Picture Books to Help and Heal

When you’re feeling a little lost, a little broken, or need a helping hand, what better way to lift you up than with a few beautiful, encouraging books with a whole heap of sentiment and warmth. Here are a few newbies you’ll want to hold close to your heart.

The Whirlpool, Emily Larkin (author), Helene Magisson (illus.), Wombat Books, May 2017.

When one moment shifts into another, without warning, and your world suddenly seems like a foreign place. This emotional whirlpool, as it is described; can pluck you from a place of familiarity and warmth then spin you round until you’re left confused and displaced. The Whirlpool considerately and sensitively addresses this sentiment without needing a definite cause; there doesn’t have to be some traumatic event for us to experience those ‘bad’ or isolated days. Because we all know happiness, sadness, loneliness and love, and here they are expressed beautifully through the eyes of a young polar bear cub.

Emily Larkin’s words are poetic-like. In their very being they stir up emotions in your soul. The simple sentences are sharp and carefully crafted for dramatic impact. Helene Magisson’s breathtaking illustrations almost literally wrap you up in this sensational vortex. Specifically defining moments are highlighted through her choice of visual layout and colour. Vast scenes define both feelings of joy and desolation, and focal sequences display proudness and a tiring endurance. And with Helene’s characteristically alluring charm and symbolic nuances, the significance of the yellow scarf cleverly ties the changing moods and atmospheric conditions altogether.

The Whirlpool is, funnily enough, a gentle and hopeful tale, reassuring its primary school aged readers that experiencing a range of feelings and challenges in their life can be helpful in navigating their individual journeys. This is explained further by helpful notes at the back of the book. So, take a step back and watch a snippet of real life flash before you- this book is insightful, sincere and stunningly beautiful.

Nanna’s Button Tin, Dianne Wolfer (author), Heather Potter (illus.), Walker Books, June 2017.

The sentimentality of a little piece of plastic, primarily used to hold material together, may mean little to some, but for others, buttons hold a lifetime of memories. Nanna’s Button Tin is brimming with warm and fuzzy goodness, of special intergenerational bonds and precious reminders of the past.

For a little girl, Nanna’s button tin holds the key to healing her Teddy’s much-needed amending. And she has the added comfort of being fulfilled with stories of love as she searches for the perfect round, brown button for Teddy’s eye. The tiny yellow button reminds Nanna of the day the little girl was born. The bear-shaped button was worn on her birthday jumper when she was three. The sparkly green one signifies the connection between her grandparents. Whilst the silver angel button helped bring her back to health when she was sick. With Teddy finally fixed, the button tin and all its contents are replaced on the shelf for another day of memorable moments.

With heartfelt dialogue between the characters, and superbly detailed, realistic and warm illustrations, Nanna’s Button Tin contains a pile of love and a beautifully familiar homely feel. This book will be adored, shared and reflected upon by its preschool-aged audience, and their grandparents, many times over. Certainly one to replenish all the warmth in your heart.

Ava’s Spectacular Spectacles, Alice Rex (author), Angela Perrini (illus.), New Frontier Publishing, June 2017.

Another story told through the eyes of a child is Ava’s Spectacular Spectacles. And what a vision she has! Initially, though, Ava is self conscious about her glasses and won’t wear them in class. But with Mrs Cook’s bright and imaginative attitude, things have never looked the same. Presenting a page from various fairy tales to Ava, much like watching an oversized movie screen, the teacher explains how glasses would have helped the characters avoid their problems in the story. Featuring Little Red Riding Hood, Hansel and Gretel, Humpty Dumpty and more, Ava soon realises that in order to perceive the world clearly, she will need to ‘see’ the world clearly.

I love the enthusiasm and energy throughout the text, inviting readers and listeners to join in and ponder these sentiments. There is that subtle coercion that adults attempt to convince children of what is best, but the tale is written so playfully and creatively that it just feels like pure entertainment. The illustrations are equally jovial, colourful and expressive, and particularly visually large and easy-on-the-eye to suit its purpose.

Ava’s Spectacular Spectacles is fantastically fun, full of familiar fairy tale delights. It is perfect for children from age four, and especially providing a shining light for those with vision impairments to feel confident and secure.

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Wally Turns 30! – New Editions

What a fantastical blast from the past! Those cherished days of pouring over Where’s Wally? scenes for hours on end, in search for that inconspicuously eminent character, and his friends, we all know and love so dearly. Allow your children the same pleasure with these marvellous 30th Anniversary Edition and brand new collector pocket books that will be sure to spin heads, strain eyes and tire fingers to their hearts’ delight.

The classic, world-wide phenomenon, Where’s Wally? (30th Anniversary, Feb 2017) by Martin Handford, is celebrating 30 years of magical, wondrous, time- and space-travelling zeal that, no doubt, is still burning strong to this day. With its large-face, portrait format, Wally-Spotters can partner up and share the scrutiny together. It is the observer’s mission to find five intrepid travellers; Wally, Woof (but all you can see is his tail), Wenda, Wizard Whitebeard and Odlaw, plus their precious items in every scene. But that’s not all! There are another 25 Wally-watchers and an extensive checklist of people, creatures and objects to be found, too!

Each scene is presented with a postcard from Wally addressed to us, the Wally fans, providing a snippet of his endeavours in that particular destination. All set with his walking stick and a bulky load in tow, Wally wonders through busy and colourful places. From a crowded town, to a packed beach, a snowy mountain, a groovy campsite, jostling train station, a manic airport, a mass of runners at the sports stadium, a jiving museum, the swarming sea, a bustling safari park, jam-packed department store, and a lively fairground. (Plus a bonus scene!)

Along with your keen sense of observation, you’ll also delight in the humorous and quirky details found in every picture. The vibrant illustrations teem with life and personality, every tiny character with their own hilarious story to tell. No wonder Where’s Wally? will forever be a global classic! A must-have for every home and school.

The Where’s Wally? The Totally Essential Travel Collection (June 2017) is certainly the fun adventure that never ends! Including seven of the classics in one travel-sized book, littered with colouring in postcards and adorned with gold foiled stripes, this will be your trusty travel companion wherever the destination. The handy elastic close is a clever way to return to your place, and fold-out checklists enable easy accessibility as you search and turn through each wondrous location.

If I were to choose my favourite edition I would have to say The Wonder Book definitely packs a punch with its uniform colour selections for each scene and its pages that are filled to the brink with the most minuscule of detail. And if you’re up for a real challenge try visiting The Land of Woofs! It’s a cracker!

The Where’s Wally? Colouring Collection (May 2017) is an absolute spectacular of Wally-related searches, games, jokes and creative tasks, all in black and white! Whilst colouring, doodling and sketching your way through the pages, astute observers also have the added task of locating Wally, his friends, his special lost paint pot, and other precious possessions. Plenty more hidden objects are compiled in the checklists, and the enormous lift-out poster creates even more colouring, searching and time-consuming goodness.

With heaps of inspiring, creative and thought-provoking activities, this travel-sized handbook with elastic close is an energetic bundle of joy (and a calming force at the same time!).

The great thing about this series is that they cater for every age group, starting with simple perusal to the more complex exploration. But there is no doubt, this is imagination, entertainment and brain-training at their best!

Walker Books Ltd., Walker Books Australia.

Review: The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli

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The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli is a special squish of an adorable story. It just ticks all the right boxes for what YA contemporary is longing after. It’s cute and fun and manages to weave in the awkwardness of teenagerdom (shh that’s totally a word) with the epically beautiful and special parts about growing up and finding out who you are and, of course, falling in love.

The story centres around Molly who is a sufferer of many, many unrequited crushes. Then her twin sister, Cassie, meets the most amazing girl and Molly truly starts to realise what she’s missing. But she’s conscious that she’s not particularly “cool” and that she’s fat (which she worries people will judge her for), and that she doesn’t want to fall for someone who isn’t going to treat her well. Molly is all into Pinterest arts and baking and hanging out with her super cool friends. Then she meets two boys: Will, who is like the most adorable hipster boy who seems to really truly like her…maybe more than “like”, and then there’s also Reid, who Molly works with who’s a ginormous nerd and wears Lord of the Rings tee-shirts and is unconventional and dorky. But he’s not really Molly’s type. But is Will either?

It’s truly a story about falling in love for the first time, but also about growing up and feeling left behind by your peers if you’re not “keeping up” enough.

I adored how diverse it was, with at least 50%, if not more, of the cast stars queer characters of different ethnicities.

The writing is, of course, brilliant and totally addictive! Seriously I could never look away from the page. It’s just captivating and beautifully written and it felt so real and relatable with the tone and dialogue. Becky Albertalli just knows how to write books that make you feel like you’re living inside them.

The characters were definitely the best part! They were relatable and dorky at times and completely realistic. I did struggle to connect to Molly, though, with her 30+ unrequited crushes. That’s a lot of people to fall in love with, okay?! She doesn’t really ACT on them, though, so the book isn’t full of breakups and angst. I still loved Molly for her who she felt everyone was growing up around her and she was stagnating. The book puts forth the question of “am I keeping up?” and then slaps it down because there isn’t a timeline to do things! Molly can be 16 and not have kissed anyone and that doesn’t make her weird or broken. I think this book captured just how overwhelming growing up can be. Also it was super cute to see how into Pinterest arts and crafts Molly was! When she was planning her mothers’ weddings Pinterest-style?! OH YES AND YES.

There were so many beautiful messages too. I love how Molly’s mums talked about there not being “a specific age” to reach milestones and achieve things. And of course it underlined that love is love no matter what. And even though Molly had anxiety and was shy, she never was forced to become someone else.

Also the romance was freaking adorable. It had the potential to be an angsty love-triangle, but it wasn’t!

The Upside of Unrequited is a glorious, sweet, happy and feels-good book that will truly make you smile! The writing is captivating, the characters are relatable, and there are so many chocolate mini-eggs that you will find yourself having a serious craving and probably gnawing on your copy of the book. So be wise: read it + eat chocolate simultaneously. The story is full of poignant messages and sweet plot twists and is a definite must read!

Book Week: the CBCA Eve Pownall Books, Part 2

Fabish: the horse that braved a bushfire

By Neridah McMullin, illustrated by Andrew McLean   Allen & Unwin

Another amazing animal in the Eve Pownall shortlisted books is the horse, Fabish. He was an old horse who rescued the yearlings from the terrible Black Saturday bushfire. The trainer rescued the finest race horses but couldn’t look after them all so he set Fabish free with the yearlings. He discovered every single one safe after the decimating fire but didn’t know where Fabian had taken them.

Picture book form is an apt medium for this true story. Important Australian illustrator, Andrew McLean, is an expert in painting our countryside and animals and Neridah McMullin has crystallised the events into a riveting tale.

Primary-age children could no doubt imagine where the horses may have found safety. They could write and draw their possible experiences.

These creators have published other very worthwhile books, such as McLean’s A Year on Our Farm and Bob the Railway Dog and McMullin’s Kick it to Me and KnockAbout Cricket.

William Bligh: a stormy story of tempestuous time

By Michael Sedunary, illustrated by Bern Emmerichs Berbay Publishing

This tale begins in 1808, 20 years after the First Fleet, when soldiers arrest Governor Bligh. It then retrospectively tells the account of the Mutiny on the Bounty before returning to Bligh’s attempts to quell both the Rum Rebellion and John Macarthur.

Michael Sedunary’s writing is picturesque and colourful; personalising Bligh’s life and endeavours.

Bern Emmerichs’ illustrations are intricate and patterned.

Surprisingly, blogging and social media appear in this book. Bligh’s log (now kept in Sydney’s Mitchell Library) relates blogging to the gossip, printed pamphlets and handbills of the period. Macarthur’s ‘tweets’ against Bligh are viewed as the social media of the time.

The first Australian political cartoon (adapted here) shows Bligh dragged from under his bed by Major Johnston’s men. Propaganda is explained and readers are asked to think about how ‘simple slogans and labels are meant to stop us thinking any further about things.’

More surprises appear when readers are asked to consider who is the hero or villain – Cook or Bligh? (Cook ordered many more floggings than Bligh.)

Other books in the series are What’s Your Story? and The Unlikely Story of Bennelong and Phillip.

 Enormous congratulations to Berbay Publishing for its Bologna Award.

 The Gigantic Book of Genes

By Lorna Hendry   Wild Dog Books

This is a glossy science publication with high quality photos. It includes seamless explanations of genes and genetics with apt examples for children to understand.

It has incredible information, such as ‘If you took all the DNA in your body, unwound it and stretched it out into a single strand, it would reach all the way to Pluto and back.’

Readers are asked: which has more genes: a grape or a human? (the answer is on page 32)

We are reminded that tongue-rolling and widow’s peaks are genetic.

No doubt every reader will be amazed when they clasp their hands to see if their left or right thumb is on top. (page 59) Try it!

And genetically all humans have 99.9% of identical DNA. We are almost exactly the same.

Book Week: the CBCA Eve Pownall Books, Part 1

The Eve Pownall Information Books this year span the ABC, animals and history.

They highlight several small, independent publishers, who should be congratulated on their excellent publications.

Spellbound: Making Pictures with the ABC

By Maree Coote    Melbournestyle Books

Spellbound also won a 2017 Bologna Ragazzi Award. It’s a large, sumptuous hardcover in three parts: architecture, animals and people, and features typography (letter art) where images are created from letters that spell their names.

Young children could find the letters in the illustrations. Older readers could appreciate the typographic poetry (shape poetry) where the meaning of the text is enhanced visually.

I spoke to the creator, Maree, on the day before she flew to Bologna to receive her award, who explained that she has restricted herself to using existing fonts.

There are three levels of difficulty within the book’s examples: 1. any letters that inspire a picture can be used 2. only use letters of the correct spelling of the subject’s name 3. only use correct spelling and only 1 font per letter (see page 3).

This book helps understanding of Visual Literacy. (See page 3 for line and shape, and page 63 for patterns.)

Children could use Macs, or equivalent, to create their own letter art.

There is even a mini tutorial on how to create animals using only letters.

 A-Z of Endangered Animals

Words and Illustrations by Jennifer Cossins       Red Parka Press

The Introduction explains how the high animal extinction rate is due largely to humans, and also introduced species such as rabbits and foxes, in Australia.

Everyone can help by reusing and recycling, keeping beaches clean and not wasting water.

The book is well-designed; it’s clean and clear.

It is structured with one animal representing each letter of the alphabet.

Information on the left-hand page includes conservation (e.g. endangered or vulnerable) status; current population; description of the animal and where it lives; and an interesting fact such as no two tigers have the same striped pattern, and eastern gorillas use basic tools to gather food.

Each animal is illustrated on the opposite page.

Primary-aged children could focus on Australian endangered animals and present information using the same format, possibly to make a class book.

Amazing Animals of Australia’s National Parks

By Gina M. Newton    National Library of Australia

Like A-Z Endangered Animals, Amazing Animals of Australia’s National Parks shows which species are endangered, vulnerable or threatened (their conservation status).

Every state and territory is included, so readers may be able to visit one.

The structure is organised by environments and habitats such as woodlands and grasslands (the Bush), wetlands and waterways, arid zones and coast, oceans and islands.

Each habitat has a double page, followed by one page each for selected animals.

Read this book to discover more about our wildlife and how to care for the environment

There are high-quality photos, interesting ‘fast facts’ and a glossary.

I will write about the 3 other Eve Pownall shortlisted books in another post.

Love and Life – Picture Books for Mums

Looking for beautiful books that capture your heart with themes of comfort, joy, encouragement, living life and nurturing this Mother’s Day? Here are a few that possess these qualities, and more, ensuring you’re bursting with love and light on your special day.

My Meerkat Mum, Ruth Paul (author, illus.), Scholastic Australia, April 2017.

Meerkats. Utterly adorable. Quirky. Funny. Eccentric. Fiercely protective and loyal. It doesn’t take much to fall in love with them, and here is a sharp-witted, sweet tale that you will fall in love with, too.

Single words and short, punchy sentences establish the pace for the quick and tenacious characteristics of these feisty little creatures. “Up. Stretch. Left. Right. Sleepy Mum. Morning light.” The illustrations favour the same theatrics with their humorous assortment of snapshots showcasing the meerkats in each and every action. It is Mum’s duty to prepare her three pups for the busy day ahead. Ensuring they are meticulously groomed from every angle, they are ready to set out from their burrow for a lesson in hunting. But their work is not without misadventure as the young meerkats encounter a lick of danger. Luckily Meerkat Mum is there to assert her authority, security and comfort…as all good mums do!

Ruth Paul has captured the heart of motherhood through her cheeky, vivacious story of possibly one of the cutest animals in existence. My Meerkat Mum is a delightful read for mums and bubs to share, highlighting the love and ultimate dedication of a Mum who’s work is never complete. A book that preschoolers will simply adore.

Old Pig, Margaret Wild (author), Ron Brooks (illus.), Allen & Unwin, Jan 2017.

Written and illustrated by the legendary creators that are Margaret Wild and Ron Brooks, this heart rending classic remains as moving as since it was first published 20 years ago. The comfort in knowing you’re taken care of long after a loved one has gone brings peace and warmth even to the most broken of hearts. This story of living, giving, optimism, appreciation and infinite love will move you to tears whilst shining a beacon of light and hope in the places you need it most.

It has been only Old Pig and Granddaughter for a long time. They are an inseparable pair, a tremendous team that work well together, but most importantly, enjoy each other’s company. As quickly as we’ve fallen for this loving duo, we are shaken with a harsh reality that Old Pig is gravely ill. And Granddaughter is left to deal with her sudden sense of loneliness, alone. But Old Pig has some final affairs to prepare. Besides the bills, Old Pig gives Granddaughter the gift of peace and a sensational love for the world around her. “Do you see how the light glitters on the leaves?” “Do you see how the clouds gather like gossips in the sky?” And Granddaughter gives her own final gift too…tissues, please!

This story that deals with life and letting go has been written by Margaret Wild with the most beautiful, sincere language in a spiritually uplifting and gentle manner. It emanates with an aura of goodness; that generosity, solicitude and serenity can fulfil one’s happiness. Brooks’ use of light and shade and autumn tones encapsulate the ride of emotions as well as capturing the beauty of a world infused with promise.

Old Pig is a delicate look at loss in a story so filled with love. It is a reassuring book for early primary years children, and in particular those who have lost, or are especially close to, a grandparent.

Under the Love Umbrella, Davina Bell (author), Allison Colpoys (illus.), Scribble, Feb 2017.

No matter where one is, physically, emotionally or spiritually, they can take comfort in knowing that they are deeply and truly loved. Under the Love Umbrella is a charming analogy and reminder for our children that they always have the security of our love despite their fears, mistakes, insecurities, and even their misdemeanours.

Gorgeously poetic in its rhyming stance, Davina Bell uses sweet and mesmerising language to steal our hearts. A variety of everyday situations are captured, and are constantly brought back to the soothing words, “…love umbrella.” Whether they are experiencing unfair play, or feeling shy, moving house and strange new things, or bad dreams and big worries, the children can rely on feeling safe, considered and loved. Although it cannot be seen, love can be felt, even a long, long way away.

The simple colour palette with pops of neon orange is in similar style to this duo’s previous title, The Underwater Fancy-Dress Parade. Colpoys effectively attracts readers with her joyous and warm images, encapsulating a diverse population of family types and cultural backgrounds.

Under the Love Umbrella is an encouraging, reassuring and light-hearted story filled with warmth for any parent to share with their young ones. It includes several themes that offer valuable discussion points, including the final question, “Who’s under your love umbrella?”.

Stay safe, warm and protected this Mother’s Day! Snuggle up with a good book and a loved one. X

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

5 Books About Twins

I love books about twins so much I thought I’d put together a list of some of my favourites.

  1. Flowers in the Attic by Virginia Andrews
    This was the book that started my love affair with twins in literature and is the story of 4 young children locked in an attic by their Grandmother. Their father has died and the children are living in their gothic grandparent’s house waiting for the Mother to successfully acquire some money from her strict Grandfather who detests the children. Gradually their mother visits less often and the children are largely left to their own devices. This is a classic YA novel with gothic undertones and themes of greed and betrayal.
  2. The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
    This book is in my Top 10 favourite books of all time. Vida Winter is a successful author and has decided to tell her life story now that she’s dying. She’s given many interviews over the course of her life, but each time she tells a different story. This time she’s serious about revealing the dark truth about her past and Margaret Lea has agreed to be her biographer. But it won’t be easy.
    The novel makes countless delicious references to stories, books and reading and I revelled in the language.
    Here’s a sample from the book: “Do they sense it, these dead writers, when their books are read? Does a pinprick of light appear in their darkness? Is their soul stirred by the feather touch of another mind reading theirs? I do hope so.
    Naturally the plot includes twins and the wonderfully haunted Angelfield House forms the backdrop of the novel in a charming and menacing way. In addition to being a brilliant book, The Thirteenth Tale is also major BBC film starring Vanessa Redgrave and Sophie Turner (Game of Thrones).
  3. Beside Myself by Ann Morgan
    Beside Myself is a psychological thriller and suspenseful read looking at themes of identity and mental illness. Twin sisters Helen (domineering) and Ellie (submissive) play a game one afternoon to swap identities, but Ellie won’t change back. What happens next is an ever growing divide between the sisters and the subsequent decline of one of them. As the consequences of the game last a lifetime, I couldn’t help but wonder what I would have done in Helen’s situation
  4. A Dark Dividing by Sarah Rayne
    Continuing the suspense theme, A Dark Dividing is about conjoined twins born 100 years apart and how they’re connected. Alternating between the past and the present, and across 3 different periods, the novel reveals a number of shocking secrets as it progresses.
    Author Sarah Rayne loves to include a creepy building at the centre of her books and this time it was the suitably scary Mortmain House. Originally used as a workhouse for men and women who would otherwise die of starvation, the living conditions at the house were horrendous. Children abandoned at birth or born to families unable to care for them all ended up here and suffered terrible treatment as a consequence.
    As the title suggests, A Dark Dividing is a dark read and I enjoyed finding out how all the characters were connected.
  5. The Distant Hours by Kate Morton
    Another gothic novel featuring twins in a creepy estate is historical fiction novel The Distant Hours by Kate Morton. Edie is a book publisher and when her mother receives a long lost letter originally posted in 1941 from Milderhurst Castle, her curiosity is piqued. Her mother is secretive about her past, but Edie finds out she was billeted at the castle for a short time during the war.
    Edie visits the crumbling castle and meets the three elderly sisters residing there. Twins Percy and Saffy live together with their younger sister Juniper and the reasons they each chose to stay at the castle after the war and why they never married or had children inform the plot. Something happened to bond the sisters together for life and it was a thrill to discover. The characters love to read, write and tell stories, and all shared a love of books. The reference to the library in the castle made me weak at the knees.

I hope you enjoyed this list, but I’ve just noticed that almost all the twins in my list are female. I can’t even think of a novel with male twins, can you? Further reading: The Ice Twins by SK Tremayne and The Silent Twin by Caroline Mitchell.

Review: Willful Machines by Tim Floreen

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I was so surprised and delighted by Willful Machines by Tim Floreen! I saw a friend recommend it and say it was underrated — and they were 100% right. It’s so emotional, complex, and relatable and entirely underrated! Although it does have an ending that is rather destined to set you biting your nails and crying desperately for a sequel. But that’s the kind of reaction a good book should give, right?!?

The story is set in the not-so-distant future and centres around the president’s son who goes to an elite boarding school. And he’s not doing very well at all. His mental health is declining with the grief and anxiety of losing his mother, and the effort of keeping his sexuality hidden from his very conservative father. He throws himself into building robots — even though robots are the reason his mother is dead and the world is in an uproar. There’s a robot computer virus, named Charlotte, who seems intent on destroying people. And it’s possible that her next target is the president’s own son, Lee.

I love how it was set in a world that is very similar to ours, but just with a little more tech. Like really clever robots. Dude, I need a clever robot to go search for my continually missing left socks. There are cleaning droids and mechanical creatures that just may or may not be manipulated into evil. #exciting

The topic of “choices” comes up a lot, and I really appreciated this discussion. Lee firmly believed you can’t choose aspects of yourself, which is so true and so important to say! You can’t choose your sexuality. You can’t choose to be depressed or not. There are a lot of misconceived notions that those are choices, so I loved how the book delved into the matter. It was also intensely interesting how it talked about being predisposed to make a choice. (Like if your culture likes a certain type of food, won’t you? And if your parents have a certain belief system, won’t you be more likely to adopt it?) And doesn’t that make humans similar to programmed machines at times? It was an interesting discussion and I appreciated how the book made me think.

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The characters were also adorable and tragic creatures. Lee was amazing! I adored him! Being the son of the president is hard enough (with constant bodyguards eliminating craved-for privacy) but he’s also antisocial, a complete nerd, and very very anxious. He’s also very firmly in denial of being gay, in case his father finds out. I loved his character development and how relatable and dorky he was!

The romance is equally adorable. When Lee meets Nico, he’s captivated by this loud-laughing, Shakespeare-quoting, Chilean, perfectly handsome boy who eats anything and everything and will sneak out at midnight to throw sparklers down a cave in a mountain. I can’t even with how cute they were together.

The writing is excellent and I flew through the book in a few hours! It keeps you rooted to the page, perfectly weaving together Lee’s personal life at school and the robot crises of the world, and the conspiracy theories against the president and his son. It’s more of a boarding-school-story than a hair-raising action adventure, and I think that’s why I loved it so much. It focuses on emotional writing and character development. And then it leaves you clutching your paperback and breathing fast at the end as everything goes perfectly dreadfully wrong.

Willful Machines is splendidly cute, heartfelt, and bittersweet. It has characters to root for, mysteries to solve, and an open ending that’ll leave you thinking. It didn’t shy away from tough topics and I felt the diversity was excellent and perfectly represented. I loved the creepy old-fashioned school setting and the slightly sinister robot undertone.

The Magic of Music – musicality in picture books

Deploy music to tell a story and joy results. You need only to think about your favourite song to understand this. Unite the magic of music with the unique creation of a picture book story and the result is something very special indeed. These next few picture books combine a passion for music and story and the exceptional ability of both to bring people together. They’re also a whole concert-full of fun.

The Great Zoo Hullabaloo! By Mark Carthew and Anil Tortop

Not only is the word hullabaloo an absolute hoot to roll off your tongue, it implies mayhem of the most exuberant manic kind. This is exactly what The Great Zoo Hullabaloo! delivers.

Lively, liberating adventure is what Jack and Jess encounter one morning upon entering a zoo that is ‘strangely deserted.’ Even the new roo seems to have bunked. Unable to find a single real-life occupant, they begin a quest to track down the missing residents with little more than a trail of feathers, footprints, and poos, aka scats, to guide them.

Their bush tracking efforts eventually lead them to a party to end all parties. Every animal is hooting and tooting, and hopping and bopping a right hullabaloo! There’s cake, a surprise appearance and enough revelry to fill a pirate ship. For whom is this euphonious shindig, though? Well, you will have to come to the party yourself to find that out.

Tunefully rhythmic and exploding with joviality, this is classic Carthew and Tortop. Great musical verse (with a lovely reference to the Silvery Moon) and animated illustrations make The Great Zoo Hullabaloo! worth getting vocal about! Make sure you read Romi Sharp’s full rhapsodic review, here.

New Frontier Publishing May 2017

Baby Band by Diane Jackson Hill and Giuseppe Poli

Life for the residents of Level 8 in their apartment block is rather subdued and unexciting. They coexist placidly with very little interaction despite their close proximity, so artfully portrayed in the very first pages by Poli. Then one day, The Baby arrives. And, as babies are wont to do, that changes everything.

Baby’s persistent refusal to sleep wears his mother to distraction. His cries are heard and felt by each resident of Level 8, again shown by Poli’s brilliant vignettes that provide telling glimpses into the lives of Baby’s neighbours.

Then, Baby’s chance discovery of the pots and pans cupboard sets off another chain of cacophonous chaos. Each clamorous clang, squeak, squawk and stomp, vibrates throughout Level 8 and awakens a melodious joy in all who dwell there. Slowly, each of the residents is drawn to the rooftop to rejoice in all things musical, with one noticeable difference. They are celebrating, together. But, can you guess what happened to Baby amidst all this musical mayhem?

Hill has composed her palpable passion for music into an elegantly told tale that truly does rise ones soul an octave higher. Poli’s illustrations resonate charm with very few brush strokes. The linear use of images and variation of perspectives, rather like notes on a musical stave, sweeps the reader along the corridors of Level 8, in and out of the apartments and finally to their common park area, which the residents now utilise to play together in their newly formed Baby Band.

Baby Band is a symphonic story pre-schoolers will love having read to them, incongruously gentle in appearance and sound yet magnificently entertaining. This story elicits plenty of opportunity for musical interaction and discussion about all manner of instruments, pots and pans notwithstanding. I adored the cleverness of it all and the irony of young children being able to find solace and slumber in sound. Bravo!

New Frontier Publishing March 2017

The Bear and the Piano by David Litchfield

Sometimes, finding yourself only occurs because of some other serendipitous discovery. This is what happens to a young bear cub one day after he happens upon a piano in the middle of his forest home. At first, the sound Bear is able to procure from the piano is so awful, he abandons it but after several seasons not only does he mature so too does his ability to produce beautiful sounds from this strange thing.

Playing the piano transports Bear far beyond the wooded boundaries of his forest and fills his heart with melodious joy. Night after night, crowds gather around bear and his piano entranced by the magic he evokes from its ivory keys, until one night Bear is given an opportunity he is unable to say no to, to see the world and share his music with it. And so, he leaves his home and friends behind.

Bear’s tale of yearning for brighter lights and attempting to make better of himself is not unique but Litchfield’s personification of a bear embarking on a journey of self-discovery is both touching and purposeful. Bear’s successful debut in the big lonely city and then consequent tug to return to his old friends and home draws the reader in with cinematic magnitude. When he does return to the forest, he is deeply dismayed to find no one and nothing as he left them. He worries his desertion has made them angry or worse that they have forgotten him. However, he is mistaken as the heart-melting ending reveals.

The Bear and the Piano is a picture book that quietly moves you to the core as an operatic aria would. Bear is tragic yet infinitely loveable. His desire to share his love (of music) and taste the bittersweet reality of his dreams is one many of us may harbour and thus relate to easily. It is easy to like and admire his courage and equally as easy to feel his heartache and despair in spite of his successes. It can be lonely at the top. Luckily, for Bear, and us being at the top is not the be all and end all.

This book is an arresting mixture of loud and strong – forte piano as it were and is beautifully supported by Litchfield’s sumptuous illustrations. A pleasure for lower to upper primary students.

Frances Lincoln Children’s Books Quarto Group UK March 2017

 

 

Ideas for Book Week – CBCA Younger Readers, Part 3: Dragonfly Song & A Most Magical Girl

Now that the CBCA Short List has been announced, it’s time to start preparing for Children’s Book Week in August, when the winners are also announced.

This is my third post about Book of the Year: Younger Readers and I have already posted about Picture Books and books for Early Childhood. Teachers, librarians and parents may be interested in sharing these books with young readers. I have included a range of activity ideas.

Dragonfly Song by Wendy Orr  Allen & Unwin

Dragonfly Song dances far back into historical fiction – to the Bronze Age in Crete where King Minos, the Bull King, demands an annual tribute of 13-year-old boys and girls. Aissa, named after the dragonfly, is born with extra thumbs and her father defies the gods by cutting them off. When he dies, the wise-woman takes the baby to a farm but her life there is destroyed and she becomes a ‘mute’ servant and then a bull dancer. Aissa summarises her life as a poem on pages 376-7.

The writing is a mixture of prose and poetry and these both extend the narrative. There is recurring dragonfly imagery and snakes are a potent motif. This is a crossover novel for younger and older readers. Could some read it as a literary Hunger Games?

Writing Children could write in the styles of both the prose and poetry.

Sculpture They could google images of sculptures of Theseus and the Minotaur (on which part of Dragonfly Song is based), or use the cover illustration, and twist thin, coated wire to replicate the human and other figure in action (science: force and gravity).

Dragonfly Jewellery Children could represent the dragonfly symbolism by threading coloured beads, particularly blue, onto wire to make brooches or other jewellery.

A Most Magical Girl by Karen Foxlee  Allen & Unwin

Karen Foxlee continues the speculative fiction with A Most Magical Girl, a fantasy for 9-12-year-old girls (in particular) about Annabel Grey who is sent to live with her witch great-aunts in their magic shop in London. These women can bewitch broomsticks or make a potion to turn someone into a wolf.  At first Annabel doesn’t believe in magic, even though she can see visions in puddles, but she is enlisted into a quest to prevent Dark Magic and evil Mr Angel and his shadowlings and resurrection machine from overtaking London.

Kitty, the wild betwister (someone who goes between ‘this world and that world’), frequents Highgate cemetery and other crannies and is also full of magic. She is able to create a ‘heart-light’. Readers could contrast these two girls, as well as smelly, eye-twinkling troll Hafwen who longs to see the stars.

When Annabel and Kitty are sent ‘Under London’, they encounter trolls and a dragon. A map is somehow drawn onto Annabel’s skin. Children could read the descriptions about the map and use them to illustrate the visible skin of a paper figure or mannequin.

The girls must find the Morever or White Wand to save the people of London. As well as a rite of passage and story about friendship, A Most Magical Girl portrays the battle between dark and light.

Each chapter begins with an extract from Miss Finch’s Little Blue Book (1855) about manners for young ladies. These loosely correlate with the plot. Readers could write a brief alternate plot line to correspond with all or some of these extracts.

The UK setting is interesting because, until recently, Karen Foxlee seems to have been better known and appreciated in the UK and US than in her homeland. Hopefully this is changing. A Most Magical Girl is a very well imagined and constructed middle grade novel.

A Most Magical Girl is a beautiful hardback publication and is a great companion novel to Ophelia and the Marvellous BoyOlder readers should explore Karen Foxlee’s YA novel, The Midnight Dress. It is an exquisitely written, wondrous tale.

I will also write about the shortlisted books for Older Readers and the excellent Eve Pownall information books in upcoming posts.

CBCA 2017 Younger Readers, Part 2: Mrs Whitlam & Within These Walls

Mrs Whitlam by Bruce Pascoe  Magabala Books

Bunurong man from Victoria, Bruce Pascoe also wrote Fog a Dox, which won a YA Prime Minister’s Literary Award and Seahorse. Like Seahorse, Mrs Whitlam centres around an Aboriginal family, without emphasising Aboriginal issues. Pascoe here portrays well-functioning, happy, ‘normal’ families. He also won 2016 Book of the Year for the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards for his adult book, Dark Emu. I’ve interviewed the author for Boomerang Blog here.

In Mrs Whitlam, Marnie is surprised to inherit a Clydesdale horse called Mrs Maggie Whitlam after its young owner dies. The horse is named after the wife of the former Prime Minister who, as Marnie’s mother states, ‘Did a fair bit for black people too!’ The tale explores suffering at an appropriate level for young readers, introduces us to a very appealing girl who is brave but sometimes made to feel inferior, and culminates in an exciting rescue.

After finishing the short novel, children could re-read descriptions of the horse, research Clydesdales and then make an ‘assemblage’ (a 3D collage originating from Picasso’s cubist constructions). They could make the rough sculpture by using ‘found objects’ such as wire, cardboard and wool or twine.

Within These Walls by Robyn Bavati  Scholastic Australia 

Extreme suffering is evident in this well-written holocaust tale set in Warsaw, Poland during WW2. It is mainly placed in history just before Morris Gleitzman’s novel, Soon, another graphic account of violence against children and adults.

Within These Walls is not just another holocaust story. It is particularly interesting and engaging and reveals a depth of knowledge and research based on true events, especially in the sealed ghetto. The details such as Miri’s mother wearing a wig and baking challah create verisimilitude. The family reads the Biblical book of Esther and the Passover account of the Jews’ Exodus from Egypt, replacing slavery with freedom. Both books are pertinent to the story told here. Family is critical to Miri but, tragically, she loses her parents and siblings one by one.

We experience Miri’s life in the city, the open and closed ghetto and in a dark cellar. The novel begins with her time in the cellar and it is used to foreshadow some of Miri’s darkest times.

Even though Within These Walls is shortlisted for younger readers, parents and schools may wish to examine the contents before giving to all children.

The author also wrote Dancing in the Dark, which has a Jewish focus as well.

Review – Ella Saw The Tree by Robert Vescio

Ella Saw The Tree, Robert Vescio (author), Cheri Hughes (illus.), Big Sky Publishing, May 2017.

The value of mindfulness is not to be underestimated. For reasons of improving one’s stress levels, resilience, empathy, curiosity, decision making skills and self-awareness, practicing mindfulness is beneficial for positive wellbeing and mental health. In his latest book, Ella Saw The Tree, Robert Vescio addresses these themes with thoughtful consideration. Here is a story that joyfully taps into children’s innately inquiring minds. It reminds them that slowing down, focusing on the inner self, and appreciating their environment will offer them surprising discoveries and a sense of calm.

Ella is a free-spirit by nature. She has a keen imagination when it comes to pretend play. But as her mind is constantly brimming with fantasy and busy pursuits, it is the first time she notices the shedding tree in her backyard. A conversation with her mother helps Ella realise the tree’s natural cycle, the beauty of her surroundings, and the power of living in the moment. She becomes attune to her emotions, breathing and senses, finally allowing herself to respect life’s tranquil moments.

Vescio’s elegant and sensatory language is beautifully articulated to connect readers with the aspects of mindfulness highlighted in the story. His words are delicate and carefully chosen, and pleasantly supported by the luscious illustrations by Cheri Hughes. The images emanate a feeling of warmth, soul and attention. Synonymous to the reflective nature of the book, Hughes has chosen to contrast the fluidity of the subtle background watercolours with the prominence of the vivacious character, as well as including varying viewpoints.

Ella Saw The Tree is a warm, entertaining and important story that invites children, and adults alike, to opt in to the skilful technique of being ‘at one with oneself’ and with nature. I love that this book prompts us to celebrate the simplicity, beauty and surprises of life that induce the most happiness.

Read Dimity’s guest post with Robert Vescio from his blog tour.

#By AustralianBuyAustralian

CBCA 2017 Younger Readers, Part 1: Captain Jimmy Cook & Rockhopping

The Younger Readers CBCA Short List has a well-balanced selection of books; there’s something for all primary school age groups. I know the awards are judged on literary merit, but this is a helpful and positive by-product.

I’ve written about these 6 books in three Parts for the blog.

As well as a plot run-down and mention of anything that stands out, I’ve incorporated some activities that children could do with these books at school or home.

Boys, in particular, will be very keen to read these first two books.

Captain Jimmy Cook Discovers Third Grade 

By Kate Temple & Jol Temple, illustrated by John Foye  Allen & Unwin

Jimmy is thrilled to share a name with Captain James Cook but not so keen to write a diary, like the explorer. When he reads that Cook kept a ‘log’, he becomes far more interested. Like Jimmy, children could keep a short log about their daily activities, especially at school, and include one or more illustrations in the naïve style of the book.

The book is funny. When Jimmy dresses up as Cook for History Week he uses powder and hair cream to create Cook’s curls but the cream leaves him with bald spots. He takes his fake arm to Bed, Bath and Cables and loses it in the Kids’ Ball Pit.

When he realises that Cook was killed by the Hawaiians, Jimmy resolves to continue his explorations. He eats cereal to try to win a competition to Hawaii, feeds his baby sister an orange thinking she has scurvy and inadvertently terrorises a guest speaker. He starts an Explorers’ Society (but no girls are allowed) and the members use a formula of ‘Sir + Street Name + Fridge’ brand to invent their names, such as ‘Sir Clanville Fisher-Paykel’. Children could also try finding their own explorer names using this method.

Jimmy discovers lots of information from Google, such as what ‘fermented’ is, and uses an ancestry site to find out about his descendants. Children could also use the internet to learn about their past family.

Devotees can read more in Captain Jimmy Cook Discovers: X Marks the Spot, which is equally good.

Rockhopping by Trace Balla  Allen & Unwin 

This companion graphic novel to the award-winning Rivertime is set in Gariwerd (the Grampians). It tells the second story of Clancy and Uncle Egg, whilst respectfully including and acknowledging the Jardwadjali, Djab Wurrung and other Aboriginal peoples, as they try to find the source of the Glenelg River. Nephew and uncle also encounter native wildlife and plants and, of course, get lost along the way.

Read this book in conjunction with the Eve Pownall shortlisted, Amazing Animals of Australia’s National Parks. Teacher notes are available at the publishers’ website. Also read My Place by Nadia Wheatley and Donna Rawlins to highlight the section where Clancy imagines the history of the lake and who could have lived there (page 71).

Children could use the panels when Clancy is falling down the cliff, on pages 32-39, to create their own mini-graphic novel or animation of something that could go wrong in the wilderness.

Anil Tortop’s Illustrations Bring Stories to Life- Picture Book Reviews

Following my delightful interview with the charming, and uber-talented illustrator, Anil Tortop, today I focus on two of her most recent, ebullient and boisterous books that are sure to become family favourites; The Leaky Story by Devon Sillett and The Great Zoo Hullabaloo! by Mark Carthew.

Know that magical feeling of being totally captivated by an exotic world of unbelievable action and a place where only your imagination comes true? If you’d like to experience that feeling again then take heed, because The Leaky Story will take you there! It’s like a fantastic blend of the realms captured in The Neverending Story and Jumanji; with curious characters and creatures literally bounding from words to life.

This book about an eager book, busting to be engulfed by an inquisitive young boy, packs a hearty punch when it comes to fruition. But slowly at first, the tension builds as the leak becomes a flood, and soon overcomes the entire Blossburn living room – unbeknownst to J.J’s technology-addicted parents. But with gusto and fight, the whole family become the swashbuckling pirate- and kraken-battlers they could only ever imagine possible and reclaim the land that is rightfully theirs. I wonder what other surprises are in store for the Blossburn family!

Sillett’s narrative exudes energy, spirit, wit and personality, which is perfectly matched by Tortop’s whimsical illustrations. With both text and pictures, you can feel the tension rising and pace quickening as quiet moments become rowdy, and empty spaces begin to saturate each scene. I just love the quirky little details that Anil always integrates into her books. Readers will enjoy spotting funny, subtle qualities and character relationships (even of the unlikely kind!). Her sketching and digital art is rich with colour, fluidity and ambience- the ultimate atmosphere for a treacherous test on the high seas!

The Leaky Story certainly laves over us with its exciting and memorable read aloud experience, surging the wildest of imaginations. So get off your devices and go pick up a book! Highly recommended for preschoolers and up. Dimity’s review is here.

EK Books, April 2017.

The Great Zoo Hullabaloo! piques our curiosity from the outset, leading us in with a medley of scittering and scattering animal footprints across the endpapers. Upon entering, a bird’s eye view shot of the sparse scene again creates a sense of wonder and keeps the pages turning. Anil has brilliantly captured this intensity throughout with her subtle clues and witty elements that add further richness to the animated text.

In a rhythmic rumble that reflects a bebopping tune, Carthew’s narrative sweeps us from a hush to a rambunctious hullabaloo. When Jess and Jack discover the absence of creatures in the Zoo, they set about with their most astute senses to solve this unusual mystery. Only to find a ka-thumping, drumming, hooting, humming orchestral menagerie of wildlife celebrating none other than baby roo’s first birthday! With clapping, jiving and a goose-ejecting cake, moonlight parties don’t get any better.

Movement, energy, exhilaration and cuteness-overload, The Great Zoo Hullabaloo! offers a festivity for the senses and a clamorous encounter of the wild kind. A range of animals and instruments from all over the world provide plenty of scope for learning, as well as a reminder of our universal similarities and the importance of unity. A joyous book of rhythm, teamwork, togetherness, and a love of music that children from age three will devour with every turn.

Love them, Anil Tortop! 🙂

New Frontier Publishing, May 2017.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Doodles and Drafts – Blog Tour with Robert Vescio

To an infant child, the world is full of unbelievable marvels. Every new discovery is cause for celebration and intense scrutiny. They inherently know how to appreciate the most minuscule details of life because for them, these are the ones that count the most.

Robert Vescio’s latest picture book, Ella Saw The Tree invites young readers to pause for thought and cherish the finer details of life, ones they are often forced to abandon or forget about as they deal with the daily need to ‘grow up’.

Today, we welcome Robert back to the draft table to discuss how his book about mindfulness can help us all slow down whilst catching up with the things that really matter.

Welcome Robert! Tell us a bit more about Ella Saw The Tree.

Continue reading Doodles and Drafts – Blog Tour with Robert Vescio

Review: The Hidden Oracle (Trials Of Apollo #1) by Rick Riordan

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The Hidden Oracle by Rick Riordan is another of his most fabulous modernised retellings of Greek Mythology! It’s set in the same world as Percy Jackson and Camp Half Blood, but this series centres around Apollo, a fallen god who’s being punished by Zeus to be a teenager until he earns his powers back. I don’t think I’ll ever get enough of the hilariousness that are Riordan’s Greek  retellings. This This was brilliant. I laughed my head off at the perfectness of the humour and sass. Apollo’s narcissism was witty and glorious. TRULY GLORIOUS. I also enjoyed how this series isn’t following the same plot-arc as the other Camp Half Blood books.

FUN THINGS TO EXPECT IN THIS BOOK:

  • The hilarious idea of the god Apollo, now as a mortal teenage boy with acne.
  • Percy Jackson himself (!!!!) And I’d say he has more than a cameo because he’s at the beginning and helps out in the finale too.
  • Witty dialogue that will have you snorting your socks off.
  • Laughter. Expect yourself to be laughing basically the whole time.
  • A stubborn 12-year-old heroine who claims Apollo’s servitude while he’s mortal. Arguing ensues.
  • Evil ants.
  • Plenty of people being lost / beaten up / stabbed / licked by lions.
  • Epic and obscure Greek mythology references and tales so that you’ll be forced to LEARN THINGS while having a good time.
  • Peaches,
  • Really really really bad haikus.

I loved reading about Apollo’s character. He had a really different voice to Percy Jackson and Magnus Chase, which was refreshing. He spoke rather formally, like a god would, but also like a god attempting to be a teenager — ergo an epically ridiculous combination ensued. And he was absolutely full of himself. I may have snickered quite copiously. He also has an interesting relationship with Meg, who’s claimed his servitude as a fallen god. Meg was stubborn and opinionated and tended to be annoying an annoying little gnat. Their friendship develops over the course of the book from hating each other to working together. Just envision Apollo, a narcissistic gangly ex-god teenager, now having to do whatever a 12-year-old girl (who occasionally blows raspberries at him) says as they navigate monsters and mayhem. Levels of adorable = 110%

“Are you all right?” I asked.
“Fine,” she snapped.
Clearly that was not true. She looked as if she’d just gone through Hades’s haunted house. (Pro tip: DO NOT.)

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I’m also glad that the book actually left the romance out! It is definitely aimed at middle-grade and lower young-adult audiences, but it was just refreshing to have a story focused on friendship and quests.

The plot, of course, had plenty of action. And weird monsters and crazy twisty mythology that wasn’t hard to follow. Although I do think there could’ve been less talking and more questing. But I was pleased it was a fun, concise and fast moving tale.

Much to my disappointment, the Jacksons did not have a spare bow or quiver to lend me.
“I suck at archery,” Percy explained.
“Yes, but I don’t,” I said. “This is why you should always plan for my needs.”

And of course, it’s always the BEST to be back in Camp Half Blood. Although I wonder how all those kids are even alive with all their near-death-training-accidents…but ah well. Children bounce. Demigods go missing or lose a limb and they just patch them back up and feed them Greek food. The whole atmosphere is rather “Oh don’t wander over there YOU’LL DIE but we’re roasting s’mores later on, be there!” which is lovely. Gotta love Camp Half Blood.

I definitely enjoyed myself a lot with this starter of Apollo’s series! I laughed (OUT LOUD) so many times and appreciated the fast pacing, diverse characters, and interesting storyline. I don’t think it’s the best book to start with if you’ve never encountered Percy Jackson though. Definitely start with Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief. Then get thee through those books fast so you can try The Trials of Apollo. This is definitely one of my favourite Riordan books!

Illustrator Extraordinaire – Interview with Anil Tortop

With her superlative illustrative talents and ultra-impressive list of publications, it’s impossible not to be in awe of the skill, imagination, dedication and charisma of Anil Tortop. The Turkish-born artist, designer and animation-expert is here today to discuss her books, processes and latest ventures. 🙂

You’ve had huge success as an illustrator of many amazing books, some including Digby’s Moon Mission, Digby and the Yodelayhee…Who? (Renee Price), My Perfect Pup (Sue Walker), Where’s Dad Hiding? (Ed Allen), I Want to Be a Rock Star (Mary Anastasiou), and more recently The Leaky Story (Devon Sillett), The Great Zoo Hullabaloo (Mark Carthew) and junior fiction series 6 Minute Stories for Six Year Olds and 7 Minute Stories for Seven Year Olds (Meredith Costain and Paul Collins). And these have all been published in the last two years! How do you manage your hectic illustrating schedule? Do you complete one project at a time or work simultaneously on a few?

😀 I wanted to start with a big smile. It’s been hectic indeed!
I work simultaneously on a few projects. In fact, when I have only one project I can’t focus on it well. Two is still not enough. My favourite is 3-4 projects at a time. Otherwise I just feel lazy and find myself doing nothing until the deadline gets closer. But not all these projects are books. I usually have something with a short deadline aside. Books take much more time and sometimes having a break and working on another project feels refreshing.

I have a home-made calendar; each month is an A4 paper with a magnet at the back and it covers the whole left side of my fridge. I put all my deadlines there and see everything in a glance. Having it in the kitchen, my panic starts at breakfast. Other than that, I don’t have a particular method to manage. I just work when I should, which is most of the time. I have been trying to be a well-organised person with dedicated working hours but it never works for more than two days. I still have hope!

Have there been any particular stories that you felt a stronger connection with or any that challenged you in unexpected ways?

Mmm… Hard question. I’m trying to give an answer to myself but I guess I don’t feel that kind of things for stories. That doesn’t mean I don’t like them but couldn’t label any of them with “stronger connection” either. But I do feel connected with the characters in the stories. Recently my favourite is the octopus in The Leaky Story and her connection with the father. It reminds me of my dad, although I don’t know why.

Challenge… Yes! One of the most challenging stories was in a picture book I illustrated last year. Because there was no story when I was asked to illustrate it! Of course, the editor had a clear idea of how they wanted it and made lots of suggestions. But in the end, the words came after the illustrations. I had huge room to create a visual story. I panicked a lot! I wanted to make it really good. Then I panicked even more! But eventually, it was fun.

If you could walk a day in the life of one of your illustrated characters which would you choose and why?

I guess that would be Digby. Because he’s so clever and talented and knows how to have fun. And I like his pyjamas. 😊

Since launching your current books, what has the audience response been like? Any stand-out moments?

The reviews have been really nice. Facebook also shows me a lot of “likes” and nice comments, if that means anything at all. But I have never come across a “real audience”. I mean, children. I really wonder what they think and would love to hear that directly from them.

The latest release, The Leaky Story has been reviewed a lot lately. I was even interviewed live on ABC Brisbane. I think the moment I probably won’t forget for a while is that. It took only 3 minutes but I was way out of my comfort zone. Phew!

You often record your progress through fascinating time lapse videos. Can you explain a little about your preferred media and method to your illustrating genius.

Except for the initial warm-up sketches and storyboards, I almost always work digitally. I use Photoshop. My favourite Photoshop brush that I use for outlines is “Pencil”. It feels a little bit like a pencil. I recently upgraded from Wacom Intous to Cintiq (drawing tablets).

My process differs from one project to another but it’s usually like that: I make several storyboards first. It takes some time to get satisfied. Then I do the roughs. Then the clean drawings and finally colouring. And I do all these for all of the illustrations in a book simultaneously. I mean, I don’t start and finish one illustration and go to the next. I start and finish all the illustrations at the same time.
You can watch all my videos on my Vimeo channel.

You have a remarkable working relationship with your husband, Ozan, at Tadaa Book. Please tell us about your roles and how you collaborate on a daily basis. What does Tadaa Book offer its clients?

Tadaa Book basically offers illustration and design services, especially to self-publishers. Then if our authors need, we help them with printing and publishing and creating marketing materials too.

Ozan and I started working together back in Turkey. He was the art director of a traditional publishing house and I was the in-house illustrator. After coming to Australia we worked with a lot of self-publishers, collaborating again. Then we wanted to take it a step forward and founded Tadaa.

Ozan is my personal art director at home. But on a daily basis, he does much more than that. Although our roles are a bit mixed up from time to time, I usually illustrate only. He does the rest. He deals with new authors and other illustrators from different parts of the world, does the art direction of projects, keeps our website and social media accounts updated, goes to the post office to send Storyboard Notebooks, learns new things, deals with my computer problems, etc.

What is the best part of what you do?

Smelling a freshly (offset) printed book. I love that! I love to see the happiness of the authors too. It’s really rewarding.

Have you done anything lately that was out of your comfort zone? What was it and how did it go?

It was definitely the radio interview that I mentioned! It wasn’t terrible I guess but I can’t say it went well either. I at least give 10 points to myself for the bravery. Questions were unexpected and it was too quick. I’m glad I didn’t freeze. I actually kind of did but Emma Griffiths handled it really well. Afterwards, listening to myself was even harder than the 3 minutes I spent there! I won’t listen again.

We would love to learn more about what you’re currently working on! Do you have any sneak peeks or details that you can share?

A new book is coming out on 1st of May! The Great Zoo Hullaballoo by Mark Carthew (New Frontier Publishing). You can watch the trailer here: https://vimeo.com/211773518

Currently, I’m working on two picture books. One is Meeka by Suzanne Barton (Tadaa Book), the second one is Scaredy Cat by Heather Gallagher (New Frontier Publishing). I probably will share some sneak peeks soon on social media, but not now, unfortunately.

Meanwhile at Tadaa, we are working on the Book Week publication of Ipswich District Teacher-Librarian Network. Here are the cover and details: http://idtl.net.au/book-week.php

And two other picture books are contracted for the rest of the year.
Besides the books, I’m regularly illustrating for a Turkish children’s magazine, doing illustrations and animations for a web-based science platform for children in the US, and designing characters for a couple animated TV shows in Turkey.
Will be a hectic year again!

Wow! You sure are a busy lady! Thank you so much, Anil, for participating in this interview! 🙂

Thank you for having me here!

Stay tuned for some special reviews of Anil’s latest picture books!

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Unbelievably Good – Strange but True Mid-Grade Reads

Tweens and teens love dipping into the world of fantasy. The more quirky the premise, the more unbelievable the outcomes, the better. These middle grade novels serve up a mind-bending mixture of almost too-whacky-to-believe storylines showcasing time travel, ghosts and gigantic invisible felines. Strange but delightfully, true.

Frankie Fish and the Sonic Suitcase by Peter Helliar and Lesley Vamos

A forever morphing, triple paced collision of Doctor Who meets Top Gear is one way of describing Pete Helliar’s first foray into writing for kids. His enthusiastic use of wacky, over the top metaphors is a touch extravagant at times but oh, do they provoke some face-wrinkling chuckles.

Francis (aka Frankie) Fish’s race against time back into time has all the hallmarks of a mega time travelling adventure with one difference; he is making the journey in desperation to preserve the existence of the Fish family line of which he may or may not still be a part of (it all depends on the battery!). And he’s doing it with his very grumpy, slightly geriatric, grandfather.

Continue reading Unbelievably Good – Strange but True Mid-Grade Reads

Review: Night Swimming by Steph Bowe

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Night Swimming by Steph Bowe was a piece of adorkable cuteness! It’s such a good example why Aussie YA is absolutely the best and so entirely special. I’ve loved Steph Bowe’s previous books (Girl Saves Boy and All This Could End) and I’m so glad she’s back writing again with this one! It has goat puns, quirky humour, dry wit, book lover appreciation, and features a super cute gay romance. Plus it’s set in a small dusty Australian town where everyone knows everyone’s business. Oh. And there’s crop circles. Because of course.

The story centres around Kirby, who is one of the only two teens in the town. Her best-friend-by-default is Clancy Lee, son of the local Chinese restaurant owners. They have the most hilarious witty dialogue of ever and I can’t get enough of it! Kirby is working as a carpenter apprentice and fast approaching the doomed decision of What Do I Do With My Life.

Kirby is also such a fabulously relatable protagonist! She has a great sense of humour and she is very obsessed with books. Although she claims she has a “book buying problem” which is obviously nonsense because when is buying books a problem? It’s a lifestyle, Kirby, you’re fine. When the new girl Iris comes into town, Kirby can’t work up the courage to admit she likes her. The adorkable awkwardness is equal parts hilarious and definitely relatable. Plus Kirby is a huge fan of chips and I mean…who isn’t.

The plot isn’t super faced paced, but it’s full of interesting happenings. Someone’s making plot circles in the local fields (aliens?!) and Clancy is putting on a musical for the sole reason to impress the new girl, Iris. There’s flood warnings coming and goats eating everyone’s shoes and is Kirby’s mum secretly dating the local Greek grocery store assistant?!

There is a love triangle, but it’s not a super angsty one. When Iris arrives, both Kirby and Clancy immediately fall in love with her…but it’s Kirby who actually tries to befriend her while Clancy maintains a more dreamy idea of Iris’ imagined perfection. Iris is part New Zelander and part Indian and is the daughter of a new restaurant owner, bound to give Clancy’s family a bit of friendly competition. She’s also definitely hiding the reason they moved out and Kirby is definitely curious about that. But I appreciated how the romance was “Friendship to Lovers” because I think it makes it so much stronger and sweeter!

OTHER THINGS TO LOVE

  • beautiful but horrible puns
  • small dusty country Aussie town
  • Kirby was fat and while she fretted over it occasionally she was also okay wiher her body and sent great messages of self-love
  • the romance was basically ADORKABLE with Kirby spending 5 hours sending a text that says “sure”
  • bookworm appreciation
  • a pet goat named Stanley who will eat your shoes and soul
  • Aussie slang which is my favourite
  • Kirby’s grandpa features in the story
  • excellent diversity representation

I fully adored this book! I laughed out loud and ate it faster than a goat with a tasty stolen slipper. Steph Bowe is a master storyteller and I was engaged the entire time with the quirky and fabulous writing style. It summarises the awkward and awesome that is the life of a teenager and the tale is poignant as well as downright fun.

Review: Things I Should Have Known by Claire LaZebnik

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Things I Should Have Known by Claire LaZebnik is simply an excellent novel. It’s all about friendship, love, sibling relationships, and Autism. And also it’s quite decidedly about the realisation that ice cream outings are the key part to living a happy life. (Ice cream is important, okay? Remember that always.) I’m endlessly pleased that it had such a lovely representation of Autism! The author has an ASD child and you can really tell she knows and understands the complexity of the spectrum. Plus it’s actually a positive view of Autism which was so refreshing. I just can’t praise this book enough!

The story is by the point of view of Chloe, who is neurotypical, and she has an older sister named Ivy who has Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Chloe could be viewed as a typical “queen bee”, who has the perfect boyfriend, is popular at school, and is blonde and beautiful. But shallowness? #Nope. She cares about her sister, about feminism, about thinking for herself. And when she notices that Ivy seems to be wishing to find someone to love, Chloe embarks on a mission to try and find Ivy a boyfriend.

I loved Chloe and Ivy’s relationship! Chloe is 17 and Ivy is nearly 21, but Chloe functions in more of the “big sister” role, with Ivy’s Autism making her struggle with communication and relating to people. Ivy doesn’t express emotions/feelings easily and she’s not independent, with her parents (sadly) not doing much to help her in that respect. I think it was perfectly fine that Ivy was staying quietly at home, but I also loved that Chloe was intent on making sure Ivy got to experience other aspects of life — if she wanted them. But I won’t deny the parents were pretty problematic and nearly neglectful. Not in a malicious way, just in a “this is too hard, what do we do with Ivy” so while they cared and loved her 100% of the time, they didn’t attempt to help her with life. So be warned: there’s plenty of ableism in this book. From Chloe’s friends making ableist comments to people treating Autism like a disease that needs curing. But the book tackles the issues head on and address them, which is just so needed.

I also liked the contrast of the sisters with the two brothers, David and his brother, Ethan, who also has Autism. While David and Chloe are rather nemesis at school, Chloe unknowingly sets up a date between Ethan and Ivy. So David and Chloe (being carers of their siblings in the date outings) end up spending a lot of time together. It is a fabulous show of a slow-build friendship between them! And as David stopped being an acidic lemon drop and Chloe stopped being so judgemental, I really started to ship them! They were adorable. And can we just say character development for both of them was A+!? Because it absolutely was!

The representation of ASD was also magnificently done. Ivy and Ethan were so sweet and I loved that the book showed so many positive sides of Autism! It also underlined how complex the spectrum is, with individuals having such different capabilities, thoughts, and expressions. Ivy and Ethan were both intelligent and loving.

“You know, if we were pushing our siblings in wheelchairs, people would be nice to them and to us. They’d be like, Oh, the poor handicapped people and their wonderful siblings! Let’s hold doors for them! But Ivy and Ethan…they basically look like everyone else, with just these tiny differences in how they behave and move. And that bugs people. They don’t know what to do with that. It’s like people have a place in their brain for normal, and they have a place in their brain for something obviously wrong, but they can’t deal with something just a little bit different. And it makes them uncomfortable. And when people are uncomfortable, they act like jerks.”

And see that quote? The book is just stuffed with incredible thought provoking and accurate realisations like this. I’m so glad it exists! I definitely recommend this one! The characters are absolutely cute and complex and relatable and the dialogue was one of my most favourite things. There’s banter and wit, and also ice cream outings and a lot of coffee. It underlined the message that Autism isn’t brokenness or bad and showed that everyone is capable of and needs love.

Review: The Inexplicable Logic of My Life by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

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The Inexplicable Logic of My Life by Benjamin Alire Sáenz was a beautiful story of family and friendship and tacos. Plus just look at that cover! It is beyond gorgeous and just promises such good things of this book. Listen to the cover. Heed it. I also utterly adored Sáenz’s other book, Aristotle And Dante Discover The Secrets of the Universe, so I’m really glad his latest novel lived up to my expectations!

The story is about Sal and his last year of highschool. It’s a quiet story and it focuses on relationships and characters that end up seeming so real, you wouldn’t be surprised if you met them on the street. It’s about loss and love and also about prejudice and discovering who you are and what you’re meant to do. Sal’s white and has been adopted by his loving Mexican gay father, and he’s never wanted for any other family. But he does have questions. And he realises how intensely loved he is as his best friend Sam loses her mother and he has to support her through a rough time. It’s a precious story and full of humour and relatable thoughts that all teens have. Also the amount of tacos is glorious and you will be hungry after reading it. Be ye warned.

“But, see, it’s not where I come from that matters — it’s where I’m going.”

I was actually really impressed that it had no romance! Sal is best friends with Sam, but they stay that way: best friends. It was sweet and precious and a much needed reminder that girls and guys can be just friends. It’s equally important to remember that not everyone meets the love of their life in highschool!

I really loved Sal and Sam’s friendship. They make fun of each other and joke around and protect each other fiercely. Sam is pretty judgemental at the start and often says things that hurt Sal without realising it. Her character development is A+ as she matures.

I appreciated the glorious representation of so much diversity too. It’s set in Mexico and almost the entire cast are people of colour, with many featuring LGBT characters too.

Sal’s father is also one of the most perfect parents a YA book has ever seen! He really loves and cares for his son and is a huge influence in his life. He basically ends up adopting Sam too, and if he finds a kid who is down and out…he plays Rescue Father. He teaches the kids what it is to be a good person, and I loved this aspect of the story so much.

Dad always said that there was nothing wrong with crying and that if people did more of it, well then, the world would be a better place.

The Inexplicable Logic of My Life was a fantastically amazing story and I couldn’t love it more! It features positive parent role models, emphasizes the importance of friendship and acceptance, and talks about breaking stereotypes and being unapologetically yourself. It tackles serious topics like racism, death, fear, and feeling lost. And I think it’s intensely relatable, especially the part where Sal got sick and missed out on Thanksgiving dinner and was very disappointed. #relatable The friendship levels were pure golden and the writing was everything. A book I definitely recommend!

Birds, Animals and Seasons in the CBCA Early Childhood Short List

The 2017 CBCA Early Childhood Short List features animals (as always), with two picture books specifically about birds. Two books are about farms and one is set on a Northern Territory camp. Family remains an evergreen theme and humour is the core of some of the books.

Go Home, Cheeky Animals! written by Johanna Bell, illustrated by Dion Beasley (A&U)

This funny story is the stand-alone sequel to Too Many Cheeky Dogs. The book is sponsored by the NT Government and has an engaging narrative with a cyclic structure based on the seasons and changing weather. Animals are the highlight, though. At first, too many cheeky dogs keep the other animals away. Then the rains bring a gang of goats, the sweaty season brings a ‘drove of donkeys’, cool winds bring a herd of horses and drought brings a bunch of buffaloes and caravan of camels. But when it storms, ‘all the cheeky animals go crazy’. And the cheeky dogs do nothing to stop them, for a while …

Illustrator, Dion Beasley is a 24-year-old Indigenous man with muscular dystrophy. He is also deaf so he and author, Johanna Bell, collaborate using Skype and sign language. He has a naïve drawing style with plenty of humour, such as how he shows when something happens to Grandpa’s pants, and when goats drive. The endpapers give an overview of all the animals. Children could practise counting animals throughout the book and the Too Many Cheeky Dogs website includes a child-friendly activity of making wrapping paper with cheeky dogs.

Family is important to this story and includes Dad, Mum, Grandpa, Uncle, Aunty, brother, sister, but no Grandma. Nannie Loves fills this gap.

 

Nannie Loves by Kylie Dunstan (Working Title Press)

Nannie lives on a cosy and inviting farm, with ‘rolling hills, a muddy creek and lots of paddocks, green in winter, brown in summer’. It is a quintessential Australian setting and makes us want to walk into the story. The scenes are contained to provide an appropriate focused framework for young readers; there is repetition of the words, ‘Nannie loves …’ to help beginning readers; and there are some wordless pages.

Nannie collects her mail wearing her gumboots. She loves her letters, her animals, her garden and her family. She laughs with her family who help her work around the farm. She loves them and she loves the young narrator. This book has a gentle humour, such as when Nannie watches for Grandpa in one of his many checked shirts.

Kylie Dunstan has used paper collage, gouache and pencil.

The greens of Nannie’s farm change to browns of a drought-stricken farm in All I Want for Christmas is Rain.

All I Want for Christmas is Rain written by Cori Brooke, illustrated by Megan Forward (New Frontier Publishing)

This story begins clearly with an illustrated bird’s eye overview of a dry farm. In the rhyming text, the protagonist, Jane, asks Santa for help with her family’s threatened property, ‘My mission was clear – I had hatched a great plan: I would ask for help from the great bearded man.’

Santa seems to fulfil her wish and there is a particularly evocative picture of the family dancing in the rain and mud on Christmas Day.

Children could extend their experience of this story by reading some other Australian Christmas stories such as Glenda Millard and Stephen Michael King’s Applesauce and the Christmas Miracle and Colin Buchanan‘s books, or by painting an Australian farm scene using mud.

In contrast, The Snow Wombat is set in a very different part of Australian.

The Snow Wombat written by Susannah Chambers, illustrated by Mark Jackson (A & U)

Showing a wombat’s life in the snow is an original idea for a picture book. Like some of the other useful endpapers in books described here, these endpapers are a highlight and show a map of the wombat’s movements and haunts.

Every sentence begins with the word ‘snow’, and many begin with the phrase ‘snow on …’, which is helpful for beginning readers. The repetitive, simple text becomes even more predictive, encouraging young children to say or ‘read’ the rhyming word.

After reading the book, children could make wombat footprints in ‘snow’ using baking powder and conditioner or shaving cream. Tracks of some of the other animals in the book could also be made by indenting the ‘snow’ with fingers or sticks.

In a different illustrative style, cartoon seagull, Chip, follows with a funny story.

Chip by Kylie Howarth (Five Mile Press)

Chip loves eating chips – fat, skinny, soggy, sandy, crunchy, spicy chilli-dipped chips – even though he doesn’t feel well afterwards. This is a tale about healthy eating in the guise of a hilarious story about Chip and the length he goes to eat when people are banned from feeding the gulls.

The illustrations include newspaper collage (apt because it’s used for wrapping fish and chips; a newspaper article also features). My favourite illustration shows Chip with a noodle box on his head and noodles streaming out like hair.

Another bird protagonist in the Short List is Gary.

Gary by Leila Rudge (Walker Books Australia)

 

Gary is a racing pigeon who can’t fly but dreams of adventure. He works on his scrapbook of travel mementos on race days when he’s left alone in the loft, even though he’s never travelled. When he lost his balance one night, he fell into the travel basket and was carried far from home to the city. Of course the racing pigeons flew home, but Gary was left by himself. Fortunately he had his scrapbook of travel mementos and was able to plot his way back to the loft.

This is a very appealing story of overcoming obstacles or disability and of flourishing in different surroundings. New situations can be frightening for children and Gary demonstrates courage and ingenuity, which could help young readers.

The illustrations are created using mixed media and, again, in this book we find interesting endpapers.

After reading the story, children could use found objects and mixed media to create their own scrapbook about travel.

Alex Ratt & Stinky Street Stories

Hi Alex Ratt, could you tell us about yourself and your alter-ego? 

That’s a very existential question! I have to decide which is me and which is the alter ego…Well, I was Frances Watts first, so let’s start with her—I mean me.

I have written twenty-two books, ranging from picture books (including Kisses for Daddy and Parsley Rabbit’s Book about Books, illustrated by David Legge, and Goodnight, Mice!, illustrated by Judy Watson) to historical novels for young adults (most recently The Peony Lantern, set in nineteenth-century Japan). And then there’s my less fragrant alter ego, Alex Ratt. I thought being someone completely different would allow me the freedom to write something completely different—hence Alex Ratt. (Also, Alex Ratt has a big bushy false moustache and Frances doesn’t. And who wouldn’t jump at an excuse to wear a false moustache?!)

Who is Jules Faber? 

Jules Faber, I’m delighted to say, has a much more straightforward identity: he is Jules Faber! He is also an extremely talented cartoonist and illustrator, well known for his work on Ahn Do’s Weirdo series and David Warner’s The Kaboom Kid series.

How important are the illustrations in this book?

The illustrations are integral. The Stinky Street Stories (Pan Macmillan Australia) should feel welcoming and accessible to all kinds of readers, whether they are confident readers or not, and the illustrations do so much to convey the humour that is inherent in the text. One thing I particularly loved about working with Jules on this book is his spirit of adventure. Whatever wacky image I can dream up, he is prepared to draw. A sculpture of a rocket ship made entirely of carrots? No problem!

What type of comedy do you write?

Despite the word ‘stinky’ in the title, I don’t actually see the humour in The Stinky Street Stories as focusing on the gross. To me, the real humour is in the absurdity of situations and images. And the challenge is to take the absurdity and, within the bounds of the story, make it logical.

How do you get your readers to laugh out loud (as I did about some carrots and a pumpkin head)?

I’m glad you liked those bits—that’s exactly what I mean about the humour being absurd rather than gross. That’s where I find those laugh-out-loud moments: in unexpected juxtapositions, in ideas pushed to ridiculous extremes, in characters who treat these hilarious scenarios seriously.

Brian is a very funny character. Could you tell us about him, his sister Brenda, and any other characters?

Brian (‘call me Brain—everyone does’) has a somewhat overinflated sense of his own intellectual prowess, which is why he is able to meet absurdity with seriousness. His friend Nerf is the perfect sidekick, being just ever so slightly dafter—but loyal and good-hearted. The real brain of the family is Brian’s sister Brenda. And in his heart, Brian knows it to be so, and calls on her in moments of crisis.

What is your favourite scene in The Stinky Street Stories? 

You picked it yourself: the pumpkin heads. Because within that particular story, ‘The Ripe and Rotten Reek’, it not only makes perfect sense for Brian and Nerf to be running across a field with pumpkins on their heads, it is a positively brilliant plan!

Who do you hope reads this book?

Everyone! By which I mean boys and girls. I had a lot of fun turning gender stereotypes on their heads. The (anti)heroes might be boys, but the girls have a strong, smart, sassy presence. And, as I said above, I hope the book is enjoyed by confident readers and reluctant readers—we (by which I mean the whole village that makes a book: the author and illustrator and publisher and editor and designer) were determined to make it a book that had something to offer every kind of kid and every kind of reader.

What’s next in Stinky Street?

The second in the series, 2 Stinky, will be published in August. There are smelly sewers, pongy penguins…and a house of (stinky) horrors!

What other humour have you written? 

All my books have humour in them—it’s just the way I’m wired—but the first overtly humorous books were those of the Ernie & Maud series, featuring trainee superhero Ernie Eggers and his trainee sidekick: a sheep called Maud. More recently I have contributed stories to two humorous anthologies, Laugh Your Head Off and Laugh Your Head Off Again.

How many aliases do you have?

Oh dear…You’re on to me, aren’t you?! The truth is, Alex Ratt is not my only pen name. Frances Watts is a pen name too. (Yes, my pen name has a pen name.) My real name is Ali Lavau, and I am a very serious book editor who hardly ever wears a false moustache to work.

Thanks very much, Alex, Frances, Ali …

Thank YOU! (I loved these questions.)

And – here is a video about the book! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wORzbpzfTzs&feature=youtu.be

Dealing with Dilemmas – School Holiday Reads Sorted

The first round of school holidays is upon us. Kid induced dilemmas are rife. How do you deal with them? Whip out one of these chuckle-creating reads and indulge in ten minutes or more of togetherness time, is how. These picture books are guaranteed to make molehills out of mountains.

Busting! By Aaron Blabey

Lou’s dilemma matches my own on an almost hourly basis. But what is Lou to do when the queue to the loo is so long. Anyone with a weak bladder like me or toddlers with the inexplicable ability to ignore the call of nature until the last absolute possible minute will adore this ode to toilet queues. Busting! is all those desperate dashes through the supermarket, late night dreams of locked toilet stalls and screaming brakes on the motorway for verge-side emergencies rolled into rollicking rhyme and goofy pictures. Just brilliant. Potty humour has never read so well.

Suitable for potty training youngsters from three years and up.

Scholastic Press March 2017

I Don’t Want Curly Hair by Laura Ellen Anderson Continue reading Dealing with Dilemmas – School Holiday Reads Sorted

Review: Lucky Few by Kathryn Ormsbee

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Lucky Few by Kathryn Ormsbee was such an adorable and pleasant surprise! I picked it up when I heard it was about homeschoolers, and since I spent most of my school life doing just that…I was super keen to see how homeschooling would be portrayed in this book. It can be a controversial topic, with people only seeing the negatives. But what school system isn’t flawed?? If homeschooling works for you = it’s excellent! I absolutely appreciated how beautiful this book was in its representation of homeschooling. It was funny and nerdy and completely dorky at times and managed to be heart-wrenchingly poignant on top of that. Because, you know…all the good books like to hurt you.

The story centres around the perspective of Stevie who discovers a “dead” boy in her neighbours yard. Except he’s not dead, just faking it. They slowly become friends and Stevie joins in Max’s quest to fake his death 23 times. For him, it’s closure after he had a near fatal accident. Although there might be more to his story than he’s letting on. Together with Stevie’s BFF, Sanger, the three get into hair-raising schemes that often end in near true tragedy.

I really loved the representation of diversity in this book! Not only does Stevie homeschool, but she also has Type 1 Diabetes which affects her life all the time, including a near death experience in her childhood that haunts her. Sanger also has two mothers and there’s diversity of skin colour as well. I also love how the minority aspects fit into the story and weren’t just fluttering around in the background. They affected their lives and were beautifully represented.

The characters were absolutely my favourite part! They seemed utterly real. And maybe it was a homeschooler aspect helping me to relate, but I also just adored the intelligent, nerdy, sassy, and deep thinking that went down in this novel. I think any teen could relate to these three fantastic friends! Their banter is absolutely on point and I found myself cracking up multiple times. Plus any book that features a strong female friendship gets the thumbs up from me. Stevie and Sanger do not let silly things come between their deep bond. “Sisters before misters” as they say.

The romance between Stevie and Max was absolutely adorable. I also appreciated the fact that the romance was only a small aspect of the story. It was firstly about (a) friendship, (b) Stevie sticking up for her activist believes; (c) talking very brutally honestly and openly about death, fears, and phobias; and (d) discussions on judging others and how that affects everyone. But still absolutely shipped Max and Stevie though! They were so cute and awkward and their romance was slow-burn and winning.

The writing was also totally addictive! I didn’t want to stop reading! Although it did move along a little slower than the average book I gnaw through, but perhaps this is because I was savouring every line and often had to stop and laugh my head off. As you do for excellent tomes.

Lucky Few is definitely a must read! It will appeal to homeschoolers and non-homeschoolers alike, with the dorky and relatable characters and the humour and the slightly dark death-pranks that forge strong bonds between the three and also cause them all to nearly really die on occasion. It was morbid and sassy and clever. It also shows that homeschoolers are “normal” people, who also fail tests and watch show reruns and eat tacos and fake their deaths. Absolutely normal.

Meet Brigid Kemmerer, author of Letters to the Lost

Thanks for talking to Boomerang Books, Brigid. I greatly admired your new novel Letters to the Lost (Bloomsbury).

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

 I live near Annapolis, Maryland, which is pretty close to Washington, DC. I’m an active member of the YA community, both online and in person, and I’ve met so many amazing authors, booksellers, and book bloggers since Storm was first published in 2012.

Could you tell us about your other books? 

I’m the author of the Elementals Series, published by Allen & Unwin in Australia. This series follows the four Merrick brothers, four orphaned guys who can secretly control the elements of earth, air, fire, and water.

How is your new novel Letters to the Lost different from your earlier books?

Letters to the Lost is my first contemporary YA novel, while the Elementals books have a paranormal element. Despite the change, all of my books always follow complex relationships between people, so I’ve been told that my paranormal novels read like contemporaries with special powers thrown in the mix. 

Why have you chosen the names Juliet and Declan Murphy for your major characters?

I just love the names. Sometimes I struggle to find the perfect names for my characters, but these two came to me right off the bat.

How important is letter writing to them? (Is it important to you also?)

Letter writing is very important to Juliet, because she would write letters to her mom while she was alive, and she continues the tradition by leaving letters on her mother’s gravestone. I don’t write many physical letters myself, but I love writing to people. My closest friend and I almost exclusively communicate by email and text message! 

Rev, Declan’s friend, is an intriguing character. Why does he have a ‘rock solid’ faith even after his father’s abuse?

I love Rev! I don’t want to give too much away about his story or his motivations because his book, More Than We Can Tell, will be out March 2018, but his faith is very important to him, and he struggles with whether his faith is appropriate, considering what he went through with his father.

I was interested in the idea that one photo could aspire to telling a whole story. What role does photography play in the story?

Photography plays a huge role in the story, especially since Juliet’s mother was a photojournalist, and at one point, Juliet wanted to follow in her own footsteps. I was partially inspired by how we’ve all grown so dependent on social media, and how we’ve started judging people based on the limited amount we see—which is also what those people have chosen to share. People are so much deeper than just what a photograph reveals. And that works in all ways: both positive and negative.

You give a strong portrayal of mothers (even though they are very different from each other). How did you flesh out these women?

Thank you! I find people fascinating, and I try to flesh out all of my characters. As a mother myself, I wanted to show how mothers (and fathers) aren’t infallible, and we’re all just doing the best we can. Sometimes the best we can isn’t the “best” at all, but life is messy and complicated and we’re all just trying to get through it. One of the most profound moments of young adulthood is realizing that the adults around you are just as capable of screw-ups as teenagers are, and realizing that maturity isn’t about not messing up, it’s about messing up and how we move on from it.  

Your adult mentors such as Mrs Hillard and Frank are powerful. What are their roles?

A lot of YA novels operate in a vacuum where there’s little adult involvement (which is fine!) but it was important for me to show that adults can be allies, and that it’s okay to seek input and advice from adults as well as teen peers.

Your characters with bad reputations are treated worse than other people. Could you comment on this?

In many ways, society has turned to public shaming again and again, especially thanks to social media. Certain people always seem to be fair game, especially if they’re deemed to deserve it. At our core, we’re all people. No one is intrinsically good or bad.

Declan believes in fate but also free will. How is that possible?

I actually think this is more of a debate he has with himself throughout the book, whether everything is fated or whether he has the ability to pull himself off the path he seems destined to travel.

Have any responses from your readers particularly resonated with you?

Yes! It means so much that readers seem to be loving Juliet and Declan and their stories. I’m particularly excited by how many people have been asking for Rev’s story, so I’m glad it’s already written.

What other books have left a deep impression on you? 

I recently finished reading An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir, and I absolutely loved it. Also The Boy Most Likely To by Huntley Fitzpatrick. I’m really eager to read Honestly Ben by Bill Konigsberg, which releases next week, because I absolutely loved Openly Straight, and this is the sequel.

All the best with Letters to the Lost, Brigid, and thanks very much.

CBCA 2017 Picture Books

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

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

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

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

Teacher Notes are available at the publisher’s website.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Love Ever After – Picture Book Reviews

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Frontier Publishing, 2017.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Review: This Is Our Story by Ashley Elston

BUY HERE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Double Dipping – Unleashing Imagination

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

The Leaky Story by Devon Sillett and Anil Tortop

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

Continue reading Double Dipping – Unleashing Imagination

Agent Nomad and Skye Melki-Wegner

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

Thanks for speaking to Boomerang Blog, Skye.

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks Joy, that means a lot to me.

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

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

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

Have you had any particularly memorable feedback about The Hush?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Science or magic? Magic or science?

Science in the real world, magic in fiction.

What have you enjoyed reading recently?

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks so much, Joy!

Review – Home of the Cuckoo Clock

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

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

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

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

Continue reading Review – Home of the Cuckoo Clock

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

PURCHASE HERE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Especially for Boys

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Light That Gets Lost by Natasha Carthew (Bloomsbury)

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

Two Australians Shortlisted for the CILIP Carnegie Medal

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

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

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

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

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

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

See the complete shortlists from the official website below.

SHORTLISTS FOR 2017 CILIP CARNEGIE AND KATE GREENAWAY MEDALS ANNOUNCED

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

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

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

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

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

The 2017 shortlists are:

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

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

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

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

Hooray for Lucy Cousins!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Walker Books, 2017.

The ANZAC Tree by Christina Booth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Getting Serious About Series – Junior Novels for Little Misses

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

Ginger Green Playdate Queen by Kim Kane and Jon Davis

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

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

Review: Gemina by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review: Allegedly by Tiffany D. Jackson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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