap into mainstream trade publishing when Big Sky Publishing offered to take on the first Max Booth book.

For me, the best part of writing for kids is that it’s a licence to let your imagination run wild, and to revisit ideas that added extra levels of magic to your own childhood. I also get a lot of satisfaction from knowing that, in a small way, I’m part of an incredible community of writers, teachers, librarians and parents who are passionate about encouraging kids to develop a love for reading.

Congratulations on the releases of your latest books in the exciting Max Booth Future Sleuth series, Tape Escape and Selfie Search! What was the experience of writing this series like for you? What themes are at the heart of these stories?

Thank you! It was a very different experience writing each of them. I started the first book, Tape Escape, about four years ago as an attempt to branch out from educational writing. It was three years before the wonderful people at Big Sky offered to take it on, so I’d been living with it for quite a while. That was probably a good thing, because the story had time to find its feet and go through several drafts and workshops with my wonderful writing group.

The second book, Selfie Search, was a very different experience – I’d pitched Max Booth as a potential series, and Big Sky wanted another book to follow it up fairly quickly. I’d already written four or five mini-synopses for future titles, so much of the plot was already in place. And obviously, the characters and world of the story had already been set up in Tape Escape, so it wasn’t too hard to put it together in the space of a few months.

The themes of the books include technology, family, friendship and historical discovery – a strange mix but somehow they seem to work together!

I loved the whirlwind time warp of recollecting the past and imagining the future. Where did the inspiration for these books come from? Were you a hard core sci-fi / fantasy fan as a child? Is there something about time travel that steered you towards this angle? How much research went into plotting accurate facts in technological history?

The initial inspiration came from a visit to Naples and Pompeii, where I encountered all sorts of objects that had survived the devastating eruption nearly 2000 years ago – mostly everyday, domestic items like crockery and hair combs. My fascination for these objects started me wondering whether similarly mundane objects from our own lives would be so interesting to future generations. All I needed was a character with that very fascination (hello Max!) and I was off and running.

Oddly enough, I wasn’t a huge sci-fi or fantasy fan as a kid, apart from Star Wars and Monkey Magic (if they count!), and a few one-off books. But over the last few years I’ve found that speculating about the shape of the world over the coming centuries seems to unleash lots of sparks for story ideas.

In terms of research, the main thing I need to be sure of is that the dates line up correctly for the 20th and 21st century objects Max investigates in each book. I also need to scratch a little deeper for some of the objects because each book ends with a factual spread about the main item Max investigates, giving basic information about its history and how it works.

How have you found the feedback from your readers so far? What have they loved the most about Max Booth? Is this what you had hoped to achieve?

It’s been very encouraging so far. Most importantly for me, they’ve enjoyed the humour, and have liked Max’s robo-dog, Oscar. I’ve also had feedback that readers have liked the future gadgetry, and that parents have found the stories a useful springboard for conversations with their kids about the technologies they grew up with. That’s really pleasing too.

Dave Atze’s illustrations are humorous, energetic and befittingly shrewd. What was it like collaborating with him? Were there any surprises along the way?

You’ve really summed up Dave’s work perfectly. It’s such a treat to work with an artist who has such an intuitive feel for characters and sci-fi settings. His illustrations are really funny too. In terms of the collaboration, I’d included lots of suggestions in the manuscripts. Between Dave, the publisher and myself, we whittled them down to the most important ones, and Dave pretty much took the reigns from there. He nailed the ideas really quickly and we really didn’t need to do a lot of to-and-fro.

The biggest surprise for me was seeing these characters come to life so closely to how I’d imagined them. There was definitely some kind of telepathy going on!

What is your favourite technological device from the past, and what do you think it might be in the future?

My favourite device from the past would have to be my Nintendo Game and Watch game (Popeye!) from the 80s. For the uninitiated, Game and Watch was a series of simple hand-held LED games that were seriously addictive, and are now quite collectible.

My favourite future device will be a scalp-massaging bike helmet – can someone please invent one soon?

What would be your dream time zone for writing be?

It’s not very romantic, but I sometimes wish it was the early 90s again – where we had the benefit of decent word processors without the distraction of the internet! Failing that, an attic in a French castle in the 1880s would be okay too – as long as I can bring a heater and a massage chair.

What projects are you currently working on? What can your fans expect to see from you in the ‘not-too-distant’ future?

I’m currently working hard on the third Max Booth book, and having a lot of fun with it. I won’t say too much about the plot, except that in this one, it’s a very low-tech item that Max is investigating.

There’s also an almost-finished YA novel that I’ll get back to when Max is off the desk, and I’ve recently started plotting a book for adults – I think it’s a crime story, but who knows, it’ll probably end up morphing into sci-fi!

Where can we learn more about you and your books?

Until Andrew Morton writes the biography, the best place to start is probably my website: www.cameronemacintosh.com.au. I’m also on Facebook as ‘Cameron Macintosh, author’ and Twitter @CamMaci99. The Max Booth books are available at www.bigskypublising.com.au.

Thanks so much, Cameron, for discussing your writing journey, past, present and future! 👦🏼 🐶 📼

It’s been a lot of fun, Romi. Thanks a billion for having me!

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Super (not so) Scary Halloween Reads

If you haven’t already consumed your friends or scared the pants off yourself after reading Romi’s recommended Halloween reads,  then whip out your witch’s hat and strap on your bat wings; here are a few more scary reads guaranteed to bring out the ghoul in your little monsters.

Scream! series by Jack Heath (Dimity’s perennial Halloween favourite)

This is a seriously spooky series of stories for middle grade readers. All types of whacky scary and wonderful; youngsters will devour these offbeat tales beginning with The Human Flytrap, progressing to The Spider Army, The Haunted Book and finally slithering to The Squid Slayer. This series gets better and better the more involved you get. Spine chilling tension focuses on a different member of a team of four young sleuths and erstwhile mystery magnets who live in the creepy town of Axe Falls, a place teeming with unusual, nightmarish realties and reoccurring reasons to scream, often.

Josh, his sister and their friends encounter weird creatures and endless dubious going-ons, which they have to battle violently against in order to survive.  This series promises un-put-downable excitement and thrills guaranteed to increase the heart rate of 8 – 14-year-olds. The first book will have you screaming well into the night! Highly recommended.

Scholastic July 2015

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Review: Now I Rise by Kiersten White

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Now I Rise by Kiersten White was a brilliant, dark, and brutal sequel to And I Darken. I always get a bit nervous that a sequel won’t live up to the first book: but this one slayed. Literally and figuratively.  Lada has never had any chill, but in Now I Rise, she basically has less than none. The book is a complex twist of wars and sieges, of triumph and loss, and it has so much character development that it just shines.

The story picks up where And I Darken left off: With Lada charging back to claim the Wallachian throne and become Prince, and Radu is still with Mehmed, pining for a love he will never be given until he ends up in the midst of the siege of Constantinople where he could very well die for his loyalty to Mehmed. It’s full of wars and battle and follows the siblings as they grow apart but severely miss each other, and also realise that Mehmed isn’t the golden perfect boy they always believed.

The characters are really the stand-out for this series! They are both clever and cunning, and Radu goes about it in an intellectual way while Lada uses force and brutality. Lada will cut her way to the throne and she empowers women and refuses to be underestimated, although she has to fight for every grain of respect.

Meanwhile Radu is just over here being small and perfect and pure. I absolutely adore him. He’s the kind of character who is so fiercely loyal and determined, but also hopelessly used by people he trusts — and it breaks your heart! I wanted more for Radu. He deserves better. But also his planning, cunning, and ability to never fail is absolutely astounding. I also thought his character development was stunning and well crafted.

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The book features a lot of the terrors of war and the price you pay to succeed. Either by capturing a city (for Mehmed’s forces) or getting a throne (for Lada and her rogue men). I love how it contrasted two types of battles! It’s not graphic with the gore, but it definitely makes sure you know this isn’t a pretty picnic. I also liked how it contrasted the two religions of Christianity vs Muslim. There’s no “good vs bad” here, as both religions are going to war for their Gods and thinking they’re doing the “right” thing…no matter how many innocents get slain in the way. I think religion is important to talk about in YA, so I’m glad the book focuses so much on them!

One of my favourite things too is how Radu and Lada thought of each other. They’re like half worlds away and they’re so DIFFERENT as people…but the spend a lot of time going: “Oh I miss [insert sibling here] but they don’t need me.” Both of them. Thinking this. They are silly little goats and I wish they’d work together!

I also appreciated the history of the settings! It’s not a 100% accurate historical retelling, but it is about Mehmed II and the fall of Constantinople. There are plenty of actual historical figures in the book, even if a lot of them have had some creative-license changes! So you can go in expecting to learn a bit, but also know this is a loose retelling. (Especially since Vlad the Impaler is actually a gender-swapped Lada.) And the details of the sieges and clothes and the first canons ever made were all stunning and just made the book so lush with details.

Overall, Now I Rise is a stunning sequel of stabbing and the darkness of humankind, all wrapped up in brilliant writing and winning characters! It has the kind of ending that leaves you screaming for the next book (um, how do we wait for next year…) and I’m desperate to see how it’ll all turn out. It’s fantastic and captivating and full of political and emotional intrigue.

10 Vampire Years On

While my staple diet of books consists primarily of non-fiction books about what’s messed up with the world and how we can possibly mitigate the issues, every so often I need to take a break from the all-too-real difficulties and escape into someone else’s figments of imagination. Richelle Mead’s Vampire Academy series is one such escape for me—a series I’ve followed and re-read with a mix of shame and shamelessness.

So I met the announcement of a 10th anniversary edition of the book that kicked off the series—one that contains some side stories Mead’s long wanted to tell that will answer questions many readers have—with slightly giddiness. Then I promptly commenced a countdown until its release.

‘Vampire Academy worked—far better than I’d ever expected,’ Mead wrote of the series’ initial success. ‘I’d fallen in love with the Romanian myth of two races of vampires, and I became obsessed with visualising how they’d create societies within our society. I’d read countless books about kickass heroines but never about how they became that way. What did they do while they were young? How did they temper a reckless nature with doing the right thing? And of course, there was the romance piece: just a tiny flicker of an idea about a girl in love with her mentor and the fallout that ensued.’

Yeah, that whole tempering of a reckless, youthful, badass heroine nature is definitely intriguing and explains in part why the books have been the successes they have been.

So how does the anniversary edition hold up, some 10 years on from the original publication?

Pretty well, methinks.

The bulk of the book is a reprint of the original, which I enjoyed re-reading once I got over the surprise that the book contained this reprint. In truth, it’s savvy repackaging of existing content to revitalise sales and I was completely suckered by it.

Still, its latter pages contain the promised short, arguably deleted chapters or chapters that could and should, with hindsight, have appeared in the original text. Whether Read had them in her back pocket or wrote them in response to the questions she is most frequently asked I don’t know. What I do know is that it was great to gain even slightly greater insight into the plots and characters.

The stories cast light on some enduring mysteries, such as how did Christian’s parents turn into strigoi, what running away from school was like for Lissa and, most pressing of all: what did the elusive, poker-faced Dimitri truly think of Rose.

My favourite of the new story additions was one that focused on Dimitri and Rose plus a—of all things—forbidden treasure hunt. Think seniors engaging in an elaborate scheme to obtain items of importance from various staff members, snaffling them out from under the staff members’ noses all the while in constant danger of discovery and detention. Yep, it was good fun. And not entirely unlike a cut-down version of an escapade you’d see in Harry Potter.

Overall, the new chapters feature yet more of the snappy banter we’ve come to know and love:

‘Hey Rose, welcome back. You still breaking hearts?’

‘Are you volunteering?’

His grin widened at the thought of the permanently detention-ed Rose’s efforts. ‘Let’s hang out sometime and find out. If you ever get parole.’

Not to mention how her battle cry gave her away during those training sessions with Dimitri: ‘Would it really have made a difference if I’d been quiet?’ Rose asks. Dimitri thought about it. ‘Probably not.’

Oh, and some overheard conversations courtesy of Roses and Lissa’s psychic connection: ‘…Christian—who I could hear…telling some kid it was impossible to make a manatee out of a balloon…’

Basically, the Vampire Academy anniversary edition is most of what we already know plus a little bit more. My only constructive criticism of it is that I’d have loved it to have included more new stories—the ones it includes are a good taster, but they’re just that. Fans like me who continue to hanker after the now-wrapped-up series are always going to be hoping for more.

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Monstrous Mayhem – Picture Books for Halloween

Forget the spook and gore this Halloween! Try obtain the element of surprise with humour, fun and interactive giggles. Combined with themes on friendship, belonging, and challenging emotions, that’s what these brilliant picture books for young kids are all about.

This first one comes highly recommended for an entertaining, inspiring and innovative book experience. The Scared Book is cleverly constructed to communicate a range of emotions and strategies with its audience…literally! Author Debra Tidball uses leading language in her role as the animated, ‘scared’ book with dramatic statements, questions and invitations to help console its fears. The truth is, the book simply cannot tell its story without the assistance of its readers to disarm those pesky monsters protruding from its spine.

From requesting interaction to scratch a tingle, to rub away goosebumps, blow away giant butterflies, then flick, trample, shake and fan the last remaining remnants, the book is able to get some relief. Whilst helping to calm it down from all the excitement, the book is in fact providing some useful strategies for its readers to deal themselves with feelings of anxiety, fear and self doubt. And successfully, the book ends with a vote of encouragement and praise that readers can be proud of.

Kim Siew’s illustrations are certainly kooky, but in the most vibrant, energetic and guileless way. Preschool aged children will no doubt be better off having experienced this highly pleasurable book, becoming intrepid saviours in relinquishing The Scared Book’s, and their own, fears over and over again.

Hachette Lothian Children’s Books, September 2017.

Ok, the title sounds scary, the concept sounds scary, but I Just Ate My Friend by Heidi McKinnon is downright hilarious. And by the look of those huge saucer eyes and stunned expression, the monster on the front cover is far from menacing.

Perhaps a little too impulsive, the speckled yellow egg-shaped beast is distraught at the fact that his good friend is now gone…because he ate him. So he searches for a new friend, only to discover the creatures he greets meet him with rejection after rejection. Whether they feel he is too big, too small, too scary or too slow, the monster feels hopelessly dejected. He reflects on his impulsivity, until a new friend emerges. Could this be a match made in heaven?!

Preschool kids will crack up with the joviality of the scenes and the sharp-witted and repetitive one-liners of the text. The cartoon-style, textured and bright characters on black backgrounds bring a sense of playfulness to the book’s ‘dark’ humour. I Just Ate My Friend is the perfect, quirky book that has the power for valuable discussion on friendship, belonging, and the possible effects of instant gratification, as well as being a fun resource for role play and definite repeat reads.

Allen & Unwin, July 2017.

The dialogue between narrator and Little Monster is utterly delightful in Sean Taylor’s I Want to Be in a Scary Story. When the toothless, purple monster requests to be the star of a scary story, he gets a bit more than he bargained for. The narrator sets him up at every turn, creating far more frightening scenes than the little mite can handle. But don’t worry, young readers will find them, and Little Monster’s reactions simply hilarious. Conversing further with the narrator, the monster decides he should do the scaring…on second thoughts, maybe a ‘funny’ story would be better! Fed up with his trickery, Little Monster finds a way to give the narrator the comeuppance he deserves…and it’s frighteningly funny!

Text and illustrations coincide clearly in identifying scenes between conversation and ‘in the story’ moments with the use of plain and coloured backgrounds consecutively. Speaking parts, which are gorgeously candid, are also colour coded, furthering interaction with readers whether taking turns or reading independently. Jean Jullien’s artwork is perfectly bold yet child-friendly with its thick line work and strong statement colours, adding the element of drama without the frightening factor. Preschoolers will revel in the spooky (but much more amusing) shenanigans of sabotage in I Want to Be in a Scary Story – just in time for Halloween.

Walker Books UK, September 2017

Information Overload – Informative Kids’ Books

If reading is the fount of knowledge and knowledge is power, then this list of informative kids’ books contains enough intellect to keep your youngsters gasping in awe for days, weeks, even years! Prepare your minds to be boggled.

The Awesome Book of Animals – The World’s Most Awesome Facts in Pictures by Adam Frost

Can you name the first animal to have babies in space? I can now! I promised this book to my nephew, who is ga ga for it, but it’s so good, I wish I could keep it on my own bookshelf. Crammed solid with truly jaw-dropping, disgusting, hilarious, weird and wacky facts, this paperback compendium is easy to read and flick through allowing young readers to absorb an astonishing amount of info very quickly. Brilliantly illustrated and thoughtfully arranged with enticing titles, The Awesome Book of Animals is a 20 out of 10 from me! Check out Frost’s other awesome titles of discovery, here.

Bloomsbury Children’s Books October 2017

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Review: The Art Of Feeling by Laura Tims

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The Art of Feeling by Laura Tims must be one of my new favourite contemporaries ever! It perfectly balances humour, heartbreak, and teenagers with disabilities and I couldn’t be more fond of this entire (but totally too small!) excellent little book. I laughed! I wanted to cry! I got entirely invested and think it deserves all the love an recognition. I will also write a review to convince you, because I am kind like that.

The story follows Sam, who was in a devastating car accident that killed her mother and left her with a severely damaged leg. She now walks on crutches and is in constant pain. Her family is falling apart around her: with a brother who’s constantly high, a very depressed father, and a sister who’s trying to throw everything out that reminds them of her mother. But then Sam accidentally saves a boy at school — Eliot, who is a pretentious and adorable intellect who feels absolutely no pain. Unfortunately this is more dangerous than a “super power” as people initially think. And he constantly gets into problems where he’s bullied or accidentally hurts himself and never knows. He’s not an “easy” person to befriend, but he and Sam click instantly. They’re both smart, quick-witted, and prone to covering up their heartache. If only Eliot doesn’t do something that gets him killed before senior year is out.

I loved the contrast of feeling-too-much-pain versus feeling-none-at-all. Both are disabilities and definitely under-represented in YA! And the disabilities aren’t background noise. Sam constantly walks with crutches and clearly states that this is part of her. It doesn’t define her, but it still is her and it’s not to be ignored. It did show the ableism of the world reacting to her, but it was a really powerful and uplifting disability representation and I’m pleased!

The book was also downright hilarious. The humour was on point, I tell you! I laughed only about 50 x million times.

“That is the ugliest thing I’ve ever seen,” says Eliot. “When did you take it out of the dryer?”
“It’s my dog,” I grumble.

It also featured the Meyer-Briggs personality types! If you have no clue what they are, it wouldn’t hinder your enjoyment of the story. But basically Eliot likes to “type” people and he gets it so eerily right that he can literally predict their movements. It also gets him into a lot of trouble. But it was just so different and interesting to include these and I loved the analyses of personalities!

The romance was absolutely the best. It’s no insta-love. These two fight quite a lot and I’d honestly guess (though it’s not explicitly stated) that Eliot is asexual. They’re both awkward around the idea of feelings, but still have them most definitely and assuredly. I loved Eliot’s attempts to be romantic and yet he has like 2% social skills so it always goes hilariously. He is a cinnamon. I definitely shipped these two and rooted for them to get over their insecurities and commit to telling each other their feelings!

Sam was such an admirable and relatable protagonist. Like her inner-monologue and snarky banter were the best alone, as well as she’s just doing her best to be a remarkable person when her friends literally say she is a piece of bread. (Hey they meant it well…but yet.) The dry wit and Sam’s practical but often sad view of the world made the book so enjoyable to read.

The story also has really high stakes. There’s a mini-high-school drug ring and a super complex bully and then there’s Eliot who could like accidentally direly hurt himself any moment. The themes of manipulation and bullying are very strong. And also Sam’s mother was killed in a hit-and-run and she desperately wants to know who did it…but is blocking the memories due to the trauma.

The writing is super clever. It wraps foreshadowing and plot points together in such incredible little bows. I just bow to the set up.

If you are a fan of contemporaries, cute dogs, intelligent characters, and FEELINGS = then The Art of Feeling is for you. The characters and clever writing won me over and absolutely stole my heart. It’s complex, deep, and well written. I also love the trope of the girl protecting her delicate boy and I am here for anything this author ever writes.

Review: A Quiet Kind Of Thunder By Sara Bernard

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A Quiet Kind of Thunder by Sara Bernard was a beautifully cute story. I finished it and just had a huge smile on my face because of the complete levels of utterly precious. It’s not a very plot-complex book and the plot is slow and meandering as it entwines about the lives of two kids with disabilities. But it’s powerful! And so pure and precious my heart felt very full when I finished.

The story is told by Steffi who has selective mutism and meets Rhys, a Deaf boy. They’re thrown together at school due to Steffi’s minimal knowledge of BSL (British Sign Language), but gradually the two start to form a friendship. Steffi has such sever social anxiety that that is an absolute mountain for her to climb. And Rhys, while sweet and lovely, has a deeply rooted terror of not being able to look after himself. The story follows them falling in love and exploring new things and discovering there’s nothing wrong with whispering or quiet thunder.

I enjoyed reading a story that featured disability and mental health! Steffi’s social anxiety and selective mutism were so well written. She’s in therapy and trialling a medication when the book begins and she desperately wants to get to a point where she can handle college. It was really encouraging and empowering to see Steffi building herself up because she wanted to not because she was being shamed into it. There’s no “you must be cured to have a good normal life” messages here and that’s so refreshing and important.

Rhys was equally winning and adorable. And I really loved the fact that the book talked in detail about sign and even explained some of the signs. It showed the reader a glimpse into Deaf Culture and I learned a lot. Plus Rhys was just super sweet all the time and everyone wants a Rhys, okay.

The romance was squishy and sweet. The two of them fit together quite well, although they have a lot of communication breakdowns as Steffi has to get better at BSL and it’s exhausting for Rhys to lip-read all the time. They start off as friends and they’re dorky and sweet to each other. Full cheers for books without instalove that develop relationships slowly and thoughtfully!

I also appreciated the addition of nice and good parents! Steffi’s mother, admittedly, is pretty awful and believes Steffi is faking her condition. But she improves as the story goes on! And I loved Steffi’s dad and step-mum and how, ultimately, Steffi had four parents who cared about her.

The plot is slow and meandering. It’s more of a tale of friendship and coming-of-age and growth, instead of plot checkpoints to get to. I was freaked out during the climax though, because it happens VERY fast and I wished there were more pages.

Ultimately, A Quiet Kind of Thunder is definitely the book you should try if you like (a) cute romances, (b) well researched and lovingly depicted diversity representation with mutism and deafness, and (c) a sweet story that will leave you going “AWWW” and eating chocolate because you have feelings.

Fantastic Camouflages and Where to Find Them – Picture Books

Fascinating creatures and hidden characters reside in every nook and cranny in this wonderful world. You have the chance to discover their exact locations, even when cleverly camouflaged from plain view. Explore beautiful and exotic landscapes while you search through these delightful picture books.

Can You Find Me?, Gordon Winch (author), Patrick Shirvington (illus.), New Frontier Publishing, September 2017.

Widely acclaimed author Gordon Winch, together with the charismatic artwork of Patrick Shirvington, present this Australiana vision of beauty in our natural scenery.

From long, grassy tufts, to trees on the shore and nestled in amongst green leaves and winding branches are a secret collection of furry, feathered, scaly and ‘sticky’ animals just waiting to be uncovered. Whether it’s a grasshopper in the long grass, a king parrot within leaves and fruit, a leaf moth atop a pile of dead leaves, a gecko scampering on the muddy forest floor, a stick insect in sticks, or a seahorse weaving through the seaweed, the camouflage premise is the same. And Winch’s words hail clearly and repetitively; “I live in… I look like… That is why I am hard to see. Can you find me?” With their own distinction, the watercolour smoothness of fluidity and unifying tones cleverly mask each animal within its surrounding, however visible enough for young readers to play the game.

Can You Find Me? is an enchanting book for inquisitive early years children who will no doubt forever be on the lookout for hidden creatures wherever they may go.

Gecko, Raymond Huber (author), Brian Lovelock (illus.), Walker Books, October 2017. 🦎

As a part of the Nature Storybook sets, like Claire Saxby’s Koala, Emu and Big Red Kangaroo, author Raymond Huber and illustrator Brian Lovelock present this narrative non-fiction beauty, Gecko, that sleekly combines story and fact to create a most captivating read.

A scurrying gecko juts between sunning and guarding himself in the brightness of the day, but as the sun begins to set, food is on his mind. His food is also on his entire body as he peels and consumes his own skin! Apparently they shed their outer skin several times a year. Gecko also has clever ways to protect himself from predators as he alters his skin’s inflections, colours and folds to camouflage and hide his shadows. But Gecko becomes the target of a ferocious leaping rat, stealthily escaping the prying jaws by dropping his tail. And with one final defence of his territory, Gecko is safe and self-sufficient.

The illustrations are remarkable with their textured and vivacious watercolour and acrylic background speckles and splashes, beautifully replicating the gecko’s appearance and natural characteristics. Equipped with page numbers, information on geckos and an index, Gecko acts as a practical reinforcement for primary students to study different text types and the fascinating world of the lizard species. 🦎

Where’s Wally? Destination: Everywhere!, Martin Handford (author, illus.), Walker Books UK, October 2017.

“Have you found Wally yet?” If you haven’t had the chance to find the famous wanderer and his intrepid travellers, or if you just can’t get enough and want to share the experience with your young ones, now’s your time! I’m fully stocked up on Where’s Wally? books (see my post, Wally Turns 30!), but now with Destination: Everywhere, the magical search continues.

This beautiful, large square hardcover with embossed linen spine is a Wally-fan’s delight. It includes twelve of the classic scenes with brand new twists, turns and playful meanders across the globe. In The Great Portrait Exhibition, Wally-Spotters are asked to scrutinise over the individual paintings, and even spot something that can “go and come back again”. A new collection of fantastical creatures and phenomenal people are clustered together in a gazillion frames – your job to match a given set with those in the main scene. More scenes follow with identifying localised portraits in amongst the larger picture, such as particular dinosaurs in the Jurassic Games, finding the corresponding Wally silhouettes in The Land of Wallies, and conducting a one-eyed Jolly Roger flag spotting search in Pirate Panorama. There are other games like manovering through mazes and sorting shapes and symbols, to keep your eyes peeled and fingers dancing all through the book.

Once again, Where’s Wally? contains a pint of quirkiness and an ocean of vibrant colours and life. Destination: Everywhere! will transport its audience to the vastest of places only to get lost in the most minuscule of details. Still a classic!

Review: Beautiful Mess by Claire Christian

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I was completely swept away with the gorgeous novel that is Beautiful Mess by Claire Christian. It’s about mental health, grief, and growing — and it’s woven with self-depreciating humour and an Australian backdrop. An absolutely stellar novel that will pull heartstring and also probably punch your feels too. As a good book should.

The story centres around two narrators, Gideon and Ava. Both are struggling with anxiety and depression. Ava’s stems from the death of her best friend and Gideon was severely bullied in his old school. They meet while working at a kebab shop. Gideon is too anxious and shy to achieve his dreams, lost in poetry and avoiding being online. Ava’s grief is turning her life upside down with school expulsions and bad coping mechanisms that are leaving her dissatisfied and hollow. But maybe they could be good for each other. As friends. Or more?

The story is excellent and I can see why it won the Text Publishing Prize of 2016. It’s a stellar example of teen voice and experiences. It focuses on themes of mental health, which is so so important to talk about and I’m glad this book talked about it. It isn’t fluffy and it isn’t always fun, but it’s a story that feels like real life. I loved how it handled sensitive topics and really encouraged people to reach out and talk. I really felt like this book UNDERSTOOD what life is like with depression / anxiety. It’s so refreshing not to have it (a) romanticised, (b) cured by falling in love, or (c) belittled.

The book also has a refreshingly healthy outlook on getting help! Therapists are not evil! Medication can help! Talk to your parents! Romance will not save you!! Also it underlines that having mental health issues does NOT equal that you are a broken object. I can’t stress how important that is. Mental illness sufferers need help, support, and management to live life the best they can, but it doesn’t have to equate to “broken”. This is such a powerful and important message for readers everywhere.

The characters were winning little gems. Gideon is a soft squish and quite self-depreciatingly funny. He makes fun of himself, but the book didn’t make fun of his mental health issues. Which is an important distinction. He’s super anxious but working hard to rebuild himself after a really rough 4 years. Gideon and Ava end up writing letters because Gideon is offline and I loved that! Ava was really spiky and hurting, and I loved how complex she was! She and Gideon became friends first and then it spirals into more.

I also loved their amazing parents. Ava has a single father who’s super lovely and Gideon has two mums who are 100% there for him and fantastic.

The writing is super engaging and I didn’t want to put it down. I loved their voices! Ava is anti-nonsense and prickly and Gideon absolutely freaks out like a happy puppy dog when he kisses a girl. He’s so adorkable! He’s also into poetry which added a nice touch. And I loved how he wrote lists!

Beautiful Mess is definitely a beautiful (okay I couldn’t help myself) novel with important and powerful messages. It was bittersweet and funny and absolutely totally cute. The slow-burn romance was my favourite. Gideon made me laugh/cry simultaneously which is a feat so well done, sir. I am so pleased that this book exists!

Review: Wonder Woman Warbringer by Leigh Bardugo

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Wonder Woman: Warbringer by Leigh Barudgo was a definite pocketful of feministic glory. I hadn’t actually ever seen the Wonder Woman movie or read any WW comics, but that didn’t hinder my enjoyment AT ALL. Leigh Bardugo is masterful! It was a bit slower than I expected, on a whole, but still so fun and full of empowerment to minorities and EXPLOSIONS. Which obviously every good superhero action sequence needs.

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The story starts off on a mysterious secluded island of Amazons where Diana, daughter of the queen, is the only occupant who was born there and not earned her place through bravery and war. She’s desperate to prove herself as strong as everyone else — but during a race to do just that, she gets caught up rescuing a girl from a shipwreck. Helping a human on the island can equal banishment, but Diana takes the risk anyway to get Alia back home safely. But after consulting the Oracle, Diana learns that Alia is a warbringer and will insight wars and destruction forever unless she’s killed. Or cured. And Diana’s going to help find that cure.

I’m absolutely so impressed by how it features strong female friendships! This is so rare to read, especially in YA, and I can’t even remember the last time I read a good solid female friendship that didn’t dissolve into jealousy or cattiness over a boy. But Wonder Woman gives us not one but two solidly epic, uplifting and empowering female friendships. I adored Alia and Diana’s bond. They were sisters of war by the end, even if Alia was a small breakable human nerd and Diana is like AMAZON EPIC. And then Alia has her very close friend, Nim, who is feisty and funny and passionate. I’m so so impressed. Feminism for the win.

I also adored all the mythology of course! I didn’t realise how steeped in Greek mythology this would be, so that was a pleasant surprise. Think Percy Jackson = but with epic girls.

It’s also super diverse, with almost all the characters being people of colour. How awesome is that?! Here is an action adventure story featuring diversity in race and skin and sexuality in all the leading roles.

I’m also a huge fan of witty dialogue and banter and this book delivered that so well.  The dialogue and banter was laugh out loud worthy and there was even a small Easter egg reference to Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows series that had me very impressed. Also Diana experiencing the mortal world was hilarious. That will never get old omg I laughed so much.

The characters are all terrific and so winning. I rooted for them the whole time! Diana and Alia take turns narrating, with distinct and complex and emotional voices. Then, of course, there’s Nim — who is a designer and bisexual and very protective of Alia. We also have Theo who is a gangly dork and hilarious and super annoying. Also of course Jason, Alia’s older brother, who is Mister Bossy Pants but loves his sister so much and just wants her safe.

I won’t even hesitate to say that Wonder Woman: Warbringer was thoroughly….wonderful. (Har har I couldn’t resist.) It was exciting with stunning and feels-smashing plot twists, with delightful feminism woven all through. Definitely an empowering and masterful tale.

From ‘Pilawuk’ to ‘I’m a Dirty Dinosaur’, the works of Janeen Brian

In an illustrious and diverse career in children’s books Australian author Janeen Brian has written across genres and forms. Her books span novels, series, picture books and non-fiction.

Thank you for speaking with Boomerang Blog, Janeen. 

Thank you very much for inviting me.

Where are you based, what is your background and how are you involved in Australia’s children’s literature community?

Home for me is in a seaside town called Glenelg in South Australia, about twenty minutes from Adelaide. Originally a primary and junior primary teacher, who worked for some years in a small school library, I began writing for pleasure some time in my thirties, having not ever considered writing before. My career, although I didn’t know it at the time, began when I was lucky enough to start writing for an educational publisher. Since then, I have written over a hundred books, which include educational titles.

Writing communities and Writers’ Centres were thin on the ground when I began, so when a group of children’s writers, calling themselves Ekidnas, and a Writers’ Centre was formed in Adelaide, I felt lucky to suddenly find myself among like-minded people. It was probably a turning point for me. I am still involved in Ekidnas, and am a member of SA Writers’ Centre, ASA, IBBY, SCWBI, SBCASA Branch and was, up until recently, on the selection panel for The May Gibbs’ Children’s Literature Trust Fellowships in South Australia. I’m also an Ambassador for the Little Big Book Club (Raising Literacy Australia) and the Premier’s Reading Challenge.

How have you been mentored by the Australian book industry? Are you able to mentor others in the industry?

There is no doubt in my mind that any workshop, festival, reading or other type of literature event I’ve ever attended has had an impact on me. And nourished me. So that would be my experience of industry mentoring. Plus I was fortunate to win a Carclew Fellowship (Adelaide Festival Awards for Literature) in 2012, which was a type of financial mentoring!

My own mentoring would be in the form of workshops and author visits to schools or libraries. However, I once mentored a lady who was interested in picture books, in a one-on-one situation.

Who publishes your books and which illustrators have you enjoyed collaborating with?

I am published with a wide variety of publishers, and one reason for that might be that I write across a broad range of genres. My publishers include Penguin Random House Australia, Allen & Unwin, Walker Books, Scholastic, Omnibus Books, National Library of Australia, Little Hare/Hardie Grant Publishing, Five Mile Press/Bonnier Publishing Australia and most recently, Little Book Press (Raising Literacy Australia).

I’ve had the most collaboration with illustrators Ann James (I’m a dirty dinosaur and I’m a hungry dinosaur) and Anne Spudvilas ( Our Village in the Sky and Where’s Jessie?) and enjoyed enormously working with both of them.

Could you give us a retrospective of some of your most important or popular books? (please include novels, series, picture books and non-fiction)

I think PilawukWhen I was Young (published by ERA Publications) is an enduring information books for teachers and in classrooms because at the time of writing it was one of the earliest titles about The Stolen Generation. It also was an Honour Award winner with CBCA.

Another Honour book, published in 2001, was the very popular picture book, Where does Thursday go? (illustrated by Stephen Michael King and published by Margaret Hamilton Books/Scholastic Australia). It’s since been published in UK, translated into 11 other countries and recently enjoyed yet another reprint.

Although now out of print (although I have since had it reprinted and handle distribution), the Honour award winning information book, Hoosh! Camels in Australia was an important book to research and was widely acclaimed. (Since translated into Arabian)

I’m also an award-winning poet. I also enjoy writing verse at times and Silly Galah! (illustrated by Cheryll Johns and published by Omnibus/Scholastic) is still a popular book, featuring humorous, informative verses about Australian animals and birds. Its recent follow-up is Silly Squid! by the same illustrator and publisher, which highlights Australia’s sea life.

My two historic novels, That Boy, Jack  and Yong; the journey of an unworthy son,  have both proved very popular and are also read as class sets in schools.

My two dinosaur picture books, I’m a dirty dinosaur  and  I’m a hungry dinosaur (illustrated by Ann James and published by Penguin Random Australia) have been runaway successes. The former won an Honour Award, was Winner of 2014 Speech Pathology Awards of Australia and is the book selected for many Early Childhood Reading programs, targeting families, nationwide. (eg. First 5 Forever in Queensland) It’s also been published in China. The latter was a Notable Award.

What awards have they been shortlisted for or won?

 I have been shortlisted or won Notable awards for other titles including, Eddie Pipper, Where’s Jessie?  and Little Chicken, chickabee.

How do you keep your non-fiction so interesting?

Thank you for that kind comment.

Because I read less non-fiction than fiction, I’m aware that in order to interest certain readers, I first have to interest myself. Over the years I’ve come to believe, that factual information which is written in a more narrative or story-like style is more accessible and interesting for readers such as me. I also try to include fascinating details, using the child-in-me to help decide which to choose.

I know that good books often inexplicably go out of print. Which of your books have stayed in print for a long time? Which haven’t? How have you tried to keep any of your books in print? Is there anything we can do to keep good books in print (apart from buying them)?

That’s an interesting question and one which is out of the author’s control. A publisher determines the when and why a title will not be reprinted. The bottom line is usually sales figures. Many of my educational titles are out of print, but many also remain in print. Often educational and trade publishers change focus or decide to drop a series. Apart from Hoosh! Camels in Australia, which I now reprint and distribute, all other titles mentioned above are still in print. Constant promotion, seeking out niche markets, looking to digital printing and reprinting through Print on Demand are a few ways to potentially keep good books out in reader-land. The creator must work in collaboration with the publisher or look at alternative publishing ideas to keep their book afloat.

Do you give many presentations to children? How do you make them interesting?  Have there been any particularly memorable responses?

Like many children’s writers who’ve been publishing over a number of years (for me, approximately thirty-five years) I’ve given thousands of presentations. I like to be super-prepared, have lots of artefacts, objects, interactive ideas to get the children involved, puppets, songs, creating rhymes, music or rhythm making, choral chanting, dress-ups, role-play, visual material, and nowadays, powerpoints. It all depends on the age-group of the children I’m presenting to. I ALWAYS read to the children. That is a given. And I include poetry reading too. Often we’ll act out one of my poems as I read it. I believe strongly that when an author reads their own work to an audience, a little bit of magic comes out in the words.

One memorable situation wasn’t a presentation as such, but it has always stayed with me. A Year 7 boy in a co-ed college in Adelaide won a competition for a piece of his writing.

He decided to spend part of his prize-winnings purchasing an extra copy of my book, Where does Thursday go?  for the school library, because it had been his favourite book when he was young.

If that was not enough, the teacher-librarian invited the boy, his family, all the library monitors and me to a beautiful morning tea. And I read the book aloud to the boy, and all who were seated at the table. How I got through the reading without crying, I’ll never know. But there were tears in the librarian’s eyes.

Are you aware of any progression in your books – writing style, intended reader, subjects addressed …

I think the one of the biggest lessons I learned was that if you have the desire, the passion and the tough skin to write, that it is a craft – and therefore can be improved.

The strange thing was that I had never in my wildest dreams set out to be a writer. I loved reading. And I loved reading other people’s books. I enjoyed English at school, but there was never any huge encouragement or spark in me that urged me to become an author. So learning was and still is, a big factor in my writing life.

At first I enjoyed writing picture books, poetry and short fiction. And I’ve written over 200 poems, stories, plays and articles for The School Magazine, but of late, I’ve extended my writing loves to include novels. I have also written several teenage short stories for specific anthologies, and although I enjoy writing short stories, my preferred age group is younger, babies to upper primary.

What are you writing about now or next?

I was overseas for four months of this year, returning in July, and while I was away I wrote several poems. The School Magazine has already accepted one. I have also finished a picture book and the first draft of a children’s novel. I’ve sent the picture book to my agent but the novel is safely under lock and key so I don’t look at it for a month. I have a tendency, or bad habit, to send out texts too early!

What have you enjoyed reading recently?

Lots of lovely books including:

A re-reading of Because of Winn-Dixie  (Kate diCamillo)

A Cardboard Palace ( Allayne Webster)

Fabish: The Horse that Braved a Bushfire (Neridah McMullin)

Running Wild (Michael Morpurgo)

Girl with a Pearl Earring (Tracy Chevalier)

The War that Saved my Life ( Kimberly Brubaker Bradley)

Coraline (Neil Gaiman)

Anything else you’d like to add?

Two things I’ve learned along the way:

Finding your own voice and style takes time, a lot of writing and a lot of rejections.

Everybody has different writing interests.

Everybody writes differently.

Everybody chooses whether to plot OR to free-wheel-write as a ‘pantser’ OR use a combination of both.

Writers often go about writing each book differently.

Thanks Janeen, and all the best with your wonderful books.

Thank you very much!

Reviews: Three More Titles in the Sage Cookson Series

I previously reviewed Sage Cookson’s Ring of Truth as ‘zesty and refreshing’ (here), and the next three titles in this lively series are no different. Sally Murphy pours heart and spirit into her chapter books for emerging readers as she takes her ten-year-old protagonist on more cultural, and culinary, adventures.

In Fishy Surprise, Sage is excited to be able to take her best friend, Lucy on their next trip, where her famous chef parents, the Cooksons, will be filming in Crystal Bay. White sandy beaches, turquoise seas, and lapping up the goodness of the best fish and chips in Australia sounds like the ultimate in travel adventures. But despite Sage’s media-shy character, she seems to uncannily draw plenty of attention when she gets herself into ‘fishy’ situations. Sabotage and jealousy of someone from the past cause clashing waves, but her calm, rational thinking sees Sage thankfully escape the unsavoury ordeal.
Friendship, rivalry and personal safety lead as the prominent themes in Fishy Surprise. It is told with energy and a propriety that children from age seven can understand. I’m sure it’ll hook them from the beginning!

Singapore Sensation delves into the mystery of the pink haired woman who seems to be following the Cooksons from their home town to Singapore. Sage’s suspicion of the shady Nancy from the previous stories is aroused, especially when TV chef Mum, Ginger’s cook book manuscript goes missing. In between the chaotic worries of cook book theft and plagiarism, we are delighted to some sensational Singaporian delights of satay skewers, curry and prata breads, tranquil rivers, old colonial buildings and Sentosa Island theme parks. Finally, Sage’s answers are uncovered – perhaps next time she won’t jump to premature conclusions.
Singapore Sensation explores all things ‘sensations’, including a myriad of fascinating sights, the tastiest treats, and an emotional rollercoaster of highs and lows. It is engaging, whimsical, and straightforward to read for those youngsters hungry for a cultural, and suspenseful, experience.

Sage’s confidence in the spotlight is tested in Literary Launch as she faces the terrifying prospect of public speaking. Highly relatable, I’m sure, to many readers, the nine short chapters capture a glance at the thought processes and preparations necessary to overcome this apprehension. With a school presentation and her Mum’s cook book launch fast approaching, the household is buzzing with nervous excitement. The sensitive girl wants everything to run smoothly, and when cracks, and crumbs, begin to appear, Sage is unsure if she can cope. Disaster with cupcakes and congestion of traffic might just ruin Mum’s big day. But what better way to deliver a great outcome than by volunteering to speak at the launch… with practise under her belt, she’ll nail that school assignment.
This story is about learning to deal with stressful situations and challenging oneself in managing personal hurdles. Literary Launch is a light-hearted, enlightening and encouraging story that middle graders will speak of highly.

The Sage Cookson series showcases a delightful character in Sage; a real kid who makes mistakes but also makes the best of every situation. They are best read in succession to follow Sage’s journey and to reflect on the connections from one book to the next. Celeste Hulme‘s black and white sketched illustrations delightfully pronounce the mood of each chapter, and the handy recipes at the conclusions, and on the website, brilliantly engage the audience with this series. Recommended for budding chefs and travel adventure lovers.

New Frontier Publishing, 2017.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Review: Caraval by Stephanie Garber

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Caraval by Stephanie Garber was an absolute magical ride through a carnival where nothing was as it seemed. I was totally sucked in by the mind twisty plot and the luscious setting and the huge potential that everything was going to to up and flames and end in stabbing. Because it’s just that kind of book, okay!? Exciting.

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It follows the story of Scarlett who escapes with her sister from her abusive father to participate in the infamous Game hosted by Legend, the master of Carnival. The game consists of many clues and ends in Legend granting you a magical wish. Scarlett doesn’t intend to stay long, but quickly gets absorbed with a roguish sailor who seems to know a little too much about the magical and eerily twisted rules and also because her sister goes missing. Scarlett has to find her. Because the game is a lot more sinister than it seems.

+ The world was incredible.
It’s set on an island that’s an entire mysterious carnival. So think: gondolas and weird tunnels of madness and magical shops and rooms that grow and shrink with your emotions. It felt like Alice in Wonderland with a Venice-type-vibe that’s all gorgeous…but with sinister undertones.  I adored it!

+ The writing was exceptionally beautiful too.
It was full of luscious prose that totally swept you up with the sugary spun magic of this circus-type town. The descriptions were vivd but not overly-purple or flowery. And the way it sucked you in…you could totally see the amazing ballgowns Scarlett wore and the crazy buildings and murky dark tunnels under the city.

+ It was also deliciously mind twisty!
They start off the book saying “NOTHING IS WHAT IT SEEMS” and Scarlett promptly forgets that 2 seconds later and freaks out over everything. It was really really well done and I got so swept up in the game. I had so many questions and it tangled me a lot…and I basically decided everyone was secretly evil by page three. So I had a lot of fun. I love worlds that are somorally grey and all “IT’S A GAME AND EVERYONE’S GONNA GET STABBED!” Wow, Monopoly was so yesterday.

+ It features sisters.
Scarlett was a very loving and loyal older sister, while Tella was a wild and self-involved younger sister…but their bond and dedication was still marvellous.

+ The romance was had a hate-to-love vibe which is such a fantastic trope.
Let’s have some salt and vinegar on those chips, my friends, because Scarlett was so not falling for Julian, the slightly roguish sailor who is far too wild and mysterious. But as they become accidental partners in the game and rely on each other — they form a really close bond. And even though Scarlett suspects Julian might not be who he seems, they can’t help but get tangled as they try to protect each other when the game goes wrong.

Carival is basically an excellent story if you want magical worlds in a theatre-type setting, with romance, knives, madness, and conspiracy theories. I am sitting here impatiently waiting for the sequel.

Every person gets on impossible wish, if the person wants something more than anything, and they can find a bit of magic to help them a long.

Meaningful Moments in Picture Books

Nearly every single picture book I read holds meaningful moments for me, some sliver of specialness or hug-full of hope that can empower and illuminate. These next few examples exhibit strong messages using memorable characters in ways young children can easily interpret and appreciate. A few words about each hardly do them justice, so please look these ones up to enjoy them for yourself.

Reena’s Rainbow by Dee White and Tracie Grimwood

Subtle, sweet and oozing with that sort of sophisticated simplicity that makes you love a story when you are not even sure why. Reena and Brown Dog feel a little outside of normal, not quite the same as everyone else. Reena is deaf but not oblivious to the world around her. Brown Dog is homeless but not without a need to love and protect. Together they find their true worth and meaning and along the way, lasting friendship. Gracefully told and delicately illustrated, Reena’s Rainbow will fill your heart with colour. Highly recommended.

EK Books September 2017

La La La A Story of Hope by Kate DiCamillo and Jamie Kim

An eloquently told, almost wordless symphony of colour, light and sound reverberating the liberating quality of hope. It’s about making a call, daring to speak out, and enduring the quiet moments in between waiting for a response with grace and patience. As Kate proclaims, ‘it is a story about singing your song and the world answering you back…a story that needs intimate reflection’. I encourage you to do so.

Walker Books Australia October 2017

Continue reading Meaningful Moments in Picture Books

Qld Literary Awards 2017

The 2017 Queensland Literary awards shortlists have recently been announced. They are a good reflection of the quality of current Australian writing.

The Qld Premier’s Award for a work of State Significance and The Courier-Mail 2017 People’s Choice Queensland Book of the Year show an exciting cross-section of Qld authors. The University of Queensland Fiction Book award category is also notable this year for its Qld authors such as Nick Earls with Vancouver, Ashley Hay with A Hundred Small Lessons and Melissa Ashley with The Birdman’s Wife.

My particular interests are literary fiction, children’s and YA so I’ve read all but 1 of the 15 books in these 3 categories. In the Fiction category, authors Heather Rose and Nick Earls have already been scooping awards in this year’s NSW Premier’s Literary awards. I’ve previously reviewed Hannah Kent’s The Good People for the blog.

Wendy Orr is shortlisted for the Griffith University Children’s Book Award and I learned at the Brisbane Writers Festival this weekend that she also lives in Qld. Dragonfly Song has already been awarded a CBCA Honour prize this year. And I believe that Richard Yaxley, whose YA novel This is My Song is shortlisted, is based in Qld.

In the Griffith University Young Adult Book category, two books in particular have been generating attention in other awards. The Bone Sparrow by Zana Fraillon was shortlisted for two international awards: the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize; and then it went even higher to win an Honour Book award in the CILIP Carnegie Medal. It has received Australian commendations as well, including an Honour prize in the CBCA awards. I reviewed it for the Weekend Australian.  Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley won the Indies award and was also an Honour book for the CBCA. I also reviewed it for the Weekend Australian.

Australian literature for young readers in the past few years has been particularly strong in the YA novel and children’s picture book categories. The QLA Children’s shortlist shows a turnaround towards novels for younger readers. Hopefully this is the beginning of a renaissance in Australian children’s novels.

The 4 Children’s titles nominated are: A Different Dog by Paul Jennings, How to Bee by Bren MacDibble, Dragonfly Song by Wendy Orr and The Grand, Genius Summer of Henry Hoobler by Lisa Shanahan. The fifth book is a picture book, Somewhere Else by Gus Gordon.

There is a ‘sense of silence’ across these children’s titles, with a number featuring introspective and even mute protagonists. These shortlisted books could perhaps be summarised by quotes from two:

  • hold moments ‘like a small, quiet treasure’ (Grand, Genius Summer of Henry Hoobler) and
  • celebrate ‘small silent victories’ (Dragonfly Song

Congratulations to all the shortlisted authors and their publishers.

See the complete shortlist below and follow the links to read more about each book.

2017 Queensland Literary Awards Shortlists

The Queensland Literary Awards congratulates the authors and publishers of all shortlisted nominations for the 2017 Awards.

The winners of each category will be announced at the Award Ceremony on Wednesday 4 October 2017 at State Library of Queensland.

Queensland Premier’s Award for a work of State Significance

Matthew Condon Little Fish Are Sweet (UQP)

Mary-Rose MacColl For a Girl (Allen & Unwin)

Cathy McLennan Saltwater (UQP)

Bill Wilkie The Daintree Blockade: The Battle for Australia’s Tropical Rainforests (Four Mile Books)

Queensland Premier’s Young Publishers and Writers Awards

Lech Blaine

Mindy Gill

Anna Jacobson

Emily O’Grady

Bonnie Stevens

The University of Queensland Fiction Book Award

Melissa Ashley The Birdman’s Wife (Affirm Press)

Nick Earls Vancouver (Inkerman & Blunt)

Ashley Hay A Hundred Small Lessons (Allen & Unwin)

Hannah Kent The Good People (Pan Macmillan)

Heather Rose The Museum of Modern Love (Allen & Unwin)

The University of Queensland Non-fiction Book Award

Deng Adut and Ben Mckelvey Songs of a War Boy (Hachette)

Richard Fidler Ghost Empire (HarperCollins)

Mary-Rose MacColl For a Girl (Allen & Unwin)

Kim Mahood Position Doubtful (Scribe)

Cathy McLennan Saltwater (UQP)

Griffith University Children’s Book Award

Gus Gordon Somewhere Else (Penguin Random House)

Paul Jennings A Different Dog (Allen & Unwin)

Bren MacDibble How to Bee (Allen & Unwin)

Wedy Orr Dragonfly Song (Allen & Unwin)

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

Griffith University Young Adult Book Award

Simon Butters The Hounded (Wakefield Press)

Cath Crowley Words in Deep Blue (Pan Macmillan)

Zana Fraillon The Bone Sparrow (Hachette)

Mark Smith The Road to Winter (Text Publishing)

Richard Yaxley This is My Song (Scholastic)

University of Southern Queensland History Book Award

Rebecca Ananian-Welsh, Gabrielle Appleby, Andrew Lynch The Tim Carmody Affair: Australia’s Greatest Judicial Crisis(NewSouth Books)

Paul Irish Hidden in Plain View: The Aboriginal People of Coastal Sydney (NewSouth Books)

John Murphy Evatt: A Life (NewSouth Books)

Rebe Taylor Into the Heart of Tasmania (MUP)

University of Southern Queensland Australian Short Story Collection – Steele Rudd Award

Michelle Cahill Letter to Pessoa (Giramondo)

Kyra Giorgi The Circle and the Equator (UWA Publishing)

Tara June Winch After the Carnage (Penguin)

State Library of Queensland Poetry Collection – Judith Wright Calanthe Award

Jordie Albiston Euclid’s Dog (GloriaSMH Press)

Carmen Leigh Keates Meteorites (Whitmore press)

Antigone Kefala Fragments (Giramondo)

Cassie Lewis The Blue Decodes (Grand Parade Poets)

Omar Sakr These Wild Houses (Cordite Books)

QUT Digital Literature Award

Mez Breeze Inanimate Alice: Perpetual Nomads (Beta)

Pascalle Burton Generation Loss (after Alvin Lucier)

Jason Nelson Nine Billion Branches

David Thomas Henry Wright with Karen Lowry and Julia Lane Paige and Powe

Marianna Shek Limerence

Unpublished Indigenous Writer – David Unaipon Award

Alicia Farmer Mai Stori

Lisa Fuller Mirrored Pieces

Emerging Queensland Writer – Manuscript Award

Anna Jacobson for How to Knit a Human

Janet Lee for The Killing of Louisa

Ben Marshall for The Fox

Siall Waterbright for The Coming

The Courier-Mail 2017 People’s Choice Queensland Book of the Year

Voting closes 5pm Friday 25 September 2017.

Melissa Ashley – The Birdman’s Wife
Nick Earls – Vancouver
Richard Fidler – Ghost Empire
Ashley Hay – A Hundred Small Lessons
Anita Heiss – Barbed Wire and Cherry Blossoms
Joan Katherine Isaacs – To Prey and To Silence
Mary-Rose MacColl – For a Girl
Cathy McLennan – Saltwater

Review: Definitions of Indefinable Things by Whitney Taylor

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Definitions of Indefinable Things by Whitney Taylor was a real hidden gem for me! I was not expecting to fall so in love with this book, but I totally did! It was absolutely emotional, feelsy, hilarious, relatable, and so so beautifully written and concluded. The characters were complex and I laughed so hard I actually had to stop reading for a moment and collect myself.

The story follows Reggie, who has depression and is struggling really hard and keeping herself safe from feeling too much by layers of loneliness and sarcasm. Then she meets Snake Eliot while they’re both getting depression meds at the chemist. Snake is charming and incorrigible and they mutually hate each other in way that also means love. However their relationship, tentative and budding as it might be, is complicated when Reggie learns that Snake is about to be a 17-year-old father. He’s not in love with the girl he accidentally got pregnant — but what’s the point of Reggie investing in him if he’s going to be swept up by his soon to be kid? Or is refusing to feel, to act, to be anyone the way she wants to live her life?

It’s about depression — a really honest and brutal view of it. Depression is different for everyone, it’s a spectrum just like literally every mental health issue out there. But I really felt this book GOT IT. It’s also really gut-punching, because it features people who don’t believe depression is real. Reggie’s mum says out right that Reggie’s depression is “her being selfish” and that’s something a lot of mentally ill people struggle with: not being believed. The book incorporated that beautifully and brutally. And yet it’s also hopeful! This book actually underlined things that help depression are: medication, therapy, strong reliable friendships, finding you’re not alone, taking care of yourself, and time.

Reggie is an unlikeable person and I loved her. She’s so caustic and witty, and even though her depression cut her off from feeling, I loved how she was slowly melting her brittle shell to have feelings for Snake. I can’t even with how much I adore Snake. He’s this completely vainly grungy beautiful boy, an indie budding film-maker, and someone who wants to know how the best way to live is and what’s the point and how to feel. He completely stole my heart!

It’s actually a love triangle, which I normally hate — but this proves any trope can be done amazingly. Snake and Carla got pregnant in a one-night-fling and they aren’t in love…and then Snake meets Reggie and he loves her so much and so hard but she knows he’s going to be unavailable eventually because he’s about to have a kid. So much pain. At least 9 buckets of angst. The difference is: this triangle is right out in the open and no one is intentionally manipulating other people’s feelings. Plus everyone was complex and interesting. Carla and Reggie’s slowly growing friendship was AMAZING. I just want to cheer for girls in books who are complex, interesting, relatable, struggle, make mistakes, are witty, powerful, and suffering.

Definitions of Indefinable Things is a roller coaster with one of the most real, gritty, and honest examples of depression. It’s full of tears and acidic wit and tentative kisses and teenagers just trying to find their place and meaning in the world. It perfectly capture mental health, growing up, falling in love, and trying to move forward even when it hurts. An exquisite work of literature that I can’t love enough.

Take Three Girls by Cath Crowley, Simmone Howell & Fiona Wood

Take Three Girls (Pan Macmillan Australia) is a brilliant new novel written by three prominent Australian YA authors, Cath Crowley, Simmone Howell and Fiona Wood, each the creator of their own notable, highly acclaimed novels.

Fiona Wood, Simmone Howell, Cath Crowley Photo: Jake Nowakowski Herald Sun Weekend

I’m thrilled that all three authors join us on the blog. 

How did you meet and could you tell us something that surprises you about your co-authors?

CATH: I met Simmone on a road trip to a Lowther Hall writing camp. I didn’t have a car, and she gave me a lift. We talked all the way. I met Fiona when Pan Macmillan published the brilliant Six Impossible Things.

I am not surprised by their talent, but I’m in awe of it. I’m always surprised by their descriptions in writing. I read them and wonder how they came up with such beautiful sentences.

SIMMONE: Fiona and I met when we were both working on TV show The Secret Life of Us. I was Script Coordinator, she was writing an episode. I really liked her episode. Also, she shared her sandwich with me!

FIONA: Simmone introduced me to Cath, and she also suggested I show my manuscript for Six Impossible Things to her publisher, Pan Macmillan. I’m not exactly surprised any more but still impressed that both Cath and Simmone are such lateral creative thinkers. I’m much more inclined to choose a path and stay on it, while Cath and Simmone will more readily take a detour or write a new section of the map – so I love that; I need more of that in my writing practice.

Whose idea was the book and how could you consider putting aside writing time that could have been used for your own books to write Take Three Girls together?

CATH: We all wanted to write together. (At least, that’s how I remember it.) I was thrilled to be writing with two of my favourite authors. Take Three Girls took a long time because we were always able to put aside the joint book to work on our own projects.

SIMMONE: I can’t even remember which of us said we should write the book. I think we all laughed and then had a moment of, wait, YES! It was good to work on the book because it was contracted, and because it was fun. When I’m mid-way through writing a novel (as I always seem to be) any distraction will do. The writing of Take Three Girls was much easier than my current WIP maybe because the investment was split three ways.

FIONA: It was lovely to break from the usual solitude of writing. We agreed that we’d never put pressure on each other to put this project first – it had to fit around our other writing deadlines. If you build that in as a condition of the collaboration, then delays are not a problem. And we also said that our friendship comes first: if it stops being enjoyable, or it causes any friction, then we drop it. You do hear the occasional horror story of collaborations going wrong, but we weren’t going to let that happen.

It seems that this novel has been a long time coming. I first heard of its existence through the Leading Edge Books conference several years ago and have been waiting with great (and completely fulfilled) expectation. Why has it taken until now to reach us?

CATH: It has taken a long time! We agreed to let each other work on individual projects. (So Words in Deep Blue slowed us down!) But also, it takes time to write in collaboration. There’s a lot more talk, planning, juggling, rewriting.

SIMMONE: None of us stopped writing on other projects. It wasn’t like we could rip six months out of the calendar and work exclusively on the book. We refused to let it be a stressful exercise because that would have defeated the purpose, which was in some to give us each some relief from our own personal book hells.

FIONA: It definitely took longer than we had originally anticipated, but that has ended up being a strength. We had longer to develop and live with and get to know our characters, and the story itself evolved in ways it probably wouldn’t have if we’d had a clear run at writing it and finishing it more quickly. It took just as long to write as an individual novel because it’s not just a matter of dividing the work three ways, rather, you are engaging in an extended creative process of listening and responding to two other writers as you shape a world and story and themes together.


Where does the title come from?

SIMMONE: Just a little bit inspired by the 1960s UK TV show. The book was originally called Friends Anonymous, but then we found a dating website with the same name so had a rethink and did a bit of a poll.

Probably like all your readers, I was trying to guess who wrote which character – Clem, Kate and Ady – while I was reading (and I occasionally wondered if you were trying to put us off track by using some of each other’s signature traits). And the warmth and understanding makes me think you also have fallen in love with each other’s characters. Maybe you each wrote one character and then added to the other characters…

How did you collaborate on the writing process? Are you going to reveal who wrote what? 

SIMMONE: Ha! I don’t know about Cath and Fiona but I can’t really write like anyone but myself. I think we are pretty simpatico writers though … I wrote Clem, Cath wrote Kate, Fiona wrote Ady.

FIONA: One of the things that made our process very writer-friendly was that we each created a character – and wrote that character, and did all the plotting together. And we divided up the Wellness work sheets and PSST posts. So we developed an initial overall narrative outline and talked through our character arcs at a weekend away, then we would do further plotting and planning, chapter by chapter, go away and write our own characters, come together and read, talk, rethink, refine, replot. I think our writing styles do sit comfortably together, and we loved spending time with these three characters. And yes, I absolutely fell in love with Clem and Kate.

One of the characters, Kate, plays cello. How do you know so much about cello and loop-based performance?

CATH: I had some help! My niece, Esther, plays the cello. She told me about the double stops. ☺ But I adore Zoe Keating. If I could have any talent, I would be able to play like her. She stops my heart.

Ady is regarded as ‘Queen Bitch, according to school folklore’. She is much more than she seems (like the other girls) and is surprisingly perceptive about others. How do you show this?

FIONA: Because Ady is an artist, it felt natural to give her that perceptive quality: she really looks, really notices. I show that in her thoughts, and we offer the reader a dislocation between what Ady is thinking, and how others perceive her. Because our structure includes Wellness journal entries for each character this allowed me to give readers extra glimpses of how Ady’s understanding of Kate and Clem changes over the course of the narrative, for example.

Clem recognises that most girls are trying to be perfect. Why is she able to step away from looking svelte from swimming?

SIMMONE: I think she has a moment where she realises that she will never look how she wants to look, or how she thinks she’s supposed to look, and that there has to be more to her, and that there is more to her.

I love when the girls talk about their perfect days late in the novel. Kate’s is ‘writing music and playing music’, Ady’s is ‘playing with fabrics, dreaming up clothes that don’t look like other stuff’ and then Max cuts in to say her thousand perfect days ‘all involve books and movies and music’.

What are your perfect days?

CATH: My perfect day is filled with nothing – so there’s space to dream and write.

SIMMONE: My perfect days sees me far away, maybe seeing in real life something I’ve only read about.

FIONA: Mine would include a long sleep-in, a walk, some writing, some reading, some food, some solitude, and some family and friends time.

Thank you all for this wondrous YA novel about surprising friendship.

SIMMONE: You’re welcome!

FIONA: Thanks, Joy.

Future Father’s Day Fun – More Picture Books for the Family

The ties and monogramed mugs might already be tucked away but here a ute-full of picture books littlies will love sharing with dad, any day of the year. After you’ve checked out Romi’s Father’s Day round up, check out these, sometimes cheeky, titles too.

Funniest Dad in the World by Ed Allen and Louis Shea

This is an outrageous take on one-up-man-ship. Explosively colourful illustrations collaborate with a text that increasingly becomes more and more hilarious and unbelievable as various animal youngsters try to ‘out describe’ just how funny their dad is. Winners get to construct the super cool shiny Funniest Dad in the World trophy included in the back. Pre-schoolers will get a thrill out of second-guessing the riotous attempts at bragging rights. Top marks for Dad’s Day.

Scholastic Australia August 2017

Continue reading Future Father’s Day Fun – More Picture Books for the Family

Connecting with Dads – Picture Books for Father’s Day

With Father’s Day just around the corner, it’s a good time to celebrate all the quirks, quips and quandaries that go with fatherhood, but especially all the sweet, sugary and special moments that loved ones share together. Whether it’s about dads, grandparents or other role models in your life, the connection is what’s important. Here are a few special stories showcasing a mix of tenderly love, fatherly-figures and families with memories.

A Thousand Hugs from Daddy, Anna Pignataro (author, illus.), Scholastic Australia, 2017.

It’s true… one hug is never enough! For little people, it’s those big bear hugs, that comfort and warmth that helps them feel safe. From sailing paper boats on the ice, to playing catch in the clouds of snow, sheltering together from the fog and wind, and hopping from iceberg to iceberg, father and baby polar bear do everything together.

Anna Pignataro’s soothing rhyming couplets glide effortlessly across the tongue and through this tender tale on the ice. Metaphorical descriptions beautifully tie in with her delicate and dreamy illustrations. Where “the climb is way too high”, daddy is there lifting him up to reach their paper boat. When it’s foggy, daddy is there holding his hand. Each verse sweetly portrays the love, security, encouragement and playfulness felt by the little cub towards his father, and ending with the phrase “And I’ll be happy as can be – one hug is not enough for me!” But at the end of the day, with a gentle goodnight hug, will one just be enough?

A Thousand Hugs from Daddy oozes love, warmth and the unconditional support of a parent. The perfect bedtime story for children from two, when one giant bear hug can feel like a thousand hugs.

Whatcha Building?, Andrew Daddo (author), Stephen Michael King (illus.), ABC Books, 2017.

Not as much a story about fathers but rather an ode to father-figures and tasks you could tackle together. Particularly if you have a soft spot for construction and a cup of tea!

Andrew Daddo tells the tale of a curious and persistent boy, Little Davey Durak, with a penchant for off-cuts of wood. Burly builder Bruce is busy deconstructing the old corner milk bar, which certainly takes Davey’s fancy. Over days and different kinds of weather, the two struck up a solid relationship, although Davey’s lips as to his building plans are tightly sealed. Bruce’s own curiosity is fed by his imagination, as he wonders whether the boy is building a rocket ship, a boat, a Ferris wheel, billycart, a space station or a complicated roller-coaster. Once the “brand-new, super-sized, super-schmick corner store” is complete, all that’s left is the old milk bar sign. The pair take it through the most fascinating streets lined with King’s glorious mix of photographed recycled bottles, jars, cups and kerosene lamps acting as a backdrop to his eccentric, animated cartoons and illustrated cardboard cut-outs. And finally Davey allows Bruce into his mastermind creation. “It’s exactly what this town needs.”

Whatcha Building? relays a wonderful message of community and awareness of recycling and sustainability. The text and illustrations are carefully considered whilst absolutely entertaining us at the same time. Although with little dialogue on Davey’s part, the bond between him and the builder is undeniable with their mutual respect and subtle banter. A down-to-earth book to share with dads; a reading experience that is sure to be recycled over and over.

Grandma Forgets, Paul Russell (author), Nicky Johnston (illus.), EK Books, 2017.

When an ageing loved one suffers from dementia, the whole family is affected. But the resilience and maturity of the little girl narrating this story is truly admirable. Taking what often is a disheartening situation and turning it into a wonderfully positive and bonding experience is how the grandchildren and their parents treat Grandma.

Paul Russell’s story provides readers valuable opportunities to share old and plan for new memories with their parents and grandparents. In this case, the Dad’s heart is heavy as his mother forgets, but the brother and sister ensure ways of continuing Grandma’s involvement and inclusion as a valued and loved family member. There are plenty of joyful and playful moments throughout the book that subdue some of that heaviness to make it such a light-hearted and ‘memorable’ read.

With Nicky Johnston’s beautifully nostalgic, vibrant and emotive illustrations, Grandma Forgets is a meaningful and powerful story that youngsters will adore sharing with their loved ones at any time of the year.

And for another favourite to share with Dad is the “poignant, perfectly pitched and picture perfect”; The Fix-It Man by Dimity Powell and Nicky Johnston. A deeply significant, achingly heartbreaking and heartwarming tale, all at the same time. You can read more of my previous review of this beautiful book here.

Happy Father’s, Grandfather’s and Special Person’s Day to all the admirable, caring and supportive men who do so much for your loved ones.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Review: The Pearl Thief by Elizabeth Wein

BUY HERE

The Pearl Thief by Elizabeth Wein definitely caught my heart! It’s a gorgeous and lush 1930s frolic in Scotland and it was so atmospheric and intriguing with such winning characters that I couldn’t help but be obsessed by it! It’s also a prequel to Code Name Verity, although you don’t have to have read it in order to enjoy The Pearl Thief. While Code Name Veirty is about Julie Beaufort-Stuart’s life in the British army — The Pearl Thief follows her as a 15-year-old back home in Scotland trying to solve the mystery of a murdered man and missing pearls. It’s all castle ruins and rivers and kilts and ancient artefacts and a lot of delicious tea.

The story starts with Julie being involved in a nasty accident — that she can’t remember at all. She wakes up in hospital with amnesia over what happened and she’s trying to piece together who hit her on the head and left her to nearly die before she was rescued by kind travelling folk, Euan and Ellen. Since her family is selling their estate, Julie’s summer is turning out to be all about archiving the ancient artefacts of the old family manor and saying goodbye — but there’s been a murder. And she desperately wants to know who attacked her and if it’s connected to her grandfather’s missing pearls.

I actually listened to the audiobook and may I just say THE AUDIO IS ABSOLUTELY GORGEOUS. It’s all Scottish accents and the most beautiful narration ever. All the much recommend. I think I fell into love with Scotland and can’t get up.

 

BUY HERE

Honestly this is just a really well-written story. For me it was like revisiting an old friend! And it was just so perfect being around Julie Beaufort-Stuart again, particularly since her brother, the dashing and cheerful Jamie, is here too! Jamie is so sweet and basically an adorable dork. Yes, adorkable.

And do you know what I’m really impressed with? It’s how delightfully feminist this book is. Julie is a powerful character. She’s totally flawed and privileged and often doesn’t even know it and makes mistakes because of it…but she wants to learn and be better. Plus she is all about femininity and being empowered. She doesn’t ask permission — she does things. And I also loved how she was queer but never once saw herself as “broken” because of it, which was so refreshing to read in a historical fiction. Basically I just left this book feeling so happy because Julie was witty and could shoot a gun and wasn’t afraid to get mucky and was terrified of ghosts and LOVED BEING PRETTY and kissed whoever she wanted. And Julie’s surrounded by equally fabulous and powerful female role models, like her mother and grandmother, and they take 0% shenanigans too. I’m just so in awe. Usually I avoid historical fiction because of having to wade through pits of feeling inferior — but nooooot so here. There are sexist characters and the world isn’t sugar-coated into an “ideal land”, but it’s just NICE SEEING WOMEN BE PROUD OF THEMSELVES.

I also loved how the book handled the travellers! Although it made me so furious at how horribly they were treated. They’re called “tinkers” by the locals, (basically Scottish gypsies) and they’re abused and railed against at every turn. I love how Julie becomes friends with Euan and Ellen. And quite frankly Euan is the sweetest of ever and Ellen was a piece of frosty ice and absolutely amazing.

I enjoyed the lazy summery pace of the plot. Although quite frankly it was the setting I was monstrously in love with! All old castles and manors and beautifully described rivers of pearls. The writing is just SO GOOD that every scene somehow was lush and delicious and I felt like I was there, taking my summer in Scotland.

If you like historical fiction, mysteries, and feminists — The Pearl Thief is calling to you! It’ll take you on a beautiful adventure through Scotland until you feel like you just dropped into the 1930s! There is hilarious banter and an ending you absolutely will never guess.

Fabulous Footy Favourites

I’ve got a footy-themed kids book hitting the shelves tomorrow. So I thought now would be a good time to share with you some of my favourite Aussie Rules Football books, presented here in order of audience, from youngest to oldest.

Great Goal! Marvellous Mark! written by Katrina Germein, illustrated by Janine Dawson
(2017, Ford Street Publishing)

This is An Aussie Rules Alphabet Book. And it’s an absolute, fun-filled, riveting read for footy fans and keen kids. The text is clever and fun and full of awesome alliteration. The story is filled with joy and diversity and fun footy feats. The illustrations are colourful and dynamic and appealing. This book is the perfect way to get footy obsessed youngsters into reading. Dare I say it? This book kicks some great literary goals! 🙂

Footy Dreaming by Michael Hyde
(2015, Ford Street Publishing)

This is a young adult novel about two footy-playing teenagers in a small Australian town. They are from different backgrounds, but they share a common dream — to play in the AFL. This book is great if you’re a footy fan. But you don’t have to be. It is about so much more than football. It’s about friendship and family, prejudice and small-town life. But most of all, it is about the importance of chasing your dreams. If you’re not into football, then this book might help to give you an appreciation of the game. The writing is straightforward and accessible, and you really get into the heads of two boys. It’s an uplifting, motivating, feel-good book.

Pride, by Lazaros Zigomanis
(2017, Busybird Publishing)

And I’ve saved the best for last. This is an extraordinary book. The lead character is eighteen, so I guess this could be considered upper-end ‘young adult’ or ‘new adult’… but I reckon it’s the sort of book that knows no boundaries (see what I did there 🙂 ). It could be read by younger teens. It certainly could be read by adults. There is lots of footy action, so it would be great for readers who are seriously into their football. But it’s also written in such a way as to not alienate those of us who are not as au fait with the rules and subtleties of the game.

Luke Miggs lives in Ulah, a small town that loves its football. He’s a member of the local footy team, who mostly just play for fun. But when the mysterious Adam Pride literally walks out of the night to join the team, everything changes. Ambitions are kindled. Dreams are chased. Choices are questioned. And the past is revealed. Although this book is about football, it’s also about friendship and choices and racism… and the past refusing to stay buried.

Lazaros writes with confidence and assurance. He knows his footy. He knows small-town life. He knows how to spin a good yarn. This book is filled with vivid characters, and small-town detail. The story is intriguing and gripping, each individual footy match as exciting and engrossing as the overall mystery that binds the story.

Definitely one of the best books I’ve read this year.

End bit

Finally, I’ll finish up with a little about my own footy book – You Choose AFL: Footy Fever. This is the thirteenth title in my series of interactive books for kids. I’m REALLY EXCITED about it, not least because it is officially endorsed by the AFL… which means I was able to use real teams and real players within its pages. Very cool! And it hits the shops tomorrow – Monday 28 August 2017.

Catch ya later, George

Homeless in Australia: ‘Because of You’ by Pip Harry

Pip Harry is the author of three Australian YA novels, I’ll Tell You Mine; Head of the River, an unflinching look at elite school rowing, and now, Because of You which gives insight into people living on the streets.

Where are you based and what is your current role, Pip?

Currently I am based in steamy Singapore, where my family has been living for the past 18 months on an expat adventure. I had an earlier stint here when I was six years old … it’s changed a bit since then! I love the warm weather, the proximity to Asia for quick trips to exotic destinations and the food is so good. Satay, noodles, chilli crab, dumplings, I could go on!

How involved are you in Australia’s YA community?

I’m actively and passionately involved in Australia’s YA community, even from my Singapore outpost! Through the #LoveOzYA movement – which aims to promote local content to local readers – I’ve been swept up in support and love for Aussie YA. Wherever possible I review or promote other #LoveOzYA releases. We are one big YA family.

Could you tell us about your earlier books?

In 2012, I released my debut novel, I’ll Tell You Mine, about a goth teenager sent to a strict girl’s boarding school. In 2014, I followed up with Head of the River, about siblings competing in the high stakes annual school rowing race and putting it all on the line to win. 

Why is your new novel Because of You (UQP) important?

It’s important because it offers younger readers the opportunity to understand and emphasise with the daily struggles of street people. Many teenagers have little or no contact with the homeless community, except perhaps walking past them on the street, but this book tells their stories, reminds readers that it could happen to any one of us, and offers hope for change.

Could you tell us about your major characters, Tiny and Nola?

Tiny, 18, is sleeping rough and has fled her rural town for the city. Nola, 17, is drifting through her final year at school, unsure of her path in life or her friendships. When Nola is assigned to do 20 days of mandatory community service at a homeless shelter’s creative writing program, the girls meet and form a friendship that will change both their lives.

You have a cast of minor characters who help create the community setting. Who most pulls at your heart and why?

One of the things I loved most about writing Because of You was the supporting cast of characters. The one who captured my heart was Meredith, who runs the Street Library. I love her belief that “books can save anyone, if they’re the right ones,” and her passion to bring stories to the streets.

My son cooks burgers for the homeless in Sydney. What would you suggest ordinary Australians do for the homeless?

Does he? That’s so fantastic! There is so much ordinary Australian’s can do to lend a hand in the homeless community, from serving food in soup kitchens to supporting creative workshops or offering your time and skills in other ways. Check out govolunteer.com.au for opportunities in your area.

What hope do you see for Australia’s homeless in the near future?

It’s easy to get discouraged about the homeless crisis when tent cities are being dismantled and figures for homelessness are rising. But my hope is that we can take national action to end homelessness in this country through supporting our homeless organisations and investing in affordable, stable and permanent public housing.

Why have you incorporated Marcus Zusak’s The Book Thief and Cath Crowley’s Graffiti Moon into Because of You?

Those books are incredible and they’re written by Australian authors I admire, so I wanted my characters to read and adore them too!

What have you been reading recently?

I’ve been reading the chilling, ghostly Ballad for a Mad Girl by the brilliant Vikki Wakefield and I’m in awe of the backwards narrative in Everything is Changed by Nova Weetman. I really liked the passion and rawness of Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur. 

Thanks very much, Pip, and all the best with Because of You.

Thanks for having me!