Tania McCartney’s Passionate Spirit Shines

imageAs we grow up and experience a variety of things that life has to offer, we become attuned to our own identity and sense of self. We develop tastes, interests, abilities, likes and dislikes, individual quirks, and future aspirations. We are all unique and special in our own little ways. One such individual who is truly one of a kind is the multi-talented, all-round exceptional lady; author, illustrator, editor, presenter and Kids’ Book Review founder, Tania McCartney. It has been an absolute pleasure learning more about her writerly life, exciting upcoming events and inspiration behind her latest striking release, Peas in a Pod (see review).    

Congratulations on your most recent release ‘Peas in a Pod’! How did you celebrate its launch?  
I was actually in Singapore for the Asian Festival of Children’s Content, and well … when in Singapore, launch a book! We celebrated the launch during a morning tea break at the festival. I presented on the creation of the book, talked about Tina Snerling’s amazing illustrations, and then had a book signing. It was lots of fun.
See Tania’s write up of her launch experience in Singapore here: http://taniamccartney.blogspot.com.au/2015/06/peas-in-pod-book-launch-singapore.html?m=1

What was the inspiration behind this story? 
I tend to write my books intuitively, without overt inspiration. Characters pop onto my head and a story quickly follows; I just write it down! But if I think about it, the Peas story is perhaps a subconscious desire to promote diversity which is a hot topic in PBs worldwide at the moment. The movement was initiated in the United States, perhaps as a counterpoint to the myriad PBs that tell kids ‘we are all the same! everyone is equal! you’re all winners!’ The thing is, Real Life is not same-same and is certainly not equal. We need to teach kids they will sometimes win and sometimes lose and that being ourselves or standing out in any way as an individual is a fine thing indeed. I’m a strong advocate for teaching kids to never compromise their uniqueness … and to let no one dull their shine.  

‘Peas in a Pod’ is a wonderful celebration of individuality, accepting each others’ unique qualities, and realising one’s dreams. We’ve seen these themes in some of your other books, including ‘This is Captain Cook’, ‘Tottie and Dot’ and ‘An Aussie Year’. Was this your intention when writing these books?
Not consciously. I was at a talk recently where some famous author was quoted as saying that all books are in some way autobiographical, ie: there’s a little part of us in everything we write. I’ve never been a conformist or someone who needs to belong to a group. I’m all for quirks and points of difference and the stretching (or obliteration) of stereotypes. So my little Peas in a Pod, and many of my other characters just seem to morph into people with a solid sense of self. I believe one of the greatest gifts we can teach children is to honour their own sense of self—and to trust it.  

What message do you hope for readers to gain from reading ‘Peas in a Pod’?
First and foremost, I want them to find the story entertaining. Entertain first. Educate second (preferably imperceptibly when it comes to fictional picture books). I want it to charm them mentally and then resonate with them emotionally, even if they don’t know why. Beyond that, I hope they come away from the story knowing that yes, while we all eat, drink, breathe (suck our thumbs, in the cased of the Peas!) and have the same coloured blood, we are, each and every one of us, different to the point of kooky.  

imageWhat is your favourite part of the story? Why? 
My favourite part is the page with the girls on the swings. It’s just so poignant. It’s at a point in the story where the ‘sameness’ has clearly broken their spirits, and the image is so emotional for me. Swings are meant to be swung on, with little legs high in the air, but here, they are stationary. It’s a perfect image in terms of visual literacy. My other favourite part is the last page, but I can’t say what happens there because it will spoil the story!  

What’s your most unique quality? 
I love your questions! Probably my ability to ‘see’ words when I write. It’s hard to explain but I’m a visual writer in a literal sense—I see colours and shapes and characters and tones and patterns and themes that help shape the words that emerge. I’ll often storyboard or layout books I’m writing so I can ‘see’ how things are unfolding. This has made it a lot easier to transition into illustrating, too, which I’m doing for the first time this year.  

‘Peas in a Pod’ is written in a simple, whimsical sense with that gorgeous repetition that keeps readers engaged. How do you decide which writing style best suits your stories? Does this decision come naturally or it is a conscious effort to strive for perfection? Do you have a preferred style of writing?
Again, I think it’s intuitive. I know my audience for each book, so I write with that audience in mind, using appropriate language and word usage. Having said that, I don’t believe in patronizing the reader, and will still use relatively sophisticated text whenever I can. Context and association is powerful, even at a very young age. That’s how kids learn delicious words!  

My favourite style of writing, you’ve already mentioned—whimsical. I adore magical realism. I love rhyme (but it has to be infallible) and although picture books are my obsession, the books I enjoy writing the most are junior fiction because they allow me so much more wordage (I have three WIP junior fiction novels).  

I think repetition should be used achingly sparingly, and should only be used for the very young. It has to be rhythmic and succinct and it has to stop soon after it starts. A book with endless repetition is my idea of hell. The only person in the world who’s ever done it right is Dr Seuss, and even then, enough is enough!  

I’m also a strong believer in minimal text picture books, as I feel the images should do most of the talking. That’s why they’re ‘picture’ books.  

imageYou’ve had tremendous success working with illustrator, Tina Snerling, including collaborations on the award-winning ‘An Aussie Year’, and ‘Tottie and Dot’. Her pictures in ‘Peas in a Pod’ perfectly compliment the sweet, colourful nature of the story. What do you like about her artistic style? How much illustrative detail do you normally provide, and how much is left to her imagination?
I love that she blends stylish modern with heartfelt whimsy so seamlessly. Her sense of colour is unparalleled, and beautiful colour is HUGE for me. I love that her artistic repertoire is vast—she can switch from fine art to cartoon in a nanosecond. And I love her penchant for detail. She never fails to astound me with the tiny little bits and pieces that make any picture book great.  

The more books we do together, the more creative license Tina has because she understands what I write. Along the way, I might make comment on something tiny that would better support text, but other than that, she comes up with all the characters on her own (I always love them) and also adds ‘extra’ ideas and elements that enhance my words.  

Tina and I are really lucky to work closely on our books—not something all creators enjoy. This brings the books that extra ‘something’ that can only come from open collaboration. The end result is more seamless, more cohesive, more plump with meaning.  

You are an inspirational literacy advocate and supporter of children’s book creators with your many roles; author, illustrator, editor, speaker, reviewer and founder of the reputable ‘Kids’ Book Review’ literature site and the 52-Week Illustration Challenge. How is your working life managed? Which of these roles do you feel most established? Is there a particular one you wish you had more time for? 
It’s interesting because as my career has developed, I’ve found a much greater need for focus, which means dropping a few of those roles, particularly in the last six months. I actually found I was no longer managing to ‘do it all’—at least not without compromising my health and sanity.  

I genuinely love helping others, promoting other works and sharing all I’ve learned—and of course, I’ll never stop beating children over the head with books books books! But I’ve had to take a big step back of late, to focus on my own journey, which is undergoing a lot of change. After a 25+ year hiatus, I’m re-entering the world of illustration with my first author/illustrator contract, so it’s been interesting watching that side of myself develop.  

I‘ve been writing professionally for 27 years now, in varying genres, so that side of my career is well-established, as is my speaking and presenting. Illustration, while it’s always been a part of my life, is brand new in a professional/career sense. So that’s what I’ll be dedicating more time to these coming years. Notice I said ‘dedicating’ and not ‘wishing’. We all need to stop wishing and just dedicate. It’s so important.  

What do you love about writing children’s books? 
Everything. The initial concept, the research and development, the illustration process, the editing, design, layout—everything. Then there’s the reaction from kids. That’s just the best. To see kids resonate with or learn from you work … to see them scurry into a corner and sit with my books and devour every page. It’s insanely rewarding.  

Which books did you enjoy reading as a child? Have any of these influenced your writing style?
Like anyone born from the ‘50s to the ‘70s, I adored Enid Blyton, Roald Dahl, Eric Carle and Dr Seuss. Yes, I think they have influenced both my style and content—magical realism and wonder. I remember being particularly struck by James and the Giant Peach. It blew my mind. CS Lewis and the Chronicles of Narnia similarly reconfigured my internal world, and I do think this has affected the way I write as an adult.  

imageWith all your knowledge and experience gained over the past 25+ years in mind, what piece of advice could you share with aspiring writers in the children’s literature industry?
Never stop learning and growing your skillset. Watch The Gap by Ira Glass (search for it on YouTube) and be really self-effacing with what you’re producing. I’ve lost count of the people who’ve said to me ‘I’ve decided I want to write children’s books. How do I get published?’ My response? ‘Dedicate the next ten years to daily writing. Then ask me that same question.’  

The best writers and illustrators know they can always improve, and do not take offence when critiqued or rejected. They just keep honing their craft, and keep themselves current.  

Also, write from the heart and write what you love. I don’t agree that we should write for kids or publishers. I think we should write what WE want, what WE love, and do it in a voice that will appeal to our target market. Or better yet, just write it and then assess the target market at the end! We need to love what we write. We need to be overcome with passion and adoration for the stories tumbling onto our blank pages. THAT is how we end up with contracts.  

imageWhat’s next for Tania McCartney? What can we look forward to seeing from you in the near future?
September 2015 sees the release of a new book for the National Library, illustrated by the superlative Andrew Joyner—Australian Kids Through the Years. At the same time, two follow-up books to An Aussie Year will be released in the UK (with a small print run here)—An English Year and A Scottish Year. These will be followed in 2016 by two more international titles in the series. So excited about these, but you’ll have to wait and see where they’ll be set!  
In 2016, I have a picture book—Smile Cry—coming out, illustrated by Jess Racklyeft who I met through my 52-Week Illustration Challenge. It’s really different and I can’t wait to see the response to it. Jess’s illustrations are so gorgeous.  

imageIn either 2016 or 2017, my next National Library book will be out—a follow-on to This is Captain Cook, with my dear friend Christina Booth. It’s about one of my favourite historical figures of all time—and book three is on another favourite (this time a woman).  
But the most exciting news of all is my first author/illustrator contract. It’s going to be a high-page-count book and will take me nearly a year to complete. It’s a little overwhelming making this career transition, and a little scary, but our industry is so inclusive and warm—I know I’ll have some supportive hands holding me up!

Thank you so much for answering my questions, Tania!
I LOVE THEM! Thank you SO much, Romi. xxx  

Find more information about Tania, her books, and initiatives at the following links:
www.taniamccartney.com
www.kids-bookreview.com
52-Week Illustration Challenge:
https://www.facebook.com/groups/418616991575037/ 

To purchase her invaluable ebook resource for writers and illustrators; The Fantastical Flying Creator, please follow this link:
http://taniamccartney.blogspot.com.au/2014/11/the-fantastic-flying-creator-e-workshop.html?m=1

Review – Peas in a Pod by Tania McCartney and Tina Snerling

Peas in a Pod, Tania McCartney (author), Tina Snerling (illus.), EK Books, June 2015.  

COVER Peas in a Pod absolute finalThe theme of individuality and self-expression is popular amongst children’s books, and one that has been brilliantly characterised by the award-winning duo, Tania McCartney and Tina Snerling in their latest picture book, ‘Peas in a Pod’. This author / illustrator pairing have already brought us rich stories acknowledging the importance of honouring our own and others’ unique and distinct qualities in ‘An Aussie Year’ and ‘Tottie and Dot’. So it is no surprise that this new release is equally as delicious. It’s contemporary, fun and totally lovable.  

Pippa, Pia, Poppy, Polly and Peg are born five little peas in a pod. They live in a uniform world; a world of sameness. Amongst backdrops of hot pinks, reds, blues and greens, the quintuplets harmoniously cry, potty, eat, sleep and sit all together, all the time. They are completely identical, from the expressions on their faces, down to their adorable thumb-sucking and tushy-pushing mannerisms.
All is calm and amicable, until one fine day the girls begin to develop their own interests. And a burst of colourful chaos soon explodes in a once peaceful household. But mum and dad won’t have a bar of it and quickly put things back to ‘normal’. With already having tasted a small slice of heavenly, multi-coloured pie, these growing peas no longer fit into their parents’ mould, and once again take control of their own lives.  
Dishevelled rooms, shoe boxes piled up high, delightful pastimes and not-so delightful attitudes, looking through rose-coloured glasses, and ambitious dreams. Pippa, Pia, Poppy, Polly and Peg are finally gloriously happy to be able to express their unique differences… Except for maybe one thing that remains the same!  

IMG_8946Tania McCartney‘s delicately written story, with a touch of humour and a punch of energy, is the perfect anchor for the fine detail, spirit and vibrancy of Tina Snerling‘s pictures that almost literally bounce off the page. Her modern, fashionista-style cartoons and pops of vivid colours beautifully support the text with warmth and effervescence.  

‘Peas in a Pod’ is a refreshing, enchanting story of celebrating individuality and allowing personalities to shine. Children from age three will take great pleasure in duplicating their experience with these mischievous sisters and stunning illustrations again and again and again… Some things are just meant to be the same!

Teaching notes are available at:

Stay in touch for a captivating interview with talented author, Tania McCartney. Coming soon!

Musical Book Beats for Little Ones

Music and books have many benefits in common for a baby’s long-term development. Learning about patterns and sequencing, counting, memory, expressing language and emotions are all powerful advantages to being exposed to these experiences. And when combined, this makes for a most engaging, dynamic and instrumental union. Here we explore a few upbeat and rhythmic books for toddlers and preschoolers that are sure to have them bopping away to their little hearts’ delights.  

Fish jamFish Jam, Kylie Howarth (author, illus.), The Five Mile Press, 2015.  

Who doesn’t love a scit-scatting-dooba-diddling jazzy sea-minor fish? Unfortunately, all the creatures in the sea. Toot the fish beep-bops his way around the ocean, only to be shooshed by grumpy seals, lobsters, penguins and killer whales. He is just too noisy. But one day he comes across a most unexpected surprise that changes his solo singing days forever!
‘Fish Jam’ is such a fun way to explore music through the instrument of your voice. Author / illustrator, Kylie Howarth has produced a bubbly and entertaining story through her minimal text and vivacious cartoon-style pictures.
Preschoolers will be ‘o-fish-ally’ overjoyed to chant along with Toot for plenty of pipe sessions, no matter who’s listening!  

Children's+Book+Review,+B+is+for+BedtimeB is for Bedtime, Margaret Hamilton (author), Anna Pignataro (illus.), Little Hare Books, 2014.  

Here we have a beautiful lyrical lullaby that sings us through an alphabetical routine from awake time to catching zzz’s. A little girl and her puppy dog settle for bed with the help of their loving family. A Book read by dad and a ticking Clock on the wall, “Dd is my Dog, who’s not sleepy at all.” Gran gives a Hug and mum gives a Kiss. The Moon shines on her Nose. Eventually she is Quiet and as she goes to Sleep, she cuddles her Teddy Under the covers, Yawns and hushes until morning.
Anna Pignataro’s illustrations are as sweet and harmonious as the gentle tempo of the words. I love the fluidity of the watercolours and gouache and the patterns of the collage.
‘B is for Bedtime’ is perfectly paced to soothe young ones into a cosy slumber, to be enjoyed each and every night.
CBCA 2015 Early Childhood Notable Book.  

Baby BeatsBaby Beats, Karen Blair (author, illus.), Walker Books, 2014.  

Toddlers will love joining in to the rhythm and beat with this group of young children playing on their instruments. ‘Baby Beats’ immediately sets the musical tone, inviting the readers to make sound with their hands and feet. We explore beats and booms on the drums, bangs and clashes on the cymbals, tapping sticks and the chick, chick, chick of the shakers. All the strumming and singing eventually exhausts these tiny superstars as they lay down to rest.
Gorgeous, soft crayon and watercolour paintings set against white backgrounds effectively gives focus to the performances of the characters. The little details in the pictures like the funny actions of the cat, and the additional ‘home-made’ instruments also lend themselves to further enjoyment and ideas on creating your own music at home.
‘Baby Beats’, with its inclusive onomatopoeia, is a perfect book of sounds and rhythm and the introduction to a range of musical instruments.
CBCA 2015 Early Childhood Notable Book.  

51wdwNe+JBL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_Chooky-doodle-doo, Jan Whiten (author), Sinéad Hanley (illus.), Walker Books, 2014.  

This one’s not musical as such, but is ideal as a preliminary to finger games and songs about numbers. ‘Chooky-doodle-doo’ is a whimsical counting story with some rhyming elements to keep little ones joining in all the way through. One chick finds what it thinks is a worm and gives it a good tug. Enlisting the help of another chooky chick, the pair huff and puff, struggling to get this worm free. The story continues with subsequent numbers of chookies pulling on a continually elongating worm. Five chicks and a rooster cannot shift the stubborn squirmer, and with a final flop and a chooky sprawl, they discover that the worm is not actually a worm afterall!
Adorable, funny and interactive. With colourful handcrafted and digital illustrations, young preschoolers will love the humour and playfulness of these cheeky chooks.
CBCA 2015 Early Childhood Notable Book.

Stephen Michael King’s Triumphant Trio

29cde5eWhat is it about Stephen Michael King‘s illustrations that make his picture books so sublime? How can his drawings make us want to delve into those stories over and over again? Well, that’s just it! It’s the artwork that adds another dimension to those already meaningful stories, allowing us to dive right in with those characters; feeling what they feel – emotionally and sensorially. With a multitude of divine books under his wing, the extremely talented Stephen Michael King has three that are currently soaring to the top with their prize winning prowess, being shortlisted in the CBCA’s 2015 Early Childhood and Picture Book of the Year Awards and nominated in the 2015 NSW Premier’s Literary Awards.  

snail-and-turtle-are-friends-293x300Snail and Turtle are Friends, Scholastic, 2014.
CBCA Early Childhood Shortlisted Book.

Stephen Michael King’s distinctive style of sweet faces, with a combination of little dot eyes and large round ones, always seem to perfectly suit the mood of the story and personalities of the characters. In the case of ‘Snail and Turtle are Friends’, these two gentle animals emanate a feeling of peace and calm about them, but not forgetting a wonderfully whimsical touch of cheekiness. Even at their craziest moments, when Turtle sings in the rain and dives in the water, or Snail boldly chomps leaves and paints swirls, the vibrant colours, eclectic patterns and varying shapes fit together beautifully harmoniously.  
Just like Snail and Turtle, the illustrations display an eye-catching array of techniques to reflect aspects in common and those that are unique from one another. I love ‘Snail and Turtle are Friends’ for its ability to capture a sense of adventure, playfulness and its underlying message in friendship and accepting differences.  

9781921504631Scary Night, Working Title Press, 2014.
CBCA Early Childhood Shortlisted Book.

On a more dramatic note, but no less animated, is ‘Scary Night’, written by Lesley Gibbes. With his usual, striking use of pen, ink, brush and digital compilations, Stephen Michael King manages to tick all the boxes once again when it comes to creating just the right mood. The story, set in darkness as the characters journey through treacherous fields with only the glow of the pale moonlight to guide them on their way, is far from gloomy. Its upbeat rhythm, rollicking text and leading suspense are perfectly captured in King’s drawings. When the characters sneakily tip-toe through dark woods and crocodile-infested terrain, it is their wide, terrified eyes and the scenes’ cool, moody hues that keep the thrill-seekers in us entertained. When we turn the page to be blasted with a shock of bright orange and large ‘roaring’ font, it is not just the characters getting the most wonderfully horrifying fright of their lives.
The playfulness, facial expressions, effective use of colours and gorgeous Suess-like sketches are a real treat that will ensure young children want to journey on this most mysterious, spooktacular experience again and again.  

Duck and DarklingsThe Duck and the Darklings, Allen & Unwin, 2014.
CBCA Picture Book of the Year Shortlisted Book.
NSW Premier’s Literary Award Nominated Book.

In similarity to ‘Scary Night’, ‘The Duck and the Darklings’ is disposed to the darkness, with just a glint of a glimmer that so significantly paves the way to a brighter future. With more of a complex storyline than the previous two books, ‘The Duck and the Darklings’, is written creatively and almost poetically by Glenda Millard. Its message is strong with the metaphor of dark versus light to represent ‘disremembered’ yesterdays versus the glow of forbidden fondness (happy memories). With this theme, Stephen Michael King’s illustrations are spellbinding. He has created depth, texture and warmth amongst the darkness. His characteristically adorable characters are hand-drawn as outlines and set against the silhouettes of black and white; shadow and light, past, present and future, that hit Millard’s intention so brillliantly.
‘The Duck and the Darklings’ is a heartwarming story of family, friendship and optimism that is beautifully captured in its words and pictures. Primary school children will definately hold a candle to this shining star. Stunning.  

More information about Stephen Michael King and his books can be found at:
http://www.stephenmichaelking.com

Teaching notes for ‘Scary Night’ and ‘The Duck and the Darklings’ can be found at:
http://www.romisharp.wordpress.com/teaching-notes

Review – Fire by Jackie French and Bruce Whatley

Fire, Jackie French (author), Bruce Whatley (illus.), Scholastic Press, 2014.  

fireHarsh weather conditions are terrifying enough at the best of times, but what about when Mother Nature plays a hand in the wild and extreme that gamble with actual lives?
Award-winning author and Australian Laureate, Jackie French, together with the unequivocally talented illustrator, Bruce Whatley, have joined forces in producing a gripping and stunningly haunting book of adversity; ‘Fire’. Just like their previous book, ‘Flood’; depicting the horrendous Queensland floods in 2011, ‘Fire’ is another efficacious story of courage and strength in the face of a natural disaster.

Throughout the book are amazing, succinct verses that take your breath away with every word. The story begins with a serene outback set amongst golden hills and limp gum tree leaves. Upon turning the page, we are faced with the sudden impact of ferocious orange flames and black smoke, sending a once peaceful cockatoo fleeing for its life. Ramifications advance, affecting the people who live amongst the burning trees as the fire engulfs the land in a thunderous, cackling roar. Pretty soon, whole page spreads bleed with blood-red paint across the atmosphere, and thick grey ash that forces inhabitants to quickly escape the “gulping smoke and singed debris.”
Fire book imageNext, a gut-wrenching image of the oven swallowing houses, trees, the land. What about the aftermath? Loss, grief, disbelief. But the bravery of the firefighters and the safety of loved ones is what is appreciated most. From pain comes the strength of the Australian spirit, as we see the CFA tending to sick animals, and read of those friends who give love and help rebuild a world burnt bare. And eventually, the Earth is reborn once again.  

The final page details Jackie French‘s personal experiences with fighting bushfires and its effects on the land, and how best to manage its dangers. Bruce Whatley also gives appreciation for the courage of those dealing with these terrors, and his account of his illustration process. It is fascinating that he felt the erratic nature of the fire was the hardest thing to capture, because looking at his daubs, flicks, bleeding outlines, reds and yellows amongst their surrounding darks certainly creates intensely evocative and impactful imagery in my eyes.  

‘Fire’ is a powerful, poignant and moving story of real life truths; a devastingly beautiful, poetic rendition of a tough facet of nature. It is a book about life, love, friendship, hope and the human spirit that is so brilliantly captured in its words and images. ‘Fire’ is suited to primary school children, and is deservingly shortlisted in the CBCA’s 2015 Picture Book of the Year awards. Just phenomenal.

Interesting background information on Jackie French and Bruce Whatley, as well as fantastic teaching ideas based on the book, ‘Fire’, can be downloaded from Scholastic here:
http://resource.scholastic.com.au/resourceFiles/8219103_8176.doc

Review – Pig the Fibber by Aaron Blabey

pig-the-fibberPig the Fibber, Aaron Blabey (author, illus.), Scholastic, May 2015.  

Okay, Pig fans! He’s back! And he’s up to a whole lot of mischief…again!  

aaron blabeyAward-winning author / illustrator, Aaron Blabey, is renowned for his ability to create books with clear morals, but particularly his distinguishable style of outlandish characters in farcical situations…mostly self-inflicted! You may notice this theme in such books as ‘The Brothers Quibble’, ‘The Dreadful Fluff’ (reviews here), ‘Thelma the Unicorn’ (Dimity’s review), and our beloved (or maybe not-so) ‘Pig the Pug’.  

We first got to meet Pig as a most greedy and selfish little Pug, refusing to share with his sausage dog flatmate Trevor, and even going as far as spitting and name calling. Once again, in ‘Pig the Fibber’, Pig is just as maniacal with his protruding eyeballs and lunatic behaviour! This time, he has learned something, and it’s not a valuable lesson. It’s how to lie… big, fat lies!  

pig the fibber spreadLiterally marking his territory; that is, this book, the naughty little canine has set the tone from the outset. Pig loves to get his own way, and he’s perfectly comfortable hand-balling the blame onto his trusty victim – Trevor. He attacks pillows and smears dog food on the living room mat in a wild stupor. He breaks delicate household items in a crazed hula romp. He even tears up a wedding dress…just for fun. But Pig confesses – it was all Trevor. With absolute disregard for his flatmate’s feelings, Pig ‘lets off’ the biggest lie to be able to sneak into the cupboard to steal more food. Luckily, one dog is rewarded with the treats he deserves…and it ain’t Pig. Who knew a hard knock would see Pig wrapped up in his own head of truths?  

Again, just like in the first book, brilliantly hysterical and energetic illustrations that are so characteristically Blabey are expressed in ‘Pig the Fibber’. Be aware of facial expressions to sympathise with Trevor, as the text is so focused on Pig’s actions. The animated rhyming text seems to roll off the tongue. Perhaps it’s slightly easier to read than ‘Pig the Pug’, and it’s equally enjoyable but a hint more crude.  

We thought that Pig had changed his insolent ways last time, and he has since proved us wrong. Will he taunt us for a third time with more disturbing antics? Let’s hope so!

With another clear moral in being truthful and honest (or lack thereof), ‘Pig the Fibber’ is an inexorably amusing and crowd-pleasing book for children of all ages.  

Scholastic, May 2015.

Elizabeth Honey’s ‘Hop Up! Wriggle Over!’ – One for Mum and Bub

1733911_origHop Up! Wriggle Over!, Elizabeth Honey (author, illus.), Allen & Unwin, April 2015.  

Cherish the moments of early mornings, chaotic meal times, constantly chasing tails and a house that’s never tidy, because one day it will be a distant memory; and you’ll miss it. This recent release emanates all this energy, and more; it’s a gorgeous, totally relatable book for mums to share with their little cherubs for Mother’s Day.  

elizabeth_honeyAward-winning author of poetry, novels and picture books, Elizabeth Honey‘s books exude vibrancy, joyfulness and wit. She also illustrates her own books, which are characteristically heartwarming and delightful. Some of her titles include I’m Still Awake, Still!, Ten Blue Wrens and That’s not a Daffodil! (CBCA 2012 Honour Book).  

Distinct to her charmingly boisterous style is her latest celebration of our unique national fauna; ‘Hop Up! Wriggle Over!’ is a completely adorable book of an Australian animal family bouncing through a busy day.  

With glorious onomatopoeia in short, punchy bursts, the baby mammals jumpstart the day with a scene parents know all too well. No more rest for the wicked; Mother Koala and Father Kangaroo are soon hustling as the daily routine begins.

”Hop up! Wriggle over! Wakey wakey. Hungry.
Crunch crunch. Gobble gobble. Lick lick. More!
Bong! Bong! Clang clang! Ting ting! Shhhh!”
 

Hop up! Wriggle Over! ImageWith nine little ones to attend to, breakfast is like a clanging, tinging orchestra of bowls and spoons. A trip to the playground is like running a marathon trying to keep up with their abundance of energy. Tea time sounds of nibbles, chomps, slurps and burps. And bath time is bubblicious pandemonium. Finally, the kidlets settle for a story, and kisses, snuggles and sweet dream wishes see the babes peaceful at last.  

As playful as the text, Elizabeth Honey’s illustrations radiate life, animation and spirit. Typical toddler-like actions in the pictures suitably mimic the frolicsome hubbub that the words express. At the same time, her pencil and watercolour paints create a gentle feeling in its technique and natural earthy tones; perfect to capture the warmth and innocence of this loving family.  

‘Hop Up! Wriggle Over!’ is a beautiful introduction to different Australian animals and the reinforcement of the daily routine. It is a book of romping good fun, but also a nice way to end a busy day. What could be better than a story and a snuggle with your precious ones just before bed? An enchanting, lively book recommended for babies and young children, and their mums.
6606098

Picture Books to Celebrate the ANZAC Centenary

In just a couple of days we commemorate the legacy of the brave soldiers and the tragic events of World War 1 that occurred one hundred years ago. A beautiful selection of ANZAC books for children have been reviewed by Dimity here, but here’s a few more that certainly captured my heart with their touching themes of heroism, love and dedication.  

9781921720628Once a Shepherd, Glenda Millard (author), Phil Lesnie (illus.), Walker Books, 2014.

Gorgeous in its lyrical prose. Devastatingly provocative. Stunning imagery. ‘Once a Shepherd’ is a war story of love and loss, sure to break its readers’ hearts.
It tells of a young shepherd, living amongst a backdrop of emerald green beauty. “Once Tom’s world was all at peace.” He marries his sweetheart, and all the world seems right. Until he is called to war and he bids farewell to his wife and unborn child. A stranger veteran calls upon Tom’s home once the war had ended, only to share the shattering news of his heroic fall with a now grieving widow. Of the hand-stitched coat she once darned, now a new toy lamb is mended for Tom Shepherd’s baby boy. And the world is at peace once again.
‘Once a Shepherd’, with its carefully crafted verse and exquisite watercolour images of greens and browns, is a powerful, moving tale of the heartbreaking reality of war and the inherent hope for peace.
Prized Notable Picture Book of the Year in the Children’s Book Council of Australia’s 2015 Awards.  

9781921977718Midnight: The story of a light horse, Mark Greenwood (author), Frané Lessac (illus.), Walker Books, 2014.

A foal born at midnight; black as coal, eyes glimmering in the moonlight. She is Midnight, the Australian Light Horse trained by Lieutenant Guy Haydon and gracious in her charge in the last great cavalry.
The first port of call for the soldiers is four months in the trenches at Gallipoli without their horses. Reuniting once again in Cairo, the relationship is further bonded as the pair endure the harsh conditions of the heat, scarce water supply and flying shrapnel. But still, soldier and mare commit to their duties, and to one another. In a devasting final battalion (Beersheba, August 1917), riders tumble and horses fall. Guy and Midnight are both struck; a heartbreaking yet poignant moment as the pair share their last breath side by side.
The succinctness of the text reads almost poetically, and the continual references to the affectionate bond between Guy and his beloved Midnight make this war story more of a tender account of their time on the battlefield. The gouache illustrations by Frané Lessac compliment Greenwood’s evocative words and capture the starkness of each war scene.
With notes referencing background information on the Light Horse and the details of Beersheba, ‘Midnight’ makes for a terrific resource for studying the war, as well being as a heartrending tale of love and dedication.    

9781742833477Anzac Biscuits, Phil Cummings (author), Owen Swan (illus.), Scholastic Press, 2013.

This book is probably my favourite of the Anzac stories. ‘Anzac Biscuits’ poses a lovely contrast between a child’s warm and safe home, and her father battling the cold and dangerous conditions out in the trenches.
Rachel and her mother spend time together baking Anzac biscuits. As pots and pans bang and crash to the floor, the soldier lays low as shots bang around him. As Rachel sprinkles oats like snowflakes, the soldier turns his back to the bitter cold. The little girl loves the smell of burning red gum in her stove, but the soldier will never forget the choking gun smoke drifting across the fields. Despite the treachery that the soldier has faced, we are given a heartwarming ending we can cherish; the soldier – Rachel’s father – loved the biscuits made just for him.
An endearing story of affection, commitment and sacrifice, with equally warm and gentle illustrations, ‘Anzac Biscuits’ is a beautiful way to introduce the topic of wartime to young children. They will also find little clues in the pictures upon revisiting the book, which make for wonderful discussions about what life was like for both the soldiers and their families at home (and the significance of anzac biscuits).  
Prized Notable Picture Book of the Year in the Children’s Book Council of Australia’s 2014 Awards.
 
resized_9781743317235_224_297_FitSquareI Was Only Nineteen, John Schumann (text), Craig Smith (illus.), Allen & Unwin, 2014.

The words versing the iconic song about the Vietnam War, ‘I Was Only Nineteen’ tells of the devasting loss, sacrifice and emotional impact an elderly man is reliving of his time as a teenager at war.
We travel with this veteran from the moment he set sail, to inhabiting a firey, orange scrub, battling for hours and weeks amongst bullets and grenades and watching mates hit by the blasts. No-one told him about the mud, blood, tears, rashes and chills that would haunt him until he was old.
These memories of the war, through these unforgettable words, have been beautifully illustrated by Craig Smith, rendering warmth and respecting the spirit of our soldiers – the fallen and the survivors. I love the clever connection between the past recount and the present with a touch of army green evident in each scene showing the veteran and his grandson.
‘I Was Only Nineteen’ is a poignant rendition of a groundbreaking song by John Schumann, with great historical significance and plenty of scope for wartime study.
Prized Notable Picture Book of the Year in the Children’s Book Council of Australia’s 2015 Awards.

LEST WE FORGET

Lest we forget – ANZAC children’s book reviews

And the Band Played Waltzing MatildaA couple of months ago I revisited an iconic song by Eric Bogle, finding new breath in Bruce Whatley’s picture book, And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda. Bogle found the words and Whatley the images that profoundly capture all the raw emotion, loss and resilience that epitomises the Great War of 100 years ago.

This collection of titles does the same. All commemorate actual events of WWI. Many embrace the incredible ANZAC legacy. Each is a significant work of art and testimony to real-life heroes who gave their youth, their souls, and tragically, their lives in the quest to protect sovereignty and country.ANZAC Ted Hero Plain as Day

‘Not everyone wins medals, some heroes never do’, but this small collection deserves your attention as absolutely as those we’ll be commemorating during the 100th year Anniversary of World War One (and the Centenary of the Landing of Gallipoli this year). Because they should be remembered.

Ride Ricardo RideAs the war first erupted in Europe, so we begin with the picture book, Ride, Ricardo, Ride! by Phil Cummings and Shane Devries. A young Italian boy’s love for riding his bike under the clear quiet skies of his village is shattered when the shadows of war appear. Devries’ splendid illustrations saturate the pages of Cummings haunting tale of human endurance. Evoking eloquence and beauty out of destruction and despair.

Omnibus Books March 2015

1915Mid-primary reader series, Australia’s Great War landed last year with Sophie Masson’s, 1914 and is followed this year by Sally Murphy’s, 1915. Each honour events specific to that time in history in spirited, easy to read novels that unite an absorbing mosaic of factual occurrences with engaging fictional characters typical of that era. Thoroughly engrossing with further releases due each year until 1918, this series provides an awesome framework for primary students to become intimately acquainted with the machinations and characters of the First World War.

Scholastic Press 1914 – 1918

the-last-anzacOur oldest living ANZAC, Alec Campbell may no longer be able to march but the true-life story of his meeting with a young boy a year before his death is perceptively depicted in Gordon Winch’s picture book, The Last ANZAC. Alec ‘the kid’ Campbell’s encounter with James, is faithfully portrayed with the help of Harriet Bailey’s expressive illustrations, alternating back and forth from the deserts of Cairo and trenches of Gallipoli to present day suburbia. Ideal for the expanding minds of 5 – 7 year-old history scholars. Visit Romi’s full review, here.

New Frontier Publishing March 2015

ANZAC Ted and Belinda ANZAC Ted is the debut picture book of author illustrator, Belinda Landsberry and encompasses two of my great loves: teddy bears and beautiful picture books for kids.

Landsberry uses gorgeous water coloured illustrations to complement a gently rhyming tale of a little boy’s beloved toy. But, Ted is a teddy bear of rather diminished appeal having survived the ANZAC campaign with the little boy’s digger grandfather. Worn, torn, and scary looking, he may score zero cute and cuddly points in the Toy Show at school but he is and was the unsung hero and much cherished mascot of the Gallipoli diggers who more than earns a place in this little boy’s heart. ANZAC Ted gets my vote too. Perfect for reading aloud with someone you cherish or soaking up the atmospheric sepia illustrations alone.

EK Books 2014

The ANZAC PuppyThe Anzacs of course included the New Zealander’s so it is only fitting that popular Kiwi author, Peter Millet and illustrator Trish Bowles are able to share their remarkable picture book story based on another real life war hero, Freda.

The ANZAC Puppy is a tender rendition of the interwoven lives of Lucy, WWI solider, Sam and Freda, a harlequin Great Dane puppy who grew into a loyal and much loved good-luck mascot of the New Zealand Rifle Brigade 5th Battalion. Sam’s tale brought tears to my eyes and will warm the cockles of your heart. It parallels ANZAC Ted in many ways thanks to the stirring sensitivity the creators use to express these tales of nostalgia. My primary-schooler is always a bit dubious about reading ‘another wartime story’. Thankfully, picture books like ANZAC Ted and The ANZAC Puppy have assured her that not all conflict ends in tears and heartache.

Scholastic NZ Mach 2014

My GallipoliThe majority of these Anzac tales will suit primary aged readers. My Gallipoli by Ruth Starke and Robert Hannaford is an exceptional picture book with more sweeping appeal.

This phenomenal, clothbound presentation marries fictional characters with direct accounts in an epistolary chronological description of the months immediately before the first landing at ANZAC Cove to the Allied retreat in 1915, then onto to present day commemoration ceremonies.

Starke is genius at capturing the moment even if it did take place a hundred years ago. She masterfully connects the reader to all those touched by the doomed campaign to capture the Dardanelles: the diggers, their families, the Turkish countrymen, the nurses, the COs and, the war correspondents. First person recollections plunge us into their places of battle and pain with powerful precision. Hannaford’s  fine charcoal, watercolour, and gauche portraits anchor their thoughts with tangible identities.

My Gallipoli reaffirms the futility of war but also underlines the courage, the tenacity and the hope that were crucial to the survival of thousands of men (and women) at that time.Each page, each Gallipoli recollection is a complete superb story unto itself.

My Gallipoli is a picture book of substantial implications for students of history and art and a glorious record of our inglorious past. My pick for in depth and animated Centenary discussion.

Working Tile Press March 2015

 

 

Review – The Last Anzac by Gordon Winch and Harriet Bailey

The Last Anzac, Gordon Winch (author), Harriet Bailey (Illus.), New Frontier Publishing, March 2015.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Gallipoli landing. For this significant Anzac Centenary, a myriad of children’s books have been released to teach our young ones about the physical, emotional and historical impact of war, and to celebrate our war veterans; our heroes.

the-last-anzacOne such picture book that does just that is ‘The Last Anzac’, written by Gordon Winch and illustrated by Harriet Bailey. And this one is certainly special. It is based on the real life experience of a young boy’s meeting with Alec Campbell in 2001, who served in Gallipoli in 1915. Having being enlisted at the tender age of 16, at the time of the interview Alec was the last living Anzac at the ripe age of 102. Amazing!

The last anzac pic endpaperEndpapers with original letters, photos and stamped envelopes set the scene for the historical journey we are about to encounter. Alternating between past and present, we are told of the day that the young boy, James, and his father stepped off the plane in Tasmania to visit and interview the last Anzac, Alec Campbell.
He, too, was young and small, nicknamed ‘The Kid’ at the time of the Great War (1914 – 1918). Alec was a noble and brave teenager, having endured treacherous experiences in Anzac Cove. In comparison, whilst in the comfort of Alec’s present home, James nibbles on biscuits as he asks the veteran questions about his responsibilities, fears, safety, living conditions and health during the war.

The story retells Alec’s six weeks worth of dodging bombs and escaping firing gun bullets, eating tinned bully beef and hard biscuits, and the celebratory treat of oranges when leaving Gallipoli. An image of young and old hands touching war medals portrays the sheer dedication of this man in his short service, but also a reminder for children (and adults) to respect and honour all the soldiers who fought for our country long before they were born.
Alec was sent back to Australia after suddenly falling ill; now a Gallipoli veteran – at the age of seventeen. As boy and veteran bid farewell, it is this serendipitous moment that James realises he is in the presence of a true hero.
(Alec lived to the age of 103, passing the year after James’ interview.)

The last anzac picHaving had done extensive research on the subject, New Zealander, Harriet Bailey has illustrated this book with precision and sensitivity; appropriate for the given era. There are enough details to depict the harshness and trepidity of the wartime, but without any graphic or shocking images. The same is felt about the gentle nature of Gordon Winch’s text; the story provides basic information that is suitable for younger children to understand and digest. The juxtaposition between the 1915 retelling and the 2001 meeting is cleverly highlighted in the pictures with bold, earthy tones of khaki and burnt orange for the past, and softer, pastille shades for the present.

‘The Last Anzac’ is a beautifully written true account of this exceptional and humble soldier, Alec Campbell during World War 1. Its non-confronting and meaningful approach, and significant historical value make this resource engaging and suitable for early primary students.
Teaching notes are available at http://www.newfrontier.com.au/depot/item/898-20150317102244-The-Last-Anzac.pdf

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———-LEST WE FORGET———-

Review – ‘Imagine’ by Emma Mactaggart and Ester De Boer

Imagine emma mactaggart picImagine, Emma Mctaggart (author), Ester De Boer (illus.), Boogie Books, 2015.  

What would you do in your most fantastical of daydreams? Totally let your imagination run free…where would you go? In Emma Mactaggart and Ester De Boer’s explosive ‘Imagine’, we are taken on a zoo adventure wilder than you could ever devise!  

Utterly ridiculous! Absolutely preposterous! So much fun! We are given a little taste of individual children brainstorming their interactions with animals in the most unusual, extraordinary ways. From tall giraffe high-chairs, to bathing in a hippo, riding in an elephant car, using an ostrich as a broom, and speeding along on a cheetah bike. Now children, don’t frighten those animals with those rip-roaring imaginations!  

Imagine pic With its lyrical rhythm and fast-paced flow, Emma Mactaggart has created an energetic and delightful story to engage all the senses. The equally exuberant illustrations by Ester De Boer add an extra dimension to the text with their colourful watercolours, movement and intricate details. The result of the pair’s collaboration is ”magical”. As Emma describes, “On one hand, a great deal of trust has be to shown as you are trusting another person to interpret your words. It is super important to pick the right person who has the right style for what you envisage. Even though Ester had never illustrated a book before, I knew her drawing skills were masterful, her sense of imagination was extraordinary and she has a wicked sense of humour!”    

The repetitive theme and sentence structure, along with the interactive nature of the story will be sure to hook its readers along for the ride. ‘Imagine’ is creative and refreshing, perfect for children of primary school age to delve in to again and again.  

Head-shot_Emma Mactaggart‘Imagine’ is a book that certainly encourages readers to open their minds and test logic, but it also empowers emotive and coginitive control. It has been found by scientist J.L. Singer that daydreaming benefits a healthy mental life by driving creative thought, ambitiousness, the development of social skills, and as a form of meditation (brainpickings.org). When asked for her thoughts, author Emma Mactaggart believes that “Daydreaming is the ultimate right brain activity. We float into a space which allows the ‘flash’ of an idea to pop up. It is a homework item for the Child Writes children for exactly this reason. Daydreaming needs two things – permission from those around you and permission for yourself to drift.”  

Child Writes pic Award-winning independent publisher and author, Emma Mactaggart is an inspirational literacy advocate for young people, establishing the Child Writes program which enables students to create and publish their own books. She is the author of ‘Child Writes: Creating a Children’s Picture Book is Child’s Play’, which is a valuable resource for aspiring children’s writers and artists.

To find out more about Emma and her work, please visit:

https://www.facebook.com/ChildWrites

To view ‘Imagine’ on YouTube, click here:
https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=DfpJY1V8uxY

Ann-Marie Finn’s Sweet New Release; Gus the Asparagus

There are moments in life that make us stop and adjust our perspectives on the world. Even encourage us to see the world from another’s point of view. Author Kaylene Hobson and illustrator Ann-Marie Finn from Dragon Tales Publishing have achieved just that by introducing us to their new, loveable character, Gus. ‘Gus, the Asparagus’ is a story targeted towards children and families with an Autism Spectrum Disorder, promoting awareness through this valuable and entertaining resource.

IMG_8433Gus is a part of the Green Family. He is the only asparagus, but he doesn’t mind. Despite his differences, they love him anyway. But upon entering school, Gus finds it difficult to ‘fit in’ with the other fruits and vegetables. Cleverly, the story integrates some of the challenges that a child with Autism may face; like highly distracting birds and misunderstanding the rules in a ‘rolling’ race.
A diagnosis of ‘Asparagus Syndrome’ sees Gus finally thrive as others become more aware of his needs and help to make adaptations to his environment. And the best part is, Gus makes a friend who doesn’t mind his upside down, asparagus ways… being different is okay.

‘Gus, the Asparagus’ is a simple story that clearly defines its’ message of accepting differences in yourself and others, yet in a humorous, light-hearted manner. The mixture of explanatory narration and amusing dialogue is like watching a children’s television show! Whimsical, goggle-eyed characters and bright, bold colours that Ann-Marie Finn has illustrated perfectly suit the playful text by Kaylene Hobson.
A sweet, charming and significant book for families, teachers and specialists, and all primary school children to connect with, whether on the spectrum or not. ‘Gus, the Asparagus’ is sure to spear your hearts with its juicy goodness!

Ann-Marie Finn is a talented artist and author, having produced stunning books including ‘A Trip to the Moon’, ‘Captain Kieron’, ‘I Despair of My Hair’, and illustrations for ‘Isaac’s Dragon’ and ‘My Dad is a FIFO Dad’. I am fortunate to have had the opportunity to learn about Ann-Marie Finn’s fascinating journey to creating her books, including the scrumptious ‘Gus, the Asparagus’.

You have a gorgeous, eye-catching style of illustrating. Please tell us a bit about your artistic background. How did you come to illustrate children’s books?
Well I’ve been an illustrator since leaving college, and I always knew that I wanted to be a children’s book illustrator eventually. I started out designing greetings cards and stationery, and there was never really time to work on anything new. Then I left work to have my two children and I knew then that I had to just go for it! I took a story that I had written years earlier as a student, adapted it to be about my first little boy Liam, and A Trip to the Moon was created.  

Congratulations on the release of your latest book with Kaylene Hobson, ‘Gus, the Asparagus’! Can you tell us a bit about how you and Kaylene collaborated and what you hope the readers will gain from this book?
The reason Kaylene and I met was through a group that Kaylene set up to help kids on the spectrum to interact with each other. Once she found out I was an illustrator and I found out that she was an author we started talking about a collaboration. We completed Kaylene’s first book in July last year and haven’t stopped thinking up ideas since. When I first had the idea to make Gus the Asparagus a character I sent her a message. I knew she would either laugh and think I was crazy or decide it was a good idea and we should run with it! (She did both). The idea behind the book was to create a character that kids with autism could connect with and understand, a book for them to understand themselves rather than for adults. We also hoped it would be fun for any kids, not just those on the spectrum.  

How did working on ‘Gus, the Asparagus’ make you feel, considering the topic is so close to your heart? How does the story resonate with you personally?
I loved every moment of working on Gus. The best part was that we were never short of ideas! In fact we had too many and had to cut out some pages (good excuse for a sequel though…). Gus himself is very much like my eldest Liam, and he actually helped me out when I was illustrating the book and gave me ideas on what would make Gus more comfortable in class. I love it when my kids get involved in my work.  

Gus the asparagus picWe’ve seen a mixture of amazing artistic techniques across your books, including pencil sketching, collage and digital media. Do you have a particular style or type of medium that you tend to prefer over others? Describe the illustrative process you used for creating ‘Gus’.
When I see a manuscript or think up a character I can usually see it in my head before I start to work on it. I knew Gus needed to be a very simple but bright character, without fussy backgrounds. It didn’t take me long to get him right. The characters were created from painted colours on textured paper.  

51cO8B3DfnL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_ The pencil sketch style that I developed for A Trip to the Moon is my favourite though, I like that I get to draw it all by hand but have the ability to manipulate the images easily in Photoshop and keep the hand drawn look. I’ve used that technique in most of the books I’ve illustrated.  

What were the most rewarding and challenging aspects of creating the illustrations for this book?
The most rewarding part was when I got the look of Gus just right. Both Kaylene and I knew instantly when he was right, I think it’s his eyes that do it! There weren’t any real challenging parts to the illustrations, it’s amazing how easy it is to get the right expression on an asparagus!  

Do you like asparagus? What’s your favourite vegetable?
I love asparagus! Luckily the variety I eat doesn’t have saucer like eyes so I don’t feel like I’m doing anything wrong….  
Yes, I would consider asparagus to be my favourite 🙂  

You have authored and illustrated several children’s stories. Do you have a preference for a particular role in creating books for kids? Why?
Well I have never considered myself an author, just an illustrator. The fact that I have written 3 and a half of my own books doesn’t register really, but I think that’s all part of being an asparagus…  

What has been the biggest highlight for you since beginning your journey in the field of children’s literature?
The feedback is most definitely the best part of every book. I’m always a bit scared of doing book readings (I’m allergic to public speaking), but seeing the kids being interested in what I’m reading, pointing to the pictures and asking questions is amazing. It’s the whole reason I wanted to illustrate children’s books in the first place.  

51Mmu67oo-L._AA160_You have two new projects due out soon. Can you tell us a bit about the works you are creating with Georgie Donaghey and Michelle Worthington?
I have just finished Lulu by Georgie Donaghey and received the first copy a few days ago. It was a very challenging one for me because I decided to paint the illustrations this time. It’s very time consuming and less easy to correct if I make mistakes, so tougher when working to a deadline. In the end though I think I got it right and I’m very pleased with the final result.  

Angels Outside the Window is a gorgeous story by Michelle Worthington about her son’s experience with having a baby brother born prematurely. I am in the early stages with this one, trying to find the right style to work in. I want to keep it soft and dreamy; a sensitive style to go with a sensitive topic. Michelle is kindly donating profits from the sale of this book to the Life’s Little Treasures foundation, so it’s an extra incentive for me to get it just right!  

What does your art space look like? Creative clutter or meticulously organised?
It’s clutter central. Whenever it gets too much to cope with I panic and try to get someone to organise it for me. Kaylene has tried to empty my desk before, so has a professional de-clutterer. But it still ends up the same way. I can draw pretty pictures but I can’t for the life of me put something back where it belongs!!  

Is there anything else about Ann-Marie Finn that you can share with us? Something we won’t find on the internet!
Hmmmm, I think you might have guessed by now that I’m a bit of an asparagus 😉  

Thanks so much for talking with me, Ann-Marie! It’s been a blast!

Connect with Ann-Marie Finn:
www.amfillustrations.wordpress.com
www.facebook.com/amfillustrations
www.dragontalespublishing.com.au

World Autism Awareness Day was celebrated on April 2nd this year. You can find more information about the cause here.

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To WIN a copy of ‘Gus, the Asparagus’, head to the Gus the Asparagus Giveaway!
Entries close 9pm (AEST) Sunday April 26th 2015.

Stories Behind the Stories; Interview with Acclaimed Author Libby Gleeson

A true master of her craft is one that writes to elicit a multi-sensory experience from the very sight and sound of her words. She makes you feel, she makes you ponder, she creates suspense, excitement, and sorrow. All aimed to tug at your heartstrings, and all equally gratifying. The acclaimed multi award-winning author that holds the power to harness our emotions with her stories is Libby Gleeson AM; Australian author of over 30 books for children and young adults. I am thrilled to welcome one of our greatest national treasures and inspirational advocate for children’s literature; Libby Gleeson.  

Libby Gleeson PhotoPlease tell us a bit about your writing journey. What have been your biggest obstacles, and greatest personal achievements?
I was trained as a teacher but wanted to be a writer and so began that transformation while living and working in Italy in the nineteen seventies. I then went to London and joined a writers’ workshop which was formative in teaching me about editing my own work. Subsequently, back in Australia I read my work with other writers and that helped me to refine the work to make it publishable. Obstacles are just life and family commitments, and getting published many times is always a great achievement.  

Which books did you enjoy reading as a child? Any that have influenced you as a writer now?  
I read everything as a child and particularly loved L.M. Montgomery’s work – Anne of Green Gables, etc.

You’ve been winning Literary and service awards, in Australia and internationally, for over 30 years. What do these honours mean to you? Are there any that stand out as most significant for you?
All awards make you feel affirmed and so I am very grateful when successful. I know how hard the judging process is so I also know; intellectually that not winning is not necessarily a judging that the work is no good. The Bologna Ragazzi for The Great Bear is one highlight, as is the PM’s award for Red. All CBCA awards are important and make you feel pretty excited. The highlight was also receiving an AM, a Member of the Order of Australia.    

You’ve written over 30 books including picture books, early readers, books for older readers, non-fiction and short stories. Do you have a preference for a particular age group or genre, and why?
No preference. All are very satisfying. Big novels take a lot out of you so they are usually followed by something shorter. (But not always easier!)  

Many of your books are touching tales with heartwarming, heartwrenching and real moments that leave a lasting impression on the reader. Which of your stories resonate most strongly with you?
Nothing is a favourite but close to that sentiment are The Great Bear, Amy and Louis and in the novels, Mahtab’s Story. The novel I am Susannah is also pretty special.  

Your writing style is gentle, carefully crafted and compelling. Is this something that comes naturally to you, or does it require many drafts to achieve this quality of writing?
It does take lots of drafts to look so natural!    

go-to-sleep-jessie--1Your long-standing collaborations with illustrator, Freya Blackwood, have been hugely successful with works including ‘Amy & Louis’, ‘Clancy and Millie and the Very Fine House’, ‘Banjo and Ruby Red’, ‘The Cleo Stories’ and ‘Go To Sleep, Jessie!’. How did the pairing come about and what aspects of her style do you think best compliment your writing?
I saw Two Summers by John Heffernan and Freya when I was writing Amy and Louis and I thought her gentle style and her palette would suit my story. Fortunately she agreed to illustrate it. I would always ask her to join me when the work is of small children in a domestic or playful context.  

‘Go To Sleep, Jessie!’ (see review) deals with the love and despair of a girl with her screaming baby sister. Did this story evolve as an influence from your own childhood upbringing with your siblings, or more as a mother of three daughters?
This one came from mothering 3 daughters and believing little children are happy sleeping together.  

In ‘The Cleo Stories: The Necklace and The Present’ (see review), Cleo is a loveable girl who overcomes some tricky concepts with creativity and a positive attitude. Is Cleo based on anyone you know? How did you develop this character?
Cleo is based on my own daughters Josephine and Jessica and Freya’s daughter Ivy: all very creative  

‘The Cleo Stories: Book Two’ is currently in the pipeline. Can you reveal anything about Cleo in this next chapter? Will there be more Cleo Stories in the series?
I’d like to write more stories about Cleo – she’s a charming character to work with. In Book 2 Cleo is desperate for a pet and she’s also lonely when her friends aren’t around to play with. She solves each issue creatively.  

mum-goes-to-work‘Mum Goes to Work’ (illustrated by Leila Rudge, see review) is a groundbreaking and reassuring story about adapting to the realities of working parents, and how children can positively manage this lifestyle. The original version was published in 1992. Why has it been re-released? How do you feel the impact of the message will compare nowadays with what it did 23 years ago?
The original version went out of print some years ago but Sarah Foster, the former publisher at Walker Books felt it should be brought back. I’m very glad she did. I think working mothers are much more of an ordinary part of life that they were back then, but I think children are very unaware of what that means in their mother’s daily life. And I think many parents aren’t really aware of what their child does during a day at childcare, although a lot more information is now provided.  

What brought about the inspiration to write ‘Mum Goes to Work’ all those years ago?
I had kids in Child Care and discovered that the 4 year olds knew what their dads did but described their mums only as cooks, dishwashers, etc – housework. All the mums would have been workers or students because that was the only way you could get a place at the centre. So I interviewed the mothers at our centre and built the book around that.  

What projects are you currently working on? What can all of us ‘Libby Gleeson’ fans look forward to in the near future?
‘Cleo book 2’ will be out in 2015 and I am busy researching and writing 1918, a book set during the last year of WW1. It is the final title in a series published by Scholastic. 1914 and 1915 are already in bookshops.  

What advice would you give to aspiring writers wanting to become successful children’s authors?  
Read an enormous amount. Write lots and try to find a course or a group that specialises in children’s books. Find courses at The Writers’ Centre or Community College or similar.

Thank you so very much for answering my questions for Boomerang Books, Libby! It has been an absolute pleasure.  

Libby Gleeson received the Lady Cutler Award in 1997, became a Member of the Order of Australia in 2007, and has won numerous awards here and overseas. Some of her picture book awards with the Children’s Book Council of Australia include ‘Banjo and Ruby Red’ (see review), ‘Shutting the Chooks In’, ‘Clancy and Millie and the Very Fine House’, and ‘Amy and Louis’, amongst others. Awards in various State Literacy Awards, Prime Minister’s Literary Award (‘Red’ won in 2013), and the international Bologna Ragazzi Award (‘The Great Bear’ won in 2000) are also prestigious prizes that she has achieved.  
Amy&Louis_cover

More information about Libby Gleeson and her books can be found at:
www.libbygleeson.com.au

Libby Gleeson’s Books in Review

With a multitude of Australian and international literary and service awards, and over 30 books written for children and young adults, Libby Gleeson AM has proven her commitment, talent and prestige in the children’s literature industry. Here we explore a few of her latest books for young readers; the most recent is the quintessential, ‘Mum Goes to Work’.  

mum-goes-to-workMum Goes to Work, Libby Gleeson (author), Leila Rudge (illus.), Walker Books, 2015.

Originally published in 1992, Mum Goes to Work is back in 2015. A story of the importance of mums and an awareness for the many hats they wear, including a view into the world of working mothers.
We are introduced to all the mums and their children as they congregate at the child care centre. The story continues with snippets into the busy days of each mum at work, and their child at care. Nadia’s mother is a student (of architecture, as seen in Leila Rudge‘s illustrations), and it is paintings of houses and building blocks that Nadia meticulously works on at child care. Laurence’s mother serves food and coffee in a cafe, whilst he makes a three-layer sand cake and lots of sand biscuits with his friend in the sandpit. We see mums as nurses, at-home mums, receptionists, retail assistants, office workers and teachers. Meanwhile, the children play with baby dolls, puzzles, construction, ride bikes and read books.
Libby Gleeson‘s text gives equal significance to the mother’s work as it does to the activities of the busy children. Leila Rudge’s illustrations perfectly suit the tender feel of the story, delivering a touch of humour and meaning to the words, and plenty of details to explore. Her gentle watercolour, pencil and collage pictures are gorgeously expressive and beautifully spread between the text.
Mum Goes to Work is a welcome insight into the daily lives of working mothers and children in child care. It’s a joyous story of identity and having a place in this big world. Readers can gain a greater appreciation for the commitment, sacrifices and pleasures that women achieve for their families. Equally, this resource allows mums wonderful opportunities to further bond and relate to their children. Fun, interactive and visually appealing; it’s a win-win for all!  

go-to-sleep-jessie--1Go To Sleep, Jessie!, Libby Gleeson (author), Freya Blackwood (illus.), Little Hare Books, 2014.

A little girl cannot sleep while her baby sister occupies the same bedroom…and screams. No amount of comfort and pats from Mum settle baby Jessie. No amount of sweet stories and lullabies from Dad settle Jessie. The girl is frustrated beyond words, but when Jessie is taken out and all is quiet, she still can’t sleep, and finally comes to realise the perfect solution… A little bit of sisterly love and affection goes a long way.
A really gentle and endearing story that delicately explores the struggles of sleep-time routines. I love Libby Gleeson‘s descriptions of the baby’s behaviour, paired with the raw emotions of the older sister. I also love Freya Blackwood‘s whimsical and dynamic images that show these feelings with vignettes and contrasting tones of orange and blue.
Go To Sleep, Jessie! will melt your heart. It is perfect as a bedtime story at the end of the day, and especially for children who understand the joys and angst of having a younger sibling.  

resized_9781743315279_224_297_FitSquareThe Cleo Stories: The Necklace and the Present, Libby Gleeson (author), Freya Blackwood (illus.), Allen & Unwin, 2014.

In two delightful chapters we meet a little girl named Cleo, who brilliantly solves some real life problems. In ‘The Necklace’, Cleo envies her friends as they show off their glamorous jewels, but all Cleo has to offer is a jumper she received at Christmas. Unable to wait until her birthday, Cleo takes the initiative to gather her resources and creates a beautiful, unique necklace on her own. The next chapter, ‘The Present’, sees Cleo desperate to give her mum a nice present for her upcoming birthday. She’s wracked her brains, emptied her piggy bank, and even got herself into a very sticky mess attempting to piece an old broken bowl back together. Finally, Cleo cleverly presents her mum with the best gift ever!  
Once again, this dynamic duo that is Libby Gleeson and Freya Blackwood have created a stunning book for young readers, with such a loveable and relatable character that is Cleo. Gleeson’s text is suited to both independent readers, as well as being an engaging read aloud story to those in the early stages of reading. And Blackwood’s illustrations are just gorgeous, soft yet complimentary of the energy and personality of the creative little girl.
The Cleo Stories is a charming short chapter book of a girl with resilience, ingenuity and flair. If she hasn’t already captured your heart, she will! I can’t wait to find out what she has planned in the next instalment of The Cleo Stories (Book Two coming out in 2015).  

banjo-and-ruby-red-1Banjo and Ruby Red, Libby Gleeson (author), Freya Blackwood (illus.), Little Hare Books, 2013.

Banjo the chook dog is very efficient when it comes to rounding the chickens… Except for Ruby Red. This obstinate chook would rather sit on the woodheap, staring at the sky. Then comes the day when Banjo discovers Ruby Red not on her pile, but rather flat on the ground with her eyes shut. Will his loyalty and commitment to his job see Banjo take on a new role? What becomes of this complex relationship between dog and chook?
A heartwrenching and warming tale all encompassed into one beautiful story of rivalry and friendship. Libby Gleeson‘s text is simple, yet compelling and evocative. Freya Blackwood‘s illustrations are equally expressive, fluid and powerful, creating both calm and chaos with her sketching, varied perspectives and earthy tones.
Banjo and Ruby Red won Honour Book in the CBCA Awards 2014, and deservingly comes highly recommended for anyone looking to engage in a touching, funny and energetic story.  

Love these books? How would you like to discover more about their remarkable author; Libby Gleeson? Stay tuned for a very special appearance on Boomerang Books! Coming soon!

Katrina Germein Dances Up A Thunderstorm

photo-on-26-02-14-at-9-53-amKatrina Germein is a well-loved children’s best selling author and early childhood teacher. She has received Highly Commended and Notable Book Commendation awards in the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards and from the Children’s Book Council of Australia. Three of her books have also featured on the popular children’s programme, Play School.  Some of her titles include the acclaimed ‘Big Rain Coming’, the hilarious series, ‘My Dad Thinks He’s Funny’, ‘My Dad Still Thinks He’s Funny’ and ‘My Mum Says the Strangest Things’, as well as beauties like ‘Somebody’s House’ and ‘Littledog’.
Already a hit in our household, her latest book, with illustrations by Judy Watson, is a sheer whirlwind of energy; it’s  ‘Thunderstorm Dancing’.    

pages-from-thunderstorm-dancingA family day at the beach suddenly turns bleak, and a little girl makes a quick dash for cover. While the thunderstorm charges outside, it is inside where the riot is raging. The girl hides whilst her daddy and brothers whizz and howl like the wind, puff like the clouds and zap like the lightening. Poppy thumps as loud as the thunder, and Mummy is the pounding rain. It’s a romping, swinging and rumbling commotion…
Until Granny’s piano music shines a gleaming ray of sunlight. What could the little girl be once the storm has settled?
 

‘Thunderstorm Dancing’ is beautifully rhythmic, with the perfect blend of rollicking onomatopoeia. Every word takes the reader into each lively scene. You can’t help but feel the beat, and it will most certainly get you to your feet! Katrina Germein says as a child she enjoyed acting out stories through dance…
”I felt as though part of me was there again as I was writing ‘Thunderstorm Dancing’.
Her language is dynamic, and text perfectly placed to reflect the movement of the story and pictures. Judy Watson’s mixed media, including inks, washes, pencils and digital media, and varied perspectives create for a visual festivity on every page. She also cleverly utilises a mix of orange and blue colour tones that depict the vibes of chaos and calm.
 

This whole book is just breathtaking…literally. The sweeping illustrations by Judy Watson really pull us along for the ride, and Katrina’s text sings and dances off the page; getting us marching and stomping and clapping along. It has huge teaching and learning potential in the areas of the arts and environmental studies. ‘Thunderstorm Dancing’ is fast paced, delightful and energetic. Preschool children will be roaring for more.  
Allen & Unwin 2015.

I’m absolutely delighted to have had the opportunity to delve into Katrina Germein‘s writerly mind, and discover more about the wonderful ‘Thunderstorm Dancing’.

thunderstorm-dancing-cover-lores-1Congratulations on the release of your newest title, ‘Thunderstorm Dancing’! What was the inspiration behind this story?  
This story has been a long time becoming a book but the text was written in a frenzy over a couple of days. The rhythm grew in my head and verse by verse I scribbled down the pages as they came to me. I remember writing some of it at the service station and some of it on a café napkin. I’m not sure of the exact inspiration but as I wrote it, I was holding a memory of music classes at primary school. Our teacher, Mrs Vaughn, used to play the piano and call out a story while we romped around the room and danced our own actions.  

This book is such a fun, active story that is perfect for promoting dance and dramatic play. As a teacher, do you have any other great teaching and learning ideas for children to engage further with ‘Thunderstorm Dancing’?  
I’m glad you said that Romi because I do feel that it lends itself to creative expression and like I said, it played out like a performance in my mind as I drafted it. I think most teachers and students will be able to springboard into their own ideas. There are connections to creating music with household items and children could easily act out their own actions for each of the storm elements, or even choose music that they think represents the different pages.  

Clapping and body percussion is always fun. The children in this clip use basic percussion instruments to illustrate the weather with music. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6DYEucGZTF0 Rainbow ribbons and scarves would work well too.  It’s all about allowing the children to experiment and express themselves with music, art and drama. I guess I’m hoping that students can have fun with the language and rhyme, as well as appreciate the emotion of the story and engage with the sensory themes – maybe some messy art, like foamy storm clouds.  

Storms are a great way to get children talking too. Everyone has a storm story they can share through discussion or writing, drawing and other art. I’ve been collating art ideas on my pinterest board here. https://www.pinterest.com/KatrinaGermein/thunderstorm-dancing-by-katrina-germein/ (And Judy Watson shares some of her original sketches here https://www.pinterest.com/judywatson98284/judy-watson-thunderstorm-dancing/)  

Family is another theme that could be explored.    

You’ve written ‘Thunderstorm Dancing’ in exuberant poetic prose, different to the jokes and funny phrases seen in ‘My Mum Says the Strangest Things’ and ‘My Dad Thinks He’s Funny’. Did you find one style more challenging than the other? Do you have a preferred style of writing?  
Different stories lend themselves to different styles. I enjoy experimenting with various approaches within the picture book genre. Thunderstorm Dancing is my third rhyming book and I love rhyme. I also like simple prose.  

dad-and-mitch-10-alt-1Judy Watson’s illustrations perfectly compliment the rollicking nature of the text. How did you find the collaborative process with her?  
Judy’s artwork is amazing. I have had so much fun seeing the story grow into a beautiful picture book.  

You’ve been paired with a number of amazing illustrators, including Tom Jellett, Bronwyn Bancroft and Judy Watson, amongst others. Have any of these artists really surprised you with how they’ve represented your words?  
No major surprises. You never know how an illustrator will approach a text and watching the illustrations materialize is all part of the fun. I guess there are little surprises along the way but I’ve never been completely flabbergasted or anything shocking like that.  

Somebody’s House’, ‘Littledog’ and ‘Big Rain Coming’ have all been featured on Play School. How did the producers approach you and what was your reaction to the news?  
Having books read on Play School is the absolute best. The show is well respected because it is created with children in mind – it’s about the kids. Early childhood professionals choose the books and consideration is given to what children will enjoy and engage with. So it’s about as good as an endorsement as any children’s author can hope for. (It also means people send you lovely exciting messages every time the episode is repeated and they catch it with their children.)  

What is it about writing stories for children that makes you happy?  
Writing makes me happy and I seem to write for children. I don’t know. It’s just what I do.  

What advice can you offer emerging writers wanting to succeed in producing great picture books?  
If you want to write picture books then your time is best spend reading and writing picture books. Read lots and lots of contemporary picture books (not the ones you remember from childhood). Read them out loud and read them to children if you can. I think you’re best off reading picture books themselves, rather than books and articles on how to write books – although sometimes that can be helpful too. Write and write and write. Be prepared to reflect and redraft. Not everything will work but the more you write the more chance you have of writing something great.  

What’s next for Katrina Germein? What can your fans look forward to seeing from you in the near future?  
(Fans! I’m not sure that I have any of them but thanks for suggesting that I do.) I have a few projects up my sleeve but I’m always reluctant to share too much unless I have the signed contract in my drawer and right now I don’t. I’ll be sure to post the news on Facebook when I can share. For now, I’m just excited about having a beautiful, new, book about to hit the shelves. Yay!  

Yay, indeed! Thank you so much for answering my questions, Katrina!  
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Katrina Germein’s website is great for finding information on her books, writing tips, teaching notes and her blog:
www.katrinagermein.com
Follow Katrina on Facebook, and view photos of her recent book launch:
www.facebook.com/KatrinaGermein

Follow Katrina’s boards on Pinterest:
https://www.pinterest.com/KatrinaGermein/

Adam Wallace Is ‘Accidentally Awesome!’

996029_10151963055537069_1799375660_nYou may remember my ‘Awesome Author Interview with Adam Wallace’ from last year (if not, click the link!). Adam Wallace has had heaps of books published over the last 10 years, including the totally gross chapter book series ‘Better Out Than In’ and ‘Better Out Than In Number Twos’, the frightening ‘Pete McGee’ trilogy, the freshly-pressed ‘Random’, and picture books including ‘The Negatees’, ‘The Share-a-Not’ and ‘Mac O’Beasty’.
Well, he’s back again with some more ‘awesomeness’ and side-splitting comedy for us! Introducing his brand-spanking-new junior fiction chapter book (which is the first in the planned series, and of which he self published, by the way), ‘Accidentally Awesome!’  

accidentally+awesomeHave you ever done something so embarrassing that actually made you a hero? Have you ever hurtled down a hill on your bike, only to fortuitously crash into a handbag thief and save the day? What about setting off an airshow of false teeth in the old age home, only to have them miraculously reunited with open mouths? Well, Jackson Payne has done these things. But he didn’t mean to. He became totally awesome by accident.  

In Adam Wallace and James Hart’s ‘Accidentally Awesome’, young readers will relish every bit of Jackson’s highly entertaining, yet somewhat unbelievable, journey that sees him come full circle.    

With loads of slapstick comedy to have you bursting at the ribs, this story is not for the faint-hearted. Head butting crooks, rescuing half-frozen cats, and pleasing old, slobbering ladies give Jackson plenty of reason to want to quit fluking happy endings. But when he does, this causes more problems like blood noses, squashing innocent birds and allowing bank robbers to escape. Super evil villain doesn’t suit him either, so deciding to help people on purpose seems like the way to go. Jackson ropes the bank robber in to his genius plan; to use his ‘accidental awesomeness’ for stopping him from mugging Mr Popadopolus, the cupcake man. When his plan doesn’t exactly, well, go to plan, Nan is there to teach him some life lessons, in a roundabout, obtuse, confusing kind of way. The point: Be Yourself.  
Accidentally awesome pic2 After long thought, some rest and a giant sun cupcake literally visiting him in his dreams, Jackson finally realises that being lucky is something to appreciate and helping people is reward in itself. In a hilarious ending involving Jackson and the bank robber, and a whole big rhyming debate, he returns to true form of being his clumsy ‘accidentally awesome’ hero self once more, and saves the day.  

Adam Wallace’s language is clever, conversational and completely comical. His wit is sharp, with phrases like, ”If I tell the absolute no-lie stick a needle in my eye truth…” (Get it? Needle = Sharp!). And equally humorous and expressive are illustrator, James Hart’s energetic drawings that perfectly compliment the ludicrous situations in the story. ‘Accidentally Awesome!’ is highly recommended for kids from six years old who are looking for an engaging laugh-out-loud (LOL!) read.              
Krueger Wallace Press, 2015.

I just had to know a bit more, so I asked Adam a few questions…

Congratulations on the release of ‘Accidentally Awesome!’. How have you felt about your self publishing journey?
Well, it’s been a long one. The first book I ever published was a self-published book, way back in 2004. So it is like I have sort of gone full-circle now, going back to full self-publishing. Now though I have a chunk of experience to fall back on, and also a fan base I have built up over the years. So I am heading in with a stronger starting point, and hopefully that will be a bonus!  

What was your favourite part of the story to write?
There are two parts really. I loved writing the conversation between Jackson and his nan. Doing dialogue like that is really fun, especially making Jackson kinda dopey in it. But I also really liked writing the slapstick humour, trying to get across the physicality of what was happening and keeping it sharp and funny.

What has it been like to work with illustrator, James Hart?
He’s awesome, and not accidentally! James and I have wanted to work together for years now, and as soon as I was able to choose the illustrator, he was top of my list. He’s kind of a legend, and we had some great fun meeting and working out the stories.

What is your best ‘accidentally awesome’ moment of all time?
Oooooh, good question … now it needs a good answer! I think it was the time I tried to put money on 19 at the casino and the chip slipped onto 20 and I was too shy to let them know it was the wrong number but then 20 came up!!! Totally accidental, totally awesome!

Thanks heaps, Adam! That was ‘ORSM’! (Adam’s new way of spelling ‘awesome’!)             

Contact Adam Wallace and get a signed copy of his book at:
www.adam-wallace-books.com
He’s on Facebook, too:
www.facebook.com/wallysbooks

Helene Magisson’s Labour of Love: The Velveteen Rabbit

896-20150213142152-Cover_The-Velveteen-Rabbit_LR-1In a gorgeously remastered classic tale, just in time for Easter, is a story about the magic of love; The Velveteen Rabbit. With the original story (first published in 1922) by Margery Williams Bianco being untouched, this current version has an exquisite sense of charm about it thanks to its’ talented illustrator, Helene Magisson.  

Depth, emotion and beauty, with a touch of magic, all describe this story of a toy Rabbit brought into the loving arms of a young Boy. And these words also perfectly describe the divine artwork that so beautifully compliments this enchanting tale.
When once felt as inferior to the other toys, the Velveteen Rabbit is soon unsurpassable and never leaves the Boy’s side. In a touching moment between the Rabbit and the Skin Horse, as he discovers that to be truly loved is to be Real, Helene Magisson has magnificently represented this significance with her gentle, serene watercolour pictures as the characters converse under the pale moonlight. And equally whimsical are the sweet expressions and playful angles that Helene has created when the Rabbit’s little sawdust heart almost bursts with love once he is claimed as Real.
Magisson’s heartwrenching image of a teary, slumped and worn little bunny so effectively captures the intense emotion of a toy due to be burnt to rid the germs from the Boy’s scarlet fever. ”…of what use was it to be loved and lose one’s beauty and become Real if it all ended like this?”
thevelveteenrabbitfairyIn a heartwarming finale, the angelic nursery Fairy and the Rabbit fly across the shimmering, glowing sky to a place where Real is true, and his identity as a live rabbit affirmed. What a bittersweet ending when the Boy unknowingly recognises his long-lost cherished Rabbit; the very bunny that he had helped to become Real.
Throughout the book, Helene has used a consistent colour palette of soft, cool blues and greens, which act as a superb contrasting backdrop to the beige of the Rabbit’s fur, as well as honour the affectionate nature of the story. A timeless story of love, companionship and belonging, perfect as a gift for Easter for primary school aged children, and their parents.
New Frontier Publishing, March 2015.  

Entranced by the gorgeous illustrations in The Velveteen Rabbit, I wanted to learn a bit about the artist who created them. So, it is with great pleasure to introduce the talented Helene Magisson.  

Congratulations on the release of your first picture book, Helene! How did you celebrate The Velveteen Rabbit’s arrival?
I wanted this day to be very simple and be just with my family. Sharing it with my husband and children is this nice feeling when you have accomplished something that you love. I think it was a very serene day. But very important to mention here: we also shared a huge plate full of sushi.

Helene MagissonPlease tell us a bit about your illustrating journey. Did you always love to draw as a child?
For sure, I have always been very attracted to everything related to art. As far as I can remember, I think that I have always drawn! In my early career as an artist, I was a painting restorer and loved that job but there was no place for creativity. It is only when we settled down here in Australia 3 years ago, that I decided to be a children’s book illustrator. It was an old dream which I had never taken the opportunity to fulfil. So I tried, worked hard to move from art restoration to illustration and then one day, timidly, I attend the CYA conference. I was very surprised to get the first prize and to be offered my first contract with New Frontier to illustrate The Velveteen Rabbit. I could not imagine a better start.

What do you love about illustrating children’s books?
I love every step of that work from the research of the characters till the final colouring. The stories created for children can be so charming, surprising, touching. Discovering a children’s book is like a door opened to incredible worlds. And it is amazing to be a part of these worlds by illustrating them. When I first discover the story I will illustrate, there are so many images coming through my mind, it is a very exciting feeling, with no limit to the imagination. It is a work of passion and it makes me happy.

Were you familiar with The Velveteen Rabbit growing up? What do you love about this story?
I grew up in Kenya and I think it is there where I first read this story. But then I lost it a bit when my family went back to France. Unfortunately it is not a very well-known story in France (what a pity!). But it was also great to rediscover it as an adult, and then be able to understand its deeper and beautiful meaning. It is exactly what I love with that book: you just grow up with it. The kind of book you always keep with you.

The velveteen rabbit imageThe artwork in The Velveteen Rabbit is beautifully soft, elegant and whimsical. Do you have an image that was your favourite to work on? How did you decide on the cool colour palette, and what media did you use?
Thank you. I loved illustrating this beautiful dialogue between the horse and the Velveteen Rabbit. It is a strong part in the story. I wanted it to be serene and poetic. I could not imagine it without a huge full moon and tiny mosquitoes dancing in the air. And also, I enjoyed working on the lovely little face of the Velveteen Rabbit with tears in his eyes when he discovers the fairy. This particular moment is full of emotion and is very whimsical. I wanted the whole work to be very soft, no strong or “heavy” colour, and very harmonious not to disturb the flow and the gentleness of the text. Also the rabbit had to be brown as Margery Williams Bianco described it. So I wanted to create a soft contrast all around him in that cool colour palette. And watercolour is my favourite media and I think it perfectly fits the story.

What were the most challenging aspects of creating the illustrations for this book?
One of the most challenging part was this long dialogue between the 2 real rabbits and the Velveteen Rabbit. This dialogue spreads out through 5 pages. We needed to keep the action flowing and coherent but it also had to be dynamic, so I used different perspectives and close ups. Also I made the choice to show all the emotions of the Velveteen Rabbit but very subtly.  He is a toy, but I wanted to show him as a child can see him: alive, so with emotions but never too strong. As if we were hesitating… Is he real or not? That was challenging.

How long did the process take from start to finish?
The text is long (48 pages) so there are many illustrations (27) and many of them spread out on the next page to softly frame the text. They are also full of tiny details. So it took me 7 months from the sketching part till the last illustration.

How did you find your first publishing experience with New Frontier Publishing? Was it a very supportive, collaborative process?
It was fantastic to work with them. They gave me a lot of freedom in my creativity process which was very pleasant, and their feedback was always very inspirational to me. For some tricky parts, like the front cover, they were very supportive. I enjoyed every minute of this project. But most of all I am so grateful to New Frontier for giving me this great start.

What does your art space look like? Creative clutter or meticulously organised?
Oh! My God! Am I obliged to answer that question? Well…It is absolutely terribly messy and a huge mystery for my husband. It is like a miracle every day for him. Of course, there are 1000 brushes, paints, pencils, pieces of paper but also plenty of children’s book everywhere, photos of everything, cards with quotes I love, something like 100 cups of tea all around, and many blades of grass, pieces of wild flowers (the one I prefer and very often include in many of my illustrations), and even a small collection of feathers I find in my garden.

What are you currently working on? What can we all look forward to seeing from Helene Magisson in the near future?
I have just finished a lovely story, elegant with a touch of humour about a Prince who wants to marry a Princess, you know, this very delicate Princess? It will be released early next year. And I am also very excited about the next project, but still want to keep it secret!  

Thank you so much, Helene! It has been absolutely delightful getting to know more about you!

Contact Helene Magisson:
Www.helenemagisson.com
www.facebook.com/pages/Helene-Magisson

Review – How Long is a Piece of String? by Madeleine Meyer

Where do dogs wander to in the dark of night? How tall is a ladder to an exotic land? Will unusual creatures help guide you to your destination? How long is a piece of string? Don’t know the answers? Well, it’s all up to your imagination!  

how-long-is-a-piece-of-stringIn similarity to those that leave the stories up to the viewer’s interpretation, ‘How Long is a Piece of String?’ by Madeleine Meyer is another wordless book that guides the adventure through its’ pictures.

81+v1JCtv5LOf late, included in the list is ‘The Umbrella’ by Ingrid and Dieter Schubert; boasting stunning artwork of landscapes and imagery that take you on a visual adventure with a dog and an umbrella.
Book Island, March 2015.

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51CPxCt64eL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_The first of Aaron Becker‘s in his wordless picture book series was ‘Journey’; a beautifully imaginative story about a girl finding herself almost lost in translation with only but a red crayon to proceed, as she daringly rescues a purple bird.
Candlewick, August 2013.

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516h8CV6uYL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_And second in the trilogy is Aaron Becker’s ‘Quest’; which sees the return of the original characters, including the purple bird. The children draw their way through this captivating, yet perilous adventure in their quest to glory.
Candlewick, July 2014.  

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Author and illustrator, Madeleine Meyer, is a sculptural and visual artist; who is now turning her passion for illustrating into books. With her quirky yet enchanting fine pen and ink hatching techniques, and minimal pops of colour on white backgrounds, there is plenty to peruse and get hypnotised with in ‘How Long is a Piece of String?’

How long is a piece of string imageA young boy awakes to the sound of his dog barking outside his window, and upon turning the page, we discover an enormous ball of string awaiting to be unraveled. Ready for the journey ahead, the boy sets off in search of his dog, clenching tightly to the red string that is his lifeline back to safety. He endures long, treacherous travels through mysterious cities, trudges over monumental expanses, and encounters curious and extraordinary beings, until at last he is reunited with his four-legged friend. A large flying fish charters the boy and his dog back across this unparalleled universe to home, and then it is time for bed.

‘How Long is a Piece of String?’ is a wondrous and fantastical depiction of what true companionship and dedication means. It literally outlines a whimsical world with the added ability to tug on your heart-strings, no matter how long. A ‘different’ book experience suitable for primary school aged children.  
Windy Hollow Books, 2014.

Books of Love – For Kids

How will you be celebrating this Saturday February 14th?  Some see it as a chance to demonstrate the most romantic of gestures, showering their special ones with gifts of affection. Others only need to show an act of kindness to prove they care. Either way, whether it’s Valentine’s Day, International Book Giving Day or Library Lovers’ Day for you, this Saturday marks a day of appreciation for those we adore (including our love for books).
Here are some heartwarming stories that beautifully incorporate tenderness, charity, compassion, friendship and giving.  

514TikhmbnL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_Hooray for Hat!, Brian Won (author / illus.), Koala Books, 2014.

Hooray for Hat! is an entertaining story that explores feelings, generosity and friendship. Depicted with a black scribble above his head and a wrinkled brow, Elephant woke up feeling grumpy. But an unexpected present at the door soon changes his mood. A marvellous multi-tiered hat immediately cheers up Elephant. Here, the book makes full use of the double page spread by turning Elephant on his side and includes large, colourful text, ”HOORAY FOR HAT!” Eager to show Zebra, Elephant discovers that he, too is grumpy. ”Go Away! I’m Grumpy!” As the story continues, Elephant carries on spreading the cheer by gifting each animal with a magnificent hat, bringing them out of their terrible mood. Showing concern for Lion’s friend, Giraffe, the group plan a spectacular surprise; a very grand, loving gesture.
With gorgeously strong and colourful illustrations, repetition and boldness of the text, Hooray for Hat! is a fun read-aloud book about friendship and compassion that young children will love.  

AllMyKissesAll My Kisses, Kerry Brown (author), Jedda Robaard (illus.), ABC Books, 2014.  

Another book about inspiring generosity is this story of a loveable piglet in All My Kisses. Abby is very kissable. She receives lots of kisses at bedtime, and likes to collect them in a special bucket. Abby is over-protective, claiming the kisses are too precious to share around. The overflowing bucket of kisses eventually turn into bleak, grey pebbles, so she discards of them in the playground. Soon Abby discovers that her pebbles are more than just that; they are a source of joy and delight for other children, with magical glowing properties at night. Abby eventually realises that sharing her kisses makes them much more valuable than keeping them to herself.
The message of spreading warmth and togetherness flows across the pages, depicted by the soft and gently painted pig characters. All My Kisses is a tender story about encouraging affection. It is a beautiful bedtime story for toddler to preschool aged children.  

61VkdeZCUsL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_The Scarecrows’ Wedding, Julia Donaldson (author), Axel Scheffler (illus.), Scholastic UK, 2014.
From the dynamic duo that brought us The Gruffalo is Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler’s, The Scarecrows’ Wedding. A story of love between two scarecrows, Betty O’Barley and Harry O’Hay.
In beautiful, sophisticated rhyme, the verses tell of their journey as they plan their big wedding day. Hunting around the farm for the necessary items, the animals are more than charitable in offering to help with the dress, music, jewellery and flowers. But when Harry goes astray on his quest, the farmer replaces him with an obnoxious, greedy scarecrow called Reginald Rake. Luckily, Harry returns to save his future wife from deadly peril, Reginald abandons the scene, and the lovebirds enjoy the best wedding yet.
Scheffler’s characteristically enticing and bright illustrations, and Donaldson’s delightfully rhythmic and humorous text, proves The Scarecrows’ Wedding to be both a fun and heartwarming read that kids and adults will love to share many times over.  

517Hb7bBBAL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_Spots: One bird’s search for the perfect plumage, Helen Ward (author / illus.), The Five Mile Press, 2014.

We love this story of a guinea fowl who just wants to fit in. It is a book about learning to love yourself, and spreading warmth around with something so simple… a smile.
This particular guinea fowl is missing his spots. So he orders a delivery, only to discover the spots were all wrong. As more spots arrive, he finds they are too small, too invisible, and too bright. Join-the-dots spots are not quite right, and neither are splats, dots from i’s, freckles, leopard or ladybird spots. The spots that he finally wears are certainly unique and unashamedly eccentric, and this acceptance of himself assures his happiness.
Beautifully simple text in rhyming prose, with the elements of humour and ingenuity. The illustrations are equally whimsical and expressive, and include interesting texture; both seen in the paintings and felt on the paper.
Spots is an endearing book about giving, receiving and appreciating what you’ve got, and is perfectly suited to preschool-aged children.  

the+swapThe Swap, Jan Ormerod (author), Andrew Joyner (illus.), Little Hare, 2013.

From the late Jan Ormerod and Andrew Joyner is a story of sibling love (in disguise); the award-winning The Swap. Here we have a classic case of a mother ogling over her precious baby, and an older sibling feeling the jealousy curse. Caroline Crocodile is tired of hearing how gorgeous her baby brother is, and how he takes up the room on her Mama’s lap. She just wants some smacky-smoochy love for herself. When Mama Crocodile asks Caroline to look after her brother for a little while, it is what happens next that really hooks us in. Caroline decides to take her dribbly baby into the Baby Shop, and it is one of those laugh-out-loud moments when in a surprising twist, the shopkeeper agrees to swap him for other animal babies. With all good intentions, Caroline trials one at a time, only to discover that none of them quite match the brief. With a ‘gorgeous’ ending, Caroline understands why her brother is special and accepts him just the way he is, dribbles, smells and all. She also gets the reward from Mama that she always longed for.
The warm, humorous text matches perfectly with Joyner’s illustrations, including terrific character expression, plenty of fun and interesting details in every scene, and the soft pastel colour tones and patterns that reflect a bit of a groovy, retro vibe.
Classy look, classy tale, The Swap is a true all-round classic that is irresistibly lovely for children and adults, alike.  

So which beautiful books will you be sharing with your loved ones this Saturday?  

Review – Big Hug Books

For many oThe Playground is like the Junglef you, by now your little ones will be well and truly back into the school routine. Apart from the usual school-related requirements, you may have also restocked your return-to-school library, determined to share the educational and emotional journey your child is embarking on, perhaps for the first time. You will find some of those terrific school-ready titles here.

But what if the ensuing days might not exactly pan out as expected for your little ones, or even for you for that matter? What happens when your child’s feelings are derailed by a minor incident that they allow to escalate into a damaging problem and subsequently feel powerless to overcome? How can you help them get back on track smoothly?

Like manyShona Innes, I find some of the answers in books, picture books. Newcomer to writing for children but experienced child whisperer and clinical and forensic psychologist, Shona Innes together with The Five Mile Press has released a series of books under the banner, Big Hug Books.

Big Hug Books are essentially that; picture books that wrap young children and their carers up in issue specific stories that enable readers to understand and embrace problem situations and learn solutions to overcome them. And we all know how benefThe Internet is like a Puddleicial a great hug can be.

There are four in the series so far with two new January releases, The Playground is like the Jungle and The Internet is like a Puddle. Innes uses age appropriate analogies to illustrate the many positive attributes of each situation a child encounters then progresses to the less positive things that could occur between friends, within relationships, during periods of loss, and living in our modern world. Her expressive text, while a little laboured and repetitive at times does adequately reiterate and reinforce the choices available to all young people and the reasons why they should react in certain ways.

The puddle metaphor used to establish how deep and unassuming Internet use can be in The Internet is like a Puddle, is particularly clever and useful. It is a topic we should all be aux fait with considering the tender age that our offspring are exposed to such digital media these days.

Irisz AgocsIrisz Agocs’ playful watercolour illustrations provide the much needed focus and fun to keep youngsters riveted to the main theme of each book. Animal characters depict children in a consistently comical yet sensitive way.

Easy to read footnotes at the end of each story gives parents, teachers and carers time to take in what they have read and arm them with more insight into each particular topic of discussion. Conveniently, this eliminates the need to some degree that every (new) parent feels to read and memorise every how-to-parent book available on earth.

While titles in the Big Hug Books series will not remedy every problematic situation you and your child will encounter, they do tackle the more common ones in a format that promotes acknowledging, seeking and solving the dilemma together, parent and child. In my eyes that is as valuable as any hug.Big Hug illo spread

Suitable for older pre-schoolers and primary aged children.

The Five Mile Press January 2015

 

Get Reading for School, Kids!

With school starting up for the year ahead, there may be many mixed feelings of trepidation, excitement and loneliness (and that’s just for the parents). But if your kids are going through some of these emotions, too, here are some fantastic resources to help children relate their own experiences to others and reassure them of things that may be causing anxiety.

snail-and-turtle-are-friends-293x300Developing Friendships
Snail and Turtle are Friends, Stephen Michael King (author / illus.) Scholastic Australia, 2014.

Snail and Turtle like to do lots of things together. They like to walk and run and read (as you can imagine, very slowly and quietly). Whilst they are good friends, Snail and Turtle recognise their differences in their habitats, diets and favourite activities. But they find common ground in their creative painting pursuits, ‘even though Snail likes swirls and Turtle likes shapes and blobs.’
A very sweet story of friendship and celebrating differences, with equally gorgeous bold, colourful and textured illustrations by author / illustrator Stephen Michael King.

jessica-s-boxPromoting Resilience
Jessica’s Box (Cerebral Palsy Alliance Edition), Peter Carnavas (author / illus.) New Frontier Publishing, 2014.

Jessica’s Box was originally pubished in 2008, winning awards including The Queensland Premier’s Literary Awards 2008, the CBCA Awards 2009, and Speech Pathology Australia Shortlist 2009. It is a story of starting in a new school and trying to make friends by showing off possessions. Jessica displays much resilience when her attempts initially fail, she eventually discovers that being herself is far more successful in the friend-making department. In 2014 a new edition has been released to include images of Jessica in a wheelchair. The storyline and sentiment remains unchanged; giving focus to the fact that many children are faced with challenges of trying to fit in, forming friendships, and being yourself, regardless of ability.
Read Dimity Powell‘s fascinating interview about Jessica’s Box with Peter Carnavas here. Also, Jessica’s Box will also be read on ABC4Kids’ Play School Friday 30th January at 9.30am.

9781925059038Packing Lunches
What’s In My Lunchbox?, Peter Carnavas (author), Kat Chadwick (illus.), New Frontier Publishing, 2015.

And brand new from Peter Carnavas is What’s In My Lunchbox?
What special goodies will you be packing in your child’s lunchbox? Sweet? Savoury? Healthy snacks? A little treat? All to be expected. Well, you can imagine this boy’s surprise when, after finding a not-so-appetising apple, the most bizarre things happen to emerge from his lunchbox.
‘Today in my lunchbox I happened to find…’ A sushi-offering fish? He doesn’t like fish. A chick-inhabiting egg? He doesn’t like eggs. A honey muffin-loving bear? He doesn’t like bears. A dinosaur, then his sister! How absurd! Perhaps that apple is more appetising than he originally thought!
A very funny repetitive story, perfect as a read-aloud, with equally rollicking, fun, retro-style illustrations. What’s In My Lunchbox? will have your kids in fits of giggles. It’s just delicious!

parachuteFacilitating Confidence
Parachute, Danny Parker (author), Matt Ottley (illus.), Little Hare Books, 2013.
CBCA Book of the Year Shortlist 2014.

I love this story about a boy who keeps a firm grasp on his security object; a parachute, with the most imaginative occurrences caused by his own fear. The perspectives portrayed by illustrator, Matt Ottley really take the reader into the scene and give that extra dimension to the emotion intended by Danny Parker. Toby feels safe with his parachute, even doing the ordinary daily routines. But when it comes to saving his cat, Henry, from a high tree house, Toby gradually puts his fears aside and inches towards becoming more confident until one day he manages to leave his parachute behind.
A simple storyline but with creatively juxtaposing and interesting scenes, Parachute is a fantastic book for little ones overcoming insecurities associated with learning new skills or becoming more independent.

hurry-up-alfie-1Getting into a Routine
Hurry Up Alfie, Anna Walker (author / illus.), Scholastic, 2014.

Alfie is plenty busy… too busy to get ready to go out. This fun-loving, easily-distracted and stubborn crocodile typically finds handstands more important than eating breakfast, as is chasing Steve McQueen the cat. And looking for undies unexpectedly leads to the discoveries of missing items and different ways to use your pyjamas. What else?! Alfie thinks he’s finally ready. It’s coming up to midday on the clock, and an ever-so-quickly-losing-patience-parent informs him that it is not an umbrella needed but rather some clothes! The battle to get dressed eventually ends when a compromise is made, and parent and child make their way out, but there’s sure to be a re-match when it is time to go home!
All too familiar are the daily joys of negotiating with an ‘independent’ child, and Anna Walker does it with so much warmth and humour. Her trademark illustrative style of watercolours, pencil, textured patterns and photo collages once again so perfectly compliment the gentle and whimsical storyline, as well as adding to the detail and movement, and making each scene so real.
Hurry Up Alfie is the perfect back-to-school book for young ones with the same autonomous attitude.

School Specific Books
first-dayFirst Day, Andrew Daddo (author), Jonathan Bentley (illus.), HarperCollins Publishers, 2013.

An adorable picture book about a girl and her mum preparing for her first day of school. Getting dressed, making new friends, learning new rules, and being brave. But who is the one with the most nerves?
First Day is a cute story with very sweet illustrations to match. Perfect for mums of first-time school goers.

Starting-School-Copy-2Starting School, Jane Godwin (author), Anna Walker (illus.), Penguin, 2013.

Meet Tim, Hannah, Sunita, Joe and Polly. They are starting school. Watch as they adapt in their new environment; meeting new friends, exploring the school grounds, eating routines, establishing rules and learning new subjects.
With plenty of good humour and beautiful, varied illustrations to discover exciting things, Starting School makes for a wonderful resource to introduce Preppies to the big world that is primary school.

my-first-day-at-schoolMy First Day at School, Meredith Costain (author), Michelle Mackintosh (illus.), Windy Hollow Books, 2013.

We are introduced to another four children – Ari, Amira, Zach and Zoe, who take us through some of the routines associated with adapting to school life. These include lining up, waiting your turn, visiting the toilet, what to do at bell times, a lesson on self-identity and class photos.
Cute illustrations with plenty to explore, My First Day at School is another fun book to help children with understanding various facets of beginning school.

And there are plenty more great books to help cope with the transition to school, but your school staff and fellow parents are also valuable in aiding with adapting to the big changes.
Wishing all new school parents and children the very best of luck with this exciting milestone in your lives! I’m in the same boat, so wish me luck, too!

Books of Australia – For Kids

January 26th marks the date in which Australians reflect upon our cultural history and celebrate the accomplishments since the first fleet landed on Sydney’s shores in 1788. Here are a select few picture books aimed at providing children with some background knowledge of our beautiful land, flora, fauna and multicultural diversity. There is plenty of scope for teaching and learning opportunities under the Australian curriculum, and respectful inclusions of Aboriginal traditions.  

9781921966248An Aussie Year; Twelve Months in the Life of Australian Kids, Tania McCartney (author), Tina Snerling (illus.), EK Books, 2013.  

What a joyous celebration of all things Australiana, all encompassed in one gorgeous book; An Aussie Year. From January through to December, with every season in between, from Melbourne to Sydney’s City to Surf and the Great Barrier Reef, we get a taste of Australian life for five young individual children of different cultural backgrounds. Ned, Zoe, Lily, Kirra and Matilda provide us with snippets of their typical ethnic traditions, seasonal activities, food, terminology and special events that occur throughout the year. From icy poles, cricket, swimming and Australia Day in January, to back-to-school, Valentine’s Day and Chinese New Year in February. April brings Easter, Anzac Day and the Antipodes Festival, and creepy-crawlies and Mother’s Day breakfast are common occurrences in May.
Tania McCartney’s Aussie culmination continues with plenty more fun and interesting experiences as told by the kids, beautifully capturing our wonderful multicultural nation. The pictures by Tina Snerling illustrate that diversity perfectly; they are colourful, creative, rich and varied in what they portray, and very sweet.
An Aussie Year is a wonderful learning resource for primary aged children, as well as an engaging and delightful book just to peruse and reflect upon for both young and old.  

9781921504402Jeremy, Chris Faille (author), Danny Snell (illus.), Working Title Press, 2013.  

One of the wonderful elements of Australia is our exotic and amazing wildlife. The king of the bush is no exception. In ‘Jeremy’, a heartwarming story is brought to reality with the events of a growing baby kookaburra over the course of several weeks. Starting out as an ugly, featherless chick, Jeremy is brought in by the family cat and cared for by its loving family. Descriptive language allows the reader to learn his behavioural traits and aesthetic characteristics. As the story develops, we also become familiar with his personality; as an endearing and cheeky little bird, who loves to watch television and spy the goldfish for lunch. Stumbles and crashes are all part of learning to fly. But once established, a final kiss goodbye sees Jeremy reunited with his kookaburra family as they fly away into the sunset together.
Based on a true story, ‘Jeremy’ is a beautifully written and engaging information story by author Chris Faille. Illustrator Danny Snell has provided equally soft and detailed acrylic paintings. Preschoolers will adore learning about the kookaburra’s development and fascinating facts, as seen in the endpapers, as well as showing them the need to care for defenceless creatures.  

9780763670757Big Red Kangaroo, Claire Saxby (author), Graham Byrne (illus.), Walker Books, 2013.  

Another native animal to Australia is the symbolic kangaroo, and in ‘Big Red Kangaroo’ by Claire Saxby (author of other Aussie themed books including Meet the Anzacs and Emu), the typical behaviours of these large marsupials is explored in both a storytale and informative format.
‘Red’ is surrounded by his mob, and at nightfall they bound off in search of grasses. Did you know that kangaroos sometimes regurgitate their food to help with digestion? The mob are met by other creatures looking for water in the middle of the dry season. But they cannot settle when other male kangaroos are nearby. Red is the male leader, but is soon challenged by another to take over his mob. A brief fight for dominance sees Red retain his role as king, and he takes his followers to the safe shelter amongst the trees.
A compelling account, written with sophisticated, descriptive language, and enlightening charcoal and digital media illustrations to match. Equipped with an index and plenty of information, ‘Big Red Kangaroo’ is the perfect learning tool for primary school aged children.  

9781922081322Calpepper’s Place, Trudie Trewin (author), Donna Gynell (illus.), Windy Hollow Books, 2014.  

In ‘Calpepper’s Place’ we are taken on a journey with a range of Australian animals around our beautiful continent. It is an adorable story of acceptance, and trying new adventures.
Calpepper is a camel who decides one day that trudging through the hot desert just isn’t exciting enough. He jumps aboard a bus named ‘Adventure Tours to the Unknown’, and in a trialing series of experiences, Calpepper discovers these places are not the places for him after all. Whooshing down chilly ski slopes, being trampled by an avalanche of shoes in the concrete jungle, and tumbling off a wave onto the beach shore are not camely sorts of places. Finally, a little ray of sunshine gives him the comfort he needed and he returns back to plod along with the camel train once again.
A rhythmic story with fun, varied text and expressive language, gorgeously fluid and whimsical watercolour illustrations, make ‘Calpepper’s Place’ a truly engaging way to explore our scenic country and appreciate your own special place to call home.  

9781922179760A is for Australia, Frané Lessac (author / illus.), Walker Books, 2015. (See also Midnight and Ned Kelly and the Green Sash). 

Described as a ”factastic tour of Australia” and a ”celebration of Australian people, places and culture.” Exactly that, Frané Lessac’s ‘A is for Australia’ is a colourful, informative and truly engaging book visiting various locations around our amazing country. With each letter of the alphabet, we are introduced to many of Australia’s fascinating and iconic landmarks, covering every state and territory. From our beautiful beaches, to the dry outback, busy major cities and temperate rainforests, this book provides ample opportunity to get to know more about geographical places and the flora, fauna, people and structures that can be found there. Riveting facts accompany each location, including indigenous and cultural history. For example, the Sydney Opera House, designed by Danish architect Jorn Utzon, took 16 years to build and opened in 1973.
There is plenty to experience with this bright, aesthetically pleasing and engrossing information book about our special continent. It is perfect for families to share (and create) their own memories and experiences, and for primary school children to utilise for their Australian studies.  

So, after travelling through the alphabet, the seasons and across Australia, you’ll be able to say, ‘I’ve been everywhere, man. Here, there, everywhere, man!’

Happy Australia Day, Australia!

Books of Summer – For Kids

In Australia we’re in the midst of Summer, although here in Melbourne we’ve already had all four seasons in one, sometimes even in one day! A great way to familiarise children with all that the season encompasses is through engaging language experiences. That means providing children opportunities to see, do, touch, listen, read and think about different activities (going to outdoor places like the beach, pool, etc), and then talk, write and create about them.   
I’ll suggest a few fantastic picture books to get stuck into following your outdoor Summer adventures, as well as some fun learning tasks to enrich and reinforce what your child has discovered.  

rules-of-summerRules of Summer, Shaun Tan (author / illustrator), Lothian, 2013. CBCA Winner 2014, Queensland Literary Awards Winner 2014.

Wow. Just wow! Shaun Tan has brought a truly fantastical, mysterious and somewhat dark version of what Summer means to a pair of young brothers. Amazingly thought-provoking and surreal, with spectacular, Van-Gogh-like paintings, this book promotes analytical skills in deciphering its’ content; both the text and the images.
Exploring the complicated relationship between the boys, each spread states a new rule to obide by. But failing to comply results in harsh consequences, particularly for the younger brother. In the end the pair join forces in an imaginatively delightful celebration of summer fruits and a beautiful sunset. And after all the emotion, conflict, darkness and out-of-this-world imagery, there’s still room for a little chuckle as seen in the endpaper.
Suited to primary school aged children who will enjoy adding their own interpretation to the depth and meaning that Shaun Tan has conveyed.  

2015-01-07-15-06-02--1990215886Granny Grommet and Me, Dianne Wolfer (author), Karen Blair (illustrator), Walker Books, 2013, CBCA Shortlist 2014.

An enchanting book about a boy narrator who delights at the sea’s wonders, with his Granny and her elderly, grommet friends (a grommet is a young or beginner surfer). There is much humour in watching old ladies twisting, turning, zooming through dumpers and riding a curler wave to the shore! However, the boy feels nervous about what he doesn’t know, but Granny reassures and shows him safe and friendly things in the sea.
Lovely, gentle text by Wolfer, from the perspective of a child, beach safety tips, and fun, colourful paint and pencil drawings by Blair, make Granny Grommet and Me an engaging and reassuring story to be read many times over.  

noni-the-pony-goes-to-the-beachNoni the Pony Goes to the Beach, Alison Lester (author / illustrator), Allen & Unwin, 2014.

Following the original Noni the Pony, the loveable pony is back and ready to set off to the beach with her companions; Coco the cat and Dave the dog. As far as cats go, Coco prefers to be nonchalant and stay dry. But like any typical energetic dog, Dave bounds off through the waves to find a whale, only to become stranded in the middle of the ocean. In her true heroic, caring manner, Noni is there to fish him out and return to the safety of the shore.
With Alison Lester’s characteristically gorgeous, endearing illustrations, and gentle, rhythmic wording, Noni the Pony Goes to the Beach is a fun, positive tale of friendship and all things magical about visiting the beach.  

a-swim-in-the-sea-1A Swim in the Sea, Sue Whiting (author), Meredith Thomas (illustrator), Walker Books, 2013. Speech Pathology Australia Winner 2014.

A gorgeous story of an excitable young Bruno who can’t wait to experience the big blue sea for the first time. Wildly eager to dive right in, Bruno suddenly halters at the loud, thumping, pounding waves, which frighten him. As his family introduce him to other fun beach activities, like rockpools and sand cities, Bruno eventually discovers that the big blue sea is far from scary.
Sue Whiting’s text is beautifully descriptive and engaging. I love the way she talks about the sea; ”wobbling like a sparkly blue jelly”. And Meredith Thomas’ illustrations are equally expressive, bold and moving with bright, complimentary colours that almost literally wash over the pages.
A delightfully sunny story about first-time experiences at the beach, and facing one’s fears.  

seadogSeadog, Claire Saxby (author), Tom Jellett (illustrator), Random House Australia, 2013. Speech Pathology Australia Winner 2013.

An adorably funny story about a dog who is not like other working, well-trained dogs that fetch sticks, sit still then roll over and stay clean. Their dog is a Seadog, a run-and-scatter-gulls, crunch-and-munch, jump-and-chase Seadog. And although he is not a bath dog, there comes a time to sit-still-till-it’s-done, until…
With Jellett’s characteristically boisterous and comical illustrations, Seadog is a great read-aloud book perfect for little ones who enjoy romping with their dogs at the beach.  

9781925161168_ONASMALLISLAND_WEBOn a Small Island, Kyle Hughes-Odgers (author / illustrator), Fremantle Press, 2014.

‘On a small island, in a gigantic sea, lives Ari.’ Ari lives alone, collecting objects and watching the large ships pass by. One day a captain visits and tells Ari of the wonderful and intriguing people, buildings and exceptional artefacts of a great land on the horizon. Ari longs for a place like this and feels alone on his island. Until he has a brilliant, creative idea which eventually attracts the footsteps of many, and he is finally able to appreciate his surroundings and frequenting company.
Exotic, Mediterranean-style paintings, packed with mosaics, pattern and texture, artist and author Kyle Hughes-Odgers has created a magnificent flowing story exploring isolation, friendship, creativity and recycling that is both sophisticated and unique.  

With a few more weeks of Summer school holidays left, there’s plenty of time to head outdoors and enjoy the sunshine with your little ones (and furry ones, too!). Then find a cool, shady spot like Coco the cat for some relaxing summertime reading!  
And for some fun teaching and learning activities related to the Summer theme, head to www.pinterest.com/mylilstorycrner.
www.romisharp.wordpress.com
www.facebook.com/mylittlestorycorner

”A Tapestry of Experiences Folded into Fiction”; Victoria Lane Talks About ‘Celia and Nonna’

author pic jul 14 WEBVictoria Lane has made a successful career from writing; as an award-winning financial journalist for many years, editor and correspondent for many leading media publications, and of course, as a picture and chapter book writer for children. Today, we delve into Victoria’s writerly mind as she shares her inspirations behind her touching picture book, Celia and Nonna.  


Review – Celia and Nonna
There is something so precious about children spending quality time with their grandparents. Every word and every image, beautifully interwoven by author Victoria Lane and illustrator Kayleen West, pour warmth and affection out of this book and into the hearts of its’ readers.

”Celia loves sleepovers at Nonna’s house.” And Nonna just cherishes the moments they spend together; baking cakes and biscotti, cuddling and reading bedtime stories. But one day Nonna begins to forget things, and she moves to an aged care home where she will get the appropriate support. At first Celia struggles to grapple with the new arrangement, but her resilience, sensitivity and love allow her to accept the change, strengthen their bond, and bring joy and ease to Nonna. Gorgeous sentiments in Celia’s drawings help us, the reader, to remember and appreciate that no matter where we are, all we need are the ones we love.

Celia-&-Nonna-Cover-WEBKayleen West’s illustrations are soft, timeless and emotive. I love the meaning attached to the realistic children’s artwork that are significant to both Nonna, and to Victoria Lane. I also love the clever connection between Celia and the swallows who follow Nonna and stick by her on her life journey.

Celia and Nonna; a message of embracing hard realities, finding strength and faith, an uplifting and important tale to share, all packaged perfectly in a delightful picture book. Ford Street Publishing. 

Interview – Victoria Lane
Congratulations, Victoria, on the release of your first picture book, Celia and Nonna! How did you celebrate its’ launch?
Thanks Romi! We had a lovely launch at the Ivanhoe Library filled with friends, as well as some lovely contributions via social media of people’s memories of their grandparents. We brought biscotti and played ”Guess how many borlotti beans in the jar”.  

Have you always wanted to be a writer? What do you love about writing children’s books?
It’s true, I started writing stories when I was a kid, mainly mash-ups of fairytales inspired by my older brother’s satirical Mad magazines. And I’ve been lucky enough to have made a career out of writing and editing, as a journalist and foreign correspondent. It’s only in the past few years that I’ve had the time to devote to writing fiction again and I love it.
What appeals to me the most about writing for children is the need to condense meaning into a picture book of limited word count. It is a challenge and a delight.  

Celia and Nonna is a warm story of togetherness across the generations, and adapting to change. What special message would you like your audience to gain from reading your story?
It’s so important to keep children involved and informed, whatever changes are happening in the family. If a grandparent is in an aged care home, make sure the grandkids still get to visit rather than leaving them at home. Kids are very adaptable and accepting of change; we should give them credit for it. There are many ways to adapt to these changes, and Celia finds her own delightful way to navigate this confusing time. I hope that Celia and Nonna will help to start a conversation with children when a loved one is affected by dementia, old age, Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s.  

Does Celia and Nonna have a personal significance to you? What was your inspiration behind this story?
It certainly does. This story has two inspirations. The first was when my eldest daughter could no longer enjoy her treasured sleepovers at my Mum’s, due to her own illness. The second part was the experience of visiting my Dad in a nursing home and trying to explain the situation to my daughter. It was a very foreign place. For those few years, I was part of the sandwich generation, with caring responsibilities for both my parents and my children – I had a new baby at the time. It was an incredibly difficult period. So the story really became a tapestry of my experiences, folded into fiction. I felt it was really important to create a positive story with a positive outlook. I also wanted to keep the Italian flavour because it’s so important to show diversity in Australian children’s literature.  

The illustrations by Kayleen West are beautiful, and provide plenty of elements that add to the meaning of the story. What was it like working with Kayleen? How much input did you have in the artistic design?
I think publishers generally like to keep the authors out of the illustrator’s way, and I think that does give the illustrator the freedom to interpret the words as they like. Kayleen’s work is just gorgeous, full of warmth and love, and I think they are perfect for the story.
castle 1 I did get to ask for a few little touches, and one of the pictures that Celia draws is the castle in her Nonna’s home town in Italy. That meant a huge amount to me. It is still so emotional to see the image of the massive 12th Century castle (which was rebuilt after being heavily bombed in the First World War) that is a symbol of my mother’s home town. There is also a strong element of art and creativity in the way Celia responds to the family’s changes, and Kayleen managed that delicate balance in showing a realistic portrayal of a child’s artwork. And the beautiful endpapers are a little inspiration for kids to create their own art for a loved one after reading the story.  

What was the most rewarding part about creating Celia and Nonna?
For me, it has really been seeing the heartfelt response from parents and children. The story really seems to have struck an emotional chord for many readers and that is so thrilling. The response has been fantastic.  

One of the lovely past times the characters enjoy together is baking. Do you have any special traditions with family members that you follow each year during the holidays?
Not really – it’s hard to live up to the sumptuous five-course meals that my Mum used to prepare for any occasion! Her apple strudel was famous in our family, but it takes hours to prepare and it’s very hard to get the pastry right. We tried to write out the recipe together, but it was just ”add a bit of this, a bit more of that”…  

What are you currently working on? What can we look forward to seeing from you in the near future?
I have a few other stories on the go at the moment, and I have also been busy with some junior fiction. I’m writing a series of early chapter books all set a fictional primary school in Melbourne’s north. Some of these are out on submission with publishers, so stay tuned! I would also like to find more time to introduce Celia and Nonna to aged care home and libraries, where it may reach more families.  

Victoria, thank you so much for answering my questions for Boomerang Books! Wishing you and your family a wonderful holiday season!
Thanks for having me, Romi! Same to you and all the readers at Boomerang Books.  

Connect with Victoria Lane:
http://www.victorialanebooks.com
http://www.facebook.com/VictoriaLaneBooks
http://www.twitter.com/vthieberger  

Well, that’s it for the author interviews this year! I hope you have enjoyed meeting them as much as I have!
Thank you all for welcoming me into the Boomerang Books world of blogging, and I look forward to sharing more wonderful news, reviews and author insights with you in 2015!

Have a booktacularly festive holiday, and really treasure those moments with your loved ones!

Happy reading,
Romi Sharp

http://www.romisharp.wordpress.com
http://www.facebook.com/mylittlestorycorner
http://www.twitter.com/mylilstorycrner

Kylie Westaway Makes a Big Splash with her Debut Picture Book, ‘Whale in the Bath’

Author-pic-in-tree-close-upKylie Westaway is the author of her popular debut picture book, Whale in the Bath. She has literally travelled far and wide, worked in foreign schools, events and in theatre. But there’s one thing that has remained constant in her life; her love of writing. Here, I’ll give you the brief run-down of her captivating tale, Whale in the Bath, then we’ll find out more from Kylie Westaway about how it’s all come together.  

whale-in-the-bath The Review:
Get ready to dive right in to this splashing ‘tail’ of a stubborn whale and a boy with a huge problem. Kylie Westaway and Tom Jellett have brilliantly combined to fill our homes with laughter with the whimsical ”Whale in the Bath”.
Bruno finds himself in a ‘conveniently’ misfortunate situation when he’s sent off to take a bath. A massive whale overfills the tub, and it is using Bruno’s bubble-gum bubble bath, which is not even the whale’s flavour of preference. But his family won’t have a bar of it, and accuse Bruno of lying and purposely avoiding his bath. With several failed attempts to get the whale out of the bath, it finally squirts out a genius plan to help Bruno get clean and smelling, well, fishy!
A very comical story with Tom Jellett’s distinguishable trademark cartoon-style drawings and cool, retro colours, makes ”Whale in the Bath” a most engaging, imaginative and charming read. It aims to encourage preschoolers who just want to be heard, and to simply have a whale of a time!  

The Interview:
Congratulations on your first picture book release, ‘Whale in the Bath’! How did you celebrate its launch?
My family held a surprise launch for me! I turned up, expecting it to be a party for Father’s Day, and all my family and friends were there holding copies of my book. It was really lovely!  

Inspiration-Whale-in-the-BathWhere did the inspiration for this story come from?
It actually came from a drawing I found in a market a few years ago. It was a cartoon-style drawing of a whale in a metal tub, floating on the ocean. The whole story popped into my head at once. I’ve put the original drawing up on my website.  

What was your favourite part of creating ‘Whale in the Bath’?
Definitely seeing the illustrations from Tom Jellett. I’ve been writing stories ever since I can remember, but I’ve never been very good at drawing. Seeing Tom’s amazing images bringing the story to life was an incredible feeling. He did such a spectacular job.  

How did you find the publishing process and working with illustrator, Tom Jellett?
It was fascinating for me, because I hadn’t known quite what to expect, but the whole team I worked with was fantastic. I loved getting updates from Tom, and seeing the drawings progress from sketches to finished pieces. It was a real thrill when the designer started placing the words into the images and playing with different fonts and moving the type around. I feel like the finished book is so much more than I could ever have imagined because I had so many great people pouring their hearts into it.  

whale in the bath whooshI love the final surprise on the last page of the book! How much illustrative detail did you provide, and how much was left to Tom’s imagination?
It was almost all Tom’s imagination. The only illustrative detail I provided was that the whale shot a bath load of water into the air on the page that says “whoosh”, otherwise it was all Tom! That page was actually the most difficult to get right, and from memory we went through about 10 different roughs before Tom hit on the aerial view, and we all agreed that was perfect. One of my favourite illustrative details was Tom’s inclusion of the krill, which snuck into almost every page with the whale on it. In fact, when Tom provided the final page, which happened to be the imprint page with our dedications on it, he had added more krill to the page with a note saying “hope this isn’t overkrill.” He is completely brilliant.  

What has been the best response from a child and/or parent about your book?
Having kids want to read it has been the best response. It is such a thrill everytime someone tells me that their child loves my book and asks for it to be read over and over again. That is indescribably wonderful. Although one child has sent me a card with a picture of a whale in it (my very first fan mail!) and I love that too!  

Do you have plans to write stories on a similar tangent? Will Bruno feature in more books?
I really love Bruno and I definitely think he is going to have more adventures. At this stage I haven’t got anything in works, but he is pottering around in the back of my mind, and I’m sure he will come out again soon!  

You obviously have a good imagination! If you could be any animal, what would you be, and why?
Thank you! That’s a tough question! Probably I would have to be an animal that could fly – maybe an eagle or an albatross. I would love the feeling of being able to soar on big wings. Every now and then I have dreams that I can fly, and they are always incredible.  

Have you always wanted to be a picture book author? What do you like about writing children’s literature?
I’ve always wanted to write books for kids, whether that’s picture books or young adult. I think the problems you face as a child and how you handle them mould you into the type of adult you are going to become. Setting up good morals and codes of behaviour (without being preachy or saint-like!) in books, helps kids know how to handle those sorts of situations when they get into them. For me, Whale in the Bath is a story about telling the truth and not being believed. This is something that happens to kids a lot, and I like that Bruno doesn’t back down and is able to find his own way through it, even though no one believes him. You are often very powerless as a child, and I think that writing stories about people like Bruno is a great way of showing how you can empower children, and that’s something that I think is very important.  

What were your favourite books to read when you were a child?
Goodness, I could go on and on for pages here! For picture books, I loved The Most Scary Ghost and The Monster at the End of This Book. When I was a bit older, I loved Enid Blyton’s Famous Five series! I always wanted to be off having adventures with a dog like Timmy! My all time favourite book is To Kill a Mockingbird, and my first dog was named Scout, but I also love JRR Tolkien, Harry Potter, and Diana Wynne Jones.  

You’ve written a fantastic article about getting a book published (read it here). What is your greatest piece of advice for new and emerging writers?
Get as many people as possible to read your work, don’t spend years on the one story (write lots of stories) and keep submitting to magazines and publishers! That’s three pieces of advice, sorry! I couldn’t decide which was most important.  

I’d like to thank Kylie for her time and brilliant responses, as well as a very Merry Christmas and wonderful New Year!  

Find Kylie Westaway at:
http://www.kyliewestaway.com.au
https://www.facebook.com/kyliewestawayauthor
http://www.twitter.com/kyliewestaway  

Romi Sharp
http://www.romisharp.wordpress.com/whale-in-the-bath-teaching-notes
http://www.facebook.com/mylittlestorycorner
http://www.twitter.com/mylilstorycrner  

whale in the bath krill