FRIDAY BOOK FEATURE – FIRE LIZARD REVIEW

The Samurai Kids and Sensei are on their way to the hwarang training village in search of Pak Cho, Sensei’s former teacher.

At first, Kyung, the guide with the gun is determined to stop them, but he soon realizes that the travellers are more than a match for him.

In their latest adventure, Niya,  Kyoko, Mikko, Yoshi, Taji and Chen must help the hwarang warriors rescue the Nine Valleys from the clutches of the corrupt Provincial Governor and power hungry Hypo Moon.

In the process, they learn some valuable things about themselves, about patience and not judging too soon or too harshly.

Fire Lizard is the fifth book in the Samurai Kids series and just like its predecessors, it’s fast-paced with great characters and eloquent writing. Fire Lizard is narrated by Niya (whose spirit is the White Crane). He is the Samurai who can read Sensai’s thoughts and in this book, he comes one step closer to discovering his teacher’s secret.

This is another action-packed adventure for 9-12 year-olds. I love the uniqueness of the six Samurai Kids, each with their own individual strengths and weaknesses – each with a quality that is essential to the wellbeing of the entire group.

Sensei as always is full of wise words “Just take one step. Every journey begins with one step. No matter how long or hard the traveling is.”

Fire Lizard, like all the Samurai Kids’ books is beautifully illustrated by Rhian Nest James and has been meticulously researched.  Author, Sandy Fussell has impeccable attention to detail, and it’s this description of food, terrain and weather conditions that allow the reader to feel as if they are actually going along on this journey too.

Young readers have been eagerly awaiting the release of this fifth Samurai Kids’ adventure and I’m sure they won’t be disappointed. Fire Lizard is published by Walker Books.

FRIDAY BOOK FEATURE – “MATES” GREAT AUSTRALIAN YARNS FOR KIDS

Every book I have read in the The Mates series (published by Omnibus) has been full of great characters and humour and the two books I’m talking about today are no exception.

These uniquely Australian stories celebrate what it is to be Australian – our history, our inventiveness and unique perspectives on life. And these books are humorously illustrated in full colour.

YOU TURKEYS

Written by Michael Gerard Bauer

Illustrated by Nahum Ziersch

You Turkeys was always going to be a favourite with me. Not only is it written by Michael Gerard Bauer whose writing I greatly admire, but I am probably the only person in Australia who has a fascination for Scrub Turkeys.

Jake’s Dad’s garden is his pride and joy so when the scrub turkeys move in and turn it into a mess, pecking at the tulips and spreading the chip bark with their sharp claws.

Dad has a five point plan to get rid of them and Jake is his enthusiastic assistant. But when scarecrows, pepper and chicken wire fail to work, he has to rethink the whole situation.

Apart from the great characters and humour in You Turkeys, I loved the resolution to this story and I’m sure that young readers will too.

BARNESY

Written by Allayne Webster

Illustrated by Tom Jellett

Hannaford’s family loves naming things, even the lawnmower! The new baby lamb needs a name, and it’s Hannaford’s turn to choose…

There’s something appealing about a book that starts by introducing Victor the Evil lawnmower. And growing up in a household with cars called Snortsy and Soames, I could really relate to a family that names everything.

But so far, Hannaford (named after Alfred Hannaford) hasn’t had a chance to name anything. So when a new baby lamb arrives at the farm, this could be his chance. But first he must find a way to help the lamb’s injured mother to walk again.

Barnesy is full of great characters like Sir Robert Helpmann the thieving wombat who danced out of the way of an oncoming car and Stumpy, the cockatoo.

It’s another hilarious read in the Omnibus “Mates” series.

The “Mates” books are for newly independent readers making the transition from picture books to novels, but the humour and colour of will be enjoyed by kids of all ages and reading levels.

FRIDAY BOOK FEATURE – BIG RIVER, LITTLE FISH

I loved Belinda Jeffrey’s Brown Skin Blue and had been looking forward eagerly to the release of her new book Big River, Little Fish.

I wasn’t disappointed. Big River, Little Fish is another Belinda Jeffrey’s book that’s hard to put down.

It tells the story of 15-year-old Tom Downs struggling to fit into a world that he doesn’t understand, and that doesn’t understand him. Tom’s Mum died giving birth to him and apparently, he came out backwards; which seems to explain why things don’t make sense. Tom struggles with reading letters, and with reading the people and the world around him.

Apart from his closest friend, Hannah, Tom is more comfortable with the recluses who live by the river than with kids his own age.

Tom wonders what it takes for a person to end up like that: feeling safer alone than with others. Depending only on yourself come hell or high water. Then again, perhaps he does understand.

Caring for people like for Murray Black, Bum-crack and Mrs Cath helps Tom to understand his own place in the world.

Big River, Little Fish is as deep, powerful and unpredictable as the Murray River, which provides the backdrop, the catalyst and the resolution for this amazing story.

It’s a beautifully crafted novel where the setting, Old Mother Murray becomes another character in the story. Big River, Little Fish was inspired by teen holidays Belinda spent at her father’s shack on the Murray, and her affinity with the river is clear.

The story is set in 1956 when the banks of the South Australian Murray River burst its banks in one of the state’s worst-ever natural disasters. The locals know it’s coming and Tom feels that everything he loves could be swept away and lost.

Old Mother Murray is like the ups and downs of life. Sometimes it is full to overflowing and sometimes it’s a muddy hole full of sharp branches and rocks.

Belinda Jeffrey has a way of creating characters that get inside your heart and soul. Her evocative writing allows you to feel the water lapping at your feet, and experience Tom’s tide of emotions as past mixes with present to create a new beginning.

Big River, Little Fish will keep you thinking, long after you have read the last word.

It is published by University of Queensland Press.

FRIDAY BOOK FEATURE – RANGER IN DANGER

As a writer, I am in awe of Alison Reynolds and Sean Willmore for their ‘Decide Your Destiny’, Ranger in Danger Books.

While some writers struggle to come up with one plot, Alison and Sean have to create a number of alternative plot directions for each book so that the action can be guided by the choices made by readers.

The books are written in second person so that the reader is brought straight into the story. And from the first page, it’s non-stop action.

All the stories are based on real life ranger’s experiences and right from the start, readers are catapulted into the middle of deadly action.

Readers are invited to travel the world as rangers-in-training and what happens next depends on the choices they make. Readers decide for themselves how the story will end.  And the best part is that they can keep reading and re-reading so they can enjoy many incredibly daring experiences from a single book!

Based in different parts of the world including Africa, South America, India and Australia, Ranger in Danger is an action-packed collaboration between Australian ranger and environmental activist Sean Willmore and Melbourne author Alison Reynolds. With illustrations by Andrew Hopgood, these totally wild, interactive adventures include 20 possible endings to each story.

Diablo’s Doom

This is the start of your new life. You have been selected to travel to Africa as a ranger in training. You can’t wait!

Rampaging elephants, charging rhinos, and hungry man-eating crocodiles…The adventures start from the moment you get on the plane.

A scarred man with an eye patch sits near you. Is this the evil poacher, Diablo? Can you stop this international criminal? Will you even make it
off the plane alive?

You decide your destiny.

Hernando’s Labyrinth

You decide your destiny. You’re flying into South America as a ranger in training. You can’t wait!

Stinky skunks, gigantic tarantulas, Mayan ruins,
and flesh-eating piranhas…

A mysterious email triggers more adventures.Someone’s threatening the last Pinto tortoise in the world. Can you save him and stop the evil mastermind, Hernando?

Your fate is in your hands.

The Ranger In Danger series is published by Five Mile Press

For more information about the series, visit  www.rangerindanger.com

Sandy Fussell and the Jaguar Warrior Part 1

Today, Literary Clutter will be taking a trip into the past — into a time of slavery and blood sacrifice; a time of exciting adventure and thrilling dangers. Today, we go back in time to the Aztec civilisation with Sandy Fussell’s novel, Jaguar Warrior.

Atl is a young slave boy in the Aztec city of Tenochtitlan, who has been chosen for sacrifice to the Serpent-Sun god. But when the Spanish attack, the high priest Ichtaca releases him, sending him on a mission — to get help from the city of Purépecha. On the way he meets up with a runaway girl named Citlali. Together, they race for Purépecha, as they are pursued by the ruthless Captain Huemac. Can this boy escape the Captain’s pursuit, save the City of Tenochtitlan and become a Jaguar Warrior?

This is an exciting children’s novel, which paints a vivid picture of the Aztec people and their civilization — not just the big picture stuff, like religion and sacrifice, but also interesting details such as what people ate and how they used cacao beans to make chocolatl drink. But it is not only a history lesson. Jaguar Warrior is an exciting adventure with an array of interesting, well-conceived characters. Although clearly aimed at children, the book has much to offer the adult reader. I enjoyed it so much, that I immediately emailed the author and asked for an interview. So, it is with great pleasure that I welcome Sandy Fussell to Literary Clutter

Hi Sandy! One of the first things that struck me about the Jaguar Warrior, was the amount of research that must have gone into it. Can you tell us a little about the research?

I usually know quite a bit about the historical setting before I begin my research. I have been collecting books about ancient civilisations since I was in primary school and studied Ancient History at university. My initial approach is to read widely, looking for interesting facts and trivia as well as story pieces and ideas. The Internet is wonderful for this sort of research as one link leads to another and what might start out as investigation into the significance of owls in ceremonial practices will end up on a page about making hot chocolate from chocolatyl beans.

I read a lot of historical non-fiction, both adult and junior titles. I find the latter particularly useful as they often contain large numbers of diagrams and pictures, which are excellent inspiration. One of my favourite research books for Jaguar Warrior was The Broken Spears by Miguel León-Portilla, which is an historical account from the perspective of the Aztec (Mexica) people. Most records of the fall of any civilisation are written by the victors, and often ignore the indigenous point of view.

What made you decide to set a children’s novel in the Aztec world?

My story ideas often begin with a paradox and the question it raises. For Samurai Kids it was: “Belonging to the samurai, the best warriors in the world at the time, is a consequence of birth. But what if you had a disability that made it really hard to claim this birthright.” For Polar Boy it was: “The Inuit people are very fearful and live in such a harsh, unfriendly environment. But at the same time they are joyous and celebrate the land. How can this be possible?” And for Jaguar Warrior it was: “How could the Aztecs be an intelligent and compassionate society but carry out such cruel sacrificial practices?”

The answer to the last question lies in what the Aztec people believed and how we interpret their actions based on our beliefs, not theirs. I wanted to communicate this to my young readers. The Aztec people believed without question that if blood sacrifices were not made, the sun wouldn’t rise and the world would be destroyed. While sacrificial victims were often prisoners of war, in times of peace cities would organise tournaments called the Flower Games, with the losers being sacrificed, to ensure the world was kept alive.

That’s all we’ve got space for this time… but fear not, Sandy will be back next post. To find out more about Sandy and her writing, check out her website.

And tune in next time for part 2 of this interview.

Catch ya later,  George

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ACTION, MYSTERY AND SUSPENSE FOR TEENS – CONSPIRACY 365: AUGUST

I have just been reworking parts of my own novel in journal form so it seemed like a coincidence when I decided to read Conspiracy 365: August by Gabrielle Lord, which is written entirely as a journal.

And even though it’s the eighth book in a twelve part series, I was hooked.

The format of Conspiracy 365: August brings the reader right into the mind and emotions of the main character – and what a fast ride, this book is. The blurb warns, Don’t blink, don’t forget to breathe, and publishers, Scholastic are not joking.

16 year-old Callum Ormond is a hunted fugitive. Just in book eight alone, Callum is buried alive and framed for the kidnapping of his own sister. This time he is going to need some seriously daring and dangerous tactics to save her.

One of the things I enjoyed about Conspiracy 365: August is that it worked really well as a stand alone book and as part of a series.

ABOUT THE SERIES

(taken from publisher’s website www.conspiracy365.com)

On New Year’s Eve Cal is chased down the street by a staggering sick man with a deadly warning…

“They killed your father. They’ll kill you. You must survive the next 365 days.”

Hurled into a life on the run, with a price on his head, the 15-year-old fugitive is isolated and alone. Hunted by the law and ruthless criminals, Cal must somehow uncover the truth about his father’s mysterious death and a history-changing secret. Who can he turn to, who can he trust, when the whole world seems to want him dead? The clock is ticking. Any second could be his last.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Gabrielle Lord is one of Australia’s best-selling crime writers. In 2002 she was the winner of the prestigious Ned Kelly award for best crime novel.

Conspiracy 365 is her first foray into writing for a younger readership and she is loving it.

Writing Conspiracy 365 has been the biggest, most exciting project I’ve ever done. I think I’ve been in training for this series all my writing life.

Lovers of action-packed stories like Alex Rider and the Matthew Reilly books will enjoy Conspiracy 365.

Conspiracy 365: August is published by Scholastic Australia.

FRIDAY BOOK FEATURE – GET A GRIP COOPER JONES

When a story makes you cry, you know that it has touched you on a deep emotional level. Get A Grip, Cooper Jones, is Sue Whiting’s latest book for children and when I was reading it, I found myself both laughing and crying.

Set in an isolated “surfie” town wedged between the sea and the rugged escarpment, Get a Grip, Cooper Jones is a story about friendship and families; about fighting fires and facing fears; about growing up and finding where you fit.

Cooper Jones is the sort of character that gets under your skin. He’s a thirteen year old who doesn’t tidy his room, sleeps in late and has dubious personal hygiene, but is also extremely vulnerable. Cooper is at an age where he needs answers; where he wants to know who his Dad really is and what’s really going on around him.

He doesn’t always get things right and this makes for some great humour. There is plenty of action and intensity in Get A Grip, Cooper Jones, and the lighter moments add weight to the tension.

When gorgeous newcomer, Abbie comes to Wangaroo Bay and Mum starts acting weird again Cooper’s life begins to spin out of control and old fears and insecurities return to the fore. But when bushfire threatens and puts lives at risk, Cooper has to get a grip fast.

There were so many things I enjoyed about Get A Grip, Cooper Jones. Apart from the great characters, setting and humour there were the little things I found appealing – for example, the Mum who runs away to join the circus – the turning of stereotypes on their head.

Get A Grip, Cooper Jones is for readers aged 10-14 and has themes of identity, family, friendship, bushfires, survival, courage, beach, coming-of-age and adoption.

Sue Whiting talks about writing Get A Grip, Cooper Jones

I first started thinking about this story when I came across a very silly joke book. This book was filled with jokes like: “What’s the difference between a man and a piece of cheese?” Cheese matures. And “Why are men like snot?” They get up your nose.

As a flicked through the book, giggling, I started to wonder about what it would be like for a young boy to grow up in a household with a mum who felt this way about men. That boy became Cooper Jones. The story has changed enormously from this early idea, but it was the joke book that it all sprang from.

Why will kids like Get A Grip, Cooper Jones?

I hope kids will like it because it is about them – about two pretty typical thirteen year olds facing life’s ups and downs.

But what I hope more than anything else is that readers will find new friends in Cooper and Abbie, and that they will be keen to hang out with them for a while. And as tensions increase and bushfires threaten, and Cooper’s life seems to be spinning out of control, they will be there, shouting – yelling – at Cooper, telling him he had better get a grip – and fast – because Abbie’s survival depends on it.

What Sue says about Cooper

Cooper is a great kid – he just doesn’t realise it! He thinks he is a big-time cowardly loser.

He loves the bush, hanging out at the Feral Tree and swimming in the Blue Hole. He is a strong competitive swimmer, who does early-morning swimming training three times a week. But he is terrified of the sea (and what lurks below the surface) and never swims in the surf. This is not ideal when you live in a town like Wangaroo Bay that is so “surfie”.

Writing Get A Grip, Cooper Jones

The thing Sue enjoyed most about writing this book was writing the bushfire scenes.

The words came out in such a huge rush I could barely keep up. I was on fire! (Sorry – bad pun alert!) When I had finished, I was spent, totally drained – emotionally and physically – and it was many weeks before I could continue with the rest of the story.

The hardest part was listening to my characters. I had a very clear idea about what I wanted the story to be about – but Cooper and Abbie had other (better!) ideas. It took me a long time to realise this and to work out what was really bothering them. Once I stopped and listened to them, the story fell into place.

More information about Sue and her books is available from her website: http://www.suewhiting.com/

Leviathan

Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan is an awesome read! I loved every moment of this YA steampunk adventure. My only problem with it, is that the next book is not yet out.

What I loved most about this novel, is the world that Westerfeld has created. It is an alternative version of our own world, where history has progressed somewhat differently. In this world, countries are allied by their devotion to either machinery or genetic manipulation. The Clankers have a society based around the use of incredible steam-driven machines, from legged walkers to airships that roam the sky. The Darwinists, on the other hand, rely on a fantastic array of fabricated creatures, from hydrogen creating beasts for air travel to lupine tigeresques to pull their military carriages. The Leviathan of the book’s title, a whale airship, is Britain’s foremost military ship.

The novel’s plot follows the adventures of two teenagers — separate at first, but converging by the end of the book. After the assassination of his parents, Prince Aleksander is on the run from his own Austro-Hungarian people. With the aid of a few loyal men and the use of an old Stormwalker war machine, he heads for Switzerland. Meanwhile, Deryn Sharp, a British girl, has disguised herself as a boy in order to join the military air service. After a mishap on her first day, she finds herself aboard the Leviathan as it heads off on a secret mission to the Ottoman Empire.

The story is set on the brink of the First World War, albeit a very different war from the one we are familiar with. Westerfeld uses many actual events and people, such as the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, as a springboard for his fantastical story. It’s an exciting tale with interesting characters and a fascinating setting. I found the book difficult to put down… and each time I did have to put it down, I would find myself anticipating my return to its pages.

My only disappointment, when finishing the book, was realising that it was an incomplete story and that book 2 was still a couple of months off publication. But I’ve learned to cope, as I eagerly await Behemoth, which is due out in October.

Leviathan is my first encounter with the writings of Scott Westerfeld. Yes, yes… I know… I must have been hiding under a rock or something. Of course, I’ve heard of his Uglies series, and I’ve always intended to get around to reading them… I just haven’t, yet. But now having read and enjoyed Leviathan, I’m even more motivated to read his earlier work.

Anyone else out there read Leviathan? Share your opinion of the book in the comments section below.

And tune in next time as I write about school readers.

Catch ya later,  George

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TWO GREAT READS BY SUE LAWSON

DARE YOU

Dare You is the powerful new YA novel from popular author, Sue Lawson.

I was lucky enough to receive it in my mail box recently and I have to say that once I picked this book up I couldn’t put it down.

Dare You is about three best friends, Ruby, Khaden and Sas who have known each other pretty much forever. But each one is hiding something from the others, and the pressure of these secrets manifests itself in dares that spiral out of control.

As their daring behaviour intensifies, the three protagonists discover that there are just some things you can’t take back.

I loved this book for its honest characters, real people who the reader cares about right from the start. It’s told in three alternating points of view so each character gets to tell their story.

The book is well constructed with great suspense, and clues for the perceptive reader along the way. I liked that Dare You made me think about life and consequences and what can happen when people try to hide the truth from those they care about the most.

Dare You is  also a realistic depiction of how friendships formed in early childhood can change and become something that you never expected them to.

Dare You is published by Black Dog Books.

AFTER

CJ used to be the coolest kid at school until he did something unforgivable.

After, he is banished to live with his grandparents in the country but no matter how hard he tries to outrun trouble, it seems to follow him.

This is a wonderful story about a boy who does something in a moment of recklessness that he can’t take back – one mistake and lives are changed forever.

CJ is a likeable character who will resonate with teen readers. He’s vulnerable and confused and Sue Lawson makes us care about him.

After is a powerful book about the things that can go wrong, and the things that people do to try and make them right again.

This story is another compelling read from award-winning author, Sue Lawson and published by Black Dog Books.

You can find out more about Sue at her website www.suelawson.com.au

FRIDAY BOOK FEATURE – DANCE ACADEMY: LEARNING TO FLY

Dance Academy, Learning to Fly

Based on the major new ABC tv series, Dance Academy, Learning to Fly tells the story of 16yo Tara, the daughter of sheep farmers who soon discovers that being in Dance Academy is not quite the dream come true she thought it would be.

She has to cope with back stabbing ballerinas, a teacher who seems to have taken a dislike to her and her own feelings for a boy who seems to have no interest in her.

Once of the things I loved about this book is that the characters were so well rounded. Heroine Tara was of course extremely talented, but she also had flaws which did more to endear her to me rather than detract from her appeal. Conversely, Abby, ‘the baddie’ had redeeming features that made the reader empathise with her even though she is trying to bring Tara down.

Learning to Fly handles real issues for kids this age in this kind of situation and the authenticity of the characters, dialogue and setting will appeal to teen readers.

Learning to Fly has themes of friendship choices, first love and finding your place in the world and would provide a useful discussion focus for any high school classroom.

Learning to Fly is published by ABC Books and Harper Collins

Meredith Costain Talks About Writing Learning to Fly

What inspired you to write this book?

Learning to Fly was commissioned by the publisher. It’s based on the TV show Dance Academy, currently screening on the ABC. They sent me the scripts and rough cut DVDs for 13 episodes and asked me to write a novel based on them. So the characters and the storylines belong to the scriptwriters rather than me. It’s a very different way of working.

Why will kids like it?

It’s based on a TV show that’s been very popular. Learning to Fly sold out its first print run in three weeks, so I guess kids do like it.  🙂

But also, dance is very big at the moment. Shows like So You Think You Can Dance, Glee – even Dancing with Galahs!

Can you tell me about the main character and what you like/dislike about him/her?

Tara is a very complex character, which made her much more interesting to write about than a two-dimensional clichéd ‘bunhead’. I didn’t invent her, but I had to be careful to make sure I included scenes in the book that display who she is, by her dialogue and actions. She’s over-sensitive, which means she takes things to heart too much. She’s also devastatingly honest and wears her heart on her sleeve – which gets her into embarrassing situations with the guy she falls for. She has a dream, and she’s determined to achieve it, no matter what it takes. As one of the lines from the background material says, she’s ‘nobody’s doormat. Push her too hard and she’ll come back fighting.’

Are there any teacher’s notes, associated activities with the book?

There’s a fantastic website at http://www.abc.net.au/abc3/danceacademy

Is there something that sets this book apart from others?

It’s a novelisation of a TV show, so a different way of working. But it goes beyond being just a blow by blow recount of everything that happens in the show. There’s room for the character to reflect on what’s happening to her – the reader can get inside her head and she what she’s thinking, as well as seeing her actions and hearing what she says.

What did you enjoy most about writing this book?

The scripts were wonderful and the production standards were very high. It made my job much easier when the raw material was so good. You could tell the kids in the acting roles – who were all fabulous dancers as well as actors – really enjoyed themselves making the show. The setting – Sydney Harbour – was so vivid it almost became one of the characters.

What was the hardest thing about writing this book?

Distilling so much material (13 episodes) into one book of 25,000 words. I had to plot everything out very carefully to work out which scenes had to go in and which could be left out. Not just for ‘my’ character though. Four books following the lives of the other main characters were being written by other people at the same time, and I had to be careful not to ‘steal’ too much of the storylines that concerned them. So there needed to be a few ‘sweeping paragraphs’ that moved the story along so that what happened next to my character made sense.

The deadline was also very tight as the producers wanted the books out at the same time the show went to air. I had the DVD playing in one corner of my computer screen, a script in another, and my text in the middle. Plus masses of scribbled notes all over the desk. The rewind function got a really good workout too, as I’d play a scene over and over to set it in my mind so I could describe it accurately, or pick up on dialogue that had changed since the script had been written.

Thanks for visiting Kids’ Book Capers this week, Meredith. It has been great to hear about your new releases and how you wrote them.

Next week on Kids’ Book Capers, Sue Whiting is here to talk about her gripping new novel Get A Grip, Cooper Jones.

ANOTHER “NIBBLE” FROM MEREDITH COSTAIN

Rosie & Ned and the Creepy Cave

“It’s not always easy for Ned, being friends with someone as fearless as Rosie. But when Rosie is trapped in Witchy Nell’s cave, Ned has to find his own courage – fast!”

Rosie’s love of red things has led her to Witchy Nell’s cave. And when Rosie slips on a stone mound trying to climb out of the Creepy Cave, she injures her ankle and can’t walk.  The cave is filling with water and her Ned must get help fast – but the closest house belongs to Witchy Nell. Ned has to summon the courage to call on Witchy Nell to save his friend.

Rosie and Ned and the Creepy Cave has all the elements to appeal to younger readers: humour, suspense, great characters and true friendship.

It’s full of clear descriptions and active verbs that bring tension to the story and move it along. I also loved the characterization and expressions in the delightful, illustrations by Tina Burke

Rosie and Ned and the Creepy Cave is the third Aussie Nibble from Meredith Costain starring the ‘red loving’ and adventurous Rosie. Written for 6-8 year-olds, it’s about kids solving their own problems and overcoming their fears

It is published by Puffin Books, an imprint of Penguin Books Australia.

Meredith Talks About Writing Rosie and Ned and the Creepy Cave

What inspired you to write this book?

This is the third book in a series about two country kids called Rosie and Ned. I grew up on a farm and we always seemed to doing stuff: making billy carts, catching eels in the creek, rolling around the paddocks in rusty old water tanks. Outdoors kind of stuff where you got dirty and fell over and skinned your knees, rather than sitting inside on your bum playing video games.

I wanted to show kids there is life beyond the loungeroom. I also wanted the main instigator of all the action to be a girl. Rosie is brave and feisty and a risk-taker – even when it gets her into trouble. But her intentions are always good. In the first two books, Rosie’s friend Ned is a bit of a wuss. A follower rather than a leader. This book was a chance for him to step out from behind Rosie’s shadow and show that he could be brave and a risk-taker as well.

What did you enjoy most about writing this book?

Developing the characters of Rosie and Ned across the series, and remembering bits and pieces from my own childhood, such as making billy carts, preparing food for community picnics, bushwalking at Mount Cannibal, being scared by imaginary noises and shapes – then finding ways to weave these things into the stories.

What was the hardest thing about writing this book?

Keeping to the word limit. Aussie Nibbles are very short – only 1500 words maximum – and I tend to write very convoluted plots.

Teacher’s notes and a word activity based on the first two Rosie books are available from Meredith’s website: www.meredithcostain.com

FRIDAY BOOK FEATURE – LATEST BOOKS FROM LEANNE DAVIDSON

PUZZLE PALACE

Puzzle Palace is the third book in the Quizzical Series by Leanne Davidson. The series follows the adventures of super intelligent Brain Davis who doesn’t seem to know the meaning of modesty and manages to upset people not because he’s smart but because of his great admiration for his own intelligence.

Readers were introduced to Brain and his friends, Ted and Crofty in Quizzical. Brain also has an ‘out of control’ dog called Mischief who is the source of many of his problems.

In Puzzle Palace it appears that Brain may have met his match in the intelligence stakes when Summer Miller moves into the area and is one of the other lucky winners in the Puzzle Palace competition.

The prize for the five winners is to be the first kids to enter Puzzle Palace, a theme park with teasers to put the biggest brains to the test. Every room has a puzzle which must be solved before the contestants can move on, and something they will never suspect awaits them at the very end.

Throughout the series former headmaster, Prescott Heath finds new and creative ways to try and destroy Brain and his aspirations.

There is plenty of action in Puzzle Palace and I also enjoyed the humour. The Quizzical books are not just straight narrative and have all sorts of puzzles and brainteasers for readers to have fun with.

Puzzle Palace is written for 10-14 year olds and is published by LJD Books.

ALBY AND THE CAT: SHOWBUSINESS

This is the second adventure for Alby and The Cat and like the first book, it is told in alternating viewpoints. One of the funniest parts of these books is seeing humans through the animal characters’ eyes.

Alby, the guide dog and The Cat started out as arch enemies in the first book, but The Cat ended up saving Alby’s life.

In Alby and The Cat: Showbusiness, Alby returns the favour and protects The Cat from the nasty Persian at the Morvale Show.

Their latest adventure helps the two main characters realise how much they mean to each other.

Readers will enjoy the gentle humour of Alby and The Cat:Showbusiness, and the delightful pictures by illustrator, Kim Dingwall.

Alby and the Cat: Showbusiness is for readers aged 7+

Two New “Laugh Out Loud” Picture Books

I wasn’t going to blog today. I have some serious rewrites to do on my YA novel and author visits to prepare for later in the week. But I couldn’t help myself.

I had to share two wonderful new picture books that had me giggling uncontrollably in the car, (parked of course) attracting suspicious looks from other parents while I waited for my son at school pickup.

Rufus The Numbat

They say a picture tells a thousand words, and this is definitely true of Rufus The Numbat, David Miller’s new book from Ford Street Publishing.

There are very few words in this beautifully illustrated book, but they combine with the pictures to tell a big story about a very small numbat. And roles are reversed. Instead of man causing havoc in the numbat’s environment, Rufus manages to cause complete chaos in town.

Apart from the simple text and humour, readers will love the amazing illustrations and engage with the tiny Numbat who is “Just passing through”. Rufus The Numbat, is David Miller’s fourteenth picture book and the fifth that he has written. He makes intricate, colourful 3D paper sculptures and then photographs them for his pictures.

This lively picture book introduces young readers to the fragile relationship between humans and animals.

The Truth About Penguins

Another  new “Laugh Out Loud” picture book is The Truth About Penguins, written by Meg McKinlay and illustrated by Mark Jackson

The animals at the zoo are anxiously awaiting the arrival of the penguins. None of them have actually seen a penguin before so they speculate about what the new inhabitants might be like.   It’s like an exaggerated game of Chinese Whispers as the animals share their ‘knowledge’.

They are soon convinced that penguins fly south for the winter, eat pizza and wear cool bathers. The humorous text and detailed illustrations work in perfect harmony. I think my loudest guffaw was when the elephant declares, “My mother was a penguin”. Not only was the text hilarious, but the sight of the elephant leaning up against the tree  ‘hand on hip’ and legs crossed added a new level of humour.

Fortunately, the zookeeper sets the zoo animals straight on what penguins are ‘really’ like. I love the way this book teaches readers so much about penguins, but in a funny and entertaining way.

The Truth About Penguins is published by Walker Books Australia.

Kids’ reading — Boots, Rufus the Numbat, and a Fairy Empire

As a proud parent, I find it endlessly interesting to watch my kids’ literary tastes developing. So I’m now going to make an enormous leap of (perhaps faulty) logic and assume that all you people out there will find it just as interesting. And thus I shall blog about the books that my daughters have been reading, or, in the case of the younger, chewing on.

My youngest, Alexandra, is just 18 months old. She loves books. She loves it when I read them to her — but she also spends ages turning the pages by herself, giggling at the pictures and pointing things out on the pages. Her current favourites include A Friend For Boots and Bath-Time Boots, both by Satoshi Kitamura. These board-books are absolutely brilliant! Simple yet delightful words combine with simple but charming illustrations, to tell the story of a cat named Boots. Alexandra delights in pointing out Boots and the various toys depicted on each page.

My eldest, Nykita, is 7 years old. She is currently obsessed with the Rainbow Magic fairy books by the pseudonymous Daisy Meadows. Daisy, or rather the four authors from Working Partners who write under this pseudonym, have built a Rainbow Magic empire. There are already over 90 titles in the series, and no doubt, they’ll keep churning them out for as long as little girls keep getting their parents to buy them. Nykita has been borrowing them from her school library. She is finding this rather frustrating as she only gets to borrow one book a week, and she usually finishes the book on the night she brings it home. But fear not… I went to a recent department store toy and book sale. There, amongst a sea of mothers with shopping trolleys stacked twice their height in toys, I wandered around with an armful of books. I got two boxed sets of the Rainbow Magic books, comprising books 71 to 84. And then to balance things out a bit, I also got a boxed set of Enid Blyton books. These should keep her entertained for a week or two.

With two young daughters who love books, I was delighted to receive a review copy of David Miller’s new picture book, Rufus the Numbat. This is Miller’s second book for Ford Street Publishing, after the critically acclaimed Big and Me. And he’s done it again — a lovely book with a unique look and a story that works on two levels. Kids can simply enjoy the madness and mayhem that ensues when Rufus the numbat wanders into the city, while adults can appreciate the subtle statement on humans encroaching on the natural habitats of native animals.

But don’t just take my word for how good it is… let’s get some expert opinions as well. It got a definite thumbs up from Nykita. She spent ages studying the intricate paper sculptures that Miller used to illustrate the book. “I like the way everything is made out of paper,” she announced. She also said that it was “a very creative story”. Her favourite bit was when Rufus rode a skateboard away from the city to the bush. I read the book to Alexandra, who kept pointing to Rufus each time I turned the page, giggling with enthusiasm every time she spotted him.

So Miller has managed to please an 18 month old, a 7 year old and a 42 year old with Rufus the Numbat — a pretty good achievement!

Anyone out there want to share with us what their kids have been reading? Leave a comment.

And tune in next time so I can tell you about how much I love old books.

Catch ya later,  George

PS – Follow me on Twitter.

Tripods Rule!

The Earth has been invaded — conquered by aliens in huge walking, metal tripods. For generations the people of Earth have been kept under control by caps — metal mesh, implanted into the flesh of a person’s head when they turn 14 years of age. Once capped, people loose their curiosity and creativity, become docile and feel compelled to worship the Tripods. But not everyone is capped. There is a resistance movement of free people, hiding out in the White Mountains, gathering more to their cause and searching for a way to defeat the invaders.

I discovered John Christopher’s Tripods Trilogy when I was a teenager in the early 1980s. I fell in love with it. I read the three books — The White Mountains, The City of Gold and Lead and The Pool of Fire — many times over. When the BBC turned the first two books into a television series in the mid-1980s, I watched it eagerly, recorded it on VHS and re-watched the tapes until they practically wore out. And then, in 1988, there was a new book — a prequel, When the Tripods Came. With all the recent talk of a new film based on the first book, I thought it would be a good time to revisit my teenage obsession.

I am very pleased to say that I thoroughly enjoyed re-reading the books. I still have the copies I bought in 1983 — a terrific set with covers that lined up to form a large picture — as well as several different editions. Like a true obsessive I went through a phase of collecting different editions of these books… and there have been many.

The original trilogy follows the adventures of an English boy, Will Parker, who teams up with two other boys to escape the capping and set off in search of the free men of the White Mountains. By the end of the first book, after a long and dangerous journey, they reach the mountains. In the second book, there is an undercover mission into one of the Tripod cities to discover the alien Masters that drive them and to look for weaknesses. And the third book is all about the defeat of the Masters and their Tripods.

Originally published in 1967/8, these books hold up pretty well by today’s standards. They are exciting, well plotted and thoughtfully conceived. The writing style is a little dry and dated, particularly when it comes to the dialogue, although somehow is seems to work just fine. An interesting thing to note is the almost complete lack of female characters, apart from an occasional love interest.

The prequel, When The Tripods Came, published in 1988, is quite a different kettle of fish, with several major female characters and a more easy-going writing style. The main character, however, is again an English teenage boy, Laurie. The story follows him and his family as they try to escape the mind-control being used by the aliens to subjugate the people of Earth. Given that this prequel is all about how the Earth came to be conquered, you could expect a dark and hopeless tale… but it’s not. The story of this family and their escape concludes with hope and sees the seeds of the resistance that will feature in the trilogy, being sown.

I’m now part-way through the 1984/5 BBC series, which has been released on DVD. The series made numerous changes (some that worked, others that didn’t) and although somewhat dated in its look and feel, it is still highly entertaining. The musical score by Ken Freeman is a particular highlight, and the effects (especially the close-up model work on the Tripods) better than the average BBC stuff from the same era. The big disappointment of the series, however, is that it was cancelled before the third book could be filmed, leaving the story incomplete and the characters facing a bleak future with a very down-beat conclusion.

Apparently, Disney acquired the film rights to the Tripods in 1997, and finally, in 2005, announced that pre-production would soon begin with Australian director Gregor Jordan at the helm. Jordan has said in interviews that the film will remain faithful to the books and that the only significant change he intends to make is to swap one of the main characters from a boy to a girl. The film is currently slated for shooting in 2011 and release in 2012. I can hardly wait!

Anyone else out there read the Tripods Trilogy? Or seen the series? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

And tune in next time to find out what my kids have been reading.

Catch ya later,  George

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FRIDAY BOOK FEATURE – KIDS’ BOOK CHARACTERS WITH A ZEST FOR DISCOVERY

Today I wanted to talk about two beautiful new books for younger readers where the main characters go out to explore the world and in the process, discover new things about themselves.

Both are baby animals, each with unique physical characteristics and the inquisitiveness and innocence of the very young.

Puggle, the echidna from Puggle’s Problem is missing his spikes and goes out seeking advice from other members of the animal kingdom to see if he can find a way to make them grow quicker.

Leon in Look Out Leon is a chameleon learning all about the advantages of changing colour.

Here’s a closer look at these unique, vibrant and appealing books.

PUGGLE‘S PROBLEM

Pipp is a baby echidna who is the same as every other echidna his age…except that he doesn’t yet have his spikes.

Koala thinks that eating lots of gum leaves might make them grow. Wombat advises that digging is the solution. Puggle even tries hopping like a kangaroo, but nothing seems to work.

In Puggle’s Problem, Pipp learns the importance of patience and perseverance, and that every problem has its up side.

Puggle’s Problem is the work of talented new writer, Aleesah Darlison who has six books being released in the next six months. Award-winning wildlife artist, Sandra Temple has stunningly illustrated this feel good tale which show-cases some of Australia’s best-loved native animals and their unique characteristics.

This books is beautifully illustrated and I loved the gentle humour reflected in both the text and the pictures.

Puggle’s Problem is published by Wombat Books.

LOOK OUT LEON

A vibrant and simple novelty book about Leon, the chameleon who can’t go out exploring until he learns how to blend into his surroundings and hide from hungry eyes.

There are crocodiles, hippos, snakes and other creatures who look at Leon as a possible source of food so which colour should he blend in with?

This is a delightful interactive book in which young readers can pull the tabs to change the pictures…as if by magic.

The simple repetitive text and vibrant illustrations are bound to appeal to young readers.

Jez Alborough is a hugely popular author and illustrator of books for children, well known for his stories about Bobo the chimp, star of Hug & Yes.

Look Out Leon is published by Walker Books.

What I enjoyed about both these books was that as well as being thoroughly entertaining, they provide plenty of opportunity for young readers to learn, and explore.

FRIDAY BOOK FEATURE – THE UNINVITED

A magical place, Marc had said. It wasn’t the kind of word he used very often. A place to get your thoughts together.

Mimi Shapiro is fleeing New York and a possessive ex-lover. So when her estranged father offers her the use of his Canadian cottage, it seems like an ideal retreat.

That’s until she discovers someone is already living there. Jay, a young musician who has taken up residence in the snye accuses Mimi of leaving threatening tokens around the house.

When it becomes clear that neither Mimi or Jay is responsible for what’s happening, the two form a pact agains the intruder.

Could all this be linked back to Mimi’s father’s devious past. Or is some local madman responsible for all the strange goings on at the house?

Things become even more complicated when Mimi’s ex-lover threatens to show up. The Uninvited is a fast-paced novel; part thriller, part family drama depicting the streetwise YA Mimi, who’s not as tough as she first thought.

The Uninvited has been nominated for the Indigo Teen Reads awards. One of the things I enjoyed most about it was the pacing. At times it meandered gently like the cottage driveway winding through the meadow, at others, it built up a sense of comfort then launched the reader into “full on” action.

The Uninvited is the latest YA novel from Tim Wynne-Jones who is the author of more than twenty books for children and young adults.  This one is a real page turner full of well developed characters and great dialogue. There’s also plenty of suspense and plot twists and turns to keep the reader guessing.

The Uninvited is published by Walker Books UK.

FORD STREET PUBLISHING NEWS

If you miss them in the morning, you can catch these great authors at

Angus & Robertson

Shop F11, Victoria Gardens Shopping Centre in Richmond between 3pm and 5pm. For enquiries, phone 9421 8817

PICTURE BOOK FEST DAY 1- THERE WAS A TALENTED AUTHOR

This week we’re having a picture book fest at Kids’ Book Capers – we’re taking time to celebrate some great Australian picturebBooks and their creators.

Unfortunately, in a single week we can only cover a small selection of wonderful Australian picture books, but we’ll be delving into the minds, the lives and the inspirations of three popular picture book authors.

Melbourne’s, Claire Saxby is the author of four picture books but she hasn’t always been a writer. After leaving school, Claire became a podiatrist, but she soon realised that all she wanted to do was write. Claire says,

One of the things I liked most about podiatry was the stories people shared.

Today, Claire is talking to us about her latest picture book, There Was an Old Sailor, a seafaring version of the rhyme, ‘There Was an Old Lady who swallowed a fly”. The Old Sailor eats some seriously unpalatable seafood, but the nonsensical text and Cassandra Allen’s wonderful illustrations are bound to get young readers giggling.

Claire was inspired to write There Was an Old Sailor by  a storyteller friend  who bemoaned the lack of ocean-based cumulative stories and said someone should write one. So Claire thought she’d have a go!

There Was an Old Sailor was published this year, but Claire has been performing it in schools and libraries for  a long time. She says,

Kids like There Was an Old Sailor because it’s absurd! They enjoy the rhythm and repetition and generally are joining in the refrains by about half way through the book.

Cassandra Allen’s illustrations paint the Old Sailor with wonderful laughing eyes, a ‘robust’ frame and Popeye forearms. He’s substantial but never frightening. There’s nothing to dislike about him really, although perhaps he’s a tad greedy.

It’s no wonder that There Was an Old Sailor is proving to be very popular. The language and absurdity give it child appeal, it’s easy and fun for parents to read and it provides opportunities for teachers to talk about the ocean, food chains, fantastic fiction and more.

Claire says she really enjoyed thinking of crazy things for the Old Sailor to do.

The hardest thing was getting the rhyme and rhythm right, so that it could be read for the first time with ease. It took time and redraft after redraft to get it right.

I asked Claire if she had any consistent themes/symbols/locations in her writing.

I hadn’t been conscious of it, but ocean or water feature strongly in many of my stories. Actually in my non fiction too. I grew up by the sea and holidayed by the sea. Many of my stories are in or around water. Themes? I don’t consciously write to a theme. Sometimes I’ll identify the theme and strengthen the story around it, but that comes in the redrafting, not in the original drafts.

Claire has had more than 30 books published and There Was an Old Sailor is her fourth picture book. Her other picture books are Ebi’s Boat, Sheep, Goat and the Creaking Gate and A Nest For Kora.

Teacher’s notes can be found for There Was an Old Sailor on Walker Books Australia website http://www.walkerbooks.com.au/statics/dyn/1266193594964/There-Was-An-Old-Sailor-Classroom-Ideas.pdf

On Wednesday, we’re talking to Queensland author, Trudie Trewin, author of I’ve Lost My Kisses and Wibbly Wobbly Street.

Contemporary fury and historical shadows

What have I been reading lately? I’m glad you asked! In Lonnie’s Shadow by Chrissie Michaels, Fury by Shirley Marr and TimeRiders by Alex Scarrow. All three are YA. But they are three very different books. And at least two of them are a notch above your average YA novel.

First up, In Lonnie’s Shadow by Chrissie Michaels. This is a historical novel inspired by the archaeological excavations around Lonsdale Street in the city of Melbourne, the artefacts from which were displayed at a Melbourne Museum exhibit. These artefacts are ordinary things, part of everyday life in 19th century Melbourne. Each chapter of In Lonnie’s Shadow is headed by an artefact’s name, number and description, rather than by a standard chapter number and title. And somewhere within the chapter, that particular item is alluded to. It could easily have been contrived and intrusive, but the author handles it with subtlety and aplomb. In her hands it is a wonderfully original, intriguing and evocative way into the story.

Lonnie McGuiness is a teenage resident of the area known as Little Lon — an area of poverty and hard knocks, looked down on by the rest of Melbourne in 1891. Lonnie is a stable-hand who dreams of being a jockey. He gets caught up in an illegal street race, which he discovers has been fixed. It is a story of struggles and survival… but most importantly, it is a story of friendship between Lonnie and his three best mates: Pearl, a prostitute caught between two rival brothels, desperate to get away from both; Daisy, a Salvation Army do-gooder with a mysterious past who moonlights as a seamstress, making dresses for one of the brothels; and Carlo, who operates a fruit cart but dreams of opening an ice cream factory. Four lives that cross paths; four teenagers who help each other out and stick together.

There is a lot of wonderful historical detail and atmosphere in this novel. The author certainly seems to have done her research. The characters are vivid and sympathetic. The Melbourne setting is both familiar and completely alien. As a Melbournian, I found the landmarks and place names were known to me (the Exhibition Building and its iconic fountain, for instance), but the poverty and squalor of the characters lives were an eye-opener. I can see this book being well-used in schools to help bring a historic period to life in the minds of students. It’s an enthralling read.

At the other end of the scale we have the very contemporary Fury, by Shirley Marr (who, incidentally, has visited Literary Clutter in the past).

“My name is Eliza Boans and I am a murderer.”

How’s that for a great opening line? This book had me hooked from word go and I found it very hard to put down. It’s about a high school girl and her friends who get caught up in murder. It’s also about friendship and the day-to-day dramas of teenage life in high school. It’s funny. It’s dramatic. It’s sad. It’s a really riveting read.

It’s also particularly interesting for a couple of reasons.

Firstly, it is told with flash-backs. Eliza has been arrested and is sitting in a police station talking to anthropologist Dr Fadden, while refusing to see her mother. Slowly, over the course of several conversations, Eliza opens up and tells us about the events leading up to her arrest.

Secondly, Eliza, the main character, is thoroughly unlikeable. She is a spoiled rich kid living in a walled suburb and attending an exclusive private school. She is a bitchy, smart-mouthed, sarcastic, snobby brat who is even nasty to her own friends. Oh yeah, and she’s a complete control freak. And yet, somehow, Marr manages to elicit sympathy for this character. Maybe it’s because we get a bit of an insight into her past and how she came to be who she is. In any case, there were several moments where I found myself taking her side in conflicts — these moments were usually followed by a double-take as I reminded myself that I didn’t like Eliza and so I had no business taking her side. Hats off to the author for achieving this. It is rare for me to enjoy a book with an unlikeable protagonist.

Eliza aside, there are many interesting and memorable characters in this book — from Eliza’s trio of girlfriends, Marianne, Lexi and Ella, to the sympathetic and likeable student Neil, whose past is inextricably linked with Eliza’s. Neil was easily my favourite. I’d like to tell you why, but that would necessitate spoilers. All I’ll say is that there is a great deal of subtlety to his character.

Although this book seems aimed mostly at teenage girls, I think there’s a lot in it for other readers as well. It’s a thoughtful, well constructed novel… and a great read!

Finally, there’s the science fiction, time-travel adventure TimeRiders, by Alex Scarrow. I’ve already reviewed this book for the MC Review website, so if you’re interested you can go there to see what I thought of this clichéd but entertaining yarn.

So… anyone out there read anything really interesting lately? Feel free to share your literary adventures with the rest of us in the comments section below.

And tune in next time for a little bit of Doctor Who.

Catch ya later,  George

FRIDAY BOOK FEATURE – NED KELLY AND THE GREEN SASH

Mark Greenwood and Frané Lessac travelled thousands of kilometres to research their latest book, Ned Kelly and the Green Sash

I caught up with them at Dromkeen National Centre for Picture Book Art, in Victoria recently and chatted with them about the book’s amazing journey.

Mark admits to having a long-held fascination with Ned Kelly, culminating in him purchasing a replica armour which has held pride of place in their house for the last four years.


But Mark says his interest in the famous bushranger was heightened when there was an article in a Broome newspaper about Ned Kelly’s missing skull.

The story of the green sash has been mentioned in passing in a number of books about the notorious bushranger, but has not had quite the same focus as in Mark and Frané’s Ned Kelly and the Green Sash.

The story goes that when he was a young boy, Ned Kelly rescued a classmate from a flooded river. The grateful boy’s parents awarded Ned the green hero’s sash.

Clearly, Mark and Frané share a deep fascination for Ned Kelly. The story of the green sash was brought to Mark’s attention in Ned Kelly, The Authentic Illustrated History by K McMenomy.

For Mark, Ned Kelly and the Green Sash started with a lot of questions. Where did Ned Kelly hide his green sash? Where was it now? These questions took Mark and Frané from Western Australia to the Benalla Pioneer Costume Museum in Victoria where Mark was able to look upon the actual green sash for the first time.

Mark was able to get copies of Ned Kelly’s letters, and he says that having real documents really brings the story to life.

After finding the green sash, Mark says his next major dilemma was “How are we going to balance the story and show that Ned Kelly was a criminal. The Green Sash was such a symbol of his duality – of someone who was both a hero and a villain.”

Equally as fascinating as the story of Ned Kelly is the way that Mark and Frané work together on a project.

Mark says that he writes with Frané in mind. He doesn’t mind taking words out if that will make the story work better with Franés illustrations. But they  agree that the input works both ways, and Frané says she uses a lot of Mark’s research in creating pictures for the story.

Both Mark and Frané love the research process. Mark says, “It’s all about finding the story and walking in that person’s shoes – filling up your senses with detail from that era and time.”

Whether you feel fascination or fear when it comes to Ned Kelly, you can’t help but appreciate the meticulous research and the passion behind the story of Ned Kelly and the Green Sash – out now from Walker Books Australia and UK.

I was totally engrossed from start to finish.

You can view the book trailer of  Ned Kelly and the Green Sash at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-8WzjijYfpo

OTHER BOOK NEWS

Alex Rider competition closes TODAY! So get your entries in to

NEWS FROM FORD STREET PUBLISHING

Jenny Mounfield interviewed at: http://paulazone.blogdrive.com/

Chrissie Michaels interviewed at: http://paulazone.blogdrive.com/ and part three: http://tinyurl.com/2bubaqe

 

Hazel Edwards interviewed on Australian Women Online: http://tinyurl.com/34wxty3

George Ivanoff interview at: http://paulazone.blogdrive.com


TEEN READERS TALK ABOUT ALEX RIDER

Today, 15 year-old George is visiting Kids’ Book Capers to talk about why he is a big Alex Rider fan.

George, what do you like about the Alex Rider Books?

They’re action packed, fast paced well written. They have a good storyline and all the gadgets are really good.

Each book has a unique storyline. Interesting is places he goes, what gadgets he gets, why the bad guy is doing what he is doing?

What do you like most about the Alex Rider books?

I really like the characters – they are enjoyable – each has their own sense of humour.

Some characters are believable and some aren’t. I’m hard pressed to believe that there is a fourteen year old spy but that doesn’t worry me – doesn’t stop me from enjoying the stories.

What is your favourite gadget?

The Cannondale Bad Boy Bike because it has lots of features, lots of things it can do – bells and whistles.

ABOUT ALEX RIDER’S BIKE

The Cannondale Bad Boy Bike is designed and built for speed, safety and reliability. it has an aluminium frame and special tyres. To deter pursuit the bike has a smokescreen, an oil dispenser and two heat-seeking missiles. The seat post acts as an emergency ejection system and there are special accessories for the rider’s safety

What’s your favourite book?

Crocodile Tears. Dennis McCain is the chief of First Aid, and he sets up disasters so that when people donate money he can grab it.

Why is this your favourite Alex Rider Book?

It’s interesting. I like the fact that Dennis McCain was all cocky and that Alex Rider managed to beat him.

What do you like about Alex?

He always seems to know what to do – and he’s generous and nice. I like that he is confident.

I think it’s fair enough that he doesn’t want to be a spy, he’s only 14 years old

Would you like to be Alex Rider – why/why not?

Yes and No.

Yes because you get all the cool gadgets and things and meet new people and travel the world.

No, I wouldn’t want to be under all that pressure to save the world and live up to my uncle’s and my dad’s name.

REVIEW OF STORMBREAKER – JOHN – aged 14

Alex Rider’s uncle is a secret government agent but Alex doesn’t know it. Uncle gets killed on way back from mission. Alex meets two people from MI6 and joins MI6 and goes on a mission to stop Herod Sale

Alex goes undercover (as a guy who won competition) to see what Herod Sale is up to and stop him if it’s bad.

What I liked

I liked at training camp when he toughed it out and didn’t let anyone get the better of him.

I liked the way Alex used his talents and courage to overcome the bad guy.

What I didn’t like?

That you didn’t find out much about his parents.

I would recommend this book to people because it was interesting and fast paced and I liked the technology.

Anyone between age of 11 and 17 would enjoy these books.

John

OUR ALEX RIDER PROMOTION FINISHES THIS FRIDAY

TO ENTER THE ALEX RIDER COMPETITION AND WIN FABULOUS PRIZES GO TO  http://content.boomerangbooks.com.au/content/main/anthony-horowitz-promotion.shtml

WHY ALEX RIDER GETS KIDS READING – FEATURING CROCODILE TEARS

Today we welcome The Book Chook back to Kids’ Book Capers to talk about why Alex Rider gets Kids Reading.

Hi Book Chook, great to have you back here. Anthony Horowitz’s series has been credited with changing boys’ attitudes to reading. How important, for boy readers in particular is it that books like the Alex Rider series are available?

I know it’s not politically correct to generalize but I am rarely politically correct. Some boys aren’t attracted to fiction, but many of those who are need adventurous books which race along at high-octane level, ricocheting from one scrape to another.

Crocodile Tears has been simultaneously published as a traditional book, an e-book and an iPhone application. Do you think that offering these options is a good thing for  readers?

Yes! Some mourn the imminent demise of the printed book but I think that’s hooey. It’s not a case of either or. We need print books AND technology-driven applications. If a mum is queuing in the supermarket and she can hand her iphone to her three-year-old so the child can read a picture book on the device, great! But for bedtime reading aloud that night, perhaps real printed picture books are the answer.

I spend hours with a computer screen each day, so when I quit, I read print books for relaxation. But when we next go to China, I hope to have several books digitally stored on my iPad, so I can avoid excess baggage charges.

Do you have some tips of your own to encourage kids to read?

After loving your kids and respecting them, read to them. Read to them every day. Tell jokes, read riddles, write letters and notes. Dance, sing, pretend, paint, recite poetry, go to theatre performances, lie on the grass and cloud-watch. Read some more. Get to know the wonderful Australian children’s authors who have so much to offer our Aussie kids. Hang out at your local library. Make sure your kids see you reading and writing. Let your kids choose what they want to read, but sneak in an occasional favourite of your own. Make sure your home has books galore.

And if you can, get a big old Jacaranda tree for your backyard. They’re great places for reading.

A REVIEW OF CROCODILE TEARS

by Lachlan – aged 12

Crocodile Tears is about Desmond McCain who started up a charity called first Aid and they always seemed to be the first ones there whenever there was a crisis.

Desmond intends to keep all the donations for himself and Alex has to stop it from happening.

I liked Crocodile Tears because I liked how Alex beat Desmond McCain in poker. I liked the Kikuyu Tribesman and how the writer used the location to fit them into the story. I liked the suspense in the story and it was hard to predict what was going to happen.

I didn’t like what happened to the RAW agent, Rahim.

People who enjoy fast-paced quirky action books will like this book.

Lachlan

TO ENTER OUR ALEX RIDER COMPETITION AND WIN FABULOUS PRIZES GO TO  http://content.boomerangbooks.com.au/content/main/anthony-horowitz-promotion.shtml.

FRIDAY BOOK FEATURE – NEW BOOKS WITH HEART FROM NEW FRONTIER

In my mailbox recently I received two new picture books from New Frontier Publishing; The Important Things by Peter Carnavas and I Spy Mum written by Janeen Brian and illustrated by Chantal Stewart.

In their own way, each book shows the importance of a parent in a child’s life, and they both struck a chord with me.

The Important Things is about the absent father. In I Spy Mum, the child experiences the pure joy of being reunited with his ‘lost’ mother. I know as a parent that this is a feeling that works both ways.

I think one of the things I liked most about both these books was the powerful feelings conveyed in stories that were so simply told.

THE IMPORTANT THINGS

Written & Illustrated by Peter Carnavas

The Important Things tells the story of Christopher, a little boy trying to come to terms with the absence of his father. He does this by cherishing the things that remind him of his dad – the memories.

One of the things I liked about this book is that it showed how divergent an adult and a child’s thinking can be in these situations. It’s a story about a child and a Mum finding their way back to each other through understanding.

The Important Things is a book that can be shared between a parent and a child on many levels. Each word has been carefully chosen and every colourful illustration speaks another thousand words.

I can see The Important Things becoming an important book for many children. It is the work of writer, illustrator and teacher, Peter Carnavas. His first book Jessica’s Box has been shortlisted for three awards. It was closely followed by Sarah’s Heavy Heart which has already been translated into six other languages.

I SPY MUM

Written by Janeen Brian and illustrated by Chantal Stewart

I Spy Mum is written in a much more playful tone, but it’s still a book that conveys a child’s feelings for a parent. I Spy Mum is a beautiful rhyming picture book for under five’s.

A little boy sees lots of other Mums, but he knows they are not his. He spies a ‘baking mum’, and a ‘singing mum’ and a ‘ding-a-linging mum, but can’t find his own. Children will love the surprises of the search and the fun of the other mums he discovers.

Even though not being able to find your mum is a traumatic event for a young child, this book is so full of fun and humour that children will be engaged all the way to the happy ending.

I Spy Mum is the sister book to I Spy Dad which has been shortlisted for the Speech Pathology Book of the Year Award 2010. It is written by well loved award winning author Janeen Brian. Janeen is a South Australian based author who has written over 70 books for children.

Illustrator, Chantal Stewart has illustrated  a number of books for children including Tilly’s Treasure by Sue Walker, and Clancy’s Long, Long Walk by Libby Gleeson.

The Important Things and I Spy Mum are just two of the beautiful new releases from New Frontier Publishing this year. If their 2010 catalogue is anything to go by, there are still many more to come.

FRIDAY BOOK FEATURE – JAGUAR WARRIOR

In our house, reading is a big thing. I love that my boys love books and I love that family discussions take place at our dinner table about what is the latest ‘must read’.

I love that even though he is eleven, my son and I can snuggle up on the couch together before bed, and read a book like Jaguar Warrior.

I even love it that he got impatient and went ahead and finished the book before me.  That’s how engrossed he was with the story of Jaguar Warrior, and when you read it, you’ll see why.

The book’s hero, Atl has been imprisoned in a box for seven days and is waiting to die. He is about to be sacrificed to the bloodthirsty Mexica gods, but Atl has a strong heart and he refuses to give up.

When he is unexpectedly released and sent on a mission, it’s not the mission that has him running, it’s the chance of freedom.

But he has to stay one step ahead of his mortal enemy, The Captain. The Captain believes that Mexica will fall if the Serpent-Sun god is not appeased by a sacrifice. The Captain is determined to bring Atl back to fulfil that role.

Atl’s travelling companion, Lali fears The Captain – and for reasons that are revealed in the story, she should know him better than anyone. Lali says The Captain is “more terrifying than the armies of Spain and Mexica marching together.”

The tension and pace of this story keep you turning the pages, but for me, it was the well drawn characters and vivid detail that kept me reading when there were many other jobs I should have been doing.

Here’s an example of the evocative narrative – Atl is eating tortillas.

Eyes closed, I listen to my stomach purr. Old men say the jaguar spirit lives in a young warrior’s heart, but when I listen to my gut grown with contentment, I know that’s where the big cat crouches. And it likes corn cakes.

Humour and a strong character voice also endeared me to Atl and made me eager to know his fate.

The tension of the story is enhanced by the dual narrative. The point of view alternates between Atl and his foe, The Captain. The reader is given information that neither character knows and this also helps build up the suspense.

Set in Aztec times, Jaguar Warrior is a work of fiction but it has been so meticulously researched that I felt like I had stepped into the story.

Jaguar Warrior is Sandy Fussell’s sixth published book and she is fast becoming known for her fast-paced but beautifully descriptive historical fiction works. Sandy is the author of Polar Boy (shortlisted for a 2009 CBCA Award) and the Samurai Kid’s Books: White Crane, Owl Ninja, Shaolin Tiger and Monkey Fist.

Both my sons can’t wait to read the fifth Samurai Kid’s Books, and I’ll be eagerly waiting with them in the queue.

FRIDAY BOOK FEATURE – A DAY IN THE GARDEN

When I was in Brisbane recently I was wandering through the Roma Street Parklands with a friend and her five-year-old daughter. As Sophie stopped to sniff every second flower and gazed around in wonder, I remembered what it felt like with my own children to watch them explore the sights, sounds and smells of a beautiful garden.

A garden can be source of comfort and discovery – a place to escape to – a place to wait and hope.

Today, I thought I’d talk about two beautiful new releases from Walker Books, both set in a garden, both with different messages of hope.

NOAH’S GARDEN – Written by MO JOHNSON & Illustrated by ANNABELLE JOSSE

Noah spends hours playing in the hospital garden, inhabiting the world of his imagination while he waits for his sister to get better so she can come and play with him.

Noah asks with a child’s simplicity,

“When can Jessica come to my garden?”

“Maybe some day,” says Dad, spinning him round.

One of the things I loved about this book was its sincerity. It’s based on a true story, on family friends of the author who spent seven months living at a hospital after their daughter was born with a serious medical condition.

There is no sentimentality to this story and perhaps that’s what makes it so moving. The courage of Jessica’s parents and the resilience of Noah are a powerful combination.

Noah’s Garden is full of hope and love and a testament to the power of imagination.

The beautiful illustrations by Annabelle Josse bring light to a serious subject.

Published by Walker Books Australia, Noah’s Garden is for children aged three to seven.

All royalties earned by Mo Johnson for the sale of the Australian edition of Noah’s Garden are being  donated to the Royal Children’s Hospital Foundation in Melbourne.

A CHILD’S GARDEN: A STORY OF HOPE – written & illustrated by Michael Foreman

Written and illustrated by Michael Foreman, this garden offers hope of a different kind – hope for the future in the midst of poverty and war.

The boy in A Child’s Garden: a story of hope has no name; he is just “The Boy” and this adds to the story’s poignancy.

After war comes to his country The Boy is separated by a barbed wire fence from the hills he used to roam with his father.

When The Boy finds a tiny plant amongst the rubble it becomes his symbol of hope.  But he lives in fear that at any moment, the soldiers will discover his secret garden and destroy it.

A Child’s Garden: a story of hope is a beautiful story about the resilience of the human spirit.

The detailed but understated illustrations brought me right into the story and I felt the family’s hardship and felt my own spirits rise with The Boy’s hope.

I loved Mo and Michael’s picture books for their moving words, stunning illustrations and their themes of  courage and optimism.

FRIDAY BOOK FEATURE – THE GREAT BEAR by Libby Gleeson & Armin Greder

In our second Friday Book Feature we are looking at a new edition of an old favourite – The Great Bear, written by Libby Gleeson and illustrated by Armin Greder.

The circus bear spends her days in her cage and her nights performing for a crowd. The crowd taunts her as she dances – poking her with sticks or throwing stones. Can she ever break free?

I was first fascinated by the story of The Great Bear when I heard Libby Gleeson talk about it at a writer’s conference.

As a writer I was intrigued with the journey to publication and the fact that both author and illustrator collaborated on this book right from the start.

This is an unusual process for a picture book to go through as often the illustrator is selected after the text has been completed.

The story began with a dream of Libby Gleeson’s in which a bear escaped from taunting villagers by climbing a flagpole. It ended up being so much more.

Libby says, “The creating of this story was a genuine collaboration”. Armin urged her to become more focussed on the myth and poetry in the writing and she suggested he create the sky as a character.

There are so many compelling things about this book. It is a story of many layers allowing readers the space to interpret it in their own way.

The simple narrative of a bear escaping cruelty is just the first layer. Beneath it are themes of empowerment and freedom, about our right to live with dignity.

In the collaboration process, Armin suggested that the text in the last half of the book be removed because he felt that words and illustrations were repeating each other rather than blending together and complimenting each other.

Dropping the words allows the pictures to carry the story and avoid repetition. It also allows the reader to be set free.

It’s a simply told story with compelling illustrations and complex themes of empowerment and finding out who we really are.

The Great Bear was first published by Scholastic in 1999. A new edition has just been released by Walker Books Australia ISBN 9781921529696.

It is part of the Walker Classic series – new editions of Australian and New Zealand picture books. The series features new designs and additional notes from the author and illustrator and comments from an authority on children’s books.

The Great Bear is a picture book for children aged 5-8.

Family reading

Just a simple little post today — a round-up of what my family and I have been reading.

As is normal for me (see earlier post: Clutter, clutter and more clutter), I am part way through several books, mags and newsletters. But all this reading stopped a little while ago when my copy of Carole Wilkinson’s Sugar Sugar arrived in the post box. It had to have priority! I am a huge fan of Carole’s writing and have been reading her stuff ever since her first novel, Stagefright, hit the shelves way back in 1996. Stagefright is a great little YA novel about a group of highschool kids putting on a musical production of Shakespeare’s Richard the Third. Its offbeat story and terrific characters hooked me from the first sentence:

“Velvet S Pye stood outside the gates of Yarrabank High and a creeping feeling came over her.”

I have been eagerly awaiting each successive novel ever since. And Carole has never disappointed. I can honestly say that I have loved every one of her books that I have read… and I have read most of them (there are only a few of her non-fic titles that I haven’t caught up with). I’m now four chapters from the end of Sugar Sugar. It’s brilliant! As soon as I’ve finished it, I’ll be writing some questions for Carole to answer in an upcoming post here on Literary Clutter. So stay tuned!

I’m not the only reader in my family. My wife is an avid devourer of the written word who consumes about three times the amount of books that I do, as she reads a lot faster than I. She’s just finished Trudi Canavan’s The Magician’s Apprentice. Now, on my recommendation, she is reading Solace and Grief by Foz Meadows. She enjoyed the former, describing it as a rollicking good fantasy read that could have only been improved by a “few more kissy scenes at the end”. And now she’s really enjoying the later, although she’s not far into it yet… her first reaction was: “Thank goodness it’s not another vampire novel”… followed closely by: “He turns into a cat? I wish I could turn into a cat!”

At age seven, my eldest daughter also has a love of books. My wife and I are extremely proud of her reading skills and interest. She has just finished Susannah McFarlane’s EJ12 Girl Hero: Hot & Cold. She really enjoyed the book, but said it was a little too scary in places, especially when EJ was trapped inside a volcano. I had to step in and read a couple of the chapters out loud to her until she was sure that EJ would escape. Obviously the experience wasn’t all that traumatic, as she has now asked me to get the next EJ12 book for her.

My youngest, at 14 months, is a little too young to read to herself just yet. But I read to her every day. Her current favourite is Ed Heck’s Big Fish, Little Fish. I love reading this book to her … SPOILER ALERT … especially the final page, where you lift the flap to discover that the biggest fish, which we have only viewed as a shadow thus far, is actually a whole bunch of little fish banding together to give the big fish a scare. She squeals with delight every time she lifts the flap. Okay, so it’s the lifting of the flap to discover another picture beneath that appeals to her at the moment… but she’ll eventually come to appreciate the subtleties of the story. 😉

So that’s what we’ve all been reading. What about you? Anything to recommend? Anything to avoid? Leave a comment!

And tune in next time to see a few of my favourite book trailers.

Catch ya later, George

FRIDAY BOOK FEATURE – STREETS AND DUCKS

Welcome to our first Friday Book Feature. So many fantastic books! Unfortunately, too many to feature here, but these are my picks for this week.

WIBBLY WOBBLY STREET

Written by Trudie Trewin & illustrated by Cheryl Orisini

I live on a rough winding road that goes for more than 10 kilometres and is peppered with bark, lizards and the occasional hopping kangaroo. So I was totally intrigued with the concept of Trudie Trewin‘s new picture book Wibbly Wobbly Street, and the idea that a road could be straightened or ‘made perfect’.

Beautifully illustrated by Cheryl Orisini, Wibbly Wobbly Street tells the story of the only street in Squareton that’s not straight and smooth and wide. It’s a street that doesn’t conform. Mayor Angle and his fellow councillors take some radical action to try and bring it into line with the rest of Squareton.

Trudie Trewin says the story was inspired by a friend of hers who had trouble remembering the name of a street she was talking about.

She ended up just calling it ‘Wibbly Wobbly Street’ because of its hilly and twisty nature. It struck me as a fun name for a story, but it took me about four years, and many failed drafts, to come up with a plot to suit.

Wibbly Wobbly Street is a picture book for ages 3-6 and the ridiculousness of trying to physically straighten a street will appeal to their sense of humour.

Particularly as the street is obviously much more exciting than the rest of Squareton.

Trudie  has also used fun words, like ‘wibble-extomy’ and ‘wobble-otomy’, which add to the appeal. She says she loved being able to use wibbly wobbly language in the book. “I loved using words like rectangle-fied, wobble-otomy, wibble-ectomy, hotch-potch, askew, squiggled, joggled.”

So, what’s unique about this book?

Celebrating individuality isn’t new, but I can’t think of another book where this theme has been approached from the point of view of a stubbornly twisted street.

Wibbly Wobbly Street is published by Scholastic Australia ISBN 9781741695618

DUCK FOR A DAY

Written by Meg McKinlay and illustrated by Leila Rudge

I’ll admit to complete bias with this book by Meg McKinlay. Firstly, I love ducks and secondly, I love the concept of class pets and think they add something special to any school room.

In Duck for a Day, Mrs Melvino brings a duck, Max into the classroom and Abby desperately wants to take him home for the night.

Abby lives in a spotless house where pets are not allowed because they might make a mess. A classroom pet visit is a temporary thing and Abby manages to persuade her Mum to let her bring the duck home. But this is only the first of Abby’s hurdles.

Next she must overcome the strict demands of Mrs Melvino who won’t let Max go home to an environment that is less than ‘duck’ perfect.

Streets also play an important role in this story because when Abby finally gets to take Max home, the duck disappears and waddles up the street to the park. Duck for a Day is a beautifully illustrated book for 7-9 year olds full of gentle humour and situations that kids will relate to.

Duck For a Day is published by Walker Books Australia – ISBN 9781921529283

FRIDAY BOOK FEATURE STARTS TOMORROW!

Tomorrow, we start our FRIDAY BOOK FEATURE at Kids’ Book Capers –  and this week, it’s all about streets and ducks.

I can’t wait to talk about some new releases in the wonderful world of kids’ books.

We’re going to be blogging every Friday and greeting new arrivals to the book shelves.

Discover Trudie Trewin’s quirky new picture book Wibbly Wobbly Street which has been beautifully illustrated by Cheryl Orsini.

We’ll also be taking a waddle down the road with Duck for a Day written by Meg McKinlay with gorgeous illustrations by Leila Ridge.

Look forward to seeing you then.

Dee

Why I have not read Twilight

TwilightI have not read Twilight! I do not intend to read Twilight! I am content with this decision and I am sure that I will go on to have a happy and fulfilling life without it. But how did I come to this decision?

I had heard a lot about Twilight — both good and bad. It, and its follow-up books, had been getting a lot of publicity for quite some time. When the film was released on DVD, I decided that I should probably read the book before seeing the film and find out what all the fuss was about. So I borrowed a copy from a friend.

I was reading another book at the time, so my wife decided to read it first. For the next week I listened to her read the book. Yes, listened, as she tsk’ed with contempt, groaned with annoyance and snorted with derision… occasionally punctuated by, “OMG, just let me read you this bit…”. At the end of each chapter, I’d cop an earful of colourful rhetoric about how little the story had progressed, yet how much more annoying the characters had become. “Bella just spent an entire chapter whining and pining for Edward!” or “Edward just spent an entire chapter sparkling and being gazed at by a soppy-eyed Bella!” and “I’m dragging myself though this book, in the hopes that a story will actually happen at some point!” When she had finally finished, she turned to me and said: “Honey, don’t read it!”

My wife is probably the only person in the world who can say something like that to me, and have me follow the advice. Normally, being told not to do something just makes me want to do it more. But after 17 years, Kerri (that’s my wife) has come to know me pretty well, and knows my literary likes and dislikes. After years of recommending books to me, this is the first time she has ever recommended I not read a particular book… so I took the recommendation seriously.

That’s not to say that Kerri hated the book. She didn’t. She found it a frustrating but interesting read. Frustrating because there was very little plot and because she found the characters annoying. Interesting, because she said that as a 15-year-old girl she probably would have loved it. Here’s why:

“It pushes all the right buttons for a teenage girl. It’s as if the book were written by a committee of women with a checklist.”

Kerri did express some curiosity in seeing the film version. So we borrowed the DVD from our local video store and put aside an evening of our lives that we will sadly never be able to reclaim. I figured that if I liked the film, I’d make the effort to read the book. I did not like the film. In fact, I hated it! Aside from the fact that it was overacted and poorly directed, there was not all that much to the plot and the dialogue was clichéd and atrociously written. Granted, Kerri did say that the book was marginally better, but given how much I disliked the film, that was not much of an incentive.

Every now and then, someone will still suggest that I should give the book a go. And I toy with the possibility, purely on a curiosity level. But seriously folks, life is too short to be reading stuff that you don’t really want to read. There are HUGE numbers of books that I really do want to read — way too many for me to actually get through. I need to prioritise. And a mild curiosity simply is not enough to get me to put this book on my mile-high “must-get-around-to-reading-someday” stack, let alone my three metre tall “must-read-soon” pile.

So that, folks, is why I have not read Twilight. And that is why I am unlikely to read it. Not unless I get stranded on a desert island without any other reading material.

Now, having said all of the above, I do wish to point out that I have nothing against the people who do like the books and the films. Everyone is entitled to their own literary choices. I’m sure that some of the books I’ve chosen to read over the years would make many people cringe. And I haven’t always made sterling choices. But as I said earlier, I couldn’t possibly read everything that I want to read, so I do have to make choices.

Even though I have chosen not to read it, I believe it to be an important book. It seems to have mimicked Harry Potter’s success in getting people who don’t normally read, to pick up a book. And for that, I applaud it. For many people Twilight will be the beginning of a life-long romance with the written word. That’s a good thing.

Well… that’s it for vampires! On to other things. Tune in next time when Shirley Marr, author of the soon to be released YA novel Fury, drops in to tell us about her first publishing experience.

Catch ya later,  George

Authors with bite

Vampires! Post number two in a series of three about the pointy-toothed blood-suckers we all love to read about.

This time around I have enlisted the help of two authors who have written vamp fic. I’ve asked each of them to share with us their favourite vampire book.

NarrelleFirst cab off the rank is Narrelle M Harris, author of The Opposite of Life.

John Lindqvist’s Let the Right One In is a superb vampire novel. It’s Swedish, but the English translation captures its setting of a bleak suburb in 1980s Stockholm perfectly. Oskar, who is viciously bullied at school, befriends strange newcomer, Eli. The fact that Eli is a vampire and a killer is contrasted with the idea that Eli is also an abused child. The line between victim and monster is blurred, here and elsewhere in the story. It’s a disturbing horror story, but also ultimately a gentle love story. It’s elegant, atmospheric and unlike any other vampire story I’ve ever read.

You can find out more about Narrelle and her writing on her website. You can also follow her on Twitter. And for those of you who’ve read The Opposite of Life, you can also follow her two lead characters, Gary (the vampire) and Lissa (the librarian), on Twitter.

FozNext up we have Foz Meadows, author of Solace and Grief.

I love the Evernight series by Claudia Gray. On starting the first book, I was aggressively sceptical, but once I reached the halfway point, I couldn’t put it down, while the sequel volumes, Stargazer and Hourglass, were mesmerising. Gray’s characters are vividly realistic; her plotlines pull no punches. The more the series develops, the more it becomes apparent that a skilful long game is in effect: the mythology is built with care, and there are no loose threads – only questions that haven’t been answered yet. The writing is sleek, the pace swift, and the tension perfectly orchestrated. Definitely worth reading!

You can find out more about Foz and her writing by checking out her blog.

My thanks to Narrelle and Foz for stopping by.

My last post mentioned the vampire books that I loved. But I have read others — from the good (Thirsty by MT Anderson) to the not-so-good (The House of Caine by Ken Eulo). And then, there’s the disappointing…

Interview With The Vampire by Anne Rice. This is a book that lots of people have raved about. My first encounter with it was the film version. I really liked the film and so I thought to myself… most film adaptations are not as good as the original books, so I must go and read Interview With The Vampire. Which I did… Unfortunately. I found the characters annoying, the style dry and the whole thing long-winded and boring. After spouting my disappointment at anyone who would listen, an avid Anne Rice fan insisted that the second book in the series was much better and that I should give it a go. I didn’t. In fact, I’ve never read another Anne Rice book. Life is too short and there are way too many other books that I really want to read.

Which now brings me to the Twilight books.

Tune in next time as I tell you why I haven’t read Twilight.

Catch ya later,  George

Books with bite

Vampires seem to be the in thing at the moment. Almost everyone is going ga-ga over the Twilight books and there is now a glut of teen vamp fic. Hollywood is, of course, cashing in on this, with numerous pointy teeth films and tv shows gracing our screens. For a bit of a laugh, check out the trailer for I Kissed a Vampire, a musical web series.

DraculaVampire fiction has been around for a long time. The first vampire book I ever read was Stephen King’s Salom’s Lot. It remains one of my favourites. Since then, I’ve read the occasional bit of vamp fic, including the granddaddy of them all, Dracula (which is well worth a read, even if you’re not into vampires). The one that really sticks in my mind, even though I read is about 13 years ago, is Poppy Z Brite’s Lost Souls. She has an interesting take on the vampire mythology. Her vamps are a separate species and breeding with humans results in each successive generation being less vampiric. The oldest vampire in the book can eat or drink nothing but blood, has pointy teeth and can be harmed by sunlight. The youngest is a bit of a goth — sunlight won’t hurt him but prefers to go out at night; his teeth aren’t pointy and although he doesn’t need to drink blood to live, he does come to develop a taste for it. There’s a lot more to it, but I’m working from memory here.

I’ve always thought that what this world really needed was some good vampire books set in Australia, preferable Melbourne (my home city). A number of years ago I read Vampire Cities by d’ettut (yes, d’ettut is the name of the author… pseudonym perhaps?), which was partly set in Australia. I remember thinking it was a weird, arty sort of book and that vampires weren’t actually the focus. It mustn’t have made much of an impression on me as I can remember nothing of the story.

More recently, I read Narrelle M Harris’s The Opposite of Life, which is set in Melbourne. I LOVED this book. It’s got lots of blood, dead bodies and pointy teeth and yet it’s a very atypical vampire story. The heroes are a geeky librarian and a slightly podgy, daggy vampire who wears loud Hawaiian shirts.  The book makes marvellous use of its Melbourne locale and is worth a read for that alone. Harris is writing a sequel… I can’t wait. Check out my review of The Opposite of Life.

Solace & GriefI also recently read Solace & Grief by Foz Meadows. The author calls the book an “urban fantasy” rather than a vampire novel. The main character is a vamp, as is the main villain, but there are other supernatural characters as well. It’s a young adult novel set in Sydney (not as good as Melbourne, but hey, at least it’s in Australia) and it’s got quite a different feel to it from any other vampire book I’ve read. It’s been getting some great reviews and with good reason – it’s a really good read. It is the first book of a trilogy called The Rare. Book 2 is currently in the works… definitely one to look out for.

There are probably other Australian vampire books out there. To be perfectly honest, I’ve never made a point of searching them out. The ones I’ve read were those that I happened across. So if anyone out there has any recommendations, I’m all ears… um… err… teeth?

Tune in next time for another vampire post, this time with the assistance of authors Foz Meadows and Narrelle M Harris.

Catch ya later,  George

PLATO PLATYPUS’ INTERNATIONAL LAUNCH

Hazels Edwards‘ new picture book, Plato the Platypus Plumber (Part-time) is the story of a platypus who is also a part time plumber. Plato is the imaginary friend of a young boy called Zanzibar who has all sorts of things that need fixing around his home.

On call, Plato fixes watery problems like leaking taps, but he also fixes grumpy people. From his tool kit, he uses smile spray, a feather or a joke. The book is beautifully illustrated by John Petropoulos.

Hazel says her original idea was to create a story with two things that don’t usually go together. The story was originally an idea for a TV series about Zanzibar and his adventures.

Plato the Platypus Plumber (Part-time) was launched recently at Pasir Ridge International School in Indonesia. Hazel has agreed to share the experience with us.

Reading Plato at launch with Pasir Ridge Children

How did the school prepare for the launch?

Meg Baxter, the Early Childhood teacher and her enthusiastic staff  had organised a special ‘mud’ cake iced with a replica of the cover as well as ‘muddy’ chocolate milk. SFX of water noises. Charts of platypus facts, and even an story house, surrounded by recycled branches (in the spirit of the story) with an author  chair for the ‘first’ reading. To the side was a ‘creek’ with platypus shapes.

The children had all created their own plumber tool kits in mini cases. Teachers had prepared the children well.

What else was unique about the preparations?

There were platypus prints leading into the room and up to the pile of  Plato the Platypus Plumber (part-time) books.

Can you tell us about the author signing?

International school children have names from many cultures. And that can be a challenge when you are autographing. A first edition book should be dated as well as signed by the author and illustrator, (but he was back in Melbourne)

So Indonesian teachers helped with typed slips of children’s names for autographing. Many are KTC s  Kids of the Third Culture, where parents may be nationals of different countries and the child born or schooled in a third.  But stories cross all cultures.

Sounds like the teachers were very resourceful, Hazel. And in your book, Plato helps Zanzibar to develop these same kind of problem-solving abilities. Why do you think it’s important for children to have these skills?

Being willing to try new ways of solving problems, even if you get it wrong occasionally, is the only way we learn. It’s okay to do things differently.

What was your favourite part of the launch?

For me the special pleasure was that once I’d talked about how a book was also created by the reader from the clues given by the illustrator and the author,  the children sprawled on the rug and all read the book for themselves.

‘Mine is the first Plato book signed in the whole world,’ said one little boy as he sat down to read.

Thanks for sharing this wonderful experience with us, Hazel.

Find out more about Plato the fixer and eco-warrior at

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iRPN-9zqx2k

Dee

Time tripping

I’ve just started reading a YA novel called TimeRiders, written by Alex Scarrow. It’s a time travel story about three teens from three different years (1912, 2010 and 2026) who are recruited by the mysterious Agency to become TimeRiders, operatives who go about fixing problems caused by other time travellers. Sounds rather clichéd, doesn’t it? I’m only 50 pages in, but so far, so good. It plunges you straight into the action and has managed to hold my interest thus far. Mind you, there are still 376 pages to go. I’ll report back once I’ve finished it.

In the meantime, I thought now might be the appropriate moment for a time travel post. After all, a bit of time travel can be fun. I’m eagerly looking forward to the new season of Doctor Who. I’d list the Back to the Future movies amongst my favourite re-watchable films (What can I say? I’m a child of the 80s). I also have a soft spot for Somewhere in Time. And I’ve lost track of how often I’ve watched the various crews of the Starship Enterprise skip back into the past. But let’s talk about books…

Now that I think about it, I can’t recall having read all that many time travel books. I own a copy of The Time Machine by HG Wells, but I’ve never read it. Yes, very remiss of me. It’s been on my “must get around to reading” list for a good many years. (Along with other classic genre novels such as Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case Of Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde — which I did finally get around to reading a couple of years ago.) But enough about what I haven’t read… let me tell you about what I have read.

The Puzzle RingThe two most recent time travel books to have actually made it through my reading list are Kate Forsyth’s The Puzzle Ring and Sean McMullen’s Before the Storm. These books nicely illustrate the two categories of time travel fiction that most stories fall into — science fiction and fantasy.

The Puzzle Ring is a charming novel for kids and teens, revolving around Celtic fairy folklore. When Hannah Rose Brown returns to her ancestral home in Scotland with her mother, she discovers a family curse and the truth about her father’s mysterious disappearance. The only way to save her father and break the curse is to travel back in time to the era of Mary Queen of Scots. The time travel in this story is achieved by passing through the realm of fairy.

Before the StormBefore the Storm, on the other hand, is YA science fiction. Fox and BC travel back in time from the distant future to 1901 with the aid of a time machine. These two teens are on a mission to stop the bombing of the first Australian Parliament — an event that will have a devastating affect on the future of the whole world. But once in 1901, they need the help of three ordinary teenagers from that time period to complete their mission.

Two very different books — examples of the two different types of time travel stories. Both are excellent!

Now, I’m going to try and think back to the hazy past of my childhood and teenage years and mention a couple of other time travel stories.

Red Hart Magic by Andre Norton. It’s about two kids who travel back in time, thanks to a magical model of an old English inn. I’m afraid I remember almost nothing about this book except that I really enjoyed it at the time I read it, around about the age of 13, I think. I read quite a lot of Andre Norton’s books at the time.

In my later teen years I read Robert Leeson’s Time Rope books: Time Rope, Three Against the World, At War With Tomorrow and The Metro Gangs Attack. This series is about three teens who travel through time by swinging on a rope hanging from an old tree in a mist-shrouded place called the Neural Zone. Again, memory fails me as to the details. I’ve continued to read Leeson’s books, most recently his retelling of the Arthurian legends, The Song of Arthur, although my favourite of his books is the parallel worlds novel, Slambash Wangs of a Compo Gormer.

Hmmm! I don’t seem to be doing too well in the memory stakes. I wonder if there are any other books I’ve read but can’t remember that I could recommend to you? 🙂

There are, of course, the plethora of Doctor Who novelisations, novels and short stories that I’ve read over the years. I do actually remember most of these. But they would be worthy of a post all to themselves. And I will get around to a Doctor Who post (or two, or three…) some time in the future. If you happen to have a time machine, feel free to skip ahead and read them now.

Let’s finish with a question. What are your favourite time travels books? Please feel free to leave your time travel recommendations in the comments section below.

Tune in next time, when Kate Forsyth, author of The Puzzle Ring, drops by to tell us about her favourite time travel books.

Catch ya later, George