I have read a lot of novels set during the Iraq War and this one is pretty special. Brian Van Reet, another alumni of the the seminal collection Fire & Forget, has written a novel of the Iraq War told from both sides; from a US soldier’s perspective and a jihadist insurgent drawn to Iraq from Afghanistan. In doing so he has written a part thriller in the vein of I Am Pilgrim, but also a part dissection of the last 16 years of conflict worthy of comparison with the other great novels of this war, Redeploymentand The Yellow Birds.
Nineteen year old Specialist Cassandra Wigheard has been in Iraq for only five weeks but it is everything she ever wanted. In five weeks her unit has gone from invading force to occupying force but the war is about to make another dramatic and dynamic shift. We then follow Abu Al-Hool, an Egyptian who became a jihadist fighting the Russian invasion of Afghanistan. He has waged jihad across the world, including Chechnya, and following the 9/11 attacks is preparing for a new war in Afghanistan against America. After America also invades Iraq his brotherhood decide to relocate their operations to this new field of war and under new leadership they are planning a new kind of Jihad as they begin an insurgency in Iraq.
These two characters literally intersect each other at a checkpoint and a firefight sees Cassandra and her crew taken prisoner. The race is now on to recover Cassandra and her crew but they can’t be found. The battle for the hearts and minds of the local population is quickly crushed as every door possible is knocked down in the frantic hunt for the missing soldiers. Meanwhile Cassandra is held captive by a group which has waged terror for over twenty years and is about to take their brand of terror to a level that hasn’t been seen before.
But not everyone is on the same page, on both sides. Brian Van Reet expertly puts you in the shoes of soldier and jihadist alike. Showing their motivations and reluctance, their frailty and their unmitigated determination to follow their chosen paths through. In doing so he has written a novel that is impossible to put down and will have you reexamining your thoughts on the war. Which is of course what all great war novels should do.
With her superlative illustrative talents and ultra-impressive list of publications, it’s impossible not to be in awe of the skill, imagination, dedication and charisma of Anil Tortop. The Turkish-born artist, designer and animation-expert is here today to discuss her books, processes and latest ventures. 🙂
😀 I wanted to start with a big smile. It’s been hectic indeed!
I work simultaneously on a few projects. In fact, when I have only one project I can’t focus on it well. Two is still not enough. My favourite is 3-4 projects at a time. Otherwise I just feel lazy and find myself doing nothing until the deadline gets closer. But not all these projects are books. I usually have something with a short deadline aside. Books take much more time and sometimes having a break and working on another project feels refreshing.
I have a home-made calendar; each month is an A4 paper with a magnet at the back and it covers the whole left side of my fridge. I put all my deadlines there and see everything in a glance. Having it in the kitchen, my panic starts at breakfast. Other than that, I don’t have a particular method to manage. I just work when I should, which is most of the time. I have been trying to be a well-organised person with dedicated working hours but it never works for more than two days. I still have hope!
Have there been any particular stories that you felt a stronger connection with or any that challenged you in unexpected ways?
Mmm… Hard question. I’m trying to give an answer to myself but I guess I don’t feel that kind of things for stories. That doesn’t mean I don’t like them but couldn’t label any of them with “stronger connection” either. But I do feel connected with the characters in the stories. Recently my favourite is the octopus in The Leaky Story and her connection with the father. It reminds me of my dad, although I don’t know why.
Challenge… Yes! One of the most challenging stories was in a picture book I illustrated last year. Because there was no story when I was asked to illustrate it! Of course, the editor had a clear idea of how they wanted it and made lots of suggestions. But in the end, the words came after the illustrations. I had huge room to create a visual story. I panicked a lot! I wanted to make it really good. Then I panicked even more! But eventually, it was fun.
If you could walk a day in the life of one of your illustrated characters which would you choose and why?
I guess that would be Digby. Because he’s so clever and talented and knows how to have fun. And I like his pyjamas. 😊
Since launching your current books, what has the audience response been like? Any stand-out moments?
The reviews have been really nice. Facebook also shows me a lot of “likes” and nice comments, if that means anything at all. But I have never come across a “real audience”. I mean, children. I really wonder what they think and would love to hear that directly from them.
The latest release, The Leaky Story has been reviewed a lot lately. I was even interviewed live on ABC Brisbane. I think the moment I probably won’t forget for a while is that. It took only 3 minutes but I was way out of my comfort zone. Phew!
You often record your progress through fascinating time lapse videos. Can you explain a little about your preferred media and method to your illustrating genius.
Except for the initial warm-up sketches and storyboards, I almost always work digitally. I use Photoshop. My favourite Photoshop brush that I use for outlines is “Pencil”. It feels a little bit like a pencil. I recently upgraded from Wacom Intous to Cintiq (drawing tablets).
My process differs from one project to another but it’s usually like that: I make several storyboards first. It takes some time to get satisfied. Then I do the roughs. Then the clean drawings and finally colouring. And I do all these for all of the illustrations in a book simultaneously. I mean, I don’t start and finish one illustration and go to the next. I start and finish all the illustrations at the same time.
You can watch all my videos on my Vimeo channel.
You have a remarkable working relationship with your husband, Ozan, at Tadaa Book. Please tell us about your roles and how you collaborate on a daily basis. What does Tadaa Book offer its clients?
Tadaa Book basically offers illustration and design services, especially to self-publishers. Then if our authors need, we help them with printing and publishing and creating marketing materials too.
Ozan and I started working together back in Turkey. He was the art director of a traditional publishing house and I was the in-house illustrator. After coming to Australia we worked with a lot of self-publishers, collaborating again. Then we wanted to take it a step forward and founded Tadaa.
Ozan is my personal art director at home. But on a daily basis, he does much more than that. Although our roles are a bit mixed up from time to time, I usually illustrate only. He does the rest. He deals with new authors and other illustrators from different parts of the world, does the art direction of projects, keeps our website and social media accounts updated, goes to the post office to send Storyboard Notebooks, learns new things, deals with my computer problems, etc.
What is the best part of what you do?
Smelling a freshly (offset) printed book. I love that! I love to see the happiness of the authors too. It’s really rewarding.
Have you done anything lately that was out of your comfort zone? What was it and how did it go?
It was definitely the radio interview that I mentioned! It wasn’t terrible I guess but I can’t say it went well either. I at least give 10 points to myself for the bravery. Questions were unexpected and it was too quick. I’m glad I didn’t freeze. I actually kind of did but Emma Griffiths handled it really well. Afterwards, listening to myself was even harder than the 3 minutes I spent there! I won’t listen again.
We would love to learn more about what you’re currently working on! Do you have any sneak peeks or details that you can share?
A new book is coming out on 1st of May!The Great Zoo Hullaballoo by Mark Carthew (New Frontier Publishing). You can watch the trailer here: https://vimeo.com/211773518
Currently, I’m working on two picture books. One is Meeka by Suzanne Barton (Tadaa Book), the second one is Scaredy Cat by Heather Gallagher (New Frontier Publishing). I probably will share some sneak peeks soon on social media, but not now, unfortunately.
Meanwhile at Tadaa, we are working on the Book Week publication of Ipswich District Teacher-Librarian Network. Here are the cover and details: http://idtl.net.au/book-week.php
And two other picture books are contracted for the rest of the year.
Besides the books, I’m regularly illustrating for a Turkish children’s magazine, doing illustrations and animations for a web-based science platform for children in the US, and designing characters for a couple animated TV shows in Turkey.
Will be a hectic year again!
Wow! You sure are a busy lady! Thank you so much, Anil, for participating in this interview! 🙂
Thank you for having me here!
Stay tuned for some special reviews of Anil’s latest picture books!
Tweens and teens love dipping into the world of fantasy. The more quirky the premise, the more unbelievable the outcomes, the better. These middle grade novels serve up a mind-bending mixture of almost too-whacky-to-believe storylines showcasing time travel, ghosts and gigantic invisible felines. Strange but delightfully, true.
A forever morphing, triple paced collision of Doctor Who meets Top Gear is one way of describing Pete Helliar’s first foray into writing for kids. His enthusiastic use of wacky, over the top metaphors is a touch extravagant at times but oh, do they provoke some face-wrinkling chuckles.
Francis (aka Frankie) Fish’s race against time back into time has all the hallmarks of a mega time travelling adventure with one difference; he is making the journey in desperation to preserve the existence of the Fish family line of which he may or may not still be a part of (it all depends on the battery!). And he’s doing it with his very grumpy, slightly geriatric, grandfather.
The 2017 CBCA Early Childhood Short List features animals (as always), with two picture books specifically about birds. Two books are about farms and one is set on a Northern Territory camp. Family remains an evergreen theme and humour is the core of some of the books.
Go Home, Cheeky Animals! written by Johanna Bell, illustrated by Dion Beasley (A&U)
This funny story is the stand-alone sequel to Too Many Cheeky Dogs. The book is sponsored by the NT Government and has an engaging narrative with a cyclic structure based on the seasons and changing weather. Animals are the highlight, though. At first, too many cheeky dogs keep the other animals away. Then the rains bring a gang of goats, the sweaty season brings a ‘drove of donkeys’, cool winds bring a herd of horses and drought brings a bunch of buffaloes and caravan of camels. But when it storms, ‘all the cheeky animals go crazy’. And the cheeky dogs do nothing to stop them, for a while …
Illustrator, Dion Beasley is a 24-year-old Indigenous man with muscular dystrophy. He is also deaf so he and author, Johanna Bell, collaborate using Skype and sign language. He has a naïve drawing style with plenty of humour, such as how he shows when something happens to Grandpa’s pants, and when goats drive. The endpapers give an overview of all the animals. Children could practise counting animals throughout the book and the Too Many Cheeky Dogs website includes a child-friendly activity of making wrapping paper with cheeky dogs.
Family is important to this story and includes Dad, Mum, Grandpa, Uncle, Aunty, brother, sister, but no Grandma. Nannie Loves fills this gap.
Nannie Loves by Kylie Dunstan (Working Title Press)
Nannie lives on a cosy and inviting farm, with ‘rolling hills, a muddy creek and lots of paddocks, green in winter, brown in summer’. It is a quintessential Australian setting and makes us want to walk into the story. The scenes are contained to provide an appropriate focused framework for young readers; there is repetition of the words, ‘Nannie loves …’ to help beginning readers; and there are some wordless pages.
Nannie collects her mail wearing her gumboots. She loves her letters, her animals, her garden and her family. She laughs with her family who help her work around the farm. She loves them and she loves the young narrator. This book has a gentle humour, such as when Nannie watches for Grandpa in one of his many checked shirts.
Kylie Dunstan has used paper collage, gouache and pencil.
The greens of Nannie’s farm change to browns of a drought-stricken farm in All I Want for Christmas is Rain.
This storybegins clearly with an illustrated bird’s eye overview of a dry farm. In the rhyming text, the protagonist, Jane, asks Santa for help with her family’s threatened property, ‘My mission was clear – I had hatched a great plan: I would ask for help from the great bearded man.’
Santa seems to fulfil her wish and there is a particularly evocative picture of the family dancing in the rain and mud on Christmas Day.
Children could extend their experience of this story by reading some other Australian Christmas stories such as Glenda Millard and Stephen Michael King’s Applesauce and the Christmas Miracle and Colin Buchanan‘s books, or by painting an Australian farm scene using mud.
In contrast, The Snow Wombat is set in a very different part of Australian.
The Snow Wombatwritten by Susannah Chambers, illustrated by Mark Jackson (A & U)
Showing a wombat’s life in the snow is an original idea for a picture book. Like some of the other useful endpapers in books described here, these endpapers are a highlight and show a map of the wombat’s movements and haunts.
Every sentence begins with the word ‘snow’, and many begin with the phrase ‘snow on …’, which is helpful for beginning readers. The repetitive, simple text becomes even more predictive, encouraging young children to say or ‘read’ the rhyming word.
After reading the book, children could make wombat footprints in ‘snow’ using baking powder and conditioner or shaving cream. Tracks of some of the other animals in the book could also be made by indenting the ‘snow’ with fingers or sticks.
In a different illustrative style, cartoon seagull, Chip, follows with a funny story.
Chip loves eating chips – fat, skinny, soggy, sandy, crunchy, spicy chilli-dipped chips – even though he doesn’t feel well afterwards. This is a tale about healthy eating in the guise of a hilarious story about Chip and the length he goes to eat when people are banned from feeding the gulls.
The illustrations include newspaper collage (apt because it’s used for wrapping fish and chips; a newspaper article also features). My favourite illustration shows Chip with a noodle box on his head and noodles streaming out like hair.
Another bird protagonist in the Short List is Gary.
Gary is a racing pigeon who can’t fly but dreams of adventure. He works on his scrapbook of travel mementos on race days when he’s left alone in the loft, even though he’s never travelled. When he lost his balance one night, he fell into the travel basket and was carried far from home to the city. Of course the racing pigeons flew home, but Gary was left by himself. Fortunately he had his scrapbook of travel mementos and was able to plot his way back to the loft.
This is a very appealing story of overcoming obstacles or disability and of flourishing in different surroundings. New situations can be frightening for children and Gary demonstrates courage and ingenuity, which could help young readers.
The illustrations are created using mixed media and, again, in this book we find interesting endpapers.
After reading the story, children could use found objects and mixed media to create their own scrapbook about travel.
Reading is obviously the best thing ever for a myriad of reasons, but one thing I particularly love about it is: the ability to travel without leaving your comfy reading nook. So what could be better than nestling down with some books inspired by other countries, mythologies and cultures? I particularly adore epic fantasy with Russian influences! Russia is such an amazing country, with a complex and interesting history. Just add in a bit of magic. A dollop of teenage heroes saving the day. A smidge of adventure. And you’re sure to have a novel that will win admiration!
Today I’m listing 5 amazing Young Adult fantasy books with Russian influences!
SHADOW AND BONE
This is one of my most favourite epic fantasy series ever! And for a bonus? It’s set in the country of Ravka which has decidedly glorious Russian influences. It’s all about the Grisha, who are magicians employed by the throne, and they’re separated into warriors or scientists or artists or healers. The story follows Alina who’s just discovered she is a Grisha and is being trained for battle.
It has action and adventure and several darkly villainous characters you might accidentally fall in love with while they do evil to do “good” in their opinions.
EGG AND SPOON
This is by the famous author of the novel Wicked! It gloriously mixes many Russian folklores into this complex tale centring about Baba Yaga, the infamous witch. It stars a very poor girl, Elena, who’s starving, and accidentally gets caught up with a noble family on a train and swaps places with their rich daughter. In an effort to see the Tsar and help her brother who’s been stolen off to war, Elena tries to play the part of rich noble…and fails spectacularly. While Eketerina is off having perilous adventures enlisting the devious with Baba Yaga to help her get home.
Baba Yaga’s sass is basically the greatest thing you’ll ever read. It’s quite a long and slow novel, but so worth it for the magical and creative tale!
VASSA IN THE NIGHT
This one is a little different to the others, because while it is still fantasy, it’s modern fantasy! It’s set in present-day-Brooklyn in the USA where the city suddenly is losing daylight. The nights are getting longer and it’s a bit of a problem. It also features a convenience store with the fearsome Babs Yagg who owns it and also cuts off shoplifter’s heads and displays them in the windows. A girl named Vassa and her magical doll end up tricked into Babs Yagg’s servitude. But leaving alive will be an interesting challenge.
This book is absolutely bizarre! In the best possible way! It captures the heart of so many vibrant folk tales, gives them a modern twist, and adds in magical realism elements that will thrill and disturb.
THE WOLF WILDER
This is a gorgeously written tale about a girl who raises wolves in the woods with her mother. It’s popular for the rich to keep wolves as pets, but when they tire of them, the wolves get “released” into the wild…only to die because they can’t take care of themselves. Feo trains them to be wild again. Only when the army comes to call and disturbs her life, she ends up begin swept up in the revolution instead. This book is really beautiful and features lovely illustrations!
THE CROWN’S GAME
This is a historical based Russian fantasy, set in the time of the Tsars. But just add in a little magic, okay? It features two enchanters, Nikolai and Vika, who must compete in a challenge to become the Tsar’s own enchanter. And there can only be one. With the stakes so high it’s impossible to put the book down! The magic is beautiful and imaginative and features the two enchanters creating amazing and incredible things as they try to display who’s more powerful while avoiding falling in love. It also features a rambunctious prince and the casual destruction of everything you love.
And even better: The sequel and stunning conclusion, The Crown’s Fate, is coming out in May! So this is a perfect time to start this series.
The first round of school holidays is upon us. Kid induced dilemmas are rife. How do you deal with them? Whip out one of these chuckle-creating reads and indulge in ten minutes or more of togetherness time, is how. These picture books are guaranteed to make molehills out of mountains.
Lou’s dilemma matches my own on an almost hourly basis. But what is Lou to do when the queue to the loo is so long. Anyone with a weak bladder like me or toddlers with the inexplicable ability to ignore the call of nature until the last absolute possible minute will adore this ode to toilet queues. Busting! is all those desperate dashes through the supermarket, late night dreams of locked toilet stalls and screaming brakes on the motorway for verge-side emergencies rolled into rollicking rhyme and goofy pictures. Just brilliant. Potty humour has never read so well.
Suitable for potty training youngsters from three years and up.
I am very fortunate to have copies of the following picture books, with thanks to the publishers, and have written a short exposé of most here.
My Brother written and illustrated by Dee Huxley, character creation and illustration by Oliver Huxley and design by Tiffany Huxley (Working Title Press)
This is a stunning, moving picture book about loss and grief, grief shared by the three creators due to the death of a loved one. The written text is minimal and carefully placed on each page. Vignettes of a small donkey lead the viewer through most of the text. Graphite pencil creates a monochromatic effect for most of the book, becoming warm, yellow-suffused watercolour towards the end.
Teacher Notes are available at the publisher’s website.
One Photo written by Ross Watkins, illustrated by Liz Anelli (Penguin Random House Australia)
One Photo is a touching look at the effects of early onset dementia on a family. Dad comes home with a camera to record his memories and help him remember things. Liz Anelli is growing in power with her illustrations, here using sensitive, child-appealing drawing of the photos as well as of the family.
Mechanica: a beginner’s field guide by Lance Balchin (The Five Mile Press, Bonnier Publishing Australia)
Mechanica is a magnificent, innovative pseudo-scientific study of mechanical (mainly winged) insects and other creatures. It reminds me of Gary Crew’s The Lost Diamonds of Killiecrankie and James Gurney’s Dinotopia in the way that a character embarks on a fictional enterprise in a factual, imaginative style. The book champions the protection of our world and its living creatures and is distinctive because of its fine technical/inventive drawings. The sequel, Aquatica, is on the way. Author-illustrator Lance Balchin, has proved to be a popular presenter at festivals and other events.
The Patchwork Bike written by Maxine Beneba Clarke, illustrated by Van T Rudd (Hachette Australia)
Maxine Beneba Clarke is currently one of Australia’s most exciting authors. She also tells the story of a patchwork bike in one of her books for adults and it is interesting to compare it with this sensory, lively version for young children. The illustrations are by street artist Van T Rudd and they are exceptional in their use of media such as corrugated cardboard and smears of paint to show movement. (I will be writing more about Maxine Beneba Clarke’s work in a future post.)
Out is written by Angela May George and illustrated by Owen Swan (Scholastic Press)
It is a simple refugee / asylum seeker – ‘but that’s not my name’ – story for young readers told from the point of view of a girl. The agonising trip by boat is not glossed over but is told at an appropriate level. The pencil illustrations also make it accessible for the young.
Congratulations also to Bob Graham (Walker Books Australia) for Home in the Rain. I’ll write about this picture book next week.
There are countless types of art, but one of my favourites is definitely drawing and painting. And since I’m entirely hopeless at both of those, I like to live vicariously through fictional characters who are actually awesome at wielding a paintbrush. Then I can pretend not to feel so bad about my stick-figures.
Today I have a list of Young Adult books that involve art! So either you can relate or realise how extremely untalented you are. You’re so welcome for this list!
I’LL GIVE YOU THE SUN BY JANDY NELSON
This is one of my all time favourite books because the book feels like a piece of art itself! The visuals are fairly dripping off the page in the form of two siblings who excel in different types of art.
Jude is a sculptor and Noah is all about charcoals and paints. It’s actually the kind of story that will make your heart beat somewhat tragically because of the pain they go through trying to figure out their futures and the fear of not being good enough to get into an art school. It’s just so beautifully written you’ll want to eat your copy. Wise suggestion: buy both editions. Eating problem solved.
THE INCREDIBLE ADVENTURES OF CINNAMON GIRL BY MELISSA KEIL
This is set in a small Australian town and features Alba who isn’t sure whether to stay with her family’s bakery or leave to pursue art school in the big city. She draws! And, as if life couldn’t get any better: she draws superhero comics. Exciting nerd alert!
The story is filled with delicious cakes (which makes me happy but also very unfortunately hungry) and two lovers in denial of their feelings and a sleeping country town being jolted awake by the announcement that the end of the world is nigh and this town is the only safe place. Apparently. There are more than a few skeptics. It’s such a fantastic #LoveOzYA coming of age story that I couldn’t put it down!
SPLINTERED BY A.G. HOWARD
If you need arty books with a dash of fantastical magic — this one is for you. It’s a Wonderland retelling that centres around the original Alice’s descendant: Alyssa. She gets caught up with a dark and twisted version of Wonderland that involves a dashing and manipulative moth named Morpheus and a childhood best friend trying to get her home.
Alyssa’s preferred art style is paintings and 3D collages and she veers towards the dark and macabre. So imagine skewered butterflies and fake blood and you’ve got a good idea of what her style is. Lovely. It fits the darkly magical tone of the book completely!
NIGHT OWLS BY JENN BENNETT
This is a contemporary story about two different types of artists: Beatrix is an anatomy artist and draws corpses for medical reasons. She hopes to get into an excellent medical art school, but her parent is exactly supportive of this extremely dark career path she plans on. Jack, on the other hand, is a graffiti artist…not that he’s admitting it. The two meet on a bus and their adventure starts from there!
It’s such a cute and fun story, so well written, with wit and humour and a few gut punching moments. It also goes by the title The Anatomical Shape Of A Heart which is quite fantastic. The story is full of secrets, skeletons in the closet, and two people who are so different trying to align worlds.
No surprises that Australian YA literature is up there with world’s best. The prestigious UK 2017 CILIP Carnegie Medal shortlist has just been announced and two Australians have been included: Glenda Millard for The Stars at Oktober Bend (Allen & Unwin) and Zana Fraillon for The Bone Sparrow (Hachette). The writing in both these YA novels is sublime.
The Carnegie Medal is awarded for writing and the Kate Greenaway Medal for illustration.
I reviewed The Stars at Oktober Bend for the Weekend Australian . A memorable scene is of beautiful, damaged Alice Nightingale perched ‘on the roof of her house at Oktober Bend, “like a carving on an old-fashioned ship, sailing through the stars”. She is throwing fragments of a poem into the night.’ Her new friend, Manny, is a former boy soldier.
I also reviewed The Bone Sparrow, about young Subhi in an Australian detention centre, in another Weekend Australian YA column, describing it as a ‘universal refugee tale’ and an ‘exalted, flawless book’. They were both in my top 6 YA books for 2016 and both are currently CBCA Notables (the Children’s Book Council of Australia’s long list). The Bone Sparrow was also shortlisted for the 2016 Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize.
It does sound as though Mal Peet and Meg Rosoff are favourites to win the Carnegie. I haven’t yet been able to finish reading Beck, which Meg Rosoff completed after Mal Peet’s untimely death. The pedophilia scenes are so confronting I fear the images won’t be erased. Mal Peet was a raconteur. I chaired a wonderful session at the Sydney Writers Festival with him and Ursula Dubosarsky, whose new novel, The Blue Cat, will be published soon. I was fortunate to have an entertaining lunch with Meg Rosoff and a colleague when working in Brisbane. She is a spectacular, unconventional writer. The other international shortlisted authors (and illustrators) are also stars. Fingers crossed for our Australian writers, of course though.
Other Australians to have won the Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medals are Ivan Southall with Josh (our only Carnegie winner so far and that was in 1971- but we have won other major international awards since then), Bob Graham for Jethro Byrde Fairy Child, Freya Blackwood for Harry and Hopper (written by Margaret Wild) and Gregory Rogers for Way Home (written by Libby Hathorn). I believe Levi Pinfold (Black Dog) lives in Australia. A number of other Australian illustrators, including Jeannie Baker, have been shortlisted for the Greenaway.
See the complete shortlists from the official website below.
SHORTLISTS FOR 2017 CILIP CARNEGIE AND KATE GREENAWAY MEDALS ANNOUNCED
Children’s Laureate Chris Riddell could win record-breaking fourth Kate Greenaway Medal in 60th anniversary year
Dieter Braun’s Wild Animals of the North, shortlisted for the Kate Greenaway Medal, is first ever book in translation to feature on either shortlist
Mal Peet’s final novel Beck, co-authored by Meg Rosoff, could posthumously win the 80th anniversary Carnegie
Today (Thursday 16th March), the shortlists for the 2017 CILIP Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medals, the UK’s oldest and most prestigious book awards for children and young people, are revealed.
The Kate Greenaway Medal, which celebrates illustration in children’s books, sees award-winning writer and illustrator Chris Riddell, the Children’s Laureate, in the running to win an unprecedented fourth Kate Greenaway Medal just a year after his hat-trick in 2016. Riddell is joined by another potential record-breaker in the form of Dieter Braun’s Wild Animals of the North. Originally published in German, this is the first ever translated title to make the Kate Greenaway shortlist following the Medals opening up to translated works in English in 2015. They are joined by former Kate Greenaway Medal winners Emily Gravett, William Grill and Jim Kay and first-time Kate Greenaway-shortlisted authors Francesca Sanna, Brian Selznick and Lane Smith.
The Carnegie Medal, which celebrates outstanding writing for children and young people, sees a range of YA and Middle Grade books make the shortlist. Mal Peet’s final novel Beck, co-authored by Meg Rosoff, could be the second book to win the Medal posthumously, following Siobhan Dowd’s Bog Child in 2009. Peet and Rosoff are joined on the list by fellow former Carnegie Medal winners Frank Cottrell Boyce and Philip Reeve, previously shortlisted author Ruta Sepetys, debut authors Lauren Wolk and Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock and first-time Carnegie-shortlisted authors Zana Fraillon, Glenda Millard and Lauren Wolk.
The 2017 shortlists are:
The CILIP Carnegie Medal 2017 shortlist (alphabetically by author surname):
Sputnik’s Guide to Life on Earthby Frank Cottrell Boyce (Pan Macmillan)
The Bone Sparrowby Zana Fraillon (Orion Children’s Books)
The Smell of Other People’s Housesby Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock (Faber & Faber)
The Stars at Oktober Bendby Glenda Millard (Old Barn Books)
Railheadby Philip Reeve (Oxford University Press)
Beckby Mal Peet with Meg Rosoff (Walker Books)
Salt to the Seaby Ruta Sepetys (Puffin)
Wolf Hollowby Lauren Wolk (Corgi)
The CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal 2017 shortlist (alphabetically by illustrator surname):
Wild Animals of the Northillustrated and written by Dieter Braun (Flying Eye Books)
TIDYillustrated and written by Emily Gravett (Two Hoots)
The Wolves of Currumpawillustrated and written by William Grill (Flying Eye Books)
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stoneillustrated by Jim Kay, written by J.K. Rowling (Bloomsbury)
A Great Big Cuddleillustrated by Chris Riddell and written by Michael Rosen (Walker Books)
The Journeyillustrated and written by Francesca Sanna (Flying Eye Books)
The Marvelsillustrated and written by Brian Selznick (Scholastic)
There is a Tribe of Kidsillustrated and written by Lane Smith (Two Hoots)
There’s something eerie yet somewhat peaceful about cemeteries, and the untold tales of those resting there for eternity. And if you’re a taphophile – someone who takes an interest in cemeteries, funerals, tombstones, or memory of past lives – you’ll agree with me. I’ve always enjoyed books set in cemeteries so I’ve compiled a list for like-minded readers.
8 Books Set in Cemeteries
The Graveyard Bookby Neil Gaiman is a fantasy novel for children about a young boy who escapes the night his family is murdered in their home. He wanders up the street and eventually into a graveyard. The ghosts in the graveyard discuss his predicament and agree to raise the young boy as their own. That’s how the life of Nobody Owens (Bod for short) begins. The Graveyard Book has won a tonne of awards, including the Newbery Medal and Carnegie Medal.
Pet Sematary by Stephen Kingis a horror novel known to many readers. A horror story that only Stephen King could write, it’s about a young family and an ancient Indian burial ground. It’s also been made into a film. No more needs to be said.
Pure by Andrew Miller is an historical fiction novel set amidst Les Innocents, the oldest cemetery in Paris. In 1875, the cemetery has been closed to burials for 5 years because it’s overflowing with 2 million corpses and emitting a foul stench.
Jean-Baptiste Baratte is employed by the Minister to demolish the cemetery and relocate the human remains outside the city of Paris. We witness his struggle with the dark task of disturbing the final resting place of thousands of Parisian occupants. The descriptions of the cemetery and surrounds (including church, charnel houses and graveyards) were deeply evocative of this grisly yet soulful place.
Falling Angels by Tracy Chevalier is an historical fiction novel set in Edwardian London between January 1901 to May 1910 with many of the scenes taking place in Highgate cemetery. Told from the perspective of different characters, the novel covers the journey of two girls from different families.
The chapters are narrated in the first person by several of the main characters (including my favourite character, the gravedigger’s son). It includes themes of mourning, mourning etiquette, class and the suffragette movement.
While I enjoyed reading the above, I have plenty more in this genre to look forward to, including:
Necropolis: London and Its Dead by Catharine Arnold has been on my TBR pile forever. It’s a non fiction look at London’s dead through the lens of archaeology, architecture and anecdotes. London is filled with the remains of previous eras – pagan, Roman, medieval and Victorian and I look forward to learning more as soon as I can get to it.
The Restorer by Amanda Stevens is a paranormal novel about Amelia Gray – a cemetery restorer who sees ghosts – and is the first of six in the Graveyard Queen series.
Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders is a new release historical fiction novel about Abraham Lincoln and his grief at the death of his son. It is said that Lincoln was so grief-stricken over the loss of his beloved son, he visited the family crypt several times to hold his body. Lincoln in the Bardo takes place in a single night.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this collection of books set in cemeteries. What have you read or hope to read in the future?
Author, illustrator and former designer at HarperCollins, Matt Stanton, opened our eyes to ‘design thinking’ and strategy in writing and publishing books at yesterday’s ‘Between the Covers’ seminar in Sydney about children’s books and publishing.
Matt is the creator of two very successful series for young readers. The first is aimed at 6-year-old boys. It is unashamedly commercial and doesn’t even try to win literary awards. It is illustrated by Tim Miller and began with There is a Monster Under My Bed who Farts.
His second series creates a funny and interactive experience for young children and their parents or carers. The first book in the ‘Books That Drive Kids Crazy!’ series is the very popular, This is a Ball and is a collaboration between Matt and his teacher wife, Beck. Now parents, Matt and Beck are ‘learning how to re-enter the space of play’ and what better than using a book to do so! The second in this series is Did You Take the B From My –ook? and The Red Book, with its bold purple cover, is on the way.
His third series ‘Funny Kid’ will be launched around the world this year. It is aimed at middle grade readers.
Matt focuses on the ‘who’, the reader, rather than on what he personally may want to write about (although maybe these are the same thing). I found this stance fascinating and very different from the many authors who I have interviewed at writers’ festivals and elsewhere. In my experience, authors generally speak about the story that they have to tell, regardless of who it’s for. An example is John Boyne and his masterpiece The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, which has found its own audience. Matt is surprised that more authors don’t target their readerships more strategically. I believe that there is probably a place for both approaches.
Matt makes it easy for buyers and browsers to find his books on bookshelves. He uses block colours such as blue, green or purple on his covers. He recognises that yellow is the strongest colour in the spectrum and will feature this on the spines of his upcoming ‘Funny Kid’ series. The book covers in this series will all feature an enormous face to distinguish them from other funny series aimed at middle grade who show smaller characters. Our brains will also register that these faces are looking at us in bookstores and libraries, drawing our attention.
Matt’s website includes a virtual ‘Stretch Your Imagination’ book tour. He also has a YouTube channel that is very popular with his young readers.
Matt reminded us that we’re in a golden age of children’s publishing in Australia. In 2016, children’s and young adult book sales took 44% of the total book market in volume. In 2016, 9 of our 10 top authors wrote children’s/YA. Last year, 9 million more children’s/YA books were sold than in 2005.
Thanks to keynote speaker, Matt, the Australian Publishers Association, host Allen & Unwin and Fiona Stager and her team for organising this very informative event.
Thrillers come in all manner of delightful shapes and sizes — including a penchant for featuring stories about missing or kidnapped or vanished people. This is always equally frightening and enthralling because this is could happen to anyone, which makes the thriller all the more terrifying. Plus a well written missing-persons-thriller will definitely keep you guessing and on the edge of your seat as you wonder which way the mystery will spin.
Today I’m going to be listing some Young Adult thrillers that feature missing people and will, quite hopefully, freak you out like a good book should. Enjoy!
THE STRANGER GAME
This is the story of Nico who’s older sister Sarah was missing for four years…but now she’s back. Or is she? There are things that don’t match up with the new-Sarah and she has amnesia and PTSD so everyone is walking on eggshells around her. Nico also knows more than she’s telling which makes the book endlessly twisted with unreliable narrators and questions popping out of your ears.
I basically couldn’t put this one down UNTIL I KNEW and while it does require a bit of suspension of disbelief, it’ll definitely keep you wondering about that fateful day Sarah disappeared. It also, blissfully, features a non-romantic story line (which is unusual for YA books) and focuses on the thriller aspects and the sisters’ relationship dynamics…however messed up they are.
THE EDGE OF EVERYTHING
This book is just out into the world! It’s a paranormal story set during a fearsome blizzard that has Zoe running for her life — only to be saved by a soul-catching-bounty-hunter-hot-supernatural-boy who is from hell and doesn’t deserve it. The story ties in with her father who went missing when he was caving several years ago. Zoe’s always had questions and now she might get answers. If she and the mysterious boy X can figure out how to free him of his terrifying bonds.
The book mixes quite a dark storyline with a lot of lighter humour. Zoe is a rather hyberbolic mess who will protect her little brother fiercely buuuut also instagram the paranormal soul-snatcher in her spare time. As you do.
This is an absolutely intriguing tale of six children who went missing one day…but now they’re back and have no memories of their missing years. They’re all teens now and trying to fit back into their families. People don’t quite trust where they’ve been and there are theories from aliens to one of the kids is lying. Also: one boy never came back. So QUESTIONS.
It has a bit of a sci-fi twist to it and also features an artistic angle with using creative text formatting to convey more emotions and feeling of the story. I was totally in love with that aspect of it!
THE LAST GOOD DAY OF THE YEAR
This is set back in the ’60s, when Sam watched a stranger kidnap her baby sister from her bed. Only a kid herself, Sam didn’t know what to do — and now her lack of action haunts her. No one’s ever found the toddler’s remains and they can’t help but hope she might be out there somewhere. But as the family return to their old home — where the toddler was taken — it can’t help but stir the mystery back up and reopen old wounds and old cases.
This is a very sad story, written in a reflective memoir like tone. It’s narrated by Sam but it’s not really about Sam — instead it focuses on the convoluted family and neighbour dynamics that maybe are a little more sinister than they seem.
From our very own Boomerang Books blogger / word smith extraordinaire, Dimity Powell, together with the divinely talented illustrator, Nicky Johnston, we have a very special feature here today! I have had the utmost pleasure in reviewing their gorgeous new book, The Fix-It Man, and in finding out more about their collaboration. Enjoy!
Poignant, perfectly pitched and picture perfect. The Fix-It Man is a story that so effectively and sensitively captures the heartache and love between a little girl and her father when dealing with loss. Dimity Powell’s words are paced at a gentle rhythm that allow its readers space to breathe and take in the deeper meaning at the heart of the tale. The illustrations by Nicky Johnston encapsulate adversity and strength with their unmistakable emotive intensity.
A little girl has complete faith in her dad to fix anything. “It’s what dads do.” Whether it’s super gluing kites, mending the dog’s kennel or piecing shattered teapots back together, Dad is at the heart of turning bad days into good. But even her dependable, handy father can’t fix Mama. And there is nothing more shattering than that moment. That wordless moment of grief in the slimmest of moonlight that father and daughter lay wrapped up in Mama’s quilt, sure to be the first of many sleepless nights. Hearts break and cracks widen, but with a little bit of optimism and a whole lot of love, they know they can fix things together.
Superbly narrated and delicately illustrated, The Fix-It Man is a reassuring story that gently addresses the themes of love, life and loss in a thoughtful way. Being able to embrace life and cope with death at the same time shows great resilience. And for readers from age four in similar circumstances, this book offers an invaluable sense of hope and comfort.
Congratulations on the release of your newest picture book, The Fix-It Man!
DP: Thanks, Romi. Dancing on clouds happy about it.
Dimity, this is your debut in the picture book arena! Where did the foundation for this story come from?
DP: Like many story ideas of mine, it evolved from a real life incident, which developed into a thought, which led to a question, which resulted in a small movie inside my head. The hard part was extracting the best bits and shaping them into a picture book text. I love the belief small children have in their parents, that they can fix anything and everything. I wanted to explore the reaction of a child when this belief is challenged, when their fixer suddenly needs fixing, too.
How did you find the whole publishing process with EK Books? How much input did you have with Nicky’s illustrations?
DP: A veritable dream. Likewise, Nicky is a dream to work with. She is dedicated and meticulous and included me in just about every step of the process from rough drafts to finals. This was something I had not expected so it was a joy to correspond with her and give feedback on the images as they developed. There was never any real need to clarify the relationship between her images and my text; Nicky just seemed to know what was going on in my head. There was however, a lot of discussion between us and our publisher about the various nuances and symbols; all the tiny details used throughout the visual narrative. It was a real team effort.
What do you like about Nicky’s style? How do you feel her illustrations have complemented your text?
DP: Everything! Nicky’s current style is perfectly suited to this story and exactly the way I envisaged this family to be. The emotion projected in Nicky’s images is poignantly powerful.
Nicky’s illustrations more than just complement the story. They add a level of subtly and sensitivity without ever being maudlin. Her soft colour palette and homogeneous characters invite readers into the very heart and soul of the story: we could be that family.
Nicky, what drew you to Dimity’s story when you first read it? Did you feel a connection with the text? Did the images naturally appear in your mind or was it a process that developed over time?
NJ: As soon as I read Dim’s manuscript, I connected to it immediately. Visuals started filling my head, I sketched them all into my sketchbook (pages of them!) it was quite overwhelming actually.
The story is beautifully written, every word, every pause and every page break is a deliberate choice to ensure the flow of the story is not only read, but felt.
The illustrated scenes, the characters, the subtle visual sub stories came to me with immense ease. I worked on the first concept roughs almost obsessively. The entire developmental process from roughs to producing the final artworks filled me with pure joy.
Dimity and Nicky, you seem like a terrific team with an organic relationship, which certainly resonates through the book. How did you feel about the collaboration with one another along the journey? Were there any hiccups or surprises you can share with us?
DP: Extremely grateful and satisfied in the most fulfilling way. From the very first sample spread I saw, I knew my words were in good hands. Nicky’s ability to ‘get’ my intentions is uncanny. I think the way she is able to extract exactly how I picture the characters and scenes out of my head and capture them in watercolour (without any consultation) is true genius and just a little bit spooky. The biggest surprise for me was that everything progressed so fluidly and enjoyably.
NJ: I am amazed with the personal connection Dim and I have, given we have only ever met in person twice! I think our minds, visions and emotions are aligned in quite an authentic way. I am pleased the illustrations and the text combination demonstrates this unitedness too.
This was my first time working with EK Books and I really loved the team approach that was given to the entire project. It was fabulous to be able to bounce around my ideas and rough sketches with everyone to be sure we would create the book to the highest standard.
What has been the most rewarding part of creating this book so far?
DP: When I got the call from my publisher with the green light good news. It had been a long hard slog to get to that point so that call was a massive relief. I may have shed a few tears. Holding it (The Fix-It Man) in my hands for the first time was also a bit momentous. Oh and watching the visual landscape of my story come to life with each of Nicky’s illustrations. I still find that part of storytelling inexplicably rewarding; watching your words come alive is pure magic. Sorry to carry on but I feel very rewarded!
NJ: Seeing the illustrations and the text together for the first time was pretty special. And to be called a ‘Dream Team’ topped it off for me!
It was quite a lengthy process from beginning to end, and like all things that take time, the wait has been worth it.
DP: The dream team…still sets me aglow.
Thank you both so much for participating in this mini interview!! 🙂 xx
NJ: What great questions, thank you for having us share our collection journey of creating The Fix It Man!
Buying new shiny books is obviously one of the greatest delights a bookworm can have. Because first of all, we bookworms have voracious appetites and need to be fed regularly. And who doesn’t like receiving parcels in the mail!? Particularly when it’s books?! I highly suggest skipping a few coffees and putting aside some money to buy yourself a delightful new Young Adult book. But what should you get? Ah, the golden question. Here, sit tight, get some popcorn, and I’ll list 5 books I’ve bought this year that should definitely be on your To-Be-Read Pile too.
CARAVAL BY STEPHANIE GRABER
This book is not only absolutely gorgeous, but it also comes in two editions that are nearly impossible to choose between. I ended up with the one on the left, but I tell you: it was a hard choice.
The story is about a magical circus and stars Scarlett who wants to see the circus preform before she’s forced into an unwanted arranged marriage. She gets caught up in the mystery and intrigue when her friend gets kidnapped, only be assured it’s all a performance and a game. Or is it? (Cue ominous music.)
It sounds lush and fantastical and definitely the kind of story I need in my life.
CARVE THE MARK BY VERONICA ROTH
Finally we have a new book from the NYT bestselling author of the Divergent trilogy! I am definitely keen to see her take on a new genre of hardcore sci-fi and build a new world with this gorgeous looking novel.
It’s set in a galaxy where people have gifts and powers that dictate how they’re treated and who they can control. Two teens have to reset the power balance in the world which sounds just about as easy as using froot loops as a hat. So GOOD LUCK TO THEM. And I’m really excited by the idea of superpowers and other galaxies and a sharp, stabby girl, and a peaceful, quiet boy duo.
A QUIET KIND OF THUNDER BY SARA BARNARD
This is a change from my usual hardcore fantasy tastes, but I’m a huge lover of diverse fiction and couldn’t wait to get my hands on this new book that features a girl with Selective Mutism and a Deaf boy! I’ve heard many people say it’s super sweet and informative and tells a story that’s going to wrap around your heart until you fall in love with it. Here, here! I’m ready for that! Plus it’s always nice to have a chance from all these stabby fantasy novels, right?
ALLEGEDLY BY TIFFANY D. JACKSON
This is another contemporary (mixed with crime thriller) about a 9-year-old girl who allegedly murdered a baby. What happened to her after she got out of jail? That’s where the story picks up and it promises a mind twisting and gut wrenching story of a girl who says she’s been falsely accused.
Mary is also pregnant from a boy she loves but has to keep a secret because she’s under strict surveillance at her foster home. but she’s terrified she wont’ be able to keep her own baby, with what she went to prison for and all. So the book is about her trying to clear her name!
HEARTSTONE BY ELLE KATHARINE WHITE
All we need to know about this one is: DRAGONS. Who doesn’t love dragons?!? And I’m always excited to see an epic looking edition coming out! This one is also rumoured to be a Pride and Prejudice retelling in a world of magical creatures like gryphons, direwolves, banshees and…of course, dragons.
When the blurb says “They say a Rider in possession of a good blade must be in want of a monster to slay-and Merybourne Manor has plenty of monsters” I know I am going to need this kind of novel in my life. Battles! Action! Intrigue! Quests! Swords! And a handsome and sassy dragonrider love interest to top it all off? I’m sure this is going to be a dragonishly good time. I can’t wait to get started!
There were too many exciting books from the recent Penguin Random House roadshow in Sydney to outline in one post so here is Part 2. As well as many standout titles, we were privileged to hear from two YA authors, Fleur Ferris and Robert Newton.
Robert Newton spoke from the heart about his new novel Mr Romanov’s Garden in the Sky. It is an outstanding work, exceeding his Prime Minister’s Literary Award winning When We Were Two. It follows the sad and dangerous existence of Lexie in a Housing Commission Tower who lies to protect her drug-addicted mother. She saves old Mr Romanov from death after thugs throw his dog off the building. The story then becomes an original tale of friendship and hope.
Fleur Ferris is one of Australia’s best selling YA novelists and she is also a most delightful person. Her first novel Risk, a cautionary tale about online predators, is essential reading. It is wildly popular with teens and I reviewed it for the Weekend Australian here. I’ve also interviewed Fleur about Risk here for Boomerang Blog.
Fleur’s second novel Black was Australia’s best-selling ‘new release’ Oz YA book of the year for 2016. It is another a thriller, and incorporates a cult and unexpected ending. I reviewed it briefly for Boomerang Blog here.
Fleur’s third novel Wreck (note Fleur’s one word, one syllable titles, each ending in the letter ‘k’) will be published in July. It is also a thriller but has dual narrators and is set in two different time periods. It sounds like her best work yet and we will hear much more about it.
Other upcoming YA novels include Geekeralla by Ashley Poston from the U.S. (April), billed as a ‘fandom-fuelled twist on the classic fairytale’. Danielle encounters cos-play and her godmother works in a vegan food truck. I’ve read the beginning and can’t wait for the rest.
One of Us is Lying by debut novelist Karen M. McManus (June) is a U.K. title. There’s an omniscient narrator and one teen is murdered in detention with four others without anyone leaving the room.
Darren Groth returns after his triumph with Are You Seeing Me? in Exchange of Heart. Endearing character, Perry from the first novel returns and Down Syndrome is addressed.
Krystal Sutherland’s second novel appears quickly after Our Chemical Hearts. I’ve interviewed Krystal for the blog here. A Semi-definitive List of Worst Nightmares (September) explores phobias, particularly when Esther’s list of possible phobias is stolen, with strange results.
Juniper Lemon’s Happiness Index (July) by U.K. author Julie Israel revolves around Juniper’s file cards of happy and unhappy experiences. But one card goes missing, the one thing that people can’t know about.
What reading extravagances we have in store.
(Author photo at top courtesy Fleur Ferris. From left to right, standing: Fleur Ferris, Belinda Murrell, Felice Arena, Robert Newton)
Picture book highlights for me were Anna Walker’s Florette, full of inviting greenery in the heart of Paris (March), The Catawampus Cat by Jason Carter Eaton and Gus Gordon (April), the retro colour palette of Stephen W. Martin’s Charlotte and the Rock (April), We’re All Wonders (April), an adaptation from R.J. Palacio’s Wonder, Deb Abela’s fractured fairytale, Wolfie: An Unlikely Hero (May), Marc Martin’s stylish design in What’s Up Top (September) and Pamela Allen’s A Bag and a Bird, which is set in Sydney (September).
Middle Fiction looks incredible. Felice Arena, author of popular series ‘Specky Magee’ and ‘Andy Roid’, enthusiastically told us about his stand-alone historical fiction, The Boy and the Spy (April). The Anglicised version of Felice (pronounced Fel-ee-chay) is Felix, meaning ‘happiness’, and Felice certainly demonstrated that.
The Boy and the Spy has family at its core, especially foster families. It is set in Sicily in 1945 and is for 10-12 year-old readers. It can be read at one level or the layers in its text can be uncovered. Felice hopes that it will inspire readers about travel, history and art. He loves writing ‘movement’ and has tried to emulate the stimulating experience given by teachers who read aloud and stop at the end of a chapter. Felice enjoyed researching and talking to relatives and has devised some entertaining Morse Code activities for school visits.
Other titles I can’t wait to read are Skye Melki-Wagner’s ‘Agent Nomad’ series (March) about a magical spy organisation with an Australian feel. I loved Skye’s stand-alone YA fantasy The Hush. Talented Gabrielle Wang has written and illustrated The Beast of Hushing Wood (April), another of Gabrielle’s original magical realist stories. I facilitated a session with Gabrielle at the Brisbane Writers Festival in the past and the children adored her. My favourite of her books are In the Garden of Empress Cassia and The Pearl of Tiger Bay.
Ally Condie returns with Summerlost (May), the irrepressible Oliver Phommavanh with Super Con-Nerd, Morris Gleitzman with Maybe (September) and Tristan Bancks with The Fall (June), a fast-paced thriller with disappearing characters. It will no doubt follow Tristan’s assured debut into literary-awarded fiction, Two Wolves. Tamara Moss’ Lintang and the Pirate Queen (September), a quest on the high seas, looks very appealing.
The charming Belinda Murrell spoke about her popular backlist of the ‘Sun Sword’ trilogy, timeslip tales and ‘Lulu Bell’ and introduced her new series for tweens, ‘Pippa’s Island’ (July), which reminded me of Nikki Gemmell’s ‘Coco Banjo’ but with more sand and sea.
And the wonderful Jacqueline Harvey’s ‘Alice-Miranda’ and ‘Clementine Rose’ series have sold 1 million copies in Australia and worldwide. We celebrated with a special cake.
Writing a book about bullying or indeed, attempting to instill relevant social life issues into an entertaining format for kids, is always tricky to perfect. Alison Reynolds has managed to pull off this feat of meaningful storytelling with her captivating picture book series, Pickle and Bree’s Guide to Good Deeds. You can read Romi’s review of these two new titles, here.
Today she joins us briefly at the Draft Table to discuss just how she tackled the dicey subject of bullying with The Playground Meanies. This episode with Pickle and Bree is one of my favourites as we are reintroduced to Jason, the big footed, kind-hearted panda whose good deed not only saves the day but opens the pathways to friendship in a way very young children can’t help but connect with. Continue reading Doodles and Drafts – Blog Tour with Alison Reynolds
As it draws closer to Valentine’s Day, some of us will be inevitably feel like reading an adorable, feelsy YA romance. Love is in the air, and all that, after all! And lucky for us, books offer many types of romantic books, from those who fall in love at first sight, to those that try to, well, stab each other first and then fall in love. Whatever works for you, friend! Love comes in all shapes and sizes!
Today I’m listing 5 types of romance tropes I see in YA books and I’ll add in some books that fit those categories so you can devour them at dawn.
This is definitely my favourite romance trope because it starts with sass and action and usually fight scenes! There’s nothing like two characters battling wits and cunning only to realise they work better as a team than stabbing each other. How do I always end up shipping the enemies the most?? Who would know. But there we have it. It also puts forth great chances for complex character development, which is a beautiful thing. Sobbing over character development? How dare you accuse me of such.
FRIENDS TO LOVERS
This romance trope is so so super cute because nothing makes me happier than two good friends deciding they need to be more than friends. Plus I feel confident that their relationship is deep and not superficial and my bookworm heart is comfortable shipping them without thinking they’re going to break up 2 chapters later. Angsty and insecure romances = no go for me, Joe. But best friends who know each like the back of their hands already? BLESS THEM. Plus what you need in life is someone who already knows your favourite food. Saves so much fuss later.
FORBIDDEN LOVE BIRDS
This kind of relationship is usually fraught with danger and risk, which makes it all the more exciting to read about. It can have a Romeo-and-Juliet vibe happening. Lots of stealth. Lots of guilt. And it’s always great when love smashes boundaries of hate or distance or really really tall walls. Let no one say love can’t climb.
THE LOVE TRIANGLE
This trope has been overdone in YA which leads a lot of readers to cringing and backing away slowly when they see it. But! It can still be done well! There’s a lot of emotional tension when a girl or boy has to choose between two potential lovers. Especially if it’s heart vs duty. And it leads to some fantastically anxious moments of vigorous shipping and picking one’s team and arguing with your neighbour or your neighbour’s cat about if the protagonist made the right choice.
LOVERS IN DENIAL
Even though it can be a bit frustrating seeing two people who should definitely be together but are absolutely both denying it…it can still be super cute to read about! You spend the whole book wondering who’s going to slap them to their senses so they declare undying affection for each other instead of tiptoeing around the matter.
Some of the best YA novels I have read recently span contemporary realism to fantasy, past to future, New York City to Ireland.
Two of the authors I’ve reviewed here will be making appearances at the excellent Reading Matters conference in Melbourne (see more at the end of these reviews). Another is about to arrive in Australia.
The Callby Peadar Ó Guilín (David Fickling Books) is set in an alternate Ireland. Nessa and her cohort know that this is the year when they will be ‘called’ for a life-changing three minutes by the Sidhe, avenging fairies who have been forced ‘under the mounds’ by humans. Nessa has the extra difficulty of a damaged left leg but she throws herself into the physical and psychological training all the young people endure to give them a chance of escaping and returning. Any who return have been damaged in some way. Will Nessa be the exception? The Call is atmospheric, chilling and highly imaginative. Its originality and brilliance are unforgettable.
Peadar is about to make appearances at, at least, one Australian bookshop and the Perth Writers’ Festival this month.
The Sun is Also a Starby Nicola Yoon (Corgi, Penguin Random House) is shooting up ‘best of’ lists. Natasha and her family live in New York City but are about to be deported to Jamaica. On her way to a last minute attempt to revert the decision, Natasha meets Daniel, a gorgeous Korean-American with a ponytail who breaks the mould.
Holding Up the Universe takes us inside the life of Libby Strout, who starts high school after being homeschooled because of her obesity. She encounters beautiful Jack Masselin, who has prosopagnosia (a condition which appears in another recent excellent book which, for ‘spoiler’ reasons I can’t reveal here yet). Jack can’t recognise faces. The narrative explores both Libby and Jack’s universes, and how they intersect.
Glory O’Brien’s History of the Futureby A.S. King (Little Brown, Hachette) takes us further afield, into the future, as well as the present. Glory and her best friend Ellie, who lives on a commune, drink a petrified bat, which gives them visions of the future. Like Juliet in Bridget Kemmerer’s upcoming Letters to the Lost, Glory has lost her mother and makes sense of her world through photography. Glory O’Brien is a slow-burning and original piece of writing. Exceptional.
A.S. King and Jennifer Niven are both speaking at Reading Matters conference in Melbourne in June. Link here. What an opportunity to hear these brilliant authors.
2016! What a year! Many people view it as one of the worst in recent history, with the death of numerous influential celebrities and some worldwide political craziness. And in a lot of ways, it certainly was. But, personally, on the book front, it was a pretty awesome year for me. I read some damn fine novels. And I had a few books published. So here is my literary take on the year that was.
It was a good year of reading for me. I read lots of stuff for research, lots of stuff to my daughters and lots of stuff for my own pleasure. So here is my list of favourite 2016 reads…
The second of the Victorian-set Stella Montgomery Intrigues, it follows on from Withering-by-Sea (2014). I loved the first book, but I like this one even better. I can only hope there will be more in this series.
This is the second book in the epic, game-changing Illuminae Files series. Using a dossier of documents, rather than the traditional novel narrative, these books are mind-blowingly amazing. Loved the first book (read my review in 2 Awesome YA Books). Dare I say it… I loved this one even more. It maintains the approach of the first, but extends it, adding extracts from an illustrated journal into the mix. There is a whole bunch of new characters, as well as some returning from the first book. There’s not much more I can say, except… Wow! Just… WOW!
Favourite Grown-up Book
Okay, I’ll be honest here… I hardly read any grown-up books in 2016. I mostly read stuff for kids and teens. But there are two books that really stood out.
This one was actually published in 2015 (I was just a little late in getting around to it). This is a memoir rather than an autobiography, by one of Australia’s best loved and most respected children’s authors. It’s an excellent read for anyone interested in the behind-the-scenes of a writing career. It’s also wonderfully personal and engaging. Loved it!
And then there was this book from 2009 (okay, so I was a lot late with this one)…
A hard-edged, fast-paced techno-thriller with terrorists, bio-weapons, zombies and a special ops government agency called The Department of Military Sciences. It’s the first book in a series, which follows the adventures of Joe Ledger – a cop who goes to work for The Department of Military Sciences. I’ll definitely be reading the rest of the series.
Hand in hand with the writing, was speaking about writing – school visits, library talks and festival appearances. I had a total of 116 sessions over the course of 35 school visits, 7 festivals/seminars/conferences and 2 promo tours. You can read about some of my favourite experiences in these blog posts:
In my enthusiastic career as a devourer of all things YA, I’ve discovered amnesia is a very popular theme in a lot of books! It can add so many elements of mystery to a novel, since you can’t tell if what the unreliable narrator is thinking is true or false. It also gets one’s heart beating tenderly to think of these people who have huge holes in their lives due to memory loss. Will they get their memories back? Will there be epic plot twists? What is it like to live with this disability?
Today I have a list of YA books that feature characters with anmesia!
This is definitely one of the most small but brilliant books I’ve ever read. It’s the kind you go into with the “knowing less is best” motto. The plot twist at the end is the most devastating and yet brilliant thing ever and I think I sat like a shocked turtle for 9 years after I finished reading it.
It also features rich kids on an island and a disturbing summer and secrets that you’ll never possibly guess the answers to.
This is of course an exceptionally famous series! It features Thomas, who has been forced into a dystopian maze for…well, who knows? He has no memories except this metal box he arrives in the maze in. It’s a confusing story, full of plot twists and intrigue. It also features a group of boys fighting for their lives in a monstrous maze that sends monsters and other horrors out at them. Chances of everyone surviving? BASICALLY NO.
This book has only just been released so it is still a small baby book just out in the world! It’s about Flora who has short-term-memory problems (basically like being a teen with dementia) after an operation to remove a tumour from her brain. She remembers nothing consistently until she’s kissed by a boy…and then begins her journey to find him again when he disappears into the Arctic. The prose sometimes goes in circles to represent Flora’s confused thinking patterns and I thought it was a realistic and excellent way to represent what Flora was going through.
This one is about a group of teens who were kidnapped when they were small children. Years later they’ve returned, now as teens but with no memory of where they went or what happened to them. At first it’s joy that people get to put their families back together…and then it’s mistrust because who knows if these kids are telling the truth? It’s a rather heartbreaking book as kids have to learn who they were again and solve the mystery of their amnesia.
This is by an extremely excellent and talented and underrated author, and I suggest checking out all her books ASAP. This book features Molly Pierce (surprise!) who keeps blacking out and waking up in places she has no idea how she got there. She feels like her life is unravelling and she’s freaking out over how and why she has these random bursts of amnesia. Then a boy appears and claims they know each other and Molly discovers her life is absolutely not what it seems.
If there’s one thing I absolutely adore it’s: fairy tale retellings. And what could be better than an entire list of Alice in Wonderland retellings?! Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland is such a classic and it’s inspired so many writers to work madly at their own versions, from prequels to sequels to reinventions of the original tale completely. I love it! I can’t get enough! And just in case you can’t get enough either, I have compiled a list for you.
May we all think of six impossible things before breakfast and fight our daily Jabberwockies.
Written by the NYT bestselling author of the Lunar Chronicles — this is a prequel story from the point of view of the Queen of Hearts! You know that lovely lady who says “OFF WITH THEIR HEADS” frequently throughout the Alice tales? Yup. Here she is. But before she was a head chopping queen, she was called Cath and loved to bake. This is one of the most delicious books in existence basically since it’s loaded with delicious foodie descriptions. Expect desserts, mad tea parties, and a Victorian setting with balls and talking cats and a swoon-worthy Joker that might just steal a girl’s heart.
This is an “after Alice” sort of story and centres around one of Alice’s descendants, a girl named Alyssa who is visited each night by a wickedly charming moth named Morpheus who means to lure her into Wonderland to fight evil and return Wonderland to its former glory. Except her magical moth boy guide isn’t being honest and Wonderland is out to, well, kill all the things. This is a retelling worthy of Tim Burton’s dark and twisted Alice movies. It’s beyond brilliant and the descriptions are so lush and entrancing!
Another tale that starts with the origin story of the Queen of Hearts before she was into lopping off heads. (This is a popular point of view it seems.) It follows the story of Dinah, an unloved and neglected princess who must suffer with her royal father’s maliciousness and try to stay ahead of enemies that want to kill her, all the while vying for the throne. Life ain’t easy when your royalty apparently.
This one takes a sequel sort of approach and follows the brother of the original Alice as he too loses his way into Wonderland. Henry isn’t exactly fond of nonsense and magical worlds, but he accidentally gets caught up in Wonderland and ends up being taken to the Red Queen by none other than the Mad Hatter. The two hate each other as they journey through Wonderland until they gradually find hate turning to love. It features a lovely whimsical Wonderland and grand character development and a romance to fall for.
What if Alice wasn’t really a girl falling through a rabbit hole into Wonderland? What if she was a princess and on the run from her evil aunt (the Red Queen) before she’s murdered for her crown?! This is a very imaginative approach to the original tale and completely changes everything. It features wars and conspiracies and Alice trying to convince a writer of her tale and reclaim her kingdom.
2016 has been an excellent year for books! A few weeks ago, I cheered about the best YA fantasythat has graced our shelves, but now it’s time to talk about a very important topic: Aussie YA! Our homegrown authors have been hard at work giving us delicious books to devour at dawn (or at any time, really, they’re not picky) and I today have an exciting list of excellent 2016 Aussie books.
Cath Crowley is an amazingly profilic author and her books never disappoint! I was so excited for Words In Deep Blue because it’s about (A) bookstores, and (B) people who love books, and (C) people writing love letters to strangers and leaving them folded between pages of books. Isn’t that amazing?! Well guess what: THE BOOK WAS AMAZING TOO. It was exquisitely written with complex and relatable characters, who were a little bit self-depreciating and a little bit tragic and entirely winning.
This is about a girl named Piper with selective mutism who’s trying to make a fresh start in a new school. She has severe social anxiety, which results in her not always being able to talk. Although Piper’s plan is just to improve her photography and finish out her last year of highschool…she just happens to meet an amazing boy (who is coincidentally an amazing cook and I don’t know about you, but I fell in love with him right then) who really likes her. But Piper’s worried he won’t stick around if she never talks. It’s such a moving and incredible story about the power of words, with a great representation of anxiety. There is no “romance cures all” themes, which is bliss. And the characters are so entirely adorable I couldn’t help but root for them!
This is about Sam who’s just lost his mother to an aneurysm and is forced to live with his relatives…who may or may not kind of subtly hate him. Sam’s life is falling to pieces. He’s so angry at being abandoned and he’s neglected and unloved, and your heart will probably bleed for this poor kid. He takes up surfing and tries to make a new life for himself. This is my 3rd read by Claire Zorn and perhaps my favourite?! I can’t get enough of her incredible characters and the way her books always rip at my heartstrings.
This is about Che, whose sister is probably a psychopath. The book is mostly set in the USA, but Che and his family are Australian, and Che is not really happy to have left his life in Oz to come here. He’s a boxer but he suddenly has no friends and he’s the “new” weird kid. Plus there’s his 10 year old sister, Rosa, to worry about with her vaguely psychopathic tendencies. Che has no idea what she’ll do next. Right now it’s callous pranks and manipulation of everyone around her — but what if it ends up with murder? This story will keep you 100% glued to the page, wondering what is going to happen next. It’s part coming-of-age story of Che and his boxing and first serious romance. And it’s part thriller as you watch a young psychopath at work. It’s entirely one of the best books in the universe!
I just love sequels that cleverly, though subtly, intertwine with small connections but take you on a whole new, unique adventure. Renee Price, author, educator and entertainer extraordinaire has done just that with her second book in the Digby series – an enthusiastic, lively and inquisitive romp jam-packed with mystery, melody and rhythm. Not to mention its upbeat and dynamic illustrations. Today we are fortunate enough to have the opportunity of a sneak peek into the soon-to-be-released, anticipated Digby and the Yodelayhee… Who?! Doesn’t the title just make you want to get out your maracas and microphones and shimmy to your heart’s content!
Renee is here to tell us more about her book. Welcome, Renee!
Digby and the Yodelayhee… Who?, much like Digby’s Moon Mission, portrays the joy and innocence of children’s imagination and curiosity. Digby and his friends have solved the mystery of a hungry moon, now it’s up to them (and some useful tools) to solve the mystery of a noisy noise! I’m really excited to release this book as it combines my two writing loves; stories and (spoiler alert!) song. J
How do you hope the concepts addressed in the story will resonate with readers?
I hope they will resonate really well! Digby’s stories celebrate friendship and teamwork, curiosity, creativity and problem-solving. I always write with these concepts in mind, yet rather than driving the messages home, deliver them in an entertaining and humorous way, and kids really engage and become enthused about getting involved, becoming part of the story, and problem-solving too.
What is your favourite part of the book? Why?
I have three favourite parts (is that allowed?)! I am once again, in love with Anil Tortop’s visual representation of my words. I swear she has a device that can tap into my brain and extract my exact thoughts on how I see my words looking on a page. I also LOVE the barcode design by Ozan Tortop (wait ‘til you see it, it’s so cool!). My third favourite part, and one I hold close to my heart is the musical element of the story. Combining words, pictures and music completes me! J
You are naturally musical yourself. What do you see as the main benefits of ‘tapping’ into one’s musical side? How have you seen children respond through your entertaining show performances?
I could rattle on all day about this one! Music is a universal language. Not only can we communicate through music, we can immerse ourselves in music to soothe, comfort, inspire, excite, entertain… there are no limits. We are all musical! I love visiting schools and preschools, seeing all kids engage in the story-telling that music offers and how it complements the written word. I can’t wait to launch the live performance for Digby and the Yodelayhee… Who?. Music and story-telling galore!
I will never be able to properly articulate just how awesome this duo is. Not only are they incredibly professional and easy to work with, but they are so supportive and nothing is ever too much to ask. Their communication is top-notch and their work is utterly awesome. The entire collaboration with them has been enjoyable, from storyboard drafts right through to prepping files for print. I urge anyone contemplating a self-publishing journey to get in contact with them at tadaabook.com.
Being self-published you did quite a lot of work to get both Digby books off the ground and onto the shelves. Were you more confident this time? Did you do anything differently? What have been the advantages of already having the initial book under your belt, both in ways of publishing and marketing?
In some ways, I felt more confident because it was familiar and I knew what to expect, but it was also overwhelming at times because I knew what to expect! It’s a challenging journey, and at times, I wondered why I was putting myself through it all again, especially having two young children and little time to juggle everything. Through my first book, there were many things I missed as well, such as wider distribution channels, timing of publication date to meet Book Awards entry criteria, further research into print-on-demand services versus off-shore/bulk printing. But the advantages of having my first book out there, meeting more and more wonderful industry professionals to chat with and seek advice has been invaluable. One big thing I did differently this time was print offshore with a company who publishes a lot of trade-published titles. I’m really excited about the higher quality of my second book.
Fun Question! If you could be any musical instrument, what would it be and why?
Ooh, now this is a tricky one! I’d have to say a double bass – because then I’d finally be tall! J What would you be?
Hmm… I’d have to think about that!
Please share your book’s release date and what we can look forward to in the lead up to launch day and beyond. What exciting activities and events have you got planned?
Digby and the Yodelayhee… Who? will be released on March 1 2017. A book trailer is now available (see below), previewing a little of the musical element of the book, too, and there will be some more sneak-peeks coming in the lead up to the launch. We’ll also have some giveaways and fun stuff via Digby’s Facebook page and website.
Launch Day is Saturday March 4 2017 at Wallsend Library (Newcastle NSW) and is shaping up to be an exciting morning, featuring a book reading, signing, colouring activities and a special music performance! Follow Digby’s blog for updates at www.digbyfixit.com.
Thanks so much, Renee! Looking forward to jammin’ with Digby and his friends very soon! 🙂
BIG thanks to you, Romi! You’re a superstar. J
Pre-order your copy of Digby and the Yodelayhee… Who?here.
For most of us, it is now officially school holiday time, the season of fraught mothers, constant interruptions, drained purses, and frazzled tempers. Or, if you’re clever, blissful moments spent with your darlings in between extended periods of boredom busting activity. Festive harmony is easy to achieve, you just need the right materials. Here are a handful of books that entertain and instil serenity.
The title speaks for itself but does this book hold the eggnog? Ecstatic to report, it does and some! If you love trivia, jokes, silliness, and just good old-fashioned fun quizzes this is the boredom-busting book for you (and your kids). Perfect for slipping into your carry-on luggage if you happen to be going away or tucking into the backpack for those incurably long family lunches, we force our children to endure over the holiday season, The Anti-Boredom Christmas Book is stuffed with things to do, think about and act out – no pencils required! (Although there are plenty of arty / crafty options to get creative with.)
Seed’s zany laugh-out-loud facts and games challenge the curious reader: would you rather wear frozen undies or sleep in a bed of snow? You can even learn how to say snow in 18 languages – always good to know. Wacky and wonderful insanity to fill the holidays with whilst simultaneously inspiring sanity.
For a more Australian flavoured boredom buster, sample Alison Lester’s Wonderful World kids’ colouring-in book. Whether you are a fan of colour-the- drawings type productions or not, this one is sure to please and entrance the budding artists in your home. Focusing on the art of illustration, Lester ingeniously includes dozens of helpful illustrative snippets and hints to nudge would be artists on their way. Suggestions like: ‘try drawing with your left hand’, ‘always leave a little bit of white in the eyes’, and ‘don’t try to make everything perfect’, are secreted away among her own iconic images on the end pages and in an introductory ‘Drawing Tips’ prologue.
Inside, there is a treasure trove of thick sturdy pages of assorted images and scenes just begging for colour and personalisation. Exceedingly so much more than just a colouring in book, Wonderful World will inspire, occupy, and educate for days.
While their creative juices are still flowing, consider this as a sweeter than sweet stocking filler. My Lovely Christmas Book is a quaint diary sized festive book, brimming with blank pages and cheery prompts that allows readers to fill it with their own lists, notes, poems, and wishes, in short, to create a lovely Christmas book for them by them. It ostensibly covers the 12 days of Christmas so could be substituted as a tooth-friendly form of advent calendar, as well.
There is space for photos, favourite listings, and recordings of all the best bits of Christmas a kid can have. Sublimely illustrated, this is an exquisite combination of meditative colouring in book, crafty hang out and personal journal, which subtly encourages youngsters to observe and cherish this most magical time of the year.
I’m not sure I should be recommending this but it is insidiously brilliant no matter how potentially detrimental it may prove for we struggling parental types just trying to do our jobs. The Kids’ Survival Guide, is a crafty (not in the arty sense) cheeky, wickedly funny and devilishly useful hand book for kids who’ve had a gutful of the lectures, rules and dumb sayings adults dole out to them day after day of their young lives.
Thoughtfully sectioned into handy parts, the Guide escorts and educates readers on how to remain calm and cope with brain exploding stupidities like ‘You can have a motorbike when you’re older’ -how much older? A day, a month, a minute? Or, what about, ‘You should know, I’ve told you a hundred times’. Berran could be right or at least her character Sam could be right; parents do say the lamest things. Apparently, it’s all in the manual Sam and his mate, Jared found. I just hope they don’t strike back too hard as he shares some of his ‘brain-blowing close encounters’ and teaches fellow sufferers how to ‘twist, flip and turn’ the rules around. Heaven help us. Essential and absorbing reading that is sure to occupy young minds for precious minutes this Silly Season. Warning: Adults should read first to allow time to come up with some witty counter-attacks. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
If I could only choose one genre to devour forever, it would definitely be fantasy. I adore the possibilities! And the action, adventure, magic, and probability of talking dragons. So today I’m going to list my favourite 2016 fantastical Young Adult releases. Since it’s nearly Christmas time, you can gift one or two or all of them to yourself. Isn’t that a great idea? It’s a great idea.
There were so many amazing sequels and finales come out this year! It’s so hard to only pick a few, but I’ll be brave and do my best. Here are my top 5 favourites!
This is the sequel (and finale) to the Six of Crows duology and … can I just say right now that it was pure perfection?! It’s a story about a heist crew out for revenge on a nobleman who cheated them. (Ah, irony.) And the complexity of the heists they pull and the mind games they weave are just incredible and will keep you glued to the page. But make sure you put aside a free weekend to begin devouring this because you will not want to put it down. Ever.
Another series finale! This is the 4th and final book to The Raven Cycle collection and it, arguably, has the most beautiful cover of them all. Also the words inside are good. In fact, they’re amazing. This finale will take you on a whirlwind of emotions and make your heart pound as the time towards Gansey’s foretold death draws ever nearer. The demon awoken in the last book is also wreaking havoc and draining the magic of Henrietta and it looks like everyone is going to die. A delightful nail-biter. Also leave the weekend free for this one too? Basically just cancel life and read.
This is like a very dark version of Disney’s Frozen! Meet Elli who is supposed to be the next queen who will wield fierce and amazing powers to protect her people — except her powers haven’t shown up yet. People are getting worried. And violent. It’s filled with snow and magic and betrayal and harsh terrain and is absolutely magical to read. Also it has a gorgeous map. Which is a priority for all fantasy books honestly.
This is set in a dark, Gotham-like city where monsters roam the streets and the humans rage a constant turf war with them. People look to mafia lords for safety. And caught up in the middle is the vicious and slightly stabby daughter of a Mafia lord, Kate, and a violin-playing-kind-monster boy, August. They get throw together and end up running for their lives. It’s possible, perhaps, that not all monsters are as bad as they seem.
And lastly we have a book by Aussie author, Jay Kristoff, who has written an amazingly complex and darkly vicious fantasy starring Mia, a prospective assassin. It’s full of tests and trials and torture and bleeding and you probably won’t be able to look away from the page because you’ll be so worried about who will live and die. The world building is intensely detailed. And it features a talking cat made of shadows. What more convincing do you need?
As December sneaks into view, many of us start thinking about Christmas. And what better way to get you int the Christmas spirit than to read some books with delightful scenes of holly jolly festivities?! Well an alternative way to get into the Christmas spirit would be to eat lots of festive food and sit on your Christmas tree…but I think books are a nice secondary option if you’ve exhausted those first two.
So let’s list some delightful Christmas-themed books to compliment your holiday reading!
This book isn’t strictly all about Christmas, but it does have several chapters that focus on it! And better yet: they focus on the food part of Christmas. We all know that’s the reason for the season. I particularly adore how Lara Jean and her sisters had an annual Christmas Cookie Bonanza, where they’d bake so many cookies of all different flavours. Warning: this book will make you hungry. It’s also incredibly cute and heartwarming and has an adorable romance! It’s perfect light reading for the holiday season.
Well of course I have to Harry Potter on the list, since almost all the books feature Christmas quite spectacularly! Who hasn’t quietly dreamed of a Christmas spent at Hogwarts in an ugly-Weasley sweater and eating all the delicious food the great hall has to offer?! Hush. I know you have. And don’t forget about the new illustrated Harry Potter books that have been recently released. Because you can never have too many editions.
It’s been 4 years since Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares came out, a Christmassy story which involved two teens falling in love while writing each other letters and dares and leaving them anonymously in a bookstore. Now they’re back! Although they’re not…as happy. Lily’s had a rough year and has lost her happiness for Christmas (which used to be her favourite time of year). Time to throw some shiny baubles in the air and find a way to make Lily smile again.
This is set on a Christmas Tree farm! It’s about Sierra who’s life is split in half since her family must leave their home and life each year to set up their Christmas Tree shop in another state. But this Christmas she meets a boy with a dubious past. The blurb promises “disapproval, misconceptions, and suspicions” which is always fun and very promising for an exciting story.
Again this book isn’t centred on Christmas things, but it is about ballet! And one of the important ballets they put on is the Nutcracker! That part of the book is set around the holiday season. Except don’t dive into here expecting mistletoe and candy canes. Ha, no. This is a cutthroat ballet school where three girls, Bette, Gigi and June, will do anything to rise to the top of their class. And I mean anything. It’s beautifully written and contains a complex and diverse cast of characters.
I am a huge fan of audiobooks. What could be better than absorbing an epic story and not having to do the eyeball work of reading it yourself? So much brilliance. So much win. Today I’ve compiled a list of reasons why you should definitely considering filling your life with audiobooks. Or filling your ears with audiobooks, I should say.
5 REASONS YOU SHOULD LISTEN TO AUDIOBOOKS.
They’ve very helpful for multitasking! Are you doing a mindless task like cleaning or driving or exercising? Listen to an audiobook! It not only makes the task 100% more epic (like who doesn’t want to listen to an action adventure while you’re jogging around the block?!), it also helps keep on top of that endless TBR pile you know is stalking you in your sleep. Plus fare thee well boredom. You now have audios to keep your brain busy.
They’re helpful if you read fast and miss things. I am totally guilty of being a speed-reader and, well, sometimes I read too fast and miss things. Audiobooks help me slow down and enjoy all the words and the story in full! I’ll appreciate the description and details more if I listen to an audiobook.
You can learn complicated pronunciations. This is particularly helpful if you love epic fantasy which is notorious for slapping a keyboard and coming up with a character name. I mean, why call someone Joe when they could be Jo’ylufgy Son Of Yu’lynnnui. (I know that’s totally how fantasy authors name their characters, of course.)
It’s a little bit like watching a movie! Because a lot of narrators, particularly good ones, use different voices for characters. They have different accents and inflections and don’t underestimate how easily that makes a book come alive in a whole new way. I also love dramatised audiobooks (although they’re not that common) where they’ll be sound affects and music playing in the background during some scenes.
If you’re too tired to read, NEVER FEAR! You can listen to an audiobook! You can rest those weary little eyeballs and still get some reading done, particularly at night. Just don’t lie down to listen to your book and fall asleep. Not that I’d ever do that of course. Ha ha how could you think that?
Excellent AudioBook Recommendations:
I must, of course, also give you some recommendations on what audiobooks to start with! There are so many and not all audiobooks are made equal. Unfortunately an irritating narrator can totally ruin a book for you. So take note of your preferences as you listen and don’t forget to listen to samples before you buy so you know if the narrator is going to suit you.
The Name Of The Wind [buy here] — I particularly adored this one by Brilliance Audio because the narrator used several difference accents throughout the book and it made it easy to tell characters apart.
Illuminae [buy here] — this is one of my favourite audiobooks ever because it’s dramatised! There are sound affects and music playing and it’s basically a movie in your head.
Steelheart [buy here] — Again, the narrator made this absolutely perfect by capturing the protagonist’s personality in voice inflections. I listened to the whole trilogy via audio and it was the best experience!
Okay, with just over a month and a half to go, it’s time to get serious about Christmas. For the next 42 days or so, I’ll attempt to fill your Christmas lists with some nifty literary ideas for kids to go under the Christmas tree this year. Today we look at some terrific non-fiction titles guaranteed to raise a few oohs and aahs on Christmas Day.
The classic 20-year-old picture book, Look & See, inspired Shane Morgan’s hard cover board book, Cheeky Animals. Clean, smile-inducing text compliments simple yet strong illustrations of some of our most cheeky cherished Aussie animals. A great stocking stuffer for 2 + year olds.
Just as funny but using expressive real life images of a variety of animals and their amazing anatomy to accompany concise, information-laden narrative is Dr Mark Norman’s, Funny Faces. This soft cover version is a close up, informative, extraordinary (did you know a Dragonfish has teeth on its tongue!) look at the funny face bits of a planet of animals, birds, invertebrates and reptiles. The fact file and images are sure to keep budding biologists absorbed for years. Super handy and an easy to reference guide book for early primary project makers. Check out other titles in this funny series, here.
Curated by Katie Scott and Jenny Broom, Animalium is a cloth bound, pocket-sized gem of a book that invites fledging Attenboroughs to enter a literary museum of the animal kingdom. I felt as though I was wondering through the astonishing exhibits of the London Natural History Museum, exploring the world of mammals, invertebrates, fish and more. This is a biologist’s nirvana: insightful, knowledgeable text, and clear, detailed illustrated plates. Excellent go to book that is a work of art unto itself for mid to upper primary.
Gina M. Newton’s Amazing Animals is an environmental triumph. This large, soft cover book leaves no leaf or stone unturned as Newton guides inquisitive minds through a plethora of our national parks and their fascinating individual habitats. From the Tropical Rainforests in the north to the Mallee Woodlands of the arid south, Amazing Animals focuses on the species that inhabit these places with detailed Q & A, fast facts, and a ‘did you know’ kind of narrative. Diagrams and close up photos completes this brilliant compendium of who what and where along with a comprehensive ‘how to use this book’ guide that even includes a Conservation Status indicator. Young readers may be familiar with some of the species highlighted; they may have even spotted a few of them in their own neighbourhoods. What is nifty about this guidebook is that they can now actively get out and explore more of the native parklands in their locale and become more wildlife aware by doing so. Superb. Highly recommended for classroom to bedroom bookshelves of primary and above readers.
I was your typical horsey-obsessed little girl. That kind of passion never real dissipates, merely dims with neglect. Dianne Bates and Sophie Scahill have produced a handy, bookshelf friendly series of Awesome Animal books that present eager young readers with a mindboggling array of facts, figures, trivia, and fun stories for a menagerie of animals. This one, about Horses is incredible. Layered with more information about horses than I have ever encountered, Horse Fun Facts is comprehensive, breezy, easy to navigate and utterly captivating. I guarantee readers will learn something new each time they delve into these books. Horses is an awesome mix of entertainment and information that will fuel those pony club passions forever more. A brilliant, value-laden gift idea if ever there was one.
History, whilst fascinating can be a tiresome thing to wade through at times. Not so anymore thanks to Kate Pankhurst’s illustrated explorative journey with some of our planets most noted, daring, and incredible women. Great Women Who Changed the World covers such heroines as Jane Austen, Coco Chanel, Marie Curie, and Anne Frank. Others like, Sacagawea and Amelia Earhart are also featured, each with their own two-page spread festooned with detailed trivia type tip bits all gorgeously illustrated to create a visual wonderland of facts and figures. By the time young readers have swam the English Channel with Gertrude Ederle or uncovered the first Pterosaur skeleton with Mary Anning, they will be hundreds of years wiser and no wiser for it! This awesome picture book ends on a note of great inspiration, namely for young misses but the message is universal: never give up, believe in yourself, back yourself, and dare to be different! Truly fantastic and a must have in your Christmas stockings!
Retellings might just be my favourite genre of them all. And we all know how popular it is to write retellings on Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and Little Red Riding Hood. Been there. Read that a million times. So what about retellings based of classic novels?!? It’s so exciting! And it’s a rising trend which is pleasant to behold (especially if you are me and adore classical retellings). It’s like reliving an old favourite in a new way!
So let’s get to my list of some of the best YA retellings of Classic novels!
This is a retelling on Pride and Prejudice…except it involves footballs and college applications. But the romance between socially awkward teens is perfection. Tennyson basically doesn’t know what she wants with her life, but her Plans didn’t involve her parents semi-adopting her cousin Foster (who is a surprise football protegee) and definitely didn’t involve getting involved with the snobby school jock. Cute hate-to-love romance with beautiful writing and winning characters.
Hello Sherlock Holmes retelling! And to make matters even more awesome, this is set in Australia with a gender-swapped Watson! Rachel Watts and the boy next door, Mycroft Holmes, end up embroiled in a local murder case. The twists are amazing, and the Australian culture is so refreshing and perfect. Plus this kicks off a brilliant trilogy. So if you get addicted, good job. There is more.
How about a retelling of The Wizard of Oz? And instead of the perky colourful world in the originals…welcome to this new Oz, where everything is twisted and creepy and Dorothy might just be the most evil of them all. We get to travel with Amy on an accidental adventure through a tornado and into Oz where she must learn to be a witch and defeat Dorothy and, you know, not die in the process.
This is a retelling of the Nutcracker ballet! And I do wish there were more ballet retellings out there, because it’s such a stunning idea set in a vividly snow landscape of the world of Cane. Here we meet Clara who ends up on a rescue mission to find her father before it’s too late, with the help of a cursed boy. The writing is very dark and a bit on the steamier side for romance.
Or how about Frankenstein retelling? Better yet, let’s talk about Frankenstein’s monster’s son…because that’s a story you definitely want to hear. This is a quirky book, full of wry humour and ridiculously impossible scenarios that will make you laugh. It has an amazing cast of characters that even include some from other classics like Jekyll and Hyde! It’s about roadtrips and friendship and what it means to be considered a “monster”.
This might seem a strange one to linclude…but it’s actually a retelling of the poem Annabel Lee by Edgar Allen Poe! It’s part of the Shadowhunter world, but also can stand on it’s own as a new adventure involving Emma Carstairs’ quest to find the culprits behind her parents murder. It’s a magical-focused murder mystery that is seriously creepy in some places and twirls in references to the poem so amazingly. This book is totally addictive. You want to read it, trust me.
There comes a time in every bookworm’s life where they secretly would like to be adopted by an amazing fictional family. No shame! Sometimes we just want to dissolve into a book with a quirky or magical or epic family whose lives are 78% more exciting than our own.
Today I’m listing some of my top favourite fictional families that appear in Young Adult books across a variety of genres. And hopefully I’ll find a wish-granting factory to let me turn into a book for day and visit them. Because that would be awesome, yes please and thank you.
This is one of my all-time favourite fictional families because they’re like the magical Mafia! This is set in a world were you can curse someone with a simple touch. And obviously not everyone is using this talent for good. Cassel’s family is a bunch of con-artists who definitely make use of their skills — with crime. It’s exciting, sassy, and devious and there are plot twists that will fairly knock you over. Plus who doesn’t want to read about a family of conartists and sociopaths?!
Aspen’s family are also most definitely magical. They have to constantly preform rituals to keep the cliff above the town from breaking apart and falling and crushing everyone flat. How do they do this? They have this magical ability to “pull” things out of people. Like your over-achieving tendencies. Or your hope. Or your pain. Or your ability to see. Things are a little morally grey around here. This is a perfectly amazing magical realism story and you’ll be wondering just how far Aspen’s family will go.
Of course I can’t help but mention the Weasley family! They basically act as Harry’s adopted family during the holidays and I adore how supportive and kind and loving the parents are. (An actual rare thing in books it seems…) Also the big family dynamics are hilarious and perfect, because when there’s a dozen kids running around, things are going to get hectic. Whenever Harry spent Christmas or his holidays with Ron’s family, I always got all the warm squishy feelings. The Weasleys are perfection.
Just in case you didn’t want a magical family (pfft, what’s wrong with you though?!) here is one of my favourite big-families in a contemporary novel! The Garretts have half a dozen kids in all ages and their life is happy, warm chaos. The book is about Sam who, in contrast, lives in a rather cold and very particular house with her politician mother who really has nothing to do with her daughter. The story is heartwarming with the cutest romance and some seriously tragic moments to make you sniffle into your popcorn as you read.
This is Emery Lord’s latest book and it’s half narrated by Viv, who has bipolar, and half by Jonah, who is doing his best to keep his family together after their father died. Jonah has several little siblings he looks after and he’s also an insanely talented cook. So not only will you melt at the severe adorableness of a big brother babysitting, you’ll also get so hungry you’ll feel like devouring the book at dawn. Perhaps eat before you read. That should help.
Recently, the world lost one of the Children’s Literary Industry’s most recognised and iconic author illustrators, Narelle Oliver. Among many of the literary legacies she left us (you can read about her marvellous achievements and books in Joy Lawn’s post, here), she was a woman who encouraged and maintained sincere relationships with everyone she met, friendships rich and real. During last week’s reflection about her, two books found their way to me promoting further introspection on friendship, love, and loss.
Molly and her close friend, Mae are about to embark on an adventure together, a train trip into town. They are filled with bubbly excitement, relishing each other’s company, sharing the passing of time until the train arrives and the telling offs by Mum as they scamper, bounce, hide and ballet the wait-time away. Like all little girls, they are so engrossed with their games and secrets that they are blissfully unaware of the wider world surrounding them on the platform.
Their joie de vivre eventually spills into the carriage, over seats and under foot as the countryside slides away outside, until, after many miles, games become stale and tempers fraught. Delays halt fun and bad weather smears their vision, turning their friendship murky. A trip by oneself can be lonely, however and the girls miss each other in spite of their falling out or perhaps because of it. Eventually, as they near their destination, they cross bridges of a physical and emotional kind. Their journey takes them over hills, through valleys, sometimes running straight and true, other times navigating bends and tunnels, until together, they arrive, holding hands.
Molly and Mae is a wonderful analogy of friendship brilliantly executed by this talented picture book team. There is an eloquent sparseness about Parker’s narrative that harmonises each and every word on the page with Blackwood’s oil painted illustrations. The combination is intoxicating and terribly alluring.
Blackwood’s visual story contains several signposts that guide readers through this warm and recognisable tale of friendship; transporting them through all the exuberant, boring, testing, dark, and illuminating parts of the friendship journey.
Memorable, visually poetic, and beautifully written, this picture book is not only perfect for little people from four years upwards but also makes a gorgeous gift for those remembering and sharing friendships, past and present.
I always feel a little conflicted with the idea of harbouring animals in unnatural habitats far from their original ones, from their norm. This picture book, however questions what is normal, learned and ultimately depended on and loved from a polar bear’s point of view.
Gus lives in New York City’s Central Park Zoo. He is joyously unaware of the bigger city outside of his parkland world where zookeepers and visitors come and go and tall buildings form his boundaries. This is largely because he lives with Ida, his polar bear room mate. She is right there with him, everyday, always. They play ball together, splash in their pond together, chase and race together until it’s time to rest and relax as the city’s heartbeat hums around them. Their days seem repetitive and predictable but for Gus and Ida, they are all that they need. Until one day, Ida isn’t quite there.
The city and zoo’s residents continue to shuffle and hum and rush and squabble but Ida can no longer join the raucous of daily living because she is old and has fallen ill. Gus struggles with this abrupt change, refusing to leave Ida’s side when she is too tired to play, insistent on helping her and making the most of ‘the laughing days’ they have left together, until one day, ‘Ida curls into quiet’ and is no longer there.
In spite of his loss and grief, Gus continues, listening as the city pulses around him. In its rhythm, he feels its life, his own heart beat and Ida, right there with him, always.
Touching, a little tearful but ultimately inspiring, Ida, Always was inspired by the real life relationship between two polar bears in New York. Apparently, not only Gus mourned the loss of his friend but also the entire city and all who had cared for and come to know them.
Levis’s treatment of their story is heartrending and not overtly sentimental, allowing the reader to observe and understand the bond of friendship and love possessed by these two creatures who knew little else but the world, which their friendship created. By telling their story with subtle fictional flavour, sharing their thoughts, and hearing them speak, we feel an affinity with Gus and Ida that we might not otherwise have felt. The result is poignant and powerful, and enhanced beautifully by Santoso’s illustrations.
Ida, Always is a story about love, loss, friendships and how those we truly cherish remain with us, always.
Sweetly wrapped up in red and white this little treasure arrived at my door, keenly searching for a place to belong. Upon entering the world of this furry friend, I soon realised just how important his mission was to solve his ‘existential crisis’ of‘Who is Fitzy Fox?’.
Gently written in a child-friendly tone, first-time picture book author Amelia Trompf narrates a soul-satisfying tale of self-discovery, reassurance, the value of family, and a bit of adventure. The beautiful textures, detail and muted watercolours and pencil illustrations by Scottish-born, Jennifer Bruce equally provide an aura of warmth, comfort and familiarity that highlight the story’s sense of the affection of loved ones and the kindness of strangers.
Set in Melbourne’s eclectic suburb of Fitzroy, Fitzy Fox sets off on a path to determine whether his true identity is fox, or whether it is hound. Greeted with delicious cuisine, including veggie burgers and gelati, by the local occupants of busy Brunswick Street somehow doesn’t give Fitzy the satisfaction he is looking for. A trip to the State Library provides a glimmer of hope as the poor lost soul decides to embark on a trip to London. Fitzy Fox searches for his answer in such fascinating landmarks as Buckingham Palace, Hyde Park and Notting Hill, but to no avail. Has his journey across the other side of the world been all for nothing? Has the truth been under his snout the entire time?
Targeted at early primary school-aged children, ‘Who is Fitzy Fox?’explores some deep, philosophical questions that may be extended to discussing cultural, religious, or gender-specific identities. But the playful and endearing tone of the book allows readers to enjoy it for its life and purity, and the comfort in knowing they are loved for who they are. Perfect for locals and visitors to Melbourne to soak up those vibrant street vibes.
Amelia Trompf has prepared wonderful teaching notes and activities on the Fitzy Fox website.
Who is Fitzy Fox? is on blog tour! Check out the schedule here.
Awards such as the Griffith University Children’s Book Award, which recognises excellent books for the young, is a great place to find books to share and enjoy with children. A run-down on this year’s shortlisted books and winner follows:
Suri’s Wallby Lucy Estela, illustrator: Matt Ottley (Penguin/Viking)
Suri, the protagonist of the picture book Suri’s Wall, is living behind a wall in a grim institution. Its stonework and mountaintop buildings create a timeless, universal setting. She feels segregated from the other children because of her height but this is what eventually enables her to peer over the wall. She is then able to distract and comfort the smaller children with stories of what she sees.
Matt Ottley’s fantastical illustrations of “golden bridges stretching far beyond sight”, a colourful township and a surreal circus enhance the imaginative spaces in Lucy Estela’s story, enabling destruction to be supplanted by beauty.
Bob Graham’s How the Sun Got to Coco’s House will no doubt be recognised in both Australian and international awards lists. The story follows the journey of the sun from the Arctic to Europe, Asia and the Subcontinent, across mountains, seas, cities and countryside, over whales, birds, planes and people. It finally arrives at Coco’s house in time to wake her up.
Bob Graham’s perfectly formed spare text and detailed, light-filled watercolour illustrations show what the sun touches in its daily travels. The sun does reach Coco’s house and, “But for a few passing clouds, they spend the whole day together”.
Young, red-haired Georgie is often left out of the games of her older siblings so she devises imaginative games to play by herself. Max and Harriet are eventually intrigued enough by what is occupying Georgie to beg her to let them join in.
The illustrations are whimsical and add to the celebration of play, which is such an important and productive way for young children to spend their time.
Brisbane-based Chris McKimmie has been creating unconventional picture books for quite a few years now. A number of them have been shortlisted for awards. His idiosyncratic style of collage, mixed media and additions by young family members often help readers unconsciously discover different aspects of Brisbane life or new ways of looking at things.
Me, Teddy captures the endearing development of a black Labrador and his growing place in the family. The extra work and trouble he causes is completely nullified by the warmth and love he brings.
“There is a town in the mountains not far from here where people lock their pianos on the night of the full moon. It makes no difference – the keys move up and down and the air is filled with music.”
Young pianist prodigy Kidglovz is controlled by Dr Eronius Spin but is ‘rescued’ after meeting tightrope walker, Shoestring. His life revolves around music and he ‘hears’ the stars as being five octaves high, the night is in D minor and people sound like melodies. Kidglovz encounters adventures and unusual villains and characters in his search for truth and safety.
This innovative and impressive graphic novel for primary age children is illustrated in black and white and is a wonderful way of ‘stepping’ into literature.
Narelle Oliver is a creator, a world-wind who shared life and our wonderful natural world in incomparable ways. Her picture books of narrative non-fiction are informed and exquisitely constructed, often using her signature hand-coloured linocuts.
I had to catch my breath when I recently opened our copy of The Hunt(adapted for the international market as Twilight Hunt). Narelle has featured camouflage and hidden creatures in this and a number of her picture books. In The Hunt I also found the bookplate reminding me that we gave this book to our now 24 year-old teacher son on his fifth birthday.
Camouflage also appears in Baby Bilby, where do you sleep? Like many other people, this is the book I always buy for babies but it is so much more than the typical baby book with its age-appropriate information about desert animals and peepholes displaying the animals and their tracks.
I remember my first reading of Sand Swimmers: The Secret Life of Australia’s Dead Heart when it was published.The content is original – discovering the unexpected life in the desert alongside the explorations of Charles Sturt but the exceptional multilayered composition is what sets it apart for me.
The Best Beak in Boonaroo Bay is a fable about wanting to be the best. It is fascinating that the spoonbill appears here first amongst the birds who compete to have the best beak. Narelle went on to create her award-winning book Don’t let a Spoonbill in the kitchen! which once again features the spoonbill with its wide, swishing beak.
Homeis Brisbane’s iconic picture book about the peregrine falcons who nest on the ledge of a high-rise building in the city after their bush home has been destroyed by fire. The illustrative style in this book is seminal because of the ‘altered photography’ – a combination of collage, photos, linocut rubbings, pastel, pencil and watercolour. Home won the NSW Premier’s Children’s Literary Award (Patricia Wrightson award) in 2007 and its artwork has become a permanent exhibition on the walls of Brisbane Square Library. http://www.narelleoliver.com/Projects.aspx?page=projects&id=8
Narelle would travel around Australia and further afield running popular workshops for children. She has left a wonderful legacy of other books and collaborations. She also illustrated the cover of UQP’s re-issue of Ruth Park’s children’s classic My Sister Sif in her inimitable mermaid style.
I was privileged to be in conversation with Narelle in a retrospective of her work at the launch of her brilliant Fox and Fine Feathers by Governor-General, Quentin Bryce.
Fox was an Honour book in the 2010 CBCA awards. Apart from its evocative, suspenseful story and peerless linocuts, it is distinguished by lyrical writing, panels and frame-breaking. The unconventionally shaped panels when the Nightjar tricks Fox masterfully suggest a jigsaw puzzle. I bought a limited edition hand-coloured print of the Coachwood Forest (a double-page spread in the book), which I love because of the sense that I’m about to walk into the picture and into the forest. When our home was badly flooded in the 2011 Brisbane floods, Narelle offered to replace this artwork but fortunately we had saved it. We have it with us now and, alongside her books, it is a constant reminder of Narelle’s talent, kindness and generosity.
If there’s one topic that never gets old, it’s certainly superheroes. Everyone loves a good superpower book, with good vs evil and a good dash of explosions. Marvel and DC movies are always smash (har har, pun intended) hits in the cinemas and comics have been popular for decades.
But what about novels about superheroes? If you’re craving more heroes (or villains!) in your life: I have some Young Adult books that you most certainly need to try. It’ll tie you over between waiting for the next Marvel movie to be spat out. And these books will also give you tips in case, you know, you get bitten by a spider and greatness descends upon you. Must be prepared!
As you can see this doesn’t just feature superheroes — it focuses on the VILLAINS. WHich means the book is automatically 10005% cooler than anything else. So bring on a plot of criminals and a teenage highschool misfit who turns to the dark side. Where there are cookies, or so I’ve heard.
This is the beginning of an amazing trilogy about a girl who touches people and…they die. Which is definitely not the kind of power you save the world with, but whatever. Look at this girl go! Juliette has to piece herself back together after years of being locked in a dark prison and then figure out how to use her powers for good…or evil.
This one is about a girl called Fiona who is invisible. Not just sometimes. All the time. She doesn’t even know what she looks like! She’s basically enslaved by her crime-boss dad until she and her mother run away to a little desert time and Fiona tries to fit into a “normal” life. Except her crime origins don’t exactly go away…
This is by a New Zealand author, so yay for (semi)local writers! Meet Evie: who is pretty normal until suddenly her body explodes into super-powered, amazing solider material. Turns out she’s born to protect her best friend from being murdered. Say bye-bye to the good ol’ life and hello to conspiracies, dark government agencies, and a superpowered boy she’s so totally not supposed to be in love with.
This is, without doubt, one of the best superhero books I’ve ever read! It’s set in a dystopic universe where those with powers are called “Epics” and they like to…kill everyone. And everything. And it’s very unfortunate. David’s father was murdered so his #1 goal in life is to take down the immortal, invisible Steelheart. It features terrible puns and even worse metaphors (which somehow makes them glorious?!) and a team of highly trained superhero assassins.
This one is a little different to the others because it actually features the people around the superheroes. So while those superheroes are smashing evil and destroying cities on accident…what are the average people doing? So meet Mikey: an anxious teenager just trying to survive while the world blows up around him. It’s such a beautifully written and winning coming-of-age story and since it’s by the master, Patrick Ness, you do not want to miss this gloriousness.
Music is one of humanity’s favourite things, so what could be better than books about music?! I am here today to list some amazing YA books that involve characters who play musical instruments. There are plenty of guitar and band themed books out there, but I’ll be zeroing in more on classical instruments. Because I’m a classical musician myself so excuse me while I’m entirely biased that the cello is better than the guitar. (Not even sorry. That opinion is just truth.)
And while I did find a fair few music-orientated books, I’d love to see more on the shelves. Music is such an important part of culture and it’s so exciting to find books dedicated to it.
This is definitely one of the most famous musician-orientated YA books out there! It’s about Mia, an aspiring Julliard cellist, who gets into a terrible accident and ends up in an out-of-body experience wondering if life is worth continuing after this tragedy. It flips to flashbacks to show us how she grows up with the cello and falls in love with a rock band guitarist. Basically the story is amazing. Read it.
This is about a talented pianist whose mother gets diagnosed with leukemia. While Vanessa really wants to move cities and go to a prestigious conservatorium, she feels she can’t do that to her family and risk missing time with her mother or leaving her two sisters behind. The book is totally family orientated and set in the 90s. It has a lazy summery vibe with a good dose of sadness and grief and it’s just purely amazing.
This is a paranormal faerie story that centres around Dee, who is a harpist. And also she can see faeries, and we’re not talking nice sparkly faeries…we’re talking about the ones that want to eat your soul. It involves (A) a mysterious boy who is possibly in love with her, possibly wants to kill her, (B) a hilarious best friend who is a bag piper, and (C) a dark magical adventure.
This one is all about dark cities overrun with monsters — and one particular monster who plays the violin. Okay, so August’s violin playing also sucks out people’s souls so he can eat them. But you do what you must for music, right?! This story is dark and addictive and talks a lot about what makes a monster. It’s basically one of the best books I’ve ever read! And that’s despite me (as a past violinist) being totally biased. Hey it’s a cool instrument, okay?!
YOU’RE THE KIND OF GIRL I WRITE SONGS ABOUT – GUITARIST
I have to have at least one guitarist here…and plus this is an Aussie novel! So hurrah for homegrown literature! It’s partially narrated by Tim, who’s an indie guitarist, and trying to make his break into the music world. There is plenty of old-style music appreciation here, as well as good ol’ coming of age themes as Mandy and Tim try to figure out what to do with their lives after highschool.
When I received the opportunity to review this series I was pretty excited, and even more excited to receive an acceptance for an interview by its author, Deborah Kelly! I couldn’t wait to hear if her inspiration stemmed from wonderful childhood memories of wishful longing for powerful magical abilities, like I had. We shall find out soon enough, but first, here’s what I thought of her first two books in the series, Ruby Wishfingers Skydancer’s Escape (Book #1)and Toad-allyMagic! (Book#2).
These books come highly recommended both to emerging readers as a wonderfully fun shared reading experience, as well as being a galloping, fast-paced adventure for more independent readers. Whatever the reading age, this series is definitely one to ignite, and excite, the imagination!
Skydancer’s Escape is a tantalising introduction into the ordinary-turned-extraordinary world of Ruby Wishfingers. When the young nine-year-old girl is told by her Granny that she has inherited this marvellous gift from a long line of Wishfingers magicians, her mind bubbles with infinite wishing possibilities. But it’s her magical inexperience that steers the romping consequential mayhem throughout the story.
Plenty of rollicking escapades follow as Ruby’s favourite unicorn toy, Skydancer is brought to life. As you can imagine, a large stuffing-full plush with a hankering for bed linen, curtains and Mum’s antique lace tablecloths is sure to send one willy-nilly! So what’s a girl with the power to magic up anything she desires to do? Change Skydancer’s culinary preference to sweet treats, of course! In fact, Dad’s whole garden, with some extra juicy surprise coloured raindrops, is turned into a sugar heaven. After some high-speed chasing, size-altering experimentation and transforming a grumpy cat’s speaking ability, Ruby and Granny finally manage to set things straight… well, almost. And the oblivious Mum and Dad have their own ‘sweet’ surprise to share, too.
Two years on and Ruby and her tingling wishing fingers are back in Toad-ally Magic!. And, despite her maturing adeptness to the power of her magic, the extraordinary situations she finds herself in are just as whimsical and wild as the last.
Ruby now has a baby brother called Jellybean (surprise!) and it is his upcoming first birthday. To celebrate, the family are holding a teddy bear’s picnic party. Unfortunately for Ruby, though, her toad of a cousin, Todd is coming to stay. Todd’s inexorable path of destruction sends Ruby into a raging, finger-wishing spin, metamorphosing her cousin into a wart-infested toad. But, The Golden Rule of Magic states that wishes are not to be used to harm or punish. Ruby endures several desperate attempts and some sticky adventures to make things right. She cleverly manages to reclaim her magic back from that grumpy, self-righteous, Maine Coon cat, Jupiter, before he wasted them all on his own selfish pleasures. Then, she is able to rescue poor croaking Todd from the neighbour’s gardener and return him to normal. Although exhausting, a ‘toad-ally’ satisfying ending for all.
Like most young girls, Ruby can easily be tempted by instant gratification of her most biggest desires. However, I love that Ruby is also a character with inner strength and an altruistic nature. She is playful and tenacious, but also wholesome and infectious, just like Deborah Kelly‘s Ruby Wishfingers series. With delightfully energetic black and white illustrations by Leigh Hedstrom, charismatic language and comical adventures, readers from age six will be itching to relive the magic over and over again.
In a sold-out session at the weekend’s Brisbane Writers Festival, Rajith Savanadasa spoke to me about his assured debut novel Ruins (Hachette Australia). Amongst other things, I was fascinated to hear that his favourite place is a quiet room in which to read.
Ruins gives an arresting insight into Sri Lanka at the end and aftermath of the Civil War. Rajith uses an intriguing cast of five main characters, four from the one family, to provide different perspectives. Rajith explained how his characters of husband/father Mano, wife/mother Lakshima, daughter Anoushka, son Niranjan and servant Latha are archetypes.
Her recently discovered brother is perhaps coercing Latha to return to the village and help care for his children. She serves the Colombo family of four well but feels that perhaps they don’t care for her in the way she hopes. It was interesting to hear Rajith’s comments on his own family servant Yasa and the novel is dedicated to her. She will always be looked after.
Mano works for the newspaper, publishing only what will keep the staff safe, and is a voyeur until the woman who attracts him dies suddenly. He and Lakshima have a mixed marriage, He is Sinhalese and she is Tamil. He is Buddhist and she is Hindu, but also believes in Buddha. The family savings were used to send Niranjan to study in Australia but he doesn’t seem to be one of the “good children” who return and work hard. Anoushka has many of the difficulties faced by a gay teenage girl who doesn’t follow the demands of the popular group. Rajith revealed that he does share some of her taste in music.
Mano is shocked when Anoushka doesn’t realise there’s a difference between Tamils and the terrorist Tamil Tigers. “The war was against terrorists, not Tamils.”
The novel is ingeniously structured around the ancient artefact of the moonstone where animals represent elements of the life cycle, the vine is desire, the fire-ring shows life’s difficulties and the lotus flower is nirvana. Latha’s thoughts go around and around, becoming cyclic like the structure until she learns to let go of everything and just be.
It was enjoyable to watch the enthusiastic faces of the audience, particularly Rajith’s co-writers from the Queensland Writers’ Centre/Hachette Manuscript Development Program. He would have felt well supported.
Rajith was also on the panel with Sudanese-born Brisbane author Yassmin Abdel-Magied and Korean-American author Suki Kim, which was formed quickly by the BWF as a right-of-reply to Lionel Shriver’s infamous opening address.
There was a plethora of YA authors at this year’s Brisbane Writers Festival.
I enjoyed hearing Meg Rosoff speak about Jonathan Unleashed (Bloomsbury). It’s a memorable story about a youngish man living in New York City with two dogs his brother has asked him to mind. He hates his job in advertising and is being pushed into marriage with his girlfriend who works for a bridal magazine. It’s not a YA novel although Jonathan acts like a boy for much of the book. It certainly did seem to reflect parts of Meg’s own life story and also reminded me of reading Graeme Simsion’s Rosie stories. This means I liked it very much!
It was also a delight to hear Maxine Beneba Clarke speak to secondary school students. She’s not a YA writer but her Foreign Soil and The Hate Race (Hachette) have garnered widespread praise. Maxine helped students appreciate poetry and her performance of several of her poems was breathtaking. I felt that these students were honoured to hear her and that she would make a powerful impression on their attitudes and writing.
There were other exciting YA and children’s writers I unfortunately didn’t have the opportunity to hear but I was involved in facilitating a panel of debut YA authors at Brisbane Square Library’s ‘Love YA!’ day. Mark Smith, a teacher and surfer from coastal Victoria, spoke about his post apocalyptic novel The Road to Winter, Queensland Sunshine Coast’s Elizabeth Kasmer shared her thoughtful look at identity, racism and aging in Becoming Aurora (which has a fascinating connection with a painting in the Qld Art Gallery) and celebrity Brisbane bookseller Christopher Currie spoke about his well written exploration of Clancy in a small Qld town in Clancy of the Undertow.
Their characters were all sixteen (or almost 16), a pivotal age for change; all the authors had interesting reasons for choosing their characters’ names (Finn, Aurora and Clancy); all incorporated sport in their novel (surfing, boxing, cricket); all showcased nature or a special place in their characters’ lives and, perhaps unusually in YA novels, all featured kindness either through their major or minor characters. These three authors were all a pleasure to interview. Seek out their books. Find them on social media.
Jay Kristoff was also riveting at ‘Love YA!’ (and had a very long signing queue!) where he spoke about Nevernight. He and Illuminae(Allen&Unwin)co-author Aime Kaufman were later treated to Argo’s musical performance of Illuminae back at the State Library’s stunning Red Box as the sun set over the Brisbane River. The space opera was composed and performed by Ben Heim and Connor D’Netto and included electrifying cello solos by Patrick Murphy, a cast of strings and voice-overs from the novel. It was a very sophisticated and atmospheric finale to my BWF16.