MEET SHERRYL CLARK – VERSE NOVELIST, POET & CREATOR OF “THE LITTLEST PIRATE”

Sherryl Clark is an award-winning author of 41 children’s books, and 3 adult books (two of which are poetry collections).

She’s also a writing teacher at Victoria University TAFE where she taught me a lot of what I know about writing. I was lucky enough to have Sherryl launch my YA novel, Letters to Leonardo last year.

This week, Sherryl is at Kids’ Book Capers to talk about her three most recent books (two of which were released just last week).

Sherryl has been writing for many years and started in a  community writing class that morphed into a writing group.

At first I soaked up everything the class had to offer, then I went on and studied a BA at Deakin Uni by flexible delivery. In those days there was no other way to study and write at the same time.

I also became involved in community arts and met a lot of great writers who helped me and spurred me on to things like residencies and schools, and also gave me the courage to start submitting my work.

Sherryl admits to being a first draft lover!

I love the excitement of dreaming up characters and stories, and pounding away at the keyboard. I also love it when I get a new idea, and I’m not sure where it might go, but the exploration is a lot of fun.

At the moment, Sherryl is working on Draft 9 of “Pirate X”; an historical series for Penguin which will be part of their Our Australian Girl project; two different verse novels; and poems for her www.poetry4kids.netwebsite.

The hardest part of the writing process

Sherryl says that for her, the hardest part of writing is the revisions.

I’m better at this now – I’ve learned how to tackle a revision in a way that makes it new and interesting, and how to look at structure and then scene by scene. But the hardest thing of all is making myself sit down and start when I’m not entirely sure what comes next. I like plenty of thinking time in first draft stage, which helps the writing flow better.

I asked Sherryl about her greatest writing achievement.

At this point, I think it’s managing eight drafts of my historical pirate novel and not giving up on it! It started at 120,000 words and is currently 80,000 and is about to undergo another major rewrite. I still love it, and I still want to make it work.

I also won the NSW Premier’s Award forFarm Kid, which was pretty amazing.

She admits there are some consistent themes in her writing.

I realised a few years ago that with my books for older readers, one of the recurring themes was abandonment, and identity. With my books for middle years (Grade 5 to about Year 8 or 9) I write a lot about powerlessness – how kids are either ignored, abused, or treated like infants by adults. Kids are really smart. I like writing stories where they find their own solutions and their own way through the world. With picture books, it’s more about being the hero, being “centre stage” – little kids have a world that is all their own, and it’s all about them! Which is a good thing.

Sherryl’s tips for new writers

Apart from all the stuff about reading, writing and rewriting, educate yourself about the marketplace. Who is publishing what, what the current trends are (and understand you need to be ahead of the pack), and most importantly, how to be professional.

Motormouth

Sherryl’s most recent verse novel, Motormouth came out in in March this year.

She wanted to write a story about a boy who lied – big lies, not little ones! And delve into why someone would create such a huge fiction about their life. She also wanted to write about cars and boys, and the two things came together.

  • Chris has lost his best mate in a car accident, and he’s going through that stage where people expect him to “get over it”, but he can’t. His refuge is his love of cars. Then he sees this kid steal a model car right in front of him, and he can’t believe it – even worse, the kid turns up at his school. Josh is a real show-off, and talks all the time about his dad who is a racing car driver in Europe. Despite his initial doubts, Chris gradually gets drawn into becoming friends with Josh.

Motormouth, for years 4-7 is also a story about family, about where a boy fits with his dad, and his dad’s expectations and hopes for him.

Verse novels look easy to read, but there’s always more below the surface, so they can be accessible to younger readers and give older readers plenty to think about.

As a verse novel, Motormouth taps into deeper emotional issues, but I think kids of that age are very aware of their friendshops, of being included or left out, of being pressured into stuff they’re not sure about. But there are elements of humour as well – I like to add those touches for contrast.

What Sherryl enjoyed most about writing this book

Sherryl says she really enjoyed discovering who Chris was. I knew Josh right from the beginning – I think I went to school with one or two kids like this for whom the “mask” is everything. Their image (even in Grade 6) is paramount, and their need for friends overrides everything else. But Chris has gone inside himself, through grief, and he doesn’t even really understand what that means. He just knows he’s hurting, so it was up to me to draw him out and find out who he was and how he could begin to heal.

The hardest part about writing this book was the climax, where Chris confronts Josh. He has to decide what’s most important – his pride, or forgiveness. I rewrote those poems many times.

More about Sherryl

Sherryl will be back at Kids’ Book Capers on Wednesday and Friday to talk about her newest books, Now I am Bigger and One Perfect Pirouette.

Sherryl’s website is at http://www.sherrylclark.com/ — her blog is at http://www.sherrylclark.blogspot.com/
Check out her new site at http://www.poetry4kids.net – it’s all about poetry for kids!

She also has a new Littlest Pirate web page at http://www.sherrylclark.com/LittlestPirate/littlestpirate.html




FRIDAY BOOK FEATURE – PUGGLE AND HIS CREATOR

Picture book author Catriona Hoy has always loved writing.

I wrote lots of bad poetry as a teenager, filled with angst, and dreamt of being a songwriter. I didn’t’ see writing as a career though and did a science degree at university. I did a lot of writing as a teacher, designing units etc which was probably good training. But it was a bottle of red wine and a conversation with a friend which began …’if you had your life over, what would you be?’ She’d wanted to be an artist and I’d wanted to be a writer. She’s now just put on her first exhibition of textile art and it is stunning.

My friend gave me the courage to try my hand at writing picture books. I had my share of rejections and made cringeworthy mistakes but at each bump in the road, I kept going. Thankfully my book The Music Tree landed on the right editors desk at the right time and went on to become a CBC notable book for  2006.

What inspired you to write Puggle?

I visited the home of some wildlife carers a few years ago. It was a great experience as every room of their house held baby animals or injured animals being nursed back to health. These wildlife carers were volunteers and cared for and fed the animals until they were strong enough to be released. It was their sheer dedication that inspired me. My children got to feed a baby wallaby from a bottle, hold snakes and squashed flies to baby birds.

What’s it about?

Puggle is the story of one of the animals living in this amazing home in the bush. A puggle is the name for a baby echidna.  Because they are so slow, echidnas are in danger when they cross roads. Puggle’s mother had been killed accidentally but Puggle had been saved and brought around to the home of these wildlife carers. He lived in a woolen beanie when I visited him. The story is about how he learns the skills necessary to survive before he can return to the wild. There are some other lovely animals in there too.

What appealed to you about Puggle?

For me, it was the sheer vulnerability of Puggle when I first met him, like most babies. He was pale, grey and completely helpless. I thought he looked a bit like a chicken fillet with the skin on…same texture! And of course I loved the name. When Sue told me his name was ‘Puggle’ and that he actually was a ‘Puggle’ my eyes lit up and the idea for the story took root. I kept in touch with Helen and Sue, his carers, to find out how Puggle progressed and there was that little bit of tension about whether or not he would grow up and become strong and healthy enough to return to the wild.

On my website www.catrionahoy.com.au/htm/puggle I have also listed a number of websites which link to information which can be used by classes as part of research work, including the Pelican Bay Echidna Research Centre on Kangaroo Island.

Even better, there are some great pictures of Puggle, starting from the day he first arrived up until he was fully grown and ready to return to the wild.

How did the pictures fit in with your idea of the book?

I think Andrew Plant’s illustrations are fantastic. He has a real love of animals and the bush and his zoology training means that all the drawings are realistic. However, this doesn’t mean they aren’t also incredibly cute. I was overseas when I saw the proofs for the book and they made me feel incredibly homesick. I swear I could smell gum trees and dry dusty bark and leaves coming from the page. The colours too were also so, well, Australian!

More about Puggle is available on Catriona’s website www.catrionahoy.com.au/htm/puggle


PICTURE BOOK FEST DAY 2 – MEET TRUDIE TREWIN

Trudie Trewin is the author of I Lost My Kisses and Wibbly Wobbly Street.

  • She grew up on a farm in South Australia, but says,
  • my outdoor play time was hampered by a condition which left me unable to cope with cold weather – known as ‘Acute Sookie-la-la syndrome’. But don’t worry – having that syndrome had two great outcomes on my life. Number 1… spending half of Autumn and Spring, and the entire Winter inside meant I developed a love of reading. And number 2… it meant I eventually moved to beautiful warm Far North Queensland, where I still live with my husband, three sons and a wardrobe full of shorts and singlets!

Trudie’s acclaimed picture book, I Lost My Kisses is about an adorable cow called Matilda Rose who is worried she has lost her kisses

Matilda Rose loved to kiss. She kissed hello. She kissed goodbye. She kissed good morning and she kissed good night. But one day something went terribly, horribly wrong.

Matilda’s poppa is coming for a visit and the first thing he always wants is a big kiss from Matilda – but she has lot her kisses! Matilda’s mother says they’ll be there when she needs them, but Matilda is not so sure. She sets out to find them, the only trouble is… what do kisses look like?

Nick Bland’s soft illustrations complement the gentle text and it’s no wonder I Lost My Kisses won the 2008 National parenting Publication Award.

So, how did Trudie become an author?

When I left work to have our third son, making it 3 under 3 ½, I joked that I might write a book in my newfound spare time. I actually meant adult fiction, but a workmate assumed I meant children’s books. It planted a seed in my mind, so I enrolled in a course in children’s writing, fell in love with it, and voilà, as they say.

Yeah, embrace your peculiarities. Life’s pretty straight without a wibble or two!

Trudie Trewin’s latest picture book Wibbly Wobbly Street is about the only street in Squareton that’s not straight and smooth and wide. Its non-conformity, and the peculiarities of its residents lead Mayor Angle and his fellow councilors to take some radical action to try and bring it into line with the rest of Squareton.

It’s another book full of quirky gentle humour and a strong theme that it’s okay to be different.

On Friday we’re featuring Catriona Hoy, author of Daddies, Mummies Are Amazing and My Grandad Marches on Anzac Day

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.

PRINCESS CLOWN – FRIDAY BOOK FEATURE

Princess Belle stepped forward and curtsied to the royal guests.

The King said, “This is my daughter, Princess Belle.”

The King of Danzania held out his hand. Forgetting she was wearing a clown trick ring, Belle shook his hand.

A zing of electricity buzzed from the ring …

Princess Clown is the new book from author Sheryl Gwyther and there’s not a dinosaur in sight (see Secrets of Eromanga).

Princess Clown is for younger readers and stars the quirky and talented Princess Belle who has aspirations to be a clown and her antics ensure that there is never a dull moment around the palace.

Not surprisingly, Princess Belle’s zest for fun doesn’t always meet with the King and Queen’s approval and causes a number of disasters in the kitchen, the school room and pretty much everywhere.

Not to be deterred, Princess Belle keeps on with her quirky and clowning ways.

When the King and Queen of Danzania come to visit with their son, Alan it looks as if Belle is headed for disaster again, but this time her merriment could just be what’s needed for the unhappy prince.

Maybe it is possible to be a princess and a clown after all.

Princess Clown is a chapter book for 7 to 8 year-olds and they will certainly be engaged by Sian Naylor’s colourful illustrations and Sheryl’s active humorous text.

The book idea came from a writing challenge the author set herself to put two words that didn’t match together, and try to write a story about them.

Sheryl says, I picked clown and princess. Before you could say ALLIBALLOO, out sprang Belle, a princess who would much rather be a clown.

The texture and brightness of the silver foil inlaid cover is bound to attract young readers’ attention and as well as being full of fun and colour, Princess Clown carries a strong theme of follow your dream no matter what.

Princess Clown is published by Blake Publishing as part of their Gigglers Blue fiction series of eight books. Princess Clown can be purchased from http://www.blake.com.au/Gigglers-Blue-2-Princess-Clown-p/9781741646481.htm

ARNIE AVERY

Today Sue Walker is back at Kids’ Book Capers to talk about how she wrote her new junior fiction book, Arnie Avery.

Sue, can you tell us what your new book is about?

Arnie Avery is about your typical 13 year old boy.  He has a sense of humour, he likes riding his bike, and he likes being with his friends.  But he also has a few serious problems – one is his family, and the other is the school bully, Jacko.

I think the story demonstrates that no matter how tough things might seem…you can turn your life around.

What age groups is it for?

The story is suitable for children 8-12 years, but the content and style would also be appropriate for older, reluctant readers.

Why will kids like it?

I think kids (particularly boys) enjoy stories with action and characters they can relate to.  Arnie Avery has both, as well as a sprinkling of humour and a couple of twists that should keep kids reading.  Plus there’s a mix of strong male and female characters.

What do you like about your main character, Arnie?

13 year old Arnie is funny and he’s small for his age, but what I like most about him is his courage. Even though he’s going through a tough time, he overcomes his fears to triumph in the end.

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

Yes.  Teachers can find notes on the Walker Books website (www.walkerbooks.com.au/Teachers/Classroom-Ideas).

Some important themes and values in Arnie Avery include – treating people fairly, friendship and loyalty, and family support.


Is there something that sets this book apart from others?

Arnie’s distinctive voice speaks directly to young readers and kids will quickly be drawn into his world.

The problems Arnie faces are serious, but he tackles them head-on with a strength kids will admire.

What did you enjoy most about writing this book?

The thing I enjoyed most was developing the relationship between Arnie and his best friend Belly.

They’re great mates and they made me laugh often, especially Belly with his huge appetite.

Sue Walker has written almost twenty books for children. You can find out more about Sue and her books at www.suewalkerauthor.com

ALWAYS A WRITER – MEET SUE WALKER

Sue Walker is the author of numerous titles for children. Her book Tilly’s Treasure is part of the award-winning Aussie Nibbles series, and Best Friends is a Children’s Book Council Notable Book.

Many of Sue’s poems, articles, and short stories have appeared in children’s magazines, and her books have featured in the Premier’s Reading Challenge.  Sue lives in Sydney with her husband, three children, and a scruffy white dog.

Some writers are born, others don’t discover they are writers until later in life.

Sue Walker is one of those people who has ‘always been a writer.

As a child I kept a journal and I loved writing letters to friends, but it wasn’t until I had children and was reintroduced to children’s books, that I started taking writing seriously.

Initially I was drawn to picture books because of their combination of rhythmic language and beautiful illustrations.  They’re still my focus, but I’ve written chapter books, non-fiction, and more recently, a junior novel.

Sue’s favourite books as a child were ones about children who went on exciting adventures. She has been on many adventures herself including climbing the world’s highest mountain and diving in the ocean with sharks. But Sue says,

The most exciting thing I’ve ever done is writing stories for children.

Like many writers, Sue had a number of jobs  before she became an author. She says her first job was horrid, working at a cemetery, making labels to put on boxes of ashes.

Sue’s junior novel, Arnie Avery was released by Walker Books this month. Although she is the author of around 20 books, she says that Arnie Avery holds a special place in her heart.

Little snippets of my own childhood seem to have found their way into Arnie’s story.  An important scene at the pool came from my past, but I don’t want to give too much away.

Sue spent some time in Malaysia as a child and went to preschool on the edge of a jungle. At lunch time she used to watch the monkeys swinging in the trees. Later, when the family moved to Goulburn in NSW she spent a lot of time exploring the bush with her brother and sister and their dog, Mitzie. Clearly she has always been a writer and an adventurer at heart.

On Wednesday, Sue is coming back to Kids’ Book Capers to talk about her new junior fiction novel Arnie Avery. She’ll talk about the inspiration behind her book and what she enjoyed most about writing it.

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.

ALEX RIDER MEETS THE BOOK CHOOK

When the first Alex Rider book came out ten years ago, it became a global bestseller. The reluctant teenage superspy was credited with helping to cure many reluctant readers. Alex Rider and his exploits turned a whole generation of teenage boys onto reading for pleasure.

Today The Book Chook is visiting Kids’ Book Capers to talk about the importance of literacy and why the Alex Rider books have been so effective in getting kids to read. But first of all, she’s going to talk a bit about what she does.

Can you give us a bit of background about why you set up The Book Chook blog and established your e-zine, Literacy Lava? What is Literacy Lava and where can people get it?
http://www.thebookchook.com is The Book Chook blog,

I set up The Book Chook blog because I was getting closer to my goal of becoming a children’s writer (or so I thought!) and I knew I needed an online presence. However, it didn’t make much sense for me to blog about children’s writing when my only published credits were in travel magazines.

I read an article that suggested  bloggers find their passion and write about that. I have many passions, but the one that was closest to writing was children’s literature and literacy. I began writing children’s book reviews and bringing parents tips and ideas to help with kids’ learning.

Literacy Lava grew from my desire to reach more people with my message about encouraging kids to read, write and communicate with creativity. I have an amazing group of contributors who come from different backgrounds, but who all share my passion and are keen to reach out to parents and teachers.

The fifth issue of Literacy Lava a has just been published, and is now available for download from Susan’s website.

You are a passionate advocate of literacy, can you tell us why you think it’s so important?

I think literacy is the magical key to children’s future success. If children love to read, write and communicate, they have the building blocks they need for future learning. Literacy impacts all other subjects. Being able to read not only helps kids learn, it allows them access to other people’s dreams and fuels their own dreams.

I believe our society needs dreamers – people who can think creatively and come up with solutions to some of the problems that beset us.

Where does this passion for literacy come from? Is it a professional or a personal thing or both?

I taught in Primary schools in NSW for 25 years, and I taught ESL in China. I loved both jobs, especially being able to share my love of books, poetry and drama. Before that, I was a reader/writer/communicator, often found perched in the Jacaranda tree with my nose in a book, or bossing the neighbourhood kids into staging Robin Hood among the gum trees. So both personal and professional I guess.

The Alex Rider books have sold over twelve million copies worldwide and been translated into 28 languages.

Why do you think Alex’s reluctant teenage superspy character appeals to so many readers?

Alex Rider is not only who we want to be, he’s real enough to almost be who we are. I think Horowitz gets it exactly right with Alex.

Alex Rider has a lot of ingenious gadgets. Do you think this is part of his appeal for readers?

Absolutely! Aren’t we all fascinated by how things work, inventions, technology? I know I am.

Next week at Kids’ Book Capers, The Book Chook will be back for an in depth look at why Alex Rider has been so successful in encouraging boys to read. There will also be a review of Crocodile Tears by Lachlan aged 12.

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

WE HAVE TWO COMPLETE SETS OF ALEX RIDER BOOKS TO GIVE AWAY PLUS OTHER PRIZES. GET YOUR ENTRY IN TODAY!

THE ALEX RIDER PHENOMENON – GADGETS AND VILLAINS

Today we continue our series of posts about Alex Rider, the superspy who has enthralled millions of readers worldwide.

Alex’s creator, Anthony Horowitz chose to write about a teen supe spy because:

“I genuinely think that 14-year-olds are the coolest people on the planet. It’s this wonderful, golden age, just on the cusp of manhood when everything seems possible.”

As my own son approaches this ‘golden’ age, I have to agree with Horowitz that it’s a special time. I also feel a certain sadness for Alex that he is alone without parents to love and guide him through this important stage in his life.

But this feeling doesn’t last. The Alex Rider books are so full of vitality and action that it’s hard to feel sorry for the teen superspy for long.

THE VILLAINS

Alex Rider faces some formidable foes, but Horowitz has equipped him with the technology and the talents to defeat the most vile villains:

1.  Herod Sayle (Stormbreaker) – A wealthy computer genius seeking revenge on a childhood bully.

2.  Dr Grief (Point Blanc) – An evil mad scientist with plans to take over the world.

3.   Colonel Sarov (Skeleton Key) – A man who wants to bring back communism to ‘save’ his country and the world.

4.  Damian Cray( Eagle Strike) – An insane anti-drugs campaigner.

5.  Julia Rothman (Scorpia) – The ruthless head of a secret organization.

6.  Nikolei Drevin (Ark Angel) – A major criminal with big plans

7.  Major Winston Yu (Snakehead) – A man with major plans to disrupt a peace conference.

8.  Desmond McCain (Crocodile Tears) – Some people will do anything for money.

Anthony Horowitz says that the inspiration for his villains comes from people he reads about in newspapers. And of course many of these bad guys and girls have access to the latest technology.

WE HAVE THE TECHNOLOGY

I’m convinced that technology is part of the appeal of the Alex Rider books. Apart from the gadgets, there are guns, bombs, Geiger counters, cars, planes and rockets. In many of the books there is also a healthy dose of science.

Horowitz has this to say about his technology:

In Stormbreaker, it’s computer technology. That’s followed by cloning technology in Point Blanc. Scorpia looks at the extraordinary world of nanotechnology, particles so tiny that you could fit a million of them on the dot of this i. When I wrote Snakehead I had to dip my toe into the science of meteorology and the way tsunamis are formed. An in Ark Angel, of course Alex finds himself heading for outer space.

It seems there’s nowhere Alex won’t go and nothing he can’t conquer. I for one am looking forward to reading his ninth adventure, due in 2011.

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

THERE ARE TWO COMPLETE SETS OF ALEX RIDER BOOKS TO BE WON!

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.

TOM TALKS ABOUT ALEX RIDER


Today, we are pleased to welcome 12-year-old Tom to Kids’ Book Capers to tell us why he is such a big fan of the Alex Rider books.

Tom, what did you like about these books?

They were interesting and hard to put down. There was so much action and there were all these different bits of information that fitted together in the end.

Which one of the Alex Rider Books is your favourite?

I really liked Point Blanc.

Can you tell us about this book and why it’s your favourite?

In Point Blanc, Alex Rider is captured and stuck in the mountains and he has to escape. The setting was good and it had a good storyline.

Besides the action, what else do you like about the Alex Rider books?

I like the gadgets that Alex Rider takes on his missions. And I like Alex Rider’s character. He is brave and unique because most kids would jump at being a spy but he just wants to go back to his normal life.

Would you like to be Alex Rider?

Probably not because he gets in so many life and death situations and he is a potential target for kidnapping and assassination and he gets put in a lot of pain.

Also, the training is pretty grueling and challenging.

Is there anything else you’d like to tell us about the Alex Rider books?

After I’d read the first one, I wanted to read the next one straight away. The books kept me interested because they were really unpredictable and I never knew what was going to happen next.

Also, I think it’s much better to read them in order because he often reflects back on things that have happened in other books.

Thanks for joining us here at Kids’ Book Capers, Tom. You’ll be pleased to know that Anthony Horwitz is currently working on the ninth Alex Rider adventure and that should be coming out next year.

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

ANTHONY HOROWITZ – THE STORY BEHIND THE ALEX RIDER STORIES

In the ten years since the first Alex Rider book appeared on our bookshelves, there have been over 12 million sales around the world.

To celebrate 10 years of the Alex Rider phenomenon, Kids’ Book Capers is having a three week celebration where we’ll be looking in depth at the books and the man behind them.

Today, our first post looks at the inspiration for the Alex Rider stories.

Anthony Horowitz admits to being an avid James Bond fan and says he used to queue for hours in the rain to be the first one to see the latest James Bond Movie. When he was bored at school, he used to relive the most exciting moments from the James Bond films.

He says,

“These were the dreams that sustained me through maths, physics, chemistry and all the other subjects at which I was no good at all. I used to build secret drawers in the bottom of matchboxes and fill them with tiny bits & pieces, badly glued together. My imagination would then turn them into super-weapons…”

He discovered the James Bond books when he was 12 and read them over and over again. Horowitz says that when he became a scriptwriter some years later, he had a secret dream to write a James Bond movie. After a disastrous interview with a movie producer, he decided that one day he would create his own James Bond.

After he’d finished writing his book The Switch, he started to toy with the idea of creating a new sort of hero.

A boy who lived in the real world, who went to comprehensive school, who didn’t want to be a hero but would survive – just – a series of ever darker adventures.

He wanted his books to remind people of Ian Fleming’s James Bond stories without actually stealing from them.

Horowitz says,

“So even as I started work on the first book, I made conscious decisions. James Bond was a patriot who enjoyed working for the Secret Service. My hero would be recruited against his will and wouldn’t trust the people he worked for. There would be no gadgets. Alex would never have a gun.”

But Horowitz says he was forced to revise his ‘no gadgets’ policy after several school visits.

Every one I spoke to wanted gadgets. More than that – they expected gadgets.

Giving Alex Rider gadgets has been one of the most challenging parts of the writing process for Horowitz. He is adamant that they must be realistic and says,

They always have to be concealed in items that you would expect to find in the pocket of an average fourteen-year-old and, when you really think about it, that rather narrows the field.

And unlike James Bond, Alex Rider’s gadgets have to be non lethal. They have to be life saving but surprising.

With their superspy themes and action adventure, it’s not surprising that the Alex Rider books are sometimes compared to James Bond’s adventures.

But according to Horowitz,

At the end of the day, the most important thing for me is to be original. When it comes to thinking up the stories, creating the characters, devising the action sequences and chases, my first question is always – did Bond do it? And if the answer is yes, then sadly I have to think of something else.

The Alex Rider adventures have been translated into 28 languages and several are now available as state-of-the-art graphic novels. The latest best selling title in the sequence, Crocodile Tears, was simultaneously published as a traditional book, an e-book and an iPhone application.

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

ALEX RIDER PROMOTION STARTS TODAY!

Today at Kids’ Book Capers we start three weeks of celebrations for super spy Alex Rider’s ten years in print.

Thanks to our friends at Walker Books we have some fabulous prizes to give away.

From now until 11th June, we’ve got some great posts happening here.

Learn about Alex Rider’s life saving gadgets, and the villains who are out to destroy him. Find out about Anthony Horowitz, the man behind the Alex Rider phenomenon.

We’re also talking with literacy expert, The Book Chook on how Alex Rider got boys reading, and we’ve got some interviews and reviews with Alex Rider fans.

Here’s what to expect:

24th May 2010 ANTHONY HOROWITZ – The story behind the stories – where the inspiration for the Alex Rider books came from.
26th May 2010 Interview with Tom 13 about the Alex Rider Books
31st May 2010 ABOUT THE ALEX RIDER PHENOMENON – The villains and the technology
2nd June 2010 LITERACY AND ALEX RIDER PART 1 – MEET THE BOOK CHOOK
7th June 2010 LITERACY AND ALEX RIDER PART 2 – WHY ALEX RIDER GETS BOYS READING

A review of Crocodile Tears by Lachlan aged 12

9th June 2010 Interview with George 15 about the Alex Rider Books and review of Stormbreaker by John 14

*  *  *  TOMORROW AT KIDS’ BOOK CAPERS WE LOOK AT ANTHONY HOROWITZ – THE MAN BEHIND THE ALEX RIDER PHENOMENON!

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

TWO COMPLETE SETS OF THE ALEX RIDER BOOKS TO BE WON!

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.

FLAME STANDS WAITING

Flame Stands Waiting is a beautiful new picture book written by Corinne Fenton and illustrated by Sebastian Ciaffaglione.

This moving story is for four-year-olds and upwards. It’s about Flame, a golden carousel horse with a sad heart.

Unlike the other horses, who are designed to move up and down, Flame was built to stand still. The children choose to ride on the turning, dancing horses and Flame is left waiting. Until one day, a little girl who has always dreamed of riding the beautiful horses comes to ride the carousel…

Author, Corinne Fenton says, Flame Stands Waiting is about wanting something enough to make it real – and believing in your dreams.

She hopes that Flame Stands Waiting will

help younger readers see the power of imagination and grandparents will be reminded of their own childhoods and be caught up in the magic.

I asked Corinne to tell me about the writing process.

Where did the inspiration for Flame Stands Waiting come from?

Way before I ever had Queenie published and certainly before The Dog on the Tuckerbox, I had started Flame. One day my mother said to me, ‘You know the first thing your grandmother wanted to do when she moved to Melbourne (from Tasmania) was to ride the carousel at Luna Park.’  So, Flame began.

Why is Flame unique?

Flame is different from the other horses because he cannot move – but although his heart is sad, it is strong.

What did you enjoy most about writing Flame Stands Waiting?

I enjoyed finding the most perfect words.

What was the hardest thing about writing this book?

The rewrites and the waiting.

“Wanting something enough to make it real – and believing in your dreams” is what turns would-be writers into authors according to Corinne.

I became an author through sheer dogged, persistence – and some luck thrown in as well. The hardest part is continuing to believe in yourself, against all odds.

Corinne’s tip for new writers is

Believe in yourself and if you be persistent you’ll get where you want to go.

If you love writing, just get on with it. If you have something to say, a story to tell, you’ll find a way to do it, no matter what you’re up against.

Corinne is also the author of Queenie-One Elephant’s Story and The Dog on the Tuckerbox. Her books are a blend of social history and beautiful storytelling.

Flame Stands Waiting is published by Black Dog Books, and readers who enjoy Corinne’s books will be pleased to know that she has another five picture books and a junior novel in progress.

THE BOOK CUPBOARD

A few weeks back I finished a May Gibbs Fellowship*, a creative time residency organized by the May Gibbs’ Literature Trust. It’s for children’s authors and illustrators, and during the Fellowship you get to spend ONE WHOLE MONTH away from home writing (or illustrating). One whole month without school lunches, sport’s training, dentists, vets, committee meetings, and the list goes on.

Of course I missed my family desperately, but I can’t tell you how wonderful it was to have 16 to 18 hours a day to dream, plot and write – and of course READ!

I managed to finish writing an entire first draft of a new YA novel while I was there, blogged regularly, came up with a new book idea, and a name for another book – and of course READ. I also did eleven workshops at the State Library of Queensland, working with school groups, showing kids from years 5 to 10 how to develop heroes and villains for their stories.

All in all an amazing experience, but there’s more.  May Gibbs Fellows who stay in the apartment, leave at least one of their books behind in a special locked cupboard.

Opening the door was like going into a magical world, going back in time, back to when the authors and illustrators were in this very room creating many of the books that were now in the cupboard. It was inspirational to reflect on their experiences and enjoy reading some of the published works that had resulted from their Fellowships.

The varied collection included:

nudes & nikes by Dyan Blacklock

The Tuckshop Kid by Pat Flynn

By Jingo! by Janeen Brian and Dee Huxley

Hungry Ghosts by Sally Heinrich

A Matter of Cats by Elizabeth Hutchins

Something More by Mo Johnson

Boofheads by Mo Johnson

Outback Countout by Norah Kersh

Muck-Up Day by Ruth Starke

Nips X1 by Ruth Starke

The Garden of Empress Cassia by Gabrielle Wang

Little Paradise by Gabrielle Wang

Coincidentally, Little Paradise was the book that Gabrielle worked on two years ago for her May Gibbs Fellowship, and it was launched the day I started my Fellowship in Brisbane.

Exploring the world and works of these authors made me feel like a small child again, and I wondered if perhaps a book chest, secret book cupboard or even a book treasure hunt might be a way to inspire young readers around the home. It worked for me.

Dee

*Anyone interested in doing a May Gibbs Creative  Time Residency Fellowship can find out more information here: http://maygibbs.org.au/creative-time-fellowships/creative-time-fellowships/

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.

THE STORY BEHIND THE WILDKIN’S CURSE

Today, we welcome Kate Forsyth back to Kids’ Book Capers to talk about the inspiration behind her compelling new book, The Wildkin’s Curse.

Morning, Kate. Can you tell us what inspired you to write this book?

With some books, you know exactly where you were when the first seed of a novel takes root in your imagination. For The Wildkin’s Curse, this moment of inspiration or epiphany happened during the writing of The Starthorn Tree, which was my first children’s book. What I wanted to do with The Starthorn Tree was write the kind of book that had so enchanted me as a child, a book filled with a sense of wonder and beauty and peril.

I wanted a fairytale quality, that sense that anything can happen. I deliberately set out to write a book that used fairytale motifs, like the sleeping princess, the poisoned apple, the dark and perilous forest …. yet I turned those motifs upside-down and inside-out. So, in The Starthorn Tree, it is the young count of Estelliana who lies in an enchanted sleep and his sister who sets out on a quest to find the way to waken him.

As anyone who has read any of my work knows, I love puzzles and prophecies and so, in The Starthorn Tree, I have a boy character called Durrik who ‘hears’ voices in his head and is compelled to speak what they tell him, no matter the consequences. Towards the end of The Starthorn Tree Durrik utters a prophecy of the future that begins ‘three times a babe shall be born, between star-crowned and iron-bound …’ which intimated that there would be other children born in the future who would carry on the fight begun by the heroes of The Starthorn Tree.

Well, I had never planned this prophecy. I had never planned for there to be two more books set in the world of Estelliana. I had thought I was writing a stand-alone novel.  Yet Durrik just opened his mouth one day and spoke the prophecy, nearly exactly as it appears in the book, and all I did was write it down. It was one of those magical writing days when it feels like you are just a scribe, writing down the story as it is told to you by some higher power.
In that moment I knew that I needed to write two more books set in this world. I scribbled a note to myself that day – ‘a quest to save a wildkin princess held captive in a crystal tower’ – then went on writing my chapter. That’s all I had – a single sentence – but it is the very first seed of the book that became The Wildkin’s Curse. A companion book to The Starthorn Tree, it takes place about twenty years later and features the children of the heroes of The Starthorn Tree.

Who are your main characters in The Wildkin’s Curse?

I have three main characters. Zedrin is a starkin lord and heir to the Castle of Estelliana. He is tall, handsome, strong and destined for great things (or so he thinks).

Merry is his best friend, and the son of the hearthkin’s rebel leader. He has been brought up to fight, even though all he wants to do is write music and play his lute.

Liliana is a wildkin and has her own uncanny magical gifts. Time-honoured enemies, these three must somehow overcome their differences if they are to succeed on their mission …

Is there something that sets this book apart from others?

I like to think it’ll be a breath of fresh air after the preponderance of gloomy, angsty paranormal romances clogging the bookshelves at the moment.


What did you enjoy most about writing this book?

It was wonderful to return to the world of Estelliana! I felt like I was returning home. The Starthorn Tree is one of my all-time favourites of my own books and so I was glad to be back in its world, seeing what happened to the people who lived there and exploring new lands and  new adventures.

What was the hardest thing about writing this book?

The final climactic scenes were hard to write, but then they usually are – I want to tie all the threads together; I want to make sure all my villains are justly dealt with;  I want some cost to my heroes’ triumph;  I want to leave my reader with that sigh and the sting of tears that comes at the end of a really satisfying book. Big ambitions, hard to do!

The Wildkin’s Curse is a story of magic, adventure and suspense for readers aged 12 and older.

Thanks so much Kate for taking time out of your very busy schedule to visit us at Kids’ Book Capers.

Dee

BORN STORYTELLER – KATE FORSYTH

Author Kate Forsyth is visiting Kids’ Book Capers today to talk about her writing journey.

As Kate explains, she comes from a long line of storytellers.

My great-great-great-great-great-grandmother wrote the first children’s book published in Australia. Called ‘A Mother’s Offering to Her Children by a Lady Long Resident in New South Wales’, first editions are now worth $50,000 and no, I don’t have one! Maybe one day … Her daughter, Louise Atkinson, and my great-great-great-great-aunt, was Australia’s first Australian-born novelist. There have been all kinds of writers in the family since, and both my sister, Belinda Murrell, and my brother, Nick Humphrey, are published authors.

How did you become a writer?

I’ve wanted to be a writer, for as long as I can remember. I wrote poems and stories from the time I first held a pencil, then wrote my first novel when I was seven. I haven’t stopped since. As soon as I finish one book, I’m already daydreaming about the next. My first novel Dragonclaw was published when I was 30 so it seemed to me to take a very long time to get published, though everyone kept exclaiming how young I was!

I was lucky enough that Dragonclaw went on to become a bestseller both here and overseas, and so I’ve been able to write full-time ever since (13 years now!) I’ve written more than 20 books, ranging from picture books to books for children and young adults to adult novels, plus a collection of poetry. I feel so blessed that my lifelong dream has come true!

Do your books have any consistent themes/symbols/locations. If so, what are they?

Absolutely! I’ve come to realise that the deep, underlying theme to my books is nearly always the importance of connection between people – the importance of human love in all its forms. One of my all-time favourite epigraphs is ‘only connect” from E.M. Forster’s ‘Howard’s End’ – I want to paint it above my desk.

How many books have you had published?

The Wildkin’s Curse is my 23rd book.

What are you working on now?

The third book in the Chronicles of Estelliana, to be called ‘The Starkin Crown’. In that book, my hero Peregrine is the grandson of two of the main characters in ‘The Starthorn Tree’. It is the culmination of that day, during the writing of ‘The Starthorn Tree’ when Durrik opened his mouth and made a prophecy and all I could do was write down what he said in amazement and wonder.

Kate’s coming back to Kids’ Book Capers on Wednesday to talk about her beautiful new book, The Wildkin’s Curse.

So what’s your new book about, Kate?

The Wildkin’s Curse is a tale of true love and high adventure, set in a world of magic and monsters, valiant heroes and wicked villains. It tells the story of two boys and a girl who undertake the impossible task of rescuing a wildkin princess imprisoned in a crystal tower. Princess Rozalina has the power to enchant with words. She can conjure up a plague of rats, wish the dead out of their graves, and change people’s hearts and minds with her stories. As much a curse as a gift, her magic will be used for evil by the ruling starkin if she is not set free and taught to use her powers wisely.

On Wednesday Kate’s going to talk at Kids’ Book Capers about the inspiration behind her new book and how it all came together.

Kate is also appearing at Tuesday Writing Tips http://deescribewriting.wordpress.com  tomorrow where she’ll be discussing To Plot or Not to Plot.

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

THE FORD STREET PUBLISHING STORY

Today, Paul Collins is back at Kid’s Book Capers wearing his publisher’s hat.

Paul, can you tell us about your journey as a publisher?

I self-published my first novel in the 70s, then a magazine called Void. By the early 80s I was publishing Australia’s first heroic/epic fantasy novels. In those days the major publishers didn’t distribute small presses, so we were forced to use minor distributors. In 2006, Macmillan Distribution Services agreed to distribute my books. I’ve returned to what I love doing: publishing.

Paul, you are the publisher at Ford Street Publishing. What type of books does Ford Street publish?

I like issues-based novels, like Big and Me (mental health); My Private Pectus (male body image); They Told Me I Had To Write This (wayward youth); f2m (transgender). All of these have been good performers for Ford Street, yet rejected by major publishers.

The Star, by Felicity Marshall was rejected by leading, well-regarded editors, yet it has just sold 4000 copies to a book club and is set to be Ford Street’s best-seller.

What do you enjoy most about being a publisher?

When I write a novel, I’m at the mercy of a publisher. I’ve had a manuscript with HarperCollins since mid last year, and I’ve still not had an answer. I hate to think what’s happening to lesser-known authors who have their MS sitting in slush piles around the country.

With publishing, I’m in control. I don’t rely on anyone. I can orchestrate my business practices as I see fit, and I hope there’s not a person who can say I’ve not treated them fairly. Ford Street’s best-selling books were all rejected by major publishers, so it’s a thrill to see them shine.

What’s the hardest part about being a publisher?

Although I have Macmillan distributing my books, not all booksellers stock Ford Street titles. No matter how good a book is, if it’s not in the shops it’s not going to sell. I have books that have been short-listed by the NSW, VIC Premiers’ awards, and the NT Read Award, yet the books were never really in the shops. The books aren’t reaching their full potential, and this isn’t the fault of the author or the publisher.

What are some of Ford Street’s greatest achievements?

Getting short-listed for major awards; selling foreign rights; selling big numbers to a book club and in 99% of cases, getting fantastic reviews. One title, Solace & Grief by Foz Meadows, is currently going gang-busters. I’m looking forward to publishing book #2 in the trilogy.

How do you help authors promote their work?

Ford Street authors are well represented in kid lit magazines/journals like Viewpoint, Magpies, SCAN, SAETA, Reading Time, Junior Bookseller and Publisher, OzKids in Print, etc. I also promote them heavily online with guest blogs, interviews and reviews. Whereas major publishers might send out 30 to 40 review books, I send out up to 80. Consequently, you’ll see a lot of Ford Street books getting reviewed. I also submit most of my titles to awards, and have a presence on facebook and Twitter. Teachers’ Notes and trailers – there’s a stack of way to promote authors. With a small press, every author is on the A-list.

How are publishers like Ford Street going to be affected by the evolving print publishing industry?

I see a time in the not-so-distant future, when print publishing will be dominated by small presses. Sales are definitely declining, and I don’t think they can sustain bigger publishing houses that have huge overheads. I like the fact that I’m in on what I think is the ground floor of print publishing’s future.

Thanks so much for visiting us, Paul. Between your writing and publishing you must be very busy, so I really appreciate the time you have taken to chat with me at Kids’ Book Capers. I look forward to reading more of your books and future Ford Street titles.

Dee

FRIDAY BOOK FEATURE STARTS THIS FRIDAY WITH STREETS AND DUCKS

Since we started Kids’ Book Capers, there have been so many interesting things happening on the Kids’ book scene and so many fascinating people to chat to. So we haven’t had time to talk about all the great new releases.

That’s why Kids’ Book Capers will also be blogging on Fridays  with our new Friday Book Feature where we’ll be greeting new arrivals to the book shelves.

To kick things off this Friday we’re going to be talking about Trudie Trewin’s quirky new picture book Wibbly Wobbly Street which has been beautifully illustrated by Cheryl Orsini.

We’ll also be looking at the heartwarming, Duck for a Day written by Meg McKinlay with gorgeous illustrations by Leila Ridge.

Look forward to seeing you then.

Dee

A SLIGHTLY SKEWED INTERVIEW

Paul Collins, author of The Slightly Skewed Life of Toby Chrysler started writing at “age fourteen or thereabouts” and has penned around 130 books.
Paul is visiting Kids’ Book Capers this week to talk about both his writing and publishing journeys. He agreed to answer some “slightly skewed” questions.

Were you a bookworm as a kid?

“Believe it or not I’d only ever read comics – there was never a book in our house. Well . . . one did surface every now and then, a green-spined Penguin mystery. Whenever I stumbled across it I’d idly wonder how it got there.”

So, how did you become a writer?

Obviously not through a passion for reading lol. Paradoxically, I was always reasonably good at spelling and “English Expression” as it was called. My father loved telling stories and jokes. And I was always into comics, notably Ironman, Captain America and Spiderman.


You mostly write fantasy and the occasional science fiction. What inspired you to write
this book?

I loved the idea of writing about a character who muddled his proverbs. I came across malapropisms, which I must confess I was unaware of. On researching the term, I discovered alas I wasn’t going to be the first author to have such a character in a book. How to do it “differently” was the key.

Can you tell us some favourite malapropisms?

Their neighbours are very effluent; the town was flooded and had to be evaporated; decapitated coffee (which a friend reckons is a flat white lol).

What’s The Slightly Skewed Life of Toby Chrysler about?

A kid who has Asperger’s, although that’s not mentioned in the book. Toby runs blindly from pillar to post in a series of improbable situations. There’s mystery, humour, action, and a host of weird characters. Part of it’s based on my childhood – that is, a mother who left the family. I was nine at the time. One reviewer wondered how a mother could leave her child, but hey, it happens!

What age group is it for?

8+ – this age question is subjective. I know 10 year-olds who have read Lord of the Rings.

How have kids responded to it?

A young Gold Creek reviewer said: “My favourite character is Toby because he is so unpredictable. As an easy reading paperback I recommend this book to kids aged 10+.  I just loved the whole book”.

Tell us about Toby?

There’s no deceit about him. If he makes a promise, he sticks to it – a guy you’d trust because he’s incapable of lying.  Toby is a mix of lightning-quick memory and naïve inability to work out what people mean … he is totally oblivious to body language and expression.  I desperately wanted him to sort things out and be happy.

To find out more about Toby’s story, see the book trailer at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lclytl3DB-4


What did you enjoy most about writing this book?

There was no deadline. I wrote in between publishing other authors’ books. And like I said before, I wanted to work with a character using malapropisms, so that was fun. Other minor characters just happened along and I feel they worked out pretty well, too.

What was the hardest thing about writing it?

It has a deceivingly simple plot. But when you dissect it, there are a lot of interwoven intricacies. Even I got confused for a while! There was also a fair bit cut by the editor. I trusted that she made the right decisions. I think that’s the hard bit – writing what you think are good scenes, only to be told by an editor that they have to go.

Thanks for sharing Toby’s fascinating journey with us Paul. Paul will be back on Wednesday wearing his publisher’s hat. Hope you can join us then.

Links:

Teachers notes are available at www.celapenepress.com.au

ReadPlus: http://www.readplus.com.au/blog_detail.php?id=961

GetAheadKids: http://tinyurl.com/yauynvr

The Reading Stack: http://thereadingstack.blogspot.com/

Gold Creek:

Toby:

The Book Chook: http://www.thebookchook.com/2010/03/book-review-slightly-skewed-life-of.html

DIGGING UP DINOSAURS with Sheryl Gwyther

As part of our Dinosaur Week, we’re talking today to author Sheryl Gwyther about how she became a writer, and how she went to an actual dinosaur dig to research her book, Secrets of Eromanga.

Let’s start with your author’s journey, Sheryl.

I’d been crazy about reading books and writing bits and pieces since I was little, but other things got in the way – school, jobs, travel, university, art school. Then one day I knew what I should be doing with my life … writing books for young people.

You’re obviously dedicated to getting the research part right. Where was the dinosaur dig you went on?

It was on a sheep station near Winton, in western Queensland.

Sheryl on the fossil dig

Not only did I have fun digging up pieces of a huge sauropod dinosaur named Elliot, I uncovered the story lurking in my head. That story, with its two inter-weaving narratives, went on to become my first novel, Secrets of Eromanga, an adventure story for 9-12 year olds.

What’s Secrets of Eromanga about?

Twelve-year-old Ellie knows more about Australian dinosaur fossils than how to get friends. But she discovers more than friendship on an outback fossil dig site when she becomes entangled in a web of illegal fossil smuggling. She must find the courage and determination needed to save her friends.

fossilised dinosaur footprints

95 million years separate Ellie and a small ornithopod dinosaur that once lived beside the ancient inland waters of the Eromanga Sea. Both Ellie and the dinosaur face fears and uncertainty of their separate worlds. Time and fate binds them together. Neither can escape that fate.

Can you tell us something you learned about Australian dinosaurs when you were researching this book?

Everyone knows about T-Rex, Brontosaurus and Velociraptor.

Millions of years ago in the Cretaceous period, we had the Aussie versions of Rex, Bronto and Raptor here in Australia.  But they were species unique to this land. They appear in my book.

Teachers’ Notes are available:

View an extract from Secrets of Eromanga at:

What did you enjoy most about writing Secrets of Eromanga?

I enjoy writing stories that are set in modern times but also linking back in the past somehow – like in Secrets of Eromanga. It’s exciting finding out things that weave the past and the present together.

What have you been working on since you finished digging up dinosaurs?

Even though I’m still thrilled at the thought of finding more dinosaur bones, I haven’t written any more about those magnificent creatures.

This year I have more books and a short story coming out. The short story, Corn dolly Dead is in black dog books, Short and Scary anthology.

My chapter book, Princess Clown is out in early May, with Blake Publishing. It’s a funny chapter book about a very determined princess who would much rather make people laugh.

The second book is out in August with Pearson Australia. I had lots of fun writing Charlie and the Red Hot Chilli Pepper. Check out this link for more on these stories:

Sheryl also has a new blog just for kids at

http://sherylgwyther4kids.wordpress.com

Thanks for dropping in for a chat later, Sheryl. Perhaps you might like to come back one day to talk more about how you did your research for Secrets of Eromanga.

Dee

Dinosaur Week at Kids’ Book Capers – DINOSAUR IN THE DARK AGES with Michael Bauer

Hope you enjoy our Dinosaur Week this week at Kids’ Book Capers. We’ll be talking with authors Michael Bauer and Sheryl Gwyther about their action packed adventure dinosaur books for kids.

TODAY – DINOSAUR IN THE DARK AGES

In Michael Bauer’s 2010 CBCA Notable book, Dinosaur Knights, a dinosaur ends up in the Dark Ages when a science experiment goes badly wrong.

Scientists in the future have developed technology  to reach back into the past and draw living things forward in time. They do this by locking onto ‘time fossils’ or ‘time prints’, impressions left by all living things on the fabric of time.

The scientists attempt to pull a dinosaur, Baryonyx Walkeri into their future for scientific research. When the dinosaur is lost during transportation, it turns up in Medieval England where two young brothers Roland and Oswald, and a girl Cristiana have their lives turned upside down.

Today, Michael Bauer is here  to talk about his book and how he wrote it.

Can you tell us about the characters in your story?

Twins Roland and Oswald, and a girl Cristiana are around 13.  Roland, a boy of action and adventure, but few words, longs to be a Knight. His brother Oswald wants to follow in their father’s footsteps and becoming a physician. He doesn’t take life quite as seriously as his brother. Cristiana is the feisty daughter of a local Lord. Against her will she is being made to marry a wealthy landowner almost her father’s age. The dinosaur’s arrival changes everything, particularly for the boys. The local Sheriff is found dead in the nearby forest and the boys’ father is convicted of his murder by corrupt officials. Oswald and Roland along with Cristiana set out to confront the monstrous ‘dragon’ and somehow prove that it is the real culprit.

What do you like about these characters?

They are all different, and even though they have their flaws and weaknesses they show great spirit and courage in tackling the challenges and dangers they must face.

Michael, is it true that you ‘borrowed’ your son’s old Jurassic park T-Rex figurine and his Action Men figures to help you write this book?

Yes it helped me to visualise some of the scenes where Oswald, Roland and Cristiana do battle with the dinosaur. That was fun!

Michael has published five books including Dinosaur Knights (Michael’s other books include The Running Man, Don’t Call Me Ishmael, Ishmael and the Return of the Dugong and You Turkeys). Your books are all quite different from each other. Do they have any common themes?

I think one theme shared by my books is the idea that everyone is different and unique, and that this is a good thing and should be celebrated.

Another one is how we think we know other people but we often judge them mainly on appearance or make assumptions about them with very little evidence or real understanding of them.

I love it when my characters show a side of their character or reveal something about themselves that takes the readers or other characters by surprise and makes them reassess their judgments.

Teacher’s notes for Dinosaur Knights are available at  http://www.scholastic.com.au/schools/curriculum/

pdf/Dinosaur_Knights.pdf

Teacher’s notes for all Michael’s books can be found at http://www.scholastic.com.au/schools/curriculum/

Thanks for dropping in, Michael. I can’t wait to read the new Ishmael Book you’re working on, and your next book, Just a Dog (due out September 2010).

Dee

On Wednesday, author Sheryl Gwyther will tell us how she went on a dinosaur dig to research her book, Secrets of Eromanga.

THE JOURNEY OF PENNI RUSSON’S “LITTLE BIRD”

On Monday, we spoke to author Penni Russon about how she became an author. Today she is going to tell us all about the inspiration behind her award winning book, Little Bird.

Little Bird tells the story of teenager, Ruby-lee who falls in love with the baby she is looking after.

Congratulations Penni on receiving a 2010 CBCA Notable for Little Bird. Can you tell us where the inspiration for this book came from?

I worked in childcare the year after I left school, then as a babysitter all through uni. I had that experience of working with a particular baby who I fell for. It was a physical, almost biological, love (not icky!), which I recognised when I held my own babies years later.

I’d recently done a week of regional touring where I talked to lots of girls who didn’t read. So Ruby-lee lives in an ex-council estate outer suburb of Hobart, and is a non-reader and at one stage her teacher says something along the lines of ‘why are girls like you so determined to oppress yourselves?’, reflecting my own frustration.

Are any of the characters based on real people?

The character of Spence (baby Maisy’s estranged father and a teacher at Ruby-lee’s school) is based on a real person – I was interested in the idea of a teacher who falls for a student, exploring him not as a social pariah or even a dirty old man, but as someone a bit sad and pathetic, though not irredeemable.

Having worked in childcare, you obviously knew a lot about it. Was there any reason you wanted to feature childcare in your book?

I wanted to write about a girl who wants to be a childcarer in recognition of the fantastic young women I worked with, and also the young men and women who have looked after my own kids.

Childcare is a terribly undervalued and underpaid industry, but it also offers amazing opportunities for young women to move up quickly through the ranks, and to travel and support themselves.

Can you tell us about your main character, Ruby-lee?

I love Ruby-lee. I think I love her the most of all my characters. She is flawed – she lets herself be pushed around by big personalities, is too easily impressed, and she has a lazy streak. But though she’s grown up in a culture of not reading (she used to read in primary school but fell out of the habit), she is quick witted and reflective and she actually expresses herself eloquently – she has all this possibility lurking beneath her surface. And she has a really heightened sense of right and wrong, and in the end she starts making decisions that shows she’s in control of her future, she is not just the sum of her past.

How have you used the ‘little bird’ motif in your story?

I wove a thread all the way through the manuscript. In the end the bird represents both Maisy, the baby bird that Ruby-lee must protect, but also Ruby-lee herself, a bird about to spread her wings and leave the nest. It gave the novel a poetic strand it was missing, that delicately wove all the emotional threads of the story and I was very proud of the end result.

It’s always great for readers to find out how their favourite books have been created. Thanks Penni for for sharing the story of Little Bird with us.

Dee

www.pennirusson.com
www.eglantinescake.blogspot.com

AN AUTHOR’S JOURNEY – Penni Russon Shares Her Story

Penni Russon has written seven books including Little Bird for which she has received a 2010 CBCA Notable award. We’re going to feature Little Bird on Kids’ Writing Capers on Wednesday, but today we’re going to talk about Penni, the author.

Penni grew up in Tasmania and says she still considers herself to be a Tasmanian writer.

Penni, can you tell us how your writing career started?

Writing was always something that existed at the periphery of my being, though as a primary school kid I wanted to be a clown, and then an actor.

By the time I started uni it was archaeology that I was interested in.

But really when you connect all those things up what they have in common is storytelling and, for clowning and acting, playfulness.

It also shows I didn’t ever want to be a proper grown up with an office job. I fell out of love with archaeology when I realised it was less about dreaming up stories than it was about verifiable facts. Along the way I always wrote – mostly poetry until my mid twenties when I discovered that I knew how to think in novels.

Was it hard converting storytelling to writing?

The actual becoming a writer seems easy. I finished my BA, thought ‘now what?’ and found the diploma in Professional Writing and Editing at RMIT. I vaguely thought there might be a job in it for me. I developed my writing and rewriting and workshopping skills (alongside some pretty fabulous peers, including one the Alllen & Unwin editor who edited my book, Little Bird.

I also did a work experience placement at Allen & Unwin and when I finished they kept giving me freelance editing work. Then my friend, writer Kirsty Murray, told me ‘they don’t want another editor, they’re waiting for you to write a book.’ So I did. I am very obedient.

What did working as an editor teach you about writing?

Working as a structural editor (reading books and writing big reports on what was working and what wasn’t, highlighting inconsistencies in the plot, or characterisation, asking questions like ‘what’s at stake for the main character?’) had been like an apprenticeship in being a writer, though I learned a lot by writing and rewriting my early novels too.

Do your books have any consistent themes/symbols/locations?

Birds come up a bit, the sea is a big motif for me (growing up on an island). My first three books were set in Tasmania, which I came back to for Little Bird. I am interested in that age where girls come into their power, sexually, but also in terms of understanding their effect on the world around them, their autonomy, their strength… I felt that I mishandled that transition, hurting people in the process. Perhaps that’s why I am so interested in exploring how different girls deal with it.

Thanks for sharing your journey with us, Penni. On Wednesday, Penni is coming back to tell us about how she wrote her award winning Little Bird and where the inspiration come from.

Hope you can join us then.

Dee

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

INSPIRATION MOVES IN MYSTERIOUS WAYS

Today, Australian author, Michael Pryor is here to talk about his latest book, Time of Trial. Michael is the author of 24 books and has another two ‘under construction’. I use this term because Time of Trial is Book 4 in Michael’s Steampunk* series, The Laws of Magic.

Michael Pryor’s Laws of Magic is a six book series with each book standing alone within the sequence.

Michael, can you explain how this works?

Time of Trial, like the others has its own story while moving the overall narrative arc forward.

In this one I wanted to continue to explore the relationship between the characters—especially Aubrey and his mother—while also developing the political and magical intrigue.

Can you tell us what Time of Trial is about?

The Laws of Magic series is about young magical genius, Aubrey Fitzwilliam, in a world rather like ours just before World War 1. Aubrey is involved in espionage, plots and counterplots as Dr Mordecai Tremaine (the disgraced ex-Sorcerer Royal) tries to tip the world into war, for his own purposes.

In Time of Trial Aubrey’s mother, a prominent scientist, is invited to Holmland to a great symposium—but Aubrey is suspicious that this is a plot because Holmland is the main nation hurrying toward war, so he goes with her. Once there, he uncovers a plot to assassinate the heir to the throne of Albion, an outbreak of ghosts and ghost catchers, and various schemes, conspiracies and nefarious plans.

As with the other titles in the series, Time of Trial is a Fantasy/Adventure/Comedy/Romance.

Michael, I know that inspiration can come from strange places, but is it true that a thread from this story was inspired by bird poo?

Yes. Inspiration often comes while I’m researching.

I was reading a book about the invention of modern explosives (dynamite etc) and a chapter was devoted to how the procurement of high quality guano (sea bird droppings) was vital as a trigger for World War 1. I couldn’t resist that and so a whole plot thread was born.

In your books, you like to explore how young people cope in challenging circumstances. What traits have you given your main character, Aubrey Fitzwilliam to help him cope?

He is a highly competent seventeen year old. He’s intelligent, witty, dedicated, imaginative, brave and loyal. He’s also impulsive and sometimes over-confident.

What do you like most about Aubrey?

I like him because he has many sides. He’s not perfect, but he always tries hard to do the right thing. He’s a hero, but not an unblemished one.

TEACHERS NOTES & CURRICULUM RELEVANCE

The House of Legends Kit is a Fantasy Teaching Guide with a special section on Blaze of Glory, the first in the Laws of Magic series:

global/attachments/document/HOL_TeachingSupportKit.pdf

Michael’s books meet Australian Curriculum standards by providing students with an ‘imaginative learning experience’.

Thanks for dropping in, Michael. It has been fascinating hearing about your series.

Michael is currently editing his twenty-fifth book, Moment of Truth while working on number twenty-six, Hour of Need.

Congratulations to Michael whose book, Time of Trial (published by Random House), was a Notable at this year’s 2010 CBCA Awards.

Dee

* Steampunk are books set before the technological age when the main source of power was steam.

INSPIRATION FROM A DROWNING DICTIONARY – Part Two in a profile of Children’s author, Lee Fox

Ginger McFlea Will Not Clean Her Teeth is the book featured in part two of our profile on Australian children’s author, Lee Fox.

Although the inspiration for parts of Ginger’s story also came from exposure to water, Lee Fox explains that it was quite a difference experience from what sparked Ten Little Hermit Crabs.

I  was holidaying in the Northern Territory. While I was writing the first draft for “Teeth”, the rhyming dictionary fell into the crocodile infested river and I had to fish it out with a stick. That’s how choppers became part of the story.

You have said that Ginger is your favourite out of all the characters you have created. Can you tell us why?

I love the look that Mitch Vane has given her. She is strong willed, smart, funny and creative. I like the way that Ginger is smart enough to realise that by doing the right thing she is not losing anything, that in fact she is gaining something important.

Can you tell us about Ginger’s Story?

Ginger McFee refuses to look after her teeth.  They are awful, smelly and full of cavities. It takes a clever doctor and the Tooth Fairy to turn Ginger’s attitude around.

What did you enjoy most about writing Ginger McFlea Will Not Clean Her Teeth?

Ginger McFlea is the twin of Jasper McFlea in Jasper McFlea Will Not Eat His Tea. I loved the opportunity to turn Ginger’s character around in this book. It was fun to show how characters and people have different dimensions, not always good and not always bad.

How did you come to create characters like Ginger?

I didn’t set out to become a children’s author, but it makes sense to me now that I’ve become one because I adore children and babies. I’m also very in touch with the adolescent who still lives within me. She gets a voice when I’m writing YA fiction.

Who will enjoy reading this book?

Children aged 3 to 8 will be able to relate to the main character Ginger, who is funny and creative, but likes things her own way. There’s also Ginger’s cute pet turtle, Keith and Dr Felicity Cheek, the funkiest dentist in the universe.

In this book there are plenty of fun rhymes and synonyms for teeth. And Mitch Vanes gorgeous illustrations are so much fun.

There are other books written about children and teeth. Is there something about Ginger McFlea Won’t Clean Her Teeth that sets it apart from other books on this topic?

It uses a lot of humour and one reviewer said recently that, “This book teaches, but doesn’t preach.”

How could teachers use this book in a classroom?

It’s a great way of getting kids to write about things they don’t like. It can be fun for kids to take that topic and stretch it out of all proportion.

Thanks so much for visiting Kids’ Book Capers, Lee and sharing how your write your books. It has been lovely talking with you.

Dee