Picture Books to Prepare for School – Part 2

In Part 1 of the ‘preparing for school’ series, we focused our attention on themes relating to new beginnings and gentle steps towards independence and new friendships. This post will include picture books with beautifully heartwarming sentiments of embracing our own and others’ individuality, uniqueness and personal preferences, what makes us human and advocating for equality. A value-driven start to the new year will set us all up for a peaceful, harmonious future.

Beginning with P. Crumble and Jonathan Bentley’s new release; We Are All Equal, this issue-based, prevalent topic in today’s society is a terrific resource to introduce to youngsters right from the get-go. Actress, comedian and LGBTQIA rights activist, Magda Szubanski, gives it “A resounding YES!” Here’s a book that truly celebrates the richness of difference and the reinforcement of equality despite lifestyle, origin, wealth, ability, size, shape, or gender or sexuality preference. We Are All Equal uses its gorgeous illustrations of a range of animals to highlight our wonderful diversity without preaching didactic messages. Rather, it phrases each rhyming verse gently and with the opening of “We are all EQUAL…” It dispels the idea of bullying and performance-based pressures, and focuses on sharing our hopes and dreams, pride and sense of community. A must-read for children and adults globally.

Scholastic, November 2018.

Ann Stott and Bob Graham address another current topic of today in Want to Play Trucks?. Acceptance, compromise and negotiation are all qualities that make the friendship between Jack and Alex so special. Here are two boys with differing preferences that encourage us as readers to challenge common gender stereotypes. They are excellent role models for our young children who may come to the playground with already-formed preconceptions on what is ‘typical’ behaviour. The narrative involves heavy dialogue between Jack, who likes noise, action and danger, and Alex, who enjoys “dolls that dance and wear tutus”. Graham further reinforces the notion of ‘getting along’ in this diverse environment with his subtle illustrative references to culture, ability and lifestyle in and around the sandpit setting. Want to Play Trucks? shows us a very raw and real look into a non-stereotypical world of imagination and pretend play. Recommended for pre-schoolers and beyond.

Walker Books, August 2018.

The pairing of Nicola Connelly and Annie White come together again following the gorgeous My Dad is a Bear in this fun, light-hearted tale of diversity and inclusivity; it’s Is It The Way You Giggle? This is a sweet rhyming story with whimsical, soft-palette and energetic illustrations that ooze with the magical essence of joy in childhood. The narrative begs a thousand questions for the reader to ponder, beginning (and ending) with the essential premise – “What makes you special?” There are a multitude of qualities, skills and characteristics that make us all unique, and this book is a beautiful discussion starter to have with your little one upon entering the journey of new experiences – to be able to be proud of and confident in who they are, as well as recognising and welcoming the similarities and differences in others. From the colours of your eyes or skin, to the shape of your ears, the things you enjoy like singing and dancing, the way you giggle or wiggle, your interests in painting, writing, reading or swimming, or how you love your family. Big, small, common or quirky, this book allows us the freedom and celebration of being unique. Is It The Way You Giggle? is a feel-good story for preschool-aged children that will certainly bring a smile to their face.

New Frontier Publishing, April 2018.

Filthy Fergal comes delivered in a whole league of its own when it comes to books on individuality. Sigi Cohen of the My Dead Bunny fame, together with illustrator, Sona Babajanyan, unapologetically present this disturbingly witty rhyming tale of a filthy boy thriving in the repugnant squaller of rubbish and flies. In similar vein to the legendary classics of Paul Jennings, through grime and repulsion and gag-worthy moments, there is love and family and an all-important ‘twist’ that aims to melt your heart. The text’s dark humour matches perfectly with the illustrations’ ominous and grungy mixed-media, multi-layered techniques. Filthy Fergal may not overtly promote good hygiene practices, but it does clean up in the areas of exploring belonging, commonality and difference, and being true to yourself. Suitably unsightly for school-aged children.

Yellow Brick Books, October 2018.

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Picture Books to Prepare for School – Part 1

Whether your little one is a school starter or not, undoubtedly, they will need to prepare themselves for a new year of friendships, challenges, opportunities and exciting adventures. There will also be chances to inquire into and discover all new domains, hence raising even more questions about the world than ever. The following picture books are the perfect guides to helping with the navigation of unfamiliar experiences and the mastering of the already familiar. All the best of luck and success for the year ahead!

Philip Bunting is such a genius! In How Did I Get Here?, this author-illustrator pro takes us on an amusing and absolutely fascinating journey through life. That is, life as we never knew it before we came into existence. But what exactly was existence like back at the beginning of time? Well, according to Bunting, “our entire universe fit into a space smaller than an orange.” And then there was a really BIG BANG, and particles formed to create ginormous dust clouds. I love the language put so simply and whimsically, yet appropriately contextual and factual as to not undermine the intellect of our inquisitive readers. Scoring through the development of Earth to the first forms of life, we come to realise that we are all related, all created equal – that “All of life is one.” Over generations life forms adapted and changed, evolution brought on many species, including Homo sapiens, whose curiosity took them to all corners of the Earth (“Except Antarctica. We left that to the penguins.”). Bunting raises an important concept, and empathetic touch, in reminding us that our similarities and differences unite us as one. As well, he leaves us with a special, heartwarming feeling that the miracle of life – that is you – is a culminated creation from those particles that were once part of the stars and Earth. But imagine if any of those occurrences happened differently… another existential query to ponder!

With its endearing storytelling narrative, and funny speech bubble dialogue amongst the enchanting cartoon-style, stone-age characters and cute diagrams, How Did I Get Here? is incredibly insightful and entertaining for ages four and up. Here is a book to be utilised on repeat with a different insight, perspective or question to be gathered each read. Perfect for new beginnings, if you know what I mean!

Koala Books, August 2018

Maddie’s First Day by Penny Matthews and Liz Anelli reminds me of both my girls when they started school. Here’s a sweet story of taking those vital little steps to independence when faced with the mammoth journey into schoolhood. Maddie is excited about her new adventure and eagerly prepares all her essential items, including her uniform, pencil case and water bottle. But she also ensures she is not without her special security blanky – secretly hidden in her school bag for the first day. The expression ‘wobbly feeling in her tummy’ so accurately portrays the myriad of emotions these small children experience. The anticipation of an unfamiliar classroom to the comfort of seeing old friends, and the enjoyment of making new ones. It’s all part of Maddie’s growth towards adjusting to big school. When she is challenged about her maturity for bringing her blanky to school, Maddie finds common ground with another and shows great resilience and confidence in her ability to move forward… although, blanky is never far away, just in case!

Matthews outlines many common aspects related to starting school in a beautiful narrative that reflects its own individuality with plenty of heart. Her character’s surroundings emanate a mix of love and support, and this is equally shown in Anelli’s gorgeous illustrations mixed with patterned collage media and soft pencil detail. Maddie’s First Day is packed with gentle touches of reassurance and the comfort of knowing you are not alone on this exciting, and often nerve-racking adventure.

Walker Books, September 2018.

Many of us have been here at some point in our lives – it’s the feeling of invisibility (in the non-magical sense). Best-selling author Adam Wallace aptly highlights a concept that many have felt but not many want to talk about. In Invisible Jerry, sensitively illustrated by Giuseppe Poli, Jerry glides through school crowds totally unnoticed. No one says sorry if they knock him over, no one laughs at his jokes, no one listens to his opinion, and getting picked for sports teams… that just doesn’t happen. Jerry feels completely invisible, until he meets Molly. This little girl lights up his world, and he lights up hers. A beautiful relationship that shows us that it only takes one person who respects and appreciates you to feel like a real person – like someone with worth and plenty to offer. And the best parting message to take away is that any ‘Invisible Jerry’ can pay it forward to other shy and self-conscious kids who don’t like to stand out, just like Paul.

I love that Wallace was inspired to write this story from listening to children’s thoughts on the matter, as well as his own childhood experiences of similar nature. I also love that he doesn’t push readers of this personality to take giant leaps of confidence to achieve greatness, because that wouldn’t be realistic. His gentle approach with the reassurance that one’s talents and opinions will be noticed in time is the perfect message to impart for those quieter kids… and it’s totally okay to be you. Poli’s fluid illustrations beautifully support the text with his depiction of a small yet bright Jerry with potential, in amongst the shadows and crowds around him. And the colour and joy that oozes from the pages once Jerry finds Molly is so brilliantly uplifting.

Invisible Jerry is an important book for the reserved child with so much potential, who simply wants to be noticed… in an unassuming manner. Eye-opening and valuable, this book should be gaining attention all over our schools and homes.

EK Books, November 2018.

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Guest Post Review: The Dam

 

 

 

 

Anastasia Gonis has been reviewing books for over twenty years. Her reviews and interviews have appeared in Bookseller & Publisher, Good Reading magazine, Australian Book Review, The Age, The Herald Sun, AllWrite, and many other publications. Anastasia currently writes both articles and reviews and is a revered reviewer for Kids’ Book Review. She loves all books, in particular children’s books which for her, contain beauty and joy between the covers. Today, I’m beyond thrilled to welcome her as a guest reviewer of, The Dam by David Almond and Levi Pinfold.

The Dam is at once haunting, heart breaking, exhilarating and exquisitely simple, portraying so much emotion, you’ll want to weep with the beauty of it all. Here’s, Anastasia’s review:

I am filled with awe each time I view any of Levi Pinfold’s illustrations. There is a haunting beauty about them that makes you catch your breath at his ability to create such magnificent work that can easily be taken for an exhibition of canvases in an art gallery. And that’s what you see when you turn the second page, a series of images; canvases on display.

You sigh at the sight of various sized birds – a few flying, others squatting in grass; tall wild grass, a tiny flower in the palm of a weathered hand, an eagle in flight, some blossomed wildflowers, a fox looking into the wilderness, two sheep with one grazing the other looking away, a man with a girl carrying a fiddle, a close-up of the girl’s face side-on, and one of the man’s in the same position.

They are looking at what is and what will be washed away. Because the dam is almost finished. Turn the page and more canvases are on display. They are accompanied by the memories they are connected to that the man and girl recall; of the things that were but will be no more.
Here is where you will break down from sadness as the girl plays her fiddle and farewells the building that conjures up the memories, while the father, tall and stoic, stands beneath the door frame. Their memories like ghosts, dance around them.

They go from house to empty house, filling them with music, fiddling their memories, and watching them turn into mists that float away. When they have finished, out of the valley they walked.
The dam is complete. Everything is covered with water. Within the water the music stays. It is in everything and in them. Permanent. It makes them sing and dance. That can never be washed away.

David Almond is one of the most versatile and talented writers of our generation. His body of work and writing style is most impressive. It claws at you and makes you feel things deeply. Themes address what progress steals from people, and how they cope with loss and change. These flow through the book like the dam that carried it all away.

This is a work of art both textually and visually. I doubt that anyone picking up this book will leave without it, and clutched to their heart.

 Title: The Dam

Author: David Almond

Illustrator: Levi Pinfold

Publisher: Walker Books

Publication Date: September 2018 $24.99

Format: Hardcover

 ISBN: 9781406304879

For ages: 5+

Type: Children’s Picture book

Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

 

Great Gift Ideas # 5 – Non-Fiction That Takes You Places

So you want to give something meaningful and useful and entertaining this Christmas. Well, have a look at these incredible Non-Fiction kids’ books that not only take you places but also inform, comfort, enlighten and above all keep the kids occupied while you sort out the eggnog! Enjoy.

Welcome: A Mo Willems Guide For New Arrivals by Mo Willems

This is the penultimate new-baby book for new parents. Presented as a robust board book with luxuriantly thick pages, this will endure baby’s first year and beyond. It even comes with an embedded mirror so baby can actually see what all the fuss is about. Willems’ inimitable comic touch graces each page in this direct narrative to baby outlining all the highlights, expectations and regrettable conditions that they and their new family might encounter. It reads a bit like an instruction manual and partially like a charter for a new employee. Every word is gold. This is truly one to share as a parent, a gift giving family member and then again as a parent with your growing child. Supremely clever, witty and super super cute (in a non-cutesy way),  I cannot recommend this highly enough for new parents and new humans.

Walker Books 2018

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Kids’ Holiday Reads that Make Great Gifts

Books are the gift that just keep on giving, aren’t they?! They’re worth so much more than the latest toy that lasts a whole five minutes. Here’s a small roundup of some great books for kids that make for beautiful gifts and can be shared over the festive season and well into the holidays.

Picture Books

All the Ways to be Smart, Davina Bell (author), Allison Colpoys (illus.), Scribble, October 2018.

This is the fourth time this superlative duo have come together, following the successes of The Underwater Fancy-Dress Parade , Captain Starfish and Under the Love Umbrella. Bell and Colpoys will be winning awards once again with this stunning picture book that is so intelligent in its own way. For all children wondering what their kind of smart is, this energetic rhyming guide reinforces a confidence that there is certainly more than one. From artistic endeavours to scientific explorations, using your imagination to skills in building, retaining important facts to showing compassion and empathy are all but a few. Coordination and music abilities, polite manners, ‘feeling scared but taking chances.’ The list is endless and these book creators have absolutely nailed it with their verve, humour, versatility and diversity. The language rolls off the tongue to perfection, whilst the neon colours draw your eye just the way an artist should. All the Ways to be Smart – adding much brightness to any child’s mind – in more ways than one.

What Do You Wish For?, Jane Godwin (author), Anna Walker (illus.), Penguin Random House, October 2018 (Paperback).

What Do You Wish For? puts a smile on every face and a glow in every heart. It’s that all kinds of fuzzy warmth, peace and togetherness that Christmas time really represents. Godwin’s intention for this book is for readers to understand that this time of year is, and should be, one of gratitude. The combination of her inspiring, tender words, and Anna Walker’s beautifully dreamy, intricate illustrations, is simply divine. There is an excited buzz in the air every Christmas. Ruby and her friends always put on a special show in the park, and write a wish to hang on the tree. But Ruby’s wish is too big to write on a little piece of paper. Her wish is of spirit; it’s made of smells of baking, candlelight amongst the dark, wonderful surprises and quality family time. But most of all, her Christmas wish is one of complete serenity, and a warm sparkle in the sky. What Do You Wish For? is the most magical treasure for any young reader and their family to cherish this Christmas.

It’s Not a Scribble to Me, Kate Ritchie (author), Jedda Robaard (illus.), Penguin Random House, 2018.

I always love books that encourage exploration of the imagination. In this one, it’s the walls, floors and windows that get to discover what the bear child is conjuring up in his mind – much to his family’s dismay. The little bear speaks a lyrical tongue as to what his crayon and pen scribbles represent. A red Santa makes an appearance above the fireplace, a green frog on the toilet, a black witch inspired by broomsticks, a blue frothy sea and yellow splotchy bumbley bees. It’s amazing what each colour of the rainbow can be turned into, and where they happen to turn up! But somehow, this cheeky bear is able to win over the family with his colourful, magical, whimsical, wonderful charm. A beautifully alluring, absolutely sweet, vivacious and child-centred book in its words and pictures. It’s Not a Scribble to Me is ideal for children from age three as a facilitator of self-expression, creativity and boundless possibilities.

Australia Illustrated (2nd Ed.), Tania McCartney (Author, illus.), EK Books, October 2018.

I absolutely adored this book when it was first released back in 2016. Now I (we all) get to relive the magic once again with this much anticipated 2nd edition recently re-published. Australia Illustrated is a visual festive celebration, the ultimate pictorial encyclopaedia of our beautiful land. Tania McCartney’s expansive array of detail and design, even if only a snippet, takes us on a wonderful journey around the country exploring major attractions to pockets of hidden gems we may have otherwise missed. My kids loved traveling around Australia; spotting familiarities, discovering new mysteries of the unknown, and giggling along at the cute and quirky nuances. Vivacious watercolours and a mix of media showcase the well-known to the unique. From the BIG and beautiful Queensland Mango and Big Banana in Coffs Harbour, the diverse native animals, bush tucker, sports, slang and weather, and a taste of idiosyncrasies from State to State. A gloriously scrumptious edition to pore over with the kids at home or away.

And another exquisite book from Tania McCartney that is a piece of art in itself is Mamie. Published by HarperCollins, November 2018. With her large, round gumnut eyes and angelic face, Mamie shares her story of adapting to change, fairies, pixies, elves and friendship. Celebrating the life of renowned and much-loved Australian icon – author and illustrator, May Gibbs of the Snugglepot and Cuddlepie fame, McCartney takes readers on a historical yet imaginative journey. She gently and expertly showcases the exceptional creativity, inspiration and achievements of Gibbs absolutely beautifully and with bunches of natural charm. Mamie is sure to win hearts abound, just as she has done over the past 100 years.

Chapter Books

The First Adventures of Princess Peony, Nette Hilton (author), Lucinda Gifford (illus.), Walker Books, 2018.

The attitude and tenacity of The Little Princess mixed with a quintessentially unique dialect like Lola (Charlie and Lola) together brings about this charming new face to the bookish world, Princess Peony. Partner that with the perfectly scruffy tomboy/girl-looking character in grey tones with pops of hot pink and you’ve got yourself a popular new series for girls (and boys) in the junior reader market. Princess Peony, the name which must be reminded to the audience every now and then, begins her fairy tale in front of her house, erm, Castle with her dog, no, Dragon; Totts. Her mission: to be Obeyed. But things take a wrong turn and her story is interrupted by Prince Morgan the Troll (aka, her big brother). Attempts to outsmart each other lead to some pretty hilarious events and a new mission to avoid child-eating bears. The text and pictures work brilliantly together providing plenty of visual literacy opportunities for readers to laugh about. And there is a remarkably True Princess Information and Quiz Sheet for all Princesses in Waiting to absolutely study and swear by. Just gorgeous! I will be buying The First Adventures of Princess Peony for my nearly six year old and all her friends!

The Tales of Mr Walker; a hotel dog with a nose for adventure, Jess Black (author), Sara Acton (illus.), Penguin Random House, 2018.

The Tales of Mr Walker is inspired by a real-life Labrador named Mr Walker who is a Guide Dog Ambassador and helper at the Park Hyatt Melbourne. This is an adorable book containing four enchanting stories about life working at the grandest hotel in town. Targeted at independent readers from age eight, we are delighted with the adventures this canine companion takes us on, viewed from the dog’s perspective. ‘Tracy must like parks as much as I do’. With his Guide Dog training behind him, Mr Walker is very well disciplined and loyal. But naturally, he has certain things on his mind, such as chasing balls, and food. Romp along on the fun adventures with Mr Walker. He doesn’t disappoint. Fluid and bright illustrations bounce in and around the text. The cover is appropriately high-end with its linen bound spine and gold trimmings. Royalties going to Guide Dogs Victoria is just another excuse to pick up this book as a gift for someone you love, and someone who loves dogs.

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Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

Even more great gift ideas for kids can be found at Boomerang Books here.

Picture Books for Christmas that Make Your Heart Sing

Looking for Christmas book gifts that aren’t necessarily festive-themed? Want beautiful stories of the heart that are perfect to share at a time of love, hope and togetherness? Here’s a little mix of brand new picture books that make your heart sing just as much as carollers on your doorstep.

Marvin and Marigold: A Stormy Night, Mark Carthew (author), Simon Prescott (illus.), New Frontier Publishing, October 2018.

Last year Marvin and Marigold did celebrate Christmas in A Christmas Surprise. This year they are exploring themes of friendship, kindness and overcoming fears when things get a little shaky. Being afraid on a wildly rainy night is a feeling many preschool-aged children know all too well. However, Carthew expertly leaves readers unrattled by this overbearing storm with plenty of reassurance and a loving message of the importance of family – very much inclusive of our beloved pets. Written with gentle rhyming couplets and sprinkled with humour, A Stormy Night takes the intensity of the swirling thunderclaps down a notch and rather reinforces the warmth of having one another and their grandparents to feel safe and sound. The final page further leaves a satisfying surprise to add to the warm and fluffies! A nice one to share with family these holidays.

Wisp; A Story of Hope, Zana Fraillon (author), Grahame Baker-Smith (illus.), Lothian Children’s Books, August 2018.

A stunningly told and illustrated book that literally sends shivers running through your spine. Beginning with a world of people alone, poor and desperate, to guiding us with an aura of ambience to a place of memory, promise and hope. Wisp is an exceptional story of a young refugee finding a whispering light that is passed around to elders, returning the glint in their eye of a life that ‘once’ was. The tales they tell swell with uplifting memories, music and magic that quells the dullness they have come to know. The illustrations are simply breathtaking. Vast landscapes where shadows meet sparks of glow and colour. For a child of primary school age to read this book, Wisp provides them with a deeper understanding of war and a beautiful impression of the power of hopes, dreams and optimism for the future. Particularly relevant at this time of year.

The Christmas Choir: Silent Night, Lara Hawthorne (illus.), Lincoln Children’s Books, September 2018.

A beautiful rendition of the traditional Christmas carol – Silent Night – adorned with paintings reminiscent of a child-friendly style of Biblical graphics. Bold blocks of colour are draped over camel-riding shepherds, kings, virgin mother and child, with dark backdrops glittering with sparkling stars. The classic song spreads throughout this tale of the calm and beautiful holy night in which Jesus was born, and is also written in full verse at the finale. A background story about the song’s original composition in 1818 in Oberndorf bei Salzburg, Austria is also provided – funnily enough written in hast by Catholic curate, Joseph Mohr on Christmas Eve because of a problem with the church organ caused by mice. Reading (and singing) Silent Night to your children is a lovely way to teach them about the faith and also gain further insights into the meaning of the world famous and beloved carol.

The Aussie ABC Christmas, Nancy Bevington (illus.), New Frontier Publishing, October 2018.

Now here’s one with a mix of the traditional and the modern, but totally classic Aussie! The Aussie ABC Christmas will make your heart swell with pride for our true-blue Australian customs, natives and way of life. Bevington has done a brilliant job culminating all the quirks and nuances of our nation with Christmas through her adorable, humorous and clever illustrations across the alphabet. An Akubra-wearing Angel, a red bucket-topped ‘sandman’ on the Beach, Kissing Koalas under the mistletoe, Anzac biscuits and Milk for Santa and plenty more. Not to mention nods to the good ol’ Hills Hoist used as an Ornament, and famous landmarks like the Opera House as a resting place for the Reindeer. This is how to make your Aussie Christmas a celebration to splash out on! So much fun for children from age three.

Find even more fantastic Christmas book gifts via Dimity Powell’s roundups and the Boomerang Books gift guide for children here.

Merry Christmas!

Great Gift Ideas # 3 Crazy Christmas Books

Before you race out to spend a fortune on the latest toy this Christmas, check out these crazy Christmas books. They are more fun than a box of crayons and can be enjoyed individually or with a loved one. How’s that for value. And there is enough Christmas spirit in each one to jingle your Christmas bells well into the new year! Enjoy the roundup.

A Miniature Christmas Anthology edited by Beattie Alvarez

Each year the good folk at Christmas Press present an entertaining seasonal anthology for kids. This year, A Miniature Christmas explores the, you guessed it, miniature worlds of all things tiny from genies, mice, elves, fuchsia fairies, even app characters! Several well -known authors and illustrators share their short stories alongside new names in the children’s literary world, each crafting tales that intrigue, entertain and make you ponder. For example:

The Funactor by Oliver Phommavanh is a clever observation of our 21st obsession with apps.

Goblin Christmas by Ian Irvine combines urban social issues with fantasy that has a touch of Harry Potter mystic about it.

George the Genie by Dianne Bates has all the form, plot and cheeky wisdom of a classic fairytale whilst Small Creatures by Rebecca Fung is just plain good fun.

The stories are short enough to share with your child each night on the countdown to Christmas, with special drawings to enhance the magic of each tale. This collection would make a jolly Christmas stocking addition for young primary aged readers.

Christmas Press November 2018

Macca’s Christmas Crackers by Matt Cosgrove

For me, this is the best of the Macca instalments by far. Funny, fast paced and full of Christmas cheer coupled with a warming message about the true spirit of Christmas, this seasonal romp with Macca the Alpaca reminds us that the best Christmases need not cost anything but love, friendship and goodwill. A cheerful lesson for kids (that is not the slightest bit preachy or forced) and a timely reminder for us big kids to slow down and regain seasonal perspective. Aztec bright and brilliant!

Koala Books, Scholastic October 2018

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Greats Gift Ideas # 2 -Tweens and Teens

They may think they’re too old for Christmas but thrust one of these great reads into their Christmas stockings this year and your tweens and teens will love your forever, or at least have something incredible to tie them over until the turkey is ready. Here are some recent must-read middle grade and young adult fiction titles that make ideal gifts this season. There are literally dozens more, some featured already as full reviews this year. Check them out, here. Alternatively, visit the Boomerang Books Christmas gift books list for more literary inspiration.

His Name Was Walter by Emily Rodda

Historic, mysterious and crawling with supernatural scare. This is a consuming story within a story of love, embezzled fortunes and trust and old mysteries. Rodda enchants with her ability to knit the past with the present and overlay it all with a good old fashioned fairy-tale that lances kids’ hearts with imagination. Highly recommended late night reading for tweens and lovers of twisted fairy tales.

HarperCollins Children’s Books August 2018

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Brimming with Bounce: Interview with Robyn Osborne

Robyn Osborne is a children’s author and early childhood teacher from sunny Brisbane. She also happens to be a huge animal fanatic, with a particular love towards the canine variety. That’s why you’ll find dogs featuring in almost all of her books, including Dog Logic, award-winning My Dog Socks, and her latest bouncy tale, Bruno, the Boisterous Blue Dog from the Bush.

Today Robyn is here to discuss her writing adventures and to celebrate the release of Bruno; a book of busy alliteration and beaut Aussie slang, all bundled in a bold and bubbly tale of mateship and appreciating the simple life. Find Dimity’s bonzer review here.

Thanks for joining us, Robyn! 

Robyn, have you always been passionate about writing? How did your career path lead to becoming an author?

Like many authors, I was a keen reader from an early age and I was always going to become a writer when I grew up. My first publishing success came in my final year at high school when my angst ridden poem (I was a teenager) appeared in the yearbook. While university beckoned, I opted for a job in the public service, still dreaming of being a writer one day. Unfortunately, life got in the way, and it wasn’t until I became a teacher that I reignited my love of words and started to write in earnest. The release of my junior novel D.O.G. in 2005 was a huge confidence boost and I have gone on to have seven books published since then. At the beginning of 2018 I took a leap of faith and resigned from teaching to devote my time to writing, so after many, many years, my childhood dream has come true.

You’ve written a mix of short stories, picture books, junior fiction and young adult titles, many that have been influenced by your love of dogs. Do you have a genre you feel most comfortable with? Why are dog-themed stories such a strong influence in your writing?

There is no particular genre I prefer to focus on, but certainly my four legged furry friends are a common theme throughout most of my writing. As a self-confessed dogaphile, it seemed natural for me to incorporate them into my writing. I often wondered what went on in the heads of my two rescue dogs, Socks and Snowy. This pondering eventually led me to a couple of co-pawthored books. First up was the canine created and related Dog Logic: a pooch’s guide to dogs behaving badly (Big Sky Publishing, 2011). Dog Logic is a training book written from a dog’s perspective. I enjoyed the process of channelling my inner dog immensely, and in 2014 Snowy’s memoirs (Midget Bones’ Diary) were released. My latest two picture books (My Dog Socks & Bruno, the Boisterous Blue Dog from the Bush) were inspired by dogs I have known. The experts do say to write what you know, so I’m sure there are a few more dog stories to come.

You have won many accolades for your writing and books, including outstanding awards for My Dog Socks with the prestigious CBCA Notable Book 2018 and Speech Pathology Australia Book of the Year Shortlist Book 2018! Congratulations! How did you come to learn of these nominations? How did you feel, and how have these awards boosted your authorship status?

Thanks very much for your kind words. I have been thrilled with the continuing success of My Dog Socks. The CBCA Notable Book award came through via my publisher, Ford Street, as did the Speech Pathology Shortlist. It is hard to gauge what impact these awards have had on sales of the book, but I do love to see the stickers adorning the cover.

Your latest release, Bruno, the Boisterous Blue Dog from the Bush (Big Sky Publishing), challenges the tongue with its bouncy alliteration and embraces our national culture with its Aussie colloquialism. What teaching and learning experiences can you suggest for parents and educators of young readers? What is the most significant point you’d like children to understand from reading Bruno?

First and foremost, I want the book to be enjoyed. Teaching and learning experiences should flow on from what the children are interested in. If it is alliteration, have fun making up nonsense sentences using the letters from their names. Discussing the meaning of the slang terms could lead to exploring more of our wonderful Australian colloquialisms. There are free downloadable teaching notes for Bruno the Boisterous Blue Dog from the Bush available on the publisher’s website. I can vouch for their quality, as I wrote them!

Did Bruno go through many re-writes or did you have it nailed pretty quickly? How easy or challenging was it to include a book full of alliterated ‘b’ words? Are you a natural at the Aussie slang or was a dictionary on hand?

Combining my love of alliteration with a main character called Bruno Bright meant the rough draft went down quickly. Once I had this basic story, I tinkered with it over a number of years. My thesaurus and dictionary became invaluable for helping me find additional ‘b’ words and appropriate slang. The story was quite long, and when Big Sky Publishing said they were interested in the manuscript, I had the difficult job of cutting it down in size. Indeed, there were bountiful ‘b’ words that were banished from the book!

Fun Question: If you could describe yourself in only words beginning with ‘b’, what would that be?

‘Bright’ – it is my maiden name and my teacher’s enjoyed saying ‘Bright by name, bright by nature’. My husband suggested ‘boring’, as I do spend considerable time at the computer ignoring both my pets, i.e. him and the dog.

Anything else of excitement you’d like to add? News? Upcoming projects? TBR pile?

No book news, but I am very excited to be heading off to Tasmania very soon for three months. Jack the dog and writer’s muse extraordinaire will be accompanying me, along with my trusty laptop, so I am hoping to get some creative inspiration while taking in the delights of the Apple Isle.

Brilliant! Thanks very much, Robyn! It’s been a pleasure! 😊

You can visit Robyn Osborne at her website here, and on blog tour here.

Big Sky Publishing

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Great Gift Ideas – Entertaining Picture Books

There is no denying it – the countdown is on. We’ve got you covered for Christmas, though. Discover the fantastic array of kids’ stories between these covers. Every week until Christmas, I’ll be listing a selection of new releases and top-rate reads for children from pre-schoolers to new young adults. Here’s a swag of super entertaining picture books just right for sharing this summer.

The First Adventures of Princess Peony by Nette Hilton and Lucinda Gifford

I detest the colour pink and princesses who like to adorn themselves in it. However, I LOVED this supremely funny tale about a little girl named Peony who lives in a castle with her dragon, pink bits and all. Beautifully told from Peony’s unabashed point of view and illustrated with striking tri-coloured drawings, this is a joyful read about giant imaginations, dogs, family and princesses, of course. Highly recommended for pre-schoolers, early primary schoolers, emergent readers and those of us struggling to accept the little princess within. Watch out for following titles in this illustrated series.

Read Joy Lawn’s full review, here. It’s a corker.

Walker Books Australia October 2018

Continue reading Great Gift Ideas – Entertaining Picture Books

A Telling Future with Cameron Macintosh

Cameron Macintosh is the author of the exciting fantasy adventure series for future detectives in the making, steadily churning them out with number three being recently released. Having qualifications in Psychology and Professional Writing, and specialising in the educational publishing market for almost two decades, it is no wonder Macintosh knows exactly what makes an engaging and perfectly suited read for the junior to middle grade audience. With over 80 books released for the education field under his name, his break into trade publishing has been both rewarding and well-received.

The three Max Booth Future Sleuth books are a fun trip set 400 years into the future, including uncannily relatable characters (a history-buff youngster Max on the run with his robotic, yet loyal dog Oscar). They have demonstrated their keen interest in all things ‘ancient’ and ‘vintage’; sleuthing out the mysteries of objects from the past like a cassette tape in Tape Escape, photos on a mobile phone in Selfie Search, and an old postage stamp from 2019 in Stamp Safari. Macintosh has carefully weaved in suitable language, plenty of humour and suspenseful quests that will hook any tech-loving, sci-fi and mystery-hunting fans, with a clever enticement to finding out about artefacts and technology from the past. Imaginative, creative, the ability to emotionally connect, and so much relevant and important learning potential – the Max Booth series certainly tick all the boxes.

Big Sky Publishing

Cameron Macintosh is back for yet another amazing interview (here’s the last one) to discuss his books and writing life with us once again. 🙂

Coming from a background in writing for the education market, did you have teaching and learning purposes in mind when you started writing the Max Booth series?

Initially, I was trying to avoid any particular educational purpose beyond just getting kids reading – a major educational objective on its own. I just wanted the stories to be page-turners with lots of laughs along the way. But it didn’t take long before I realised they had their own educational potential – not in a didactic way, but in the possibilities they offered for classroom discussions about technology and sustainability, and a range of other issues. The stories deal with future people looking back at objects from our present day, so I figured pretty quickly that they’d offer teachers some interesting angles to discuss technological development, and the positives and negatives that go along with it.

How did you decide what kinds of technological developments to incorporate into the series?

I always intended the series to be episodic, so that any title could be plucked off a shelf and read without any prior knowledge of the characters or their world. I’m glad I chose this option, but it does mean that a little bit of world-building needs to be done in each book. Because of that, I haven’t pushed the technological changes too far, except for a few very big ones that don’t need too much explanation, including hover-vehicles, floating suburbs, robot companions, and the rarity of a few presently common things such as paper.

Who is the series aimed at?

As far as interest level goes, it’s aimed at readers around 7 to 10 years of age. I’ve tried to make the vocab manageable for less confident readers too, so I especially hope the series can be helpful in encouraging these readers to tackle longer texts. The Max Booth books are all around 12,500 words each.

How did you find the gap to write technology / futuristic-based junior fiction?

Before I fully drafted the first Max story, I did some research to see what future-based books were already out there in the marketplace. Although there was plenty of brilliant futuristic stuff, I couldn’t find anything that used the future as a lens to look back at our present day, so I figured I’d potentially found a bit of niche there.

The Max Booth Future Sleuth series makes a great point for readers to connect past and present technology with the possibilities of the future. What are the most significant aspects you’d like your audience to take away from the series?

I’d love readers to think about what a wondrous time we’re living in, with regards to the staggering pace of technological development. I’d also love them to consider the potential pitfalls of this development, in terms of environmental ramifications, and also in terms of the potential that technology holds to bring humanity closer together, or possibly divide us further.

I also really hope the series will spark lots of interesting discussions about technology between kids and their parents, grandparents and teachers – particularly about the way some items or ways of life have evolved over the last few generations, and others have remained pretty much the same. (Although, I don’t recommend describing pre-internet life to a school-aged person unless you want to feel extremely ancient!)

Do you think that setting stories in the future presents any disadvantages to a storyteller?

There’s always the risk of an emotional disconnect with the reader if you let the technological side of things take too much precedence. I’m constantly getting frustrated by sci-fi movies that are so clever and complicated that I lose any real empathy for the characters. And even though you have a lot of freedom in world-building in sci-fi, readers will still expect the world of the story to be believable, and to have its own logical consistency, so there’s a lot of balancing to be done along the way.

The Max Booth series is brilliantly and shrewdly illustrated by the talented Dave Atze. By Book 3, was there anything in particular you needed to collaborate on or did he basically have it all covered?

Dave’s incredible, isn’t he! We’re so lucky to have him on board – to have an illustrator who amplifies the pathos, action and humour is a massive privilege. It’s always very exciting to see how he interprets the illustration briefs, and to see what fun surprises he adds in. Dave had all of this stuff well and truly nailed in the first book (Tape Escape), so by book 3, it was really just a case of keeping out of his way!

Anything else of excitement you’d like to add? News? Upcoming projects? TBR pile?

Well, the wheels are currently turning to make Max Booth book 4 a reality. I’ve already seen the cover, which is always a big moment in the journey. As expected, it’s rather brilliant – thanks again to Dave, and the incredible team at Big Sky Publishing.

The TBR pile is getting out of hand but it’s not a bad problem to have! At the top of the pile is Ottilie Coulter and the Narroway Hunt by Rhiannon Williams, and Jane Doe and the Cradle of All Worlds by Jeremy Lachlan, and Markus Zusak’s Bridge of Clay (Aussie authors are really knocking it out of the park at the moment). Also, Joyce’s Ulysses has been sitting there for five years daring me to tackle it (I have a feeling it’ll be sitting there at least five more).

Thanks so much for your thoughtful responses, Cameron! It’s been a pleasure! 🙂

It’s been my great pleasure too. Thanks for such an interesting chat!

Cameron Macintosh can be found at his website, and on blog tour here.

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Unforgettable Children’s Books

With so many memorable children’s books flooding our bookshelves, it’s easy to allow one title to melt imperceptibly into the next. This collection of stories however possesses qualities that make them virtually unforgettable. Embrace these haunting experiences that will linger with you long after the final page.

Parvana: A Graphic Novel by Deborah Ellis

This graphic novel rendition of Ellis’ acclaimed novel, The Breadwinner (US name of Parvana), moved me to tears. Emotionally charged and visually gratifying, this graphic novel ignites a need to know more and venture further.

I have not read The Breadwinner yet but was so enamoured by this portrayal of Parvana’s story that I am now compelled to do so. There is a movie rendition too although I may not have to see it. This sombre tale about a girl who disguises herself as a boy to make a living in the stricken city of Kabul to support her family and reconnect with her imprisoned father is so convincingly expressed through Elllis’ stirring narrative and dramatic artwork (from which this version was adapted) that it leaves nothing wanting apart from a desire for Parvana’s salvation.

The muted colour palette of dusty browns and ominous greys belie the hope that blossoms below the veneer of fear and repression. Orange flowers (the colour of hope) appear in many of the frames featuring Parvana and most strikingly, on the last page where they are seen springing from the crust of the desert. Parvana’s vibrant red blouse, the one she has never worn, representing hope and love, and a desire to be free of fear, is the catalyst for change.

Dramatic, poignant and inexplicably beautiful, like Afghanistan’s people, this story is itself complete and will appeal to many even those (children) who are unaware of the historic atrocities leading up to Parvana’s story. Especially useful for those resistant to learning about history and reading full scale novels.

Allen & Unwin Children’s Books January 2018

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Sharing the Spirit of Australia Remembers with Allison Paterson

Allison Paterson has always had a deep connection to Australian history and culture, and her writing reflects more than just research or fiction. Her picture books include Granny’s Place and Shearing Time; reminiscent of her childhood memories of growing up on a farm. Allison also immortalises her ancestory with her wartime, award-winning books, Anzac Sons; based on letters written on the Western Front.

Using her teacher-librarian status and forseeing a gap in the market, Allison has gone on to produce a new series for primary school students. The first of the nonfiction titles includes Australia Remembers: Anzac Day, Remembrance Day and War Memorials. This is an absolutely stunning documentation of colourful facts, phenomenal photographs – old and new, illustrative posters, quotes and glossary, all presented like a beautiful magazine with easy-to-digest and visually engaging chunks of information across twelve short chapters. The book covers topics and proposes readers consider commemoration and showing gratitude, what ANZAC and its spirit means, the importance of annual ceremonies and the significance of symbols and traditions. It also includes relevant hands-on learning activities to further deepen the readers’ understandings. Australia Remembers is an important resource that emanates with a sense of engaging the community spirit and extending the legacy of those we ought to always remember. A must-have for Remembrance Day and Anzac Day.

Allison Paterson discusses her writing life and tribute to her ancestors with us today!

How did you come to be a writer? How have you managed the shift from teacher-librarian to author and presenter?

Writing has always been in my life, but the decision to resign from an awesome job as a teacher-librarian to pursue writing as a career came only a couple of years ago. It all began with the publication of Anzac Sons – the story of my ancestors in WWI and a collection of hundreds of letters they wrote from the Western Front. I quite firmly believe that I wouldn’t be a full-time writer today if it had not been for my grandfather and his brothers – they were writers too!

The transition from being a teacher-librarian was not difficult. I’m very comfortable with author talks and workshops in schools. I love inspiring kids to write! Being prepared to diversify and look for opportunities, such as mentoring, editing and writing for magazines all helped the financial shift. The toughest things for me are marketing, and I’m slowly learning how to run a business! I also found that being available and saying ‘Yes!’ opens more doors as well, including doing some casual educational consultancy work with Big Sky Publishing.

You’ve written several non-fiction titles on the Anzac history for children and adults, as well as fictional picture books that tie memories together with a great Aussie flavour! Do you have a style or genre you feel most comfortable with? Why is the Australian culture such a strong influence in your writing?

I spend most of my time lurking around in the past so historical fiction and non-fiction are certainly my favoured writing genres and where I gravitate to in a book shop or library. I’m a very proud Australian. I love the people we have become and our awesome landscape. I feel very connected with the land and when I travel to the place where I grew up it always feels like going home. My place!

Australia Remembers: Anzac Day, Remembrance Day and War Memorials is a valuable resource for primary students to be able to connect with the traditions of Anzac Day and Remembrance Day, in essence, to keep the memories of war and its recipients forever alive and celebrated. What are the most significant points you’d like your readers to take away from this book? What do you hope it will achieve?

I hope that readers develop both an understanding and respect for the role that our armed services have in the development of our wonderful country and the way of life we enjoy today. It is designed to ensure that the next generation shares the history and traditions of our important commemorative occasions. I also hope it encourages children to find out about the experiences of their own ancestors.

There are bountiful resources available for teaching and learning about Australian war history. What are your favourite educational lessons or resources to suggest for parents and educators following the reading of Australia Remembers?

Australia Remembers has inbuilt activities and discussion starters and is supported by extensive teacher notes which are available on my website, or on the Teachers page at Big Sky Publishing. My favourite lessons can be found in the notes, but if there was one I would pick it would be to explore your local memorials. Find out about the service of those in your local community.

The next book in this marvellous series is Australia Remembers: Customs and Traditions of the Australian Defence Force. What can you share about your research for this title? How many more titles in the series have you got planned?

Australia Remembers: Customs and Traditions of the Australian Defence Force is underway and will be released in 2019. It explores the history of the Army, Navy and Air Force in Australia, along with the shared and specific customs and traditions which have developed, sometimes over centuries! It will be a terrific resource for answering the questions which arise around our commemorative services. The whole series plan is a work in progress and we have lots of ideas that we are exploring for future titles.

Anything else of excitement you’d like to add? News? Upcoming projects? TBR pile?

I’m very excited that my first YA novel will be released early in 2019 with Big Sky Publishing. We’ve just finished the edit and the cover is awesome! Follow After Me is about finding a lost part of yourself in the spirit, words and actions of those who came before. Its themes include family, Anzacs, the Australian landscape, rural life and the past! This time though there are two coming-of-age protagonists, one of today and one enduring the events of World War I. It is written in a parallel narrative that converges with the discovery of a collection of WWI letters and a growing sense of connection to place that cannot be ignored. Here’s a snippet from the blurb:

A war to end all wars, a tiny key and a rural Australian property that binds across the generations. Two young women living a century apart discover who they are and where their hearts belong.

Wow! Brilliant! Thanks so much, Allison, for your generous answers to our questions! All the best with your writing! 🙂

Visit Allison Paterson at her website, and on her Australia Remembers book blog tour here.

Big Sky Publishing

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Stories for the Soul – Picture Books that Tug the Heart – Part 2

Here are a few more stories with heart that encompass the three pillars of great picture books: to enlighten, educate and entertain.

Finn’s Feather by Rachel Noble and Zoey Abbott

It’s wrenching when something or someone you love is lost. No one knows this better than Rachel Noble who was inspired to write Finn’s Feather after the loss of her son, Hamish. However if you think this story is a maudlin narrative on grief and loss, think again.

Finn’s Feather embraces all the love and joy families share for one another. It is a sublime examination of the emotions of heartache, anguish and sorrow expressed through the eyes of a child, which makes it immediately relatable and real. When a parent carries the burden of grief, children often slump along beside them under the same weight but unsure of why they are even there. The way they might experience the loss (of a sibling) understandably has to be different from the despair their parents are experiencing. This is precisely what Finn is going through after he discovers a pristine white feather on his doorstep one morning.

Continue reading Stories for the Soul – Picture Books that Tug the Heart – Part 2

Setting the Scene with Rachel Nightingale

Rachel Le Rossignol, aka Rachel Nightingale, is the debut novelist of young adult fantasy fiction series, Tales of Tarya, including the first two in the trilogy – Harlequin’s Riddle and Columbine’s Tale. She also happens to be an award-winning playwright, with a musical she wrote set for the stage next year. Rachel has a background in theatre as well, which, when you bring all these creative elements together, you have the perfect blend for a magical series underpinning the gifts of artistry and storytelling and their boundless possibilities. The Tarya Trilogy is about the power of creativity and where it can take you, exploring the states of being within two different realms of another time. Rachel states, ‘it was inspired by a quote by Broadway actor Alan Cumming about that in-between place you discover just before you step onstage and enter a different world – a place where anything is possible…’ 

Rachel is here to discuss her writing journey and the culmination of her passions for the arts and storytelling in her books. Thanks Rachel!

How did you come to be a writer?

Little eight-year-old Rachel decided for me. Sometimes I want to go back in time and talk her out of it and other times I want to pick her up, swing her round and go ‘wheeeee!’. It’s a fun job but it has its tough moments. Of course, it took many years, lots of writing, two creative writing degrees and a lot of persistence to actually get to the point of being published.

Please tell us a bit about your fascinating background in performance, and how you feel this helps with your storytelling abilities.

I did my first theatre show when I was 17. I was in the chorus of Cinderella, and I was hooked. Over the years I’ve done just about everything possible, from acting to lighting, sound, direction and stage management. It all feeds into being about to create the atmosphere and reality of theatre in my books. Working for a number of years on the improvised ‘Murder on the Puffing Billy Express’ show was really important for bringing the players to life on the page, because the Commedia dell’Arte, the travelling players I’m writing about, do improvised shows. Understanding how improv works, and what it feels like to perform something and make it up on the spot, was really important. Plus improv stretches the creativity muscles, which is really helpful.

What kinds of books do you naturally draw inspiration from? Has your series been influenced by any of these titles or their authors?

I love all sorts of books, but if I’m particularly looking for inspiration I go back to Ray Bradbury’s short stories. He is a master of language, he understands the human condition so well, and the ideas in his stories are fascinating. I dream of being able to write like him. I think the book out there that is most like mine is The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern, since it’s about performers and magic, with a dash of romance, but Harlequin’s Riddle was written a long time before it was published so it wasn’t a source of inspiration.

Columbine’s Tale follows the gripping first title, Harlequin’s Riddle. What was your process in developing each title and subsequent series? Did you have your plots consciously mapped out beforehand?

The books have changed so much from my original conception, but I think by the time I’d finished Harlequin’s Riddle I was pretty clear on the overall story. After that it was just fine-tuning the details. Aside from Mina’s quest to find her brother, there’s a very strong element of mystery related to the travelling players that Mina has to solve, and to do that properly I needed to be able to put some things in the first book that would only make sense in the third book. So plotting rather than pantsing (flying by the seat of my pants) was definitely the way to go. It means readers can look for clues early on, which is something I always love in a book.

What does the artisan life, costumes and drama mean to you personally?

I would love nothing more than to have a gypsy caravan and travel around, visiting many different places and offering up my stories. I used to pretend I was a gypsy when I was a teenager to make the walk home from school more interesting. I’d picture what I was wearing, and how I would cook over an open fire when I got home. I wish I could spend all my time creating, not doing the shopping or the other mundane tasks of life.

What has your publishing experience with Odyssey Books been like for you? How have they supported you throughout the process?

It’s been a sharp learning curve – being a writer and being an author are two different things. The main difference is learning about marketing and social media. But Odyssey have been great – there are company manuals that are super-helpful for knowing how to approach that side of things. And my publisher has a brilliant strategy, which is that she puts new authors in touch with the Odyssey author community, so you suddenly have an amazingly supportive network who can help you negotiate the whole ‘being published’ thing.

Anything else of excitement you’d like to add? News? Upcoming projects? TBR pile?

I’m pretty excited at the moment that a musical I wrote is going to be debuted in Auckland next year. It’s a re-telling of Aristophane’s classical Greek play, The Birds but with funky Spanish rhythms and a lot of comedy. Bach Musica are going to stage a concert version, with a full orchestra, soloists and forty-person choir. I will be travelling over to New Zealand to see it. I can’t wait, but I’m terrified at the same time – such a public performance of my work!

Thank you so much for your time, Rachel! It’s been a pleasure getting to know more about you and your books.

Rachel and the Tarya Tales can be found at her website, and her book blog tour is taking place here.

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Review – Lenny’s Book of Everything

I remember when I was a pre-schooler, the day our World Book Encyclopedia and Childcraft How and Why Library sets arrived. They lived in their own custom-built bookshelf and went with us whenever we moved house. I was contemplating selling them this year to free up space or failing that, surrendering them to the compost heap. Now, after spending time with Lenny and Davey, I’m not so sure. Like their Burrell’s Build-It-At-Home Encyclopedia, each lettered volume holds countless childhood memories anchored in place by facts and figures now hopelessly out of date but somehow still completely valid. How does one discard their former life – a childhood of countless special moments and first-time discoveries – so decidedly?

Moreover, how does one describe Lenny’s story. Wrenching (you will need tissues – preferably 3 ply), soaring (pack your wings), absorbing (allow for a few sleepless nights spent page turning), tragic (get another box of nose-wipes just in case).

Lenny’s Book of Everything is a story with a heart as big as Phar Lap’s and gallops along at a pace that both rips you apart emotionally but is simultaneously restorative and mindful such is Karen Foxlee’s talent for powerful story telling. This story describes the relationship between Lenny, her younger brother who has a rare form of gigantism and their beleaguered mother. Theirs appears a drab ‘moon-rock’ coloured existence yet flashes of brilliance strike everywhere, everyday: their mother’s pink work uniform, the pigeons on their windowsill, Mrs Gaspar’s outrageous beehive, the ubiquitous letters from Martha Brent and of course, her regular dispatch of encyclopedic issues to them. All conspire to create warmth and hope and put the reader at ease while sweeping them ever closer to the inevitable conclusion.

Continue reading Review – Lenny’s Book of Everything

Not So Scary Picture Books for Halloween

Children love a splash of spook, a gash of ghoul and a dash of danger, but only if it’s laced with humour and courage. If you’re looking for some creepy crawlies, menacing monsters and terrifying trolls to give you the shivers this Halloween, then check out these wild picture books… don’t worry, they’re not actually so scary.

A Monster in my House is written by the internationally acclaimed comedians The Umbilical Brothers, so you know you’re in for an amusing feast rather than a nightmarish one. Their undeniably popular wit is clear with their multi-layered twists that pleasingly surprise. The first-person narration warns of the danger associated with having a different monster in each room of the house. However, upon inspecting the images, Berlin artist Johan Potma has done a brilliant job to capture a mix of the classic, old-style horror with a beautiful warmth and humour that just does the opposite of chilling. He neatly infuses newspaper collage with pencil sketching and oil paint in subdued browns, reds and greens with the loopiest of monster characters you’ve ever seen. And take note of the little mouse in each spread… it holds some very important clues! In a charming rhyming text, the suspense is thrilling, leading us to a conclusion that is totally unexpected.

A Monster in my House is a delightfully playful romp abound with some pretty cool characters that will simply warm your soul.

Penguin Random House, October 2018.

With a nod to the legendary We’re Going a Bear Hunt comes this exasperatingly satisfying Beware the Deep Dark Forest by Sue Whiting and Annie White. Sure, there are creepy bits, with carnivorous plants and venomous snakes and all. But that doesn’t stop Rosie from being the heroine in this suspenseful adventure tale. Braving it out through the sublimely detailed and juicy scenes, the young girl sets off to rescue her pup Tinky through terrifying obstacles, including a bristly wolf, a deep ravine, and an enormous hairy-bellied, muddy troll. But rather than shy away and run like the children did with a certain shiny-eyed, wet-nosed Bear in another story, Rosie stands tall and defiant proving her saviour qualities. Then she can squelch back through the deep and dark and muddy forest back home.

Beware the Deep Dark Forest captures just the right amount of creepiness with the rewarding inclusion of excitement and adventure and a strong female character determined to get her hands dirty and tackle the tough stuff. This is how you face your fears for children from age four.

Walker Books, October 2018.

Following the long-lasting success of The Wrong Book, Nick Bland has come out with this latest cracker, The Unscary Book. It follows a boy, Nicholas Ickle, suitably costumed in an alien / skeleton attire, attempting to introduce us to his ‘scary’ book. So, prepare to be frightened! However, each page turn sends readers into fits of giggles rather than a state of alarm. Poor Nicholas is more terrified at the nice-ness and bright-ness of what is revealed behind all his pre-prepared props. ‘But ice-cream isn’t scary, it’s delicious!’, he shouts. ‘I’m trying to scare people, not make them hungry!’. The brilliantly colourful and energetic (non-scary) book continues to amuse our young audience as Nicholas becomes more frustrated with things that are NOT spooky, terrifying, frightening, or horrifying. And just when you think he’s finally won, well, you’ll just have to read it to find out!

The Unscary Book has plenty of animation and visuals to pore over, as well as fantastic language and comprehension elements to explore. Comedic bliss that all went wrong in just the right way. No preschooler will un-love this one!

Scholastic, September 2018.

Not so much scary, but more like stinky! Which is actually helpful for scaring those unwanted pests away. Tohby Riddle has got this story spot-on with his knack for harnessing the powers of philosophy with humour and an understanding of human complexities – although in the form of bugs and critters. Here Comes Stinkbug! is completely captivating with its brilliantly simplistic plot and dry wit about the unpleasantness of a smelly Stinkbug. None of the other crawlies want to be around Stinkbug because, well, he stinks. They try to raise the matter with him, but that makes him worse. Until he tries to charm the others with a lot of effort. However, it seems Stinkbug has attracted the wrong sort… Maybe it’s best to just be yourself.

The aptly hued garden tones and textures combined with a mixture of typed narrative and handwritten speech bubbles elicit a nature that is both endearingly casual and candid. Here Comes Stinkbug! empowers readers to consider embracing who you are, playing to your strengths and being wary of those who might take advantage of you. Children from age four will find this book utterly and proposterously reeking with the sweetest kind of comedy, bugging their parents for more.

Allen and Unwin, September 2018.

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Stories for the Soul – Picture Books that Tug at the Heart Part 1

There’s a fair chance that issue-based picture books are going to tug your heartstrings and touch your soul purely because they dare to devote themselves to issues that matter to you, the reader. You should never be frightened of feeling, nor should you be wary of exposing your child to feelings. Even if your child has not yet experienced a similar situation, sharing stories with soul is a key way to introduce them to the myriad of emotions and circumstances that make up their world. These next few picture books are prime examples.

Lily’s Balloon by Katrina Roe and Helene Magisson

Lily is disappointed and overwhelmed by a day out at the fair that is until she finds something that makes her feel ‘quiet on the inside’, an ivory coloured balloon. This balloon calms and heartens her but she accidentally lets it out of her grasp at the park. It soars towards the clouds leaving Lily behind.

Tom, fledging photographer, happens upon the balloon as it drifts across the park’s lake and it becomes one of his favourite shots. However, the balloon dances on until it snags in the branches of Amelia’s garden. After she sets it free, her heart soars with it.

Continue reading Stories for the Soul – Picture Books that Tug at the Heart Part 1

Sensational Spring Kids’ Stories

Spring has sprung and with it a prolific explosion of sublimely divine children’s books. Here is the slimmest selection. Do search the bookshelves for more.

The Perfect Leaf by Andrew Plant

Befittingly released on the tail end of our Southern Hemisphere autumn, The Perfect Leaf is a glorious explosion of colour and joy. Smothered in hues of honey-on-warm-toast, this book oozes the golden splendour of autumn on each page, promoting friendship, imagination and creativity in a way adults often forget about but children naturally embrace.

In a world where imperfections are deemed as failures rather than avenues for alternative thought and being, this book serves as an important reminder for us all to rejoice in the small things in life and look for the unique beauties within them. Plant’s multi perspective illustrations saturate each page, providing the perfect backdrop for his syrupy prose. The Perfect Leaf is a lovely vehicle for discussion about nature, seasons, perception, acceptance and friendship. And, while more autumn hued than spring, worthy of treasuring as the days warm.

Ford Street Publishing October 2018

Big Fella Rain by Beryl Webber and Fern Martins

At a time when children are constantly being reminded of the arid nature of this land, Big Fella Rain is a supremely refreshing, soul-quenching look at life in the Top End of Australia.

Continue reading Sensational Spring Kids’ Stories

Forever Inspiring; Elizabeth Mary Cummings on The Forever Kid

Children’s author and poet, with a background in education and psychology, Elizabeth Mary Cummings is known for her sensitive attention to difficult topics including mental health and anti-bullying issues. Following titles, such as The Disappearing Sister and Dinner on the Doorstep, Elizabeth has recently released her picture book on grief, The Forever Kid. She has paid careful consideration as to celebrate the life of a family’s son and brother in a joyous way, rather than treat this story as a sorrowful tragedy. Johnny, their forever kid, is beautifully and authentically remembered on his birthday – an event they honour every year, despite his absence. Vince, narrator and younger brother, portrays a host of emotions, including sadness, guilt and joy as the family look both back and forward on life with and without their Johnny. A narrative genuinely thought-through via the child’s perspective. Equally, the illustrations by Cheri Hughes add an extra layer of depth with their angelic, water-wash qualities to represent the softness and tenderness of the emotion and the family’s  tradition of telling ‘cloud stories’, as well as the vivacity that reflects their strong memories of their loved one. The Forever Kid is undoubtedly a book that children from age four will strongly remember and gain solace in knowing there are positive ways to cope in difficult situations.

Big Sky Publishing, October 2018.

Elizabeth is here today to talk with us at Boomerang Books!

Congratulations on the release of your heartfelt picture book.

A powerful and beautiful story such as The Forever Kid would grip the hearts of any audience coping with grief or change. What was your motivation for writing it, and what do you hope is gained by readers?

The story came to me one night when my parents were visiting, I woke at about 2a.m. and the story was there and I wrote it down immediately before I lost it. The trigger was probably talking through family times as well as having at that time just lost a dear friend to cancer. The idea of grief was right at the surface of my emotions I guess and being with my parents had made my mind turn to the story of my father losing his younger brother who was a teenager at the time of his death.

What have you found to be effective strategies in dealing with grief? How does your book show the processing of such sadness and mourning in a positive way?

In dealing with grief there is more of an understanding that this is complex and that does not go away once time passes. For those who have suffered loss and grieving, it is a process but it is also a state in which they live after the initial loss.

In The Forever Kid, Vince and his family celebrate and remember Johnny on the day of his birthday. On talking to many families who have suffered the loss of a child I have found that this is common practice. Although sadness is certainly present this can be the day where there is a reflection on the life of the loved one. This celebration of life in itself becomes the positive coming together and of that opportunity to talk about that loved one.

For children it is vital that they have access to the truth as well as have a chance to be involved in the grieving process both around the time of death and after. It is important that [children] have a safe adult or older sibling or child to talk to about how they feel.

What is your involvement in the community regarding help with family and mental health situations?

I have no official role. I obviously write on the topic and am a great believer in narrative therapy.

Your previous titles (the Verityville and Elephant in the Room series) were all published independently. This time you have gone down the trade publishing route with Big Sky Publishing. How have your experiences differed in terms of support and marketing opportunities?

Well, when publishing independently one has all the control and all of the responsibility. It is a double-edged sword. Traditional publishers have bigger budgets, more control and wider reach. The decision as to how to publish (independently or trade) and who to publish (publisher selection) much be made in the light of what one is writing about and what one’s intention is for the story. As I have been working on my own marketing for almost four years now I understood the publisher’s considerations better than a first time author might. Publishing is no easy task and it takes a team to develop a book all the way through. Even when working independently I am working with others – designers, beta readers, editors and other professional services I may need to contract in to help produce a book as best possible.

Anything else of excitement you’d like to add? News? Upcoming projects? TBR pile?

Some of my new projects include: two poetry collections, a new picture book called The Green Striped Hoodie about bullying and resilience, finding a publisher for a project I have been working on to do with trauma and recovery as well as a couple of environmental projects and some more Verityville stories!

That’s all very exciting! Thanks so much, Elizabeth! It’s been a pleasure!

Elizabeth can be found at her website, and on blog tour here.

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Dimity Powell Takes Us on a Trip Down Holyrood Lane

 Dimity Powell, author of evocatively and beautifully written (and illustrated by Nicky Johnston) titles including The Fix-It Man (my review and interview) and At the End of Holyrood Lane (my review) is here to discuss the creation of the latter in an insightful interview. Dimity is a well-established presenter in Australia and overseas and a strong advocate for literacy as a workshop leader and Books in Homes Role Model. As you would be aware from her Boomerang Books reviews, Dimity has a flair for exquisite language, and her picture books are conveyed no differently. I’m grateful for this opportunity to talk with you, Dim!

Congratulations, Dim, on your newest, very special picture book, once again collaborating with the gorgeous Nicky Johnston!

Thank you, Romi!

Following your successful partnership on The Fix-It Man, was this second joint venture something you always planned or just a lucky coincidence?

It is something we both secretly always wished for – we adore working together – but was definitely more of a case of fate than design. When EK Books accepted Holyrood Lane, the first person publisher, Anouska Jones and I thought of to illustrate this story was Nicky. Her style was just right for projecting the type of feeling this work required.

Your story deals with a delicate topic on domestic violence and emotional safety through the metaphorical torment of a thunderstorm. We know Nicky has the knack for capturing the deep and true essence of a story. How do you feel she portrayed your intention? Was there much collaboration throughout the process?

She portrayed every intention brilliantly! Nicky has a phenomenal initiative grasp of the story behind my stories. It’s as if she has direct access into my head and is able to see exactly how I’d love the characters and their emotions be displayed. This occurs with little to no consultation at all, which stuns me. I can only paint with words. Nicky’s illustrations do all the rest of the work.

What I really enjoyed about working with her on this project was when I happened to be in Melbourne last year (for the Victorian launch of The Fix-It Man) and was invited into her work studio. Oh, what a sublime experience that was. She had a query about a certain spread of Holyrood Lane and invited me to offer solutions. Together we nutted through the various ways of portraying the message. It was a turning point in the story for the main character, Flick and for me. I have never experienced such joy working so closely with such a divinely talented creator as Nicky. I know this is not everyone’s experience so I feel very blessed.

As mentioned, At the End of Holyrood Lane is an intensely moving and powerful tale that prevalently and superbly brings an awareness to its readers. What was your motivation in writing this story and what do you hope your audience gains from reading it?

I hope first and foremost readers engage with Flick’s story in a way that is meaningful for them and leave it feeling more hopeful and reflective. I was prompted to write this book after a meeting with a prominent children’s charity founder, who proclaimed more mainstream, accessible picture books addressing this subject matter were needed. I rose to the challenge. But in doing so, had to clear tall hurdles. Most mainstream publishers felt this type of story was ‘too hot to handle’. Fortunately, for me, EK Books had the foresight and determination to take it on with me.

Did the story go through many re-writes? How did you perfect the language and level of emotional impact for an audience that may be as young as three or four?

Oh, yes! After several knock backs, I set about restructuring Flick’s story into a more metaphoric one, one that would appeal to children worldwide regardless of their situation and whether or not they were victims of abuse. If it wasn’t for the initial reactions and the feedback received from those publishers, I would not have had the impetus to fight on so determinedly nor explore my story from a different perspective. Reasons to be grateful for rejections!

Each rewrite brought me closer to that sweet spot, where words and emotions sing in perfect harmony. To ensure that the words matched the emotional maturity of my audience I sought the help of my erstwhile writing critique buddy, Candice Lemon-Scott. Normally when we assess each other’s work, it only takes one or two feedback sessions to understand the strengths and weaknesses of a particular manuscript. Working on this one was like slogging it through the finals of a tennis match; there was much back and forwarding, but finally after about six rewrites and months of massaging, I knew I had a winner.

What is the significance of the title? Is there a hidden meaning behind it?

Yes and no. I love the term Holyrood, having noticed it on my travels and always thought I’d love to incorporate it into one of my books one day. After rewriting Holyrood Lane a few times under the old working title of Holding On, I realised I needed something better, stronger and more meaningful. Holyrood has various religious connections, appropriated to be an ancient Christian relic of the true cross and was the subject of veneration and pilgrimage in the middle ages. It is also the placename of several notable locations throughout Europe. I liked the subtle spiritual connotations and the sense of venturing away from the norm into a potentially better unknown that this title evokes.

The excitement of your book launch in Brisbane is imminent! What do you have planned for the big day?

The launch is taking place at the Brisbane Square Library, which is smack bang in the middle of Brisbane on the 23 September – a Sunday – so hopefully young and old will be able to make it. In addition to the usual cupcake consumption (they’ll look and taste gorgeous I can assure you!), there’ll be kids’ activities, special guest speakers from various domestic violence organisations, book readings, signings and a raffle with over $1,040 worth of terrific book prizes to be won. Kids’ Lit guru, Susanne Gervay is also travelling up from Sydney to launch this book with me for which I’m eternally grateful. This industry thrives on the support from people like her so I look forward to celebrating this with everyone at the launch.

You are hugely active in the literary community with workshops, festivals, school visits and the like. What other kinds of events and presentations have you been involved in recently? What value do you see for authors presenting to children?

I’ve been facilitating and conducting a few school holiday kids’ writing camps this year in addition to bookshop appearances and workshops. I really love these camps because on a personal level they consolidate what it means to write and how to do it well. They are also heaps of fun and put me in touch with tomorrow’s writers in a very real and exciting way. I’m not really teaching them to write; it feels more like a privileged position of mentoring; guiding and nurturing young raw talent is unspeakably satisfying.

One of the camps I facilitate is the Write Like An Author Camps designed by Brian Falkner. The immense value of having published active authors presenting to kids is that validation they gain from linking facts, tips, tricks and methods with real world experience. We (authors) are the living proof of what we do and say!

Anything else of excitement you’d like to add? News? Upcoming projects? TBR pile?

My TBR pile is tall enough to crush an elephant should it ever topple which it has, toppled that is, not killed any elephants, yet. My Christmas wish would be for more time to read AND write. I’m bubbling with new picture book ideas but have been writing in snatches since entering pre-publication mode for Holyrood Lane. There are a couple more publications on the horizon for 2019 and 2020 though, which makes me happier than a bear with a tub of honey ice cream.

Things are also ramping up on the SCBWI front as we prepare for the next Sydney-based Conference taking place in February 2019. Bookings for this immensely popular conference have just opened and are filling fast. I have the enviable task of coordinating a dynamic team of Roving Reporters again next year whose job is to cover every inch of the conference and it share with the world. It’s another time gobbling occupation but a thrilling one nonetheless.

Thanks so much for chatting with me, Dimity! And congratulations again on such a special book! 🙂

It was my absolute pleasure, Romi!

Purchase At the End of Holyrood Lane

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Review: At the End of Holyrood Lane by Dimity Powell and Nicky Johnston

If there ever was a story that so finely balances a highly delicate topic with exquisitely gentle language and a resolution that makes your heart swell, it’s At the End of Holyrood Lane written by Dimity Powell and illustrated by Nicky Johnston. So brilliantly does this book combine the rawness of agonising fear and anxiety in a case of domestic and emotional violence with a ray of uplifting hope and courage, depicted amongst the darkness of the metaphorical thunderstorm that causes such torment.

Through Powell’s powerful narrative and Johnston’s visually arresting illustrations, we experience the juxtaposition of a normally vibrant young Flick with this little girl troubled by the daunting uncertainty of her safety. Where a home should be a consistently sheltered environment, Flick has to weather the wrath of fierce storms that “smother sunshine and ransack fun.” They “make Flick feel smaller than she really is.” The rising intensity of the fuming rage accented with looming, dark faceless shadows brings the arc to a screeching crescendo, until the call for help allows the sunshine to glow and spill over a vibrant young Flick once again.

RizeUp Australia and Act for Kids are proud supporting organisations of this book and of families experiencing domestic violence in the home. At the End of Holyrood Lane, in essence, raises a gentle touch to readers in empowering them the ability to seek help in times of suffering.

Highly evocative and dramatically moving, the value of this book to homes and schools is unquestionable. Flick and her toy unicorn are a symbol of hope and sunshine that early years children will quite quickly warm to.

EK Books, September 2018.

Dimity Powell will be joining us in an insightful interview, coming shortly!

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Review: Sweet Adversity

Assimilating history into a palatable, meaningful tale for today’s children is no easy thing. Get it wrong and you risk children shunning not only a potentially great read, but learning about periods of our past that explain the character of our future as a people and a nation. A situation of unquestionable adversity, yet adversity has many advantages – ‘sweet are the uses of adversity’ after all. Get it right, and children will embrace history with gusto and every ounce of the here and now vigour that defines childhood.

Sheryl Gwyther’s ability to immerse young readers into worlds of yesteryear with such a clear strong presence of today is exemplary. Her narrative slides along as alluringly as a sweet mountain brook, mesmerizing readers with plenty of action and emotion. Sweet Adversity is exactly the type of book my 12-year-old-self would have lapped up with unbridled zeal, especially as it acquaints children with the wondrous words of Shakespeare, some of which adult readers will connect with of course, but which provide a beautiful rich new seam of learning for tweens.

Continue reading Review: Sweet Adversity

Make Some Noise for Debut Author Sonia Bestulic

Crashing onto the scene is first time picture book author, Sonia Bestulic. Her whimsical tale is all about NOISE! It’s a triumphant take on the joys of music making, and the joys of motherhood in an exuberantly loud household. Sonia’s background in Speech Pathology serves her well in this rollicking rhyming story focused on the development of oral language, speech and instrumental exploration. Sonia is speaking with us as a part of her Reece Give Me Some Peace! book blog tour. Thanks, Sonia! 🎷🎻🥁

Congratulations on the release of your debut picture book, Reece Give Me Some Peace! Please tell us a bit about your background and how you came to be a writer.

Books and writing have always been an integral part of my life since early childhood, I loved the experience of new worlds books immersed me into, as well as the joys of sharing a book that was read to me. From childhood I have relished in writing in its various formats, and always had a particular passion for rhyming and the creative fun you could have with language.

My love of language and drive to help others succeed led me to a career as a Speech Pathologist. My work has predominately been with children who have difficulties with their speech, oral language and literacy. Within my work as a Speech Pathologist I heavily incorporate books as a tool to build and foster oral language development, and getting children ready to read, spell and write.
Working so dynamically with books and with children, I have been privileged to experience time and time again the wonders that a book can create in young people, and so honing my writing within the children’s picture book genre seemed a natural pathway of evolution.

What is your personal experience or relationship with music? How does this come together with your background in Speech Pathology?

I have always had a love of a wide variety of musical genres. Music has been an accompaniment in my life’s journey; listening to it, singing with it, dancing to it, and making it too! I started learning the violin when I was 7 years old, and continued it through to my late teens, before periodically entwining it during adulthood. Music generally is such an integral part of so many aspects of our lives.
The writing of Reece Give Me Some Peace! has brought together my musical background and professional Speech Pathology background, as the text is intentionally very stimulating at an auditory level, and features rich oral language and pre-literacy aspects such as rhyming, alliteration, repetition and rhythm, whilst introducing children to a new vocabulary of orchestral instruments and the sounds they make.

As a Speech Pathologist I often train carers and educators on strategies to develop and enhance oral language and pre-literacy skills; and being able to share in a book such as Reece Give Me Some Peace!, that invites an interactive experience certainly parallels to the interactive experience we can have with music.

How did you find the publishing process with Big Sky Publishing? What has been the most rewarding and the most challenging aspects of your journey so far?

Big Sky Publishing have been such a lovely team to work with; facilitating a smooth and engaging publishing process.
Most rewarding has been the opportunity to be involved in the various stages of the publishing process – it is pretty amazing being a part of it all and experiencing the evolution of the book from ‘conception to birth’. I certainly got a little teary at the first sight of the initial illustrations, such a personally moving, emotional moment.

In terms of challenging aspects, as this is my debut picture book, I’d say it’s been getting a better understanding of the industry, it’s workings and learning the marketing ‘where to’ once published.

Nancy Bevington has brilliantly captured the movement, energy and charisma of Reece Give Me Some Peace! What do you love the most about the way she has portrayed your lively story and boisterous main character?

I love that Reece is portrayed as such a relatable young boy, just doing his own thing, in his own space with such cheekiness and curiosity; the way in which his manner of play is illustrated, so perfectly aligns with so many children.

Nancy has also beautifully captured the strong auditory component of the story and I love the visual build-up of instruments as the noise crescendos.

I have to make mention of the clever portrayal of one of my favourite characters, and that is Reece’s cat; who appears throughout the story and adds such a wonderful element of endearing humour!

What kinds of teaching and learning experiences would you suggest for parents and educators reading Reece to their children?

• Overall the teaching and learning experience can be themed on music and musical instruments, and reinforcing auditory/ listening skills
• The book builds anticipation, as the sounds are heard before the instruments are revealed; so really get children engaged in joining in with the sounds and guessing what the instrument may be that is making the sound
• Discuss the various instruments;
> what they are
> how they are played
> what category they belong to e.g. flute is a wind instrument, drums are a percussion instrument, violin is a string instrument etc.
​Extension activities can include;
• Drawing feelings of how different pieces of music evoke different emotions
• Listen to and watch the actual instruments being played on YouTube to extend the experience
• Listen to an orchestral piece of music and play ‘spot the instrument’ naming various instruments as they are heard
• Grab some instruments you may have at home or create some (upside down empty bucket and sticks make for an easy to assemble drum!)

Anything else you’d like to add? Your upcoming projects? News? Reading pile?

I have another Picture Book due for release in 2019 with Big Sky Publishing; and the talented Nancy Bevington as illustrator. It is coming together beautifully!

A recent news item is the launch of my podcast Chatabout Children with Sonia Bestulic! I launched at the end of August, and I am really enjoying the creative process so far and the new skills I have picked up along the way. It is all about empowering parents/ carers and professionals to grow with the children in their life; through education, enlightenment and entertainment. I am also looking at this avenue as an opportunity to periodically chat to Children’s Authors and discover all the wonderful things they have been up to in the world of Children’s Books!

That sounds brilliant! Thanks so much for speaking with Boomerang Books, Sonia! 😊

Sonia can be found at her website, and on blog tour here.

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Daddy’s Day Delights – Picture Books to Share with Dad

The thing about dads is, they’re just big kids in slightly longer pants. No matter whether your dad, or grandpa, is the bouncy, flouncy type, the serious, steady kind or the biggest kid in the house, this little collection of picture books pay homage to them all and are perfect to share with your dad on Daddy’s Day this year. Enjoy!

I Love You Dino-Daddy by Mark Sperring and Sam Lloyd

This winning picture book team have done it again with a perfectly rhyming, boldly colourful, dino-deluxed romp around the house and park with Dad.  Dino-Daddy packs plenty of playful punch and is a hilarious gallery of the unending personas the average daddy undergoes on a daily basis.  Builder Dad, Sleeping Beauty Dad, Party Dad, Monster Dad, each scenario mirrors the all the rip-snorting, sometimes unexpected qualities of fatherhood that come with the job and cement father child relationships. Ideal for sharing quietly or not so quietly with children from two years and up.

Bloomsbury for Children June 2018

The Daddy Shop by Aleesah Darlison and Kelly O’Gara

Unlike mummies, some daddies can’t be there every minute of every day (she says with tongue in cheek for this story works equally well if the roles were reversed). Unfortunately, little Tai’s daddy is one of those daddies whose work sometimes prevents him from spending time with his son. This makes Tai cross and recalcitrant enough to take matters into his own hands when he learns daddy is unable to make it to the Father and Son Picnic Day.

Continue reading Daddy’s Day Delights – Picture Books to Share with Dad

Fatherhood in Picture Books

What does fatherhood mean to you? Is it about the shared moments that make you laugh? Or the ones that incite your curiosity about the world? Is it teaching them a new skill? Or bestowing some secrets about life that you learned along the way? Is it simply being present to watch them grow and succeed? Whatever your definition, there is no doubt that gorgeous picture books can draw out and encourage special bonds in a way that is meaningful to you. Here are a few that do just that…

From Him, To Me, To You. This beautiful book is a lyrical dedication to our littlest loved ones. A book to be shared across the generations. And one that will bring a tear to your eye. Things My Pa Told Me is written with a wise and astute hand by Anthony Bertini, told in a gentle and pertinent manner. Illustrator Jonathan Bentley comes in with an interpretation of his own, brilliantly re-imagining the text to another level of wonder, warmth and adventure. His amazing sketch work creates this extraordinary atmosphere of movement, light and shade, colour and energy that perfectly reflects the perspective of a small child in a big world.

The message imparted is one of strength, support, security and love. Of a father reinforcing his little girl’s journey through childhood – all the growth, fears and challenges and power she is to face. The possibilities that await and the wisdom needed to set her own path. But most importantly, to “enjoy this brief time, just you and me.” One day she will be able to reach, and he (father) will remain in her heart, watching along the way.

Things My Pa Told Me accomplishes a profound and timeless tale of embrace and hope in a way that leaves the reader to their own interpretation and meaning. A stunning book for children from age four to share with their own Pa.

Little Hare Books, August 2018.

The title says it all – bonding with Grandpa, adventure, and the wildest of imaginations. Read on and you’ll find plenty of action, fun and play (including a brilliant play with words!). Grandpa’s Space Adventure is created by such a masterful duo following their Grandpa’s Big Adventure; Paul Newman and Tom Jellett hilariously bring this star-filled adventure rocketing into life.

Grandpa tells his grandson about the time he and dog Rover flew to the moon. He took his ‘launch box’, had ‘high tea’… ‘very high tea’ every day, and even split his side on laughing gas instead of oxygen. He played ‘fetch-the-stick’ with Rover, but it never came back. Joke upon space-themed joke float across the pages paired with Jellett’s characteristically comical cartoons that will literally have your own sides splitting with giggles. Grandpa makes the young narrator feel totally safe in the dark. Now, here’s to another ‘wild’ adventure…

Extremely clever, playful and absolutely cracking with humour, Grandpa’s Space Adventure will leave no space for fear of the dark when you’re sharing this planet-tastic book with your loved ones. For space-travellers aged three and up.

Penguin Random House, July 2018.

The oblivious dad. The one that thinks he knows it all. You know the one! What a glorious day out for Sally and Max in Sara Acton’s Dinosaur Day Out. Dad thinks he’s taking his children on a peaceful day trip to the museum, only to find the dinosaur exhibition is closed. Little does he know that, despite his efforts to treat them instead to a day in the park and a spot of ice cream, Sally and Max in fact encounter all the species of dinosaur listed in Dad’s book. How extraordinary! He’s got his head so engrossed in his ‘Did you know’ facts that he misses every trick, glimpse and illusion that only the children, and us readers, so astutely notice.

The little comical elements in the illustrative details give the text even more irony and humour. And Acton’s softly textured paintings and simple colour palette ensure a gentle and playful feel as opposed to some of those slightly scary dinosaur facts that Dad apprises.

Dinosaur lovers everywhere will adore this whimsical and informative story with all its comedy and adventure. Dinosaur Day Out is the ideal book for preschoolers to share with their ‘know-it-all-not-so-know-it-all’ dads.

Walker Books, September 2018.

This is the perfect guide for new arrivals. If you’ve just landed on this earth, you’ll need this handy manual to ensure you have the best stay possible. Totally brilliant – Welcome; A Guide for New Arrivals by Mo Willems – narrated by parents with wit, verve and unconditional love.

The guide begins with a mirror and a fact sheet on how YOU came into being: a unique combination of LOVE + TIME + LUCK. Filled with a range of enlarged headings, diagrams in the form of signposts, and bright, bold colours, the book humorously outlines a myriad of life’s pleasures and complications. For example, a few upcoming highlights include: Music. “Here is an example of a song” (insert printed music). Cats. “We are pleased to inform you there will be cats… And not just cats. There are Mountains + Friends + Bagels + Infinite Remarkable Things.” Stories. “There are True Stories + Made-Up Stories + Silly Stories.” Each identified by an amusing symbol, and completing the page with ‘while we read this book together.’ There is a guide on ‘We Regret to Inform You’, followed by ‘Rest Assured’. But there is a note for parents to absorb, too. And that is to simply ‘stop’ and ‘be’, because we all know this precious time in our little ones’ lives doesn’t last too long, so enjoy it.

Welcome is a must-have book for every first-time father. Thank you for joining us.

Walker Books UK, July 2018.

Happy Father’s Day!

For more amazing Father’s Day Books for kids check back to read Dimity‘s reviews.

Keeping the Faith – Junior Novel to YA reviews

Believing in yourself when all else around you is in a state of upset and confusion is an emotion children are more than capable of recognising. Keeping the faith when adrift in turbulent seas is not only testing and difficult at times, it also determines your future perspectives on life. These next few books that touch on the importance of keeping the faith in dire times provide intense and touching lifelines to children (and adults) of all ages.

Leave Taking by Lorraine Marwood

Marwood is more than adept at distilling emotions into moving verse novels. Attaching emotion and memories to physical things is something humans are adept at, as well. This story deftly portrays a young boy’s heart-felt attempt to retain and simultaneously farewell everything he holds dear in his life as he and his family prepare to sell up and leave their family farm.

Continue reading Keeping the Faith – Junior Novel to YA reviews

Animals at Work – Picture Book Reviews

Kids are all too quick to grow up these days, but yet to realise the complexities and oftentimes, inequalities, that go with grown-up responsibilities. Sure, life in the playground can be tough, too. No doubt there will be times they feel under-valued, misunderstood or lonely. Whilst these references may seem quite grim, the following ‘adult-work-life’ picture books paint these dark hues to meet a bright and hopeful light at the end of the tunnel.

Ok. It will be called… Next award-winning picture book of the year. Phenomenal artist. Phenomenal storyteller. Shaun Tan wins over the masses with his latest picture book, Cicada. Considering its haunting themes, this book has a definite star-quality appeal that is sure to set a glow in every reader’s heart.

You heard it… ‘Tok Tok Tok!’. Time marches on for hard-working cicada. Seventeen years. Stuck behind his computer desk hidden amongst a concrete jungle of office carrels – hardly noticed, immensely unappreciated. Treated as sub-human, despite the fact he is not human at all. But honestly, his pay is docked for being forced to use the bathroom twelve blocks away! Work life for cicada is dire with no thanks, no living support (he lives in an office wallspace), colleague abuse and eventually a retrenchment with a figurative kick in the butt.

Seventeen years imprisoned in this grey, lifeless cell of despair. There’s nothing left… but to transform. And all you can do is laugh! Tok Tok Tok!

Cicada breathes intense concepts and colourless imagery that is far from dull, mixed together with sharp language spoken in a broken English. However, it embodies a fiery life within that speaks universally to humans about the power of self-worth, about courage and respect. An impressive, evocative picture book for older readers (5-9 years).

Lothian Children’s Books, June 2018.

Work life at Baggage Handlers United is pretty fun for Marvin. He loves the routine of putting things on and taking things off. He has friends that work there, too. But what happens when his ‘friends’ start laughing at his expense? Missing Marvin is a meaningful and sensitive story about the hurtful effects practical jokes can have when taken too far.

Sue deGennaro beautifully captures the heart and soul of this story through her gentle, multi-faceted illustrations and leading language that carefully directs readers to ponder the emotions being explored. When Barry, Shelly and Ivan set up what they think are amusing shenanigans, it is upon closer inspection that we see the heartrenching damage done to Marvin. “… he wonders if a joke is only a joke when everyone is laughing.” All too often, people (at work or at school) go about their day ‘pretending’ they are okay. And all too often, ‘the signs’ go unnoticed. Learning strategies to avoid emotional and physical isolation are nicely handled here when Marvin decides to come out of hiding (after succumbing to his bed) and open up to his friends about his feelings.

All it takes is a conversation. Missing Marvin brings about a light-hearted simplicity on the cusp of complex issues related to bullying and depression. Presented in a sweet and satisfying way, this book will help preschool-aged children find compassion, sensitivity and courage when needed most.

Scholastic, April 2018.

With a gorgeous setting based on the Greek islands of Andros and Mykonos, who wouldn’t love to live and work there? Originally from Greece, author illustrator Elena Topouzoglou paints a charming picture of friendship emerging out of loneliness.

In Mr Pegg’s Post, a little girl, Anna, longs for interaction from the outside world beyond her lighthouse home. The only visitor is Mr Pegg – the pelican postman. One stormy night, from the darkness Mr Pegg comes thumping into her life, serendipitously changing the world as she knows it. The ability to work effectively can be difficult when faced with a crippling injury. However, Anna’s eagerness to help deliver letters by boat serves them well in his recovery and her social connections. Anna receives more than just letters now. She has friendships, and a job!

The soothing blue wash of the water represents a beautiful link between the isolation of the lighthouse and the community spirit of the mainland. Mr Pegg’s Posts delivers a message of support, appreciation and value to the hearts of children from age three.

New Frontier Publishing, July 2018.

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Under the Sea, Under the Sea – Picture Book Reviews

With all the latest talk on plastic pollution and contamination in our oceans and waterways, it seems fitting to bring further awareness and appreciation for our beautiful marine and plant life to light. These following picture books not only give us the colourful scoop on the abundance of amazing life under the sea, but also the incentive and empowerment to protect them in the best ways we can.

Somewhere in the Reef, an ideallic scene of freedom and serenity – just the way it should be. Following the classic rhyme, ‘Over in the Meadow’, Marcello Pennacchio sings up a swirling wave of sea animal counting fun. A host of gorgeous ocean creatures splash vividly about the pages, brought realistically to life by artist Danny Snell.

Starting with a mother dolphin and her little calf one along the Great Barrier Reef, daubs and splashes of movement ‘leap’ from one page to the next. With another verb, ‘wiggle’, we encounter two little sea snakes jiggling amongst the blue. Consistently, action meets numbers as the rhythm of verse and marine life treat us to an underwater spectacle in the crisp and clear waters of the lagoons and reefs.

Somewhere in the Reef is a playful and joyful experience to sing along to and recognise the importance of conservation of these beautiful creatures. Swimmingly good fun for preschool-aged children.

Scholastic, March 2018.

Another underwater counting parade propelled by poetry and learning potential is Jasper Juggles Jellyfish by Ben Long and David Cornish. With a title bound for alliteration activity, text tossed with rhyme and numbers flicked here, there and everywhere, you’re all set for a jovial, educational experience.

Set at the bottom of the ocean with textures reflective of the sun glimpsing through the water on creatures so adorably cute, Jasper the octopus drags himself off to school. A less-than-confident Jasper struggles with his counting abilities, but juggling is no problem. One friendly jellyfish encourages a strategy that Jasper can surely handle – “it’s best to start with one.” And with that, adding jellyfish to tossing tentacles means Jasper’s counting problem is solved with a total of twelve (3 jellyfish per every 2 arms).

Jasper Juggles Jellyfish would be a juggle between a simple adding-on strategy for preschoolers and more advanced problem solving for junior primary aged children. Nevertheless, an exuberant story about confidence and different ways of learning that children will be bouncing to read again.

Ford Street Publishing, July 2018.

In Ori’s Clean-Up, Anne Helen Donnelly provides all the right tools for an entertaining and environmentally-focused reading experience for early years children. Teamwork and meticulous organisation are highlighted in a war on waste, as we know it, where Ori the octopus and his friends find systematic ways to manage the rubbish in their underwater home.

Repetitive language and clear, vivid and friendly cartoons assist in delivering the message of cleanliness and working together. Terms and images specific to recycling, re-using, composting and donating are scattered throughout to reinforce this awareness and utilisation in everyday life.

Ori’s Clean-Up is brilliantly simple, accessible and universal to help affect change for the good of our planet.

Anne Helen Donnelly, July 2018.

Next, we are delving deep into a procedural text of the imaginary kind! But first, note the shiny, shimmering cover that is sure to lure in any young child with a penchant for mermaids. How to Catch a Mermaid is a cool and snappy rhyming tale  from a series written and illustrated by the New York Times bestselling team, Adam Wallace and Andy Elkerton.

With the persistence, creativity and audacity of a young whippersnapper, a little girl and her buddies make several attempts at ensnaring the pretty mermaid at the depths of the ocean. Trap after trap, their scheme fails. But who will help them out when they are themselves trapped by some nasty, yellow-eyed sharks?

Witty, bold and lively, How to Catch a Mermaid is one your little ones will want to snatch up as quick as they can! For ages four and up.

Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, June 2018.

Jarvis is a talanted international author-illustrator with books including Poles Apart, Alan’s Big, Scary Teeth and Mrs Mole, I’m Home! Continuing our underwater theme, Tropical Terry serves up a flashy, fishy tray of mesmerising goodness to feast your eyes on. Eyes, not mouths! 😉

Swishyness and swooshyness of colourful tropical fish swirl in flurries in Coral Reef City. And then there was Terry. Living the simple, plain-coloured life with his best sea friends isn’t enough when the fancy fish constantly parade their fanciful snobbiness. So, Terry transforms himself. And forgets his friends. Until there is danger. How will he escape?

Being yourself always reaps the best rewards. Tropical Terry casts an important net on playing to one’s strengths and embracing your individuality. A plain and simple message in an underwater forest of colour and spirit. Ages 3+.

Walker Books UK, June 2018.

Reluctant Heroes – Junior Novels That Conquer Doubt

Being the leader of the pack is not a role everyone relishes, especially if you are that shy kid who never kicks a goal or that odd sounding, looking kid whose school lunches never quite fit the norm. However it is often the most reluctant heroes that make the biggest impact and save the day. Being at odds with yourself and your perceived persona is the theme of these books, so beautifully summarised in their paradoxical titles. What I love about these two authors is their inherent ability to commentate messages of significant social weight with supreme wit and humor. It’s like feeding kids sausage rolls made of brussel sprouts.

Natural Born Leader Loser by Oliver Phommavanh

Raymond is stuck in a school with a reputation grubbier than a two-year-old’s left hand and choked with bullies. The best way he knows of fighting these realities is not to fight at all. Raymond is king of fading into the background especially when it comes to his friendship with best mate, Zain Afrani.

Zain is a soccer nut and self-confessed extrovert whom has a deep affinity for Raymond. He likes to flash his brash approach to bullying about much to the consternation of Raymond who happily gives up the spotlight to Zain whenever he’s around. Constant self-depreciation just about convinces Raymond that he’ll never amount to anything of much significance, which he is sort of all right with until their new principal blows his social-circumvention cover by appointing him as one of the new school prefects.

Raymond is as shocked as the rest of the school but reluctantly assumes the role along with a kooky cast of radically differing kids. Under the calm, consistent leadership of Raymond, this eclectic team not only manages to drag Barryjong Primary School out of its bad-rep quagmire by winning the hearts and minds of the students and faculty alike but while doing so, raises enough money for new air conditioners for every classroom.

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Applauding Individuality – Picture Books that Celebrate Being Different

Young children don’t always notice differences in people, at least not in the passively aggressive way some adults are inclined to do. Sadly, the recognition of characteristics dissimilar to their own either physical or behavioural is largely a mindset learned from their environment. Picture books like these do a tremendous job of challenging erroneous mindsets and applauding individuality. They are charming and direct, yet subtle and entertaining enough to read repeatedly.

Along Came A Different by Tom McLaughlin

Dramatically different (pardon the pun) from anything else McLaughlin has produced before, this avant-garde picture book cleverly combines colour recognition (with emphasis on the primary colours), geometry and social acceptance all in one neat entertaining package. Several groups of differents converge into one community space but despise one another because reds, blues and yellows just don’t match. Rules are established and boundaries are enforced. Life is tense and restrictive. Until one day, quite unexpectedly, a really different different comes along, radically altering their perceptions and igniting a massive appreciation of how being different is actually better. Friendship prevails and happiness blooms.

This story told in few words and bold striking characters, relays a simple premise of live and let love. It suggests to children that you can be any shape, size, or colour and still have a voice. You can like any type of music and have friends who love oranges even if you do not. You are unique and therefore amazing. It’s that simple. A modern day classic that welcomes differences and embraces change. Magnificent. Timely. Recommended.

Bloomsbury Children’s Books May 2018

My Storee by Paul Russell and Aska

Australian NAPLAN advocates turn away now for this tremendous picture book blithely ignores language conventions and unapologetically dismisses sticklers for rules. I love how it also challenges every spell check on the planet.

Derived from the author’s own experience with dyslexia, My Storee is a beautifully refreshing expose of encouraging creativity for creativity’s sake by forsaking the bounds of perfect spelling and correctness; paradigms that can severely road block learning and advancement for a person afflicted with dyslexia.

A young boy is a master storyteller but is afraid to let his dragons loose at school for fear of grammatical reprimand. That is until a teacher with extreme foresight, long hair and very loud shirts breezes into his life and gives him permission to be who he is and shine. Thank you Mr Watson.

Full marks for this book, which screams thinking outside of the box, applauds alternative teaching approaches and champions creative verve to the nth degree. I love it, every word and every ridiculously bold bright illustration. Viva la Mr Watsons, wherever you are out there. We need more like you. My Storee is concrete reinforcement of embracing who you are and all that you have, or have not, with verve and positivity.

EK Books August 2018

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Doodles and Drafts – Rebecca Lim and The Relic of the Blue Dragon

Less than a week ago, notable Aussie author / illustrator and prodigious writer for children, Rebecca Lim, release her latest action-packed middle grade series, Children of the Dragon. Book One: The Relic of the Blue Dragon promises magic, mystery and martial arts and I know for one already has young primary aged readers perched avidly on the edge of their seats.

Today we welcome Rebecca to the draft table to share a bit more about what drives her to write what she does and reveal her motivation behind Relic.

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Big Cats and Small Cats – Picture Book Reviews

No doubt, cats have attitude – aka ‘cattitude’. They may tend to be arrogant, vicious or just plain naughty. But if you really think about it, they are in fact, loveable and soft-at-heart. The following few kitty-inspired picture books take a look at the different personalities of our feline friends.

The gentlest of the lot, Maya and Cat is evocative, heartwarming and heavenly. Caroline Magerl transcends beyond beauty with her poetic language and mesmerisingly enchanting illustrations in amongst a gripping tale of friendship, responsibility and trust.

The fine line and watercolour paintings in a style so charismatic aptly portray the dramatic moodiness and intense atmosphere of a lost cat drenched with rain and anguish. It is with her determination and good will that Maya searches for its rightful owners. Long, yellow scarf blazing behind her, Maya eventually follows Cat’s nose to an unexpected fate; where a long, yellow windsock atop a rocky boat leads Cat home and Maya a treasured reward.

Intriguing, beguiling and warming for the cockles of your heart, this loveable tale between Maya and Cat will be welcomed into your home with an outpouring of love and affection many times over. Beautiful for ages four and up.

Walker Books, August 2018.

Another cat to love, despite its size and demeanour. In It’s Hard to Love a Tiger by Anna Pignataro, a little girl knows all the difficulties associated with owning a tiger for a pet. The rhyming couplets and adorably hilarious illustrations actually make this story so endearing, that it’s hard not to love it at all. So much glorious detail hidden in the pictures demonstrate the very effect a roaring, growling tiger makes on a crowded street, when brushing his teeth, and feeding him sticky treats in a pastry store. The tiger carries on with his inappropriate gestures and anti-social behaviours that would make any small child cringe. But guess what? There’s plenty of love to go around.

I love the premise that renders It’s Hard to Love a Tiger so relatable for young children. The tiger could be a toddler or a kitten, both of which can be frustrating but oh-so charming and forgiveable at the same time. The text includes enlarged, bold words that literally leap out in a fashion to encourage terrific talking points. Deceptively loveable for children from age three.

Scholastic, June 2018.

Here you’ll find a most arrogant cat. A cat with only one thought. A narrow mind and a rumbling stomach. Cat Spies Mouse is a simple yet ingenious tale about the power of lateral thinking, tolerance and, well, copping a comeuppance.

Rina A. Foti writes a humorous dialogue with minimal text facilitating a curiosity for the nuances of our behaviours and encouraging challenge for streams of closed thought. In this case, Cat wants to eat Mouse because “that’s the way it is.” Cat is not open to Mouse’s positive suggestion for a possible friendship, and his stubbornness certainly lands him in a dark place.

The illustrations by Dave Atze create high impact with their bold and animated energy, brilliantly offsetting the wittiness of the tale and the deeper meaning of the underlying philosophy. Cat Spies Mouse would empower its early years readers to question the ‘why’s’ in life and how much of those can or cannot be controlled.

Big Sky Publishing, July 2018.

Another take on the trustworthiness of the stereotypical fierce character is this whimsical story featuring one big cat, a hat and an umbrella. The masterful Polly Dunbar nails the humour, the energy, the interactivity, all with a very important message to preschool-aged children – beware of deceptions and don’t fall for trickery. Trust your gut, and not that of a sneaky lion.

A Lion is a Lion sweeps us up in a rhyming romp of linguistic and aural goodness, questioning the real character of a ferocious lion. “Is a lion still a lion… if he skips down the street singing, “Hoobie-doobie-doo”?” Poshly dressed in hat and coat, the lion visits two young children and delights them with all the charm and savviness in the world. He treats them to a dance in their living room and requests a polite bite to eat… until the fiery redness of the pages emerge, and so does the true nature of the lion. It is pleasing to see that the children have just as much spunk and verve to show him who’s boss!

Splattered with spirit, fast-paced and funny, A Lion is a Lion is a charming delight with a big message (and a big appetite).

Walker Books UK, February 2018.

Did you love The Cat Wants Custard and The Cat Wants Cuddles? Of course you did! To jog your memory you can read my review here. The third instalment in this series with the wonderfully precocious feline fiend is The Cat Wants Kittens. What a surprise! Kevin is back with more grumbling ferocity than ever. He’s super unimpressed with the couple of balls of adorable fluff that invade his space, but we expected that, right?

Yet to be released but most anticipated. I would expect no less than brilliance once again from the dynamic duo, P. Crumble and Lucinda Gifford.

Pre-order your copy here.

Scholastic, August 2018.

Beyond The Backyards – Nature Non-Fiction Picture Books

Picture books enable children to escape and experience worlds quite unlike their own. Non-fiction narrative picture books enhance those journeys even further. The following collection entices young readers to gaze skyward, creep through leaf litter and explore worlds in and beyond their backyards.

Backyard by Ananda Braxton-Smith & Lizzy Newcomb

Backyard is as it says; a whimsical exploration of a normal suburban backyard, that on closer inspection is anything but normal. ‘Sweet-tooth bats’ flit about the dusky evening sky, tawny frogmouths sit ‘as still as wood’. There is tiny movement everywhere and for one ‘sleep-moony child and star-eyed dog watching’, the world comes alive despite their close proximity to the city.

Visually sumptuous and satisfying, this picture book encourages mindfulness and evokes calm and imaginative thought. Captivating language coupled with sensory illustrations on every page will have youngsters revisiting this celebration of creatures great and small again and again.

Black Dog Books August 2018

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Kate Simpson Shares her Story on Finding Granny

 Finding Granny is a touching and heartwarming story about a young girl dealing with her Granny’s stroke, yet underneath the surface it so much more about the emotional impact it has on every character in the book, and even those behind the scenes. Granny’s convalescence is beautifully captured through the uplifting illustrations and the playful tone in which the story is told. The words were artfully written by debut author, Kate Simpson; mum, writer, engineer and podcaster, who joins us as a part of her blog tour to talk about her journey thus far. Thanks, Kate! 🙂

Thanks for talking with us, Kate, and congratulations on your debut picture book, Finding Granny!
Can you tell us a bit about your background and how you came to be a children’s writer?

I didn’t always dream of being a writer. I always loved books and thought it must be amazing to be an author, but it simply didn’t occur to me that this was something I could do. I felt like writing was something for people with ideas, and I didn’t have them.

When my children were born, I took maternity leave with each, and then worked part time. With less happening at work, I started looking for something more to challenge me intellectually and creatively. Because my own children were so young, I was reading mountains of wonderful picture books and somehow, something just clicked and I thought that perhaps writing for children could be the thing I was looking for. And it was.

What does having Finding Granny published mean to you? How do you hope it will touch its readers?

It’s incredibly exciting to have a book published and to be able to see it and touch it and read it to my children. Like many writers, I’ve been chipping away at this over a number of years and it’s such a thrill to see the fruits of my labour in physical form.

In terms of how it might touch its readers, I feel like it’s the type of book that may find a different place in each reader’s heart depending on their own experience. A family touched by stroke or by another illness or disability might get different things out of Finding Granny than a family with different experiences. But I hope that the love between Edie and Granny really shines through for everyone and that the emotion of the story rings true.

Do you have any personal experience with art therapy? How much research did you need to undertake in developing your story, combining the emotional and physical impact a stroke has on a person, and how art therapy can aid in their recovery?

I don’t have any experience of art therapy. In fact, in my first draft of Finding Granny, Granny underwent physiotherapy rather than art therapy. But I just couldn’t find a way to bring out Granny’s playfulness in that setting in the way that I wanted. I don’t remember how the idea of art therapy came to me, but I remember doing a quick Google search and finding a news article from the UK about an art therapy group for stroke survivors that was holding an exhibition. From there, it just clicked.

I did do a little bit more research after that. There’s not a great deal of detail in my book, but I wanted to be sure I wasn’t including any glaring factual errors. It was also interesting to read people’s personal stories of creating art after stroke. Some were already artists, who needed to re-learn their skill with their non-dominant hand after the dominant hand was affected by stroke. Others had never had any experience of art before beginning art therapy after stroke. I came across a few news articles and blog posts that included photos of the art work created, and I was blown away.

As a first time author, how did you find the publishing process with EK Books? Were there any surprises or challenges along the way?

I really didn’t know a huge amount about the process going in. The few things I’d gathered from conferences and friends were that it would be slow and that I would be involved very little. Largely, I suppose that was true. There were certainly gaps of many months where I heard nothing at all. But I was pleasantly surprised to find that my publisher at EK Books did consult me on the choice of illustrator and that I was given the opportunity to comment on the roughs. As for the waiting, it seems like that’s just part of every stage of the publishing journey. It’s excruciating, but it can’t be avoided.

Gwynneth Jones is obviously a talented illustrator, absolutely capturing the heart, joy and love in Finding Granny. What was it like collaborating with her, and what do you love most about the way she has portrayed your sensitive story?

What’s not to love about Gwynne’s illustrations? I remember in the early days, my publisher emailed me some rough pencil sketches that Gwynne had done of Granny and Edie, and I was just over the moon. She has really brought the characters to life and I just can’t imagine them any way other than as she has drawn them. That’s definitely the thing I love most about her work.

In some ways collaboration seems a strange word to use for the process of creating a picture book. Of course, in the end the words and text work together to create the reader’s experience of the book, but as the book is created we really work largely alone. I created the text before Gwynne was involved at all, and most of her work was done independently of me as well. The publisher did give me the opportunity to comment on the roughs, and I made a couple of comments, but I don’t remember asking for any substantial changes (Gwynne may remember it differently!).

Do you have a favourite memory with one of your grandparents?

Many! My maternal grandmother lived with us for much of my childhood, and I remember her fretting over us climbing trees and jumping over rocks. My sister and I took positive delight in terrorising her with our exploits, but now that I have kids of my own, I can absolutely understand where she was coming from!

You’re one of the trio in the popular podcast for kids, One More Page. Has there been a stand out moment, or piece of advice from a guest that changed you or your thinking, or reinforced what you do as a children’s writer/presenter?

I think the biggest thing I’ve taken away from the podcast is how incredibly supportive the children’s book community is. We’ve had organisations like the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators going out of their way to promote what we’re doing, and established authors and large publishers really getting on board to be part of our interviews and our Kids’ Capers segment. And then of course there’s the constant cheer squad of emerging writers, teachers, librarians and general book lovers who listen to the show and share it on social media, tell their friends and send us messages via our website. It’s such a delight to be a part of such a wonderful community.

Anything else of excitement you’d like to add?

Everything seems a little bit exciting at the moment. I’m doing my best to remember it all so that I can feed off that in the moments when I’m alone in my lounge room tearing my hair out over my latest manuscript. I have another couple of picture books coming out over the next two years, and I also have some ideas for some middle grade novels that I’m keen to get started on. I’m really hoping to build this little spark of success into a career.

Thanks so much for the interview, Kate! Congratulations again on your new release, Finding Granny, and enjoy the rest of your book blog tour!

Join the tour here. 🙂

Find ‘Finding Granny’ in Dimity’s reviews here.

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Duck, Duck, Penguin?! Bird Inspired Picture Books

Laughter, mishaps, laughing at mishaps; these are the grist of good picture books. Throw in a few feathered birds, the odd duck and a penguin or two and you have the makings of hours of picture book fun pre-schoolers and avian lovers everywhere are sure to get in a flap about.

The Penguins Are Coming! By Meg McKinlay and Mark Jackson

McKinlay’s predilection for waddling birds works a treat in this re-release paperback about an exciting new addition down at the zoo. Every animal is a-twitter and a-flutter because the penguins are coming only trouble is no one is exactly certain what a penguin is. Supremely illustrated pages depict each animal’s supposition of these new-comers, each description becoming more implausible and exaggerated than the last until even our accepted idea of a penguin is altered from boring little black and white bird to Hawaiian shirt wearing, pizza gobbling, party animal. The Zookeeper tries to set the record straight, supplying his charges and readers with sensible genuine penguin facts only to be ultimately comically upstaged. Oceans of fun and colour with plenty of apt facts and enough animal imagery to fill a real life zoo.

Walker Books Australia 2018

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Misconstrued Mishaps – Picture Books about Communication

Language and social cues can often be tricky to identify when the intention or motivation is not clear or masks a double meaning. Assumptions can also very easily lead to misunderstandings, so communication and an open mind are key. These two picture books so astutely point out our human errors in the most hilarious and relatable ways. Must reads!

Duck!, Meg McKinlay (author), Nathaniel Eckstrom (illus.), Walker Books, July 2018.

When small does not mean insignificant. When honesty must not be ignored. When puns should never be misconstrued. Duck! A story of a farmyard disaster in the name of ego…and a bruised one at that!

Masterful duo Meg McKinlay and Nathaniel Eckstrom bring this double entendre to light in their hilarious tale of mindless, obnoxious beasts and a noble Duck. A small green and brown duck heeds a hefty warning to his larger fellow farm mates – with a bold shout, “Duck!” Totally oblivious to his intentions, and the oncoming disaster flying through the air (a clever ploy to get readers joining in on the action!), the animals believe they are being named ‘Duck’, but of course they think they’re better than that. ‘“Duck?” The cow frowned. Dont’ be ridiculous! You are a duck and he is a horse and I am a cow. You see – you have funny webbed feet and I have these fine cloven hooves…”’ Becoming increasingly frustrated at their inability to understand, plus their constant insults, Duck has one final crack but to no avail. And when everyone finally realises their mistake, including Duck, well, it’s too late.

Duck! is a perfect example of the importance of communication, of how easily a simple word can be misunderstood, but also of the impact of character judgement and narcissism. McKinlay’s narrative is lively, haughty and amusing – aptly supported by Eckstrom’s earthy colour palette and smug-looking characters.

A brilliant read aloud for engaging preschool children with plenty of learning and discussion opportunities. This book will definitely get their attention!

Square, Mac Barnett (author), Jon Klassen (illus.), Walker Books, May 2018.

You know you’re in for a treat when it comes to this infallible author – illustrator duo. Plus, with the success of the first in the trilogy, Triangle, there’s no doubt that Square will be equally enticing.

Barnett and Klassen once again hit the nail on the head with their keen eyes of observation for human blunders. Imagine the surprise Square faced when told by Circle that he was a genius! A complicated communication mess of assumption, on Circle’s part, and Square’s withholding of the truth lands him in his own mess of a job trying to perfect a block sculpture of Circle. But he simply pushes blocks, not shapes them. He is not a genius. The universe must work in mysterious ways because somehow, Square pulls it off. Perhaps he might withhold the truth for a little while longer!

This tale of an accidental genius is just genius! The combination of expressive language, slick sepia-toned palette and simplicity of shapes, with the added bonus of thought-provoking humour works so brilliantly to give a reading experience that appeals to all ages. The books in this series are collector’s items that will shape a young generation into well-rounded, level-headed human beings.

The Colours of Jane Godwin – Picture Book Reviews

Jane Godwin is one of Australia’s much-loved authors with over twenty books for children, many being awarded prestigious acclamations. Absolute favourites include Starting School, Little Cat and the Big Red Bus, The Silver Sea (reviewed recently), What Do You Wish For? and Our Australian Girl series. To say she has a colourful list of titles under her belt is an understatement! Today I’ll be sharing two of her latest colour-inspired picture books, Red House Blue House Green House Tree House! and Go Go and the Silver Shoes.

A perfect explosion of fun and colour can be found in this first book for young readers to follow a tiny mouse across a vast array of places, objects and animals. That’s if they can spot it! Red House Blue House Green House Tree House presents its audience with a jolly rhyming lilt about colours whilst also sneakily integrating a range of concepts in counting, sorting, sizes, and science. Godwin cleverly portrays a world that is both new and familiar, exciting readers along the way with her invitations for interaction. The illustrations by Jane Reiseger are brilliantly vibrant, fluid and oh-so child friendly with their wash and loose line technique and cheeky little scuttering mouse! From a number of coloured petals in the garden bed to floppy rabbit ears, a plate of fruit, tiny darting silver fish and one gigantic whale.

So many questions to ponder and giggles to be had, leaving a lasting impression and so many reasons to revisit Red House Blue House Green House Tree House over and over again. Rich, energetic fun and stimulation to engage emotional connections for children from age two.

Affirm Press, April 2018.

Another gorgeous collaboration between Jane Godwin and Anna Walker, this time in Go Go and the Silver Shoes. As her name suggests, Go Go is always on the go-go as an active and independent young girl. Destined to be a trail blaizer of the fashion world, Go Go is creative when it comes to re-fashioning her bigger brothers’ hand-me-downs. And it doesn’t matter what anyone, aka Annabelle, thinks! But one day she is allowed to choose the most beautiful silver, sparkly shoes. Naturally, they go-go everywhere on family adventures, until, one of them is swiftly gone-gone. Godwin masterfully tinkers with Go Go’s approaches to her lost-shoe conundrum as she deals with different pieces of advice and opinions. Go Go has both a mature and self confident side to her personality whilst also just being a kid, as perfectly rendered in Anna Walker’s illustrations. The beautifully subdued colour-palette with pops of red, in Walker’s characteristically phenomenal paint, cut and collage style, aptly portrays the sensible, independent yet playful lead character. And those silver, sparkly shoes! Certainly putting a gleam in every little girl’s eye! There is also this clever parallel storyline interwoven between the pages, adding yet another dimension of interest as to the outcome of the missing shoe. Brilliant!

Go Go and the Silver Shoes is a story that is meant to be! The universe may work in mysteriously wonderful ways, but it would certainly be expected that any child from age four will just fall in love with this one.

Penguin, February 2018.

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The Greatness of Grandparents – Picture Books that Celebrate Generations

For children fortunate enough to grow up with grandparents the bonds they create can be intense and everlasting. Should something happen to their beloved grandparent(s), accepting that change whether through loss, illness or disability may be difficult to cope with. This handful of picture books celebrates the many golden moments grandparents provide invariably enriching their grandchildren’s lives whilst also gently exploring ways to cope with the inevitable experience of change.

Loss of a Grandparent

Ocean Meets Sky by The Fan Brothers

This is another glorious picture book by the gifted North American duo, Terry and Eric Fan.  Ocean Meets Sky is a sumptuously articulated story about a small boy’s way of remembering his grandfather and dealing with his passing. Suffused with heart-hugging illustrations, the simple narration, which centres on a young boy searching for his grandfather aboard a boat he built himself, escorts readers to the moon and back, cultivating hope and collecting wonderment along the way. The hardback version, embossed with gilt images, comes with a gorgeous, eye-catching dust cover which is almost reason enough to open it and venture in. Collectable and memorable, full points for this magical and reassuring reading experience.

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A ‘Hole’ Lot of Curiosity – Picture Book Reviews

Sometimes curiosity can land you in trouble. But it is the being brave part that will ultimately lead to triumph. These few picture books show children that exploration is a healthy thing to help overcome fear or uncertainty. And they are a ‘hole’ lot of fun, too!
Be sure to also check out Dimity’s great list of Picture Books that Celebrate Overcoming Doubts.

The Hole, Kerry Brown (author), Lucia Masciullo (illus.), ABC Books, April 2018.

Squirrel starts the line up of dangling animals overly curious about a long-drop hole that lies in the middle of the track. Teetering on the edge of total panic about the presumed formidable, black-holed monster within, Squirrel cries out for help, only to drag Ostrich and three chattering monkeys into the lightly-suspended quandary. A brave and clever field mouse makes the call, ensuing a deep suspension of baited breath amongst characters and readers alike. Luckily, the ‘monster’ isn’t interested in animals for tea.

Brown’s delightful rhyming couplets come with a sensory feast of emotive and visual language to fill you with empathy, wonder, and even a few giggles. The illustrations by Lucia Masciullo are whimsical and witty in the face of perceived danger. The Hole is beautifully alluring, brilliantly enlightening and wonderfully heartwarming for children from age three.

The Hole Story, Kelly Canby (author, illus.), Fremantle Press, February 2018.

I love the play on reality and literal meanings behind this story of rehoming a lost hole. Charlie doesn’t realise that picking up a hole and putting it in his pocket, and backpack, are the worst places to have a hole. So he boldly sets off to find it a new owner. Young readers will already be amused at the thought, ‘you can’t pick up a hole!’, and now they are left to wonder who would want it and how it could possibly be useful. Well, Charlie greets a whole lot of people who are clearly NOT interested in the hole, such as the arachnid and reptile store owner, the boat builder, the seamstress, gardener, and doughnut maker. So, who is?

Canby’s energetic, sharp and unconventional narrative paired with her cartoonish, fluid illustrations complete the story that allow children to open their minds to the absurd, and also assess some very real and practical concepts. The Hole Story makes for great discussion and learning opportunities, as well as a fun and wacky adventure of finding a place to belong.

Scaredy Cat, Heather Gallagher (author), Anil Tortop (illus.), New Frontier Publishing, May 2018.

Curiosity did not get the cat, in this case, because Scaredy Cat, as the name suggests, is too scared to face even the meekest of things. A little girl’s four-legged friend shies away from sight in every scene, only to reveal its white, fluffy paws and tail in a terrified, obscure stupor. Gallagher’s delectable repetitive rhyme cajoles us along chasing poor Scaredy Cat through bees, towering trees and Granny’s super-duper sneeze. Hoses, wandering noses and costumed kids, striking poses. Each verse beginning with, ‘Have you seen my Scaredy Cat? He’s afraid of this and afraid of that!’, eventually leads us to the climax where a proud, flexing little girl claims her gallantry and saves the day. Now the girl has revealed her true and brave identity, will Scaredy Cat?

With Tortop’s ever-gorgeous, enticing and infectious artwork charging with colour and energy, it would be no surprise if Scaredy Cat is chosen to play his hiding game over and over again. Preschoolers will adore this romping tale of friendship, bravery, pets and love.

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