That’s the Spirit – Aussie books that inform and thrill

With only a week to go before you sling a few more lamb chops onto the barbie, here is swag of ‘must read’ Aussie kids’ titles to put on your reading list, (not the barbie).

theres-a-magpie-in-my-soupThere’s a Magpie in my Soup Sean Farrar & Pat Kan

It’s that time of year when raucous baby magpies scream night and day for food. Seems they are no different when submersed in soup. Sean Farrar takes pre-schoolers on a merry epicurean romp through a menu of Australian critters as they pop up in the most extraordinary of places, (the only one that failed to make the endemic Aussie grade was the porcupine whom I felt could have been replaced by the Echidna). Snakes slither from cakes, cockatoos appear in loos. Possums get stuck in pies and blue tongues pop in for lunch. Kan’s chipper illustrations jockey this ditty merrily along  as rhyme and fauna are introduced to young readers in a fun, relatable way. A jolly little bedtime read.

Big Sky Publishing April 2016

stripes-in-the-forestStripes in the Forest – The Story of the Last Wild Thylacine Aleesah Darlison & Shane McGrath

Demonstrative illustrator, Shane McGrath teams with accomplished author, Aleesah Darlison in this picture book for mid primary readers about the last Tasmanian Tiger. Portrayed in a sweeping epic narrative from a female tiger’s viewpoint, Stripes in the Forest escorts readers through Tasmania’s pre-settlement days to present day, as she recalls a life of cyclical and human influenced changes. Gradually numbers of her kind reduce to the point of assumed extinction however, Stripes ends on a positive note of supposition; what if she is not the last of her kind?

Stripes in the Forest is alluring for its historical references, detailed Thylacine Facts and nod towards the need for environmental awareness and understanding. Full marks for this picture book for making a difference.

Big Sky Publishing July 2016

this-is-banjo-patersonThis is Banjo Paterson Tania McCartney & Christina Booth

Two leather clad gold embossed volumes of verse sit reverently upon my bookshelves: The Singer of the Bush and The Song of the Bush – the collected works of A B Banjo Paterson. Now another, smaller, more modest but equally as treasured title will accompany them; This is Banjo Paterson.

This inspired new picture book by the notable partnership of McCartney and Booth is as entertaining as it is beautiful. It begins in the middle of the Australian bush, at least Andrew Barton ‘Barty’s’ story does but do not be misled by the smooth  informative narrative of McCartney’s for Booth’s illustrations tell another story. Readers are invited into Barty’s urban backyard where they are introduced to his inclinations, desires, friends, and favourite pastimes. He has a hankering for horses and rhyming words but ‘is also a fine sportsman’.

Barty harbours a secret desire to write in verse as he grows and one day one of his anonymously submitted pieces is published. From then on end there is no stopping ‘Banjo’ as his name becomes synonymous with the classic bush inspired, character driven poetry and stories many of us know to this day.

Quiet and unassuming in its delivery, This is Banjo Paterson is visually rich and emotionally satisfying to read.  Many aspects of Banjo’s accomplished life are covered in a way that is both revealing and appreciable for young readers.  McCartney’s knack for conveying facts in a beguiling spirited fashion is put to good use in this picture book that broadens minds and warms hearts. The inspired broadsheet replication at the book’s conclusion includes sepia coloured photographs of Paterson and a more detailed chronological description of his life plus extracts from several of his most well-known poems. Highly recommended for early learners and primary aged readers, This is Banjo Paterson is a marvellous introduction to one of Australia’s literary heroes.

National Library of Australia Publishing (NLA) February 2017

lennie-the-legendLennie the Legend:  Solo to Sydney by Pony Stephanie Owen Reeder

Once upon a time, a nine-year-old boy named Lennie Gwyther took his pony, Ginger Mick for a ride. It was a very long ride, from country Victoria to Sydney, over 1,000 kilometres in fact but in the days of the Great Depression back in the early 1930s, people were accustomed to making such long arduous journeys.

Lennie’s mission was to be at the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and his tenacity and determination were recognised and admired by the entire nation. Lennie’s story is adeptly told by Reeder with animated narrative and is interspersed with complementing historical snippets. Occasionally, comparisons are made between present day and last century living. Stunning photographs of this slice of Australia’s past are included along with fascinating statistics and notable people. The result is a feature-rich read, well endowed with fact and good story telling. Ideally suited for primary aged readers and those who love legends.

NLA February 2015

the-dreaming-treeThe Dreaming Tree Jo Oliver

Whilst suffused with the essence of the Australian landscape and renowned poets, let’s take a moment to appreciate the free verse poetic stylings of Jo Oliver whose, The Dreaming Tree reflects the ‘joy and freedom of being a child in Australia’.  Oliver’s poems, many of which are centred on the fierce and dramatic beauty of the Australian countryside, flow and ebb with all the finesse and passion of a verse novel. They are both uplifting and enlightening, and an extreme joy to read. This collection is presented in a picture book format accompanied by Oliver’s own dreamlike illustrations.  Her note at the end stresses that ‘poetry is fun’ and simply ‘feeling and thought playing together in words’. Oliver’s feelings and thought play magnificently together in The Dreaming Tree, for which I can list no favourites for I relished them all.

Highly recommended for primary and lower secondary school students as an excellent illustrative tool for capturing the essence of feeling in verse and injecting an appreciation for the enjoyment of poetry into the young.

New Frontier Publishing February 2016

HAPPY AUSTRALIA DAY!

#byAustralianBuyAustralian

 

 

 

 

Doodles and Drafts – In conversation with Tania McCartney over tea!

Tania McCartney March 2016 cropTania McCartney is no stranger to the world of Kids’ Literature. Her knowledge and ability to produce entertaining, endearing and enduring picture books is nothing short of remarkable and now sitting comfortably in her enviable arsenal of accreditations, is a re-discovered gift – illustration.

Sumptuously rich in detail and stuffed with enough iconic charm to make both Banjo Paterson and Con the Fruiterer feel at home, her first self-illustrated picture book, Australia: Illustrated delivers a (very satisfying) slice of all things Aussie to an audience who might still remember what a frog cake is as well as those young enough to regard the Wheel of Brisbane as their first Ferris wheel ride.

Australia IllustratedIt is a magnificent compendium of facts, landmarks, foods, cultures, flora, fauna, natural wonders, celebrities and attractions playfully illustrated in Tania’s unique, considered hand. Her drawings do more than just tell a story and describe a caption. They fill my visual soul. New South Wales’s Snowy Mountain region is resplendent with wild silver Brumbies (skiiing, horse riding and snowboarding as it were!) for example, revealing Tania’s cheeky take on life and no doubt, her own personal reflections of a land she clearly adores.

Her affection is contagious. From the divinely cloth-bound cover and very first end pages, clean and devoid of the congestion of civilization (a nod to the pre-settlement days of Australia perhaps), to each State and Territories’ four to five page expose of their specific peculiarities, Australia: Illustrated draws the reader in and, sublimely, educates and entertains along the way. The final end pages, a testament to the diversity and wonder that fills this wide brown land (with green bits, girt by sapphire seas) we call, home.

Today, we leave the draft table for a pair of comfy armchairs, a delicious cup of tea and a few precious moments with the gifted creator behind EK Book’s newest non-fiction picture book release, Australia: Illustrated.

Welcome, Tania. It’s great to finally spend some ‘virtual’ time with you.

So lovely to visit, Dim!

Your very first self-illustrated picture book, Australia Illustrated, is out any moment. Has this been a dream come true?

In a word: yes!

Have you been suffering heart palpitations? I know I’d be more anxious that than

Yes. How did you know??

I could hear them all the way up here in Brisbane.

I’m not surprised. They’re pretty thunderous.

Has this book been a bucket-list kind of thing?

Yes and no. It was more of a meant-to-be than a bucket-list-thing, though now it’s been ticked off my bucket-list, I’m happy it got onto that list!

It has actually just been a long-buried seed of an idea but it may not have even grown if the circumstances hadn’t been right. There was a grant I wanted to apply for, I needed a contract to do so, my publisher just happened to think the idea was fabulous at the time (this changes, as you know!) and I got a contract the next day.

You’re kidding?!

I know! If only all contracts were like that! This was a little scary, though, because the idea was quite ethereal at the time. I mean, I knew it would unfold okay… and it did. But I did it all the wrong way.

What do you mean?

I basically winged it. I had an outline, of course, but the content was pretty much an organic process. I was SO lucky to have this kind of opportunity. And I did the cover first. I mean, who does the cover first?

I don’t much about the illustrative process, but that does sound a little dotty.

SO dotty. But it worked because that cover was one of my favourite things to create, and it set the scene for the style and layout of the entire book. I highly recommend up-ending processes!

Are you proud of thi047 qld daintrees book?

I am for the fact that I finished it. It took a year and contains over 1000 hand-drawn images over 96 pages. Half of the finished pages are digitally illustrated, too, so it was a lot of work and I was also in learning mode at the time (re-learning my illustration skills and also learning digital skills—I basically learned as I went).

I’m also proud of it because it’s my first self-illustrated book and I think first self-illustrated books take a lot of courage. Like, a lot. It’s scary because I’ve had years to get used to writing criticism, but illustration criticism is a whole other colour on the palette.

So, my nerves are on standby, for sure—and I have to consistently tell myself I created this book for me, no one else—and that if kids and adults happen to take pleasure in it, that will please me very, very much. In fact, ALL creators should create books for themselves first and foremost. If we created them for other people, we’d never enjoy it as much or do our best work. And once our books are published, they become someone else’s anyway, so it’s nice to hang onto ownership during production!

Oh gosh, Dim, this tea is so good.

Thanks! Isn’t it divine? You’ve written several books about Australia. Will there be more?

Probably not. I do have ideas for books about Australian people (biographic), plants and animals but they won’t be Australia-centric, if that makes sense.

I don’t know why I’ve written so many books on Australia. It’s not a conscious decision. Perhaps it’s because the world is full of so much negativity right now—I fully realise and accept that our country (any country) is far from perfect, but it just feels so nice to celebrate what’s good here sometimes. And there’s so much that’s good. Australia Illustrated is a celebration of w007 au beautifulhat’s good.

Hear hear! What brought you the greatest pleasure when creating Australia Illustrated?

So much. The creative freedom. The ability to play and allow things to unfold. I know it’s not realistic, but it would be incredible if all books could be created in this way! It’s just so much fun. I loved relearning skills and meeting my characters and learning so much about this country that I never knew.

I loved the digital illustration and the layout and design. I also loved doing the finishing art in Photoshop. Creating the fonts was fun.

How did you do that?

With an app called iFontMaker. It’s fabulous. You can get so creative. You can even create fonts for your kids, using their handwriting.

Sounds fascinating, I’d love to give it a go.

You must. I also loved pulling the pages together. It’s so satisfying.

So, hang on, you did quite a bit for this book. Not just writing and illustrating?

027 nsw sydney ferriesI did heaps. I researched, wrote, fact-checked, drew, painted, did digital illustration and mono-printing, scanning, touching up, photography, fonts, layout, design, typography, cover layout and design—all to print-ready PDF. I LOVE doing all this. It’s so satisfying and skills-building. Then I had the wonderful Mark Thacker from Big Cat Design take all the PDFs and whack them in InDesign for the printer.

And my gorgeous publisher Anouska Jones was my editor and second eyes and ears, and I had a group of other eyes and ears, too, and then there was the team at Exisle and our printing coordinator Carol and publicist Alison and all the fabulous book reps and all the wonderful friends and colleagues who helped me authenticate things and help me out with research.

I have an entire page dedicated to thank yous! I also had the backing of the ACT Government—artsACT—for their grant to help produce this book.

So while I did a lot, I certainly didn’t do it alone. No one ever does it alone.

Gosh, we have an amazing bunch of people in this industry.

We do. I feel privileged to be part of it. This really is great tea, Dim.

Of course it is, it’s from Queensland! What’s next for you, Tania?

Well, I’ve just come out of a long rest! I took a lot of winter off, other than ongoing obligations and a little bit of production on some upcoming titles.

 Oooh – can you share them with us?

COVER FINAL smilecryfullcover-smallWell, one is a sequel to Smile Cry with Jess Racklyeft. The other is a follow-up to This is Captain Cook with Christina Booth—and we’re also in the middle of another picture book for the National Library. Tina Snerling and I have been working on books 6 and 7 for the A Kids’ Year series.

I’ve been planning my illustration style for my first illustration commission with the National Library and I’ve been working on a non-fiction pitch for them, too, which I’ll illustrate. And I’ve been finalising a junior fiction manuscript after talks with a gorgeous publisher. Oh—and just like you would, I have several thousand other little bits and ideas floating around.

Yes, something I can relate 100% to! But would you have it any other way?

No! Well, yes—I really needed that time out after Australia Illustrated. It was an enormous amount of work. 96 pages!! So happy to have my energy and mojo back now, though.

Mojo back is good! Tania, thanks so much for stopping by today. I’ve really enjoyed the chat.

Me, too, Dim! And thanks for the tea!

The kettle is always on…

This is more than a picture book, more than a resource; Australia Illustrated is a meaningful, beautiful, thoughtful, piece of art.

Order Tania’s, Australia: Illustrated, here.

Australia Illustrated Launch PosterFollow all the excitement of her Virtual Launch this week with reveals, sneak peeks, more interviews and giveaways, here.

EK Books November 2016

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

 

 

Where do I belong? – Picture books & Place

When penning a narrative or even recording ones past, authors must be aware of a number of aspects that shape a reader’s impression of the story. A sense of place is one such nuance that forms specific reactions and can colour a reader’s entire experience. When fashioned convincingly enough, a sense of place depicts not only where the story’s characters live and interact but can also provide the answer to how they and the reader belong (to the story). Here are a number of picture books that encourage a distinct sense of place.

Hello!Hello! Illustrated by Tony Flowers

‘Hello!’ is an icebreaker most young children are adept at. However, what if a potential friend’s first language is not English? Hello! is a brilliant introduction to 12 other languages commonly used in Australian homes, including three Indigenous languages. Once children learn to say hello, they are then able to share all sorts of things with their new friends, including favourite games, foods and customs, all in that language. Each new introduction includes how to count up to ten, as well.

Hello spreadThis is a fascinating multicultural exploration aimed at pre-school and primary aged youngsters and is nothing short of ingenious. Many children will have already encountered other people in their lives whose backgrounds and languages differ from their own. Hello! is an unobtrusive, inviting way to show differences need not discourage friendships. Flower’s cartoone-sque illustrations gently emphasise meaning whilst a comprehensive pictorial glossary and pronunciation guide at the end aid carers with extended learning. A marvellous go-to book recommended for home and classroom libraries alike.

National Library of Australia April 2016

Granny's PlaceGranny’s Place by Allison Paterson Illustrated by Shane McGrath

As a city girl growing up far away from my grandparents’ Sunshine Coast hinterland property, visits ‘to grandma’s farm’ were always chocka block full of new adventures and sunny memories to treasure. This bewitching sense of belonging echoes throughout Granny’s Place thanks to Paterson’s beautifully unaffected prose and McGrath’s sublime sepia suffused illustrations.

Granny's Place illo spreadA young girl describes her grandparents’ home that is ‘brimming with treasures of the olden days’ and has ‘springy metal beds and shiny hard floors with tasselled mats…’. It’s a place steeped in rich memories and every day opportunities. It is where family gather in large noisy waves and tiny discoveries, too good to share are made every minute. It is quite simply ‘the best place in the world’. A place where children flourish, absolutely. Alas, people and places cannot last forever as our girl learns to accept after the passing of her grandfather. When Granny has to leave the farm and move to a new life in the city, it is hard to appreciate her new place at first. Fortunately, memories are not so easy to forget and Granny’s love prevails.

Granny’s Place is overflowing with gorgeous imagery that will ignite warm recollections for many older readers. It also radiates the spirit of adventure and the changing rhythms of life that most young people will recognise whilst celebrating these childhood memories.

A marvellous homage to Australia’s past identity and a fitting example of creating a special sense of place.

Big Sky Publishing April 2016

Mr Chicken arriva RomaMr Chicken arriva a Roma by Leigh Hobbs

Mr Chicken pays homage to childhood dreams and aspirations personified. It could be argued that the Australian Children’s Laureate for 2016-2017, Leigh Hobbs is living a little vicariously through the rambunctious, irreverent Mr Chook who was a bit different to other boys and girls. As a youngster, ‘instead of playing games’, he dreamt of life abroad.

Fortunately for fans, both grew up, giving us the opportunity to experience an incredibly detailed, hilarious romp through (this time) Italy’s capital city, Rome. It’s a cavort of pure indulgence as the charming and very forgiving city guide, Federica, escorts Mr Chicken aboard her Vespa through Rome’s traffic ensnarled streets, past the Colosseum, to gelatarias, through the Trevi Fountain and even the Vatican. Hobbs leaves no ruin unturned in this whirlwind excursion, revealing stops I had hitherto forgotten about since my European backpacking days.

Mr Chicken Trevi fountainIf you ever consider tackling a trip to the big five European cities with a chicken in tow, Mr Chicken would be the chook to recruit. Unabridged humour told and depicted in the way only Hobbs can. Fantastic fun and insight to lands beyond for pre and early primary schoolers.

Allen & Unwin August 2016

A New York YearTwelve Months in the Life of …A New York Year & A Texas Year by Tania McCartney Illustrated by Tina Snerling

Unlike the other phenomenally successful titles in the Twelve Months in the Life of picture books series, which look at the life of children from other nations including Australia, A New York Year and A Texas Year focus on individual states within the USA.  Even then, the breathtaking diversity of cultures and idiosyncrasies is almost too mind bogging to comprehend. Yet, the McCartney Snerling picture book team convey these elements with aplomb.

Like their forbearers, New York Year and Texas Year kick off with introductions to the five children who will be our guides throughout the year across these states. They are a delightful homogenous mix of Texans and New Yorkers whose obvious differences (in aspirations, cultural ancestry, and appearance) only serve to highlight the sameness they share with kids all around the world. I particularly love Texan Ethan’s ‘when I grow up’ revelation; ‘I want to be a rock star or a palaeontologist’. Classic seven-year-old clarity!

A Texas YearAs the calendar turns, we are taken on a colourful eclectic  parade through each state stopping to observe significant dates, play games endemic to the region, take in the unique flora, fauna and natural wonders, and then, happily, return to the table to feast on local delicacies. It truly is a smorgasbord for the senses.

I love the detail McCartney is able to inject in the meandering text, which is neither excessive nor too sparse. Each fact acts as a signpost that sparks interest and allows children’s eyes to wonder and roam rather than stick to a regimented reading pattern. Snerling’s cute upon cute illustrations offer clean crisp characterisation and support the minutia of facts superbly.

This series is fast becoming a magnificent compendium of fun, fact-fiction picture books, which kiddies from all over the world can use to draw comparisons and conclusions about their international neighbours, supporting tolerance, enhancing awareness and creating as it were, a marvellous sense of place. Highly recommended for 4 – 8 year olds and big people who don’t get out as often as they should.

EK Books August 2016

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

 

 

Aussies – We salute! Reads to enjoy around the barbie

As the mercury level rises and your pool swells with screaming kids, it might be time to reach out for a reason to remember why you love summer, and kids, and Australia! Here is a real mixed swag of reads full of the flavour of Australia Day.

Australians Let Us B B Q!Australian’s Let Us Barbecue! I featured this one just before Christmas but it’s still worth popping on the bonus CD by Colin Buchanan and Greg Champion for that extra dollop of Oz. Along with the iconic illustrations of, Glen Singleton, every bit of Aussie swank and summer backyard tradition have been merged into the tune of our Australian National Anthem. Throw your thongs in the air and enjoy the rousing recital and sing-along. It’s not just all about burnt black snags on the barbie. The lads take us over rugged mountain ranges, across scorching desert plains, around the Rock, through the Whitsundays and back again. I am on that sailboat and in that Kombi thanks to Singleton’s dynamite depictions. An exemplary example of an Aussie summertime that must be experienced by everyone. Quintessentially, unashamedly Aussie.

Scholastic Australia November 2015

The Little Book of Australian Big ThingsNow that everyone’s levels of Aussie-rama are peaking higher than the midday sun, grab The Little Book of Australia’s Big Things by Samone Bos and Alice Oehr. This nifty little hard back features an amazing assortment of Australia’s BIG things from bananas, lobsters and trout to guitars and bushrangers. Fun, informative, and loaded with cheek and colour, this guided-tour-around-Australia-collection has a charming retro feel with dozens of activities, recipes, and pop-out pages for little ones to Big thingscraft their own big things. The dust jacket forms part of the fun too, folding out into a big Australian panoramic scene. Too true! It’s enough to make me want to jump in the Kombi again and track these all down for the heck of it. Highly recommended.

Chirpy Bird imprint of Hardie Grant Egmont 2015

Speaking Bad Nedof bushrangers, check out a really bad story by Dean Lahn. Actually, his picture book, Bad Ned isn’t all that bad – that’s just the subtitle. The bad face, explosively bold text and cartoon-esque styled illustrations are comically quirky and a pleasing parody of a little boy’s imaginative day. Bad boy Ned models himself on the notorious bushranger, Ned Kelly but at the end of the day, his naughtiness becomes unstuck, literally. More entertaining than expected however the sudden ending may require explanation for young readers not familiar with our bush-rangering lore.

Omnibus Books imprint of Scholastic May 2015

ABC DreamingIndigenous author, Warren Brim hails from Far North Queensland, as do I, so it was a marvellous treat experiencing ABC Dreaming. Unlike some learn-the-alphabet books, ABC Dreaming depicts a unique array of Aussie (rainforest) characters, fruits, and flora. The stunning x-ray line, dot artwork paints each subject against a vibrant background that best accentuates its unique features. From Red-eyed green tree frogs, mozzies and nutmeg pigeons to yabbies and xanthorrhoeas (blackboys or grasstrees), this is a beautiful and stimulating way for little Aussies to learn their ABCs.

Magabala Books November 2015

An English Year front cover (800x770)But of course, little Aussies take on all shapes and forms. If you’d like to spend Aussie day appreciating your family’s diversity and background or the culture of others who make up our great society, cast an eye over Tania McCartney’s and Tina Snerling’s latest additions to their Twelve Months in the Life of Kids series. An English Year and A Scottish Year are as good as actually being there. I encourage you to visit this awesome series of picture books that allows Aussie kids better beautiful contact with kids outside their ‘norm’ of experience. Lavishly illustrated, meticulously thought out and superbly accurate, An English Year invites you to experience the English isle, its inhabitants, and rituals without the need of a passport. Better than a bacon buttie. Exploring the highlands and lowlands of Scotland is just as fun as well. You’ll be visiting this one time and time again if nothing more than to practice pronouncing the Celtic mouthfuls of place names, traditional fare and annual events.

A Scottish Year front cover (800x770)Fun and informative. Breezy yet substantial. I have to say, I’m a little bit in love with this series. Potentially so useful in the classroom and home. Of course, if it’s Aussie flavour you’re after, An Aussie Year is the non-fiction picture book choice.

EK Books imprint of Exisle Publishing September 2015

The Big Book of Australian History 2I embrace the digital dexterity of our young generation however confess that I sometimes get a lot more joy from thumbing over pages of facts and images rather than endlessly scrolling and clicking. There’s something so organically satisfying and enriching reading an old tome style encyclopaedia. Renowned history and science writer, Peter Macinnis has created a sensational collection of historic events for primary and high school students in, The Big Book of Australian History that I am delighted to thumb through.

From the time Gondwana broke up to when strangers arrived in the 1600s to our present day milestone-makers, this is a truly superlative treasure trove of highlights, did-you-knows, ancient discoveries and of course stunning images, photographs and maps. As stated by the National Library of Australia, The Big Book of Australian History (shortly to be followed by The Big Book of Indigenous History) ‘is a book to dip into and savour’, an ‘enthusiastic retelling of Australia’s story that is infectious’. Informative text is presented in a non-over whelming way and broken up into logical chapter chunks flowing chronologically from the Dreamtime to modern day, finally entreating readers with the proposition that they are tomorrow’s history makers. Bloody marvellous, if you’ll pardon my Aussie vernacular. But then of course, it is time to salute our Aussieness!

National Library Australia May 2015

Enjoy and Happy Australia Day!

 

 

 

 

 

 
 

 

 

‘Balm for the Soul’ – Summer holiday Reviews

Parachute Nintendo gameSummer school holidays for me are childhood memories of searing hot days in a sun-shrivelled backyard, homegrown apricots cold from the fridge after a swim in the above ground pool, and losing myself for hours on end in stories. What are your perfect summer holiday memories? Chances are your children’s summers are crystallising into something unforgettable as we speak and although game-playing is much more sophisticated and consuming than my days on the old Game and Watch Nintendos (Go Snoopy Tennis and Parachute!), here’s hoping story books still play a significant role in their holiday adventures. Here are some outstanding titles that are perfect for sharing these holidays. Picture books, yes, but hum dingers they are!Perfect

For the freedom seekers…

I am falling more in love with and in awe of Danny Parker’s work with each new release. Perfect, illustrated by Freya Blackwood wildly perpetuates this love affair. As revealed in a recent seminar, Parker uses song-like nine syllabic rhyming verse (akin to kuji mantras) to eloquently describe three children’s summer place and activities. It’s superbly simple and concise yet captures each moment of the children’s life with astounding alacrity. They lounge in the sunshine, mix and make, break and create. They meander and breathe, soar and believe until storm clouds pen them indoors. Their days are full of scheming, with nights of ‘beautiful dreaming’.

Perfect Illos spread # 2 Perfect, quite simply…is. Crisp, clean and wholesome smudged with daring that belies the adventure of the children’s days. Summer essence is beautifully bound together with Blackwood’s timeless pencil and acrylic painted illustrations; delicate and creamy, exuding a fullness of spirit that only children with no restraint of time or imagination possess. A perfect portrayal of freedom and joie de vivre. Better than Nintendo! Read more about these two creators and Perfect in Romi’s post, here.

Little Hare Books Hardie Grant Egmont October 2015

Australian Kids through the YearsFor reminiscing…

Another better than perfect picture book to place up front and foremost on your bookshelves this summer is Tania McCartney’s and Andrew Joyner’s, Australian Kids through the Years. This is blindingly brilliant. At first, I had a niggling concern that the target audience (5 – 8) might suffer some disconnection with the past, it being so far away from yesterday for them and their collected reference frames, but I was happily wrong on this account. My Miss 9 adored every page, every era, every word, and every image (yes, even the 80s) of this unreal expose of kids’ lives from the very first inhabitants to present day. What they ate, wore, played, and Australian Kids Years illo spreadeven read is faithfully recounted in kid-friendly pictures and bubble boxes. There’s a real personal intimacy with the kids from each time period created by McCartney’s short and sweet vignettes so joyfully illustrated by Joyner. (His illustrations smack of Little Golden Book, old-world charm – a perfect match for the text).

So much more than a catalogue of that-was-then facts, Australian Kids Through the Years brings hysterically accurate information right back into our lives (hysterical because I still own a Walkman) and is absolutely brilliant to share with today’s Z Generation. My Miss Z revelled in the revelations. (Yes, Mummy really did love her dragster bike). A must for homes and schools, and late-20th Century tragics like me. You’ll be digging out your Nintendo after reading this, too!

Australian Kids Year illo spread # 2Timelines and listings of illustrations are all faithfully included, as well. Read Joy Lawn’s Aussie round up on good reads, here.

National Library of Australia October 2015This & That

For the littlies…

It’s been a little while since the Mem Fox / Judy Horacek duo joined forces. Not since their Where is the Green Sheep? have I read a picture book so many times in one sitting. Happy to report some fresh material is now available to rest your sheep-weary sensibilities and, ironically, Horacek’s iconic sheep make a fleeting cameo in, This & That.

Essentially a tale for the under fours, This & That is robust and short enough to go a few (dozen) rounds at bedtime. Fox focuses her balanced prose with simple rhyme and rhythm mixing fantastical improbabilities with silly acceptability. They are stories, made up for your amusement after all. Horacek’s clean-lined illustrations embellish the possibilities even further. I love her use of pinging colour and light and shade.

This & That has a vaguely familiar feel to it but it’s a formula that works a wonder, if Green Sheep is anything to go by. Not all of Fox’s work works for me but this one has been worth the wait. Guaranteed to be the new go-to bedtime favourite these holidays.

Scholastic Australia October 2015

For the thinkers…River Riddle

If you’re anxious about your kids’ minds slipping in a soporific summer stupor fear not, this fun picture book, River Riddle by first time team, Jim Dewar and Anil Tortop will keep them (and you) engrossed in many minutes of contemplative thought, or in my case many many many minutes. You see, this tale is based on the well-known kids’ logic puzzle and those two words (logic and puzzle) reside uncomfortably in my head. I just find this difficult! That is not to say, impossible. Dewar’s clever rhyming quatrains ably set the scene and pace for Jack whose aim is to make it to the market with his bag of hay…on the other side of a deep wide river.

River Riddle illosHis companions, a fox called Frank and a sheep called Dolly are not to be trusted on their own so in spite of a small boat being available for their river crossing, the dilemma of whom to row across first and whom to leave on shore till later arises. Turns out, Jack is smarter than I am and solves his river riddle but does he make it to the market in time?

Tortop’s kid-cute digi illustrations are boisterous, bright, and cheery. My primary schooler had loads of fun recreating this story and acting out ‘the crossing’ with her toys in a mathematical logical way; again, I had to leave the room so confused did I become. This is the kind of holiday pre-occupation you’d pay for, am I right. Great for small minds and big thinkers.

Scholastic Australia August 2015

If none of these holidays reads suit you, discover more here at the Kids Holiday Reading Guide 2015 – 2016.

To all who have read, wept and laughed at my words and those of so many others this past year, a heartfelt THANK YOU. Have a great Festive Season and a safe, story-filled New Year! I’m off to scoff a few fruit mince pies and of course, keep on reading!

 

 

 

 
 

 

Review – This is Captain Cook

This is Captain CookHistory can be a hard pill to swallow. It’s easy to choke on a diet of dried up, dusty old facts about dried up, dusty old people. Trouble is, what those folk did in our not so distant pasts was often fascinating and ground-breaking and well worth exploring. So how do you find the right sweetener to tempt young people to try a nibble of the past? You dish it up as a school play, garnish it with luscious imagery, and call it a picture book, of course!

This is Captain Cook by Tania McCartney and Christina Booth, is exactly how I like my history served up and, as it turns out, how my Miss 9 likes it too. The fact that she was able to recognise that these adventurous events occurred, ‘way before you were born Mummy’ at the time when the First Fleet began arriving, indicated that this fact-based picture book struck accord with her and her current class room learning.

Tania Mc McCartney skilfully navigates the reader through a carefully considered chronology of James Cook’s life. Miss 9 was keen to point out that the opening act is clear and clever, introducing us to Cook’s beginnings and the start of the school play in which his life is being portrayed.

Christina Booth 2Rather like a one-take shoot on a film set, This is Captain Cook retains the same illustrative perspective throughout the book. The reader has (second) row seats in the audience and is thus privy to not only the terrific parallel visual narrative of the audience members, but of every action that takes place on stage too. You may think this would have the potential to dissolve into dreariness but it definitely does not thanks to McCartney’s spirited narrative and Booth’s charming drawings.

Captain Cook illo spreadIf Miss 9 had more thumbs, she would hoist them as high as a top sail because she enjoyed the lively comedy used to gently reveal Cook’s personality (as it may have been) and his penchant for shiny buttons rather than just focusing on his noteworthy exploits and achievements. She found the latter much easier to ingest because of the humanisation of his story. Sitting through another telling of the ‘show’ was not problem either although she is quick to add that perhaps a life at sea would not be for her as it seems Cook was never ever able to have a pet dog; at least not in this particular production! An ubiquitous chook and comical cast of other avian members however, make a delightful reoccurring appearance throughout the performance, earning a standing ovation from me too.

Captain Cook illo 2There is a raft of exquisite subtle details in this tale about one of the most accomplished mariners and adventurers of our time all served up with just the right amount of frivolity and wit guaranteed to keep youngsters 3 – 8 years old and beyond tucking in. And, just like eating a bowl of vegies in the guise of Spaghetti Bolognese, they will hardly even realise that it’s good for them.

Before you get to the utterly endearing end pages (Bok Bok!), walk through Cook’s Gallery to view some of the real pictures and maps sections of this story are based around. You are invited to discover more through links by the National Library of Australia who announces that this picture book is not so much about ‘the questionable outcomes of exploration and settlement for indigenous peoples’ rather a focus on ‘the life of Captain James Cook as a mariner, father and adventurer.’

With the help of one cheeky chook, and McCartney and Booth, I think this objective has been admirably achieved. Somebody give these chooks a bouquet of flowers. Brava!

NLA March 2015 Available here, now.

This review was kindly supplemented by Miss 9 Powell, who surprisingly now likes history.

 

 

 

Blog Blast! Review – Tottie and Dot

PHold on to your marshmallows because new girls on the block, Tottie and Dot, have invited us all to their megatabulous Blog Blast party. Today with the help of co-hosts, Tania McCartney and Tina Snerling, we celebrate the explosive launch of picture book, Tottie and Dot. And what a feast for the senses it is.

Tottie and Dot live side by side at numbers 36 and 38, in a retro-chic, bubble gum coloured world. Beneath skies of teal blue, they share a harmonious aqua and cerise hued friendship of marshmallow tea and apricot sandwiches, ‘side by side’. Even their pet pussycats frolic in neighbourly tranquillity.

tottie-and-dot-3-originalTheir slightly stepford-wives existence seems almost too peaceful to be perfect, although I stress this is more a reference to their spectacular domiciliary set up. There is nothing submissive or docile about these two bright characters. However, social calm is suddenly thrust into the spotlight of competition when Tottie has a radical change of heart and paints her house mauve.

Her benign act of home improvement sets off a chain of competitive one-up-man-ship attempts between her and Dot, until what begins as subtle rivalry between two friends escalates into riotous mayhem. Each is determined not to be outdone by the other.

Dishevelled and in disarray, Tottie and Dot collapse amongst the mess of their jealously realising that there is much more at stake than art deco garden ornaments and strings of butterflies. Their treasured friendship is on the line.

Tania McCartney 2 Tottie and Dot is the latest picture book deliciousness doled up by Tania McCartney and Tina Snerling. As with their previous bestseller, An Aussie Year, Tottie and Dot effortlessly teams McCartney’s delectable dream-like story line with Snerling’s candy-luscious illustrations. Sweetly simple statements are anchored on full double page spreads with divinely drawn detail, right down to the tiny-tarred paw prints and gumball pebbled paths.Tina-Snerling-360px

Kids aged four and above will get a real sherbet flavoured blast from this picture book. It’s extreme in colour and action yet beneath the sugar coating, the idea that Tottie and Dot blog blast webfriendship is all-important fizzes away satisfyingly. Treat yourself to it soon.

But wait, the party’s not over yet! For more fun, insights on the book, reviews and interviews with its creators, check out this schedule or just click on the poster.It’s all happening TODAY and today only!

#tottieanddot

Tottie and Dot is available here now.

EK Books September 2014

 

 

On the warpath with Tania McCartney and her Eco Warriors – Blog Tour Review

eco warriors coverStep outside into your garden or even local parkland. What do you see? Is it a verdant, vibrant paradise or neglected virtual wasteland? Today I am ecstatic to be on the war path with fellow lover of nature, kids and books, the luminous Tania McCartney. With more books blooming to life this year than a golden wattle in spring time, Eco Warriors to the Rescue!, stands tall and proud amongst them encapsulating the best of backyard adventure, magic and the preservation of our astonishing native flora.

Quintessentially named school-kids, Banjo, Matilda and Ned, are on a bit of a botanical mission. As self-appointed eco warriors with a goal to keep our native plants thriving for generations to come, they wisely consult their big book of Aussie flora and fauna. They become magically entwined within its pages smothered with splendiferous botanical paintings.

Eco Flame treesTheirs is a journey of enlightenment, discovery and wonder as they interact with such native gems as the kangaroo paw, blue quandong and my favourite, the flame tree. Each encounter reveals a basic fact, crucial to the long term survival of not only that species but our native environment as a whole. Young readers are introduced to the holistic ideology that plants, like animals, need much more than just clean water to flourish. Things like polluted bushland, introduced animal species, unregulated development and even unthoughtful behaviour like picking native flowers can dramatically affect the existence of our wild-flora.

This might seem like a heavy message to impart on young children but it is carefully implied with the clever use of real life images; our little warriors are visually shown as real people with beating hearts and souls and thus are completely believable as the executers and educators of the tips and tricks offered to us (and thoughtfully numbered throughout). Most resplendent in this joyful showering of information is the final notion that the ultimate thing we can do for our native plants is to ‘enjoy!’ them. So we should and so we can with Eco Warriors.

Tania McC McCartney considerately includes plenty of ways to think about and embrace our native plants with the inclusion of maps, links, explanations and even a list of native birth flowers. Her fertile, design-bejewelled mind  beautifully harmonises crisp, clear dialogue with the multi-media used throughout this picture book. I’m no expert in this field but recognise a good spread when I see one. (You can learn more about the design and layout behind this beautiful book at Angela Sunde’s blog).

Eco Warriors to the Rescue! packs a punch for all the right reasons. This book has a lovely ‘dirt girl’ feel and robust design with thick glossy pages (notably printed on paper from sustainable forest resources) and is more than suitable for repeated discussion, field trips and reads; outdoors perhaps, sprawled on the grass, gazing up through the branches of a flame tree aglow with carmine, campanula blooms. Botanical metaphors aside, McCartney has cultivated yet another work of art, which kids all over Australia and beyond will have fun reaping.

National Library of Australia August 2013

Join Tania McCartney and her three real-life eco warriors—Banjo (Riley), Ned (Andrew) and Matilda (Claire)—as they launch Eco Warriors to the Rescue! at Canberra’s National Arboretum Gift Shop, Saturday 5 October 2013, at 11am.

Can’t wait till then? Then stick around and visit some more of her exciting blog tour stops where you can learn more about the book and how to become an Eco Warrior.

Eco Warriors Blog Tour FINAL

View this book and purchase on line here.

Blog Tour Dates and Places

Sunday 1 September

Sneak Peek

Tania McCartney’s Blog

taniamccartney.blogspot.com

 

Review

Boomerang Books Blog

blog.boomerangbooks.com.au

 

Giveaway

Pass It On

jackiehoskingpio.wordpress.com/school-magazine

 

Mixed Media Illustrations for Picture Books

Angela Sunde

Under the Apple Tree

 

Monday 2 September

 

Book Review

Book Giveaway

Kids Book Review

kids-bookreview.com

 

Eco Tips for Little Readers

Sheryl Gwyther’s Blog

sherylgwyther.wordpress.com

 

Bringing Up Eco Warriors

The Book Chook

www.thebookchook.com

 

Review

Books for Little Hands

booksforlittlehands.blogspot.com.au

 

Literature Supporting Sustainability

Children’s Books Daily

www.childrensbooksdaily.com

 

Author Interview

Alison Reynolds

www.alisonreynolds.com.au

 

Tuesday 3 September

 

Giveaway

My Little Bookcase

www.mylittlebookcase.com.au

 

Review

5 Multi-Media Writing Tips

DeeScribe

deescribewriting.wordpress.com

 

Review

Writing for the National Library of Australia

BuzzWords

buzzwordsmagazine.com

 

Review

Elaine Ouston Blog

elaineoustonauthor.com

 

Review

Giveaway

Soup Blog

soupblog.wordpress.com

 

Doodles and Drafts – A Very Jumpy Tour with Tania McCartney

The most spectacular thing about a plain old butter cake is often its layers. Colour them, stack them and then you have a thing of unique beauty and depth. This is exactly what makes a stand out picture book for me: its multiple layers. And today I am honoured to share the latest delectable offering from a children’s author and reviewer who needs no introduction to the readers of Boomerang Blog, Tania McCartney.

Riley the Jumpy Kangaroo cover MEDIUM Riley and the Jumpy Kangaroo: A journey around Canberra, is the fifth in the adventure-laced Riley Aviator series by McCartney and illustrator Kieron Pratt. Its timely release coincides with the Centennial celebrations of our nation’s capital.

There’s been some pretty dubious and extraordinary thumping and going ons in Parliament House of late. I’m not sure if Jumpy Roo is responsible for all of them but on the occasion Riley and his colourful collection of mates from previous sojourns visit Canberra, they discover that Jumpy Roo is crazy mad jumpy about something and spring smartly after her to find out exactly what.

Riley Little AviatorRiley’ little red plane is filling up as he and his faithful league pursue Jumpy Roo all around and in and out of some of Canberra’s most iconic attractions plus some less-well known ones. Until, after a near disastrous caffeine fix, Jumpy finally comes to rest in the resplendent gardens of Commonwealth Park to literally stop and ‘smell the flowers’ and thankfully find what she was so frantically looking for.

The previous Riley journeys whetted my appetite for travel and adventure. This one truly satisfies my hunger for that exquisite multi-layering; of ingenious artwork, clever concepts, humour and subtle sensitivity.

Young readers will hardly be aware that they are absorbing the unique heart of Australia’s Capital city as they are transported through McCartney’s economical yet colourful descriptions of place-names and locations. The pace is fast and furious and thanks to McCartney’s unique sense of style and design, the pages are a vivid three dimensional feast of movement and humour. Black and white images spiked with contrasting colour work seamlessly with Kieron Pratt’s charming, cartoonesque illustrations.

Whether you have ever set foot on the ‘grassy lawns of Parliament House’ before or not, this picture book is packed with enough reasons to entice (another) visit. And enough kid appeal to ensure that youngsters from 3 – 10 at least will not let the Canberra Centennial go unnoticed.

Tania McCartneyTo commemorate the imminent release of Riley and the Jumpy Kangaroo, we’re taking off right now with Tania herself. So grab your goggles and hop on board for a blog tour, that’s sure to be as zany as riding with Riley himself and guaranteed more fun than a Federal election.

Q Tania you have dedicated a great deal of your life to writing for children and practised it in several parts of the world. How long have you called Canberra home? How much do you feel the place you reside and write in influences what and how you write?

We’ve been in Canberra four-and-a-half years, which is one of the longest periods I’ve spent anywhere. Before that, my family and I were in Beijing for four years and before that, I’d moved over sixty times, living in various places from Hobart to Paris. When I met my husband, we moved every 18 months, so this time in Canberra is a record!

The place I call home enormously influences what and how I write. I think travel expands the mind, heart and soul in ways nothing else can, so I do hope my work has evolved and improved as I’ve moved around the globe. Travel is high on our family’s priority list and I love to write it into my books—the Riley the Little Aviator series a case in point!

Q This is the fifth book in the Riley Aviator series of adventures. Why did it take so long to get around to Canberra? Was it your intention to coincide Riley’s 5th adventure with the 100th Anniversary of our nation’s capital?

I had released a Riley book every year, and yes, this fifth book took two years—mainly because I’ve been so busy with other book contracts. The Riley books also take a lot of time and energy, as they comprise photos, illustrations and text, but I also design and layout the books.

I had intended to release the Canberra book at the end of last year, in time for the first Centenary celebrations, but I’m glad it was delayed … it’s nice to bring something new to this glorious year, and the best part is that I get to launch the book at Floriade. I’m very excited about that.

Q When did the original concept for Riley the Aviator take off? Tell us what are you trying to convey with this picture book series?

I was working in Beijing as an expat magazine editor and columnist for several English language magazines and had access to a large audience. I’d been writing children’s picture books for a very long time but had never subbed them; I thought it might be fun to publish my own picture book, as printing is so cheap in China and I’ve always adored book design.

So, I set out on a self-publishing journey—because I could—and it worked out very well for me. The first book was Riley and the Sleeping Dragon: A journey around Beijing, which followed the series’ photographic format, with and a little boy flying around in a little red plane, in this case looking for a sleeping dragon.

It was very much a home-made production. I took photos of a little tin plane I found at Panjiayuan antiques market, sourced an illustrator online and set about creating this book, which was hugely successful in the capital. I was in my third print run by the time we came home in 2009.

Essentially my goal was to take kids on a journey around that amazing city, but also give them subtle clues and reminders about the cultural aspects that comprise the city. The dragon, for example, ends up morphing from the Great Wall, ‘waking up to the world’, and so he was a metaphor for this strong, powerful, ancient country, opening its doors to the world during a momentous time in history (the 2008 Olympic Games).

In my mind, this first book was a personal memento for my own kids—and other expat kids—but it became much more than that, and you can imagine my surprise and delight when the book did well back home. The way this book was embraced was the kick-starter for a series of Riley books.

IMG_6554Q Riley’s journeys allow us to explore a number of fascinating locations with some suitably exotic characters including a splendid dragon and dazzling lion. Was it difficult deciding on the star of your latest book?

It was the easiest yet! Canberra residents enjoy the surreal reality of kangaroos hopping around their urban neighbourhoods—a reality we spend so much time trying to quash in the eyes of the rest of the world! So a kangaroo was, without question, the perfect animal for Riley to trail.

I had SO much fun with this character. She really is a hoot and I love how frantic she becomes while searching for something she’s lost. I also love the poignancy of the story’s ending. In this way, it’s the most emotional Riley book I’ve done.

Kieron PrattQ Did the character choices in Jumpy Kangaroo come first in this instance or the location where Riley’s adventure takes place?

The locations always come first. I do this because I want to choose locations that are famous but also interest children. I then take the character and place them in those locations, and—essentially—the characters are the ones who *show me/tell me what they’ll get up to at each stop. Roo’s reactions were brilliant, and I think kids will really relate to her high energy and kooky nature. (*via Kieron, the illustrator)

Q How important was it (for you) to include as much of Canberra’s sights, attractions and significant monuments in this book? Did you have to leave much out? I noticed there are no petrol stations featured in this tour. I never seem to notice any petrol stations in Canberra! Why is that? (Not a compulsory question)

Oh petrol stations—don’t start me. I only know of two. Thankfully, one is close-by but we’ve had to take diversions to Kingston on many an occasion. I’m guessing that’s because the capital is so teensy (anywhere in 25 minutes or less) so we don’t need to refill our tanks often??

The thing about Canberra, other than its petrol stations, is that it has so very, very much to see and do. I adore the city for that reason. So yes, much was left out of the book. I tried to include the Big Guns—Parliament, War Memorial, Lake Burley Griffin—but also sites that attract kids, like Questacon and the Zoo. I love the aerial shot in the book because that encompasses much that had to be left out!

 Q Amongst a myriad of other scintillating past times, you have a particular talent and penchant for photography. How many of the photographs used in the Riley series are yours? Was satisfying two loves at once, writing and shutter-bugging, a tricky thing to pull off?

I do love photography, and most photos in the Riley series are mine, though I had to source a few for Riley and the Grumpy Wombat because I couldn’t get to Melbourne to flesh out my catalogue of images. The Victorian Tourism Board helped in that regard.

My Handmade Living book was filled with my photography and my next book with the National Library features my photographs of children. I’m also working on some new picture book concepts which include photos. I love it and it’s never a chore!

RQ I love the occasional quirky references you include in the Jumpy Kangaroo along with the imaginative use of language. Confuddled had me chuckling from page one. Is your reference to R U OK ? a deliberate inclusion, subtly reminding us of the importance of checking in with friends and being mindful of their problems or just a lovely play on the vernacular for kids?

The R U OK? part in the book was a conscious addition … Riley is a rampant adventurer but hisunderlying modus operandi is that he really genuinely cares about each animal he seeks. Roo is indeed frantic in this book, and it’s his concern that forces him to trail her and attempt to help her out.

This caring nature is also reflected in the animal characters that come along for the ride (along with lots of quirk and humour). I think modern kids are so gorgeous and so talented but as the world gets smaller and smaller, they become more and more desensitised. I hope my books help them understand how important it is to care.

 T MC with friends Q Finally, if you could jump into Riley’s little red biplane and fly anywhere in the world, where would you go and why?

This changes all the time but right now it would be Boston or Ireland. Hmm … must be experiencing an Irish fetish. Not sure why. Maybe I’ve just spent too much time indoors at this computer and am desperate for a slice of green. I’ve also never visited either place, and I do love experiencing the new.

Q Additional bonus question: Is the blonde lady touting too many shopping bags along City Walk who I think it is?!

Yes! And the kids on the bench are my kids—the Real Riley and my ever-patient daughter Ella. My next series will feature her!

Thank you for sharing Riley, Roo and best of all Canberra with us Tania! Hope your blog tour is as thrilling a journey as the one you’ve given us with Riley and the Jumpy Kangaroo.

But wait, there’s even more!

Jumpy Roo Blog Tour The Jumpy Roo book launch is being held at Floriade this year! Anyone living in or visiting Canberra on 15 September is invited along, but RSVPs are essential if you want a goodie bag and balloon! You can find out more here. Can’t make the launch and want to read more? Then check out all of Tania’s great books available for purchase here.

You can also visit the Riley the Little Aviator website to see updates, learn more about the places Riley visits, and see behind-the-scenes work. There’s also some Fun Activities for kids.

Learn more about Tania at her website.

And don’t forget check out the Blog Tour Schedule for the rest of Riley’s exciting touch downs.

For full Blog Tour Schedule, head here.

Ford Street Publishing, an imprint of Hybrid Publishing August 2013

 

 

On My Bedside Table – # 2

Bedside table 2Does your bedside table feature nothing more than a sedate, sleek bedside lamp and the latest eReader? Or is an outrageous collection of self-help, kids’ lit, how-to, YA, book club, must-review-reads piled unceremoniously on top of each like mine?

I tried reading one book at a time. Found it just wasn’t for me. I now prefer the heady experience of flitting from one world to another. It’s a little chaotic and bewildering at times I admit. But the crazy excitement of reading so many varying titles simultaneously keeps me entertained and enlightened beyond words. It’s a bit like heading down Edgware Road, atop a London double-decker bus, at night. Boisterous, sublime, sensory saturation. You really should try it sometime.

Here are a few more our brightest and best Aussie authors who have and are…

Angela Sunde ~ Gold Coast based children’s author and illustrator of picture books, short stories and Pond Magic, with a strong penchant for apples.

A Small Free Kiss in the DarkI’m currently reading A Small Free Kiss in the Dark, by Glenda Millard. A beautiful evocative voice which reminds me of Morris Gleitzman’s ‘Then’ series. It could possibly be one of my favourite books.

I am re-reading the Puzzle Ring, by Kate Forsyth, looking carefully at structure this time.

I’m also reading Pen on Fire, by Barbara DeMarco-Barrett – a busy woman’s guide to igniting the writer within.

At the top of my teetering ‘to be read’ pile are: Citadel by Kate Mosse and The Wild Girl by Kate Forsyth.

On my coffee table you will find Advanced Style by Ari Seth Cohen. This is a photo book based on Cohen’s blog, Advanced Style. The images portray fabulous women and men of New York who are all silver-haired individualists. I find it inspiring and also a useful reference for characters.

Also on the coffee table is Australian Voices, edited by Ariana Klepac and John Thompson. It is a collection of extracts from diaries, letters, photos and recollections, ranging from the First Fleet to the Great War. There is a story waiting to be written on every page.

And there are many more….

Kate Forsyth ~ internationally best-selling, award-winning author of adult fiction and children’s literature from picture books to fantasy novels, with a strong penchant for fairy tales.

WonderstruckI’m reading ‘Enchanted April’ by Elisabeth von Arnim at present, and then I have on my bedside table to read:

‘Scarlet in the Snow‘ by Sophie Masson

‘The Ashford Affair’ by Lauren Willig

‘Chalice’ by Robin McKinley

‘The Fault in Our Stars‘ by John Green

Dark Road to Darjeeling‘ by Deanna Raybourne

‘Wonder Struck’ by Brian Selznick

I may not read them in this order.

Tania McCartney ~ acclaimed children’s author, editor, publisher and reviewer, with a strong penchant for photography and raspberries.

Eric Vale, Epic Fail: Super Male by Michael Gerard Bauer (Scholastic). I want to review this . . . if I can prise it out of my son’s monkey grip.

Warp: The Reluctant Assassin by Eoin Colfer (Puffin). I am most embarrassed to admit I’ve never read any of Colfer’s books; am desperate to read Artemis Fowl but I would need another week in my day in order to do this right now. So, until then, I am determined to read and review this first book in the WARP series for Kids’ Book Review.

Riley and the Jumpy Kangaroo: A journey around Canberra by Tania McCartney (Ford Street). My first advance copy. I literally haven’t had time to go through it yet!

1599: A year in the life of William Shakespeare by James Shapiro (Faber + Faber). It’s a very patient book. It’s been sitting on my bedside table unopened for about six months.

Storyteller: The Life of Roald Dahl by Donald Sturrock (Harper Press). Andy Griffiths recommended this to me but don’t tell him I haven’t even started it yet. It’s calling to me . . ..

What's Wrong With the Wobbegong What’s Wrong with the Wobbegong? by Phillip Gwynne, illustrated by Gregory Rogers. It’s not out till June so I can’t review it yet, but I just need to keep Gregory Rogers close right now

 

Farewell, so long . . . + introducing Dimity Powell

In case you hadn’t worked it out yet, one of my favourite things to do in the whole wide world, is read. And because I simply can’t help myself, I also love to talk to others about what I’m reading. This is why I review. I simply love to review . . . but I also love to write – and the creative powers that be {ie: my brain + heart} have made recent writing demands that are now outstripping my ability to review. This means that – with much regret – I am moving on from the Boomerang Books Blog in order to dedicate even more time to my craft.

I have simply adored my time with the fabulous, book-loving team at Boomerang. I have managed to accumulate an even larger library of books {if that’s at all possible} thanks to Boomerang’s stunning catalogue of highly-addictive titles, and I have so enjoyed bringing you news, reviews and interviews – from board books to YA.

I am leaving the children’s book part of this fabulous blog in the very capable hands of Queensland-based author Dimity Powell, whose adoration for literature and the written word will shine through in her posts. That’s Dim {above right} with me at my book launch in Brisbane earlier this year and she is quite simply the perfect person to bring you kids’ book news. I know you will love her as much as I do.

Wishing you all a blissful festive season and an intensely bookish 2013. I will be going on a long-yearned-for trip with my family at the end of the year, and will then be throwing myself into a series of books I’m very excited about. You can see what I’m up to at www.taniamccartney.com {with links to my blog, facebook, twitter, instagram, etc} and of course, I’ll still be active at Kids Book Review.

Thank you so much for following along – I hope you’ve had as much fun as I have.

Happy reading!

Five Very Bookish Questions with author Sheryl Gwyther

Today is my second-last day at Boomerang Books – tomorrow I shall introduce my sensational new replacement! – but until then, it feels very fitting to feature Sheryl Gwyther in my last Very Bookish Questions. Sheryl is a talented, beautiful writer with a deep passion for children’s literature and literacy. She is also a dear and supportive friend. I hope you enjoy this wonderful peek into her bookish world.

1. Which genre of children’s books do you like most and why?

Tricky question. I’m like a Will o’the Wisp … slipping between genres to whatever takes my fancy. At the moment, I’m into fantasy – YA fantasy, with the books of Juliet Marillier, in particular, Son of the Shadows (glorious, gripping story that I can’t put down). I also love stories for the 9-13 age group – after all, it’s for this age I most love writing.

2. Which books did you love to read as a young child?

Adventure, and fantasy too! Like The Secret Seven and The Famous Five, and the Narnia series, The Hobbit, and being a precocious reader that I was, those huge books of James Michener‘s from my mother’s bookshelf – didn’t understand a lot of what was going on in them, luckily!

3. Which three attributes make for a great children’s book?

Characters that make you fall in love with them. A plot that never falters. Words that force your imagination into overdrive. Philip Pullman’s The Subtle Knife; Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by JK Rowling; Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book (suitable for older children).

4. What is your number one tip for encouraging children to read?

Show them by example how enjoyable reading can be; read to them and make it interesting; make the weekly trip to the library a time of excitement and pleasure.

5. Name three books you wish you’d written.

Ha, that’s easy! As well as all of the above in question three, I choose Michael Gerard Bauer’s The Running Man and Jonathan Stroud’s The Golem’s Eye, and Fox, a picture book by Margaret Wild and illustrated by Ron Brooks – it’s my favourite picture book of all time for its sparse, heart-rending storytelling and for Brooks’ brilliant art work. With an artist eye, I’ve examined with forensic detail the skilled techniques of his mark-making, right back to the ground he laid before he touched it with colour. Brooks is a master of his art.

About Sheryl

A children’s author from Brisbane, Sheryl writes novels, school plays, short stories and articles for children’s magazines, chapter books for educational publishers, and the odd ‘flash-fiction’ for adults. She’s the Assistant Regional Advisor for SCBWI Qld, and is also on the Board of Directors of the Australian Society of Authors. Her awards include two ASA awards (both before she became a director!) and a May Gibbs Literature Trust Fellowship.

www.sherylgwyther.net

Review – My Big Photo Activity Book

In the vein of Herve Tullet, this stunning, large-format activity book is stellar quality for kids who are serious about their art. And squiggles. Author/illustrator Pascale Estellon has created a stunner of a book that’s as much a coffee table tome as it is a magnificent stack of pages designed to send your child’s creativity into overdrive.

Featuring a plethora of photos and squiggles to make anyone smile, kids are invited to first turn a scouring pad and a sponge into an animal. They are then invited to draw the other half of photographed faces. They are invited to fill in the gaps between fox ears and some ruby red lips. They can make a class photo out of rubber band heads and decorate shop bags and t-shirts. They can even create book covers.

Let me at it!

Many will be tempted to sit this gorgeous book in the centre of glass coffee table for much admiring – and not much else. Before reviewing it, my 12-year-old daughter begged to start scribbling and sticking. When told she’d need to wait – her response? “What’s the point of a book like this unless you can use it?”

Indeed. I guess I have to get over it.

My Big Photo Activity Book is published by Thames & Hudson.

 

Review – Unbored: The Essential Field Guide to Serious Fun

Got bored kids? Unbelievable, right? I don’t remember being bored as a kid and that’s probably because I spent my childhood doing many of the fabulous, creative, imagination and soul/brain/heart/body fulfilling things in this book. Admittedly, most of them were less high-tech versions! but they were creative nonetheless.

I’m not saying I wouldn’t have loved the opportunity to make green screen short films from an iPad or travel the world on my PC, but we still can’t underestimate the benefits and sheer enjoyment of free play. Although many of these ideas do incorporate technology (how could they not?) the projects still give kids free licence to use their brains in a way they may not usually enjoy.

In Unbored, authors Joshua Glenn and Elizabeth Foy Larsen open their impressive tome with a quote by Mark Frauenfelder – Use the world, or the world will use you. Indeed, kids are quickly encouraged to get busy with it – in a series of wonderful ideas, broken down into four chapters – You, Home, Society and Adventure.

In You, kids can indulge in such delights as making LED graffiti and geyser rockets. They can train the adult in their life to be a ninja. They can partake in freaky fitness or farting games.

In Home, they can live in a tree or learn about architectural styles and details. They can learn how to short sheet a bed or decoupage a skateboard.

In Society, they can eliminate bullying, learn some cool counting-out games, read up on banned books they really must read, and how to tell politicians what they think.

In Adventure, readers will love learning about Cryptozoology (don’t ask), garden science, geocaching and how to disguise themselves.

And much, much, much more.

This is a treasure trove of a book, spattered with fascinating insight and information that will readily sate the natural curiosity of kids. And the best thing of all is that adults will love learning from and partaking in these super cool ideas, too. Well, other than the farting games. Maybe?

Philanthropic, creative, smart, interesting – this is a book all kids should own. And use.

Unbored: The Essential Field Guide to Serious Fun is published by Bloomsbury. Recommended for kids 10+.

New Release Picture Books

Looking for some new-release picture books to stash away for the Christmas stocking? This gorgeous selection will delight both kids and adults with a wide range of themes, striking illustrations and stories to touch the heart or tickle the funny bone. Enjoy!

Tree: A little story about big things by Danny Parker and Matt Ottley

(Little Hare)

Henry is a small sapling who grows into a big strong tree under the protection of an even bigger and stronger tree. But then comes the longest night with drenching waters and howling winds, and the biggest and strongest tree falls. Henry is alone and his heart is hollow until he hears the small voice of a new sapling growing amongst his strong roots.

What’s the Time, Mr Wolf? by Debi Gliori

(Bloomsbury)

Accompany Mr Wolf as he goes about his daily routine from breakfast to bedtime – and get to know the real Mr Wolf. Little ones will enjoy recognising familiar faces from a plethora of nursery rhymes, including Little Red Riding Hood (masquerading as the post girl), three cheeky little pigs (who make prank calls), a cat who’s a dab hand at the fiddle, plus four and twenty blackbirds. Beautiful artwork reveals something new with every reading.

It’s Not Fairy by Ros Asquith

(Frances Lincoln Children’s Books)

The It’s Not Fairy flaps round all night, sorting out what’s wrong or right. But there’s so many kids saying it’s not fair – she’s ranting and raving and tearing her hair. Billy and Mary say they don’t believe in the It’s Not Fairy – but that’s before she turns up at their house! This is a wonderful, hilarious fantasy starring a very feisty fairy on a mission, which will have the whole family laughing out loud.

Poopendous! by Artie Bennett and Mike Moran

(Blue Apple)

Rhyming couplets feature Professor Poopdeck and two young friends as he takes them on a poop safari. Words for poop (guano, number two, ca-ca), its forms and styles (cubes, tubular, wet and dry) and myriad uses (souvenirs, a means of tracking and marking, housing insulation, food, fertilizer, fuel) are all conveyed with humor and a certain demand for respect. It’s a book that says: Don’t just flush this stuff away! While it may dismay and stink, there’s more to this stuff than you might think.

Looking for Rex by Jan Ormerod and Carol Thompson

(Little Hare)

Gramps longs for a dog. All of his grandchildren agree. They decide his name should be Rex. But, where to find Rex? And what does Rex look like? Gramps plays along with their game of ‘Looking for Rex’. They point out dogs on their way home from school – but none of them are Rex. They are too small, too big, too
smelly… Why can’t they find the right Rex?

The Captain Pugwash Comic Book Collection by John Ryan

(Frances Lincoln Children’s Books)

This great value paperback collection brings together three classic stories about the much loved bumbling pirate told in comic book format. In the style of Tintin and Asterix, these stories will delight all Captain Pugwash fans as well as make a fantastic introduction to the cowardly captain, his greedy crew, their deadly rival Cut-throat Jake and the clever cabin boy Tom.

Marty’s Nut-Free Party by Katrina Roe and Leigh Headstrom

(Wombat Books)

Marty loved to party. At every party, Marty was the first to arrive and the last to leave. That was before Marty found out that peanuts make him sick. Really sick. Parties aren’t so much fun for Marty now that he keeps ending up in hospital. How can Marty and his friends make their parties safe and fun for everybody?

 

 

Five Very Bookish Questions with author Peter Taylor

Which genre of childrens books do you like most and why?

Picture books – because those for young children are written to be a true delight for an adult to read out loud as a performance. I miss sharing them with my son and daughter, now in their 20s, but I do love reading picture books to other peoples children whenever possible and the pictures can be seen pictures as well, which are hugely important.

I could give a long list of favourites – Old Tom’s Holiday by Leigh Hobbs, Gordon’s Got a Snookie by Lisa Shanahan and Wayne Harris, Mummies are Amazing by Catriona Hoy and Annie White, the classic Fancy That by Pamela Allen – how many pages worth do you want?

And I’m equally fond of those written for older children – Mending Lucille by Jennifer Poulter and Sarah Davis, Do Not Forget Australia by Sally Murphy and Sonia Kretchmar, Photographs in the Mud by Dianne Wolfer and Brian Harrison-Lever, Winston of Churchill: One Bears Battle Against Global Warming by Jean Davies Okimoto and Jeremiah Trammell.

Which books did you love to read as a young child?

I can’t remember being surrounded by a wide variety of picture books, but I do have fond memories of reading – Beatrix Potter’s books, the Rev. Awdry’s Thomas the Tank Engine series, Enid Blyton’s The Secret Seven books and the Jennings series by Anthony Buckeridge and William series by Richmal Crompton. And children’s encyclopeadias.

I think I also had a fascination for the most dreadful children’s book ever written in the whole history of literature – Struwwelpeter by Dr. Heinrich Hoffmann, written and first printed for his 3-year-old son in 1845, and its still being re-published and re-printed. I believe there is a whole museum dedicated to it in Frankfurt.

Which three attributes make for a great childrens book?

There are more factors than these, but for young children:

1. A hook within the first two pages – the main character is not yet aware of it, but the reader knows that there’s going to be a major problem or trouble of some kind – A Year with Marmalade, the very new and wonderful book by Alison Reynolds and Heath McKenzie, and Old Tom books by Leigh Hobbs.

2. The character solves the problem by their action or making changes (the problem is not solved by an adult), leading to a happy ending. Ruby Roars by Margaret Wild and Kerry Argent.

3. Surprises. If you haven’t read Gordon’s Got a Snookie by Lisa Shanahan and Wayne Harris I wont spoil any surprises – but its also funny, poignant, fabulous to read, things happen in threes, there’s repetition, the ending relates to the beginning… I better not go any further past 3. Oops!

What is your number one tip for encouraging children to read?

I don’t have a perfect answer. When two children are treated identically and have the same experiences, one may end up a keen reader and the other reluctant. So, I’ll say don’t discourage a child from reading what they enjoy, even if you think they should read something else. Just let them enjoy reading.

I have always read more non-fiction and poetry for pleasure than novels. As a young child, I most wanted to read facts. By 11 years old I could have passed biology exams designed for 16-year-olds. At 13, I read all Gerald Durrell‘s adventures in exploring African jungles and Corfu, and books about mountaineering feats and conquests – still good stories.

Name three books you wish you’d written.

How many possibilities are there apart from the obvious, like works of Shakespeare, or any recent picture book (I’m still trying to write one that editors like enough to publish)?

1. Relearning the Alphabet by Denise Levertov – poetry I keep revisiting.

And I love page-turners, so:

2. Any book by Geraldine Brooks – perhaps People of the Book

3. The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak.

About Peter

Peter Taylor is a writer and occasional illustrator who lives in Queensland. After qualifying as an ecologist and teacher, and studying printmaking, book arts and calligraphy, Peter initially taught science and art in schools. He completed a Diploma in Professional Children’s Writing in 1999 and has since been highly active in the world of children’s book organisations and publishing in Australia.

His third calligraphy book for older children and adults, his latest, Calligraphy for Greetings Cards and Scrapbooking was released in May 2012, but he also writes in other genres including umorous verse for the young (to appear shortly in an anthology), mid-grade and YA, and contributing the Science and Survival sections of 101 Things To Do Before You Grow Up. Peter gives talks and workshops that encourage people of all ages to read, write and be creative.

www.writing-for-children.com

 

 

Review – The Man from the Land of Fandango

The recent loss of legendary Kiwi author Margaret Mahy made me realise something. I had never, ever read any of her books. So remiss of me because this beautiful picture book is testament to a long and glorious authorship I’d completely miss out on – until now.

The man from the land of Fandango is coming to pay you a call. That’s right. The man who’s given to dancing and dreams is on his way, decked out in his tri-colour jacket and polka-dot tie and his hat with a tassel and all. Whenever he dances, bison and bears join in. Baboons play bassoons. Kangaroos hop and bound, and even dinosaurs join in the din.

Rhythmic, dynamic and straddling that delicate balance between classic, old-fashioned storytelling and the use of a modern, totally unique writer’s voice, this gorgeous book has been illustrated by Polly Dunbar, who uses striking colour and movement to bring this delightful character and his young friends alive. I’m loving the use of delectable onomatopoeia in this book, as well as the curling, swirling typeface.

This adorable, energetic, rainbow-filled character only appears every five hundred years – so when he calls, you’d better make sure you’re home. Love.

The Man from the Land of Fandango is published by Frances Lincoln Children’s Books.

 

Five Very Bookish Questions with author/illustrator Katherine Battersby

1.      Which genre of children’s books do you like most and why? 

Trying to choose a favourite genre would be like asking me to choose a favourite dessert (I have a sweet tooth). When it comes to books I have a restless mind, so I read widely. I love so many different genres for different reasons. I love to laugh and cry and sigh and have my heart race and feel terror and desperation and longing and wistfulness all those things – these are the joys of sitting in another’s shoes through books.

I love picture books that are playful and yet still full of heart – Oliver Jeffers has to be my favourite creator, with books like How to Catch a Star and The Book Eating Boy. I love picture books that make me laugh (Mo Willems Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus‘) and ones that make me cry (Margaret Wild’s and Ron Brooks’ Fox). I love fantasy novels for younger readers like Isobelle Carmody’s Little Fur series. And I adore young adult books: my recent favourite is Glenda Millard’s stunning A Small Free Kiss in the Dark.

I can’t read while I’m writing a new story, so at the moment I have two novels waiting as rewards on my bookshelf for the day I finish: A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness and Sea Hearts by Margo Lanagan. The day I first open their pages, I will disappear into them and not emerge for several days . . .

2.      Which books did you love to read as a young child?

As an early teen, my mum started work quite early in the morning so I was often the first at school. I quickly learnt the only building open was the library, and would sit amongst the book shelves and pull down whatever looked interesting. I read everything from literary novels to thrillers, but my favourite quickly became fantasy.

I fell completely in love with Isobelle Carmody’s stories (starting with the Obernewtyn Chronicles). I also enjoyed real world teen novel with a twist – I adored John Marsden’s Tomorrow When the War Began‘ series. Plus, I liked things that were a bit strange and just a teensy bit dark, like the artwork of Brian Froud (who has put out several books).

3.      Which three attributes make for a great children’s book? 

An intriguing main character. A situation looked at differently. Heart.

Anything by Neil Gaiman perfectly captures this – favourite of mine being The Graveyard Book and Stardust. Also The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness – such a fascinating concept and at times absolutely heart stopping.

4.      What is your number one tip for encouraging children to read?

Let them choose their books. And take them to the library – that way they can experiment with what kind of books they like, and then in bookstores they’ll start to get more confident with knowing which section will hold their favourite books.

5.      Name three books you wish you’d written.

I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen. So clever and so cheeky!

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. Such stunning writing and I fell in love with each and every character. Oh . . . and boy did I cry.

Surrender by Sonya Hartnett. Dark but beautiful.

About Katherine

Katherine Battersby is the critically acclaimed children’s author and illustrator of Squish Rabbit, which was shortlisted for the 2012 Crichton Award and was released in Australia, the US, China and other countries. Her second picture book, Brave Squish Rabbit, came out in September, and she has had many short stories published in magazines and anthologies. She adores reading, rabbits and anime, and thinks exclamation marks are evil.

www.katherinebattersby.com

 

Review – The Dreadful Fluff

Oh my. Watch out. Belly button fluff is not reserved for the hygienically-challenged, no no. Even pink and perfect peeps like Serenity Strainer find the odd thatch of fluff in said navel – and sometimes, just sometimes, that little thatch can be . . . queue dramatic music . . .

Evil!

That’s right. Meet Serenity’s evil belly button fluff. He’s bad and he’s hungry. And every time he ingests something, he grows exponentially. First, it’s the cat. Mm-mmm. Delish. Then it’s Mum. The only thing left are a pair of pink fluffy slippers.

Next it’s Serenity’s pimply older brother, Tug, headphones and all. Then, the Fluff sets his sights on the baby.

Nooo! Can Serenity stop that nasty ball of crud in its tracks?

Aaron Blabey’s characteristic dark, dry humour shines in this fabulous, action-packed and monsterly new picture book. His writer’s voice is yet again original and utterly child-friendly – with plenty of kid-guffaws guaranteed.

Kooky, vibrant illustrations round out a brilliant new addition to your picture book collection. Be prepped for repeat bedtime reads.

The Dreadful Fluff is published by Puffin.

Five Very Bookish Questions with author Oliver Phommavanh

Which genre of children’s books do you like most and why? 

I love humour because they’re wacky, weird and make kids laugh (which is very hard to do in books, hehe). Anything by Andy Griffiths is the perfect example, particularly the Just books. I based my first book Thai-riffic! on Andy’s formula of short stories about the same character.

Which books did you love to read as a young child?

I loved Paul Jennings’ Un books and Morris Gleitzman’s Blabber Mouth and Sticky Beak. Robin Klein’s Hating Alison Ashley is also a personal fave. I snapped up heaps of ‘choose your own adventure’ books too.

 Which three attributes make for a great children’s book? 

Humour, heart and grounded characters. My book Con-nerd has all three – haha. It’s about a boy who wants to be an artist but his mum wants him to be a doctor and study hard. While it’s a funny book, there are some interesting themes and issues being brought up in between jokes.

What is your number one tip for encouraging children to read?

Let the kids choose a book they want to read, even the ones that you make you squirm. Kids love the freedom of choice. There are books for every interest and/or hobby out there, so tap into your kids’ likes and lead them to books about that subject. For example, if your kid wants to learn how to be a stand up comedian, they should read my novel, Punchlines, which is about a boy who loves to make people laugh.

Name three books you wish you’d written.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney

Fantastic Mr Fox by Roald Dahl

Spud by John Van De Ruit

About Oliver

Oliver Phommavanh loves to make people laugh, whether it’s on the page writing humour for kids or on stage as a stand-up comedian. He also shares his passion for writing with the kids he teaches at a primary school in Western Sydney. As a comedian, Oliver has appeared on stage, and on national TV and radio. He has also appeared in the anthology, Growing Up Asian in Australia. He’s a die-hard Nintendo fan and cheers for the Wests Tigers! His books are Thai-riffic!, Con-nerd and Punchlines. His new book Thai-no-mite! explodes onto bookshelves this October. www.oliverwriter.com

 

 

 

Review – Today We Have No Plans

The life of a modern day family is buzzing and full to capacity – swimming lessons, practice for the spelling bee, signing the homework book, playing the violin, getting the grocery shopping done, working late . . . It’s a whirlwind of activity almost all of us know so well. Some of it is a chore. Lots of it is fun.

But when do we find time to stop? To pause? To just Be?

For the family in this gorgeous book, that day is Sunday. A day when the hands on the clock slow down. When mum says they’re not going out. They have no plans. There is nothing to do but . . .

Swing. Climb a tree. Wear pjs all day long. Build a cubby. Bake a cake. Notice all the little things. And plan on doing . . . nothing at all.

Jane Godwin has penned a book we can all relate to – especially our kids – and one that reminds us it’s the little things and the nowhere-to-be that can be the most fun of all.

Anna Walker’s typical stunning illustrations are beyond joyful, and perfectly complement the message in this book – from harried to peaceful, from paced to languorous – and the sheer delight of doing nothing much at all.

Today We Have No Plans is published by Penguin/Viking.

Review – Gorilla

Hannah simply adores gorillas. She begs her father to take her to the zoo to see her favourite animal, but Dad is always too busy. During the week he is too busy. On the weekends, he is too busy.

The night before Hannah’s birthday, she asks her father for a gorilla and when she wakes, she does indeed find a gorilla on the end of her bed. A toy gorilla. Hannah is disappointed, but that night, something magical happens.

The gorilla becomes Dad-sized.

And he dons Dad’s coat and he takes Hannah on a nighttime adventure – to the zoo – to see the gorillas and all the other primates encased behind bars – so beautiful and yet so utterly sad. And then to the cinema and then for cake and ice cream and then dancing on the lawn.

Hannah has never been so happy. Until the next morning . . .

Anthony Browne’s iconic illustrations beautifully highlight the inherent magic in making wishes come true. Gorilla is subtle, tender, whimsical and engagingly beautiful.

Gorilla is published by Walker Books.

Review – Australia’s Greatest Inventions and Innovations

Love a good inventions book, me, and this wonderful compilation of fascinating info had my heart racing. If it can do that to a comparably jaded adult, just imagine what it would to for kids.

Chris Cheng and Linsay Knight have put together an impressive catalogue of uniquely Aussie creations, sorted into categories like Communications and IT, Health, Household and Office, Leisure, Transport and Research. Each entry within these categories is introduced by way of a ‘problem’.

Problem: How to enable a profoundly deaf person to hear everyday sounds when hearing aids don’t work for them.

Solution: Cochlear Implant

Kids are then treated to a fascinating serve of info, explaining the inspiration behind each creation, its history, its function, who creates them, how they are made and how they benefit mankind. Diagrams and photographs add depth to the text, and give readers a unique view that may not have been seen before. I know I had never seen a chochlear implant up close and personal.

Australia’s Greatest Inventions and Innovations is a beautifully designed and well-laid-out book with colourful typeface and gorgeous design elements. It will attract both the young and jaded alike, and would make for a fascinating addition to both libraries – and the Christmas stocking.

Australia’s Greatest Inventions and Innovations was produced in association with the Powerhouse Museum and is published by Random House.

Favourite Vintage-Inspired Books

I’m a sucker for vintage books but I’m also loving modern books with that delectable retro edge. Here are some of my very favourite vintage-inspired children’s picture books. Leave a comment and let me know yours. You can see some of my favourite vintage books right here.

Next Stop Grand Central by Maira Kalman

At Grand Central Station, Chief of Police George Coppola finds lost people, and Mr. Chidchester, head of the Lost and Found, finds lost dogs. Marino Marino makes oyster stew, while thinking up interesting math problems. A man in a porkpie hat buys cherry pies. Maira Kalman’s stylized artwork, along with entertaining text, brilliantly captures the excitement of Grand Central Station, “the busiest, fastest, biggest place there is”.

Iggy Peck, Architect by Andrea Beaty and David Roberts

Iggy Peck has been building fabulous creations since he was two. His parents are proud of their son, though sometimes surprised by some of Iggy’s more inventive creations (like the tower he built out of used diapers). When a new second grade teacher declares her dislike of architecture, Iggy faces a challenge. He loves building too much to give it up! With Andrea Beaty’s irresistible rhyming text and David Roberts’ unique and stylish illustration, this book will charm creative kids everywhere.

Stop Snoring, Bernard! by Zachariah Ohoroa

Bernard loves curling up to go to sleep. But there is one little problem. Bernard snores…LOUDLY! So loudly that he keeps all of the otters awake during naptime. So loudly that Grumpy Giles tells Bernard to move his snoring somewhere else!Sad and lonely, Bernard tries sleeping in new places far away from the other otters: in a lake, in puddles, in a fountain. But no matter where he tries to nap, somebody complains. He just wants to hear two words: “Goodnight, Bernard!”

A Walk in London by Salvatore Rubbino

A wide-eyed girl and her mother explore London’s busy streets and towering views in this child-friendly tribute to an incomparable city. Follow them as they alight the classic red bus and begin a whirlwind tour of some of London’s most iconic land marks. In this ode to Britain’s bright and bustling capital city, Salvatore Rubbino’s fresh, lively paintings and breezy text capture the delight of a young visitor experiencing the wonders of London firsthand. And of course, what’s London without a little rain? It is visually stunning, evoking all the colour and excitement of the capital from a child’s perspective. It is packed with nuggets of information about London that both enlighten and entertain.

10 Little Insects by Davide Cali

10 Little Insects is a hilarious riff on that celebrated whodunnit, Agatha Christie’s 10 Little Indians. In this innovative graphic novel for younger readers, ten very different insects, each with something to hide, are brought together to a mysterious house on a secluded island for the weekend. Then, one by one, they start dying in very unusual circumstances. But all is not as it seems, as Cali and Pianina delightfully subvert the whodunnit genre with a story that is at once brilliant, baffling, laugh out loud funny and somewhat surreal.

Where’s Walrus? by Stephen Savage

Bored with life at the zoo, an adventurous walrus escapes to the outside world. With the zookeeper in hot pursuit, Walrus cleverly tries on all sorts of hats to disguise himself. Will a yellow hardhat point to a new life as a construction worker? Or will a red swimming cap reveal his true talents? Follow the happy-go-lucky runaway as he hides amongst firefighters, businessmen, and even high-stepping dancers in this delightful wordless picture book.

ABC Apple Pie by Alison Murray

When an apple pie arrives piping hot on the kitchen table, a little pup does everything from A to Z to get his paws on it. He Ogles it. He Pines for it. But will his ABC antics land him a slice? Apple Pie ABC is a delicious twist on traditional verse brought to life by Alison Murray’s simple words and whimsical illustrations. Sure to delight readers of all ages, it’s a book to savor again and again.

My Name is Elizabeth by Annika Dunklea and Matthew Forsythe

Meet Elizabeth. She’s got an excellent pet duck, a loving granddad and a first name that’s just awesome. After all, she’s got a queen named after her! So she’s really not amused when people insist on using nicknames like “Lizzy” and “Beth.” She bears her frustration in silence until an otherwise ordinary autumn day, when she discovers her power to change things once and for all. The cheeky, retro,  two-toned illustrations reflect the story’s energy and sass, and the comic-book-like format makes it easy to follow.

Paul Thurby’s ABC

This is a highly collectible picture book with each spread a unique and highly-collectable artwork from acclaimed graphic artist Paul Thurlby. Thurlby creates a stunning alphabet that helps to make the shape of each letter memorable and fun. From ‘A for Awesome’, to ‘Z for Zip’, this is a stunning book from a unique artist.

You Will be My Friend by Peter Brown

Today is the day the exuberant Lucy is going to make a new friend! But she finds it’s harder than she had thought–she accidentally ruins the giraffe’s breakfast and is much too big for the frogs’ pond. Just when she’s about to give up, an unexpected friend finds her, and loves her just the way she is. This heartwarming story offers a unique and humor-filled spin on the all-important themes of persistence and friendship.

The High Street by Alice Melvin

Sally has a list of 10 items she needs to buy. Open the flaps to see inside the shops, where unusual things are going on. Should those wild animals be upstairs in the pet shop? Will the plates fall off the wall in Mr Cooper’s China Shop? And can Sally find everything on her list? Each shop is depicted through this charming story in Alice Melvin’s trademark, highly detailed illustrations, that both hark back to a previous age and remain strongly contemporary.

Sam and His Dad by Serge Bloch

Young Sam talks about his little brother, his mother, his life at home, and especially the time he spends with his dad and how he wants to be just like him when he grows up.

 

Review – Mortal Combat: Time’s Running Out

What do Adolf Hitler, HG Wells, Leonardo da Vinci, Genghis Khan and dinosaurs have in common? They all find themselves in a rather precarious situation in this hoot of a book from the masterful Martin Chatterton.

Mortimer DeVere and his sister Agnetha are 10,000 years old. Residents of Unk Island, the duo are tasked with some serious fast-forward living, not to mention the coolest capability of returning to the past in Retro, their time-travelling machine.

In this sequel to Mort, our young heroes find themselves stranded in the midst of World War II, along with Trish Molyneux and her assistant Nigel from the Unk Shire Education Department (who are both intent on dragging Mort and his sister back into the schooling system). Confronted by machine-gun wielding Nazis, the team are aghast to find themselves facing a divinely camped-up version of Adolph Hitler.

When Hitler insists on taking a ride in Retro, no one could have predicted the time-machine would end up in dino territory – let alone the most gruesome fate that unfolds for the notorious Nazi leader. Let’s just say the dinosaurs are hungry! But what does this mean for the linear properties of time?

Kids will delight in the chaos that ensues from Mort’s ‘messing with the past’.

I love the clever combination of fiction and history Martin Chatterton uses in this hilarious series of books for kids aged 8 – 12. The author uses a fine balance of action that would suit both girl and boy readers (naturally, Agnetha is the smart, rational one who ends up saving the day) and I simply adore his ‘voice’ and witty use of dialogue and kooky settings.

The author’s fabulous ink drawings add priceless visuals to the storyline, and only add to the dry humour.

Mortal Combat: Time’s Running Out is published by Random House.

 

Five Very Bookish Questions with author Kathryn Apel

Which genre of children’s books do you like most and why?

I love picture books and their deceptive simplicity. They’re short… but they have many layers, so you can read them over and over again, finding new things. They’re also warm and inviting for sharing. I read picture books to myself, to babies, to school kids, to my husband, to co-workers, to high schoolers… to anyone!  (I’d read one to you, if I could.) And the thing I notice? Everyone enjoys them! Even though they might not have picked the PB up to read it for themselves.

In a sense if you read expressively, you draw people in no matter WHAT you read. But a great book, like Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus is begging to be read with expression. Duck in the Truck by Jez Alborough is a laughable winner, with voice effects and the added attraction of rhyme.

Which books did you love to read as a young child?

I can’t remember!!! I truly honestly can’t remember much of when I was a young child – which seems an awful waste of memories! Thinking, thinking… I remember loving Lennie the Lamb’ out of the collection, Favourite Fairy Tales – and was soooo excited to discover a copy of the book in a reading corner at a little shop, recently. It wasn’t for sale – was there to keep kids occupied while adults shopped – but my delight must have shown, because the lady in the shop offered me the tatty, well-read book with pages all adrift… and I couldn’t say no.

Oh. And I also remember The Cow Who Fell in the Canal by Phyllis Krasilovsky – but I’m not sure if I remember it for the story (which I liked) or the fact that it was MINE, given to me at the end of preschool. (I also remember the chorus to the little drama we acted out the night I received it, about the fox and his feathered ‘friends’… “And a couple of you will grease my chin before we reach the town-o.”).

AND what is more, I have that picture book now, too… quickly snaffled up at a library cull recently. Goodness. It seems I remember more than I had realised. Maybe these recent re-encounters have proved as good memory jogs.

Which three attributes make for a great children’s book?

Heart (The Lion Who Wanted to Love by Giles Andreae) or humour (Duck in the Truck)

Wordplay (all Lynley Dodd books)

Illustrations – three illustrators who stand out for me: David Miller’s exquisite paper craft, Barbara Reid’s plasticine art – fun to read AND do! And Jeannie Baker’s meticulously detailed collage.

Combined, I think the elements of heart or humour, wordplay and illustrations make for an engaging read for children and adults.

What is your number one tip for encouraging children to read?

Just do it! And find friends you can read with and talk to about reading. At first, reading may seem like a chore, as you’re stumbling over difficult words… but if you keep at it, reading becomes as natural as breathing and it almost sucks you into a magical world of its own.

My son wrote a snapshot poem recently about reading. I think it’s perfect:

around the world

and anywhere –

with a book.

 

Name three books you wish you’d written.

The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson (love it! So perfectly simple.)
Hairy Maclary by Lynley Dodd (any of these books)
Fred Stays with Me! by Nancy Coffelt (Perfect!)

And also special mention to Dog In, Cat Out by Gillian Rubinstein (four words perfectly, playfully placed).

About Kathryn

Kathryn is a children’s author/poet who writes too much. Her goal is to find the perfect word for every situation. Sometimes that’s tricky! Kat co-ordinates the worldwide January Month of Poetry for kids and adults. Her picture book, This is the Mud! has been read on PlaySchool.

katswhiskers.wordpress.com

Review – Heather Fell in the Water

Heather is a little accident-prone, especially when it comes to water. If there’s a lake, a puddle, a pool, seaside or drip, she’ll tumble into it, coat and hat and shoes and all.

Her parents worry for her safety. They worry so much, they make Heather wear floaties day in and day out. Just in case.

Heather is too scared to go to swimming lessons. “The water hates me,” she says. But her parents believe that throwing her in the deep end may be just what the swim instructor ordered. So, off they go to the pool.

To her surprise, Heather likes it. She likes the feel of the water on her arms and legs. She likes the way it splashes. She likes it so much, her floaties soon get the old heave-ho, and little Heather fast becomes a swimming champ, much to the delight of her proud, no longer-paranoid parents.

Based on author Doug MacLeod’s real life sister who always fell in the water, this is a charming story with – hurrah! – a great ending. Illustrator Craig Smith’s bright yet watery illustrations are delightfully funny – I particularly love the ones of Heather finally claiming the water.

This is a really large format book; I personally think it would have worked better slightly smaller. Nonetheless, it’s a wonderful stand-alone book but also one that’s priceless for schools and daycare centres – and anyone who has certain challenges with the wet stuff. Gorgeous.

Heather Fell in the Water is published by Allen & Unwin.

Review – Nicholas, Where Have You Been?

Nicholas is hunting for sweet juicy berries with his friends but all the best berries have been gobbled by birds. Determined to find some of his own, he sets off into the field where’s snatched by a big ugly bird. Fearing for his life, he wriggles until the bird drops him – right into a bird’s nest.

“Stay with us,” say the baby birds in the nest, keen to learn more about mice and their ways. When the mother bird returns with a worm, she’s happy to let him stay. She asks Nicholas what field mice eat – and of course, Nicholas tells her he simply adores the sweetest and juiciest berries. So, the mother bird flies off and returns with the very same.

Nicholas can’t resist staying on. He sings and chats and gobbles berries with the birds, until one day he wakes to find his friends gone.

Climbing down the tree carefully, he returns to his mice friends who ask him where on earth he’s been – and when Nicholas tells him he was snatched by a bird, they become enraged. Asking them to be patient, he soon explains about the mother and her babies, and that not all birds are bad.

Which, of course, is the moral of the story.

Leo Lionni created this sweet, retro book in 1987, when he was 77 years old. Resplendent with classic storytelling and striking, graphic imagery, it’s one of several animal-inspired tales the author is famous for, many of which feature mice.

Nicholas, Where Have You Been? is published by Dragonfly Books.

Five Very Bookish Questions with author Michael Pryor

Which genre of children’s books do you like most and why? I like Fantasy and Science Fiction most of all, and that’s because I call these ‘Literature of the Imagination’. The boundaries are limitless, the horizons are extended, and the stories are grander. Kate Forsyth and Garth Nix are great examples of the sorts of writers I’m talking about, as is DM Cornish. His Monster Blood Tattoo series is wondrous indeed. I ended writing things like my Laws of Magic series and the peeking into the hundred years ahead of us in 10 Futures because I love this sense of imagination unbounded.

Which books did you love to read as a young child? As a young reader, I was first caught by books like The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and The Hobbit. After I read these, I wanted more, and eventually found The Lord of the Rings and Robert A Heinlein’s YA Science Fiction books – Time for the Stars, Red Planet and many more. I also loved the whimsicality of The Wind in the Willows and The House at Pooh Corner’, while my all time favourite picture book is Where the Wild Things Are.

Which three attributes make for a great children’s book?

1. The book must engage the reader.

2. The book must linger with the reader once the reading is finished.

3. The book must introduce the reader to something new. An example? Terry Pratchett’s The Wee Free Men. It’s funny, exciting, a real eye opener with its magic, and it makes you think about who you are and your place in the world.

What is your number one tip for encouraging children to read? Read good books. That is, books that appeal to you, that are fun, or scary, or thoughtful, depending on the sort of thing you like. It’s easy reading good books, and enjoying good books lets you know that reading is fun.

Name three books you wish you’d written.

1. Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer

2. Coraline by Neil Gaiman

3. The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien

About Michael

Best-selling author of the Laws of Magic series, Michael Pryor was born in Swan Hill, Victoria, and currently lives in Melbourne. He has worked as a drainer’s labourer, a truck driver, a bathroom accessories salesperson, an Internet consultant, a software developer, a textbook publisher, in a scrap metal yard and as a secondary school teacher.

Michael has published more than thirty popular and critically acclaimed novels, more than fifty short stories, and has over one million words in print. His work has been longlisted for an Inky award, shortlisted for the WAYBR award and six times shortlisted for the Aurealis Award. Seven of his books have been awarded Children’s Book Council of Australia Notable Book status.

www.michaelpryor.com.au

 

 

 

Review – Clementine Rose and the Surprise Visitor

As a fan of Jacqueline Harvey’s Alice-Miranda books, I was delighted to see a new little poppet land in my mail box – Clementine Rose – a precious and adorable 5-year-old who is delivered, as a baby, to the door of her heiress mother in a basket of dinner rolls. No one knows where young Clementine came from, but Lady Clarissa Appleby fell in love with her on sight, and Penberthy House quite soon became the young girls’ home.

Containing sixty rooms in an increasing state of disrepair, Lady Clarissa is forced to open a bed and breakfast in the home of her ancestors, in order to maintain upkeep of the house. It’s not easy but, with help, the mother and daughter team get by.

In this first Clementine adventure, Clarissa’s prickly Aunt Violet comes to Penberthy House, nursing a sordid secret. After gazing at her great aunt’s portrait in the halls of Penberthy House for years, Clementine is quite disarmed by her aunt’s cold, real life disposition – not to mention her bizarre hairless cat, Pharaoh. Demanding and difficult, Violet makes for a testy addition to the household. Clementine patiently attempts to befriend her aunt, but what is this secretive fashionista hiding?

It’s a delight to follow young Clemmie and her teacup pig Lavender along on this adventure with Aunt Violet. Harvey once again writes with a classic storyteller voice, painting an eccentric cast of characters and a charming storyline with the merest dusting of fairytale magic. A gorgeous new series best suited to children aged 5 to 9.

Clementine Rose and the Surprise Visitor is published by Random House.

Favourite Vintage Books

I have quite the obsession with vintage books – it’s absolutely no secret. And no surprise. Vintage children’s books are at once inspiring and overwhelmingly beautiful – harking back to a time when book creation was more about genius than sales. Here I’m sharing some of my favourite vintage books – and I would love to hear about yours. Leave a comment! and do see my favourite ‘vintage-style books‘ – or modern books with that delicious retro twist.

Eloise Takes a Bawth by Kay Thompson and Hilary Knight

While Nanny dear unsuspectingly watches her soap opera, and Mr Salomone, the Plaza’s manager, prepares for the charity event of the year, Eloise takes a bawth. She bolts the bathroom door with a backbrush and turns on every tap in sight and begins her wilful water mischief in a glamorous fantasy bath world complete with Skipperdee and Weenie to boot. SLAWSH! The Plaza has flooded! The Grand Ball Room is in pandemonium! Who? Who? Who is the culprit? Mr Salomone and the Plaza head engineer follow the flow of water and discover that the trouble began with a certain precocious little girl up on the very top floor – none other than our very own favourite Eloise!

A Balloon for a Blunderbuss by Bob Gill and Alastair Reid

This book takes the reader on an imaginative, inspiring journey around the world. It all begins with a drawing of a pair of hands, gently cupped around an unseen object: I have a butterfly in my hands. What will you give me for my butterfly? “I will give you a wishbone.” What would I do with a wishbone? “Well, you could trade it for a kite with a tail…or a Chinese Lantern . . .” From the unseen butterfly in the hand to the blunderbuss, the balloon and beyond, Bob Gill lovingly illustrates an ever-expanding list of items, which grows to encompass, among other things, two rocking horses, a small zoo with a lion, a little town and eventually a whole forest with thousands of trees, which you could possibly trade for two stars, if you wanted to. But it would be even better to trade it for an island, and the ocean all round, until in the end, after many, many more trades, you would have everything.

A Kangaroo for Christmas by James Flora

The day before Christmas, Kathryn’s present from Uncle Dingo arrives in a big box. Naturally, it’s a lively kangaroo. Kathryn can’t wait to show grandma, so she hops onto Adelaide’s back and off they go! But getting to Grandma’s proves more difficult than expected. Honking horns and screeching breaks frighten Adelaide into taking off on her own. In good Flora fashion, chaos and pure silliness ensue. When Kathryn and Adelaide finally arrive at Grandma’s house, a very cool and collected Grandma sees there’s nothing to be done but to get them home as swiftly as possible. A rumpus of a read, Kangaroo for Christmas is a merry Christmas tall tale full of witty illustrations that are sure to draw laughs and hoots of pleasure.

Sunday Morning by Judith Viorst and Hilary Knight

It’s Sunday morning, very early Sunday morning. Anthony and Nicholas are not supposed to wake their parents before 9:45 am. (Whenever that is) Certainly, three puzzles falling off a shelf isn’t enough to wake them. And what about some music or a game of boat in the living room? These wouldn’t wake them up, would they? But when Nick really yells help, the know they’re in trouble. Then the boys and their parents discover something they never would have imagined.

Crictor by Tomi Ungerer

Crictor the boa constrictor lives with Madame Bodot. He is a very helpful pet – especially when there are burglars in the neighborhood.

Chicken Soup with Rice by Maurice Sendak

“Each month is gay, each season is nice, when eating chicken soup with rice”. It’s nice in January, April, June, and December–here’s the every-month dish for everyone to remember. Stunning three-color illustrations.

This is Paris by Miroslav Sasek

This facsimile edition of Sasek’s original title features brilliant, vibrant illustrations that have been meticulously preserved and remain true to his vision. With timely and nostalgic appeal, the This Is… books have an elegant, classic look and delightful narrative that will charm both children and their parents. This is Paris, first published in 1959, brings Paris, one of the most exciting cities in the world, to life. There are famous buildings, beautiful gardens, cafes, and the Parisians-artists, concierges, flower girls, and even thousands of cats. Take a tour along the banks of the Seine, through the galleries of the Louvre, and to the top of the Eiffel Tower.

The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton

The little house first stood in the country, but gradually the city moved closer and closer. An engaging picture book, well ahead of its time.

Are you my Mother? by PD Eastman

A little chick falls out of its nest and goes in search of its mum, searching high and searching low and questioning a series of animate and inanimate objects along the way. Eastman is a A protégé of Theodor Geisel (Dr. Seuss).

 

 

Five Very Bookish Questions with author Belinda Murrell

1. Which genre of children’s books do you like most and why?

My bookshelves have literally thousands of books across lots of different genres so it’s hard to choose! But I think my favourite genres are adventure, history and a twist of magic – so much like the books I love to write myself. Some of the children’s books I enjoy are the Chrestomanci series by Diana Wynne-Jones, Ranger’s Apprentice series by John Flanagan, Cornelia Funke’s The Thief Lord, Eva Ibbotson’s The Star of Kazan, and books by my sister Kate Forsyth such as The Puzzle Ring and the Chain of Charms series. Of my own books, I particularly love the time slip adventures such as The Ivory Rose and The Locket of Dreams.

With these books, I was intrigued by the idea of taking a modern day girl and whisking her back to the past, where life was so different, and seeing how that modern child would cope and react. These heroines have all sorts of thrilling adventures and find strength they never knew they had.

2. Which books did you love to read as a young child?

Almost anything and everything!! As a young child, I must confess I was an avid Enid Blyton fan. Her books had humour, adventure, excitement, magic, friendship and a delightful absence of interfering adults, which I still believe are all wonderful ingredients for an enthralling children’s book

I adored the Narnia series by C.S. Lewis especially The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe and The Horse and His Boy. With these books, I loved their enticing mixture of adventure, action and fantasy. My sister and I would dress up in silver chain mail, with swords and bows and arrows, and play Narnia. I was enraptured by the idea that it might be possible to pass through a secret door into a magical world, full of talking animals and adventure.

When I was a bit older I loved lots of the classics such as Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, Seven Little Australians by Ethel Turner and My Brilliiant Career by Miles Franklin, as well as The Lord of the Rings series by J.R.R. Tolkein.

3. Which three attributes make for a great children’s book?

Lovable characters, who aren’t perfect, that you truly care about. Exciting and adventurous action, which keeps you reading late into the night. A vivid and exotic setting which seems so real you think you are actually there. Most of the books I’ve mentioned above would cover these key attributes but one of the best examples would of course be the Harry Potter series.

4. What is your number one tip for encouraging children to read?

Make reading a huge part of your family life. Share books with your kids and talk about them. Create inviting reading nooks such as a comfy arm chair by the fire, with a pile of books beside it. Take turns reading out loud in the car or in the kitchen while cooking. Let your kids see you reading. Buy books as presents and rewards. Turn off the TV and make time in your routine for children to read for enjoyment every day. Make sure it’s fun!!

5. Name three books you wish you’d written.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer

Possession by AS Byatt

About Belinda

At about the age of eight, Belinda Murrell began writing stirring tales of adventure, mystery and magic in hand illustrated exercise books. Now, Belinda Murrell is a bestselling children’s author currently writing her fourteenth book, which range from four picture books for pre-schoolers, to junior fiction. These include the fantasy-adventure series for boys and girls aged 8 to 12 called The Sun Sword Trilogy (The Quest for the Sun Gem, The Voyage of the Owl and The Snowy Tower). Her time-slip series includes The Locket of Dreams, The Ruby Talisman and The Ivory Rose – a 2012 CBCA Notable Book. Belinda’s new book, The Forgotten Pearl is an exhilarating wartime adventure set in Darwin and Sydney. Belinda’s books have been shortlisted for various awards and selected for the NSW Premier’s Reading Challenge.

www.belindamurrell.com.au

 

Review – The Family Hour in Australia

Just loving the gorgeously retro illustrations in this book that send one winging back to the 1970s. Author/illustrator Tai Snaith has created a timeless peek into the typical Aussie family life . . . of our native fauna.

The sun has risen and a colourful Gouldian family gobble their breakfast. On a nearby branch, retro canisters are lined-up and labelled – Flies, Snails, Bugs and Ticks. Baby numbats take a ride on mum’s back, flicking out sticky tongues to catch a snatch of termites.

In the supermarket, a roo and her joeys snaffle Joey Juice and Kangamite from the shelves while a puggle slurps pink milk and baby cygnets cuddle into baby-bjorn style pouches on their parents’ fronts. Tassie Tigers don thrash metal tshirts and play the drums in the garage, and wombats snuggle in to watch tele under stripy blankets.

I love the kooky, totally disjointed nature of this book – it’s pure fantasy and the illustrations are a joy to wander through, however, in a purist sense, the blending of animal fact, highly-imaginative fiction and quirky illustrations are a little fractious at times – mostly in terms of the voice the author uses. It would have perhaps been more effective had she used language as original and fun as the book’s overall concept.

Hidden clocks denote time as the story unfolds – from early morning to late at night, and Family Facts at the end of the book expound on a series of animal facts. A great book for schools and libraries.

The Family Hour is published by Thames & Hudson.

Review – A Hare, A Hound and Shy Mousey Brown

Shy Mousey Brown is watching a sweet, bounding hare, hopping all around, welcoming in spring, totally unaware of the surly old hound, lying in wait. Shy Mousey Brown knows this hound; he’s seen him before. How can he warn the bunny of the hound’s rather sinister motives? He’s so small. He can hardly be heard.

Then – suddenly – the hound is upon the hare! He has her pinned to the ground, ready to make her his lunch. So what does Mousey Brown do? Armed with a feather, he resorts to a good old round of tickling, of course! And Mousey Brown and the hare are free to become the best of friends.

Although this is a beautifully written book – with lots of suspense and a cute ending – I did find the words and rhythm a little difficult to navigate at times. I think perhaps reading it aloud would help.

Illustrations by Jonathan Bentley are totally engaging and full of luscious movement and charm.

A Hare, A Hound and Shy Mousey Brown is published by Little Hare.

Five Very Bookish Questions with author Anna Branford

1. Which genre of children’s books do you like most and why?

I’m not sure if it quite counts as a genre, but I love children’s books that work with ideas you can wonder about all your life because of a sense that, without recourse to any clunky symbolism or a deliberately placed moral, something important has been said. One book that comes to mind straight away is Jenny Wagner’s John Brown, Rose and the Midnight Cat and another is Raymond Briggs’ The Snowman. Both are books I had as a child and still have in my collection now and I expect I will still be mulling them over when I’m an old lady.

2. Which books did you love to read as a young child?

When I was very young, my favourite books were Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Margaret Mahy’s A Lion in the Meadow and The Nuns Go West, by Jonathan Routh.

My family moved a lot when I was a child and there was another book I lost and never found another copy of, called Ellen Climbs a Mountain. I don’t even know who wrote it and I always hope someone might be able to tell me!

3. Which three attributes make for a great children’s book?

One of my favourite attributes of children’s literature is its capacity to show people how to enjoy things that might otherwise have seemed ordinary. It was Beverley Cleary’s Ramona Quimby who taught me that there was a special pleasure in having new flannelette pajamas and in being the first person to use a fresh tube of toothpaste and it could have been any one of Enid Blyton’s boarding school girls who introduced me to the fine practice of midnight feasting.

I also like the way children’s books can sometimes, without being preachy or moralistic, help readers of any age to understand certain sorts of kindness that are probably too complicated to explain directly.

In C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, I love the way Lucy intuits that Mr Beaver is shyly proud of his dam and that her praise would mean a great deal to him.

In Kenneth Graham’s The Wind in the Willows, I like the way Rat comes to understand that Mole is being a pest only because he is terribly homesick and that compassion would be a much better response than impatience.

Finally, although it’s not right for every book, I think funny illustrations have a very important place in children’s stories. I can never read Roald Dahl’s Matilda without an indelicate snort at Quentin Blake’s first portrait of ‘the Trunchbull’.

The other day I was book shopping and had the same reaction to the dogs’ faces in Say Hello to Zorro, written and illustrated by Carter Goodrich. Hilarious.

4. What is your number one tip for encouraging children to read?

In my opinion, lots of choice and not too much policing. The real joy of reading doesn’t properly begin until that amazing moment when you find that floating your eyes over a string of words can actually change the pictures you’re seeing in your mind. But you have to be a pretty accomplished reader to get to that point.

Once you’ve found that near-magical reading capacity, you can use it to explore all kinds of books, but I think children often get there via books that look a bit rubbishy to adults. So I think it’s important to be very tolerant of glitter, kittens, silly humour and anthropomorphic diggers and dinosaurs, and not risk dampening a delicate spark of interest by proffering Watership Down and David Copperfield (excellent though those books may be) too early.

5. Name three books you wish you’d written.

Ooh, what a good question! Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett, Tom’s Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce and Betsy Byars’ The Eighteenth Emergency.

About Anna

Anna Branford is a doll-maker, a sociologist, a collector of small things and the author of the Violet Mackerel books.

www.annabranford.com

Review – Dotty Inventions and Some Real Ones, Too

Professor Dotty Dabble and her laboratory assistant robot Digby (43 light years old) are opening the mail. There is an invitation from Mad Inventor’s Monthly to enter their best invention, and win the holiday of a lifetime. But how can they possibly choose which amazing invention to enter?

Should it be the chocolate cup (simply add hot water and drink before the chocolate melts) or the voice-activated socks, for troublesome pairs that like to separate? Should it be the thermal dentures (that keep the mouth warm in cold climes) or the nasal floss (don’t ask)? They simply can’t decide, so they pack a series of inventions into their Gizmobile and set off for the National Science Museum.

On the way to the museum, Dotty and Digby encounter several world famous inventions – the windscreen wiper, the parachute, the ballpoint pen, just to name a few. As each invention is mentioned, kids are treated to a double page spread of information on each one, outlining fascinating points on its creation.

By the time this dynamic duo make it to the competition, Dotty is feeling a little disheartened about entering her substandard inventions – so you can imagine her surprise when she wins! You’ll just have to read the book to discover her winning entry.

I love the combination of fact and fiction in this gorgeous book – the type kids will pore over and over and over again, picking up more information with each visit. Illustrations are bright, kooky and a joy to behold, combining modern styling with that lovely retro touch.

I’m also loving the super clever, twisted, and highly satisfying ending – something so often missing in picture books nowadays. Great fun and perfect for kids of many ages.

Dotty Inventions and Some Real Ones, Too is published by Frances Lincoln Children’s Books.

Featured Author/Illustrator – Quentin Blake

Quentin Saxby Blake was born in Sidcup, Kent, in 1932. His first published drawing was for the satirical magazine Punch, at the tender age of 16. Studying English Literature, he went on to complete a post graduate teaching diploma before studying at the Chelsea School of Art, and eventually taught at the Royal College of Art for over twenty years.

Blake has illustrated more than 300 children’s books, some his own, and some for other authors like Roald Dahl, Russell Hoban, Elizabeth Bowen, Jane Aiken, Michael Rose, John Yeoman and Dr Seuss. His very first picture book was A Drink of Water by John Yeoman in 1960.

Making his living as an illustrator, lifelong, he has also been a BBC presenter on a children’s story telling programme – Jackanory – where he told stories and illustrated them live.

In 1993, Blake was commissioned to illustrate five Christmas stamps for Royal Mail, featuring scenes from Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. In recent years, he has worked as Curator for such esteemed organisations as the National Gallery, the British Library and the Musée du Petit Palais in Paris.

Illustrating David Walliam’s debut book – The Boy in the Dress – in 2009, as well as Walliam’s most recent book is Mr Stink.

Books both written and illustrated by Quentin Blake include:

Quentin Blake’s Ten Frogs

Quentin Blake’s Nursery Rhyme Book

Mister Magnolia – winner of the Kate Greenaway Medal

The Green Ship

Simpkin

Fantastic Daisy Artichoke

Mrs Armitage, Queen of the Road

Quentin Blake’s work has won numerous awards including the Kate Greenaway Medal, the Whitbread Award, the Emil/Kurt Maschler Award, the international Bologna Ragazzi Prize and the Hans Christian Andersen Award for Illustration in 2002. In 1999, he was appointed the first ever Children’s Laureate, and his book Laureate’s Progress recorded his many activities during this two-year tenure.

This formidable talent loves drawing things that move, although he says cars can be difficult unless they are a bit ‘broken down’. He loves to interpret emotion in his characters by imagining the very same things happening to him, though this does cause him to pull faces as he draws. He never married and has no kids.

www.quentinblake.com

 

Review – Green

Seeing colour through the eyes of an artist is vital for children. It expands their visual horizons, especially when done with the raw simplicity of Laura Vaccaro Seeger.

Green is just that. Green. Green in all manner of shades and hues, tints and tones. There’s forest green. Lime green. Sea green and fern. There’s slow green, wacky green, glow green and never green.

There’s green in ways you never thought green could be – and all smooshed and slapped and scraped and scratched into imagery that’s so completely touchable, little hands will surely smooth their way over the fingerpainterly texture of each page. Even grown ups, like me, will smooth their hands over the fingerpainterly texture of each page.

To add to the textural delight, Vaccaro Seeger has added cleverly-placed cutouts that show through to preceding and upcoming pages, tying the colours and themes together perfectly.

Her use of abstract concepts are also clear and simply done, bringing a level of sophistication and emotional connection that could have been so easily lost in a book for ‘toddlers’.

Indeed, this book is perfect for toddlers but it’s also perfect for retirees – and therein lies its magic.

Green is published by Roaring Brook Press.

Five Very Bookish Questions with author Martin Chatterton

1. Which genre of children’s books do you like most and why?

Surrealistic comedy adventures. One thing most of the best ones have in common is that they don’t patronise children. I’ve always believed in reading (and writing) ‘up’. If there’s something a reader doesn’t understand then that’s okay. I avoid whimsy, fantasy and ‘issue-based’ fiction like the plague. Also anything with cats. Apart from the The Cat in the Hat.

2. Which books did you love to read as a young child?

I don’t read any children’s books now so all my choices would be books I read as a child. I LOVED Dr Seuss and still do. Apart from comics (which I lived for), I devoured adventure books like The Famous Five and Secret Seven by Enid Blyton and the Biggles books by Capt WE Johns, without ever thinking they were ‘great books’.

The first works that I thought were both enjoyable and genius were the Molesworth books by Geoffrey Willans and illustrated by Ronald Searle. Funny, original and fresh, they tell the story of Nigel Molesworth and his various schemes at St Custards. Wonderful.

I loved the Just William books by Richmal Crompton, the Professor Branestawm series by Norman Hunter. I loved these books and they were a big influence, as was The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster (which I had the pleasure of illustrating a cover for a Harper Collins edition).

The Alice books I also loved (and still do). I suppose my taste ran to absurd comedy and adventure which is pretty much what my children’s stuff is now, Mort being a prime example.

3. Which three attributes make for a great children’s book?

Wow. OK, I’ll try.

Number one: It must be a page turner. As a child – and now – I have no patience with books that feel like eating muesli without milk. I don’t care about the angst, just give me smugglers and pirates and monsters and comedy and danger and cliff-hanger endings and miraculous escapes and weird powers. An example of a perfect page turner might be something like the Stormbreaker books by Antony Horowitz or Eoin Colfer’s Artemis Fowl‘ stuff (I lied about never reading children’s books). I felt that Harry Potter should have been like this but, for me anyway, wasn’t.

Number two: Someone should die. All my favourite children’s writers killed characters off (often, as with Roald Dahl, before the narrative begins). Children need to find out early that life can be tough (even if they only read about it). If no-one dies, then bad things should be allowed to happen. If there’s no believable danger, there’s no thrill.

Number three: It shouldn’t be a picture book. This is a very selfish one. I know there are lots of great picture books. It’s just that I (and bear in mind I’m an illustrator) always feel that picture books are for the parents. Other than Dr Seuss, I think all picture books are really aimed at parents not children. Even Where The Wild Things Are, which is probably loved by millions is really for the adults. My kids enjoyed some great picture books as youngsters but the books they loved were ones they chose, or found. A case in point is Shaun Tan. As an artist I love his work. I’m not sure I’d find a single child who would enjoy his stuff. But I’m bitter so maybe my opinion doesn’t count.

4. What is your number one tip for encouraging children to read?

Don’t make them read boring books. My brother was forced to read Northanger Abbey at school at the age of (I think) about 11. He never recovered.

5. Name three books you wish you’d written.

I’m assuming these would be children’s books? If so then they’d be: Harry Potter, for obvious reasons (although mine would have been better). For anyone who has been living on Mars, that’s by JK Rowling. Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. Lastly, it would probably be Horton Hears a Who by Dr Seuss.

About Martin

After time spent as Creative Director with the London design company he co-founded, Martin moved between the US and UK for five years before eventually emigrating to Australia where he has been based since 2004. In addition to his books for children, Random House will be publishing his debut crime fiction novel in 2012. He lives in Lennox Head in northern NSW and is married with two teenage children.

www.worldofchatterton.com

Stay tuned for my review of Mortal Combat: Time’s Running Out.

Review – Ned Kelly’s Secret

It’s the Gold Rush in Australia – a time when bushrangers are rife and travellers, both local and international, are aplenty in the harsh buslands of northern Victoria and New South Wales. Young Hugo Mars and his wealthy Papa are on an intrepid voyage to Australia to research stories for a French magazine (edited by Jules Verne), when their coach is held up by none other than the infamous Harry Power – the gentleman bushranger.

Brave, smart and clever, Hugo Mars is as intrigued as his Papa by this odd, self-inflated bushranger – and this event is the catalyst for a series of incredible encounters that will take a curious 15-year-old boy into the lair of the Kelly gang and their infamous inlaws, the Quinns . . . but as a friend, not foe. It also take us through the plotting and eventual capture of Harry Power, and the convoluted associations that kept him in business so long.

This intriguing book does indeed hold a Ned Kelly secret – but even more than that, it holds close a tale of commitment to family, to betrayal and honour. Its central theme may be the power of friendship but its cleverly-crafted plot and insightful, fascinating relationships – all based on fact and factual characters – is multi-layered and richly rewarding.

Author Sophie Masson has herself admitted in her author’s notes that the aim of this book was not to laud Ned Kelly and his questionable career, but rather present an open-ended question about how, where and why, a smart, spirited, 15-year-old Ned Kelly (the juvenile bushranger) eventually turns from mere horse wrangler to murderer and questionable ‘hero’. Masson asks what the pressure of saving face and strong family ties plays in his downturn and eventual violent end – and Ned Kelly’s Secret indeed perfectly addresses this question through historical conjecture and with much diplomacy (and perhaps with a wee dram of tenderness).

I loved this book. Well-written, balanced, meticulously researched and with a cast of brilliant characters – mostly real but some imagined – I adored how Masson ran her foreign Hugo Mars character – a kid with enormous hope and promise – alongside his age-contemporary friend Ned, whose destiny was as sordid as his early days of crime. But did it really need to end this way? Is a life of crime really in the blood or is it driven by need, greed and betrayal by others? Could things have been different for young Ned Kelly?

This book makes you think, it makes you wonder. It opens your heart and it’s just all round great reading. I am only hoping Masson brings us another Kelly tale – perhaps this time about the fate of the remaining Kelly clan, whom she paints with sheer wonder.

Ned Kelly’s Secret is published by Scholastic.