Warcross by Marie Lu is the rainbow explosion of gaming, bounty hunting, and secret identities that you’ve all been waitingfor. I’ve read a few Marie Lu books but I feel this is my new favourite! I picked it up on impulse and devoured it a day, so if that doesn’t say something, what does?!
The story follows Emika Chen, a bounty-hunter who’s absolutely broke and looking at eviction and a life of nothing since she’s been a convicted criminal. Oh joy. She lives in a world in the not-so-distant future where everyone is obsessed with this nation-wide phenomenon game called Warcross. It’s a virtual reality that you can tap into with just a pair of glasses and it changes lives and worlds. Plus it was created by a genius teenager, who also happens to be Emika’s idol. But all that is far away in her life, when just surviving day-to-day equals eating packaged noodles and hunting for criminals the cops can’t quite catch…except that all changes when Emika accidentally hacks into Warcross and draws the attention of the billionaire genius creator himself: Hideo Tanaka.
Hideo ends up hiring her to catch a rogue player in his virtual reality Warcross game, and she travels to Japan to compete in the championships. But the things she uncovers while poking about behind-the-scenes of the company and game…well, wow. That’s not what she expected.
The settings and the descriptions were really the stand-out highlights for this book for me! For starters, I loved getting to “see” Japan, and it was made a little more incredible by the sci-fi elements thrown in. When wearing the Warcross glasses, you can see another reality on top of this one, so it could just make everything a bit more surreal and special. Emika goes from being dirt poor to having anything she could want while working for Hideo and those rags-to-riches stories are always captivating.
Plus of course we know there’s going to be a little something between Emika and Hideo. He’s been her idol forever, but now she’s met him, she can see the stressed teen side that he has to hide from the media. His life isn’t as golden as it seems and I loved these dimensions of Hideo that we got to find out! The romance is also sweet and light and doesn’t draw away from Emika’s struggle to find an attacker hidden inside a computer game while not giving herself away.
However the gaming aspect didn’t really light up my world...which, I mean, it didn’t stop me from enjoying the book?! But I’m not a gamer! And I also struggled to believe that, in this future, 90% of the world would be playing a virtual reality game…I feel like there’d be more people who wouldn’t be interested in it? But maybe that’s just me who’s always had my nose in a book instead of gaming! Still I think this’ll really excite gamer-bookworms.
Emika was also a hopeless do-gooder with a badass side and rainbow dyed hair. I mean how awesome is that all together?! She was definitely the smart and capable heroine you want to root for, and with Hideo’s complex and interesting backstory and actions, the two make a plot you don’t want to look away from.
Basically Warcross is the kind of book that should definitely be on your radar! It’s clever and fast-paced, with a futuristic Tokyo of gorgeous colours, technology and the dark side that comes with a world that’s mostly online.
Being a Piscean, secrets and small spaces do not faze me much. I’m one of those little fishes who loves a bit of enigmatic seclusion and the stimulation of guesswork, which is why I absolutely, nuts and crackers enjoyed the following titles. Each possesses a fluidity of story and cast of characters so cleverly crafted, I felt like I was sharing their experience as if it were my own. These books take you in deep, which for me makes them terrifically satisfying and just a little be frightening – in a can’t-get-enough-of-way.
Fire – both compelling and repelling. Catastrophic and cleansing. This sums up the sweep of emotions and characters Weetman explores with Clem Timmins. Clem’s secret begins with a flicker but soon ignites into something she struggles to contain upon losing everything after her house burns down – her clothes, her treasures and her mum. Timmins and her pre-pubescent peers totter on the edge of change with remarkable poise and a raw, heart-wrenching genuineness that will bring the sting of tears to your eyes and a smile to your lips. They clutch at various emotional straws, each wanting happy outcomes but in Clem’s case, too frightened of losing even more, thus retreating into secrecy. This is good old honest storytelling, where enigmatic poignancy tempers robust reality.
Side-splinteringly silly, this jocularly illustrated romance features Stick (a stick insect) and his infatuation with the most beautiful stick insect he has ever laid eyes on. He immediately launches into a reverie of what ifs with his newfound love despite Butterfly’s repeated proclamations that it’s ‘just a stick’. Readers merrily hurtle along with Stick and his runaway imagination until he finally twigs his embarrassing mistake. Eye-catching candy that will tickle the funny bones of 2 – 5 year-olds.
Valentine’s Day may seem an unlikely celebration for monsters and ghouls yet young Fran has other notions. He sets his heart on creating a pretty, pink paper heart for which he receives cutting ridicule. His vampish friends fear that Fran might be in love, that icky, gross, mushy, kiss-on-the-lips emotion that they frankly all find ‘terrifying’! Fortunately, for Fran, he turns the other bolted cheek and remains true to his real feelings. Despite its monochromatic overtones and comically Goth characters, Valensteins oozes charm and meaning, showing young readers that real love is about what you feel in your real heart. This is a lovely expression of being true to your feelings and creating meaningful relationships.
We’re well into 2018 now, and in the process of setting new reading goals for the year I’ve been thinking about my varied reading success last year. Here are 5 unexpected books I read in 2017.
Most anticipated read
My most anticipated release and read of 2017 was A Column of Fire by Ken Follett. Being a loyal reader of the Pillars of the Earth series, I was keenly awaiting the third in the series and coming in at more than 750 pages, it was an impressive tome. While it was greater in scope than the others in the series, it was a great read.
Most disappointing read
I’d been savouring my signed copy of Prince Lestat by longtime favourite author Anne Rice for ages, delaying the gratification and joy I was sure would ensue from the first page until the last. Unfortunately when I finally picked it up to read last year this wasn’t the case.
This is the 11th in the Vampire Chronicles series and the plot contains chapters from different vampires as they begin to face a crisis threatening their kind. I should have been thrilled to rediscover favourite characters again, but the cause uniting them was a complete bore. Such a shame.
Long overdue I don’t mean overdue library books here, but a book I should have read long before now. For me, this was Past the Shallows by Australian author Favel Parrett. Set on the coast of Tasmania and dealing with themes of grief, this is a coming-of-age story about brotherhood. Shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Award in 2012, it’s a haunting and often sad story, but it’s also a very quick read so I don’t know why it took me so long to get to it.
Least favourite book My least favourite read of last year was Artemis by Andy Weir. Main character Jazz is living in a settlement on the moon and I just didn’t care about her or what she was doing. The attempted humour fell flat and the plot was uninteresting. It clearly lacked the humour and interest of The Martian – one of my favourite books in 2014. If I didn’t know the novel was by Andy Weir, I would have stopped reading early on.
Taught me something new The Four Tendencies by Gretchen Rubin was one of my favourite books last year and I still think of her theories several times a week, almost six months after reading her book. You can take the quiz for free and determine your own tendency, you’ll be either an Upholder, Obliger, Questioner or Rebel. I’m an Obliger and learning that helped me understand myself and others better and I highly recommend it.
I’m a little late with this… but, better late than never. The year of 2017 was rather busy for me and while I didn’t do much blogging, I did a lot of reading. I may not have managed to keep up with all the new releases that I wanted to read (I still have a few key ones on my to-be-read stack), but I did get around to enough of them to do my annual top reads list.
So here goes…
I didn’t read all that many picture books this year. Both my kids have out-grown them. I keep telling them that you’re never too old to enjoy picture books, and I hope that one day they will return to them. But for the moment… I’m just reading them myself. So I’m not reading as many as I used to. My favourite for 2017 is…
I defy anyone to read this book and not tear up. It’s about a young girl and her dad, the Fit-It Man of the title. He can fix anything and everything, and she relies on him to do so. Until… Mum dies. And things are not so easy to fix anymore. This is not a situation Dad can repair on his own. It’s going to take the two of them together. This is such a lovely book, that says so much, even with pages where there are no words. Dimity Powell weaves this story with grace and gentleness, supported by gorgeous, whimsical illustrations from Nicky Johnston.
I write kids’ books. So I read a lot of kids’ books. And I have a clear favourite for 2017…
This is the sixth and final book in the amazing DragonKeeper series. Full of adventure and heart, fantasy and history, it is an absolute joy. Tao, former novice monk and now DragonKeeper, and his dragon Kai complete their journey of discover begun two books earlier. I read it with mixed emotions. I loved it, but was so sad that there will be no more in the series.
Teenage ghost hunters in Melbourne! Quirky, charming, exciting and utterly delightful, it is a perfect balance of character interplay and engrossing story. I adore the Melbourne setting, which had me going “Oh, I know where that is” almost every chapter. It is thoroughly contemporary and yet manages an old-school charm as well. I love Pryor’s take on what ghosts are – it makes them kinda sad, but also really frightening when necessary. I feel there is so much potential in the characters to go further. I’m desperately hoping there will be more books about Anton, Rani and the other ghost hunters.
This book weaves together the Commedia dell’Arte form of thearte, bits of history and fantasy into one of the most original ideas I’ve seen in a long time. Mina has an amazing talent for storytelling, which means so much more than she realises. Leaving her small town, she sets off with a troupe of travelling actors in the hope of finding her missing brother, who left with a similar troupe ten years earlier. Ahead of her, is adventure and intrigue as she discovers that her storytelling ability can lead her to the amazing realm of Tarya. I am so looking forward to the remaining books in this trilogy.
Luke Miggs lives in Ulah, a small town that loves its football. When the mysterious Adam Pride literally walks out of the night to join the local team, everything changes. Ambitions are kindled. Dreams are chased. Choices are questioned. And the past is revealed. This book is not just about football. It’s about small-town life (its ups and its downs). It’s also about friendship and choices and racism… and the past refusing to stay buried. Vivid characters, and an intriguing story, make this an absolutely gripping read.
I don’t read a huge number of grown-up books. I tend to be VERY choosy and stick with books from writers I’m friends with, writers whose work I know and love, and books recommended to me by people whose opinions I value. Also, keep in mind that Just Another Week in Suburbia by Lez Zig (alternate name for Lazaros Zigomanis, author of Pride) is still on my to-be-read stack. Having said that, I have a very clear favourite for 2017…
Call it a short novel or a novella or whatever you want… I call it brilliant! It is tense, imaginative, edge or your seat stuff that is hard to put down. Without giving away too much… it’s about a man whose wife goes missing. She simply doesn’t come home from book club one night. Not willing to leave things to the police, he investigates and discovers that it was no ordinary book club that his wife belonged to. I love the way Baxter reveals the characters’ twisted back-story, then weaves it into the main plot of the club and disappearance. I read this is 2017, and it’s still buzzing around in my head a month in to 2018.
As a writer of educational books, I read a lot of non-fiction for research. But I also read a bit off my own bat. Interestingly, I didn’t read anything that was published in 2017… it was all older. So, my favourite non-fic book written prior to 2017 but read in 2017 is…
This is a book of interviews with and photographs of transgendered young people. It’s very common for people to dismiss or ridicule or fear or even hate people who are different. Books like this promote understanding. And once you understand the difference, and understand that people who are different are still people, and that they have hopes and fears and dreams just like you… well, it gets hard to dismiss or ridicule or fear or hate. And that’s why this book (and others like it) are so important. Quite apart from that, this book is also a really fascinating insight into the lives of six interesting and diverse people. This is the sort of book that really should be on the shelves of every high school library.
I love short stories, but for some reason didn’t actually read all that many of them in 2017. But out of the collected works I did read, this is my favourite…
This book is the result of the #LoveOzYA movement and features some of this country’s best YA writers. Such a variety of styles and genres and topics… and every story in this anthology is a gem. My personal favourites are Lili Wilkinson’s hauntingly beautiful tale of drain exploration, “Oona Undergraound”; and Gabrielle Tozer’s bus trip story of the past being revealed and understood, “The Feeling From Over Here”.
OVER ALL FAVOURITE
Very difficult decision, but I’m going with Alan Baxter’s The Book Club. As I said, it’s still vivid in my memory. And even now, I can feel my heart begin to race and a niggle of panic at the back of my mind as I recall those first moments when the main character realises that his wife is missing.
A big part of my writing life revolves around speaking about writing. In 2017 I did 161 individual sessions that included festivals, school visits, library visits and promotional tours. You can read about some on my experiences in these blog posts:
2018 is looking to be an extremely exciting year for YA book-to-movie adaptions! Of course these adaptions always come with their fair share of nail biting and high expectations, because how can a film properly capture our favourite books?! But we can live in hope, right?!
Here are some YA books that are being adapted for 2018 and I’m pretty excited for these! The important thing to do is to remember the word: adaption. They’re never scene-for-scene recounts, but as long as they capture the heart of the book, then they’re on the right track!
This one is actually being changed to the title of “Love, Simon” which is super cute and really captures the essence of the book, which is full of a boy’s emails to his secret lover. Except he gets busted for it at school and a fellow classmate blackmails him with the email info. Why? Because Simon is gay but not out yet and not ready to be out and now that power has been taken from him.
One reason I’m super excited for this movie is how much the author seems happy with the adaption! And also for the fact it stars a gay protagonist in a mainstream movie. About time!
A Wrinkle In Time has been adapted before, but this latest version looks absolutely phenomenal with an all-star cast that includes Chris Pine, Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon and Mindy Kaling! The trailers are so stunning the visual effects look amazing. Plus it’s nice to see the older cult-classic books coming back to hit a new generation with their amazingness, right!?
Sci-fi and magic collide when Meg’s father goes missing and she bends time to find him and bring him home.
This is the final movie in the Maze Runner trilogy! There was a bit of a wait between movies #2 and #3 due to an accident and injury of the star (which is pretty sad, but seems to have worked alright!?) so we finally are going to see how the books conclude this absolutely epic YA dystopian trilogy. The trailers look really epic and include huge cities and lots of shootouts and high-tech weapons and that feared zombie virus.
Although this trilogy has deviated quite a bit from the books, it’s still super exciting to see how they’ve interpreted it. And of course cast is freaking awesome with Dylan O’Brien starring, with Kayla Scodelario, Ki Hong Lee, and Thomas Brodie-Sangster.
OTHERS TO WATCH OUT FOR
These ones don’t have trailers yet, but they’re reportedly coming out in 2018 and we are EXCITED for this line up! All The Bright Places promises to be an emotional roller coaster and The Darkest Minds (starring Amandla Stenberg) will be a superpower / dystopian action film that’s definitely going to awe us! And also Every Day by bestselling author David Leviathan, which features a teen who wakes up every day in a different body!
Get set for some 70s retro comic book bizarreness, as Jaime Sommers from The Bionic Woman television series meets the 1977 small-screen version of Wonder Woman. It’s a completely oddball concept… and yet, it works!
I think you need to be a fan of these two shows, or 70s genre television in general, to really get this graphic novel. If you are, then there is so much gold hidden within these pages. References to past eps of both shows abound, as a bunch of previously encountered villains band together to wreak havoc. Only the two most heroic ladies of the 1970s can save the world, along with some assistance from the Office of Scientific Intelligence, the Inter Agency Defence Command and the inhabitants of Paradise Island.
For me, the big thrill was the return of the Fembots. I loved watching these menacing robots as a kid in the 70s. They featured in 5 bionic eps (including the epic “Kill Oscar” crossover of The Bionic Woman and The Six Million Dollar Man), so it was great to see them back in action in the pages of this book.
There are also other wonderful pop-culture references. My favourite being a direct nod to Superman: The Movie. As Jaime rescues a woman from a burning building, jumping several stories to the ground, she says “Hold on tight, Ma’am. I’ve got you.” To which the woman replies, “You’ve got me? Who’s got…” 🙂
But my favourite line from the whole book is when Jaime says to Wonder Woman…
“A costume change now? Seriously?”
Of course, this sort of comic needs some completely OTT action sequences. And top billing goes to Wonder Woman lassoing a missile.
Comics are, of course, known for their text-based sound effects, from the ordinary BANG! and BLAM! through to the more creative BIFFO!, KA-POW! and many, many more. But this one also gives us the iconic bionic sound of DEENEENEENEEE. It made me smile every time. And I love the way Wonder Woman’s famous costume-change twirl is represented in pictures.
This graphic novel certainly isn’t for everyone, but if you remember 70s television with any fondness, then you’ll probably find Wonder Woman ’77 Meets The Bionic Woman a bit of a nostalgic gem.
It’s so exciting – being on the cusp of Christmas. If you are still anxious about the book-sized gaps left in your children’s Christmas stockings though, worry no more. Here is my final list of cracking good Chrissy reads for the year. We’ve covered meaningful and moving, so here are some just for fun titles, to fill you with all the merriment the season entails. If they don’t quite make it to you in time, save them for next year; there’s nothing like getting ahead with Santa! I hope you’ve enjoyed our Kids’ Book Bests this year and can’t wait to share even more fabulous titles from the world of children’s books with you in 2018.
We’ve met Sage and her sassy cooking-based series before but this one takes the cake, or rather Pavlova! Frolicsome fun ensues after Sage and her celeb chef parents arrive in Western Australia to record a world-record attempt by Chef Myra to make the world’s largest ever pavlova. In spite of the fiercely debated origins of this quintessentially Christmassy summertime dessert and some irksome ghostly going ons, Sage eventually wades through gallons of meringue to save the day – and the record attempt. Best bit, of course – the delicious pav recipe in the back. A jolly addition to any Christmas stocking.
Well it wouldn’t be Christmas without mentioning this little ripper now, would it. Can Sam and Tobii save Santa’s reputation and Sam’s kidnapped little sister before the Delivery Book is closed for the year? This light-hearted Christmas mystery, chockers with elves, weird smells, stolen Christmas wishes, nasty rashes and disappearing mailboxes is a spirited stocking filler ideal for 7 – 10 year-olds that is guaranteed to sustain the magic of believing. Just ask the author if you don’t believe me!
This picture book is positively exploding with festive fun. Based on the popular memory game and akin to the Twelve Days of Christmas, this story begins with a young boy who, with his new glasses, spies an outlandish assortment of Christmassy things including penguins, reindeers and snowballs. With a faint acknowledgement of beloved Christmas pantomimes, this is a jolly crowd pleaser great for 4 – 7 year-olds.
It’s gratifying see good old Santa in his boardies catching waves albeit a little unconventional. This is, after all, the way many Aussie kids picture Christmas. Crumble’s bonzer rhyming ditty starts with one hot grumpy Santa throwing a major wobbly. He abandons his red suit and boots for boardies and zinc cream leaving poor, barely qualified, emergency Santa, Trevor to recruit a new sleigh-pulling team (a flock of beady-eyed Emus if you don’t mind) and commission a new sleigh (obligatory rusty ute) with which to complete the Southern Hemisphere deliveries, which he does, brilliantly. It’s a jovial win win situation freeing up more surfing time for Santa every year. Littlies and surfers alike will warm to this chipper tale.
Ruby is back in all her glorious glittery naughtiness. It’s not that she deliberately tries to derail Christmas; it’s just that Ruby’s intentions always end up a little askew. This year, she is determined to get a head start with the deliveries but inadvertently gets horribly, hilariously sidetracked. It’s not until she is centre stage in a school musical that she remembers there was something important left undone. Delightful mayhem for fans of this ruby red-nosed reindeer.
Pig the pugnacious Pug is back, this time competing with his little mate Trevor for Santa’s affections. Actually is not affection Pig is after at all, but rather sackfuls of presents. His greed and overt excessive selfishness is what makes Pig so utterly unlikeable and yet so fantastically addictive. I have used this book in early childcare centres and Kindergartens where it has huge crowd appeal. An excellent example of naughty and nice and how you may only end up with ‘just desserts’ if you are too greedy. Obnoxious hilarity in the highest degree, recommended for pre-schoolers and above.
This cheerful collection of predominantly animal inspired Christmas tales will make a gay addition under any Christmas tree. Popular children’s authors and illustrators have created stories that neighbour tales from not so well known writers yet are all redolent of that delicious Christmas spirit. From wombats to pudding making bears, turtles to curious sausage dogs, this anthology of short stories is lusciously illustrated and ideal to read aloud with younger readers or as a meaningful gift for more confident readers. Heartedly recommended reading.
This book declares that Christmas is far too important to leave in the hands of Santa and a bunch of elves. It urges you to ‘take control of your festive destiny’, and what better way to do so than to cut, colour and construct your OWN CHRISTMAS! I love the premise of this definitely-not-boring activity book. Every single colour-saturated page is packed with things to make and do. Advent calendars, decorations, Chrissy cards, Christmas crackers, party hats, gift tags, Santa launchers – it’s all here in with instructions to make mess and have FUN! Just what you need to keep them occupied for longer than it takes to baste a turkey. Have fun with it, this Christmas.
Christmas is a great time for plum pudding and tinsel and muted panic about trying to find the right gift for everyone. So the best and most logical option is obviously to just buy everyone you know a book. And what could be better than an Aussie book!? It goes really well with plum pudding. Total guarantee.
Today I want to list some really great Aussie Young Adult books that have been published in 2017 and might suit someone in your family’s fancy. Or just, you know, gift it to yourself. Christmas is a time for giving after all. (Even to yourself, shh, this is fine.)
BEAUTIFUL MESS BY CLAIRE CHRISTIAN
This is definitely one of my new all time favourite books and it’s about two teens struggling with depression. It involves slam-poetry and a kebab shop and healing and learning to accept you’re not broken, but rather love yourself and let other people help you on your journey. Gideon is an absolute sweetheart and you’ll adore Ava’s determination not to collapse under her grief.
THIS MORTAL COIL BY EMILY SUVADA
This is a brand new book that’s just hit the shelves and it’ll hit all your sci-fi cravings SO well. It’s about a dystopian world where a virus is wiping everyone out, and a genius scientist’s daughter is suddenly left alone after her dad is kidnapped by a dark organisation. Catarina has to crack the code to release the antidote to the world, with the help of a super-soldier named Cole and her own intelligence in science and technology. Definitely features lots of guns and running and small explosions.
GAP YEAR IN GHOST TOWN BY MICHAEL PRYOR
This book is just downright hilarious, so if you’re looking for something that captures Australian wit and humour — like just drop everything and buy this book. Probably buy it for yourself too. It’s just so so funny. It’s about Anton who’s family is a long-line of ghost hunters. They help them move onto the afterlife as quietly and calmly as possible…until a girl from the “elite” British branch comes over and tries to shake things up with her sword and more violent but effective way of controlling ghosts. Mysteries unravel about the different ghost-hunting groups and there’s an extra spiteful rise in malevolent spirits. Except swords and bucket loads of coffee and quips in the face of death and a lot of ghosts.
NIGHT SWIMMING BY STEPH BOWE
This is such a sweet and lovely contemporary set in a small outback Australian town where Kirby is set for a boring existence until the most beautiful new girl moves into town. Kirby’s best friend, Clancy, immediately is ALL eyes for this new girl (options are limited okay) and Kirby promises to help play matchmaker…but the problem is she’s falling for Iris too. The book is the actual cutest thing and features quirky writing and goat soap and delicious Indian food and a protagonist who adores books which is, quite frankly, relatable.
QUEENS OF GEEK BY JEN WILDE
Now this book is set in the USA, but it features 3 Australian teens who travel to a supercon to embrace all their nerdy glory. It swaps points-of-view between Taylor, who is an anxious booknerd with autism, and Charlie, who is a bisexual indie movie star trying to ditch a horrible ex-boyfriend (also, unfortunately, a costar) while she crushes hard on a local youtuber. The book takes place over 3 days and it’s full of action and amazing character devleopment and tons of pop-culture references. It’s super fun and you’ll root for Taylor and Charlie to get their dreams and speak up to their crushes. Definite must-read for all nerds and geeks!
Books about sisters are absolutely fantastic things! Especially if they manage to capture the complexities of having a sister…AKA you love them and also sometimes want to strangle them. It’s all incredibly good times. I particularly like it when books dive into the complexities of family and siblings, so today I want to list a few YA books that feature sister relationships.
THREE DARK CROWNS
This is a very twisty and dark story about three triplet sisters who have to fight for the throne. These aren’t the kind of sisters you should probably model your life on…but they are super interesting to read about! One is a poisoner, one is an elementalist, and one controls animals. The story follows their journey after their 16th birthday when the time comes to start the battle to claim the throne. Except maybe they’re not what each other expects.
This story not only features two sisters, but it’s also a Little Red Riding Hood retelling! Except instead of little girls skipping through the woods to find Grandma’s house…these sisters are actually hunters of werewolves. So be prepared for axes and blood.
And some super loving girls who dearly adore each other but are so intent on protecting each other they end up causing some catastrophic riffs.
Ramona feels pretty stifled by her small town and her life that seems way out of her control. She really loves her older sister who’s also pregnant with a dead-beat teen husband and…honestly Ramona struggles to support her sister. She feels she can’t leave to have her own life when her sister and the soon-to-be-born baby are going to need her. This is definitely a loving but messy sisterly-bond, but full of support and girls who are there for each other!
Now this one is a little different because Em’s little sister isn’t present for a lot of the book, BUT Em’s #1 goal in life is to get her sister out of prison! It’s set in a fantasy world were two warring people are trying to wipe each other out. Em disguises as one of the enemy in order to “marry” the enemy prince and sabotage them from the inside. This book is so so amazing, clever, plot twisty, and also downright hilarious. You know you’re going to love the “evil” prince when it turns out he only trusts people who love cheese bread as much as he does. #Relatable Also the sequel, Avenged, features sisters Em and Olivia in full catastrophic glory.
THINGS I SHOULD HAVE KNOWN
This story features Chloe, who is a the local Popular And Perfect girl at school and who also has an autistic older sister named, Ivy. The girls are super close and lovely together and Chloe realises that Ivy is pretty lonely and would love a boyfriend but her disability leaves her unsure how to actually go about doing this. So Chloe decides to help out. She ends up setting Ivy up with another autistic boy from Ivy’s school…which means Chloe ends up spending a lot of time with the boy’s older brother — also Chloe’s enemy. Except he’s not so bad the more they hang out and maybe Chloe’s matchmaking is going to take a different turn.
If you are like me, knowing there are only 41 days left until Christmas fills you with silent terror. You know it’s not about the presents. You know you’ll want (have) to give some, anyway. You’ve heard books tick all the enduring, educational, entertaining boxes as far as kids’ gifts go, but how do you choose without going crackers? During the next 41 days, I’ll share a cluster of the best kids’ books of 2017. Hunt them down for your Christmas stockings. Hold on tight though, we’ll be going faster than a turbo-charged reindeer over black ice.
List # 1 Non-fiction Picture Books
At the Beach I See by Kamsani Bin Salleh
Striking board book series featuring elegant artwork and lyrical text. This one is useful for forging connections between our beautiful seashores and new creatures. Ideal for 2+ year-olds.
Jellett’s character-filled illustrations bring this fascinating assortment of historic aviators to spectacular life. From Lawrence Hargrave to John Flynn, ‘Smithy’ to Nancy Bird, numerous significant figures in the history of flight and aviation in Australia are described using first person narrative and fact-based prose. Amazing facts are included along with modern day updates. Perfect for aeroplane enthusiasts from 8 years upwards.
If you love Deadly 60, you’ll be mad for this beefy full-colour collection of some of the world’s most formidable predators. Ridiculously fearsome and astounding photographs accompany an incredible list of hunters from apex predators such as lions and sharks to the less ubiquitous platypus. Scientific facts and stats provide just enough information without obscuring the teeth baring drama and are paired in side-by-side showdowns – anglerfish vs. pelican eel, for example. An awesome addition (with stickers and poster!) for the would-be marine biologists and nature lovers aged 6 – 14.
Move over Orient Express, the Discovery Express has arrived, platform one. This is a glorious pop-up, pull, and flap creation allowing readers to embark on a thrilling journey back in time with Nancy Delaney, geographer, explorer and all-round adventurer. Choco-block with puzzles and fascinating facts, Nancy escorts you from Paris to England, the US and beyond on a spellbinding journey of discovery about trains, planes and yes, automobiles. Even submarines are included in this book, which is more of a code-busting adventure romp through history. Highly recommended and ideal for sleuths and transport spotters from 10 years+.
The Martian was one of the funnest and funniest reading experiences I have ever had. So there was a little trepidation when I picked up his next novel. It had been pitched as a crime novel set on the moon which left me not really knowing what to expect. Would this book be as funny? Would there be the same level of scientific explanation? Would I be completely hooked again? The answer is yes, yes and YES.
Right from the opening sentence I was in. The smart-ass, slightly sarcastic tone that permeated through TheMartian was there from the get go. And as with Mark Watney in TheMartian I fell quickly and easily into step with Jazz Bashara, the heroine of this new novel. Once again Andy Weir puts the SCIENCE into Science Fiction. Brilliantly creating the first city on the moon: Artemis, population 2000. As with The Martian Weir talks you through the science of how and why Artemis exists making everything sound plausible and authentic to this scientific layman’s ears. Andy Weir then adds the economics of how and why Artemis exists and that is where Jazz fits in.
Jazz Bashara has grown up on The Moon and has no desire to return to Earth. Most residents of Artemis are there to serve its economy; the tourist trade of the rich and wealthy or the construction and smelting trade. But Jazz has found her own niche: smuggling. There are a number of contraband items on The Moon and Jazz is the person that can get them for you. When she is offered the score of a lifetime she jumps at the opportunity only realising too late that this time she may have gotten herself in way over her head.
I couldn’t get enough of this book. I was completely fascinated by the way the city on the moon operated and all its various residences and was constantly laughing out loud at the same. The story rolicks along at a cracking pace and will have you literally have you holding your breath towards the end. This is everything that made The Martian so brilliant and then some. I can’t wait to see where Andy Weir is going to take me next!
Raising awareness about mental health through books is an absolutely excellent thing! It gives you a personal perspective about conditions that are on a hugely varied spectrum. Plus you get a fantastic story that will probably make you feel all the things.
Today I’m going to list some books that are about characters on the OCD spectrum. OCD is different for a lot of people and it’s super interesting how these books portray it. So if you’re looking for book recommendations, just sit down a second and prepare yourself for incoming fantasticness.
TURTLES ALL THE WAY DOWN BY JOHN GREEN
Of course John Green is super famous and you’ve probably heard of his latest novel (just released this October!). I really loved the portrayal of OCD because it came directly from John Green’s experiences, which I think gives it a super personal touch…and you also know it’s accurate. The label “OCD” isn’t mentioned in the book but John Green talks about it extensively in his vlogs (which you should 500% go check out. Immediately.)
The book follows the story of Aza Holmes who reunites with a long-lost best friend after his father goes missing. She’s battling though-spirals that control her life and the portrayal of anxiety is so spot on.
HISTORY IS ALL YOU LEFT ME BY ADAM SILVERA
This is another #ownvoices portrayal of OCD and the story is equal parts beautiful and brutal. So basically, read it if you want to feel your heart being squished and also rebuilt.
The story follows Griffin whose ex-boyfriend and ex-best-friend just died in a tragic accident. Despite being separated, this rocks Griffin completely and he ends up following a journey of healing with his ex’s new boyfriend. It dives back through their history to see how things went wrong and it was completely heartbreaking and just perfectly written.
THE UNLIKELY HERO OF ROOM 13B BY TERESA TOTEN
I was completely caught up by this incredibly written book about Adam who’s going to therapy for his OCD. He meets a girl called Robyn and immediately decides he needs to get to know her better (is this love?!) and even though his home life is complicated and messy and his mum has habits that worry him, he’s determined to help himself and find a way to fall in love.
It’s so heartwarming and sweet, featuring a 14-year-old protagonist which was really nice as YA usually focuses on the older teens. It’s told with a lovely voice and it’s equal parts bittersweet and fantastic.
SAY WHAT YOU WILL BY CAMMIE MCGOVERN
This follows the story of a boy with OCD and a girl with cerebral palsy as he ends up being an aid assistant to her during school. They both feel like misfits and they struggle with things that hold them back. Amy can’t walk or talk without a voice box and she feels alienated and overlooked by people she desperately wants to befriend. Matthew is caught up in so many rituals he can feel it crushing his world. When the two decide to help each other, their friendship turns to more and it’s super sweet.
Thank you, Joy! And many thanks for having me on the blog.
But first, where are you based and what is your background?
I live in Sydney, with my husband and our three sons, not far from where I grew up as a kid. I initially studied Communications straight out of high school at UTS, where I majored in writing and media theory, before then going on to train as an actor at Theatre Nepean, UWS. Towards the end of my acting training, I taught drama to a group of kids out at Mount Pleasant and I wrote them a play. It was then that it finally dawned on me that I didn’t want to be an actor after all, that in fact I wanted to be a writer but for young people, rather than adults. So not long after, I enrolled in a writing course with the acclaimed children’s author Libby Gleeson. That course felt both like a complete revelation and a homecoming. It was there that I workshopped a picture text I had written on my honeymoon of all places, about a little boy and his ice cream van driving dad. Libby Gleeson was a wonderful teacher and she instinctively knew how to draw out the possibilities of both a writer and a text and because of that early encouragement, here I am sixteen books later.
Do you give many presentations to children? How do you make them interesting? Have there been any particularly memorable responses?
I’ve spoken to thousands of kids over the years, presenting talks and writing workshops. In my general talks, I’ll often share funny stories about my life, what kind of kid I was growing up and especially some of the funny stories about bringing up my boys. There’s lots of acting and hilarity, especially when I share the inspiration behind stories like Sleep Tight, My Honey or My Mum Tarzan. I always bring along some of my writing journals and I usually explore the growth of at least one book in detail, from first seed to final story. I’m keen for kids to hear about the writing process but I’m also especially passionate for them to grasp how curiosity about ordinary moments can lead to the creation of juicy stories.
Funnily enough, some of the loveliest moments happen when I’m not speaking at all, when little clusters of kids sidle up at the end of a session to confide about a book they’ve been writing, or how they’re going to go out and buy their own writing journal that very afternoon, so they can write about the idea they have for a funny story about their own crazy mum, grandpa or dog. Because just as much as I want kids to love my books, at the end of the day, I want to inspire them even more so to discover the beauty and worth of their own stories.
I adore your laugh-out-loud YA novel My Big Birkett (it’s one of my all-time favourites) and love reciting parts about the animals that mate for life, The Tempest and gorgeous Raven and the meals he makes using mince; as well as your wonderful picture books. Could you tell us about some of these books?
Thanks Joy! It makes me especially happy to know that you are a Raven fan!
I’m often asked what I prefer to write most and I always say I love writing both picture books and novels and that I couldn’t choose between them. The best part of writing picture books for me is the absolute thrill of collaboration. I’ve been fortunate enough to work with so many brilliant illustrators over the years and each one has taught me so much about the power of the visual text. Some of my picture books that have been especially well-received include the Bear and Chook books, illustrated by Emma Quay, Gordon’s got a Snookie, illustrated by Wayne Harris and Big Pet Day, illustrated by Gus Gordon, who was also on the QLA shortlist too, for his gorgeous picture book, Somewhere Else. My most recent picture book is Hark, It’s Me, Ruby Lee! illustrated by Binny Talib. This was such a tough text to illustrate, mainly because of the fairly swift juxtaposition of the scenes of school life, with Ruby Lee’s fervent imagination. I’m just so delighted at what a marvellously beautiful job Binny has done.
I will say that one of the unforeseen joys of my writing life has been the steady, heartfelt emails I have received over the years from teen readers regarding My Big Birkett. These emails about Gemma and Raven and the De Head family have been incredibly sincere and poignant and they have often left me with a huge lump in my throat.
I know this is a tricky question but how do you incorporate humour into your writing?
This is a tricky question! As a kid, I looked into books like they were real windows. The books that spoke to me most were always the ones that captured acutely the laugh-out-loud jumbly nature of life, alongside the bittersweet ache. In terms of writing humour, I always keep an ear out for those little things that will make kids laugh. Not so long ago, my sister told me a story about how her four-year old son crept into her bed in the middle of the night and snuggled up tight to her, saying, ‘I love you so much Mummy, I want to shoot you out of a cannon!’ When I tell that story to kids, they roll around on the floor, laughing their heads off. But at the same time I know they recognise the vehemence of that kind of love, because they’ve felt it rocketing around in their own chests. I think humour has this remarkable capacity to encourage true connection and I’m always keen to incorporate it in my work, because it radically paves the way for readers to engage more fully and tenderly not only with a character’s dreams, fears, hopes and sorrows but also perhaps, with their own.
The Grand, Genius Summer of Henry Hoobler (A&U) has just won the QLA Griffith University Children’s Book award. The judge report says:
“The Grand Genius Summer of Henry Hoobler is structured as a quintessential Australian beach camping holiday but the exceptional storytelling soars to welcome the reader into both the setting and young Henry Hoobler’s rites of passage. We are given a heart-warming insight into introspective Henry. He is a genius at noticing things, surprising his fellow campers with his success in board and card games. He is also ‘Mr Worst-Case Scenario’, dreading the bugs, stingers and sharks of the beach but, most of all, dreading learning to ride his new silver bike. The bike is a symbol of fear, but its significance changes as Henry discovers courage and freedom. Courage can be found when friends are ‘straight-up and true’, embodied by free-spirit Cassie. This tale reminds us that everyone is different and everyone has gifts. Some, like Henry, prefer to learn quietly but even extroverts can be fearful.
The writing is literary and metaphorical, encompassing a vast emotional range whilst being utterly engaging for children. It is rare to encounter a novel for mid-primary children characterised by such perception and cadence.”
What was your reaction when you realised you had won?
I was astonished and delighted. It took quite a few days for it to truly sink in. Then I was just overcome with immense gratitude that the judges had seen something special in Henry.
It was wonderful to meet your young son, Rohan, at the awards presentation in Brisbane (and others there loved seeing him reading The Hobbit as the night wore on). Why was he there and what was your dual experience of the awards evening?
One of the initial nudges for writing Henry Hoobler was watching Rohie develop as a reader. After a slow start, he had a very sudden and rapid acceleration over a single year and I knew he was in this slippery in-between stage, where the books he was capable of reading were still quite a huge stretch for him emotionally. I began to wonder if I could write something that would speak directly to his life. As I wrote Henry, I read chapter after chapter out loud to Rohie. When I had finished the book and before it had been published, he persuaded his class teacher that I should come to school and read some chapters to his whole class as well. I dedicated the novel to Rohan because I wanted to acknowledge just what an incredible gift it was to have his enthusiastic encouragement along the way.
Rohie is an avid bookworm and so hanging out at the QLA awards ceremony for him was suddenly like meeting all of his people, all at once. He was especially touched that I mentioned him in my speech and I was especially touched when Rebe Taylor, the winner of the QLA History Book Award asked him to sign her copy of Henry. I can safely say that if Rohie’s class teacher had seen that handwriting, he would have been granted his official pen licence on the spot!
What is the significance of the title The Grand, Genius Summer of Henry Hoobler?
Early in the novel, Henry discovers that his rather unique talent for noticing things, makes him almost unbeatable when it comes to playing cards and board games. After Henry convincingly and unexpectedly smashes all the men and the older boys at games, Patch, his rather begrudging older brother finally acknowledges that Henry might be bit of a grand genius. It’s the beginning of a radical shift in the way Henry sees himself. Although Henry has replayed every worst case scenario in vivid detail regarding his camping holiday, what he has never considered is all the ways this summer might turn out to be the best one yet, the grand, genius summer of all summers.
Could you tell us about your protagonist Henry and some other characters?
Henry is a sensitive, imaginative and thoughtful nine-year old boy. He is the middle child, slotted right in between his athletically gifted, funny, know-it-all fifteen-year old brother Patch and his rambunctious, My Little Pony obsessed younger sister Lulu. Both Henry and his mum share some anxious traits and tend towards self-reflection and to feeling things deeply. Henry is very keen to please his exuberant dad, who is a real enthusiast for life. But Henry is filled with dread at the idea of learning how to ride his new bike without training wheels, especially in front of prickly Reed Barone, another boy who is close to Henry’s age and who is prone to sneering. Eventually, Henry meets ten-year old Cassie, who lives onsite in a caravan with her Pop. Cassie is a free spirit and alive to the world in ways that astonish Henry. Finally, Cassie’s straight up and true courage rubs off and with an unexpected Lulu intervention, Henry learns how to summon up his own courage and to do a whole series of adventurous things that he never imagined.
For what age-group is this novel intended?
Henry is intended for 7-11 year olds. I’ve been really pleased though by the numbers of reviewers that have also recommended it as a read-aloud for the whole family or the school classroom too.
How did you balance fine literary writing with the other elements of the narrative?
I was keen to write in a way that was hospitable to all kinds of middle grade readers, those that were confidently independent and those newly finding their feet. As a result, the story contains lots of snappy dialogue, which helps to give the text an easy, engaging flow. In terms of metaphoric imagery, I kept in mind some feedback given to me around another novel, regarding the importance of restraint. I was conscious that any poetic moment really had to serve the story and forward the action. At the same time, I wanted the novel to contain a certain richness of vocabulary because something the American writer Madeleine L’Engle once said has stayed with me for years, ‘We think because we have words, not the other way around. The more words we have, the better able we are to think conceptually.’ So balancing all of these elements was challenging, a little like prancing across a highwire tightrope.
As well as being good fun to read, Henry Hoobler has some important underpinning themes. Could you share some of these?
I’m always a little cautious when discussing themes because I know the writer is sometimes the least insightful person on that subject! With Henry though, I was keen to explore the nature of courage, the way one young boy discovers how to be brave over the summer, by learning how to make a tiny bit of room for the worry in his life, without giving it the whole house. The novel examines the transformative nature of unexpected friendship, the contagiousness of courage, the way we need one another in order to learn how to become brave and the way courage always arrives through the actual taking of considered risks. The novel celebrates the importance of family and community and the value of perseverance, forgiveness and kindness. I was keen to write about the beauty of the natural world and how to recognise and treasure the true significance of small ordinary moments.
Which awards have had particular significance for you?
Whenever a book of mine is either shortlisted or receives an award, I’m always extraordinarily surprised and grateful. I know it’s such a hard job to make those kinds of choices, especially when there are so many equally deserving and beautiful books out in the world. Writing a book does take a significant investment of energy and time and winning an award always means that a book will have a much greater chance of being widely read. I was particularly thrilled in 2010 when Bear and Chook by the Sea won the CBCA’s Book of the Year for Early Childhood, not just because it was a moment I got to share with my good friend the illustrator Emma Quay but also because as a kid, I drew a poster every single year for Oatley Library’s celebrations of the Children’s Book Council’s Book of the Year Awards. I was desperate to win a book prize in that poster competition, never dreaming that I would one day write a book that would win an award from such a long-established and hallowed institution.
What are you writing next?
I’ve been writing a series of picture book texts and I’m just returning now to a novel for teenagers that has been patiently waiting it’s turn.
What have you enjoyed reading recently?
I’ve loved Elizabeth Strout’s Anything is Possible, Karen Foxlee’s A Most Magical Girl, James Rebanks The Shepherd’s Life, Brian Doyle’s collection of essays Leaping: Revelations and Epiphanies and the picture books Oi, Frog by Kez Gray and Jim Field and Once Upon a Small Rhinoceros by Meg McKinlay and Leila Rudge.
Thanks so much for having me on the blog and for asking such astonishingly good, stretching questions. It was lovely to take the time to reflect and ponder.
Thanks for your very thoughtful and insightful responses, Lisa and all the very best with your excellent novel, The Grand, Genius Summer of Henry Hoobler, and your other works. We greatly look forward to what your imaginative mind will bring us next.
And thank you for blogging me. It’s blogging exciting to be here.
Where are you based and what is your background?
I’m in Sydney and have a background in documentary and TV. I also do copywriting and write for an educational publisher.
What sort of music do you like and do you play any instruments?
What sort of music don’t I like might be an easier question to answer. There’s not really any types of music I don’t get into. Well except Opera and music that involves men dancing in long socks with bells attached. Struggle with that a little.
Basically I like good music. And a lot of bad music too come to think of it! I just like music.
But I don’t play myself.
I think Dr Boogaloo & The Girl Who Lost Her Laughter is my love letter to music. It expresses all my pent up love which I can’t express by playing an instrument. Kitchen dancing keeps it in check most of the time but sometimes it just needs to come out.
What have you learned about the importance of music?
I believe humans are musical beings. It’s an intrinsic part of who we are. We need music.
What led to you writing a children’s novel?
I started writing for children when I had my own. I kept getting ideas for books and when they slept I would rush upstairs to the attic and try to write. Unfortunately all my children were terrible sleepers so my output is hardly prodigious. Hard to write a book in 45 minutes. But I’m on a roll now!
Could you tell us about ten-year-old Blue, her horrible mother and some other characters?
Ah the lovely Blue. I’m very fond of Blue. She has a quiet strength and she tries to keep her chin up no matter how hard things get. She’s not one to complain – unlike her awful mother. Blue’s mother is somewhat self-obsessed. She thinks having a daughter who can’t laugh is an absolute bummer! It’s ruining her life and simply must be fixed. If not she plans on shipping her off to a boarding school in Switzerland somewhere. One of those ones where they don’t come home in the holidays. Costs a bit more but well worth it obviously, under the circumstances.
Now, let me introduce you to the wonderful Dr Boogaloo and his glorious wife Bessie. They run The Boogaloo Family Clinic of Musical Cures. You may not have ever thought of music as medicine but according to the Boogaloos, music can cure anything!
Of course, you need the right dose of the right music. No point listening to a jive if you’re in need of some boogie-woogie, and you can’t just substitute a hum for a chant, or an opera for a ballad, or a toot for a blow. Absolutely not! Musical medicine is an exact art. And it’s extraordinarily complicated. The way Dr Boogaloo explains it is this – everyone has their own tune but sometimes, for one reason or other, we get all out of tune. We lose the beat, you might say. Unfortunately, your tune is just like your fingerprint. No two are the same. Which is why fixing tunes is SUCH a tricky business!
Dr Boogaloo describes Bessie as the magic in his wand and it’s true they are a great team. Dr Boogaloo reminds me a bit of a brand new pencil – he’s very straight ahead – which is perhaps not what you would expect for a musical doctor. Bessie on the other hand is a little more eccentric. She reminds me of a rainbow caught up inside a tornado. Bessie looks after the Doctor’s instrument collection which is so enormous they keep it in a shed about as big as an A380 aircraft hanger.
I particularly enjoyed Blue’s introduction to the Snorkel Porkel Crumpety Worpel Laughter Clinic. Could you tell us about how people enter it and about some of the Laughter Detection Tests?
Well entry is via a giant slide with a vertical drop that would make your nose bleed – hence the need for padded pants to avoid a really good buttock burn –followed by the the tickle machine which helps sort out the wheat from the chaff in terms of laughter issues. Then, once you get past the lobby guy who has a seriously good aim when it comes to snot olives, you’re off to the testing rooms. They are very thorough at the Snorkel Porkel. There are not many places they won’t venture to ensure an accurate diagnosis. Can we just say, strange animal farts, blooper reels, hula-hooping cats in bikinis, Youtube videos of epic fails and a gentleman called Gassy Gus who can blow up balloons with his bottom! You did ask!
Music is important in your novel but what about colour?
Well Blue’s mother has a thing for colour. She goes through colour ‘phases’. You can probably guess what ‘phase’ she was in when she named Blue ‘Blue’. At this point in time, she’s in a white phase. Phases generally involve a lot of shopping, redecorating and pouring over paint charts. Blue is finding her mother’s white phase particularly challenging. Absolutely everything in the house is white so even finding the fridge can be quite tricky. There’s a lot of falling over the couch, that sort of thing.
Could you tell us about the role of musical imperfection?
Well I can only tell you what I’ve learnt from my time at The Boogaloo Family Clinic of Musical Cures but according to Dr Boogaloo, imperfection is an essential ingredient in any musical cure. One of the many musicians who work’s regularly at the clinic is a Canadian called Neil. He’s famous for the perfect bum note or loose string and exactly when to drop one in. Quite a skill.
Have you paid homage to any other authors in your plot, setting or characters?
Not authors so much but songwriters and songs seem to be scattered about the place. That’s my silly love thing again. You don’t need to get the musical references to enjoy the story – I’m sure most of the kids won’t – but if you’re a music fan reading to your kids, hopefully they might amuse you. Some are obvious, others not. For example, Blue’s globetrotting, game-hunting father sends her a pair of high heels covered in diamonds. There’s even diamonds on the soles! And of course Bessie would name her pet pygmy pocket possums after some of her favourite singers – Dolly & Makeba. Tupelo trees, weeping songs, I’m wearing my musical heart on my sleeve I’m afraid….
Are you planning anything special for the book launch?
Of course. Blue’s mother’s favourite – bubbles. And my favourite – music. We have Gramophone Man coming along to play some very old tunes on his steam-powered turntables. That should give most people’s musical immune systems a jolly good boost before the silly season begins.
What are you writing about now or next?
My next book is called The Crumples of Shambolstown. It’s about some very crumpled folks who live next to some very Crisp folks. A gang of Crumple kids venture into Cripsville and things go very, very wrong. It’s a crumply thriller!
Stories about characters who write are a special sort of bookish-inception. And we love it, c’mon just admit it. So today I’ll be listing some delicious Young Adult books that have characters who write in them! They might inspire you to keep working on your own novel and also give encouragement that all writers, whether real or fictional, spend most of the time staring out the window and crying to ice cream. It’s normal. We’re doing great.
FANGIRL BY RAINBOW ROWELL
Perhaps this is one of the most iconic stories about writers, because HELLO. It’s Rainbow Rowell! Author extraordinaire! Fangirl is about Cath who is newly at college and also a very enthusiastic and popular fan-fiction writer.
She has to struggle with the questions is fanfic “real writing” and defend her beloved fandom and keep up with her huge following for her book plus handle college plus try to cope with severe social anxiety.
ELIZA AND HER MONSTERS BY FRANCESCA ZAPPIA
This is actually mostly about a comic book artist and writer named (surprise) Eliza! She’s actually very depressed and withdrawn and her life is all about drawing the next comic strip for her online book which has exploded into the most massive fandom ever. She’s so famous online, and yet in real life no one knows who she is. Then she meets a boy at school who is a selective mute and has severe anxiety. She discovers he writes fanfiction for her comics….but he has no idea who she is. Does she sacrifice her anonymity and tell him? Or just enjoy having a friend for the first time in forever?
BEAUTIFUL MESS BY CLAIRE CHRISTIAN
This is a fantastic novel about anxiety and depression and follows the dual-POV of Ava and Gideon. They’re both struggling to stay afloat: Ava dealing with the death of her best friend, and Gideon with a life of sever anxiety that’s lead him down some dark paths. But Gideon is into slam-poetry and writes the most beautiful words and lyrics and preforms them.
He and Ava also begin writing letters to each other to build their friendship so the level of word-love in this book = MAXIMUM.
WORDS ON BATHROOM WALLS BY JULIA WALTON
This book is written as a diary by Adam, a 16 year old boy with schizophrenia who’s trialling a new drug. He refuses to talk to his therapist so he writes his daily experiences instead. The journal is raw and beautiful and painful as he tries to fit into a new school without revealing his heavily-stigmatised illness. He’s desperate to have a “normal” life as he falls for a girl and makes friends. But the trail of hallucinations never seems to leave. Are they growing again? This book is absolutely excellent and definitely with break a few heartstrings.
OUR CHEMICAL HEARTS BY KRYSTAL SUTHERLAND
This is a super bittersweet tale of Henry, who is an absolute hilarious dork, and finally gets his dream to run the school newspaper. He’s avidly into writing although gets hugely distracted by his co-editor, a very mysterious girl who walks with a cane and seems 0% interested in being friends with anyone. He gradually coaxes her into friendship and discovers some demons you can’t fight for your friends or lovers. It’s a very poignant story with some dark, messy themes, but parts are also hysterically laugh out loud! The balance is very well done.
The 2017 Queensland Literary awards shortlists have recently been announced. They are a good reflection of the quality of current Australian writing.
The Qld Premier’s Award for a work of State Significance and The Courier-Mail 2017 People’s Choice Queensland Book of the Year show an exciting cross-section of Qld authors. The University of Queensland Fiction Book award category is also notable this year for its Qld authors such as Nick Earls with Vancouver, Ashley Hay with A Hundred Small Lessons and Melissa Ashley with The Birdman’s Wife.
My particular interests are literary fiction, children’s and YA so I’ve read all but 1 of the 15 books in these 3 categories. In the Fiction category, authors Heather Rose and Nick Earls have already been scooping awards in this year’s NSW Premier’s Literary awards. I’ve previously reviewed Hannah Kent’s The Good People for the blog.
Wendy Orr is shortlisted for the Griffith University Children’s Book Award and I learned at the Brisbane Writers Festival this weekend that she also lives in Qld. Dragonfly Song has already been awarded a CBCA Honour prize this year. And I believe that Richard Yaxley, whose YA novel This is My Songis shortlisted, is based in Qld.
In the Griffith University Young Adult Book category, two books in particular have been generating attention in other awards. The Bone Sparrow by Zana Fraillon was shortlisted for two international awards: the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize; and then it went even higher to win an Honour Book award in the CILIP Carnegie Medal. It has received Australian commendations as well, including an Honour prize in the CBCA awards. I reviewed it for the Weekend Australian. Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley won the Indies award and was also an Honour book for the CBCA. I also reviewed it for the Weekend Australian.
Australian literature for young readers in the past few years has been particularly strong in the YA novel and children’s picture book categories. The QLA Children’s shortlist shows a turnaround towards novels for younger readers. Hopefully this is the beginning of a renaissance in Australian children’s novels.
Brisbane Writers Festivalhas had a new lease of life with the appointment of CEO and Artistic Director, Zoe Pollock for the festival’s 55th anniversary. The festival was about “The big stories – and the little ones in between” and the biggest story of them all was probably the recognition of Indigenous literature and creators, particularly the tenth anniversary of Alexis Wright’s novel Carpentaria, which won the Miles Franklin award. This was uniquely celebrated as an immersive dramatic and visual performance inside “Angel’s Palace”, a specially constructed “art-tent”, designed by Gordon Hookey.
The opening address was given by Alec Doomadgee, who spoke about “Indigenous knowledge creation”. He showed excerpts from his seminal film Zach’s Ceremony. Alec said that “reading books gives you a real history of the country you’re in”. He uses the arts and culture to tell stories and create change and urged us all to go away and do something for change. My family has something planned …
I was fortunate to moderate a panel session about “Connecting to Place” which explored how three authors create place as a character (or not – as we discovered) in their stories.
Melissa Lukashenko spoke about the significance of land in her beautifully written, award-winning novel Mullumbimby. Ashley Hay let us look inside a special Brisbane house, peopled over time by two vulnerable women whose lives interconnect. Her novel, A Hundred Small Lessons, has just been shortlisted for the Queensland Literary awards. Kate Mildenhall’s debut novel, Skylarking, was one of my best books of 2016 for the Weekend Australian. It is set on a windswept, isolated cape and is a fine piece of writing about friendship between two young women. Kate is destined for big things in the literary world if she continues to write at such a high level.
I also attended a session about the Australian book industry, “Published in Oz”. It was exciting to hear how writing and reading is the biggest art form that people engage with in Australia. 20% of Australians attend a book event annually and Australia has the highest per capita attendance at writers’ festivals in the world. Reading books is the number 1 favourite leisure activity of Australians. Double the number of Australians enjoy reading books to attending sporting events, playing video games or other pursuits. Australia also has the world’s top independent bookseller market.
Another enlightening session was a workshop for adults on visual literacy by James Foley. He has illustrated Sigi Cohen’s, My Dead Bunny, The Last Vikingby Norman Jorgensen and other books.
The BWF also hosted “Word Play” an outstanding program for young people. My highlight was hearing Wendy Orr, author of the Nim’s Island series (the genesis of the movies), Peeling the Onion and the masterful historical fantasy based on the Minoan myths of bull-dancing, Dragonfly Song. This novel has also just been shortlisted for the Queensland Literary awards.
Thanks to the organisers of the 2017 BWF and to those involved. There was a very special buzz in Brisbane.
It’s turning out to be the year of the most glorious Wonder Woman and no one’s complaining! In honour of Leigh Bardugo’s upcoming book Wonder Woman: Warbringer(which is just released and it’s so exciting!) I’m putting together a list of other superpowered YA novels that you can gnaw on while you get your hands on the famed Wonder Woman novel.
There’s nothing quite like reading about superheroes to make you realise what your future career goals should be. Now just go fall in a vat of toxic waste or get bitten by a very special spider. You’ll be good to go.
STEELHEART BY BRANDON SANDERSON
This trilogy centres around a fallen USA, where those with superpowers are rather evil and like to conquer and destroy the humans. David is just your average regular nerd, who’s also good with a gun, and would like to stop the evil superhero (villain?) who murdered his father. David teams up with the mysterious Reckoner superpower-killing team — even though they pretty much do not want him around. His next step is to try not to get killed from (a) his team, and (b) all the psychotic superpowers blazing around.
I really adore this book, particularly because it’s funny! David is witty and dorky and the plot moves at a cracking pace with plenty of action. And the superpowers are really unique and doubly interesting.
V IS FOR VILLAIN BY PETER MOORE
Superheroes are pretty cool and all that, but what about villain origin stories?! This stars Brad, who’s just a puny little worm in the shadow of his superpowered older brother. Brad is pretty smart, but since he can’t throw cars around or save screaming civilians, he’s pretty much a nobody. He ends up being caught in an undercurrent of criminal activity and has to decide which who are really the “good guys” and who is truly corrupt.
C’mon! Villains! And this is such a classic super villain vs hero story line that it was a real pleasure to devour. Also quite fun with lots of dialogue quips and fantastic explosions.
ZEROES BY SCOTT WESTERFELD
This is a collaboration project by three authors, Scott Westerfeld, Margo Lanagan, and Deborah Biancotti. And it follows the point-of-views of 6 kids with powers in a world where they have to hide them. The team of six has recently been busted apart but are now slowly clawing back together at the insistence of Scam, who hears voices that tell him what to say to make people happy. Which is a handy power but also gets him into a lot of trouble.
The exciting part about this series is definitely how interesting and creative the super powers are! From controlling crowds, to seeing through other people’s eyes, to being forgotten instantly — the book is so creative!
Okay so these are actual comics and not novels of prose, but I had to include them since they’re some of my favourite comics ever! Ms. Marvel is all about Kamala Khan who has extraordinary skills (like shrinking and growing at will) who’s also just a teenager trying to do well in school, please her family, and also save the world. They’re fantastic because they’re so funny and relatable + superpowers. Of course.
I’m holding out hope for someone like Leigh Bardugo to write a novel-formatted story for Kamala or for her to get her own movie! It’s high time we had more diverse teens saving the world between homework and teaming up with the famous Avengers we all know and love.
Today Anna Valdinger, Fiction Publisher from HarperCollins Publishers Australia answers 7 questions about publishing we readers have always wanted to know.
Does the designer have to read a book first before designing the cover?
No, and many designers don’t have time to read all the books they’re working on, although certainly sometimes they’ll read some of a manuscript to get a sense of the book’s tone – usually for fiction. The publisher will have given the designer a comprehensive brief which includes where the publisher sees the book sitting in the market and the type of book it is, comparative titles, and often visual motifs from the book that could work on the cover. I always ask my authors for their thoughts as well so that their vision for the book is included from the start. Some authors are very visual and will send over mood boards and others prefer to wait to see concepts that we’ll discuss. It’s a fascinating process to get to something that is artistically in line with the author’s (and designer’s) vision and that will also work commercially.
What’s the most expensive kind of finishing for a book cover?
Probably a cut out. Those can be easily damaged and I don’t often use it. Flaps are expensive as well, though they look lovely. Foil is probably the more expensive option of the ones I tend to use. Emboss and spot UV on a matt finish are my favourites. I wish I could do more colour printing on inside covers but that can get pricey. Soft touch is amusingly divisive – some people find it quite creepy. (I’m definitely in the ‘soft touch is creepy’ crowd; it also shows your fingerprints quite easily).
Why do so many books have the text ‘A Novel’ after the title?
This is a convention that tends to happen mainly in the US. But sometimes if we are concerned that people will mistake a novel for non-fiction, either because of title or subject matter or the author’s profile, we might add it on. I prefer to make it clear through the cover treatment, title and shout line.
What are the blank pages at the end of a book for?
Books are printed in batches of 16 pages called an extent. So if a book has, for example, 8 pages of preliminary matter (title page, copyright page, dedication, list of other books by that author, and so on) and 383 pages of main text, you’ll have 391 pages plus 9 blanks to take it to a total extent of 400 pages. If you only go over an extent by a page you’ll have 15 blanks which is a lot, so usually you would see if you could save a page somewhere. Typesetters can do a lot to help here! We tend to use any blanks we have for things like ads for other books by that author or reading group questions.
Do readers still send fan mail to authors?
Certainly. Less so by snail mail these days although we do get post coming in for authors which we will forward on. Most people tend to connect with authors now via social media or the author’s website. Authors love to hear from their readers – it can be a lonely process to create a book from nothing, and to hear from someone that they enjoyed or were touched by the work is really special.
How does a bidding war between publishers start? Don’t authors have to submit their work to one publisher at a time? How do they engage in a bidding war?
You definitely don’t have to submit to one publisher at a time but it is courtesy to let people know your work is on multiple submission. If you have an agent they’ll usually submit to the major publishers all at once. Authors can do this too but not every publisher accepts unsolicited manuscripts, and agents know which person is the best one to approach for a particular title. If one or more publisher is interested the agent will let the others know – at which point everyone can get competitive!
If more than one publisher makes an offer, then the author and agent will assess them and decide if they want to accept one or take it to an auction. These can take various forms but often include the publishers putting together marketing and publicity pitches to accompany the financial offer and – depending on convenience and geography – going in to meet with various publishers to get a sense of the team and which might be the best fit for them and their work. Publishers then put in their best offer and the author decides which to accept. It’s not always down to the money; sometimes you feel a certain publisher ‘gets’ you better than the others, and the author/publisher relationship is really important, both editorially and because the publisher is your and your book’s champion.
Which book has surprised you the most this year? The Barefoot Investor by Scott Pape. It’s rare to see a financial advice book take off in such a way but this one has sold 300,000 copies and almost all of that through chains and independent bookstores rather than through the big department stores. It’s a really impressive bit of publishing.
In fiction I am hugely excited about a book I acquired that will be coming out in March 2018. It’s a crime fiction novel, the first in a series by Perth writer Dervla McTiernan. It’s incredibly pacy and compelling and heartbreaking and tense – I couldn’t put it down and am still shocked that it’s a first novel and yet is so good. It’s called The Rúin – look out for it!
Chris Womersley’s latest novel sucks you in from the opening passages. Set in 1600s France this is a gothic masterpiece firmly based in the historical realm but will have you believing in magic, witchcraft and maybe even the devil himself.
It is 1673 and The Plague grips the countryside. Charlotte Picot has lost three of her children to fever and her husband has also just passed away. She decides to flee her small French village with her remaining son Nicholas and set off across the countryside to seek refuge in a larger town. They are attacked upon the road and Nicholas is taken by slavers and Charlotte is left for dead. Desperate to save her son Charlotte is makes a deal with a woman claiming to be a witch to summon forth help in her time of need.
Meanwhile a man is freed from the prison galleys having served a brutal seven year sentence. He is desperate to return to Paris and retrieve a buried fortune but he cannot recover his treasure alone. His path will cross with Charlotte’s and they will both find more than they bargained for in the dark and uncanny underbelly of 17th century Paris
While on the surface setting a book in 17th century France seems to be a far removal from Chris’s previous work there has always been a gothic undertone to his novels. At one point in Bereft I was almost convinced the main character was possibly a ghost and Womersley uses similar devices to keep you off balance about where reality ends and magic actually begins.
Rooted in historical fact this is a novel that entrances you, bewitches you and keeps you thoroughly enthralled.
Whoever said mermaids were pretty creatures who sing on rocks and comb their hair with forks has clearly not read the mythology. Mermaids can be freaking creepy! And that’s why we actually adore them. (The darker and weirder the mythology, the better, right?!) And if you’re a fan of young adult books and mythological creatures — chances are you’ve kept your eyeballs peeled to the deep blue for some mermaid flavoured novels.
That’s why I’m here for you, to support you in your mermaid finding endeavours.
Here’s a list of YA books that feature our half-fish friends! Less sweetness, and more like hair-raising adventures swim here.
TEETH BY HANNAH MOSKOWITZ
This follows the tail of a human boy named Rudy who gets dragged by his family to live on an island that supposedly has waters populated by magical fish that can cure anything. And Rudy’s little brother is dying of a lung disease — so his parents will do anything to help. But the island is bleak and barren and Rudy is so lonely…until he discovers a mysterious girl who never leaves her house and a boy in the ocean who appears to be half a fish.
Rudy is enchanted by this fishboy, known as Teeth, who is equal parts brutal and sarcastic, but also tortured and lonely. He’s abused by the local fisherman for trying to free the magical-fish, who Teeth sees as his family. Rudy wants to help save Teeth from this horrible life, but does Teeth even want to be saved? And if Rudy has to choose between his growing love for this fishboy or his little brother’s life — who will he pick?
OF POSEIDON BY ANNA BANKS
This is a trilogy that stars Emma, who thinks she’s a pretty average girl living by the sea and just trying to get through highschool…except she’s actually a mermaid and of a royal lineage. (Thanks for not letting her know that, mother.) And it all becomes rapidly apparent that her life is not as dull as it seems when a god-like merman named Galen appears from the ocean deep to find her and seek her help since she has the gift of Poseidon — which is to summon fish and can possibly save all the mermaids.
He ends up gallantly posing as a student at her school and failing spectacularly (some people are better with fins then legs ok) between showing Emma that the ocean is nothing to be feared of. Except it kind of is, because the war for Emma and her gift is just beginning.
THE SEAFARER’S KISS BY JULIA EMBER
Or how about a retelling of the Little Mermaid…except what if it was from the point of view of the seawitch Ursula?!
This story follows Ersel, who’s in love with her shield-maiden when she’s supposed to be marrying her suitor. When faced with the choice of picking her love or going before the evil king, Ersel goes for help from the god of mischief, Loki. This can’t possibly go wrong, obviously. So in fact it goes hugely wrong and Ersel ends up exiled and forever separated from the human she loves the most. So exactly what will she do to get out of this mess?
Claire Zorn stands out again with her extraordinary One Would Think the Deep (University of Queensland Press). She won both CBCA Older Readers’ category and the Prime Minister’s Literary Award with her previous novel, The Protected. One Would Think the Deep is set in the 1990s and submerges the music of this era into the struggles of Sam who is suffering from grief and rage after the death of his mother. The authoritative evocations of the ocean and surfing reflect his passion.
Congratulations also to the highly accomplished honour books in this category. They are both also remarkable and world class: Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley (Pan Macmillan Australia) and The Bone Sparrow by Zana Fraillon (Hachette Australia). I’ve written more about this impeccable trio of novels previously, as well as about the shortlisted books in this category.
I am also very excited by the Book of the Year: Early Childhood winner, Go Home, Cheeky Animals! (Allen & Unwin) written by Johanna Bell and illustrated by Indigenous man, Dion Beasley. It is such a cheeky, joy-filled story; perfectly structured. The illustrator also sells his work in the form of t-shirts and other merchandise on his website.
The honour books in this category are also excellent examples of texts for young children. Nannie Loves by Kylie Dunstan (Working Title Press) has nostalgic-looking but bright tissue-paper collages and Gary by Leila Rudge (Walker Books) is an ingeniously structured tale about a homing pigeon who can’t fly. I’ve written more about the Early Childhood books for the blog here.
Another picture book with appeal to young readers won Picture Book of the Year. Home in the Rain (Walker Books) is Bob Graham’s seventh CBCA win. He is a maestro and this book equals his magnificent best even though it takes place in the unlikely setting of a car in the rain.
The Picture Book honour books are written by the affable and inventive Lance Balchin with Mechanica (The Five Mile Press) and talented writer for a range of ages and genres, Maxine Beneba Clarke with The Patchwork Bike (Hachette Australia). Van T Rudd has expressed movement and community in his street art inspired illustrations of the bike and its creators. I’ve written more about these books here and elsewhere in the blog, including how to share the books with children.
Book of the Year: Younger Readers has been won by Trace Balla’s entertaining and comprehensive depiction of a trip through the Grampians in Rockhopping (Allen & Unwin). Honour books are Wendy Orr’s masterful, myth-inspired novel Dragonfly Song (Allen & Unwin) and the comical Captain Jimmy Cook Discovers Third Grade written by Kate & Jol Temple and illustrated by John Foye (which completes the A&U triumvirate of winners in this category). I’ve written previously about the books for younger readers here and elsewhere in the blog.
One of the best parts of reading is disappearing into other countries and cultures — preferably with a little magic on top. So what could be better than epic fantasy that’s inspired by South Asian cultures?!? Today we are going to peruse some delicious young adult novels that take a detour from the repetitious medieval British settings!
REBEL OF THE SANDS BY ALWYN HAMILTON
This is a swashbuckling, sharpshooting, magical adventure set in a world that rings of the Arabian Nights folklore! It fits an interesting combination of guns and magic and deserts together that feels super unique. Plus there is sass. So much sass. Amani is an excellent marksman who wants adventure and decides to escape across the deserts with a mysterious foreigner.
It contains rebellion, deserts, djinn, and other monsters that lurk beneath the sands. Not to mention a shoot out on a moving train because this is like THE WILD WEST meets ARABIAN NIGHTS and it’s exciting.
POISON’S KISS BY BREEANA SHIELDS
Set in a mythical fantasy kingdom that resembles India, this story is about a girl who is a visha kanya — her kiss is death. Marinda obviously it not doing well in the love life factor, but she’s doing anything and everything to keep her sickly little brother alive. Which means working for a cruel boss who uses her as a weapon. But then she meets a boy in a bookshop and starts to wonder if she can get out of her brutal and murderous career path.
The world is pretty lush and vivid, with gorgeous descriptions, and has basis in Indian folklore.
THE STAR-TOUCHED QUEEN BY ROSHANI CHOKSHI
This features a fantasy-inspired Indian society where a girl, Maya, is cursed to fulfil a marriage of death and doom. Which is kind of a turn off for a lot of guys, it seems. However she ends up in a political marriage with a strange boy who rules a kingdom that is magical and definitely not what it seems. We’re taking on a whirlwind journey where myth becomes life. Roll out the demon talking horses, magic trees, and worlds controlled by a single thread!
This book’s definite strength is its lush and melodic writing style. It spins the story with beautiful prose and a slower pace to match the carefully unfurling magic.
THE WRATH AND THE DAWN BY RENEE AHDIEH
This is an absolutely gorgeous retelling of the tales of Shahrzad who told the 1001 Nights stories to the Sultan to stop him killing all his wives. The book takes a magical twist to the tale and there are monsters and curses here that lurk in the shadows. Shazi is the most epic of protagonists who is here to stop the boy-Sultan’s rampage…except things are definitely more than they seem and he’s harbouring secrets that change everything.
I also will totally admit that the food descriptions in this book?? They slay. They are so darn delicious that I just wanted to eat the book.
Apparently 2017 is crowning itself the queen of the young adult sequels. There are so many epic additions to series coming out this year, it’s just impossible not to try and eat them all at once! And if you’re a little behind on release dates and figuring out which series you should be caught up on…sit down and relax, my friend. I am here to help.
Here are some highly anticipated YA sequels that are either newly on the shelves or just around the corner!
OUR DARK DUET (published June)
This is the sequel and finally to the incredible This Savage Song! It follows the story of Kate Harker, child of a cruel mafi overlord, and August Flynn, a violinist monster who wishes he was human and their fight to save their depraved and dying city of Verity.
It’s like Batman’s Gotham but with violins and heartbreakingly good writing. Definitely a must read!
NOW I RISE (publishing July)
This is the sequel to And I Darken, which is a gender-bent Vlad the Impaler retelling. It follows siblings, Lada and Radu, as they’re ripped from their home and given as gifts to secure a piece to their father’s enemy. They grow up far away from home, unloved, and unwanted, until they meet the future boy sultan and both fall hopelessly in love with him. It’s full of politics and intrigue and the most terrifying bloody heroine of ever. Do not mess with Lada. Like…ever.
LORD OF SHADOWS (published May)
This is the sequel to Lady Midnight, another addition to the ever-expanding Shadowhunter world by Cassandra Clare! If you haven’t caught up on her other books, don’t fear! This trilogy is actually possibly to read on its own. It’s a tangled mess of necromancers and dark faeries and war, and it focuses on Emma Carstairs who’s trying to solve the mystery of who murdered her parents. It also follows her parabati, Julian Blackthorn’s life as he tries to raise his siblings and keep them safe in a world that’s not kind to damaged people.
THE CROWN’S FATE (published May)
This is the sequel and finale to The Crown’s Game, which is about two magicians vying for the spot as the Tsar’s right hand. There can only be one, however, hence a fight to the death with magical tricks, games, duels, and manipulation. The only problem is Vika and Nikolai are also falling in love, and their future Tsar is their best friend…which makes the whole “fight to the death” thing super hard. It’s also set in Russia and has a luscious backdrop of Russian culture and food. The levels of magical imagination are absolutely breathtaking!
ALWAYS AND FOREVER, LARA JEAN (published May)
This is the 3rd book in the Lara Jean series that starts with To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before and then PS. I Still Love You. The story is about Lara Jean (surprise!) who is a Korean-American teenager who used to write letters to her crushes. She never mailed them of course…until one day they accidentally get mailed. It’s a really super sweet and adorable story about family, sisters, first love, and baking. There is so much baking in it, you’ll probably eat your copy of the book. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Mindfulness feels like the new catch cry. Its sudden appearance on school curricula and in children’s literature gives one the sense it’s a new concept but of course this is not one hundred per cent accurate. It’s more of a case of nudging empathy and caring within our next generations into a more prominent light, one that is accessible to them. Literature is one such way to improve accessibility and these two examples show how cleverly it can be done.
Picture books on mindfulness abound. This picture book by Big Sky Publishing is particularly special because of its gentle quality and strong connection with the everyday child. There is no overt preaching to relay the suggestion to pause for thought and take time to look around and notice the world. Hughes illustrations glow. Vescio’s narrative flows with an easy grace, reflecting the soul of this story, to remain calm and thoughtful.
Ella loves her backyard and fills her days playing in it but she overlooks the most obvious things at times, like the giant tree in the corner of her garden until one day, as the wind showers her with the tree’s falling leaves, she gets the impression it is crying. Despite reassurance to the contrary from her mother and Ella’s attempts to stem the downpour of falling leaves, nothing can alter nature.
Ella’s mother then teaches her daughter to see things in a different light by learning to sit still, observe, feel and ultimately recognise and appreciate all the many splendours, whether large or minuscule of the world. And this allows Ella to enjoy her world much, much more.
Ella Saw the Tree is a beautiful picture book to share, to keep and refer back to when needed. Whilst it focuses on an individual’s discovery of self-awareness, the implication that we should be more observant and empathetic towards our friends is also present amongst the swirling leaves of Ella’s tree.
Read Romi’s in-depth review of Ella Saw the Tree, here. For more insight into the story behind this story, read my interview with author, Robert Vescio, here.
This lilting junior novel is so on point with readers in this age bracket (6 – 8 years), it’s alarming. Apel reaches deep into the playground psyche of Grade 2s and extracts genuine emotion with the feather touch of verse.
The dilemma of having too many friends and those friends not all liking each other truly does germinate in the junior school years, quickly sprouting into an all-encompassing crisis, at least it can in the eyes of a seven year old. It’s a problem that often continues throughout the primary years as children’s social webs widen and become entangled by their developing emotions.
This eloquent verse novel more than ably addresses this social predicament from the point of view of Tahnee, whose pond of playmates is full to overflowing. How she works on retaining her bonds with friends she already has whilst inviting others she wants to befriend is skin-tingling touching and will no doubt strike a chord with many other children her age.
This third verse novel by Apel has a slightly younger, more playful feel about it than the previous, Bully on the Bus and On Track, which again suits the topic well. Tahnee is a warm, likeable character who epitosmises the concept of a mindful child. She shares her friendship woes with us in a series of short, elegant chapters that almost feel like standalone poems, perfect for readers to spend time with by themselves or as a sensitive shared reading experience.
Too Many Friends positively celebrates mindfulness and friendship for lower primary aged readers, demonstrating the power and beauty of these two concepts through the discerning use of verse. Highly recommended.
There were three debut authors shortlisted in the 2017 CBCA Older Readers category, signalling the new talent being unearthed in Australian YA. Unlike some short lists in the past, all the authors are female this year, representing the number of females writing YA.
Most of the novels are contemporary realism, although Waer is speculative fiction and Yellow has elements of spec fiction.
Many of the characters come from working class backgrounds and some are dealing with deep anger, particularly in Frankie and One Would Think the Deep.
Parents are missing, dead or substance-abusers in virtually all the books. Children are missing in Frankie, Yellow, Words in Deep Blue (where Cal drowned) and Waer (where Kemp is missing). Beach/water settings are prevalent and music features in Frankie and One Would Think the Deep.
The predominance of the colours blue and yellow on the covers reflect the colour schemes published in 2016, very different from the black dystopian and supernatural covers of the past.
In this post, I will focus on the three novels by debut authors because I’ve written about the other books previously.
Waer is a werewolf tale, told as an intricate fantasy.
There are three narrators: Kaebha, a torturer, Lycaea and Lowell, who takes his pagan religion seriously, lives in a valley and finds Lycaea almost drowned. When soldiers destroy the valley dwellings, Lowell and Lycaea escape with some others. Archetypes from fantasy such as the journey, battles and hidden identity surface.
War and the displacement of Lowell and others form some parallels with current refugees, ‘To them we’re not people’.
Readers who enjoy Waer should love Megan Whalen Turner’s exceptional series which begins with The Thief. She has a new one out, Thick as Thieves.
Yellow by Megan Jacobson (Penguin Random House Aust)
Yellow is a very well written story about 14-year-old Kirra. Her surfie father named her after Kirra Beach, but calls her ‘Yellow’ because of her yellow eyes. Yellow often suggests cowardice but this girl is brave.
The story is set near Byron Bay. Kirra’s father has left the family and her mother has become a drunk. In graphic scenes, Kirra forces her to detox. The words of the popular girls scratch her inside but she decides to fight back. ‘People only have the power to make you feel small if you let them.’ Her relationship with kind Noah seems promising but she wrecks it by getting drunk at his party.
Yellow becomes a ghost story when Kirra causes a dog to drown and then talks to a ghost boy in a disconnected phone box. She tries to catch his murderer, putting herself at risk.
Kirra’s English teacher and the local librarian recommend Lord of the Flies, To Kill a Mockingbird, Catcher in the Rye and The Bell Jar. All books worth pursuing…
Issues of forgiveness arise here and in Frankie.
Frankie by Shivaun Plozza (Penguin Random House Aust)
Frankie is Italian and funny. She was abandoned by her mother and thinks she ‘deserve[s] to fail’. Her younger half-brother, Xavier, who seems to be a thief, finds her and gives her a longed-for Joy Division album. In this book, musician Ian Curtis killed himself like Jeff Buckley did in One Would Think the Deep, but both their music lives on.
Frankie is set around Smith St, Collingwood (where Robert Newton’s Mr Romanov’s Garden in the Sky and some of his historical novels were also set).
The dialogue in Frankie is smart, with a streetwise voice. The scene where Frankie follows Nate with his ‘blue gaze’ to a ‘fence’s’ house, is chillingly intimidating. When Xavier disappears, the contrast between the lack of energy put into his disappearance compared with that of rich boy Harrison Finnick-Hyde is explored.
There are numerous descriptions of graffiti throughout the novel. Readers could perhaps create their own ‘Small Street Interruptions’ based on Michael Pederson’s website ‘Outside’ http://miguelmarquezoutside.com/.
Pederson leaves quirky temporary artwork (such as roping off a dandelion with a sign, ‘do not touch’ like in an art gallery) in laneways, backstreets and buildings to surprise and encourage people to slow down, be in the moment and recognise surroundings. He attaches them with Blu-tak and removable tape.
The other three shortlisted books are:
Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley (Pan Macmillan Aust) which recently won the Indie YA award.
Music helps but doesn’t heal protagonist Sam’s residual rage and grief. There is a playlist at the end of the book featuring Jeff Buckley’s Loser, So Real and Grace and Split Enz’s I Got You (which Jennifer Niven also uses in All the Bright Places).
The Bone Sparrowby Zana Fraillon (Hachette Aust) recently won the ABIA award for older children, was shortlisted for the Guardian Children’s Book award and is currently shortlisted for the CILIP Carnegie medal.
Zana Fraillon’s next novel, The Ones That Disappeared, about child trafficking, will be published this month.
I heard her speak with best-selling Australian writer, Sally Rippin, famous for Billie B Brown, and whose Polly and Buster series has just been released, at the Wheeler Centre in Melbourne this month. The event was sold out, with people standing.
Kate’s latest novel is Raymie Nightingale, a gem of a tale in which Raymie hopes to gain her father’s interest by winning a beauty contest. This story is ‘the absolutely true story of my heart’, confessed Kate, whose father had also left their family. Family photos show Kate, her brother and mother but her father is missing. Until Raymie Nightingale, Kate had created fictional fathers in her books, writing instead about missing mothers, in a kind of reverse reality from her own life. Until this book, Kate had only written herself obliquely into her stories.
As a child, she was ‘terrified, shy and worried but was astonishingly good at making friends. That’s what saved me – I could connect’. She loved to read, ‘Books were the most magical thing in the world. I didn’t think humans had anything to do with it… Reading was how I made sense of the world – the doorway in. I’m most in my body when reading a book!’ She now pretends to be an extrovert.
When a child asked if she reads or writes more, Kate responded, ‘Reading is pleasurable. Writing is difficult for me.’ Quoting Dorothy Parker, she retorted, ‘I hate writing. I love having written’ and then added, ‘I’m so much happier writing. That’s not to say I’m happy writing.’ Kate experiences the voice of failure at about 9am in the morning so she tries to write before then and uses ‘that editing voice’ only after 9am. She keeps a journal while travelling and returns to it when writing later. ‘So much of writing is subconscious’. Writing hasn’t become any easier: ‘All you know is you’ve written a novel before but don’t know if you can write this novel.’ She overcomes this by regarding each piece of writing as a draft.
Kate often writes about animal characters, such as the mouse in The Tale of Despereaux and the squirrel, Ulysses, in Flora and Ulysses. Kate loves the word ‘capacious’ and uses the phrase ‘God’s capacious hands’ in Flora and Ulysses to describe Flora’s father’s heart. Kate also hopes to be ‘capacious of heart’.She certainly does seem to have won many Australian hearts during her tour here.
Some of Kate’s other novels are The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, The Tiger Rising and The Magician’s Elephant. Her wonderful Christmas picture book is Great Joy.
Books tell amazing stories in all sorts of formats. Sometimes they use prose or poetry, illustrations or photographs. And today? We need to talk about books told in love letters, notes, and emails! Because writing is arguably the best way to learn about someone. It’s often easier to confess a secret or be venerable on paper and these books underline that fact!
If you’re looking for a book featuring letters? LOOK NO FURTHER. I have you covered.
LETTERS TO THE LOST BY BRIGID KEMMERER
This is an absolutely beautiful, but bittersweet, tale of two teens who are dealing with extreme levels of grief. They begin writing to each other on accident. Juliet leaves letters at her mother’s gravestone and one day Declan, who’s working in the graveyard on community service, picks one up and writes back. They begin first an angry communication and then develop friendship through grief and confessions. It’s a relief to both of them to talk anonymously to someone who understands. But as they realise they also know each other in real life, they are worried the other won’t like the “real” them. It’s an absolutely poignant story of heartbreak and being judgemental of people who’s stories you don’t know.
SIMON VS THE HOMO SAPIENS AGENDA BY BECKY ALBERTALLI
Simon has met the most amazing boy online and lives for their frequent email exchanges. Except one day he forgets to log out of the school computer and a bully discovers his emails. He blackmails Simon — threatening to out Simon as being gay. And Simon isn’t ready for that yet.
It’s a super, super cute story featuring two boys emailing back and forth. The story isn’t wholly told in messages, though, so you get to follow Simon in his everyday life of friends, awkward first love, Harry Potter obsession, drama class, and Oreo appreciation. It’s about being true to yourself and it’s the most heartwarming and special story!
ILLUMINAE BY JAY KRISTOFF AND AMIE KAUFMAN
This is a sci-fi action story told solely in emails, messages, reports, and photos! It’s absolutely brilliantly formatted and the visuals totally take the book to the next level of special. The story is basically about a rogue company destroying a planet and the survivors end up on a damaged ship floating through space. The enemy is closing in and they’re trying to get the ship’s Artificial Intelligence up and active to fight for them. Except there’s also a virus sweeping through the refugees. And the AI is possibly planning to wipe out all threats — which could very well be the people it’s supposed to protect.
You will most likely be clinging to your seat through reading this with heart pounding. The action doesn’t stop and the plot twists are phenomenal.
WE ARE STILL TORNADOES BY MICHAEL KUN AND SUSAN MULLEN
This is a story of two teens after high school: Cath has headed off to college and Scott is stuck working in his family story after he bombed his highschool finales. They’ve been best friends all their lives, so they write avidly to each other as they explore the world of just-becoming-adults. The letters are packed with so much complexity and meaning and even though the entire book is just told in epistolary format, you get to know the characters so well. And you can’t help rooting for them to stop living in denial of their feelings for each other and to follow their dreams and live the kind of life they hunger for.
American YA writer, Jennifer Niven has been wowing fans up and down Australia’s east coast from the Sydney Writers’ Festival, to Brisbane, then Reading Matters in Melbourne, then Adelaide and further afield.
It is no wonder she is greatly loved. She seems to care for everyone she meets and gives equal weight to answering the questions and concerns of all her readers. She has transformed the difficulties and joys she has experienced in her own life into becoming a brave, ‘honest and responsible’ writer, speaking for those who may not have a voice. She doesn’t like conflict but has become an advocate after writing her first YA story about a boy she loved who suffered from mental illness in All the Bright Places. She poignantly recalls, ‘I lost him to suicide’ and about how she wrote about this relationship and experience ‘as honestly as I could … Pieces of me are in each of my books’. Jennifer has since received thousands of messages about how All the Bright Places has, in some way, saved people’s lives.
Jennifer reiterates that everyone deserves to be seen and heard and inscribes some people’s books: ‘You are wanted’. ‘Life can be dark but there are always bright places everywhere.’
I was thrilled to be invited to lunch in Sydney with Jennifer and a small group of informed young bloggers. Jennifer was charming; a lady who listens and engages. She was very generous with her time; asked us all to sign her copy of All the Bright Places (a lovely, original idea) and showed us a sneak peak of the photo of the young actor who will be playing lead character, Finch, in the movie of All the Bright Places.
When I asked at lunch how she gets into the writing zone as quickly as possible, she explained the importance of music and playlists, including Split Enz’s song, I Got You (her playlists are online). Lyrics are ‘also all about words’, but in a different form.
Even though Jennifer is generous with her words in conversation, she is happy to listen to others rather than dominate the conversation; conversely when writing, she writes more than she needs before paring back the words.
Unfortunately, she’s not able to write while on tour but, despite this, jumped at the chance to come to Australia, agreeing even before she was given the dates.
Jennifer concluded one of her sessions at Reading Matters by sharing her and her author mother’s writing advice: ‘let yourself cry (or laugh or feel); check it in the bus locker (put distractions away so you can focus on writing); and write the kind of story you want to read.’
Thanks to Penguin RandomHouse Australia for the incredible opportunity to meet Jennifer.
As part of this year’s Sydney Writers’ Festival Student Sessions, I was fortunate to host a couple of sessions with British stand-up comedian Natalie Haynes and facilitate one with Randa Abdel-Fattah and Yassmin Abdel-Magied.
Natalie became one of the most popular presenters at the festival. She’s probably better described as a performer, though, because she brings ancient history and the ancient mythic world alive and into the present for her audiences.
She reworks stories for her own purposes, drawing on her expertise in the ancient world and on making it relevant today. She stands out because she can share her knowledge on stage, screen and in her books in a rivetting way.
Natalie is a classicist and a comedian, an unusual combination. She used to be a stand-up comic, but retired when she realised she preferred tragedy to comedy. Her quick wit and incredible knowledge enabled her to effortlessly command the stage.
Natalie’s new novel The Children of Jocasta was published in May. It’s a re-telling of the Oedipus/Jocasta/Antigone tale and will make you fascinated by mythic history (if you’re not already). An earlier book, The Ancient Guide to Modern Life explores philosophers such as Plato, Ovid and Agrippina the Younger.
Randa Abdel-Fattah & Yassmin Abdel-Magied
In our session about ‘Mono or Multi-cultured’ at the Wharf, Randa Abdel-Fattah, who examines issue of racism, multiculturalism and human rights in Australia through her novels and essays, explored what contemporary multiculturalism and racism look like in Australia today with activist and author Yassmin Abdel-Magied.
Randa has written Does My Head Look Big in This?, When Michael Met Mina and other novels, particularly for young adults, as well as essays. When Michael Met Mina is an important story because it gives both Michael’s view – a popular guy coming from a racist family – and Mina’s – an intelligent young woman whose family was killed by the Taliban in Afghanistan, forcing her and her mother to flee by boat. The novel airs many issues and opinions – true and false – such as people saying that ‘potential terrorists are hiding among boat people’ and people who want to be able to say, ‘Merry Christmas’ without offending anyone; to some darker-skinned girls feeling they have to use skin-whitening creams and others being intimidated and vilified. The novel gives diverse viewpoints. It’s great to read because we are exposed to different perspectives and then make up our own minds. It shows the power of literature to create understanding and empathy.
Randa has also been a lawyer and has a PhD in Islamophobia in Australia.
Yassmin is well known through her media appearances and I’ve learned from reading her memoir, Yassmin’s Story (which she wrote recently while in her 20s) that she loved reading Enid Blyton and her favourite character was, as you might expect, George; she deliberately created slang at school; she channels Beyonce in time of need; she loves sharing stories on stage and she learned in debating that she can argue any side of an argument!
Yassmin also won Young Queenslander of the Year in 2015; as a teenager co-founded Youth Without Borders; is an engineer; worked on a rig and loves cars.
I cannot do these intelligent and articulate authors justice in their explanation of structural racism and other issues here. I do suggest reading their books and online articles to gain a greater understanding of, particularly, racism in Australia.
As always, the Sydney Writers’ Festival in May was an amazing week.
The NSW Premier’s Literary Awards were announced on the Monday night and I was thrilled to meet the Patricia Wrightson (children’s book) winner for the surrealist mystery Iris and the Tiger, Leanne Hall (who I interviewed for the blog here), photographed below with shortlisted Tamsin Janu and shortlisted Ethel Turner YA author Lili Wilkinson.
The winner of the Kenneth Slessor Poetry award was Peter Boyle for the inimical Ghostspeaking, an intriguing mystery of finely woven stories and poems. The richly constructed characters are brought to life with interlaced poems. It evokes Borges’ Labyrinthswith the brush strokes and ideas of artist William Robinson and the clear bold outlines and strokes of Matisse.
At the SWF, I was privileged to be in conversation with Dr Anita Heiss and Witi Ihimaera for the ‘Indigenous Voices’ sessions at the Wharf in Walsh Bay and at Parramatta Riverside Theatres. It was great to have the opportunity to discuss Anita’s new The Race for Reconciliation, a novel for children that celebrates Aboriginal hero Cathy Freeman and shares truths that many Australian children don’t know about stolen children, National Sorry Day and other aspects of Aboriginal recent history.
Anita has also shown Aboriginal women in contemporary Australian literature in new and important ways such as in Barbed Wire & Cherry Blossoms. This compares the WW2 Prisoner of War camp near Cowra in central NSW when Japanese soldiers broke out, with the local Wiradjuri people who also virtually lived under prison conditions – and had less food than the Japanese prisoners.
Also in this session was revered Maori writer Witi Ihimaera. He was the first Maori author to have both a novel and short stories published. In his memoir, Maori Boy, Witi uses a unique and powerful spiral thread structure. He also uses myths in his work.
Witi is well known for his book and movie from the book, Whale Rider and also now, Mahana. At times he wished he was brought up more in Maori traditions and he wasn’t great at the haka. But he was destined to do another kind of haka.
Anita and Witi made a fine team enlightening us about indigenous voices.
As Australia descends into the pit of despair wintertime, it’s a great excuse to curl up with a book and a delicious hot drink and lose oneself in a fictional world! And if you happen to like to coordinate the weather with your current read then I have good news for you! Today I’m listing some wintery-themed YA books that will be perfect for snuggling up with.
Winter is coming. Be prepared. Stockpile books.
SHIVER BY MAGGIE STEIFVATER
This is like my go-to winter series because it’s mostly set in a snowy foresty town in the USA and the weather is so palpable you genuinely feel cold reading it! It’s about werewolves who are human in summer and wolves in winter, which I think is a fabulous twist. It’s also for sure one of my favourite series!
This one is like the YA book dark and sinister version of Frozen! It features a queen who should have magical element wielding powers to protect her kingdom but yet…she doesn’t??? She ends up running away and finding a boy who controls ice and snow. The book has such a chilling setting and it’s all snowy mountains and traipsing through ice fields. Also it’s excellent.
It’s set in the aftermath of a huge blizzard that leaves a girl and her little brother rather trapped in a strange cabin with an even stranger boy who appears to be some sort of death reaper. It turns out that the boy, X, is here to fetch the souls of evil people and hate for them is destroying his life…even if he is actually a really soft and kind person. But vengeance must come…right? The whole book has a really cold vibe with all the snow and blizzards!
THE SMELL OF OTHER PEOPEL’S HOUSES BY BONNIE-SUE HITCHCOCK
This one is set in Alaska! So get ready for snow and months of darkness. It’s also a really emotional and poignant tale of 4 different teens’ lives and how they all interweave and join. From a boy running away from home to a girl stuck on a fishing ship when she wants to dance ballet. The writing is simple and really packs a punch. And there is pie. I don’t know about you, but I’m of the opinion that all books should include excellent mentions of delicious pie.
Surprise! This one includes SNOW. (Which is stunningly new information that you didn’t guess from the tittle, I’m sure.) This is an epic fantasy set in a world were the seasons are actually countries! Meira is a refugee from the war-torn country of Winter and all she wants to do is protect her BFF, the future king, and restore the kingdom of Winter to its past glory. There’s lots of dark magic out to make everyone’s lives miserable and some completely stunning plot twists that might unhinge your jaw. Plus it’s perfectly and delicious cold to read about an entire country that’s known for its winter! You’ll need a hot chocolate to get through this one for sure.
What a fantastical blast from the past! Those cherished days of pouring over Where’s Wally? scenes for hours on end, in search for that inconspicuously eminent character, and his friends, we all know and love so dearly. Allow your children the same pleasure with these marvellous 30th Anniversary Edition and brand new collector pocket books that will be sure to spin heads, strain eyes and tire fingers to their hearts’ delight.
The classic, world-wide phenomenon, Where’s Wally? (30th Anniversary, Feb 2017) by Martin Handford, is celebrating 30 years of magical, wondrous, time- and space-travelling zeal that, no doubt, is still burning strong to this day. With its large-face, portrait format, Wally-Spotters can partner up and share the scrutiny together. It is the observer’s mission to find five intrepid travellers; Wally, Woof (but all you can see is his tail), Wenda, Wizard Whitebeard and Odlaw, plus their precious items in every scene. But that’s not all! There are another 25 Wally-watchers and an extensive checklist of people, creatures and objects to be found, too!
Each scene is presented with a postcard from Wally addressed to us, the Wally fans, providing a snippet of his endeavours in that particular destination. All set with his walking stick and a bulky load in tow, Wally wonders through busy and colourful places. From a crowded town, to a packed beach, a snowy mountain, a groovy campsite, jostling train station, a manic airport, a mass of runners at the sports stadium, a jiving museum, the swarming sea, a bustling safari park, jam-packed department store, and a lively fairground. (Plus a bonus scene!)
Along with your keen sense of observation, you’ll also delight in the humorous and quirky details found in every picture. The vibrant illustrations teem with life and personality, every tiny character with their own hilarious story to tell. No wonder Where’s Wally? will forever be a global classic! A must-have for every home and school.
The Where’s Wally? The Totally Essential Travel Collection (June 2017) is certainly the fun adventure that never ends! Including seven of the classics in one travel-sized book, littered with colouring in postcards and adorned with gold foiled stripes, this will be your trusty travel companion wherever the destination. The handy elastic close is a clever way to return to your place, and fold-out checklists enable easy accessibility as you search and turn through each wondrous location.
If I were to choose my favourite edition I would have to say The Wonder Book definitely packs a punch with its uniform colour selections for each scene and its pages that are filled to the brink with the most minuscule of detail. And if you’re up for a real challenge try visiting The Land of Woofs! It’s a cracker!
The Where’s Wally? Colouring Collection (May 2017) is an absolute spectacular of Wally-related searches, games, jokes and creative tasks, all in black and white! Whilst colouring, doodling and sketching your way through the pages, astute observers also have the added task of locating Wally, his friends, his special lost paint pot, and other precious possessions. Plenty more hidden objects are compiled in the checklists, and the enormous lift-out poster creates even more colouring, searching and time-consuming goodness.
With heaps of inspiring, creative and thought-provoking activities, this travel-sized handbook with elastic close is an energetic bundle of joy (and a calming force at the same time!).
The great thing about this series is that they cater for every age group, starting with simple perusal to the more complex exploration. But there is no doubt, this is imagination, entertainment and brain-training at their best!
Good parent influences in Young Adult books can be as rare as finding a unicorn. However they do exist! And when we find them, life is glorious! I love reading about epic fictional women who inspire and also delight. In honour of Mother’s Day today, I’d like to present a list of some really wonderful mothers in YA books. These are also underrated fictional mothers (because we all know we already love Molly Weasley) so hopefully you find some new glorious books to add to your to-be-read pile!
Not only is Radio Silence a complete geek-fest, it features a mother-daughter relationship that is just so gloriously wonderful and special. Frances has been raised by a single mum who’s really busy with work, but is still always there for her daughter. And when Frances runs into trouble with friends, her mum is totally volunteers to step in and help out. Better yet? Frances actually lets her.
It’s really important, I believe, to have books where parents are the antagonists and are shown supporting their teens and helping them through super difficult times. #precious
This has been one of the most famous YA books of 2017, which is excellent, because it thoroughly deserves the hype and love! It’s about the #BlackLivesMatter movement and features Starr, who has watched the murder of two of her friends. It’s heartbreaking and heartwarming….aaaaand Starr has an amazing set of parents!
Not only are her parents strong and wise, they’re super involved in their kids’ lives. Starr’s mum spends time with her and encourages Starr to be the best she can be in all things. Also Starr’s parents are super in love and that’s just so adorable to read about. Starr says her parents are her OTP and if that isn’t the best thing then what is.
This is a super cute tale about romance, love, and family, from the point of view of Molly, who is a rather anxious teen who is obsessed with Pinterest crafts and delicious things like mini chocolate eggs. Basically she is the best kind of person. I really love and adored her two mums!
Not only are they raising a splendidly kind and loving person (hello, Molly!) but they’re super sweet and loving to each other. And they listen to their kids. And they’re hardworking women multitasking jobs, teenagers, and a baby. Like, woah, just hats off right here.
This is actually from the point-of-view of three teens: Dylan, Trevor and Lydia. Unfortunately only Lydia’s parents are awesome (Dylan and Trevor break my heart with how callous their parents can be, unfortunately) but the contrast of Lydia’s folks is beautifully written. So much adoration here. SO MUCH. Her mum and dad not only support her, they joke around with her and make their house a welcome and loving place. You can see the affect it has on Lydia too, with her being confident about her life and career and knowing she can come to them for emotional support. The best kind of parents.
By Neridah McMullin, illustrated by Andrew McLean Allen & Unwin
Another amazing animal in the Eve Pownall shortlisted books is the horse, Fabish. He was an old horse who rescued the yearlings from the terrible Black Saturday bushfire. The trainer rescued the finest race horses but couldn’t look after them all so he set Fabish free with the yearlings. He discovered every single one safe after the decimating fire but didn’t know where Fabian had taken them.
Picture book form is an apt medium for this true story. Important Australian illustrator, Andrew McLean, is an expert in painting our countryside and animals and Neridah McMullin has crystallised the events into a riveting tale.
Primary-age children could no doubt imagine where the horses may have found safety. They could write and draw their possible experiences.
By Michael Sedunary, illustrated by Bern Emmerichs Berbay Publishing
This tale begins in 1808, 20 years after the First Fleet, when soldiers arrest Governor Bligh. It then retrospectively tells the account of the Mutiny on the Bounty before returning to Bligh’s attempts to quell both the Rum Rebellion and John Macarthur.
Michael Sedunary’s writing is picturesque and colourful; personalising Bligh’s life and endeavours.
Bern Emmerichs’ illustrations are intricate and patterned.
Surprisingly, blogging and social media appear in this book. Bligh’s log (now kept in Sydney’s Mitchell Library) relates blogging to the gossip, printed pamphlets and handbills of the period. Macarthur’s ‘tweets’ against Bligh are viewed as the social media of the time.
The first Australian political cartoon (adapted here) shows Bligh dragged from under his bed by Major Johnston’s men. Propaganda is explained and readers are asked to think about how ‘simple slogans and labels are meant to stop us thinking any further about things.’
More surprises appear when readers are asked to consider who is the hero or villain – Cook or Bligh? (Cook ordered many more floggings than Bligh.)
Other books in the series are What’s Your Story? and The Unlikely Story of Bennelong and Phillip.
Enormous congratulations to Berbay Publishing for its Bologna Award.
The Eve Pownall Information Books this year span the ABC, animals and history.
They highlight several small, independent publishers, who should be congratulated on their excellent publications.
Spellbound: Making Pictures with the ABC
By Maree Coote Melbournestyle Books
Spellbound also won a 2017 Bologna Ragazzi Award. It’s a large, sumptuous hardcover in three parts: architecture, animals and people, and features typography (letter art) where images are created from letters that spell their names.
Young children could find the letters in the illustrations. Older readers could appreciate the typographic poetry (shape poetry) where the meaning of the text is enhanced visually.
I spoke to the creator, Maree, on the day before she flew to Bologna to receive her award, who explained that she has restricted herself to using existing fonts.
There are three levels of difficulty within the book’s examples: 1. any letters that inspire a picture can be used 2. only use letters of the correct spelling of the subject’s name 3. only use correct spelling and only 1 font per letter (see page 3).
This book helps understanding of Visual Literacy. (See page 3 for line and shape, and page 63 for patterns.)
Children could use Macs, or equivalent, to create their own letter art.
There is even a mini tutorial on how to create animals using only letters.
A-Z of Endangered Animals
Words and Illustrations by Jennifer Cossins Red Parka Press
The Introduction explains how the high animal extinction rate is due largely to humans, and also introduced species such as rabbits and foxes, in Australia.
Everyone can help by reusing and recycling, keeping beaches clean and not wasting water.
The book is well-designed; it’s clean and clear.
It is structured with one animal representing each letter of the alphabet.
Information on the left-hand page includes conservation (e.g. endangered or vulnerable) status; current population; description of the animal and where it lives; and an interesting fact such as no two tigers have the same striped pattern, and eastern gorillas use basic tools to gather food.
Each animal is illustrated on the opposite page.
Primary-aged children could focus on Australian endangered animals and present information using the same format, possibly to make a class book.
Amazing Animals of Australia’s National Parks
By Gina M. Newton National Library of Australia
Like A-Z Endangered Animals, Amazing Animals of Australia’s National Parks shows which species are endangered, vulnerable or threatened (their conservation status).
Every state and territory is included, so readers may be able to visit one.
The structure is organised by environments and habitats such as woodlands and grasslands (the Bush), wetlands and waterways, arid zones and coast, oceans and islands.
Each habitat has a double page, followed by one page each for selected animals.
Read this book to discover more about our wildlife and how to care for the environment
There are high-quality photos, interesting ‘fast facts’ and a glossary.
I will write about the 3 other Eve Pownall shortlisted books in another post.
I love books about twins so much I thought I’d put together a list of some of my favourites.
Flowers in the Attic by Virginia Andrews
This was the book that started my love affair with twins in literature and is the story of 4 young children locked in an attic by their Grandmother. Their father has died and the children are living in their gothic grandparent’s house waiting for the Mother to successfully acquire some money from her strict Grandfather who detests the children. Gradually their mother visits less often and the children are largely left to their own devices. This is a classic YA novel with gothic undertones and themes of greed and betrayal.
The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
This book is in my Top 10 favourite books of all time. Vida Winter is a successful author and has decided to tell her life story now that she’s dying. She’s given many interviews over the course of her life, but each time she tells a different story. This time she’s serious about revealing the dark truth about her past and Margaret Lea has agreed to be her biographer. But it won’t be easy.
The novel makes countless delicious references to stories, books and reading and I revelled in the language.
Here’s a sample from the book: “Do they sense it, these dead writers, when their books are read? Does a pinprick of light appear in their darkness? Is their soul stirred by the feather touch of another mind reading theirs? I do hope so. ”
Naturally the plot includes twins and the wonderfully haunted Angelfield House forms the backdrop of the novel in a charming and menacing way. In addition to being a brilliant book, The Thirteenth Tale is also major BBC film starring Vanessa Redgrave and Sophie Turner (Game of Thrones).
Beside Myself by Ann Morgan Beside Myself is a psychological thriller and suspenseful read looking at themes of identity and mental illness. Twin sisters Helen (domineering) and Ellie (submissive) play a game one afternoon to swap identities, but Ellie won’t change back. What happens next is an ever growing divide between the sisters and the subsequent decline of one of them. As the consequences of the game last a lifetime, I couldn’t help but wonder what I would have done in Helen’s situation
A Dark Dividing by Sarah Rayne Continuing the suspense theme, A Dark Dividing is about conjoined twins born 100 years apart and how they’re connected. Alternating between the past and the present, and across 3 different periods, the novel reveals a number of shocking secrets as it progresses.
Author Sarah Rayne loves to include a creepy building at the centre of her books and this time it was the suitably scary Mortmain House. Originally used as a workhouse for men and women who would otherwise die of starvation, the living conditions at the house were horrendous. Children abandoned at birth or born to families unable to care for them all ended up here and suffered terrible treatment as a consequence.
As the title suggests, A Dark Dividing is a dark read and I enjoyed finding out how all the characters were connected.
The Distant Hours by Kate Morton
Another gothic novel featuring twins in a creepy estate is historical fiction novel The Distant Hours by Kate Morton. Edie is a book publisher and when her mother receives a long lost letter originally posted in 1941 from Milderhurst Castle, her curiosity is piqued. Her mother is secretive about her past, but Edie finds out she was billeted at the castle for a short time during the war.
Edie visits the crumbling castle and meets the three elderly sisters residing there. Twins Percy and Saffy live together with their younger sister Juniper and the reasons they each chose to stay at the castle after the war and why they never married or had children inform the plot. Something happened to bond the sisters together for life and it was a thrill to discover. The characters love to read, write and tell stories, and all shared a love of books. The reference to the library in the castle made me weak at the knees.
I hope you enjoyed this list, but I’ve just noticed that almost all the twins in my list are female. I can’t even think of a novel with male twins, can you? Further reading: The Ice Twins by SK Tremayne and The Silent Twin by Caroline Mitchell.
Deploy music to tell a story and joy results. You need only to think about your favourite song to understand this. Unite the magic of music with the unique creation of a picture book story and the result is something very special indeed. These next few picture books combine a passion for music and story and the exceptional ability of both to bring people together. They’re also a whole concert-full of fun.
Not only is the word hullabaloo an absolute hoot to roll off your tongue, it implies mayhem of the most exuberant manic kind. This is exactly what The Great Zoo Hullabaloo! delivers.
Lively, liberating adventure is what Jack and Jess encounter one morning upon entering a zoo that is ‘strangely deserted.’ Even the new roo seems to have bunked. Unable to find a single real-life occupant, they begin a quest to track down the missing residents with little more than a trail of feathers, footprints, and poos, aka scats, to guide them.
Their bush tracking efforts eventually lead them to a party to end all parties. Every animal is hooting and tooting, and hopping and bopping a right hullabaloo! There’s cake, a surprise appearance and enough revelry to fill a pirate ship. For whom is this euphonious shindig, though? Well, you will have to come to the party yourself to find that out.
Tunefully rhythmic and exploding with joviality, this is classic Carthew and Tortop. Great musical verse (with a lovely reference to the Silvery Moon) and animated illustrations make The Great Zoo Hullabaloo! worth getting vocal about! Make sure you read Romi Sharp’s full rhapsodic review, here.
Life for the residents of Level 8 in their apartment block is rather subdued and unexciting. They coexist placidly with very little interaction despite their close proximity, so artfully portrayed in the very first pages by Poli. Then one day, The Baby arrives. And, as babies are wont to do, that changes everything.
Baby’s persistent refusal to sleep wears his mother to distraction. His cries are heard and felt by each resident of Level 8, again shown by Poli’s brilliant vignettes that provide telling glimpses into the lives of Baby’s neighbours.
Then, Baby’s chance discovery of the pots and pans cupboard sets off another chain of cacophonous chaos. Each clamorous clang, squeak, squawk and stomp, vibrates throughout Level 8 and awakens a melodious joy in all who dwell there. Slowly, each of the residents is drawn to the rooftop to rejoice in all things musical, with one noticeable difference. They are celebrating, together. But, can you guess what happened to Baby amidst all this musical mayhem?
Hill has composed her palpable passion for music into an elegantly told tale that truly does rise ones soul an octave higher. Poli’s illustrations resonate charm with very few brush strokes. The linear use of images and variation of perspectives, rather like notes on a musical stave, sweeps the reader along the corridors of Level 8, in and out of the apartments and finally to their common park area, which the residents now utilise to play together in their newly formed Baby Band.
Baby Band is a symphonic story pre-schoolers will love having read to them, incongruously gentle in appearance and sound yet magnificently entertaining. This story elicits plenty of opportunity for musical interaction and discussion about all manner of instruments, pots and pans notwithstanding. I adored the cleverness of it all and the irony of young children being able to find solace and slumber in sound. Bravo!
Sometimes, finding yourself only occurs because of some other serendipitous discovery. This is what happens to a young bear cub one day after he happens upon a piano in the middle of his forest home. At first, the sound Bear is able to procure from the piano is so awful, he abandons it but after several seasons not only does he mature so too does his ability to produce beautiful sounds from this strange thing.
Playing the piano transports Bear far beyond the wooded boundaries of his forest and fills his heart with melodious joy. Night after night, crowds gather around bear and his piano entranced by the magic he evokes from its ivory keys, until one night Bear is given an opportunity he is unable to say no to, to see the world and share his music with it. And so, he leaves his home and friends behind.
Bear’s tale of yearning for brighter lights and attempting to make better of himself is not unique but Litchfield’s personification of a bear embarking on a journey of self-discovery is both touching and purposeful. Bear’s successful debut in the big lonely city and then consequent tug to return to his old friends and home draws the reader in with cinematic magnitude. When he does return to the forest, he is deeply dismayed to find no one and nothing as he left them. He worries his desertion has made them angry or worse that they have forgotten him. However, he is mistaken as the heart-melting ending reveals.
The Bear and the Piano is a picture book that quietly moves you to the core as an operatic aria would. Bear is tragic yet infinitely loveable. His desire to share his love (of music) and taste the bittersweet reality of his dreams is one many of us may harbour and thus relate to easily. It is easy to like and admire his courage and equally as easy to feel his heartache and despair in spite of his successes. It can be lonely at the top. Luckily, for Bear, and us being at the top is not the be all and end all.
This book is an arresting mixture of loud and strong – forte piano as it were and is beautifully supported by Litchfield’s sumptuous illustrations. A pleasure for lower to upper primary students.
This is my third post about Book of the Year: Younger Readers and I have already posted about Picture Books and books for Early Childhood. Teachers, librarians and parents may be interested in sharing these books with young readers. I have included a range of activity ideas.
Dragonfly Song dances far back into historical fiction – to the Bronze Age in Crete where King Minos, the Bull King, demands an annual tribute of 13-year-old boys and girls. Aissa, named after the dragonfly, is born with extra thumbs and her father defies the gods by cutting them off. When he dies, the wise-woman takes the baby to a farm but her life there is destroyed and she becomes a ‘mute’ servant and then a bull dancer. Aissa summarises her life as a poem on pages 376-7.
The writing is a mixture of prose and poetry and these both extend the narrative. There is recurring dragonfly imagery and snakes are a potent motif. This is a crossover novel for younger and older readers. Could some read it as a literary Hunger Games?
Writing Children could write in the styles of both the prose and poetry.
Sculpture They could google images of sculptures of Theseus and the Minotaur (on which part of Dragonfly Song is based), or use the cover illustration, and twist thin, coated wire to replicate the human and other figure in action (science: force and gravity).
Dragonfly Jewellery Children could represent the dragonfly symbolism by threading coloured beads, particularly blue, onto wire to make brooches or other jewellery.
Karen Foxlee continues the speculative fiction with A Most Magical Girl, a fantasy for 9-12-year-old girls (in particular) about Annabel Grey who is sent to live with her witch great-aunts in their magic shop in London. These women can bewitch broomsticks or make a potion to turn someone into a wolf. At first Annabel doesn’t believe in magic, even though she can see visions in puddles, but she is enlisted into a quest to prevent Dark Magic and evil Mr Angel and his shadowlings and resurrection machine from overtaking London.
Kitty, the wild betwister (someone who goes between ‘this world and that world’), frequents Highgate cemetery and other crannies and is also full of magic. She is able to create a ‘heart-light’. Readers could contrast these two girls, as well as smelly, eye-twinkling troll Hafwen who longs to see the stars.
When Annabel and Kitty are sent ‘Under London’, they encounter trolls and a dragon. A map is somehow drawn onto Annabel’s skin. Children could read the descriptions about the map and use them to illustrate the visible skin of a paper figure or mannequin.
The girls must find the Morever or White Wand to save the people of London. As well as a rite of passage and story about friendship, A Most Magical Girl portrays the battle between dark and light.
Each chapter begins with an extract from Miss Finch’s Little Blue Book (1855) about manners for young ladies. These loosely correlate with the plot. Readers could write a brief alternate plot line to correspond with all or some of these extracts.
The UK setting is interesting because, until recently, Karen Foxlee seems to have been better known and appreciated in the UK and US than in her homeland. Hopefully this is changing. A Most Magical Girl is a very well imagined and constructed middle grade novel.
A Most Magical Girl is a beautiful hardback publication and is a great companion novel to Ophelia and the Marvellous Boy. Older readers should explore Karen Foxlee’s YA novel, The Midnight Dress. It is an exquisitely written, wondrous tale.
I will also write about the shortlisted books for Older Readers and the excellent Eve Pownall information books in upcoming posts.